THE WORRY DOLLS
by Travis Hirth and Allen “Skipper” Howlett
There is a legend amongst the highland Indian villages of Guatemala.
If you have a problem, then share it with a Worry Doll.
Before going to bed, tell one worry to each doll, then place them beneath your pillow.
While you sleep the dolls will take your worries away.
Chapter 1 – “Run, Rosalinda, Run”
The man, the woman, and the young girl fled in the abandoned warehouse, up the dark stairwell, clutching each other’s hands. At the top of the stairs, the man slung the woman and the young girl past himself into the dim hallway. He turned and knelt with his automatic rifle, taking aim down the throat of the stairwell. A hard rain began to boil on the roof.
The woman cowered against the far end of the hallway near the open window. She held the young girl tightly. Into the young girl’s ear the woman whispered, “Rosalinda, Rosalinda.”
The woman then cried out, “Carlos!”
The man Carlos threw a wide-eyed glance toward the woman.
Carlos cried, “Sister Juanita! Hide!”
Suddenly there were angry shouts from down in the belly of the stairwell and Carlos turned back, coiling tight like a snake.
Sister Juanita turned sideways and leaned and looked out the open window there at the end of the hallway. Sister Juanita looked down into the dead-end alleyway. Three stories below her the violent rain lashed at mounds of trash and boxes.
The young girl Rosalinda whimpered. She looked toward Carlos and then she heard the sound as if rocks were clacking together, fast and hard. The hallway flashed with sparks.
Carlos flew erect; spreading his arms like wings and he fell back against the wall of the hallway. He did not move again.
“Carlos!” screamed Sister Juanita, arching forward. Rosalinda dug her heels into the floor and leaned back against Sister Juanita, howling at Sister Juanita’s anguish.
A dark figure leapt up from the stairwell and lunged at Carlos. He struck Carlos hard with a machete. Carlos’ body shook only from the physical blow.
Toward Sister Juanita the assailant turned his eye shining like the implacable eyes of a Jaguar.
Sister Juanita surrendered her fate with swift silence. She lifted her leg over the ledge of the open window, drawing Rosalinda into her chest and belly, and then pushed herself out the open window backwards into free-fall. “Run, Rosalinda, run!” she screamed as they fell with the rain. The night sky fled above her. Lightning shattered her eyes.
Chapter 2 – “Kristen’s Blues”
The blue Volkswagen Coupe came hissing to a halt at the deserted intersection. The VW was bejeweled with sapphire raindrops. The red light ahead smeared itself into all the puddles. Muffled music pumped inside the VW. The woman driver reached up with an impatient reflex and started to adjust the rear-view mirror.
She and the mirror held each other.
Kristen Jackford was realizing that she had come full circle. She was lonely before she had met her husband, her “Kahuna”, her Detective Brent Jackford, and now, twelve years later, she was lonely with him.
Brent had always liked to tell people that their first date had been all-inclusive, just like the Yucatán vacation package he had booked for himself when they first met.
Kristen’s face kindled a smile and she slightly nodded at those memories of Montejo.
Montejo was twenty-five miles inland from Cancun. Montejo was a town that moved slowly under the sun. But under the moon, it danced and sang. It had been the end of summer, and the rains had not yet begun.
It had been late afternoon and Kristen had been standing inside the wooden gate of the breast-high stone wall surrounding her little house. Her father’s dog Zorra was sleeping against the wall.
Her father had owned this little house before he died. She imagined that it was his lonely spirit that she had begun to feel.
She looked up and down the earthen alleyway. All the little homes had similar rough stone walls with trees leaning against those stone walls like visiting neighbors.
She suddenly noticed a man in a bright yellow and red shirt who was shuffling down the alleyway toward her. He was taking pictures of the overhanging vegetation and the red ginger blossoms. Kristen looked away but not indifferently. She felt a thrill of adrenaline.
The man was close when he noticed Kristen.
Somewhat surprised, he grinned, “Hola, Señorita”, tipping an imaginary hat.
Kristen ventured, “Hello.”
The man asked, “American?”
Kristen had picked-up the Latino annoyance with Gringo arrogance and she replied, “America is all the lands of the Western Hemisphere, so I’m thinking: ‘yes’.”
The man winced, “Ouch. Lo siento mucho. Oh, and I’m also very sorry.”
Kirsten parodied him, asking, “Tourista?”
The man grinned again, asking, “Was it my shirt that gave me away? I’ll have you know that this is vintage cabana-wear.” He was offering to let her pinch the material.
When Kristen remained unmoved he placed his open hand over his heart and bowed “My friends call me ‘Kahuna’. In real life I play a police detective. In fact, I’m here in Yucatán to celebrate my new promotion.”
Kristen made a wry face and asked, “Kahuna? Isn’t that a Hawaiian witch-doctor or something? How did you get that name?” Kristen then rolled her eyes, teasing, “And I can hardly wait to hear this one.”
Kahuna stepped back in mock indignity and said “It is a tale that cannot be told in less than an evening over dinner.”
Kristen tried not to smile, saying, “I see.”
Kahuna humorously insisted, “You do want to know how I got my name, don’t you?”
Kristen pretended to ponder. Zorra awoke at Kristen’s feet and sniffed at the stranger through the wooden gate. Zorra snorted dismissively.
Kristen teased, “Well, I do want to know about that dinner, anyway.”
Kristen wondered in self-amazement where the hell this bold and fearless Kristen was coming from.
Kahuna said triumphantly, “So it’s a date. I’ll pick you up in a taxi at seven-thirty.”
Kristen raised her hand and proclaimed, “It’s a date, but I’ll pick you up in my car. Take it or leave it.”
Kahuna opened and closed his mouth like a fish out of water, pretending to be stunned speechless.
The blue Volkswagen Coupe stayed at the deserted intersection as the stoplight changed to green, to yellow, and back to red. The rainclouds broke open. A rainbow surrounded the full moon like the iris of a celestial eye. It looked down coldly upon the embers of El Pueblo de Los Angeles.
Kristen had asked, “So, where are you staying, Tourista Kahuna?”
Kahuna answered, “Well, I’m actually staying at the Playa Tropica, in Cancun. I wanted to see the real Yucatán, so I took an auto-bus here to Montejo.
The Playa Tropica was one of the Yucatán Peninsula’s most expensive Five Star hotels, First Class all the way from the health club facilities to the international cuisine restaurant located on the roof-top of the twenty-fifth floor.
Kristen had been around the Yucatán Peninsula long enough to know that the room rates at the Playa Tropica were way above her comfort zone and she wondered how this “Kahuna” could afford that kind of luxury. On one occasion Kristen’s father had taken her out to dinner at the Playa Tropica. The breath-taking view had been every bit as delicious as the gourmet meal but what had really taken their breath away had been the bill!
Kristen narrowed her eyes and asked, “You’re staying at the Playa Tropica?”
Kahuna’s chuckle held a note of concern, asking “Why? Is there something wrong with the Playa Tropica?”
Kristen hesitated, “No, it’s just that…”
Kahuna caught-on and said, “It’s just that I don’t look like someone who would be staying at the Playa Tropica, right?”
Looking down, Kristen’s face began to warm.
Kristen looked up and into Kahuna’s eyes earnestly and said, “OK, that is what I was going to say, but not the way you meant it.” She added quickly “Most of the people who stay at the Playa Tropica do exactly that, they stay at the Playa Tropica. I’ve heard of guests who’ve spent two whole weeks there, never getting their sun-burned butts off the beach or out of the in-house restaurants.”
Kristen was suddenly out of words. She simply did not know what to say next. She lowered her eyes, seeking anything of interest.
Kahuna asked, “So it’s still a date? Or do I have to show someone my sun-burned butt?”
Kristen laughed. She raised her eyes to meet his again, saying, “Yes, it’s a date. So where will I find you at seven-thirty?”
Kahuna said, “I’m headed to the plaza here for a while, so give me your number and I’ll talk you in later.”
Kristen shrugged, “Well, I have to go that way to the Mercado, anyway. We can program your cellphone on the way.”
Kahuna teased, “Are you afraid I might get lost? I see that you really do need that dinner, don’t you?”
They continued together on Kahuna’s alleyway stroll, parting at last in opposite directions at the Avenida Del Mercado.
Chapter 3 – “Rosalinda’s Resurrection”
Came light into the eyes of little Rosalinda.
Rosalinda’s head throbbed as she lay on her side, her face on the slimy grit of the alleyway. Her slowly dawning gaze fell upon the form of Sister Juanita several feet away imbedded on her back into a crater of bags and boxes. Sister Juanita’s head lay twisted facing Rosalinda.
Void and without form, darkness was within the open eyes of Sister Juanita. The rain was relenting now but dark water still flowed out of Sister Juanita’s open mouth.
Rosalinda blinked and stared at that open mouth until she thought she could hear Sister Juanita whispering “Run, Rosalinda, run!”
Rosalinda was dazed, soaked, and afraid.
“Run, Rosalinda, run!”
Rosalinda obediently wobbled to her feet again, sobbing. With both little hands she smeared the tears and bloody snot and saliva on her face. Then the rainclouds broke and parted. Rosalinda was illuminated.
The full moon had a rainbow around it.
Rosalinda gazed up at the lunar rainbow and thought of her grandmother. “Mamich!” she cried out and she thought she could hear her grandmother saying, “A rainbow is God’s promise to good little girls like you”.
Then she heard, “Run, Rosalinda, run!”
Rosalinda stumbled away toward the yellow street lights at the mouth of the alleyway.
As Rosalinda came out of the alleyway she was suddenly confronted by a man with long hair, a beard, and dark glasses. She froze in terror.
The man too hesitated, surprised. He knew all of the children and their families living in that abandoned warehouse. The drenched little girl showed no recognition of him, only fear.
The man thought, “She does not belong here.”
Rosalinda bolted past him and ran away down the sidewalk. She finally sought refuge in the alcove of a closed shop entrance. In shadow she turned her face against the door, slipping down and curling-up on the concrete doorstep. She pulled a tiny yellow box from her pocket and clutched it deeply into her fist and then she held her fist against her forehead. Her shivering became uncontrollable. She sobbed, “Help me!” “Help me!”
The long-haired bearded man had stared at Rosalinda as she fled down the street and then he turned and shuffled into the alley way and he proceeded all the way down to the dead end.
He was no stranger to death or the dead. The sight of Sister Juanita’s sprawled body half buried in the mound of refuse did not frighten him.
It enraged him.
He had known Sister Juanita for a few months. He had met her in the San Nicolas Mission on the day that she had arrived; a place where he often stayed.
At that time his first words to her had been an adamant, “I believe in no religion, I have no religion and I want no religion! So, you don’t need to preach to me or pray for me. I have no future, only past. I don’t know where I started, but I’m certain where I’ll end!”
Sister Juanita had not tried to rebut him. Instead, unflinching, she had locked her eyes with his. Then he had encountered a coldness. In the silence between them he swore that he heard her whisper, “I feel the same as you.”
Near the feet of the now deceased Sister Juanita something stirred, bringing the bearded man back into the moment. In a swift gesture he grabbed a small board and he then swung it hard, hitting the rat gnawing on the feet of Sister Juanita, dispatching it.
Dropping the board, he unconsciously crossed himself while mumbling some words he had sworn to abandon long ago.
Turning then, he yanked back a battered wooden pallet propped against the building. The man took one more glance at what remained of Sister Juanita. Kneeling and then crawling through a hole in the wall on all four limbs like a rat he entered the abandoned warehouse.
Not far away, Rosalinda left the swaddle of shadows and the alcove of the closed shop. Acknowledged only by a weak yellow streetlight, blinded with tears and terror, clutching her little yellow box, she was splashing across the intersection when the blue Volkswagen Coupe turned the corner and struck her.
Chapter 4 – “Rosalinda and the Devil’s Kiss”
The rainclouds broke and parted. The full moon wore a rainbow ring around itself. In the alleyway Rosalinda had gazed up at the lunar rainbow and thought of her grandmother. “Mamich!” she cried out and she thought she could hear her grandmother saying, “A rainbow is God’s promise to good little girls like you”.
Not far away, Kristen had been motionless inside her cocoon of reverie inside her stopped Volkswagen Coupe inside the glow of the stoplight at the deserted intersection. The stoplight glow changed to green then to yellow then back to red.
Kristen had been illuminated three times but she could not see beyond the past, beyond that other evening, that evening of her first encounter with Kahuna.
That evening of their first encounter in Montejo, Kristen had been talking to Kahuna on her cellphone as she drove around the plaza, looking side-to-side, asking, “So where the hell are you now?”
Kahuna replied, “A little respect, please. I’m up here with La Virgen. Do you want me to put in a good word for you after what you just said?”
Kristen parked her faded-yellow Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible at the foot of the statue of La Virgen (Virgin Mary). La Virgen was set twelve steps above street level and offered Kahuna an angel’s-eye view of Kristen in her favorite light cotton dress. The mauve-sky color and thin spaghetti shoulder straps had never failed to turn heads before and so Kristen hoped it would work its allure again tonight.
Kahuna, however, was looking away up at La Virgen, still talking to Kristen on his cellphone.
Kristen then put her cellphone down and made a megaphone of her hands and called out above the noise of a passing auto-bus, “Hey, mister! Are you the gringo who wanted a taxi?”
Waiting for the auto-bus to pass, Kahuna then called down, “Si, gracias, taxista guapa! (Yes, thanks, hot taxi driver).” Then he did a scuttling dance down the steps like a teenager leaving high school for summer vacation.
Kristen explained to him, “Gringo, you’ll have to hop-in to this lunch box. I mean it. Literally. That door is on strike, and has been for the last month.”
Kahuna had put one hand on the door the other on the windshield and gracefully lifted his body up and over the jammed door, like a gymnast. He had just barely settled down onto the seat when Kristen shifted into first gear and raced off down the street without any further words or time for Kahuna to find the seat-belt.
Approaching the corner like it was the end of an airstrip runway Kristen was asking, “Left or right?”
Kahuna had shouted “Highway libre, East!”
Kristen, Kahuna, and the VW Cabriolet almost reached the corner at the same time. Kristen then took the corner a lot faster than any Montejo police officer would have tolerated.
Kristin whooped, “Highway libre, here we come! So where am I taking us?”
Kahuna braced his hands on the dashboard and said, “It’s a surprise. Just keep all four wheels on the road and don’t touch any crossing zones with people in it. Or I may have to arrest you”.
Kristen teased, “Would that involve me being handcuffed?”
Kahuna looked the other way and smiled.
Kristen had felt so alive then, so sexy, so happy.
Kristen followed Kahuna’s road directions, but not his road warnings.
Kristen said, “You’re worried about my driving? Look at that!” and Kristen pointed to a Yucateco (Mayan) driver talking on his cellphone and watching a small television mounted on the dashboard of his car.
Kahuna laughed, “Right next to his plastic Virgen de Guadalupe.”
Eastward they cruised down Highway 180, the Highway libre (no tolls), on toward Cancun, laughing and singing as each of them secretly began to wish that the road would never end. But only twenty-five minutes later, they were entering Cancun, a constellation of golden lights, shops, restaurants and hotels.
Kahuna took a pamphlet brochure from his shirt pocket, “The Cancun Hotel Zone is basically one long road called Avenida Kukulcan and because of this it is easy to get around, and difficult to get lost, as long as you remember the kilometer designation of your hotel.”
Kristen rolled her eyes and said, “I know how to get to the Playa Tropica.”
At the Playa, Kristen idled in the loading zone near the lobby, politely refusing Kahuna’s invitation to help him get dressed more quickly.
When Kahuna reappeared at the Playa lobby entrance, it was clear to Kristen that he had brought along only one set of clothes for an evening out, and obviously only as an after-thought. Kirsten glanced-over those black slacks and shoes and that bright blue and green Hawaiian floral shirt and she thought to herself, “This is a work in progress.”
Hopping over the jammed door into the Cabriolet and fumbling for his seat belt Kahuna produced a piece of paper that the concierge at the Playa Tropica had given to him. Kahuna squinted at the piece of paper in that golden light bestowed by the Playa lamps. Then he turned to Kristen and said dramatically, “Damas y caballeros! Vamos! Arriba! (Ladies and Gentlemen! Let’s go! Eee-haw!”
Thirty minutes later, endeavoring northward up the coast, they arrived in the parking lot of Villa Ramos, a secluded old Spanish colonial villa which had been remodeled into an exclusive restaurant.
Kristen hadn’t noticed the Villa itself yet. Ever since driving past the high iron gates she had used only exclamations of glee that revealed her love of the local flora, “Wow, look at that coconut tree”.
Pointing in the opposite direction, Kahuna observed some other vegetation and he said, “You have a lot of those near your house”
Kristen exclaimed, “Oh my god that’s the biggest Red Ginger I’ve ever seen! Who is the gardener here?”
Kahuna took another cellphone picture and said to Kristen, “You really know your stuff.”
Kristen pointed, “Look at that humongous Jacaranda. They have to be my favorite of all the blossoming trees”.
Kahuna laughingly accused Kristen, “Ah-ha! So, señorita, I notice that you can drive slowly.”
Kristen parked in a cove of green ferns.
Entering through the Villa Ramos twelve-foot high solid oak doors they were greeted in the grand entrance-hall by a diminutive but aristocratic white-haired gentleman who seemed to have stepped out from the colonial era.
He spoke graciously, “Bienvenidos y gracias por venir (Welcome and thank you for coming). My name is Don Aaron Ramos. I am the owner and I am delighted you have chosen to spend your evening with me and my family. Please, if you have a special wish let me know and I will do my utmost to make that wish come true.”
Don Ramos then lead Kristen and Kahuna down the grand entrance hall and Kristen thought, “Don Ramos is like a proud galleon sailing into harbor.”
The grand entrance hall was decorated with a reception line of potted palm trees of various sizes and an honor-guard of several large paintings of conquistadors.
Don Ramos recited, “Hernán Cortés, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, Francisco de Montejo, and of course Francisco Montejo the Younger.”
His eyes had been moving buoyantly back and forth between Kristen and Kahuna as he spoke but now he concentrated on Kristen and with a slight bow he had reached for her hand.
As if Don Ramos had hypnotized her, she extended her hand out to his. As he gently kissed it, Kristen’s skin turned entirely into goose-bumps.
Kahuna thought to himself, “Good act, old man”.
From the small mosaic table on his left Don Ramos swept up an orchid corsage, then with charm and flare he gently pinned it on Kristen without seeming to have touched her dress at all. As he held her eyes he said, “Please accept my apologies, for had I known that someone of such beauty would be visiting us tonight I certainly would have ordered something more exotic”.
As Don Ramos escorted them into the garden Kristen whispered to Kahuna “He is definitely in the wrong business. No matter how successful this restaurant might be, what he really should be doing is teaching men how to treat women.”
Kahuna gave her a wink, arching his eyebrow in a burlesque of Don Ramos, “Or perhaps selling used Volkswagens…?”
Kristen scowled and Kahuna concluded, “…To someone of such beauty as you.”
Don Ramos left them at their table with an aperitif of sweet white Port. Kahuna slid his chair next to Kristen so they could survey a menu together.
Again gently mocking Don Ramos, Kahuna said to her “Ah, Dar-rrrr-ling, I soog-jest the Pollo Motuleño.”
Kristen made a sour face and rolled her eyes. “And what will you be having, Don Dorko?”
Kahuna announced, “I will be having the Mayan King Steak Special”.
Kristen and Kahuna expressed their choices to the white-clad waiter and sent him hurrying off so that they could be alone.
Kahuna leaned toward Kristen, “So ‘of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world’, how did you wind-up here?”
Kristen remembered now how she then had talked a waterfall of words that had washed over the trinkets and the triumphs in her life.
Kristen continued, “Then I came to Montejo after graduating college with a degree in Accounting and IT Office Management. It was supposed to be a three-week break, a visit with my father, and a present to myself before getting a job at some brokerage or insurance company. Then, before I knew it, the three weeks had passed and I no longer wanted to go home. But after another four weeks I was just about out of money. That’s when I made up a resume of inflated claims about jobs that I’d done in Montejo, mainly managing my father’s ‘estate’.”
Thinking about it now, Kristen wondered how her shortly-thereafter-to-be husband had endured it at all. She imagined him running out of the place with his hands pressed over his ears.
The waiter arrived with Kristen’s Pollo Motuleño; a main dish of chicken and rice with a cooked mixed vegetable platter covered with corn, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and eggplant. Red ground chili powder called Beso del Diablo (Devil Kissed) had been placed in a small light-blue porcelain bowl next to Kristen’s plate and the waiter gave her an explicit warning “Use sparingly, with caution. If at all”. Kristen had lived on the peninsula long enough to appreciate the warning, and pushed the Beso del Diablo away toward Kahuna.
Kahuna snorted with exaggerated contempt, “That can’t be any worse than my Aunt Barb’s home-made Tabasco recipe. She’s given to every mouth in my family a third degree burn, except mine.”
Kristen smiled wryly, “Yes, I’m learning all about that mouth.”
Kahuna had ordered the Mayan King Steak Special with a mixed salad and a large baked potato, now hidden under a mountain of sour cream. The Mayan King was a big premium steak grilled over an open mesquite fire, medium rare. Kristen could only too well remember Kahuna looking back-and-forth between his steak and the Beso del Diablo.
Kristen saw Kahuna’s machinations with the Devil’s Kiss and she warned him, “Just remember: this is not your Aunt Barb’s Tabasco recipe.”
Kristen instantly regretted her challenge to his macho.
Kahuna huffed, “A man’s gotta eat what a man’s gotta eat.”
With a comical lascivious smile he grabbed his table spoon to transfer a conquistador-sized mound of Beso del Diablo onto his plate, deliberately ignoring the dainty little cautionary ladle provided with the bowl.
Kristen opened her eyes wide and covered her mouth, saying, “That’s enough to incinerate half of New York City.”
Kahuna said, “Yeah, but those who survive will be stronger because of it.”
Kristen had not been certain if Kahuna had then come to his senses or if he had just wanted to show politely that he could follow her advice. Kahuna relented and he scooped back most of the red mound, sprinkling the remainder on a corner of his steak.
Kahuna studied the shimmer of Beso del Diablo dust on his spoon. He raised it as if he were toasting Kristen. And with a silly “a man’s gotta to do whatever stupid thing a man’s gotta to do” expression, he wiped the spoon with his tongue, like a child would lap a lollipop.
Kahuna instantly dropped the spoon onto his plate with a clatter. He was clowning but as he opened his mouth to speak he inhaled Beso del Diablo powder.
Choking, and blowing bubbles of laughter from his nose, Kahuna’s eyes were filled with too many tears.
Kahuna cried, “I’m blind! Give me cerveza (beer)!”
Kristen squealed and sat back to avoid the thrashing as Kahuna grabbed and gulped her water, spluttering some down his chin. The waiter arrived rapidly with the cerveza.
Kahuna was sucking down his cerveza like a baby sucking a bottle, making a loud cracking sound with his throat as he swallowed hard and fast.
In an instant Kahuna was calm and composed and with his best imitation of Don Ramos he thanked the waiter most effusively, and said. “My Aunt Barb compliments the chef on his Devil’s Kiss”.
Kahuna winked at Kristen, and then he puckered as if in pain, crossing his eyes.
They had laughed together, loud, boisterous, joyful laughter. It was the beginning of several loud, boisterous and joyful years together, each interested in the other, each willing to give more than take from the other.
Kristen’s attention was jolted back into the front seat of her blue VW Coupe, crying, “Oh, my God – the stoplight!”
The stoplight blinked to green. Wondering just how long she had been sitting there, Kristen was still decompressing from the cozy past into the cold present. She had not quite made it back when the green light elevated to yellow. She stepped down hard on the gas. The car jumped through the intersection before the yellow had a chance to turn red again.
Kristen was finally moving; she was on her way home. Yes, she was on her way home, where she had left her sick husband no more than three hours earlier. That was now the only time she ever saw him: when he was sick. Her bittersweet flashbacks had forced her to understand and to see the truth of what she felt. She would have to tell Kahuna this evening.
Yes, this time she would tell him that she was really leaving him.
Leaving the intersection behind, Kristen rounded the corner quickly and cleared the cross-walk. Without warning the VW vibrated. For a brief instant, something fluttered over the windshield, twirling, and then vanished back into the shadows of the deserted street.
Kristen was harder on brakes than she was on gas peddles, stomping the car into a sliding, screeching halt that flung her body hard against her seat belt.
Shocked and frightened, Kristen was not sure what she had seen, heard or felt. It had all happened in an instant. Kristen had closed her eyes reflexively and was not certain what she had really seen or what she might have imagined.
Three dark spots hung before her eyes.
Sitting motionless behind the wheel, Kristen watched as three dots of wine-red liquid melted wearily down the windshield. Kristen, aghast, clicked-on the windshield wipers. The wipers whipped across the windshield, back and forth, smearing a few thin arcs of red.
Kristen was praying that she had only injured a dog. She opened the door and stepped out of the car.
Kristen then cried out in anguish.
A small girl was lying on her side a few feet from the rear end of the car, her eyes still open, head twisted upward and staring at the moon with the rainbow around it. Scattered all around the young girl were match-sized figurines, all brightly colored.
Chapter 5 – “Code 6-Adam”
Kristen feared that the little girl was dead. Kristen kneeled down and she stroked the little girl’s face. Kristen tried to feel for a pulse but she could not find one with her trembling hand.
Frenzy stabbed at Kristen’s mind, saying to her, “You did this. She’s dead. She’s dead!”
Still in numb disbelief Kristen touched the girl’s throat.
Kristen sobbed, “Oh, God, please don’t let her die.”
But this time she could feel it, very weak, but it was there. Something moved. A pulse, she prayed.
“Thank you, God, thank you, God, thank you, God…,” but Kristen feared that the young girl would not be alive much longer.
Kristen glanced around the intersection. The freeway ramp was right there.
“No witnesses,” whispered something into her ear. She instantly felt dirty and evil and she burst into tears.
Kristen rose quickly, unsteadily, and was stumbling back to her car for her cellphone when a car appeared ahead of her coming up the road quickly.
A police car? What were the odds of a police car appearing at that moment?
Fumbling in her car for the cellphone Kristen poked the speed-dial for Kahuna at home. The police cruiser lit-up and came to a halt a few yards away.
Kahuna has been off sick from duty for the last five days.
This had been the first sick-leave that Kahuna had taken during his 14 years on the Los Angeles police force. He had finally gone to the department’s doctor when the intervals between migraines began to get shorter and the intensity almost crippling.
Dr. Lassandra Dean had come a long way from her ghetto roots. She was leaning-in close and shot Kahuna point-blank with the straight facts, “It-Does-Not-Work-That-Way!”
Dr. Dean’s words ricocheted off of a very displeased Kahuna.
Dr. Dean demanded, “Jack Bradford, back off on the stress! I know you! You like it!”
Dr. Dean quickly raised her hand to squelch any protest, saying, “And I am damn well aware of what your job ‘brings with it’,” wagging a finger back and forth.
Dr. Dean was relentless, saying, “We both know that you are a classic Type-A personality. And you think that stress is a tonic! You think it’s something invigorating, something refreshing, something equal to an extra shot of vitamins.”
Dr. Dean deliberately stood back to her ghetto roots and gave Kahuna “three snaps and a rainbow”, emphasizing, “It-Does-Not-Work-That-Way!”
Dr. Dean and Kahuna then laughed loudly together.
Dr. Dean let out a long melodramatic sigh and looked heavenward, continuing, “Let me put it this way: stress does give you that extra shot, but when that shot lands it lands right inside here,” and for effect she gently tapped Kahuna between his eyes.
Dr. Dean laughed again, “I know you’d rather that I said you have a brain tumor but the tests all came back negative.”
Dr. Dean then brought it all home to Kahuna, “If you don’t quit being a stress-junkie, then you are doomed to get these attacks closer and closer together, until one day it becomes the norm and you stick a gun in your mouth. Wise-up or blow up. Take some time. Get it together. The choice is yours, Officer Jackford.”
Kahuna then reluctantly had gone home to spend most of the next five days lying in his darkened den, sprawled on the couch.
Now it was raining and Kahuna dreamed.
Kahuna was straddling the back of a giant yellow canary, holding on for dear life. The canary swooped madly through the air. It was exhilarating! Without warning the canary suddenly fell out of the sky to street level and then began swerving in and out of traffic at a break-neck pace. Kahuna had been both scared and delighted at the erratic movements taking place all around him.
But suddenly the canary flew up into a church belfry and gigantic bells began to clang. Kahuna could feel the cacophony behind his eyes and he winced.
In the real world his home telephone was ringing.
In his dream world Kahuna was falling. He was no longer on the back of the wild yellow canary. He landed in the passenger seat of a faded yellow VW Cabriolet. He couldn’t turn his head to see who was driving.
“Left, left” he was yelling. “Where are we?”
It all seemed so familiar yet so strange. It was sensation from long ago; from an earlier time, forgotten during the Code-Three chaos of what Kahuna called his life.
Kahuna then dreamt that in the faded yellow VW Cabriolet he careened past a policewoman that he knew. It was Officer Sinead Mohan and she blew a loud trilling whistle directly into his ear. Kahuna winced, as the sound punched his eyeballs from behind.
He awoke before the third ring, realizing that it came from his telephone nearby on the floor.
His wife Kristen had gone out and had been furious with him. Certainly she would not be calling.
“So who died?” he thought.
Kahuna had no friends who would be calling now to chit-chat.
Kahuna’s arm was reaching reflexively toward the ringing sound when Kahuna’s brain took command and retracted his arm. He wanted to remember: he had been trying to work something out in that dream, something important. Kahuna clutched at one gossamer thread of the dream that remained and he held it, tethering himself between the evaporating dream and reality.
Kahuna snatched the over-sized couch pillow and smothered the phone.
Officer Sinead Mohan and her rookie partner Canh Nguyen had been on duty in the district for two hours when they got the report of “shots fired”. Now, as they approached the blue Volkswagen stopped in the middle of the road, they saw a woman standing unsteadily, one hand raised to cover her mouth, as if holding back a scream that she dared not release.
Sinead said to Cahn, “Call it in. We might need help here. Code 6-Adam. We’re at…South Central and East 17th.”
Sinead then quickly exited the patrol car and she drew her gun and while shooting glances all around she stepped toward the woman cautiously.
Sinead asked firmly, “Ma’am?” but gently, “Are you alright?”
The rookie officer Canh had positioned himself behind the open passenger door of the patrol car, mentally checking-off standard procedures. This was his second week on the job and he was still a little nervous, especially in this part of town. His feet were planted solid. Check. A bit wider than his shoulders. Check. His right hand rested, just above the hip and his weapon. Check.
Sinead asked the woman again, “Ma’am?” and received no response.
Kristen finally looked over at Sinead for the first time but remained silent.
There was about ten feet between the two women and Sinead was not getting any closer until she had a better grip on the situation.
Sinead pleaded, “Ma’am, please tell me what the problem is. I can’t help you unless I know what’s wrong.”
Kristen slowly allowed her hand to drift down from her mouth. She had been looking toward Sinead but now for the first time her eyes seemed to focus and truly see her.
Kristen heard her own words but the voice, distant and lost, did not sound like hers, saying, “What? What did you say?”
Sinead sensed that the woman might be in shock.
Sinead tried to sooth Kristen, saying, “It’s going to be OK. We’re here to help you. What happened here?”
Kristen broke and started to weep, mumbling, “I thought she must be dead.”
Kristen turned her head back toward her car and saw her own distorted reflection in the window.
Kristen mumbled, “Oh, God, I thought she was dead. But she’s not.”
Canh moved slowly away from the patrol car, gun now drawn. He approached the passenger side of the blue VW coupe. He looked into the front seat. Check. He looked into the back seat. Check. Then he shrugged his shoulders, indicating to Sinead there was nothing in the car.
Then Canh saw the splayed figure of the little girl lying in the street, her eyes still open, head twisted upward and staring.
Canh holstered his weapon and sprinted to the girl, crying, “Jesus! Sinead! Over there, in back of the car!”
Sinead shouted, “Canh!” and she immediately spun around smoothly in a circle, her weapon extended in both hands, surveying her situation over the gun barrel, yelling, “What are you doing Canh? We’re not secure.”
Canh’s eyes raced up and down the little girl’s figure, reporting, “She’s bad, Sinead.”
Kristen moaned, startling Sinead.
Sinead shouted in frustration, “Goddamn it, Canh.”
Canh was already calling on his phone for an ambulance. He put his jacket over the little girl’s torso, talking non-stop to the little girl as if his words were a life-line.
Sinead asked, “Was she shot?” as she continued to cover 360-degrees.
Kristen cried out, “She ran into my car!”
Sinead narrowed her eyes at Kristen and Sinead suddenly just knew that she had seen this woman before.
Sinead asked, “Ma’am? Ma’am! What’s your name?”
Kristen’s response was slow and mechanical. “Kristen, Kristen Jackford.”
The alarm in Sinead’s head went off, and she asked pointedly, “Detective Brent Jackford’s wife? Kahuna?”
Those words beat Kristen down to her knees.
Chapter 6 – “Help Me! I Dance!”
Now it was raining and Kahuna had been dreaming.
In the real world his home telephone was ringing.
His wife Kristen had been furious with him and she had gone out. Certainly she would not be calling. And Kahuna had no friends who would be calling now to chit-chat.
Kahuna snatched the over-sized couch pillow and smothered the phone. He then mentally squeezed back down the rabbit-hole to find that dream again.
Kahuna had been dreaming about the Kristen he fell in love with.
The Kristen of now was tired of being a widow to someone who was not dead. Kristen wanted more of what used to be their life together.
Kahuna in his assignment as husband was giving Kristen a comfortable life and building a good pension. A good pension for later when they would have lots of time to spend together. Kahuna’s better angel now confessed that it was all an excuse so that he could dwell in his job without feeling guilty about neglecting Kristen.
Kristen and he had been at it with each other for the last three days. This had not helped his migraine at all. And it was all the same old re-runs, with each of them repeating their self-acclaimed star performances as victims of each other.
Finally, Kristen had stomped out of the house declaring angrily, “I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
Kahuna nastily had growled back, “Oh, I’ll be counting the days.”
The telephone now stifled under the over-sized couch pillow vibrated another seven or eight times.
It made no difference now. Kahuna had found his way back into that important dream. Kahuna thought to himself vaguely Screw the person on the phone. And their mother can watch.
In his dream Kahuna was with Kris “back in the day”. Back when they had first met in Montejo outside her father’s old stone house.
That day had been extremely hot. And so had Kris! Never accused of being the shy one, Kahuna had asked her out to dinner and she had surrendered to that ol’ Kahuna magic.
From that moment on, for a long time, they had been in agreement on almost everything, at least everything that really mattered.
Kris had rendezvoused with him in the Montejo town square and they had driven back to the Playa Tropica hotel so he could change his cloths. Running up the stairs to the hotel entrance, sprinting through the lobby to the elevators, finally popping into his room he was thankful that he had thought of bringing something for a night out on the town, just in case. Jumping into his black dress slacks, black dress shoes and his favorite Hawaiian shirt he sprayed a cloud of Davidoff Cool Water Cologne over his face and chest and under his arms and he was off again back to the elevator, out through the lobby, and running down the stairs.
Kristen had confessed to him years later, “When I saw you reappear wearing those black pants, black shoes and that gaudy blue and green Hawaiian floral shirt, all I could think was…”
Kahuna interrupted, “…how lucky you were?”
They had talked and laughed through their dinner at the Villa Ramos restaurant. After dinner they had strolled through the Villa’s immaculate gardens, caressed by the cooler night air. Kahuna remembered Kris doing most (if not all!) of the talking. Kahuna was content just listening to her.
Don Ramos had walked them to their car. Seeing Kristen’s yellow VW Cabriolet he said, “Canary yellow suits you so well señorita Kristen. So may your spirit fly free and high. And may you be blessed with all the good things in life and the wisdom to know it.”
Kristen and Kahuna had driven off slowly. So slowly that Kahuna was wondering if her one glass of wine might have had a positive effect on her driving. Unfortunately it was only a courtesy extended to Don Ramos. For as they left the Villa grounds and entered the main road Kristen had stomped and roared off (that is to say, as loudly as a VW can roar).
As the car swung its way back towards the coast, the city lights of Cancun could be seen in the distance off to their right.
Kristen turned to Kahuna and asked, “Do you dance?” as she was rounding a curve and crossing over the center line.
Kahuna flinched and grimaced, “Jesus, if you get us killed what difference does it make?”
There was humor in the way he had said it but just to be on the safe side he had let his hand slip down to confirm that his seat belt was properly fastened.
Ignoring the critique of her driving abilities, Kristen said, “Look up at those stars. Somewhere out there Fred Astaire and Ginger are still dancing.”
“Roger that, but I’m in no hurry to join them dancing with the stars. Por favor!”
Kristen had reluctantly eased her foot from the accelerator. The road which they had been traveling abruptly plunged toward the coastal highway. Kristen made a hard left, cutting the corner short, leaving the city lights of Cancun behind them as they rolled up the coast.
The main highway followed the shore outline for several miles until it reached a small bay and turned inland once again. Kristen made another of her tight turns. Veering off the paved highway, Kristen had aimed the little car down a “secret little dirt road” – and Kahuna had thought a “dirt trail” would be a more accurate description.
Kahuna said, “I thought you were taking me dancing. Is your gang of banditas out here waiting to have their way with me?”
Before Kristen answered, the car cleared the top of the rise, up which they had been zig-zagging in the vain attempt to miss at least half of the pot-holes.
Kahuna’s breath had been taken away by what he now witnessed.
Stretching out in front of them was the entire Gulf of Mexico, divided by a highway of moonlight. It was as if a thousand candles shimmered in the waves.
Kristen whispered, “There it is.”
Kahuna asked, “There it is… what?”
Kristen pointed ahead on the road and announced, “El Frijol Saltarin, the most wonderful unknown dance spot on either side of the Gulf.”
Kahuna mulled the name very seriously, “El Frijol Saltarin? El Frijol Saltarin. You know, it sounds like a bean dip.”
Kristen shook her head and laughed, “It means The Jumping Bean.”
Kahuna strained his eyes but he could only make out a small house down on the edge of the shore. He could discern an adjoining patio, partially covered, that was at least three times the size of the small house. A row of candles flickering around the patio was the only light he could make out. He had not seen a single person.
Kahuna was skeptical, saying, “This place looks exclusive alright. I don’t think there’s anyone around except maybe a lost grunion down on that beach.”
They drove the final approach in silence. As they got closer Kahuna had seen there were a dozen, maybe twenty, cars parked in an unlit area on the far side of the house.
After seeing how small the house really was Kahuna thought that a “hut” was all it deserved to be called.
Kristen eased into a narrow place between two old pick-up trucks. As she turned off the engine Kahuna heard soft tinny music mixed with boisterous laughter escaping from the hut.
Kristen turned to Kahuna and in a very serious voice said, “These are my friends. Almost my family. So please…”
Kahuna smiled, “I’m hurt.”
Kristen repeated, “Please…”
Kahuna asked, “Should I wait here in the car?”
Kristen rolled her eyes and got out of the car.
Kristen had given the house door a cryptic knock and received an equally cryptic response. The door opened and Kristen entered first. The people inside abruptly went wild.
There were wolf-whistles and loud laughter and someone yelled above the turbulence, “Sweet Madre, its Kris! Long time, Senorita!”
As Kristen became engulfed by the crowd they noticed Kahuna entering behind her. Kahuna suddenly felt as if he were in one of those dreams were everyone is staring at you and you suddenly realize you are buck-naked. The tinny music escaping from the radio hung motionless in the air.
Kristen simply announced “He’s with me. He calls himself Kahuna. And I have no idea if he can dance or not!”
One soused señorita shouted, “Hey Kr-eeeeees, I can give Ka-ooona private lessons to dance if he needs.”
At once the place exploded into jubilant shouts and more wolf-whistles, this time from the females who were giving their “seal of approval” to Kahuna.
To Kahuna’s surprise Kristen announced, “Calm you, damas. Whatever that one needs he’ll get from me.”
Kristen and Kahuna participated in a course of hugs, hand-shakes, and not a few pinches. They were handed drinks.
Octavio, a big burly guy who Kahuna later learned owned the hut and who was founding father of El Frijol Saltarin, said, “You guys got here just in time. I was about to crank up the music for the first dance.”
Kahuna had looked over at the small radio, thinking, “How far can you crank that thing up?” But then, remembering Kristen’s warning, he thought twice about voicing his gringo-devil thoughts.
Without any exhortation everyone began moving towards the side-door leading onto the large patio. The candles outside seemed to lead into the canopy of that star-filled Yucatán sky.
Couples claimed their spaces on the huge patio. No one had brought the radio outside so Kahuna had called to Octavio offering to go get it.
The crowd burst into laughter.
Octavio sounded a small dinner bell, hushing everyone into silence.
“Damas y caballeros (ladies and gentlemen), honored guests Kris and Kahuna. It pleases me to have you all here tonight and so without delay I now ask Paco to crank up La Cosa Maldita (The Damn Thing)!”
Everyone began to count-down boisterously. “Tres, dos, un, vamos! (three, two, one, let’s go)!”
Paco hit the switch to a diesel-powered generator. It coughed once and then its heavy cylinders began to bongo.
Kahuna wondered for a moment if they were supposed to dance to the generator’s percussion.
Suddenly, Kahuna thought he heard Jehovah-His-Almighty-Self coming, as a wall of flamenco fusion music hit him, vibrating his clothes and causing all the candles to shudder.
Octavio had stacked arena-sized loudspeakers along the entire outside wall of the patio.
Then the real lights came on: four large flood lamp arrays, surrounding the patio, shinning down from their perches atop twenty-foot high palm trees. It was blinding shock-and-awe all in one apocalyptic moment, even for those who knew it was coming.
Then the bright white lights were dimmed to allow the patio floor to glow, painted in fluorescent greens, reds, blues, yellows and gold.
As the beat undulated from the speakers everyone began gyrating.
Amid this tumult Kahuna thought “Man, I am way out of my gringo dancing shoes!”
And so Kahuna unscrewed all of his gringo joints and swam into the cauldron of music. He chose to go down in flames of humor instead of down with a gawky splat. Forgetting his promise of good behavior to Kristen and throwing both hands high above his head he gyrated wildly and yelled red-faced, “AYUDEME! AYUDEME! BAILO! (Help me, help me, I dance!)”, followed by an even louder “BESEME MUCHO (Kiss me a lot)!”
Kristen then danced to his side, laughing, swaying seductively as Kahuna then fixated on her, mirroring her undulating moves, the two of them moving like the flames of an unquenchable fire.
And so they all danced and drank and sang and shouted until their bodies were molten with sweat.
Chapter 7 – “They Call Me Kahuna”
After hours of hot and spicy dancing to the flamenco fusion music, the clan of dancers at El Frijol Saltarin (The Jumping Bean) erupted from the dance patio and spewed across the moonlit beach in all directions, laughing, shrieking, singing.
Kristen and Kahuna had stumbled out steaming wet. Their hands found each other’s and the two of them then glided together over the warm sand, both of them panting together, both knowing what the other felt.
Kristen spoke first, still catching her breath, and said, “You know, you promised to tell me how Detective Brent Jackford got to be a “Kahuna”.
Kahuna released her hand and leapt in a circle around Kristen and made comical “magic” gestures at her. Then, like a melodramatic opera singer he opened his mouth to speak.
“Kahuna is not a nickname. It is what I am.”
Kristen made a wry face in anticipation of Kahuna’s impending joke.
But Kahuna wasn’t joking as he continued, “It happened in the summer I turned twelve. We were living in Redondo Beach, California. Our next door neighbors were Hawaiian. Duke and Kalala Hoapili. Mr. and Mrs. Hoapili were living there when my parents had moved in just after getting married and three years before I was born.
Duke was his real given name. He was kind of a ‘junior’. As the eldest son he had inherited the name from his father, Duke Hewahewa Hoapili, a policeman, who had been christened ‘Duke’ by his own father, a devout Duke Ellington fan.
Anyway, Duke was a big man. Not so much in height as in girth. He owned a popular surf shop there in Redondo Beach, where he designed and manufactured custom surf boards. He liked to tell his clients – they were never called customers – about how in his youth he had ridden ‘the biggest waves of Hawaii.’ He always ended his rendition with the disclaimer ‘Of course that was when I only weighed 250 pounds; there’s not a board or a wave big enough to support me now.’ Everyone would laugh, Duke usually the loudest.
Duke and Kalala had no children so they doted upon and pampered the obnoxious neighbor kid…”
Kristen deduced, “You,” as Kahuna confessed, “Me.”
They both laughed.
Kahuna continued, “I was invited on trips, showered with presents on birthdays and holidays. Growing up I had known them proudly as ‘Aunt Kalala’ and ‘Uncle Duke’. Imagine my disappointment when I could finally understand they were not really blood relatives, just very good friends and neighbors.
But one day, during a routine check-up Duke’s blood chemistry alarmed the doctors. After four months the doctors finally found out what was wrong with him. It was cancer. From the way everyone started acting, it was more than I wanted to know. I refused to accept what everyone else did: Duke’s days were numbered. He went from 250 pounds to 130 during that awful time.”
Kahuna gazed up at the stars, into the past, “I started to visit him every day. He had begun to reveal things to me, a punk kid. I was astonished. He began to teach me the ways of Hawaiian kahuna. Kahuna can mean ‘priest’ or ‘sorcerer’ or ‘magician’ or ‘expert’.
Duke even revealed to me the mysteries of the Night Rainbow, the rainbow around the moon.”
Kristen said, “You’re making me shiver.”
Kahuna glanced at her and Kristen saw no joking in his expressions.
Kahuna continued, “Duke had accepted his fate and whenever his condition would sink another notch lower he revealed to me another whole level of traditional kahuna. I could tell that Duke knew there wouldn’t be enough time. There are hundreds of kahuna. Duke explained maybe forty of them to me. There are ten ‘ranks’ of ‘sorcery kahuna’ alone.”
Kahuna stopped talking and took a deep breath as he continued to look above.
Under the blacken night sky, never so pure as in the wake of fallen moons, Kristen was witnessing the frosted fields of stars in Kahuna’s eyes.
Kahuna’s suddenly glistening eyes bespoke lips that quivered, “I matured into a young man during that chapter of suffering and pain. But while I had grown, Duke had withered. Neither of us spoke about the pain we each felt inside. Duke had pills when the pain became unbearable. I could only swallow the lump in my throat as things turned for the worse.
One day Duke, who was now at his home, had asked for me to drop by earlier than usual, saying he had something he wanted to share with me. Duke’s wife Kalala, my ‘Aunt Kalala’, had propped her husband up with pillows so that Duke could sit upright. The ‘something’ that Duke wanted to share with me was in a small wooden box. Kalala had tied a bright sea-green ribbon around the box, letting it be known this was a gift, something special.
Duke, with a weak voice, could only whisper, ‘What’s in this box means a new start for both of us!’
I was about to say something, when Duke hushed me, finger to his lips.
Duke wheezed, ‘I am not certain where my new start will take me yet I am very certain that your new start will lead into an exciting life.’
Duke had then untied the ribbon taking a wooden talisman from the box. It was an elegant carving of the Night Rainbow, the moon with a rainbow ring around it, really ingeniously carved. Real art. It looked really old, like a weathered museum piece. He held it up, looking it over as a jeweler might examine a diamond of great value. With both hands open he offered it to me.
Duke had taught me the ceremony. It was a way of saying ‘Take this talisman, for it will soon be the home of my spirit, and I want you to hold me until I return.’ We looked each other directly in the eye for the last time. Duke closed his eyes as if dismissing me and so I left as my ‘Aunt Kalala’ tearfully leaned over the bed and embraced my ‘Uncle Duke’.
That is my last memory of him alive.”
Kristen’s eyes were glistening.
Kahuna suddenly said, “I guess I’m a kahuna of tears, too,” and he smiled wryly, wiping his own eyes.
Kristen and Kahuna sat down, embraced each other and fell slowly backward, intertwined. Their open mouths pressed together. His tongue stroked her tongue, both of them gasping. He cradled her head in his hand and kissed her face all over, again and again. As he rained kisses on her neck and breast she kissed the top of his head . They unbuttoned each other, rubbing and kissing each other’s exposed skin. Kristen closed her eyes and laid her head back, breathing fast as Kahuna’s tongue marched over her breasts. He held each nipple between his lips and sucked and licked until her nipples rose hard in defiance. His hand repeatedly stroked her belly from her breasts down to that oasis of his desire. Kahuna then carried his kisses down her belly and beyond her sweet oasis. Kristen gasped as he plunged his hot tongue into her.
Kristen grabbed the hair on Kahuna’s head and pulled him up on top of herself. They struggled together for a long time, moaning with the weight of their love that remained yet unexpressed fully.
And then they exploded together into the fields of stars.
For a long time there was only the sound of little waves, lapping the firm, damp sand on the beach.
THE WORRY DOLLS
There is a legend amongst the highland Indian villages of Guatemala.
If you have a problem, then share it with a Worry Doll.
Before going to bed, tell one worry to each doll, then place them beneath your pillow.
While you sleep the dolls will take your worries away.
Chapter 8 – “Hi-yo, Batman!”
Officer Canh Tran had placed his jacket over the fallen little girl’s torso and he was talking to her non-stop as if his words were restraining her from further descent.
Kristen Jackford was in anguish, “I didn’t see her, I didn’t see her.”
The original police call had been “shots fired”. Officer Sinead Mohan still stood with gun drawn and continued to cover the 360-degrees of their situation.
They all heard the cry of an approaching emergency vehicle.
Canh was leaning closer to the little girl’s face, and now he was just jabbering.
Kristen descended to her knees with her face bowing to the asphalt.
A police Tactical Emergency Medical Support (TEMS) armored rescue vehicle (ARV) was growling up the street to them. This struck Sinead as very odd.
TEMS ARV only appeared in the most dire “active shooter” situations. They were operationally manned by teams made up of two members of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) and two tactical medics.
These tactical medics meet the same physical standards as SWAT. They attend and participate in all SWAT training so they can operate as one unit. Although the tactical medics are trained to be familiar with the firearms that SWAT operators carry, the medics are unarmed. Their uniforms are the same as SWAT except for the word MEDIC on their sleeves.
Sinead hollered, “Clear,” and quickly pointed toward Cahn and the little girl. Then Sinead then pointed at Kristen, thinking involuntarily, “Around the department everyone jokingly refers to you as ‘Mrs. Kahuna’”.
But this was no damn joke.
Sinead remembered her first meeting with “Kahuna”, Detective Brent Jackford. Sinead had been with L.A.P.D for three years and was applying for Detective. Normally that would not have been enough time to qualify. But Sinead, with four years prior military police experience in the Marine Corps and a Master’s Degree in Police Science, had earned herself a cut in line.
Others had told her that Detective Brent Jackford was a good and fair evaluator and that he had been assigned to do the first set of interviews with all applicants.
Indeed, Detective Brent Jackford had been very business-like, exhuming the contents of her personnel folder and not trying to evaluate the contents of her uniform. Sinead bristled at the way some male officers discounted her and the other female officers and she never gave-in “good-naturedly”, never played-along, never accepted it. She was to many of them a tall good-looking red-headed green-eyed firecracker. First. And a trusted fellow officer. Second.
Detective Brent Jackford had started the interview with a surprisingly simple question and it had caught her off-guard, asking, “So, Officer Mohan, why the hell do you want to become a Detective?”
She was about to speak when Detective Brent Jackford continued, “And don’t recite your résumé. Tell me what you think.”
Sinead did think, cynically, “You are scratching for any reason not to pass me.”
But when Sinead started to speak Detective Brent Jackford appeared to listen to her seriously. He even took some notes. He was listening, actually listening to her, concentrating on her reasons. When she had finished Detective Brent Jackford had just one final question.
“Are you certain that you don’t have anything more you’d like to bring up – good or bad – that’s not in your pretty little résumé? Say, trouble as a teenager?”
Sinead thought, “Pretty little résumé? Asshole,” and she considered her teenage scrapes and scars, tightening herself up like a twisting rope, then thought, “No police record,” and she exhaled, saying, as she forced herself to unclench, “No, sir, I think my file speaks for me completely and accurately.”
Her irritation now at Detective Brent Jackford’s slight smile was surely her own paranoia but Sinead imagined a cartoonish Detective Brent Jackford’s hand rising high above his head and then arcing down to hammer “REJECTED” onto her application.
Instead, Detective Brent Jackford closed her file, placed his folded hands on top of it and looked at her with an unbending gaze, and he said, “Officer Mohan, I agree one-hundred percent: your file does speak for itself. I am therefore giving my unreserved recommendation.”
Sinead suddenly felt dizzy. Detective Brent Jackford cautioned, “Please remember though, I am only the first step in a long procedure, and you’ll learn that I really have very little clout in any final decisions around here.”
He stood up and reached across the table warmly, “I wish you success.”
Sinead, surprised, shook his hand and looked back directly into his eyes. His handshake was wholehearted. But…weren’t they shaking hands a little too long? Sinead blushed, got angry at herself for blushing and blushed more deeply.
Detective Brent Jackford released her hand, winked and said, “FYI, everyone here calls me ‘Kahuna’”.
Kahuna then gave her one of his cards with his cell phone number written on the back.
“If you need any help getting through this process…” and he let the innocent silence speak for him.
Kahuna was true to his word, taking every opportunity at which he encountered her to ask how she was doing and to give her advice. He really seemed objectively interested in her succeeding.
But now Sinead had begun to feel decidedly un-objective about Kahuna.
And with that realization, Sinead was back in focus at the accident scene. She kept her weapon poised in one hand and then with the other hand she pulled out her cell phone and hit Kahuna’s speed-dial number.
“Kahuna, it’s me. Yeah. You gotta get down here. Your wife’s OK, but she’s been in an accident. Yes. She’s OK. But maybe she hit… some kid. I’ll text the location.”
The Tactical Medic Team Leader approached her. Sinead knew him. All the cops knew him. It was “Lonzie” Malonza.
Lonzie asked, “Wha’cha’ got, Sinead?” Lonzie’s big voice was direct but calm, “We were wrapping up training maneuvers when we heard the call.”
Sinead nodded, “Hey, Lonzie. We were responding to that ‘shots fired’ a few minutes ago, and this is what we found. That little girl apparently was hit by that car. That’s the driver over there.”
Lonzie asked, “Think she’s anything to do with the ‘shots fired’?”
Sinead replied, “We don’t think so. She’s Kahuna’s wife. Kristen”.
Lonzie turned toward Kristen. “Damn”, he said softly. “Does Kahuna know yet?”
“I just called him. He’s on his way.”
A large white car was approaching the accident scene. SWAT raised their weapons.
Lonzie joked flatly, saying, “That can’t be Kahuna, not in that ride!”
Officer Canh, having surrendered the little girl to the two EMT paramedic women, stood erect, strangely exhausted, and gazed at the approaching vehicle. From childhood memories of classic-car shows, he could hear his uncle reciting, “An angel-white 1976 Lincoln Continental Mark IV, classic two-door coupe, boasting a powerful 7.5 liter V-8 engine, immaculate, looking as if it had just been driven off the sales floor in 1976.”
Canh smiled a little at that voice in his head.
The Lincoln pulled to the curb quickly a respectful distance away. The headlights turned off. The driver emerged, a man who had short white hair, a short white beard and wore a white suit.
Sinead thought, “He’s pretty agile for an old guy.”
Canh remarked to himself, “Man, even his shoes are white.”
Sinead observed, “But his face is not soft, and his eyes look like two bullet-holes.”
Sinead called out, “Stay back, sir. What are you doing here?”
The man continued to approach. “I am Pastor Alistair Lambert. From the San Nicolas Mission, a few blocks over that way.”
Sinead commanded, “Halt. This really does not concern you!”
Pastor Alistair Lambert said, “I am looking for a lost little girl.”
Canh spoke up, “A little girl has been injured here.”
Sinead shot Canh a scowl.
Pastor Alistair Lambert halted and said, “Oh, dear God. Where is she?”
Sinead replied reluctantly, “They’re working on her. She’s going in the ARV… the ambulance.”
Pastor Alistair Lambert gestured at the formidable ARV and asked, “Is that your ambulance? I have to see her! Please! She could be one of my orphans.”
Sinead said, “Please, yourself, sir, you can see her at the hospital.”
Pastor Alistair Lambert had seen the paramedics lifting the little girl on a stretcher into the ARV.
Pastor Lambert then looked toward Kristen beside the askew VW, now standing upright with her hand over her mouth.
Pastor Lambert suddenly called out to Kristen, “Did you do this?”
Kristen looked over at Pastor Lambert, startled, as Pastor Lambert continued to say, “Did you do this? What have you done? You stupid bitch! What have you done?
Kahuna had snapped out of his reverie twenty minutes before, back at their house. Standing with a blanket over his shoulders he looked out of the rain-spattered window up to the rainbow around the moon.
Kahuna knew now that he could never throw away what he had with Kristen. Yes, yes, fine, he could quit the force if that was what it took. He would quit the force, dammit.
“I’ll quit this shit tomorrow,” he vowed. He was going to call Kristen but now his cell phone was ringing. Police business? This time he answered.
“Yeah? Sinead?! What..? Is she hurt? Jesus, is she OK? Is the kid OK? I’m on my way! Wait! Where are you?”
The second EMT paramedic, Ashkira, suddenly shouted, “She’s conscious!”
Kristen ran to the ARV, crying out, “What? What?”
Ashkira cooed to the little girl, “Hey, sweet thing, hey, what is your name?”
The little girl mumbled shyly, “Rosalinda,” and she blinked heavily and asked, “Where is Juanita?”
Ashkira said, “I’m sure Juanita is fine, Rosalinda. You just lie still now. Rest, ok?”
Kristen almost shrieked, “Oh, God, thank God, thank God.”
Kristen turned to EMT paramedic Jana standing at the doorway of the ARV and cried, “I have to go with her. Let me go with her!”
Jana looked over at Lonzie, “What should I do?”
And just then a motorcycle in high gear was heard approaching. It shot down the nearby freeway off-ramp and slid to a halt near the ARV.
It was Kahuna.
He jumped off of the motorcycle and ran straight for Kristen. He was still wearing his floral Hawaiian shirt, dirty washed-out jeans and moccasin slippers. He was wet from the rainwater that had sprayed up from other vehicles on the freeway.
Kristen cried, “Brent!”
Kahuna ran to her and grabbed her. She buried her face into his chest, sobbing. Then suddenly, she pushed herself away and cried at him, “This is all your fault!” Kahuna reached for her and she pummeled his chest with both fists, “You bastard! This is all your fault!” Then Kristen covered her face and cried.
Sinead asked Kahuna, “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fuckin’ peachy, Sinead. What’s happened?”
“It was an accident, Kahuna. But that guy over there, he’s been yelling at your wife.”
“He has? Who is he?” Kahuna stomped toward Pastor Lambert. “What’s your story?” he snorted.
Canh stepped in front of Kahuna, talking fast, “He’s Pastor Lambert and he runs the San Nicolas Monastery right near here. I just checked and they do have an orphanage where they find homes for kids from Guatemala like that little girl. He says the little girl went missing and he was trying to find her.”
Kahuna glared right over Canh’s head into Pastor Lambert’s eyes. Kahuna thought to himself, “That guy dresses like a televangelist but those aren’t the eyes of a preacher.”
Pastor Lambert suddenly softened as if reading Kahuna’s mind. “Forgive me. I have been so rude. I have been so upset. That poor little girl. I have been looking for her for two days. Can I not see her? Please. I beg of you.”
Sinead said firmly, “Pastor Lambert, you can meet them at the Kaiser Hospital.”
Lonzie announced, “Kristen can ride along in the ARV. We’ll get her VW picked-up.”
Just then, from a few blocks away came the hammering of automatic-gunfire.
Kahuna and Sinead were already running toward her police cruiser.
Sinead yelled over her shoulder, “Canh, secure this site.”
Cahn threw his arms up, “What? Sinead! I’m your partner!”
Kahuna heard Kristen calling to him and he stopped and turned. He saw hurt and disbelief in her eyes.
“You’re leaving me? You’re leaving me? You aren’t on duty!”
“I’m needed here, Kris!” he pleaded. “You’ll be OK.”
“You are not needed! SWAT is here. Do I mean anything to you?” She cried, “You selfish bastard! You go to hell with your damn job!”
“This isn’t a job!” he snarled back and then regretted it. “I’ll meet you at the hospital.”
Kristen cried, “Don’t bother. I’ll be just fine on my own from now on!”
Jana touched Kristen’s arm to show support, but that was a beginner’s mistake.
Kristen snarled, “Keep your hands off me, missy!”
Kristen climbed up into the ARV, crying.
Sinead and Kahuna sped away.
Lonzie, behind the wheel, commanded, “Change of plan. We follow.”
Kristen gasped, “But, the little girl…”
Ashkira reported quickly to Lonzie, “The little…Rosalinda is stable, Lonzie.”
Lonzie said, “Giddy-up,” and the ARV snorting like a rhinoceros and heaved around to follow Sinead and Kahuna.
Pastor Lambert ran to his white Lincoln. He then proceeded to follow the ARV at a distance.
Canh shouted, “Hey!” and he stood there like a kid no one wanted to play with.
Canh locked the doors of Kristen’s VW. He called it in.
Cahn paced and then stood where the little girl, Rosalinda, had lain. He noticed the tiny match-sized figurines all brightly colored and with little painted faces, strewn like a halo around where her body had been. He picked them up, one by one very carefully and put them into a baggy that he carried in his shirt pocket.
Canh thought, “Well, Sinead, the site’s secured like you ordered. Now, just how the hell am I supposed to be any help to you?”
Canh looked over at Kahuna’s motorcycle.
More hammering automatic-gunfire.
Canh was on the motorcycle. He shouted, “Hi-yo, Batman!” and he throttled away to join the others.