The carafe arrived on my thirty-second birthday, in a small wooden crate. A man in a dark blue suit had carried the crate directly to my apartment door. As usual I signed with a fake name.
I pulled up the nails at the edges of the crate with a crowbar I had handy, and before I tore through the packing I discovered the envelope buried shallow amidst the polystyrene peanuts, on which my real name was printed in a familiar hand. “Here’s a great pair for your birthday!” the card read on the outside flap, depicting the deep fleshy cleavage of breasts surrounded by the lace trim of a bra colored pink. However, when I opened the card, the “great pair” promised a second ago were revealed as butt cheeks hanging out of a pair of jeans pulled down. “Love, Mom” had been tattooed in cursive on the left cheek.
A folded rectangle of paper slipped from the card as I’d opened it—I recognized it as the stationery that had somehow invaded every lost address I’d occupied since boarding school. I unfolded the page dated October 12th, my birthday.
My Dear Son,
Thought of you when I found this online. From Atlantis, that island that sunk—what was it, a gazillion years ago? I remember how you used to read all those myths when you were a kid. Had to bully more than a couple bidders from a higher price, but well worth it. Happy Birthday.
PS. It’s real. Certification inside. Recovered by a Greek pirate two million BC and traded through Europe for like a billion or so years. It’s old. The certificate has more info. Love, Me.
I set card and letter on the floor and reached deep into the crate’s stuffing until I felt the rough the surface of an object. I gripped what felt like the lip of something, and a mini avalanche of paper and peanuts tumbled to my carpet as I removed the gift.
“It’s a jug,” I said aloud. Earth-brown baked ceramic, unadorned and unglazed, crudely shaped into a vessel some aboriginal persons might have served river water out of. The lower two-thirds of the jug was bloated and round, and its shape constricted upward into a trim waist convenient for a hand hold. The top of the jug fluted out, with one point pinched in a curved triangle for pouring.
I wasn’t disappointed by the birthday gift—it was my mom’s way. One year she’d written me a check for ten thousand dollars. Another year she gave me a decorative toothpick holder formerly owned by King Ludwig the Mad of Bavaria, which I later sold for twelve thousand.
I set my mother’s gift on the glass-topped coffee table and called my sister Shelley, who happens to have the same birthday as me.
“What’d you get?” I asked.
“You first,” she said.
“Clay thing from Atlantis,” I said.
“Lamborghini,” Shelley said.
“Don’t be envious, Henry,” Shelley told me. “Feel like taking a birthday drive?”
“Waikiki? Or the North Shore?”
“Waikiki it is,” I said.
Shelley fetched me upon the canine growl of the 10-cylinder engine echoing in the parking structure of my apartment building. She’d maxed out the sound system with the Etudes of Philip Glass, which fit our driving experience past the glass walls of the Convention Center as a calfskin glove might fit over the paw of a Labrador. Our birthday dinners, to which only the two of us were ever invited, were always held either at Hy’s Steak House or Jameson’s By the Sea in Haleiwa, where Shelley had developed a morbid obsession with the Crab Louie.
As we entered, Audy Kimura plucked and whispered his way through spineless songs of lovers and friends on the stage near the bar, wishing he could in some way split the difference. A host in a tuxedo led us past the ornately carved wooden bar to a booth near the back, where we were enveloped in red leather. It was as classy an experience in Hawaii as one could get.
I ordered prime rib rare and Shelley a filet mignon, and neither of us stopped to make a remark until we’d gone through the Caesar salads, the rolls, a bottle of wine and three quarters of our meat slabs. Then we finally sat back and began to enjoy our meal. I asked the waitress if I could smoke, and it wasn’t until I produced a certain card from my wallet that she directed me to the kitchen, where I took long drags and exhaled upwards while the cooks glared at me from fires and sinks and stainless steel tubs of food. I got the feeling they resented me. “Hey, only I can be me, so I might as well get the most out of it,” I said. The dumb fucks stayed silent, having no idea what I meant.
When I returned to the table, the ambient light scheme of our booth had been enhanced by the glowing screen of a smart phone in front of Shelley’s face. “So tell me more about your gift,” she said without looking at me. Her thumbs worked like creatures independent of her will. “You said Mom got it from Atlantis or something?”
“Apparently,” I said, sliding back into my seat. “It looks like a vase. But made by a ten year old.”
“The lost city of Atlantis,” Shelley read from her phone. “Sunk into the sea before recorded history. Says here that Atlanteans were renowned for their music. Says they developed radical ways of organizing harmonic structures.”
“Renowned for their music, disgraced by their crafts,” I said, pouring a glass from the second bottle of wine.
Shelley lowered her cell phone. “So, are you going to keep it? Or are you just going to see how much you can get for it?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. It doesn’t go with anything in the apartment.”
“Maybe it’s time we redid the place,” Shelley said. “Could be fun.”
I shrugged. “Well, if Mom came to visit and saw her jug from Atlantis in the middle of the living room—she might finally begin to take some pity on the old boy.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Shelley said.
As the wine and the excessive meat dinners began to take their tolls on our conversation, the softly sung syllables from Audy’s second set replaced our words and thoughts. Both of us were thoroughly irritated by the time I called for the bill. Naturally, Shelley paid.
“It’s interesting,” she told me later, as she held the Atlantean carafe in my apartment.
“The world’s most interesting piece of clay,” I replied, holding out the stamped certification pages that had been included in the birthday crate.
“It’s not a jug, it’s a carafe,” Shelley said, turning to the second of the pages. “For use during ceremonial symposia.”
“Symposia or no symposia, it clashes with the post-futurist look I’ve tried to accomplish here.” The chrome, the trim leather furniture, the low wattage light bulbs, the glass surfaces.
“And since your endeavor into Asimov-inspired interiors has proven unsuccessful, why not start over again?”
That weekend, Shelley drove me to the big furniture store on Kapiolani Boulevard, just a few blocks from Ala Moana. The serpentine walls of the establishment were made up of glass windows touched off with orange metal panels. Its opulent self-importance in the midst of animal groomers, fish food suppliers, KFC and Wal-Mart targeted it as the first place to be looted and burned in the inevitable revolution. The store’s lack of clientele throughout our afternoon made Shelley and I assume the joint was on the perpetual brink of bankruptcy.
When we first walked in, we treated ourselves to skim cappuccinos and berry muffins at the Illy kiosk at the front door. After an initial trek through show rooms of bedroom sets and dining room tables and chairs and lighting fixtures mostly colored gold, we were amazed to find a wine bar on the top floor. We indulged in bruschetta and four or five wine sampler trays apiece.
Both of us somewhat hammered, I convinced a salesperson I was passionate about a Southwestern-themed living room set I’d seen on the first floor: the turquoise, the ceylon, the burnt sienna and the amber. The overwhelming brownness. Shelley snickered behind her hand, adrift in the stain resistant cushions of a sofa with one leg over an oak end table. I gushed about the desolate hues of Arizona and slowly, in increments growing imperceptibly as I spoke, I began to believe myself. The salesman, with product freezing his hair in shiny curls atop his head, nodded, encouraging me. Soon, an interest that had started off tongue in cheek became fixed in my mouth, then in my mind. Coyotes. Eagles. Snakes.
“What are you doing?” Shelley said, pulling herself out of the sofa with a display of effort similar to a man holding the inflated wheel of a tractor over his head. I was telling Mono, my sales guy, which pieces I wanted delivered and assembled by his associates that afternoon. “You can’t be serious.”
“I’m like Jim Morrison,” I said. “I got the desert in my soul.”
“This—this is corny.”
“Think adobe. Buffalo hide. Dried out riverbeds. It’ll go great with my Atlantean carafe.”
As we left, I tried to convince Shelley of a drink and a karaoke number at one of the obscure office bars along the neighborhood, but she reminded me that the installation specialists would be at my apartment in the next few hours. And, I had to figure out who would be taking all of my old furniture away.
That evening, my Atlantean carafe stood on a dust-colored doily in the middle of an unfinished wood table, enhanced in its humble, elemental state by hanging rugs and the clay tones of the American Southwest.
I went to work the following week—I’m an administrative assistant at the OB/GYN department of the University medical school—and when I returned home I alternated my evenings between smoking pot and smoking peyote, which I’d received in the mail some months before. First I experimented with the music of the Doors in the background, thinking all of Jim Morrison’s bullshit might suddenly become clear to me. It didn’t. Rather, the repetitive Afro-funk rhythms of Fela Kuti somehow made more sense in the haze of a Santa Fe sunset. For hours I’d stare at my Atlantean carafe, my smoke flowing along its cracked lip. I imagined myself a shirtless Indian shaman. I couldn’t believe I’d dreamed of getting rid of the carafe. It was the one thing my life had been missing. It was my mother’s love in the form of a totem.
I didn’t quite grasp the strength of my attachment to the gift until I blew a date because of it. I’d been out tarting through Kuhio Avenue, dancing myself into a dripping cyclone under the strobes and blacklights of bars and nightclubs, and at some point I found my fingers interlaced with Kaila’s, whose slippery purple short dress I somehow did not mar with my sweaty intensity. As was my custom, after the bars closed I bought the two of us all-you-can-eat pancakes at Wailana Coffee House, but lost my appetite after the first round. Kaila, with her make up going out as quickly as each replenished order of short stacks was set before her, was not nearly as desirable under the restaurant’s fluorescents as she’d been in the intermittent dimness of the Waikiki streets. I had to get her to my apartment with the lights out. I pleaded with our aloha-print besmocked waitress for a vodka cranberry, or a bloody mary, offering her any arrangement of bills in my wallet. Each time she returned to the booth with a new pile of hotcakes, she offered me coffee. Truth be told, these refusals to serve alcohol, as well as my constant requests for liquor, were more enjoyable to me than Kaila’s enumeration throughout the meal, or meals in her case, of the psycho-physiological effects a given psychedelic had had on her.
“Shrooms was nice, but I was on the toilet for the first part of the night,” she explained in her deep voice. “Not number one. Not number two. Number three.”
“Here she comes again,” I responded, seeing the waitress emerge from behind another booth. “I’m just gonna ask her for a beer this time. Nothing hard. Just a beer.”
Walking back to my place, I despaired to see that line of ocean to my right rimmed with pink. Kalia had taken her time with the pancakes, and her lower abdomen looked fit to bust the seams of her previously immaculate short dress, which was now stained with syrup and a spilled cup of coffee (my fault).
“What are you, some kind of cowboy or something?” Kaila said as she entered my apartment behind me. She turned in a circle to regard my little reproduction of the arid Southwest from all angles, dropping her small purse on a baked leather sofa.
“I ride pretty hard,” I said, pulling her close to kiss her. She was several inches taller than me, so I had to stand on my tip toes.
The compulsion to use the bathroom inhibited the first flush of desire, so I excused myself. When I returned, Kaila stood over the coffee table with my Atlantean carafe in her big hands.
“Put that down, please,” I said.
“Pretty ugly,” Kaila said, those thick fingers imprinting god-knows-what on the carafe’s scarred surface.
“It’s from Atlantis,” I told her.
“Who’s that? Your niece?” She looked at me and smiled and, without an altogether pleasant look on her face, pretended to drop the carafe while catching it.
“Oops,” she said.
I pulled the carafe out of her grasp. My other hand hit her stiff across the cheek.
Fortunately, I’d managed to set the carafe back in its place before Kaila gripped the lapels of my shirt and attacked my face. Not with her nails, with her fists. She knocked me down between the sofa and the wall, my back slamming into the stereo console where I’d lately played my dry menacing Afro-funk. A stack of CDs toppled over me, cases opening, discs rolling. Kaila continued the pummeling, which had been redirected from my face to my chest and stomach. Rather than fight back I tried to, between blows to the mouth and punches to the gut that left me gasping, tell her I’d pay her whatever she wanted if she would just leave. It took all the cash in my wallet to get her out the door.
During a cigarette break on the roof of the hospital, the IT guy, Gerald, mentioned a cock fight on the west side of the island, in those isolate fields that had gone to seed ever since agriculture became a dead business in Hawaii.
“I’m not too sure how I feel about cockfights,” I said, equally thinking they could be somewhat interesting and very dull.
“That’s just the main attraction,” Gerald said. “But it’s all kinds of gambling—cards, dice, roulette. Look man, this kind of thing doesn’t happen too often.”
So that Saturday I rode with Gerald in his lowered Accord out past Ewa Beach, nearly to Waianae, where he parked alongside the curb in a quiet neighborhood subdivision. The mountains above us were darkening, losing definition.
“Here?” I said, the twilight further loosening my already uncertain grip on the events unfolding before me. I’d met Gerald at his house, where he opened his door dressed in a tank top and boxer shorts. “I got something to confess to you,” he said as we sat on his bed, and paused for a long time as he stared at my face. “Okay,” I’d told him, and said “okay” again when still there was no response, after which Gerald reached into his night stand drawer and withdrew the largest stash of marijuana I’d ever seen in one place. “I don’t deal—I just smoke it,” he said, and in between sips from two forties among us, we burned three fatty joints stuffed with sugary indoor. The car ride, soundtracked by the most recent aggro-rap of Rick Ross, was devoid of the conversation in which I usually engaged when beginning an adventure with a new friend.
Beyond the final house at the apex of a cul-de-sac, Gerald led me through the stiff brush and high grasses of land unoccupied, and the evening continued to inhale all the color from the landscape. Gerald’s form before me appeared before me a partially solid silhouette against a growing darkness. For a while I was afraid of my own voice—I was sure Gerald would hand me a shovel at a hidden spot, ordering me to dig a single grave. It wasn’t until I heard shouting voices, in between the knife-sharpening glide of overgrown vegetation against our shoes and legs, that I was somewhat reassured I wouldn’t be murdered.
In the distance, hanging gas lanterns illuminated the flaps and tall frames of tarps and tents. Expletives of victory and ruin comprised the shouting voices. The roving headlights of pickups and SUV’s (presumably those of the cockfight’s VIP’s, since Gerald and I had had to park so far away) gave the scene the drunken atmosphere of a prison break-meets-family camping trip. Bodies materialized in the light next to Gerald, and I moved among their odor-saturated auras with an increasingly light head. I did love to gamble.
Gerald and I registered our names with a young woman at a fold out table set up in front of the rolled flaps of the cockfight tent. Crowds of men, mostly dressed in jeans and work boots, or surf shorts and slippers, and polo and aloha shirts, stood around a ring of dirt impressed in the center of the capacious tent, bottles of Bud Light and Heineken catching the gas lantern light in green and brown gulps. As Gerald explained, the main fight (there would be three fights total that evening) would be between Taco, a rooster of prodigious size and beak acuity, and Dan Fogelberg, a cock somewhat smaller but judged as quicker in both dodging and claw thrust.
“Odds are on Taco five to one,” Gerald said, snapping the cap of his Bud Light towards the UH logo of a baseball cap ten feet away. I watched it flying-saucer over the cock pit before it crashed into the canvas wall of the tent.
It’s not my custom to bet on living things, be they human beings or dogs or chickens. I bet on cards and dice. Things. Things never let one down. Things described how you stood with God at any given moment.
“Gimme two grand on Dan Fogelberg,” I told Gerald. “And get yourself another beer.” I left to buy chips.
“What, you’re not gonna hang around?” Gerald said after I’d given him my bet.
“I want to make like Wild Bill,” I said.
An hour later, after some moderate success in the first few hands of poker, I was in the hole some tens of thousands of dollars. I stepped away from cards toward the craps tables, pretending I would attempt to win my losses back. Instead I made a hurried call to the police, anonymously informing them of the general vicinity of the cockfight tents. Just as I was about the throw the dice for the first time, a full second of silence, which was far more jarring than the weeping and celebrating and death threats and claims of suicide that had previously pervaded the games tables, shocked each gambler’s heart to stopping. Then, everyone broke into a full run from where they stood, chips or drinks be damned. Megaphones blasted through the tent from outside, accompanied moments later by the sirens and blue and white lights that robbed the gas lanterns of their buzzing ambience.
Instead of trying to locate Gerald in the chaos of the adjacent tent, I leaped into the crowded bed of a pickup truck as its rear tires threw up clumps of dirt onto the flashing crime scene. Our group in the back of the truck whispered disbelief at the bust as the driver maneuvered the truck without headlights through the fields onto the road. After the adrenalin subsided and the truck’s headlights marked the highway eastward, my group of bed-riders began to not recognize my features as they fell under and disappeared from each overhead street lamp. I understood my career as a stowaway was over when a bed-rider closest to the rear window knocked three times, and the window opened under his knuckles. After he said a few words, all of them eaten by the wind and the rubber on the highway, the truck pulled under the awning of a gas station and jerked to a stop. I was ejected on my hands and knees, the attendant watching me impassively from his locked booth.
From Sand Island I walked towards my Makiki apartment, waving at cabs as they sped by on the boulevard, their roof signs burning “off duty.” I stepped into a bar in Kakaako, bought drinks for the house, kissed a few people, and when I returned to my apartment at dawn my Atlantean carafe was there for me and I was in Arizona again, in New Mexico, in the dry paradise of my home, my mother watching over me.
I didn’t see Gerald at work the next week, and I didn’t present theories, as the others did, about the reason behind his extended absence. I assumed he’d either been picked up or shot down during the raid. Actually, I was relieved by his disappearance. I’d always found his behavior borderline hostile, even when he said nice things like “I want to be your friend.” Whenever he cornered me at the water fountain, or from behind the copy machine, I couldn’t tell if he wanted to kiss me or kill me.
I’d only lost the principal of what I’d bet on Dan Fogelberg, as well as the initial wager I’d placed on the cards. With Gerald gone, the busted cockfight didn’t seem such a disaster. Maybe Shelley would come over to the apartment and we could build a teepee—I had an idea of doing the living room in black light paint, an irradiated desert.
Just as I lifted the phone to call my sister, three heavy blows made the door to my apartment a quivering, nervous mess. I tiptoed to the offended door, phone still in hand, and softly said, “Gerald?”
“Henry,” a voice called from outside. “I would like to pass along my condolences to you upon the demise of a dear friend of yours.” Gerald? “Dan Fogelberg,” the voice said.
First the name meant only a crappy song I had on a CD compilation. Then it began to mean several thousand dollars.
“Hey brah, I nevah know one Dan Fogelbird,” I called out in my deepest voice. “Get the wrong place, braddah.”
“Cut it with the pidgin bullshit, Henry,” the voice replied. “We knock this door down, that gets replaced at your expense. The same with your face.”
I pulled open the door and three men, all in loose aloha shirts, khakis, and wrap around shades crowded onto the threshold. The one in the middle, though shorter, was more tan, more cut and, when he removed his sunglasses, obviously much crueler than his associates, who looked as though they had just cleaned themselves up in a gas station bathroom after completing an O triple C rape spree. Their leader roamed the apartment with the curiosity of potential lessee while the other two took seats next to each other on the couch.
“A beer sounds fine,” the leader said. “Sterling? Thad? Beer?”
“I’m driving,” one on the couch said. “Diet Pepsi for me.”
“I don’t drink soda, but I’d be happy to brew up some iced tea for us,” I said. “Just give me a few minutes.” I turned in the direction of the kitchen.
“Sit down,” the leader said.
“All the seats are taken,” I replied.
As if he was merely stretching in place, one of the men on the couch took me by my less-than-expansive bicep and yanked hard downwards. I collapsed on my ass on the brown carpet.
When the leader returned from the kitchen with two Miller Lites, he threw one towards the couch, popped the other, and drank long and deep. Respectfully, he belched air into his closed fist.
“Please excuse,” he said. “Henry, my name is Lincoln Cruz.”
“Link Cruz,” I said. What felt like a spike pushed itself through the intricacies of my bowels.
“Henry, you owe me sixty-seven thousand dollars.”
“That can’t be,” I said.
“Henry, you placed a two thousand dollar bet, against odds, on a bird that got torn to shreds within fifteen seconds of the fight.”
“So Dan Fogelberg lost after all. I guess the brute wins again.”
Link shrugged. “Be that as it may, debts aren’t forgiven just because I was inconvenienced by the police for a night. I have to be remunerated.”
“The guy who ratted to the police is one moist mess,” Sterling or Thad said.
“So on top of the rooster tab, you got a poker bill for upwards of—what was it, Thad?”
“Forty-nine grand, making a total of sixty-six thousand, four hundred and thirty seven dollars and twenty-three cents.”
“I can pay that,” I said, brightly.
Calm surprise passed over Link’s face. “Well, that makes everyone’s job a lot easier. When can you have the money?”
I thought for a while. “In five or six years. We can work out a plan.”
Thad scoffed and sipped hard at his beer.
“Not so wise to get wise with me, Henry.”
“Wisdom to me is like telemetry to a chimp,” I replied.
Link seemed to think about this, really think about it, his face scrunched up over his beer. “Hm,” he said. “Sixty-seven thousand dollars, Henry, or we harvest your organs for the cash. Lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, sphincter, testicles. Based on current market, that ought to put us somewhere near the total.”
“You can garnish my wages,” I offered.
Thad leaned forward and set his empty beer bottle on the table, which prepped both of his hands for a slow rending.
“The carafe,” I said. “Take the carafe. It’s easily worth what I owe.”
“I was wondering what that thing was,” Sterling said to Thad. “Caught my eye for some reason.”
“Antiques, eh?” Link said. “And you’re telling me your carafe is worth seventy thousand.”
“It’s from Atlantis,” I said. “I have papers.” I rummaged through the stack of magazines—the titles of which are too embarrassing to mention here—underneath the coffee table. “Here,” I said, passing the certifying document to Link.
He held the papers close to this face before he lowered the set and gave them to Thad, who handed the stapled pages to Sterling. Sterling set the materials on his lap before removing his sunglasses and carefully slipping them in the pocket of his aloha shirt. Just as carefully, he removed a leather case from the same pocket, from which he drew a white-framed pair of readers that he set at the end of his well-endowed nose. After looking over each page, flipping between pages at times, he sniffed. “Looks legit.”
“Thad, take the carafe,” Link said. “I’m contacting my attorney. If even a fraction of this has an odor less than pleasant, I find you and wear your skin as jammies.”
“Best night’s rest you’d ever have,” I said.
You might be asking why, if she had mailed me an Atlantean carafe from some luxurious outpost on the edge of the secretly developed wilderness, it was not an option that my mother supply me with the money with which to pay off Link Cruz. My only response is, she was not like that. All her presents were things that could be lost or wrecked. Not a one resembled grace. The furnishings in my apartment now contributed to a vortex of which there was no center. I knew the Atlantean carafe was not my mother’s love. But I’d been given something special, and I’d given it away.
“Meet me at Wal-Mart,” I said to Shelley over the phone.
“Since have you gone so classy?” she asked.
“I want to buy a gun,” I told her.
Wal-Mart was a kind of New York City on Keeamoku Avenue. The throb of the multitudes combing through the sidewalks before it, past Jambas and Starbucks and L and L Barbeques, and then into the entrance and out the exit, seemed the only real solution of equality and peaceful coexistence in the United States. In the scuffed and waxed aisles of Wal-Mart, stacked high with stationery and vitamin supplements and plant fertilizer, the Filipino walked alongside the haole, the Japanese next to the Micronesian, the physician next to the school custodian, Jeremy Harris shoulder to shoulder with Timmy Chang.
“The cusp of hell,” Shelley said. “Limbo.” Her face had taken on a sickly gray-green complexion under the high lights from the ceiling.
“We’ll split a Little Caesar’s when I’m done,” I said.
I’d gotten distracted by the rifles at the glass counter in the sporting goods section, pressing the stocks of hunting guns hard into my shoulder while eyeballing the narrow sites. The store employee, an overweight woman named Zee, obliged me with each selection, her great glob of keys sounding like a tambourine each time she pulled them from the zip cord on her belt.
“Give it a rest,” Shelley said. “This isn’t a Lee Harvey Oswald operation.”
A rifle, of course, was impractical for the kind of work I wanted to do. I eventually selected a snub-nosed six shooter, something a fat man with a moustache and tinted glasses might carry around in a brown paper lunch bag. I figured I wouldn’t need more than six bullets, total. Precision, not savagery, would be the hallmark of my nascent gunmanship.
“Very Hill Street Blues of you,” Shelley said.
“Okay,” Zee said, laying several documents on the counter in front of me, obscuring the assortment of buck and pocketknives underneath. “I can put the revolver on hold with a deposit. For pick up once you get the licensing paperwork approved.”
“This one has to be notarized—and this submitted to the state office,” Shelley said, spreading the pages in front of us.
“How long is this supposed to take?” I asked Zee.
“Normally, six weeks. If the paperwork is filled out correctly.”
“Six weeks?” I turned to Shelley. “I should have just ordered something off the internet. At least that way it couldn’t have been traced.”
“The gun’s strictly for recreational purposes,” Shelley told Zee, whose fleshy face had begun to sag with mistrust. She looked at me. “Just fill out the papers. That way everything’s legit.”
“Ancient Chinese proverb via Allen Ginsberg,” Zee said. “Never call attention from authorities onto yourself.”
For six weeks I suffered through a rabid mania of expectation. I could feel my gun’s cool weight in my empty hand, just as it had felt at Wal-Mart. I wanted to point it at someone and see what they did. There had never, not once, been a situation I’d not been able to lie, snivel, coerce or pay my way out of. Link Cruz would not ruin that record.
Finding him was easy. Finding anyone in Hawaii is easy, if you know how to use the internet. After I picked up the revolver on Thursday morning, I loaded the six slots in the stairwell of the Wal-Mart parking structure. I had to adjust its position in the waist of my pants before it fit snug and semi-comfortable. Then I walked to Link Cruz’s house in Manoa.
I hadn’t expected Honolulu’s most notorious criminal to operate out of a rented residence off Lowery Street, but I suppose it made sense. He kept a low profile with his white wooden home and small lumpy yard embroidered with browning plumerias from a tree in the center, integrated into a neighborhood of judges and local celebrities in modest, million dollar homes that would have cost forty grand in Peoria, Illinois. I’d traveled up Punahou on the way there, passing walked dogs who sniffed at the gun in my pants and housebound mothers stollering their kids on the grassy paths between driveways.
At the screen door, I heard the television on. Unheard, I opened the door into the living room. I’d prepared myself for a young wife with a baby, whom I’d have to command to lie face down with her hands over her head. Instead, I caught Sterling and Thad unawares as they watched Maury on the sofa. Both were shirtless, and only before I stood in front of the DNA paternity test results on TV did they look at me, neither of them standing.
“You got an appointment?” Sterling asked.
“Just consider me a walk-in,” I said, lifting my shirt. The gun had stained my stomach red where it had chafed for the past two miles.
“Walk-ins always welcome,” Thad said. “The rear office.”
Down the wooden floor of the hallway I stepped lightly, past walls hung with paintings that seemed somehow familiar, and mounted glass cases of artifacts from pre-contact Hawaii. I pushed the door open and drew the gun.
Link Cruz stood behind his desk, his back to me, facing the open jalousies of a window that looked down on the trimmed vegetation and grill of his backyard. Beyond the yard, a washer/dryer unit gleamed white under a neighbor’s awning. When he heard me, he gave me and the gun a quick glance, not pausing once in his conversation over a headset that was connected to a console on his desk.
“Ten million for the bundle?” Link leaned on his desk and looked down.
The office, which I now had time to observe, was not large, but it was an actual office, with paperclips, post-its, a computer, and an in and out tray, and everything meticulously positioned on koa wood and leather surfaces. On top of a series of file cabinets to the left of the desk, a smattering of antique gew jaws were arranged under a framed photo of John A. Burns and William Richardson.
“I’ve got someone waiting on me—no it’s all right. Let’s hammer this thing out Wednesday. You draw up the papers, I’ll bring my attorney. Yeah. You take care. Best to your wife.” He clicked off the console and removed the headset.
“Gives new meaning to the term organized crime,” I said, holding the barrel of the revolver level with his eyes while motioning to the décor of his workspace with my free hand.
“I’m a neat freak, yes. One of those people.” He sat back in his chair and sighed, acknowledging the gun held out to him for the first time. “High technology, natural resources, land—I’m not just a sucker for the grift, Henry. As much fun as the manini is, I’m a big game man, too.”
“You remember my name,” I said.
“Naturally. What can I do for you, Henry?”
“I came for my Atlantean carafe.”
“Carafe. Your Atlantean carafe. Did I borrow it, or something? Is this something we could have done over the phone?”
“You took it from me,” I said.
“Your Atlantean carafe. So you want it buried in your sarcophagus for the next life? It’s just a thing, Henry.”
“You’re the perfect person to preach against the accumulation of worldly goods,” I said, my arm growing tired, my grip slick.
“Things come and things go. I’m just having a blast. Only I can be me, so I better get the most of it.”
He was right. There really wasn’t that much difference between a gangster, a businessman, and a run of the mill asshole.
“Just give me the carafe back, and I’ll leave,” I said.
Link put his fingers to his head. “Your carafe. Your carafe. I don’t have it.”
I placed my thumb on the hammer and drew it back to a snap.
“Two weeks ago I got a tip. It turns out a certain submarine crew had excavated a city literally miles below the Indian Ocean. Sound familiar? Anyway, my guy told me that there would be hundreds of jars, forks, knives, carafes, can openers, lyres, whatever from the undersea kingdom of Atlantis. Like that. So the sweet Atlantean carafe which, thanks to you, had been placed under my stewardship and been appraised at one hundred and seventy thousand dollars, would the next day be one piece of Atlantean crap floating amongst this wave of Atlantean crap. To extend the water metaphor, the market on Atlantean objects would be flooded. So I had to get it off my hands or take a hit. My oversight is, of course, that I didn’t pass along some of those profits along to you. Please accept my apologies.”
My arm and the gun dropped to my side.
“Gone—and worthless. Of no value. Well, maybe five or six grand.” Link Cruz stood from his desk and moved quickly to the ornaments atop the filing cabinets. “I think you’ll agree that things worked out in a way neither of us would have wanted. You lost your carafe. Which, although surrendered in recompense for debts incurred at my establishment, was still of great sentimental value to you. Me, I had to bail out of what I thought was a long-term investment, before I took a bath with this whole Atlantean fiasco.” He held out an object to me. “Maybe we can even things out. This is the opium pipe Virginia Woolf smoked while writing Mrs. Dalloway. This may not bring you love and happiness, but it will definitely get you stoned.”
The pipe had a long bamboo stem, notched in segments at every inch and a half. The bowl looked iron, or perhaps lead, the mouthpiece the same dull gray material. Carved inscriptions decorated the bowl’s rim.
I considered shooting Link, as well as Sterling and Thad. But that would have proven all of us right—that we were all trapped to being ourselves, and that the only way to die was how you lived. There really was no difference between the criminal, the thug, the businessman, the IT guy, the sister, and the run of the mill asshole. We may have been living beings, though only partly human—mostly we were apparitions, clawing at any object that would ground us to the execution of our whims.