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Library of Congress Cataloging In Publication Data
Thompson, Hunter S. The curse of Lono.
i. Thompson, Hunter, S. 2. Journalists—United Slates—Biography..
3. Hawaii—Description and travel—1981- . I. Steadman, Ralph. II. Title.
PN4874.T444A33 1983 07p'.92'4 [B] , 83-90660
ISBN 0-553-01387-4 (pbk.)
Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada
Now it is not good for the Christian's health to hustle the
Arian brown, For the Christian riles, and the Arian smiles, and it weareth
the Christian down;
And the end of the fight is a tombstone white with the name
of the late deceased, And the epitaph drear: 'A Fool lies here who tried to hustle
Rudyard Kipling "The Naulahka"
The Romantic God Lono
I have been writing a good deal, of late, about the great god Lono and Captain Cook's personation of him. Now, while I am here in Lono's home, upon ground which his terrible feet have trodden in remote ages—unless these natives lie, and they would hardly do that I suppose—I might as well tell who he was.
The idol the natives worshipped for him was a slender un-ornamented staff twelve feet long. Unpoetical history says he was a favorite god on the island of Hawaii—a great king who had been deified for meritorious services—just our fashion of rewarding heroes, with the difference that we would have made him a postmaster instead of a god, no doubt. In an angry moment he slew his wife, a goddess named Kaikilani Alii. Remorse of conscience drove him mad, and tradition presents us the singular spectacle of a god traveling "on the shoulder"; for in his gnawing grief he wandered about from place to place, boxing and wrestling with all whom he met. Of course this pastime soon lost its novelty, inasmuch as it must necessarily have been the case that when so powerful a deity sent a frail human opponent "to grass," he never came back anymore. Therefore he instituted games called makahiki, and ordered that they should be held in his honor, and then sailed for foreign lands on a three-cornered raft, stating that he would return some day, and that was the last of Lono. He was never seen anymore; his raft got swamped perhaps. But the people always expected his return, and they were easily led to accept Captain Cook as the restored god.
Mark Twain Letters from Hawaii
RUNNING May 23, 1980
Hunter S. Thompson c/o General Delivery Woody Creek, CO
To keep a potential screed down to a few lines, we would like you to cover the Honolulu Marathon. We will pay all expenses and an excellent fee. Please contact us.
Think about it. This is a good chance for a vacation. Sincerely,
Paul Perry Executive Editor, Running Magazine
October 25, 1980 Owl Farm
I think we have a live one this time, old sport. Some dingbat named Perry up in Oregon wants to give us a month in Hawaii for Christmas and all we have to do is cover the Honolulu Marathon for his magazine, a thing called Running. .. .
Yeah, I know what you're thinking, Ralph. You're pacing around over there in the war room at the Old Loose Court and thinking, "Why me? And why now? Just when I'm getting respectable?"
Well. . . let's face it, Ralph; anybody can be respectable, especially in England. But not everybody can get paid to run like a bastard for 26 miles in some maniac hype race called the Honolulu Marathon.
We are both entered in this event, Ralph, and I feel pretty confident about winning. We will need a bit of training, but not much. The main thing will be to run as an entry and set a killer pace for the first three miles. These body-nazis have been training all year for the supreme effort in this Super Bowl of marathons. The promoters expect 10,000 entrants, and the course is 26 miles; which means they will all start slow . . . because 26 miles is a hell of a long way to run, for any reason at all, and all the pros in this field will start slow and pace themselves very carefully for the first 20 miles.
But not us, Ralph. We will come out of the blocks like human torpedoes and alter the whole nature of the race by sprinting the first three miles shoulder-to-shoulder in under 10 minutes.
A pace like that will crack their nuts, Ralph. These people are into running, not racing—50 our strategy will be to race like whorehounds for the first three miles. I figure we can crank ourselves up to a level of frenzy that will clock about 9:55 at the three-mile checkpoint... which will put us so far ahead of the field that they won't even be able to see us. We will be over the hill and all alone when we hit the stretch along Ala Moana Boulevard still running shoulder-to-shoulder at a pace so fast and crazy that not even the judges will feel sane about it. . . and the rest of the field will be left so far behind that many will be overcome with blind rage and confusion.
I've also entered you in the Pipeline Masters, a world class surfing contest on the north shore of Oahu on Dec. 26.
You will need some work on your high-speed balance for this
one, Ralph. You'll be shot through the curl at speeds up to 50 or even 75 miles an hour, and you won't want to fall.
I won't be with you in the Pipeline gig, due to serious objections raised by my attorney with regard to the urine test and other legal ramifications.
But I will enter the infamous Listen Memorial Rooster Fight, at $1,000 per unit on the universal scale—e.g., one minute in the cage with one rooster wins $1,000 . .. or five minutes with one rooster is worth $5,000 .. . and two minutes with five roosters is $10,000 ... etc.
This is serious business, Ralph. These Hawaiian slashing roosters can tear a man to shreds in a matter of seconds, I am training here at home with the peacocks—six 40-pound birds in a 6' x 6' cage, and I think I'm getting the hang of it.
The time has come to kick ass, Ralph, even if it means coming briefly out of retirement and dealing, once again, with the public. I am also in need of a rest—for legal reasons—so I want this gig to be easy, and I know in my heart that it will be.
Don't worry, Ralph. We will bend a few brains with this one. I have already secured the Compound: two homes with a 50-meter pool on the edge of the sea on Alii Drive in Kona, where the sun always shines.
THE BLUE ARM
We were about forty minutes out of San Francisco when the crew finally decided to take action on the problem in Lavatory IB. The door had been locked since takeoff and now the chief stewardess had r1 summoned the copilot down from the flight deck. He appeared in the aisle right beside me, carrying a strange-looking black tool in his hand, like a flashlight with blades, or some kind of electric chisel. He nodded calmly as he listened to the stewardess's urgent whispering. "I can talk to him," she said, pointing a long red fingernail at the "occupied" sign on the locked toilet door, "but I can't get him out."
The copilot nodded thoughtfully, keeping his back to the passengers while he made some adjustments on the commando tool he was holding. "Any ID?" he asked her.
She glanced at a list on her clipboard. "Mr. Ackerman," she said. "Address: Box 99, Kailua-Kona."
"The big island," he said.
She nodded, still consulting her clipboard. "Red Carpet Club member," she said. "Frequent traveler, no previous history . . . boarded in San Francisco, one-way first class to Honolulu. A perfect gentleman. No connections booked." She continued, "No hotel reservations, no rental cars . . ." She shrugged. "Very polite, sober, relaxed .. ."
"Yeah," he said. "I know the type." The officer stared down at his tool for a moment, then raised his other hand and knocked sharply on the door. "Mr. Ackerman?" he called. "Can you hear me?"
There was no answer, but I was close enough to the door to hear sounds of movement inside: first, the bang of a toilet seat dropping, then running water.. . ,
I didn't know Mr. Ackerman, but I remembered him coming aboard. He had the look of a man who had once been a tennis pro in Hong Kong, then gone on to bigger things. The gold Rolex, the white linen bush jacket, the Thai Bhat chain around his neck, the heavy leather briefcase with combination locks on every zipper. . . . These were not signs of a man who would lock himself in the bathroom immediately after takeoff and stay inside for almost an hour.
Which is too long, on any flight. That kind of behavior raises questions that eventually become hard to ignore—especially in the spacious first-class compartment on a 747 on a five-hour flight to Hawaii. People who pay that kind of money don't like
the idea of having to stand in line to use the only available bathroom, while something clearly wrong is going on in the other one.
I was one of these people.. .. My social contract with United Airlines entitled me, I felt, to at least the use of a tin stand-up bathroom with a lock on the door for as long as I needed to get myself cleaned up. I had spent six hours hanging around the Red Carpet Room in the San Francisco airport, arguing with ticket agents, drinking heavily and fending off waves of strange memories. .. .
About halfway between Denver and San Francisco, we'd decided to change planes and get on a 747 for the next leg. The DC-10 is nice for short hops and sleeping, but the 747 is far better for the working professional on a long haul—because the 747 has a dome lounge, a sort of club car on top of the plane with couches and wooden card tables and its own separate bar, which can only be reached by an iron spiral staircase in the first-class compartment. It meant taking the chance of losing the luggage, and a tortured layover in the San Francisco airport . . . but I needed room to work, to spread out a bit, and maybe_ even sprawl.
My plan, on this night, was to look at all the research material I had on Hawaii. There were memos and pamphlets to read—even books. I had Hough's The Last Voyage of Captain James Cook, The Journal of William Ellis, and Mark Twain's Letters from Hawaii—big books and long pamphlets: "The Island of Hawaii," "Kona Coast Story," "Pu'uhonua o Honaunau." All these and many more.
"You can't just come out here and write about the marathon," my friend John Wilbur had told me. "There's a hell of a lot more to Hawaii than ten thousand Japs running past Pearl Harbor. Come on out," he said. "These islands are full of mystery, never mind Don Ho and all the tourist gibberish— there's a hell of a lot more here than most people understand."
Wonderful, I thought—Wilbur is wise. Anybody who can move from the Washington Redskins to a house on the beach in Honolulu must understand something about life that I don't.
Indeed. Deal with the mystery. Do it now. Anything that can create itself by erupting out of the bowels of the Pacific Ocean is worth looking at.
After six hours of failure and drunken confusion, I had finally secured two seats on the last 747 flight of the day to Honolulu.
Now I needed a place to shave, brush my teeth, and maybe just stand there and look at myself in the mirror and wonder, as always, who might be looking back.
There is no possible economic argument for a genuinely private place of any kind on a ten million dollar flying machine. The risk is too high.
No. That makes no sense. Too many people like Master Sergeants forced into early retirement have tried to set themselves on fire in these tin cubicles . . . too many psychotics and half-mad dope addicts have locked themselves inside, then gobbled pills and tried to flush themselves down the long blue tube.
The copilot rapped on the door with his knuckles. "Mr. Ackerman! Are you all right?"
He hesitated, then called again, much louder this time. "Mr. Ackerman! This is your captain speaking. Are you sick?" "What?" said a voice from inside.
The stewardess leaned close to the door. "This is a medical emergency, Mr. Ackerman—we can get you out of there in thirty seconds if we have to." She smiled triumphantly at Captain Goodwrench as the voice inside came alive again. "I'm fine," it said. "I'll be out in a minute." The copilot stood back and watched the door. There were more sounds of movement inside—but nothing else, except the sound of running water.
By this time the entire first class cabin was alerted to the crisis. "Get that freak out of there!" an old man shouted. "He might have a bomb!"
"Oh my God!" a woman screamed. "He's in there with something!"
The copilot flinched, then turned to face the passengers. He pointed his tool at the old man, who was now becoming hysterical. "You!" he snapped. "Shut up! I'll handle this."
Suddenly the door opened and Mr. Ackerman stepped out. He moved quickly into the aisle and smiled at the stewardess. "Sorry to keep you waiting," he said. "It's all yours now." He was backing down the aisle, his bush jacket draped casually over his arm, but not covering it.
From where I was sitting I could see that the arm he was trying to hide from the stewardess was bright blue, all the way up to the shoulder. The sight of it made me coil nervously into my seat. I had liked Mr. Ackerman, at first. He had the look of a man who might share my own tastes .. . but now he was looking like trouble, and I was ready to kick him in the balls like a mule for any reason at all. My original impression of the man had gone all to pieces by that time. This geek who had
locked himself in the bathroom for so long that one of his arms had turned blue was not the same gracious, linen-draped Pacific yachtsman who had boarded the plane in San Francisco.
Most of the other passengers seemed happy enough just to see the problem come out of the bathroom peacefully: no sign of a weapon, no dynamite taped to his chest, no screaming of incomprehensible terrorist slogans or threatening to slit people's throats. . .. The old man was still sobbing quietly, not looking at Ackerman as he continued to back down the aisle toward his own seat, but nobody else seemed worried.
The copilot, however, was staring at Ackerman with an expression of pure horror on his face. He had seen the blue arm— and so had the stewardess, who was saying nothing at all. Ackerman was still trying to keep his arm hidden under the bush jacket. None of the other passengers had noticed it—or, if they had, they didn't know what it meant.
But I did, and so did the bug-eyed stewardess. The copilot gave Ackerman one last withering glance, then shuddered with obvious disgust as he closed up his commando tool and moved away. On his way to the spiral staircase that led back upstairs to the flight deck, he paused right above me in the aisle and whispered to Ackerman: "You filthy bastard, don't ever let me catch you on one of my flights again."
I saw Ackerman nod politely, then he slid into his seat just across the aisle from me. I quickly stood up and moved toward the bathroom with my shaving kit in my hand—and when I'd locked myself safely inside I carefully closed the toilet seat before I did anything else.
There is only one way to get your arm dyed blue on a 747 flying at 38,000 feet over the Pacific. But the truth is so rare and unlikely that not even the most frequent air travelers have ever had to confront it—and it is usually not a thing that the few who understand want to talk about.
The powerful disinfectant that most airlines use in their toilet-flushing facilities is a chemical compound known as Dejerm, which is colored a very vivid blue. The only other time I ever saw a man come out of an airplane bathroom with a blue arm was on a long flight from London to Zaire, en route to the Ali-Foreman fight. A British news correspondent from Reuters had gone into the bathroom and somehow managed to drop his only key to the Reuters telex machine in Kinshasa down the aluminum bowl. He emerged about 30 minutes later, and he had a whole row to himself the rest of the way to Zaire.
It was almost midnight when I emerged from Lavatory IB and went back to my seat to gather up my research material. The
overhead lights were out and the other passengers were sleeping. It was time to go upstairs to the dome lounge and get some work done. The Honolulu Marathon would be only one part of the story. The rest would have to deal with Hawaii itself, and that was something I'd never had any reason to even think about. I had a quart of Wild Turkey in my satchel, and I knew there was plenty of ice upstairs in the dome bar, which is usually empty at night.
But not this time. When I got to the top of the spiral staircase I saw my fellow traveler, Mr. Ackerman, sleeping peacefully on one of the couches near the bar. He woke up as I passed by on my way to a table in the rear, and I thought I saw a flicker of recognition in the weary smile on his face.
I nodded casually as I passed. "I hope you found it," I said.
He looked up at me. "Yeah," he said. "Of course."
By this time I was ten feet behind him and spreading my research materials out on the big card table. Whatever it was, I didn't want to know about it. He had his problems and I had mine. I had hoped to have the dome to myself for these hours, to be alone, but Mr. Ackerman was obviously settled in for the night. It was the only place on the plane where his presence wouldn't cause trouble. He would be with me for a while, so I figured we might as well get along.
There was a strong odor of disinfectant in the air. The whole dome smelled like the basement of a bad hospital. I opened all the air vents above my seat, then spread my research out on the table. I tried to remember if the British correspondent had suffered any pain or injury from his experience, but all that came to mind was that he wore heavy long-sleeved shirts the whole time he was in Zaire. No loss of flesh, no poison oil in the nervous system, but three weeks in the heat of the Congo had caused an awful fungus to come alive on his arm, and when I saw him in London two months later his hand was still noticeably blue.
I walked up to the bar and got some ice for my drink. On the way back to my desk I asked him, "How's your arm?"
"Blue," he replied. "And it itches."
I nodded. "That's powerful stuff. You should probably check with a doctor when you get to Honolulu."
He eased up in his seat and looked back at me. "Aren't you a doctor?" he asked.
He smiled and lit a cigarette. "It's on your luggage tags," he said. "It says you're a doctor."
I laughed, and looked down at my satchel. Sure enough, the Red Carpet Club baggage tag said, "Dr. H. S. Thompson."
"Jesus," I said. "You're right. I am a doctor."
"Okay," I said finally, "let's get that weird shit off your arm." I stood up and motioned him to follow me into the tiny "crew only" bathroom behind the flight deck. We spent the next 20 minutes scrubbing his arm with soap-soaked paper towels, then I rubbed it down with a jar of cold cream from my shaving kit.
A nasty red rash like poison ivy had broken out all over his arm, thousands of filthy little bubbles. ... I went back to my bag for a tube of Desenex, to kill the itching. There was no way to get rid of the blue dye.
"What?" he said. "It won't wash off?"
"No," I told him. "Maybe two weeks in saltwater can dull it out. Get out in the surf, hang around on the beach."
He looked confused. "The beach?"
"Yeah," I said. "Just go out there and do it. Tell them whatever you have to, call it a birthmark. . . ."
He nodded. "Yeah. That's good, Doc—what blue arm? Right?"
"Right," I said. "Never apologize, never explain. Just act normal and bleach the bugger out. You'll be famous on Waikiki Beach."
He laughed. "Thanks, Doc. Maybe I can do you a favor sometime—what brings you to Hawaii?"
"Business," I said. "I'm covering the Honolulu Marathon for a medical journal."
He nodded and sat down, stretching his blue arm out on the couch to give it some air. "Well," he said finally, "whatever you say, Doc." He grinned mischievously. "A medical journal. Jesus, that's good."
He nodded thoughtfully and put his feet up on the table in front of him, then turned to smile at me. "I was just wondering how I might return the favor," he said. "You staying long in the islands?"
"Not in Honolulu," I said. "Just until after the Marathon on Saturday, then we're going over to a place called Kona."
"Yeah," I said, leaning back and opening one of my books, a nineteenth-century volume titled The Journal of William Ellis.
He leaned back on the cushions and closed his eyes again. "It('s a nice place," he said. "You'll like it."
"Well," I said, "that's good to know. I've already paid for it."
"Yeah. I rented two houses on the beach."
He looked up. "You paid in advance?"
I nodded. "That was the only way I could get anything," I said. "The whole place is booked up."
"What?" He jerked up in his seat and stared back at me. "Booked up? What the hell are you renting—the Kona Village?"
I shook my head. "No," I said. "It's some kind of estate with two big houses and a pool, pretty far out of town."
"Where?" he asked.
There was something wrong with the tone of his voice, but I tried to ignore it. Whatever he was about to tell me, I felt, was something I didn't want to hear. "Some friends found it for me," I said quickly. "It's right on the beach. Totally private. We have to get a lot of work done."
Now he was definitely looking troubled. "Who'd you rent it from?" he asked. And then he mentioned the name of the real estate agent that I had, in fact, rented it from. The look on my face must have alarmed him, because he instantly changed the subject.
"Why Kona?" he asked. "You want to catch fish?"
I shrugged. "Not especially. But I want to get out on the water, do some diving. A friend of mine has a boat over there."
He nodded. "Yeah," he said. "Sure, I know Gene—The Blue Boar." He leaned up from the cushions and turned to look back at me, no longer half asleep. "He's a friend of yours?"
I nodded, surprised by the smile on his face. It was a smile I had seen before, but for a moment I couldn't place it.
Ackerman was still looking at me, an odd new light in his eyes. "Haven't seen him in a while," he said. "He's back in Hawaii?"
Whoops, I thought. Something wrong here. I recognized that smile now; I had seen it on the faces of other men, in other countries, at the mention of Skinner's name.
"Who?" I said, standing up to get some more ice.
"Skinner," he said.
"Back from where?" I wanted no part of Skinner's ancient feuds.
He seemed to understand. "You know anybody else in Kona?" he asked. "Besides Skinner?"
"Yeah," I said. "I know some people in the whiskey business. I know some real estate agents."
He nodded thoughtfully, staring down at the long fingers of his freshly-blued hand as if he'd just noticed something odd about it. I recognized the professional pause of a man long accustomed to the sound of his own brain working. I could
almost hear it—the high-speed memory-scan of a very personal computer that would sooner or later come up with whatever fact, link, or long-forgotten detail he was waiting for.
He closed his eyes again. "The big island is different from the others," he said. "Especially that mess in Honolulu. It's like going back in time. Nobody hassles you, plenty of space to
move around. It's probably the only place in the islands where the people have any sense of the old Hawaiian culture."
"Wonderful," I said. "We'll be there next week. All we have to do in Honolulu is cover the Marathon, then hide out in Kona for a while and lash the story together."
"Right," he said. "Call me when you get settled in. I can take you around to some of the places where the old magic still lives." He smiled thoughtfully. "Yeah, we can go down to South Point, the City of Refuge, spend some time with the ghost of Captain Cook. Hell, we might even do some diving— if the weather's right."
I put my book down and we talked for a while. It was the first time anybody had ever told me anything interesting about Hawaii— the native legends, old wars, missionaries, the strange and terrible fate of Captain Cook. "This City of Refuge looks interesting," I said. "You don't find many cultures with a sense of sanctuary that powerful."
"Yeah," he said, "but you had to get there first, and you had to be faster than whoever was chasing you."
City of Refuge at Honaunau
Adjoining the Hare o Keave to the southward, we found a Pahu tabu (sacred enclosure) of considerable extent, and were informed by our guide that it was one of the puhonuas of Hawaii, of which we had so often heard the chiefs and others speak. There are only two on the island; the one which we were then examining, and another at Waipio, on the north-east part of the island, in the district of Kohala.
These puhonuas were the Hawaiian cities of refuge, and afforded an inviolable sanctuary to the guilty fugitive who, when flying from the avenging spear, was so favoured as to enter their precincts.
This had several wide entrances, some on the side next the sea, the others facing the mountains. Hither the manslayer, the man who had broken a tabu, or failed in the observance of its rigid requirements, the thief, and even the murderer, fled from his incensed pursuers, and was secure.
To whomsoever he belonged, and from whatever part he came, he was equally certain of admittance, though liable to be pursued even to the gates of the enclosure.
Happily for him, those gates were perpetually open; and as soon as the fugitive had entered, he repaired to the presence of the idol, and made a short ejaculatory address, expressive of his obligations to him in reaching the place with security.
The priests, and their adherents, would immediately put to death any one who should have the temerity to follow or molest those who were once within the pale of the pahu tabu; and, as they expressed it, under the shade or protection of the spirit of Keave, the tutelar deity of the place.
We could not learn the length of time it was necessary for them to remain in the puhonua; but it did not appear to be more than two or three days. After that, they either attached themselves to the service of the priests, or returned to their homes.
The puhonua at Honaunau is capacious, capable of containing a vast multitude of people. In time of war, the females, children, and old people of the neighboring districts, were generally left within it, while the men went to battle. Here they awaited in safety the issue of the conflict, and were secure against surprise and destruction, in the event of a defeat.
The Journal of William Ellis (Circa 1850)
He chuckled. "It was a sporting proposition, for sure."
"But once you got there," I said, "you were absolutely protected—right?"
"Absolutely," he said. "Not even the gods could touch you, once you got through the gate."
"Wonderful," I said. "I might need a place like that."
"Yeah," he said. "Me too. That's why I live where I do."
He smiled. "On a clear day I can look down the mountain and see the City of Refuge from my front porch. It gives me a great sense of comfort."
I had a feeling that he was telling the truth. Whatever kind of life Ackerman lived seemed to require a built-in fall-back position. You don't find many investment counselers from Hawaii or anywhere else who can drop anything so important down the tube in a 747 bathroom that they will get their arms dyed bright blue to retrieve it.
We were alone in the dome, 38,000 feet above the Pacific with at least another two hours to go. We would be in Honolulu sometime around sunrise. Over the top of my book I could see him half-asleep but constantly scratching his arm. His eyes were closed, but the fingers of his clean hand were wide awake and his spastic movements were beginning to get on my nerves.
The stewardess came up to have a look at us, but the sight of Ackerman's arm made her face quiver and she quickly went back down the stairs. We had a small icebox full of Miller High Life and a whole selection of mini-bottles in the liquor drawer, so there was no need to do anything but keep a wary eye on Ackerman.
Finally he seemed to be asleep. The dome was dark, except for the small glow of table lights, and I settled back on the couch to ponder my research material.
The main impression I recall from what I read in those hours is that the Hawaiian Islands had no written history at all beyond the past two hundred years, when the first missionaries and sea captains began trying to interpret a chronology of some kind by listening to tales told by natives. Nobody even knew where the islands themselves had come from, much less the people.
On the gray afternoon of January 16, 1779, Captain James Cook, the greatest explorer of his age, sailed the two ships of his Third Pacific Expedition into the tiny rock-walled shelter of Kealakekua Bay on the west coast of a previously uncharted mid-Pacific island called "Owhyhee" by the natives, and found his place in history as the first white man to officially "discover" the Hawaiian Islands.
The bay inside the channel was shrouded in fog and surrounded by a wall of sheer cliffs, 500 feet high. It looked more like a tomb than a harbor, and—despite the desperate condition of his ships and his crews after ten days in a killer monsoon— Cook was reluctant to enter. But he had no choice: his crew was threatening mutiny, scurvy was rampant, his ships were coming apart beneath his feet, and the morale of his whole Expedition had collapsed after six months at sea in the Arctic.... And now, after sailing straight south from Alaska in a condition of genuine hysteria, the mere sight of land made them crazy.
So Cook took them in. Kealakekua Bay wasn't the kind of safe anchorage he wanted. But it was the only one available in what turned out to be his last storm.
Early on the morning of 16 January , Cook said to his master, "Mr. Bligh, be so good as to take a boat, well armed, and take soundings." They could both make out what Cook called "the appearance of a bay."
"It seems promising, sir, and the indians friendly enough," said Bligh.
Cook spoke harshly. "Whatever the nature of the indians, if it is a safe anchorage, I shall resolve to anchor in it. This has been a poor island for shelter and our need to refit is very great."
Bligh, accompanied by Edgar in a boat from the Discovery, set his men to row on a north-easterly heading for a deep cup cut into the cliffs, meeting on the way a great armada of canoes of many sizes, all bustling towards the ships at twice their own speed and waving their paddles and streamers and singing out as they passed.
As Bligh closed the shore he became more than ever confident that this would be a safe anchorage for them. It appeared protected from all points, except the south-west, and from his recent observations gales from this quarter were unlikely. The dominant feature of this bay was a cliff like a knife-cut through black volcanic rock in a slight curve, falling from some 400 feet at the eastern extremity to a point a mile to the west where it shelved into gently rising land from the western promontory of the bay. This cliff, this black insurmountable barrier to the hinterland, appeared to fall directly to the sea, but as the day wore on and the tide ebbed, Bligh observed that there was a narrow beach at its base—black rocks and pebbles. As they were to learn later, the name of this bay, Kealakekua (Karakakooa, Cook called it) means "path of the gods," deriving from this great slide in the hill to the sea.
The Last Voyage of Captain James Cook
I was still reading when the stewardess appeared to announce that we'd be landing in thirty minutes. "You'll have to take your regular seats down below," she said, not looking at Ackerman, who still seemed asleep.
I began packing up my gear. The sky outside the portholes was getting light. As I dragged my satchel up the aisle Ackerman woke up and lit a cigarette. "Tell 'em I couldn't make it," he said. "I think I can handle the landing from up here." He grinned
and fastened a seat belt that poked out from the depths of the couch. "They won't miss me down there," he said. "I'll see you in Kona."
"Okay," I said. "You're not staying in Honolulu?"
He shook his head. "Just long enough to get to the bank," he said, glancing down at his watch. "It opens at nine. I should be home for lunch."
I stopped and shook hands with him. "Good luck," I said. "Take care of that arm."
He smiled and reached into the pocket of his bush jacket. "Thanks, Doc," he said. "Here's a little something for you. It might be a long day." He dropped a small glass bottle in my hand and pointed to the crew bathroom. "Better do it up here," he said. "You don't want to be landing with anything illegal."
I agreed and went quickly into the tin closet. When
I came out I tossed the bottle back to him. "Wonderful," I said. "I feel better already."
"That's good," he replied. "I have the feeling you're going to need all the help you can get over here."
ADVENTURES IN THE DUMB LIFE
My friend Gene Skinner met us at the airport in
Honolulu, parking his black GTO convertible up on the sidewalk by the baggage carousel and fending off public complaints with a distracted r1 wave of his hand and the speedy behavior of a man with serious business on his mind. He was pacing back and forth in front of his car, sipping from a brown bottle of Primo beer and ignoring the oriental woman wearing a meter maid's uniform who was trying to get his attention as he scanned the baggage lobby.
I saw him from the top of the escalator and I knew we would have to be quick with the luggage transfer. Skinner was so accustomed to working in war zones that he would not see anything wrong with driving up on the sidewalk in the middle of an angry crowd to pick up whatever he'd come for ... which was me, in this case, so I hurried toward him with a businesslike smile on my face. "Don't worry," he was saying. "We'll be out of here in a minute."
Most people seemed to believe him, or at least wanted to. Everything about him suggested a person who was better left alone. The black GTO had a menacing appearance, and Skinner looked meaner than the car. He was wearing a white linen reef jacket with at least thirteen custom-built pockets to fit everything from a phosphorous grenade to a waterproof pen. His blue silk slacks were sharply creased and he wore no socks, only cheap rubber sandals that slapped on the tile as he paced. He was a head taller than anyone else in the airport and his eyes were hidden behind blue-black Saigon-mirror sunglasses. The heavy, square-linked gold Bhat chain around his neck could only have been bought in some midnight jewelry store on a back street in Bangkok, and the watch on his wrist was a gold Rolex with a stainless steel band. His whole presence was out of place in a crowd of mainland tourists shuffling off an Aloha flight from San Francisco. Skinner was not on vacation.
He saw me as I approached, and held out his hand. "Hello, Doc," he said with a curious smile. "I thought you quit this business."
"I did," I said. "But I got bored."
"Me too," he said. "I was on my way out of town when they called me. Somebody from the Marathon committee. They needed an official photographer, for a thousand dollars a day."
He glanced down at a brace of new-looking Nikons on the front seat of the GTO. "I couldn't turn them down," he said. "It's free money."
"Jesus," I said, "you're a photographer now?" He stared down at his feet for a moment, then pivoted slowly to face me, rolling his eyes and baring his teeth to the sun. "This is the Eighties, Doc. I'm whatever I need to be."
Skinner was no stranger to money. Or to lying, either, for that matter. When I knew him in Saigon he was working for the CIA, flying helicopters for Air America and making what some people who knew him said was more than $20,000 a week in the opium business.
I never talked about money with him and he had a visceral hatred of journalists, but we soon became friends and I spent a lot of time during the last weeks of the war smoking opium with him on the floor of his room in the Continental Palace. Mr. Hee brought the pipe every afternoon around three—even on the day his house in Cholon was hit by a rocket—and the guests lay down in silence to receive the magic smoke.
That is still one of my clearest memories of Saigon—stretching out on the floor with my cheek on the cool white tile and the dreamy soprano babble of Mr. Hee in my ears as he slithered around the room with his long black pipe and his little bunsen burner, constantly refilling the bowl and chanting intensely in a language that none of us knew.
"Who are you working for these days?" Skinner asked. "I'm covering the race for a medical journal," I said. "Wonderful," he said quickly. "We can use a good medical connection. What kind of drugs are you carrying?" "Nothing," I said. "Absolutely nothing." He shrugged, then looked up as the carousel began moving and the bags started coming down the chute. "Whatever you say. Doc," he said. "Let's load your stuff in the car and get out of here before they grab me for felony menacing. I'm not in the mood to argue with these people."
The crowd was getting restive and the oriental policewoman was writing a ticket. I lifted the beer bottle out of his hand and took a long swallow, then tossed my leather satchel in the back seat of his car and introduced him to my fiancee. "You must be crazy," she said, "to park on a sidewalk like this." That's what I get paid for," he said. "If I was sane we'd have to carry your bags all the way to the parking lot."
She^eyed him warily as we began loading luggage. "Stand aside!" he barked at a child who had wandered in front of the car. "Do you want to be killed?"
The crowd fell back at that point. Whatever we were doing
was not worth getting killed for. The child disappeared as I trundled a big aluminum suitcase off the carousel, almost dropping it as I tossed it back to Skinner, who caught it before it could bounce and tucked it neatly into the back seat of the convertible.
The meter maid was writing another citation, our third in ten minutes, and I could see she was losing her grip. "I give you sixty seconds," she screamed. "Then I have you towed away!"
He patted her affectionately on the shoulder, then got in the car and started the engine, which came suddenly alive with a harsh metallic roar. "You're too pretty for this kind of chickenshit work," he said, handing her a card that he'd picked off his dashboard. "Call me at the office," he told her. "You should be posing for naked postcards."
"What?" she yelled, as he eased the car into reverse.
The crowd parted sullenly, not happy to see us escape. "Call the police!" somebody shouted. The meter maid was yelling into her walkie-talkie as we moved into traffic, leaving our engine noise behind.
Skinner lifted another bottle of Primo out of a small plastic cooler on the floor of the front seat, then steered with his knees while he jerked off the top and lit a cigarette. "Where to. Doc?" he asked. "The Kahala Hilton?"
"Right," I said. "How far is it?"
"Far," he said. "We'll have to stop for more beer."
I leaned back on the hot leather seat and closed my eyes. There was a strange song about "hula hula boys" on the radio, a Warren Zevon tune:
. . . Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana . . .
I saw her leave the luau
With the one who parked the cars
And the fat one from the swimming pool
They were swaying arm in arm . . .
Skinner stomped on the gas and we shot through a sudden opening to the inside, missing the tailgate of a slow-moving pineapple truck by six inches and swooping through a pack of mongrel dogs on their way across the highway. We hit gravel and the rear end started coming around, but Skinner straightened it out. The dogs held their ground for an instant, then scattered in panic as he leaned out of the car and smacked one of them on the side of the head with his beer bottle. He was a big yellow
brute with scrawny flanks and the long dumb jaw of a tenth-generation cur; and he had charged the GTO with the back-alley dumbness of a bully that had been charging things all his life, and always seen them back off. He came straight at the left front wheel, yapping wildly, and his eyes got suddenly huge when he realized, too late, that Skinner was not going to swerve. He braced all four paws on the hot asphalt, but he was charging too fast to stop. The GTO was going about fifty in low gear. Skinner kept his foot on the accelerator and swung the bottle like a polo mallet. I heard a muffled smack, then a hideous yelping screech as the beast went tumbling across the highway and under the wheels of the pineapple truck, which crushed it.
"They're a menace," he said, tossing the neck of the bottle away. "Utterly vicious. They'll jump right into your car at a stoplight. It's one of the problems with driving a convertible'
My fiancee was weeping hysterically and the warped tune was still coming out of the radio:
I could hear their ukeleles playing Down by the sea .. . She's gone with the hula hula boys She don't care about me
Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana ...
Skinner slowed down as we approached the exit to downtown Honolulu. "Okay, Doc," he said. "It's time to break out the drugs. I feel nervous."
Indeed, I thought. You murdering swine. "Ralph has it," I said quickly. "He's waiting for us at the hotel. He has a whole Alka-Seltzer bottle full of it."
He moved his foot off the brake and back to the accelerator as we passed under a big green sign that said "Waikiki Beach 1 ½" The smile on his face was familiar. The giddy, screw-headed smirk of a dope fiend ready to pounce. I knew it well.
"Ralph is paranoid," I said. "We'll have to be careful with him."
"Don't worry about me," he said. "I get along fine with the English."
We were in downtown Honolulu now, cruising along the waterfront. The streets were full of joggers fine-tuning their strides for the big race. They ignored passing traffic, which made Skinner nervous.
"This running thing is out of control," he said. "Every rich liberal in the Western world is into it. They run ten miles a day. It's a goddamn religion."
"Do you run?" I asked.
He laughed. "Hell yes, I run. But never with empty hands. We're criminals. Doc. We're not like these people and I think we're too old to learn."
"But we are professionals," I said. "And we're here to cover the race."
"Fuck the race," he said. "We'll cover it from Wilbur's front yard—get drunk and gamble heavily on the football games."
John Wilbur, a pulling guard on the Washington Redskins team that went to the Super Bowl in 1973, was another old friend from the white-knuckle days of yesteryear, who had finally settled down enough to pass for a respectable businessman in Honolulu. His house on Kahala Drive in the high-rent section was situated right on the course for this race, about two miles from the finish line. ... It would be a perfect headquarters for our coverage, Skinner explained. We would catch the start downtown, then rush out to Wilbur's to watch the games and abuse the runners as they carne by the house, then rush back downtown in time to cover the finish.
"Good planning," I said. "This looks like my kind of story."
"Not really," he said. "You've never seen anything as dull as one of these silly marathons . . . but it's a good excuse to get crazy."
"That's what I mean," I said. "I'm entered in this goddamn race." He shook his head. "Forget it," he said. "Wilbur tried to pull a Rosie Ruiz a few years ago, when he was still in top shape—he jumped into the race about a half mile ahead of everybody at the twenty-four-mile mark, and took off like a bastard for the finish line, running at what he figured was his normal 880 speed. . . ." He laughed. "It was horrible," he continued. "Nineteen people passed him in two miles. He went blind from vomiting and had to crawl the last hundred yards." He laughed again. "These people are fast, man. They ran right over him."
"Well," I said, "so much for that. I didn't want to enter this goddamn thing anyway. It was Wilbur's idea."
"That figures," he said. "You want to be careful out here. Even your best friends will lie to you. They can't help themselves."
We found Ralph slumped at the bar in the Ho-Ho Lounge, cursing the rain and the surf and the heat and everything else in Honolulu. He had waded out from the beach for a bit of the fine snorkeling that Wilbur had told us about—but before he
could even get his head in the water a wave lifted him up and slammed him savagely into a coral head, ripping a hole in his back and crushing a disc in his spine. Skinner tried to cheer him up with a few local horror stories, but Ralph would have none of it. His mood was ugly, and it became even uglier when Skinner demanded cocaine.
'What are you talking about?"
"The Dumb Dust, man,"
Skinner said. "The lash, the
crank, the white death ... I don't know, what you limeys call it. , . ." "You mean drugs?" Ralph said finally. 'OF COURSE I MEAN DRUGS!" Skinner screamed. "You think I came here to talk about art?" That finished that. : Ralph limped away in a funk, and even the bartender got weird.
FIRE IN THE HUTS
We settled down at the bar and watched the rain lash the palm trees around on the beach. The Ho Ho Lounge was open on three sides and every few minutes a gust of warm rain blew in from the sea. t-* We were the only customers. The Samoan bartender mixed our margaritas in silence, a rigid smile on his face. To our left, on a rock in a small freshwater pool, two penguins stood solemnly side by side and watched us drinking, their deep unblinking brown eyes as curious as the bartender's.
Skinner tossed them a chunk of sashimi, which the taller one caught in mid-air and gobbled instantly, whacking the smaller bird out of his way with a flip of his short black wing.
"Those birds are weird," Skinner said. "I've had some real peculiar conversations with them."
He had sulked for a while after Ralph spiked his vision of wallowing in pure London Merck for the rest of the day, but he accepted it as just another one of those illogical flare-ups that come with the territory.
After three or four rounds the glint was back in his voice and he was looking at the penguins with the lazy eyes of a man who would not be bored too much longer.
"They're a husband and wife team," he said. "The old man is the big one; he'd peddle her ass for a handful of fish." He glanced over at me. "You think Ralph likes penguins?"
I stared at the bird.
"Never mind," he said. "He'd probably kill the poor beast anyway. The British will fuck anything. They're all perverts."
The bartender had his back to us, but I knew he was listening. The rigid smile on his face was looking more and more like a grimace. How many times had he stood calmly back there on the duckboards and listened to respectable-looking people talk about raping the hotel penguins?
On the first day of December  ... he recognized that he was raising the greatest of all the islands he had discovered: what the natives appeared to call, and Cook wrote, "Owhyhee." By the next morning they were close in to the spectacular shore of massive cliffs, spines of land thrusting out into headlands, white streaks of great waterfalls tumbling into the white surf, more rivers emerging from deep valleys. Inland there were ravines with thundering torrents, a landscape of mixed barrenness and fruitfulness, a pocked landscape rising slowly and then higher and higher to the summits that were snow-capped. Snow in the tropics! Another new discovery, another new paradox. Here, it seemed, was another rich land, and far greater in extent than even Tahiti. Through a telescope, thousands of natives could be seen pouring from their dwellings and their places of work, and streaming towards the cliff tops to stare out and hold aloft white strips of cloth as if greeting a new messiah.
The Last Voyage of Captain James Cook *****
"How long is this goddamn rain going to last?" I asked.
Skinner looked out at the beach. "God knows," he said. "This is what they call 'Kona Weather.' The winds get turned around
and the weather comes up from the south. Sometimes it lasts for nine or ten days."
I didn't really care. It was enough, at this point, to-be away from the snow drifts on my porch in Colorado. We called for another brace of margaritas and relaxed to talk for a while. I kept one eye on the bartender while Skinner told me about Hawaii.
People get edgy when the Kona weather hits. After nine or ten straight days of high surf and no sun you can get your spleen kicked completely out of your body on any street in Honolulu, just for honking at a Samoan. There is a large and increasingly obvious Samoan population in Hawaii. They are big, dangerous people with uncontrollable tempers and their hearts are filled with hate by the sound of an automobile horn, regardless of who's getting honked at.
Caucasians are called "haole people" by the native Hawaiians and racial violence is a standard item in the daily newspapers and on the evening TV news.
The stories are grisly, and a few are probably true. A current favorite in Waikiki is the one about "A whole family from San Francisco"—a lawyer, his wife and three children^who got raped by a gang of Koreans while strolling on the beach at sunset, so close to the Hilton that people sipping pineapple daiquiris on the hotel veranda heard their screams until long after dark, but they shrugged off the noise as nothing more than the shrieking of sea gulls in a feeding frenzy.
"Don't go near the beach after dark," Skinner warned, "unless you feel seriously bored."
The Korean community in Honolulu is not ready, yet, for the melting pot. They are feared by the haoles, despised by the Japs and Chinese, scorned by Hawaiians and occasionally hunted for sport by gangs of drunken Samoans, who consider them vermin, like wharf rats and stray dogs. . . .
"And stay away from Korean bars," Skinner added. "They're degenerate scum—cruel, bloodthirsty little bastards. They're meaner than rats and a hell of a lot bigger than most dogs, and they can kick the shit out of anything that walks on two legs, except maybe a Samoan."
I shot a quick look at our bartender, shifting my weight on the stool and planting both feet on the floor. But he was working the adding machine, apparently deaf to Skinner's raving. What the hell? I thought. He can only catch one of us. I picked my Zippo off the bar and casually buttoned my wallet-pocket.
"My grandfather was Korean," I said. "Where can we meet these people?" "What?" he said. "Meet them?"
"Don't worry," I said. "They'll know me."
"Fuck 'em," he said. "They're not people. It'll be another hundred years before we can even think about letting Koreans mate with anything human."
I felt vaguely sick, but said nothing. The bartender was still engrossed in his money-work.
"Forget it," Skinner said. "Let me tell you a negro story. It'll get your mind off Koreans."
"I've heard it," I said. "The girl who got pushed off the cliff?"
"Right," he said. "It scared the shit out of everybody." He lowered his voice and leaned closer to me. "I knew her well," he said. "She was beautiful, a senior stewardess for Pan Am."
"For no reason at all," he went on. "She was just standing there on the edge, with her boyfriend—up there on that peak where they take all the tourists—when all of a sudden this crazy nigger just runs up behind her and gives a big shove. Whacko! Right off the edge and a thousand feet down to the beach." He nodded grimly. "She bounced two or three times off a waterfall about halfway down, then she went out of sight. They never saw her again, never found the first trace of her body."
"Why?" I wondered.
"Who knows?" he replied. "They never even put him on trial. He was declared 'hopelessly insane.' "
"Yeah," I said. "I remember it—the black fiend who wore earphones, right? The same guy who got busted a few weeks earlier for trying to run naked in the Marathon?"
"Yeah, the fastest crazy nigger in the world. He ran about half the race stark naked, before they finally caught him. The bastard was fast," he said, smiling slightly. "It took ten cops on motorcycles to run him down and put the net on him. He was some kind of world-class runner before he flipped out."
"Balls," I said. "That's no excuse. These brainless murdering freaks should be castrated."
"Absolutely," he said. "It's already happened."
"The Samoans," he said. "The traffic jam on the freeway... . Jesus! You never heard that story?"
I shook my head.
"Okay," he said. "This is a wonderful story about how your worst nightmares can come true at any moment, with no warning at all."
"Good," I said. "Let's hear it. I like these stories. They speak to my deepest fears."
"They should," he said. "Paranoia pays, over here."
"What about the Samoans?"
"The Samoans?" He stared into his drink for a moment, then looked up. "All six of them went free. Nobody would testify. . . . Some poor bastard got caught in one of those Sunday afternoon traffic jams on the Pali Highway behind a pickup truck full of drunken Samoans. His car heated up like a bomb, but there was nothing he could do—no exit, no place he could even park it and flee. The Samoans did things like kick out his headlights and piss all over the hood of his car, but he hung on for almost two hours—with his doors locked and all his windows rolled up—until he finally passed out from heat exhaustion, and fell on his horn. . . .
"The Samoans went instantly crazy," he continued. "They bashed out his windshield with tire irons, then they dragged him out and castrated him. Five of them held him down on the hood, while the other one sliced off his nuts—right in the middle of the Pali Highway on a Sunday afternoon."
I was watching the bartender very carefully now. The muscles on the back of his neck seemed to be bunching up, but I couldn't be sure. Skinner was still slumped on his stool, not ready to do anything fast. The stairs to the lobby were only about twenty feet away and I knew I could get there before the brute got his hands on me.
But he was still calm. Skinner ordered another round of margaritas and asked for the tab, which he paid with a gold American Express card.
Suddenly the phone behind the bar erupted with a burst of sharp rings. It was my fiancee, ringing down from the room.
Sportswriters were calling, she said. Word was out that Ralph and I were entered in the Marathon.
"Don't talk to the bastards," I warned her. "Anything you say will get us in trouble."
"I already talked to one of them," she said. "He knocked on the door and said he was Bob Arum."
^That's good," I said. "Bob's okay."
"It wasn't Arum," she said. "It was that geek we met in Vegas, the guy from the New York Post."
"Lock the door," I said. "It's Marley. Tell him I'm sick. They took me off the plane in Hilo. You don't know the name of the doctor."
"What about the race?" she asked. "What should I say?"
"It's out of the question," I said. "We're both sick. Tell them to leave us alone. We are victims of a publicity stunt."
"You fool," she snapped. "What did you tell these people?"
"Nothing," I said. "It was Wilbur. His mouth runs like jelly."
"He called," she said. "He'll be here at nine with a limo to pick us up for the party."
"What party?" I said, waving my hand to get Skinner's attention. "Is there a Marathon party tonight?" I asked him.
He pulled a piece of white paper from one of the pockets in his bush jacket. "Here's the schedule," he said. "Yeah, it's a private thing at Doc Scaff's house. Cocktails and dinner for the runners. We're'invited."
I turned back to the phone. "What's the room number? I'll be up in a minute. There is a party. Hang on to the limo."
"You better talk to Ralph," she said. "He's very unhappy."
"So what?" I said. "He's an artist."
"You bastard!" she said. "You'd better be nice to Ralph. He came all the way from England-—and he brought his wife and his daughter, just because you said so."
"Don't worry," I said. "He'll get what he came for."
"What?" she screamed. "You drunken sot! Get rid of that maniac friend of yours and go see Ralph—he's hurt!"
"Not for long," I said. "He'll be into our luggage before this thing is over."
She hung up and I turned to the bartender. "How old are you?" I asked him.
He tensed up, but said nothing.
I smiled at him. "You probably don't remember me," I said, "but I used to be the Governor." I offered him a Dunhill, which he declined.
"Governor of what?" he asked, dropping his hands to his sides, and turning to face us.
Skinner quickly stood up. "Let's have a drink for old times," he said to the bartender. "This gentleman was the Governor of American Samoa for ten years, maybe twenty."
"I don't remember him," said the bartender. "I get a lot of people in here."
Skinner laughed and slapped a twenty-dollar bill on the bar. "It's all bullshit anyway," he said. "We lie for a living, but we're good people."
He leaned over the bar and shook hands with the bartender, who was happy to see us leave. On the way to the lobby Skinner handed me a mimeographed copy of the Marathon schedule and said he'd meet us at the party. He waved cheerfully and signaled the bellboy to bring up his car.
Five minutes later, as I was still waiting for the elevator, I heard the nasty cold-steel roar of the GTO outside in the driveway, then the noise disappeared in the rain. The elevator came and I punched the button for the top floor.