Stiff Duty

They don't want you to get cold in paradise. I was an oceanography student out to study in the islands from the coast. Because I had no aid, wasn't supported by a grant, but liked to live in the main, I took jobs that paid. Being part of the ambulance crew appealed to the cat's paw side of my character. Tourists deserve to be fooled. Most vacations sponsored or encouraged by the management are as much swindles as they are payoffs. You shell out through the nose for a simple good time when you spend on "aloha."  There's no more pineapple, there's no more sugar. Tourism is it. They're tearing up the fields to make room for housing. I don't mind.  

        We worked in crews. If I'd said that we were a "unit," that would have sounded the gong for respectability. No. Our job was dependent on speed (we often took some) and had nothing to do with service.

         Here's how it works: the Hawaiian mafia has persuaded the city fathers of Honolulu to put a sum aside in the budget for hiding death from the visitors to paradise. Our job was to pick up stiffs as fast as possible--before the sight or smell of them ruined anyone's glorious holiday.

        Scrutinize the images projected by the various media about the islands when you have a chance. What do you see? How much of it uses a sexual undercurrent to attract your eye, attach itself to the libido? Yes. That twitch. It doesn't die after you've seen that first wrinkle on your face. It grows, evolves, metamorphosizes. The ads say that the islands are inhabited by creatures who must breathe the opium of sensuality in order to exist, survive. Bronzed surfer boys and vixen child/women bathing in pools below the foaming waterfall. The backward ones with only an innately exotic idea of what wrongs you practice, drop out of the sky to be at your disposal. 

        I'm not so bad looking myself. It's not as though I've never benefitted . . .  My Chinese/Portuguese/Hawaiian/Filipino girlfriend was aware of the price of beauty. We were scheming to set up a tour guide package for the slightly rich and degenerate before my "accident." It's best to have approval for any ideas you might develop on you own for milking the horde. The king malefactors of the island aren't Henry Clay Fricks, Harrimans, or strongtrotting Morgans, but they have lots of eyes with strong hands attached to them as well. Squidlings. You are never on a square inch of neutral ground. It belongs.

        Well, enough philosophy. I'll describe a day that hangs more clearly in my mind, Why one day has the authority to dominate the brain cells over another is what I consider to be a primary cheat in the way in which we have to submit to the partially fixed and partially random circumstances of living.

        At four in the morning on an April Monday, my boss, Daniel Sing (it's quite a kick in the groin, the mock influence of old testament names stuck onto at least half of the Asians on the island) called to tell me that I'd be taking the six to eleven shift that day. I was scheduled to sail on the university oceanographic research vessel for the South Pacific.

        The terms of my contract with the company stated that vacations and leaves could be canceled at any time in cases of emergency. I never liked that clause. I was being hung on it for the first time. Bill Post and Tommy Chun had both managed to get themselves mangled in a bar fight and wouldn't be showing up for work. The two of them liked to rowdy it up in the Hotel Street strip joint arenas: live sex on stage, tattoo parlors, peep shows, bookstores, wasted prostitutes. Dan explained that Tommy might not live. Did I understand? Sure. The university would understand. Wasn't I the bright boy of the department, didn't the government research money gravitate toward my sinkhole no matter what kind of jackoff thing I did?

        Ruth, my girlfriend, snickered when I told her the exciting news. She was tired of my academic crises. Rolling over onto her back and stretching a hand over to massage my nuts, she declared herself happy to hear that the hook had finally been put into me. Nemo me impune lacessit. I slapped her mangling little hand away.

        She tried to bore those innocencefaking eyes into me as I got up from the bed. Ruth was brilliant at this kind of war. She was already fingering herself when I turned around to address some last wellaimed slur at her. Misfire. A word wouldn't do it. The tease had me rushing. Making a move back toward the bed, Ruth chided me about my appointment. 

        "Dan Sing's waiting for you, Buzz honey. Don't come home until you wash the smell of the stiffs off at the Y." 

        The morsel stopped squirming, tossed my pillow under hers, and wriggled softly into sleep. I don't need to tell you much more. After I left the islands, she got into a headon collision and the plastic surgeons couldn't get her face back together right. The end. She moved into some softcore line of business, accounting.  

Dawn's rosy fingers were striding up the valley as I got out of the door. We lived in Manoa, behind the university. Expensive and convenient. I plucked a hibiscus and inhaled. Mingling with the wet air of the dewy morning my lungs dilated and let the other parts of the system share the bipacked bite of rapture.

        Climbing into the Volks (I left the BMW for Ruth) I futzed the key into the ignition and headed downtown. I parked in the underground garage shared mostly by state legislators and lawyers. The ambulance station was a block away, across King Street.

        Dan Sing was twirling a set of keys around his index finger as I walked up to the front of the office. He kept up a Cheshire smile to mute his hagfish behavior and personality.

        "You're even early Buzzard," the silksuited slime snivelled.

        "Who am I going to be on with?" I asked, plucking the keys out of his fast brown fingers.

        "Dainty time, you lucky bugger. I've got you on with Papa Pupu," Sing nervily smirked. The one and only thing about Sing that you could admire is that he wouldn't scare. He liked inviting you to hassle him. He liked to see how far you would go. Dan always had a hand rarin' to reach for the blade he carried.

        I found out the knife from Story. Story used to work for us. The guy wasted his life trying to size people upeveryone he met. Story thought by knowing somebody's line, you held the juju over them, that they couldn't hurt you if you held some part of them in your mind and they didn't hold any part of you.  

        Story was in prison for only a month when they got him. Story'd joined the weight club to pass the time while he was serving his sentence for assault (he pushed a tourist out of his way who happened to have more influence than Story was willing to hear about at the time). The fellows in the weight club walked away from the bench on which Story was trying to press more than he could do.

        Anyway Papa Pupu was a Samoan ape, exbig time wrestler whose head had met the ring buckle a few too many times. Pupu didn't have any trouble lifting and carrying the bodies--he forgot what he was supposed to be doing with them sometimes is all. Pupu liked being an exhibitionist and he couldn't drive.

        The mayor drove by in that populist image minibus that he tools around Honolulu in and, seeing Mr. Sing, he took the pipe out of his mouth to give Dan a high sign. Oh the smug fellowship of legitimized crime! How well it has fed me. 

         I should have been boarding the oceanographic research vessel at about this same time, saying hello to the professors and pretending to be eager about cruising Southwards to take core samples and examine the ooze. The daybright lie had already overwhelmed me. The crisp sly look on Dan Sing's lips convinced me that this was the better of the two places to be. The food aboard ship is miserable and they give you a penicillin shot as soon as you return from your shore leave in Pago Pago. Plus this was tsunami season and the old wreck's pumps had to be kept going even when she was in port.

        Sing  pointed to the figure of Papa Pupu swaggering toward us from up the street. Pupu was munching out of a bag of fried pork rinds. The mirror frosted shades Papa wore didn't go well with the sloppy puppy dog happy grin that he had on. Pupu's shirt front was unbuttoned and his belly was sopping up a tan. Papa looked a bit more macabre when he was buttoned into his hospital whites. The exwrestler was missing his mouth a lot even though he guided each pork rind to the entrance of the poorly toothed orifice with a personal hand.

        "He's on something," Sing muttered under his breath.

        "Be nice. Don't ride him. Let's see what kind of shape he's in," Danno cautioned.

        "He looks as normal as he gets to me," I said. "Like a tender young god."

        "I forget. You're not exactly playing with a full deck either," Sing said expressively. That was O.K. I liked hearing Dan try to slide it in. You get the best out of some kinds of people when you play their foil. Pupu bumped into a telephone pole, bowed, and began to excuse himself to it in a tone loud enough for us to overhear.

        "My gosh! Excuse me Mr. Sing. Didn't see where I was goingclumsy me, Mr. Sing!" Papa was saying drunk/swaying with his nose up to the pole. Dan began to thrum on the instrument in his pants pocket. Tic. 

        "Last night . . . Was it last night? Last night, Dan dear, didn't I see you, see you going down on that mahu who styles your wigs for you? How did it taste Dan? Was her sauce sweet? When I was in the navy we . . ., but that mahu's so fleshy and fat and always looks like she needs a shave. What did it feel like Sing boy?"

        I had the keys in my hand, Dan had left long before Pupu got anywhere. Dan recognized scene setting and walked off once his duty to see that a full crew reported to work was discharged. Papa finally took his nose far enough away from the pole to realize that his audience was napoo.

        "Ah, I get to be driven around by the Buzz saw," Papa said removing his shades to reveal a set of plastic DayGlo horror eyes. Because I refused to be properly impressed, Papa dropped the eyes into his hands and put them away.

        Before we did any talking, the ambulance came around the corner and could be seen three lights down. I opened the office door and we went in to put on our uniforms and punch in before the vehicle arrived. Papa had on a pair of old wrestling trunks. He noticed me noticing and blew me a kiss. 

        "Maybe I'll see you with Sing's plaything soon," he winked. The locker room joke mentality will never deliquesce. It's too important. It works just right.

        We were out on the street to take over the ambulance from Arnie and Kimo (they worked a haole with a local as much as possible) half a minute after they drove up. Kimo tossed me the beeper before Pupu could grab it. Arnie shouted that they were all gassed up and that there was a call to pick up a couple in Waikiki, get moving. Pupu wanted to talk story with Kimo but he saw me behind the wheel ready to haul out without him and climbed it.

        "Hey, I wanted to tell Kimo about my adventure with the telephone pole," Papa complained. Pupu could see that I was locked in and hooked by the feel of doing danger dives through the traffic. He left me alone and started to look out for cars that might be trouble. I never put the siren on unless I had to. During the peak traffic hours, we let the work slide. No one notices death when they're frustrated at the end of the day driving dissidently home. Numbers hide it. Sandwiched between the past and future.

        Kalakaua Avenue has to be avoided whenever possible. I usually go King Street and cut down the street that will get me closest to the destination. That's how most of the trips runbetween Waikiki and the city morgue.

        Pupu was beginning to rush and shout. "Turn on the siren you diseased lump of birdcrap!"

        He was right. I'd almost slammed into a bus coming around the underpass that runs into Kapahulu Ave. I went over the curb in front of Alex's DriveIn and Pupu, who hates seat belts, hit his head on the roof of the car as I came back onto the street.  Tremendous shot made by one of the four kids playing basketball in the playground cross corner to Alex's. Used to like to sit under the banyan tree by the court and listen to the mynas yowl at dusk. Purple twilights when colors drain off the face of objects. I sometimes hate the beauty of the world. The earth's physical transformations will always remain more interesting to me than things like the problem of having a continuous identity. I'm satisfied not to have one.

        "Slow down around the fork by Date Street. I want to see what's playing at the Kapahulu Theater," Pupu commanded.

        "They've got a Sonny Chiba twin bill," I said speeding past.

        "No, hey, Buzzed brain. That was last week," Pupu protested.  "See. You see that wise slash. It was something else."

        "Coming up on the hotel. Get set fart bag. This fake marble palace has a big lobby so stay close."

        "I'm not in the mood for trouble today. I want to let you know that before the sink coming from your mouth gets too loud," the hulk warned me.  "I had a big night last night with wife number two.  She's over from Maui to suck some money."

This hotel was across from the Honolulu zoo. Mothers were out in force with their babies in strollers. Dad pushed tiredly from behind.

        Pupu was pretending to be good to his word. He had the stretcher out of the back and the sheets tucked under his arm before I even finished calling in our arrival time to the board. I raced ahead of Pupu. The manager was waiting to give me the room number and the floor. 

        "What about a key," I knifed. The manager winced. People don't like to show that they can't swim along when the seas get rough. The nervous frown broke into a demented flurry of pumping arms and legs as it walked back and forth around a small area shouting at the menials for a key. This was not good. I tried to order the manager to calm himself. The threat to leave straightened him out.

        We were after a Canadian couple who'd been killed when they'd strolled onto their 15th floor lanai to romance and believe. A garbage bin had been dropped from the top of the building going up next door by a pair of sleepy arms. There was a mess.  Most often there's only a corpse. Heartattack, stroke, a fatal slip in the shower, suicide, foul play.

        They were a young couple. Pupu discovered why the manager was so eager to be nervous. There was a kid squatting in the corner of the kitchen gnawing on its fingers. A spilled plate of breakfast. Ketchup mixed with blood as shards of porcelain drove deeper into the squirming feet.

        "We're not supposed to be called in on cases like this," Pupu complained whilst glowering gloomily over the body of the witless orphan.

        "Look for some cord, thread, or something," I yelled from the lanai. "We've got severed limbs out here."

        "There'll be too much blood," Pupu jacked. "We can't carry anything like that through the lobby."

        "The blood's all out," I said reentering the living room with my wet shoes staining the carpet. "Call room service and have a bucket and a mop sent up."

        The beeper went off. They wanted us for another job. Pupu was on the phone arguing with a desk clerk who didn't know what was going on. The kid began to whimper, accelerate into screams. Papa slammed the receiver down, ordered me to call in, and strode over to see if he could quiet the kid without force. A Filipino maid came to the door with the bucket and mop.  She tried to look over my shoulder into the room. Too short. "Who's that screaming?" she asked.

        "My partner's a scream," I said and slammed the door.

        I called in. They had a simple stiff on Waikiki Beach for us. A lower echelon politico from California who'd been brought over, drugged, and put in the sun to fry is what I was later told by a cop who thought he knew things. There was no hurry on him the voice over the phone explained. 

        "Have him in by three," it said. Mobsterlobster pinkyred--that's what happens when you try to squeal. You're not even treated like meat anymore. A crustacean's death, an insect's death will do.

        Before I went back out onto the lanai, I took off my shoes and rolled up my pants. Easier that way. Pupu was sitting next to the kidit was a girl to my surprise, holding its hands tightly and talking ridiculously about his wrestling days, making more sense as he started to talk about strength and what strength was to him. A buffoon with a mushy heart. The girl wasn't screaming any more. Pupu's voice droned raptly on, " . . .and because on Maui there were still so many people who'd heard the old legends about strong men and, then somehow they got physically strong all mixed around with being strong on the inside, strong to live your life, to be ready for whatever happens, do you understand me little one? Yes . . ."  Seeing good performed in the service of evil charges me up. Lips on the open ego. Only the functions are left in the great behavioral mash that the Christian system started. A little action, a little method, and we've got a satellite walking between the planets taking pictures, like a tourist in Venice, to amaze us all. I would have democratically shared my opinions on the topic of "What is Strength," if I didn't have to enjoin my labors.

        The couple had been embracing, perhaps kissing, when the load of garbage had found them and severed them from life.  "What God hath joined together, garbage will cut asunder." The everyday garbage. The woman's head had been split down the middle. Her brain protruded from the skull. He had moved around a bit after the side of the bin had sliced off his arm. The tongue was bitten in half. The severed limb lay on a lounge chair. Off at the shoulder. Part of the aloha shirt had outrigger canoes smashing through the surf on it. Matching outfits between the man and his wife. Joining, rejoining, couplingspiritually and physicallywas a large hunk of the sell about coming to Paradise.

        From over the railing of the lanai, which was facing Diamond Head, I had a view of the folds strolling the paths inside the zoo. The enclosure with the always happy seals was shared by wild dogs forever hung down and hungry looking. Wisps of vapor lay along the ocean horizon. You could see a sheet of rain pouring halfamile off shore. I picked the arm up and tossed it through the glass doors into the living room so that I wouldn't forget it. As the clouds shifted, the rays of sun would pick areas to illuminate which would otherwise drop/blend with other areas of unequal importance. I couldn't decide what to do with the woman's head. I was loath to pick it up. My favorite exhibit was JoJo, a gibbon who, without much sense of the past, would become erect when encouraged and mount his protesting and screaming mate. Mothers walked away from the cage with their small ones in a huff if you preferred to have JoJo do his trick when the uninitiated eyes were present. I had the blood in the bucket--thought about throwing it over the railing for an instant on a passing gaggle of tourists headed for the beach. Walking my impulse back to its bed, I chided myself for having had such a fermionless thought. Was I superior to those below me? Wait.  Let's not be like the little boys and girls who, working in a jewelry store say, look down on customers incapable of discriminating an opal from topaz.

        Pupu had the kid in control. He motioned me over. I put the bucket down and walked numbly into the kitchen, sincere desire subverted. Success. Pupu had the girl asleep in his arms.

        "We have to get her to Queens hospital," Papa whispered.

        "We'll call for a cab," I said to see how far Pupu wanted to guide his own magic. He protested and I instantly acquiesced.

        "No games now, O.K. Buzzard baby?" Hercules said hurtfully. Back from the underworld, the brevity of life and the vastness of death had stung him.  It would take a few hours of being back in the world before appetites would pin him.

        "What about the flesh on the porch?" I asked. Pupu stared me down. He carried the child to the door. There was nothing more I could do.

        Pupu rocked the girl on his lap on the way to the hospital. The girl fumbled a finger along the ridge of her sharp, straight nose. I hadn't noticed before. A creature of beauty. What were her chances now? How much had they lessened, increased? I went through a red light by the Hilton and zoomed into the yacht harbor parking lot behind the hospital. I got out, went around the ambulance and opened the door for Pupu. I led the way opening doors and handling irate nurses and other staff who saw us pacing through the restricted corridor. Pupu wanted to avoid the emergency room. He had a friend at the hospital. Pupu had the idea that all he needed to do was to find a nurse's station and have his doctor friend paged. Attempts to reason against this course of action failed.

        When we reached a nurse's station, the matronly witch proceeded to do her duty and grill us. As Pupu raged back at her, the child beginning to squirm in his arms, I espied the intercom, held the nurse aside threatening bodily injury if she resisted, and paged the pupil of Hippocrates. What's the difference between possessing a unique and individual thought process and being able to mimic one? I am riddled by contempt with the lastingly undistinguishable copresence of toothy truth and mouth absorbing line. The nurse attempted to slam a telephone receiver into my groin.  Nurses have read Freud and believe in castration. I avoided this stroke of ill fortune by investing heavily in a twisting of the lady's wrist. She almost hit her forehead against the desk top as she stooped to acknowledge my superior power. Sovereign was my wish not to harm the innocent creature and so I did not. My halcyon days were done. You can only go so far before you find yourself in a suit. "Don't hurt the nursie now," a boisterous voiceit was the doctor's, the doctor I had pagedclanged. A fellow sport. The intonation in his doctoral throat gave it away.  I wanted to study this personage, but there wasn't time. Pupu blurted the circumstances of his foundling's present condition and the crisply competent physician stretched out his arms and assumed responsibility for the case. Papa and I returned to work.

        Driving past the Hawaiian village I saw an emaciated paraplegic being wheeled across the road by her walking stick of a husband (on their way down to Waikiki to sniff the sights) and pointed the pair out to the everbuoyant Pupu. "Future clients," I clicked.

        "You're baby beef Buzzard," Pupu replied. "Your heart's in your hand just like mine is. Coughed up, spit out."

        "It couldn't be. Could it?" I balked.

        "Feels like I can hardly breathe," Pupu explained.

        "Sounds like you've coughed up your lungs, not your heart."

        "It feels the same then," Papa said slipping down into the seat and backing off from the world. "I'm not ready to go to the hotel. Drive around for a while. Find us a place to have a drink."

        No argument. Papa put his hands on the dashboard and tapped his head against the vinyl in increasingly severe blows. I pulled into the parking lot of the Mexican restaurant on the corner of Ala Moana Boulevard and Kalakaua Ave. Pupu flopped out of the car and stumbled toward a telephone pole. He hugged it and sank to his knees, sobbing. I pulled out the vial of pain killers I always carry around with me and offered the clown a few. Bloodshot eyes stared up at me in thanks and a paw reached out and took them from my hand.

        "Can we drink here?" I asked.  

        "I know the head waitress," he replied.

        "Fine. Let's go in."

        "I owe her money."  

        "She's probably not working today." 

        "I know her hours.  She's there."  

        We turned around and put ourselves back into our roving corpse coffer. Soon I could tell that Papa had convinced himself that he was feeling good. He grinned cupidly and started to talk about cunnilingus. He seemed sincere, so I listened without interruptionkept sarcastic quips inside until their bubbles exploded and an effervescent calm truncated the movement of my tongue.

        Suddenly, Pupu flopped back in the seat throwing his head back and grabbing for his chest. I reached over to see if he was alive. My hand was grabbed and Pupu sent his teeth after his catch. I recovered my property before the scoundrel gained an opportunity to confiscate any part of it. Papa had his hands covering his face and, peering between the fingers, lubbered lugubriously at me.

        "Buzzing furiously now aren't you?" Pupu said.  "You can be scared, easy."

        I put my foot down on the brake and Pupu went for a dive into the windshield. He managed to protect himself with his elbows but did not come up happy as he was before. "Something's the matter with your dirty white soul. I could have hurt myself," Pupu, scratching his cheek.

        We were now in Kaimuki. I'd zipped up Harding Avenue (Harding was my favorite president) and we had our choice of restaurants to suck a few in. Pupu chose a Korean place. He wanted to eat along with his drinks. The place was expensive.  The Kaimuki Inn, around the corner, was cheaper. We parted company. I told him to fetch me when he was through.

        The Kaimuki Inn is crosscorner from the King Theatre. As I pumped down my first beer, the muggy memory of a conversation I'd had in front of the theatre with this maniac I'd had in a sociology class with me came to mind. The crazy was a local who'd gone to India on a Fulbright and had just gotten back at that time. He was riding a bicycle up the long hill in the broadening dusk. I spotted him first and tried to have him miss me by turning my face into the poster for the coming attraction.  Nope.  He'd seen me.  Jumped the bike over the curb and began chattering.  Just had to tell us poor ignorant folk about the horrors of the world.

        Spark looked as strong and fit as he must have been before he went over to India.  His skin was slightly jaundiced looking and that was the first clue that his body was rotting apace. The teeth also began to look loose after you watched him awhile.  Holding the handlebars of a woman's English, threespeed bike, Spark proceeded to tell me about the worms presently devouring his insides. (I'd come out of seeing some action/violence epic at the King. Wasn't I trying to hide from the kinds of things Spark was telling me?) Spark argued passionately against Indian customs, the caste system, their very sharp delineations between skin tones which were used to determine beauty as well as social status. I tried to point out that we had the same kinds of things going "at home." The Bombay cages, where prostitutes are displayed like meat in cages swung out across the street, that was more disgusting than anything in our lusty land. I should have agreed. Spark was squeezing the grips on the handlebars of the bicycle furiously. Couldn't I see that it was his adventurethat I'd never been, and how could I imagine it? Starvation, poverty, filth, disease? Those are the most easily imaginable things of all.  What is there that needs to be escaped desperately from otherwise? If you divide the pie equally, no one gets anything that more can be made from.

        I don't mean to digress. Spark didn't throw a punch. He wanted to hit me with some truth. Truth and death are twins who dress using the same mirror. You're being vain if you think you can distinguish them. Spark peddled off hating logic. Ockham died of the plague.

        Back on the barstool, I was waxing envious over the doctor we'd encountered at Queens. Feeling sharp and bright, a professional intelligence, the rubbing against one, makes me ill. The professional intelligence is upheld and supported because it feeds into and maintains a system which can reproduce and even improve itself. Quick thoughts, like some of mine, spill and vanish.  Refusing to specialize has closed some doors on me.  I want them all open.  Do I deserve any favors?  Listen to me.  You can tell I don't.  Too many beers.  I was beginning to let my lowerclass contempt of the dutiful and the fairly pure surface.  Hold it under.  Drown it.  Participate if you expect to be allowed to become a member.  The trees and branches of my heart were swaying on Mars, in a backyard with a pool and a drink beside my lounge chair while the cute elevenyearold neighbor girl was going down on me as I slid off my stool thinking that Pupu was probably ready for rescue by now.

        Pupu was not in the Korean restaurant.  He had walked in, dawdled, and huffed out in a hurry according to the heavily rouged waitress.  I checked the vehicle.  He wasn't there.  A walk around the block couldn't hurt.  I strolled around, looking into windows, going into places where Papa might have decided to plop.

        The beeper resounded as I was coming out of a dumpy cafe which served stale donuts and greasy spoon food to insomniacs at its peak hours.  Central wanted to know what the hold up was.  The hotel had called them complaining that they still had the corpses on their hands.  I began to explain things in terms of the meticulous kind of detail that makes smalltime authority addicts like our control operators impatient.  Dismissing what I had to say, I was implored to get the job finished.

        Pupu came walking around the corner fishing a goodie out of a pastry shop bag.  He was gluttonous smiles and rabid glances when he realized that I'd had to call in and that we were both possibly in trouble.  "They called you huh?" he said licking a coat of icing off his index finger.

        Scratching my cheek in imitation of Pupu's second favorite mannerism I said, "Huhyeah.  Uhhh."  Papa folded the top of his bag.

        "I had an eclair in here for you, but you ain't gonna get it now," he declared.  "The rest of the stuff that bakery makes is pretty junkexcept for these eclairs.  They use real cream and not that pudding filling you get everywhere else."  Pupu reopened the bag and gingerly clasped the prize with two caliperlike fingers.  He lifted the eclair up over his head and dropped it to the sidewalk.  "See?" he said stepping on it, "Real cream."

        "Wait here.  I've got to get some adhesive tape for that loose arm back at the hotel," I said.

        "Hey!  You sayin' you wasn't impressed by my demonstration BuzzHard?" Pupu pouted.

        Ahh.  I could see Wild Papa Destroyer emerging from his corner of the ring to scoop me over his head and try to swing me through a Flying Mare.  "I had to call in," I explained.  "The hotel manager's complained that the couple is still occupying the suite that should have been vacated an hour ago."

        "Piss on that man's head," Pupu grunted.  "Bald and good for shark bait is all he is.  One thing I hate is being pushed around by a trained dog that thinks his barking can change the shape of the sun.  There's a Woolworth's cross the street from the Kaimuki.  Go get the tape," The Destroyer commanded me.  His word combinations had impressed him.  Does the muse like to stroke through the throats of men made of mud?  You bet she does.  I got my rear in gear and fetched the tape before I thought too much more about it.




The heart is the organ of desire.  Mine weakens every day.  Pupu and I piled the Canadians along with the politico that had been left out on the beach to fry.  Four hours left to our shift.  Sometimes the mornings are the hairiest, sometimes afternoons.  Depends on the time of month rather than how busy the season.  Many people don't even find out when is a good time to visit paradise and end up here in the rainy season.  Relative cumulative frequency curves are plotted and smoothed by a computer.  We're usually ready for what has been predicted to be.

        Next thing we had to do was to drive all the way out to the airport to pick up an old fart who had collapsed when a stacked, in hula skirt, greeter had kissed him, put a lei around his neck.  The widow was not in good shape, but they had managed to get her away.  The body'd been put in a janitor's closet and was waiting for us when we arrived.

        We were led to the closet, which was nice and close to where we were parked, by an airport guard.  Pupu had the blanket in his hands.  The guard wanted to leave immediately.  He didn't want to watch us work.  Typical enough.  After unlocking the closet, he scurried away without too much politeness.  I reached in to haul the old man out.

        "He's not cold," I remember saying very nervous right at my first touch of the perspiring skin.  "Stiffs don't sweat do they?" I said glaring at Pupu.

        Papa shoved past me and fumbled for a light switch.  Light blazed on, a pair of hands feebly went up to protect the eyes.  A voice followed . . . "Bastards!  What's happened to me?  Where am I?  My son's a lawyer!"

        "That might not be too good in this case," Pupu told our corpse.  "You died about threequarters of an hour ago."

        "Where's my wife?  She's aware of my condition.  Where is she?" our corpse said pushing aside brooms and towels and trying to come forward.  Papa gave him a slight push backward.  He doesn't have any sympathy for pushy white people who threaten and scold without considering the position they are in.

        "Your widow's taken care of," Pupu snarled.  "We gonna take care of you."

        The Destroyer's words had an effect.  The man's false teeth slipped out of his mouth and he fainted away.  "We can get him into the ambulance now," Pupu commented.

        "What do we do with him then?" I smirked.  "He's not extinguished.  If we wrap him up, we might smother him."

        "It's a sad tale you tell Buzzed.  I'd like to do what you think is fair."

        "I say we hike him up to the first waterfall at the end of Palolo Valley and read in tomorrow's paper whether or not the scared sucker's been born lucky.  He came to see paradise.  Let's sink him in the middle of it and see what happens," I suggested.

        Pupu gently closed the closet door and scratched his cheek whilst speaking.  "That would sure kill the afternoon," Pupu said dreamily.  "But too many folks hike up that way.  Any trail this side of the island is likely to have folks on it."

        "You can always hear people from way off if they're coming on any of the trails.  We slip off, wait for them to pass, then go ahead," I sailed.

        "Palolo.  Alright.  But we take him up to the second waterfall, take the identification off of him, and give him something that will cut his believing that he's still on the planet," Pupu insisted.  "Got anything available which will take this man's mind off of himself for a full day?"  I did.

        This stuff may seem sadistic and cruel to some of you, but you have to keep things in perspective.  If Pupu and I turned the old bastard over, they would have snuffed him.  Life or extinction?  A tryst with adversity, at any age, is better than being flattened out and shoved into a crematorium, ashes into the trash.  The second waterfall idea was the rotten part of our idealistic scheme.  The trail led easily out of the valley from the first waterfall.  From the second waterfall, you have to come down a steep and slippery trail, around the first falls, then hunt for a not highly visible trail.  It would be spooky to find yourself up there at night.  What I was going to give our client might put him to sleep for four to eight hours.

        Undaunted, Pupu and I had Mr. Clark on his way to the valley soon after making the decision to give him a chance to save his own life.  Clark was unconscious for the entire ride.  Pupu and I split the $2,341 he had on his person, threw the wallet and identification/credit cards, at intervals, back to the city, along the Likelike Highway.  Parts of the person every few miles.

        "We cuttin' this guy up," Papa yukked.

        "It's called dismemberment," I said informatively.

        "Awwyou gonna spoil my mood if you play superior turd on me," Pupu complained.  "Throwing a guy around a little, I had that kind of experience a lot you know.  Don't try to tell me what I'm doin' when I know what I'm doin' you Buzzing word dog," Pupu cursed.  I considered getting just enough on the wrong side of Pupu not to cause danger of physical injury an art.

        We drove as far up the valley as a car can go.  There didn't seem to be any other vehicles parked near where the trail started.  You could smell the rotting guava fruit as soon as you got your feet on the ground.  The forest is always lots cooler than even the back settled part of any of the valleys.  In Manoa, the locals keep the tourists from hiking by keeping their dogs hungry and letting them run around.  Palolo was a better choice.  No locals up this way.  The end of the valley had some prefabs in it, but nothing more.  Another nice thing about the valleythe beeper signal couldn't creep in.  We could perform our chore unmolested.

        Pupu took Clark's legs and I got the feet.  We didn't bother wrapping him.  I'd forced the pill down his throat when we'd put him in at the airport so now, Clark was behaving cooperativelycompletely out.  I checked the pulse and heart rate to be certain that we weren't about to waste an effort.  It was nearly three miles to the second falls.  The path was narrow.  I recall walking the trail once with a friend out for a visit from home.  The trail has a water pipe running beside it for quite a ways.  The sound of the water rushing through the pipes scared the crap out of my pal.  He thought that wild boars were running toward us and that in a few seconds we'd be run off the path, maimed or pushed to our deaths into the deep ravine inches to our right.  Our imaginations run us right to oblivion lots of times, don't they?  You can feel firm and sensible only when surrounded by the familiar.  I was feeling more and more certain that the second waterfall wasn't right for Clark.  As we carried the body along, I tried to say so to Pupu.

        "You softening Buzz," Pupu replied to my suggestion that we not take Mr. Clark quite so far away.  "Left by the first falls, this bugger will be back in town by tonight screamin' those same things he was sayin' in the closet at the airport.  I know these people better than you do.  All their lives, they feed and feed, makin' things the way they want them, gobblin' up what they don't like."

        "You're right Pupu," I said gravely nodding my head and readjusting my hold on Clark's ankles.  "I'm wrong in believing this polyester saint is going to reawaken converted once he finds himself between lives and in the trees.  Please forgive my faith."

        "He's not going to wake up a polyester saint cause he ain't gonna have on no clothes," Pupu snorted.  "And don't talk to me about how cold it gets up here at night.  Risks is for tightrope walkers and other types of artists who got audiences to play for.  I don't need to prove nothin' and I don't like talkin' to cops."

        Since Pupu had outlawed dissension, I threw away any words I may have wanted to use and concentrated on the simple pleasures of the journey.  Small birds would fly up in front of us as we rounded corners of the trail and I would try to have my eye chase its flight across the green masses of gyrating leaves.

        Parts of almost every trail that you hike on Oahu will be muddy from where a stream cuts across or the water runs during rain.  Papa and I were stepping carefully through some mud when we heard three or four happy voices trying to sing a tune in harmony approach.  Slipping through the slop, I looked up and saw Papa grappling to maintain his balance, drop Clark, and disappear down the side of the trail.  As I hopped forward to examine our patient, the doggerel words of the tune that was being sung penetrated my ear . . .  "First there was Newton, then there was Bohr, next we have Einstein who settled the score.  Now we're subsubatomic and always there's more . . ."  It was the University Physics Club out on a hike.  They like to take hikes.  I dragged Clark off the trail as quietly as possible although I doubt those egomoron ergs could have heard anything above the sound of their own caterwauling.

        I kept looking around for Pupu, couldn't see him anywhere.  I visualized his having slipped several hundred feet down the side of the valley, a tree limb tearing a hunk out of him as he sweeps by on his tumble past.  The universe revellers a safe distance offno lyrics distinguishable, I pulled Clark onto the trail and commenced a search for The Destroyer.

        Fifteen minutes later, I crawled back up the side of the slope thinking that I would have to forget about Pupu and bring Clark in for crisping before chaos triumphed completely.  The wrestler was licking the pink inside of a guava with his tongue beside the body.  "Good for the bowels, guava fruit," Professor Pupu lectured.  "The things clean you out."

        You can't fume at someone like Pupu.  Fuming at them makes them gloat at you all the more.  "This was a particularly nice guava tree that I met because it didn't have those messy thousands of gnats swarming about the fruit rotting on the ground," he continued in hopes of conjuring an ineffective remark.

        I checked in on Mr. Clark.  He was dead.  When Pupu had slid off the trail, he had dropped Clark's head on a rock.  There was a lump the size of a handball where the spinal column encased the medulla.

        "Accidents," said Pupu flipping the skin of the guava into the valley.  "This job sometimes has me thinking about all the people that have ever died.  I dream about corpses being stacked around my bed at night while I sleep.  I think that when I wake up that I'll have to wade through them in order to get into the bathroom, thenI dream that I'm awake, wading through the stiffs.  Somehow I don't think that there won't be corpses in the hall, but there are."

        "Let's just get Clark up the valley.  We're losing time."

        "You're not bein' courteous Buzzy.  This dream is one of those dreams a Kahuna would give his boodle of tricks and herbal medicines to have.  It's a spirit dream.  You're supposed to revere people who have spirit dreams.  It would be foul of you not to revere this dream."

        "Clark must have befouled himself before he went," I noted lazily.  "Let's clean him up before we carry him like this all the way up to the falls."

        "Ahh, you're right," said Pupu sniffing the air.  "I'll enchant you some other time with this power you weren't aware that I have.  Since you figured out that we have to dump Clark in the valley because we've stolen his money and he has to be a missing person and not a stiff in order for us not to burn, I take back thinkin' that you're backward, Buzz brain," Papa announced while we were busy preparing the corpse for rapid transit.

        "We've really got to hurry back into town," I saida drop of sweat rounding my eyebrow.  "We can only pretend to have been searching the airport for this gone to glory soul for so long.  I bet the beeper will start screeching as soon as we get to the road."

        "Oh, say, you're right," Papa puckered.  "Let me help us out," he said grabbing the corpse out of my hands.  I was not watching in fun as Pupu bent his back, raised Clark over his head, spun him in a circle, and flung poor granddad in a high arc over the edge of the trail.  Swish, swish, thunk, thunk, crack.  The disgusting Pupu was rubbing his hands in selfsatisfaction.  I was grinning.  We dogtrotted the mile and a quarter back to our vehicle.

        The University Physics Club had been taken by the ambulance.  One of the toadying geniuses had had a black magic marker in his shirt pocket and now our vehicle was tattooed with duration and distance formulas.

        "How we gonna get that crap off!" Pupu exclaimed.

        "We go through a car wash.  Does it matter that we pick up a few more witnesses to say that we were up here?" I said slouchily.

        "Sure it does," Pupu retorted.  "Our bets are still pretty good.  This guy isn't gonna get in the papers, you think?" Papa said, thinking.

        "I keep seeing myself on the carpet in front of Danny Sing," I confessed.

        "Car wash in Palolo Valley?" Pupu asked lifting his head to the sky showing between the tops of the trees.

        "One down in Kahala," I reminded him.  "There's a stream a little ways down the road.  We stop there and smear the symbols over with mud."

        The beeper went off.  We threw ourselves in the car and wheeled toward that stream.  While Pupu smeared the car, I knocked on the nearest door, pretending to be official, and asked the young man who came to the door who was trying to stuff his erection into a pair of cutoff shorts if I could use the phone.  Calling in.  I let control talk without interruption for as long as possible to try and spark what kind of condition we were in.  A cutie drifted into the kitchen with only her panties on and, after shooting me with a disdainful glance, opened the fridge to fish out an avocado.  She excused herself to me as she brushed past to get a spoon from the drawer I was blocking, then glided off.  Torture/teaseall of the great hot way.  I shouted thanks for use of the look and the phone and ran back to the ambulance.

        "What kind of shape we in?" Pupu said slinging the last gobs of slime from his hands.

        "We seem to be fine for now.  Control wanted to know where we were.  I explained the walked away corpse and how I didn't want to call in until we got the matter of this missing man cleared up."

        "Any other work?" Pupu asked.

        "Not yet," I replied.  We zoomed off.  Papa was nervous.  Bounced in his seat, hands on the dash.  He took a few more pills.

        The beeper went off while we were in the middle of the car wash, rollers coming up across the front of the windshield.  "Like bein' at a movie," the unrealized wrestler beamed with his usual force of insight.  Peering intensely into my famished eyes, the Destroyer accused, "What's the matter Buzzard Honey, don't you like Papa Destroyer?"  He tried to turn one of his paws into a crosier and haul me toward him for a sloppy kiss.  I scrunched in my seat and avoided the meeting.  "You don't love the Destroyer!" he screamed pounding his fists on the dash.  "That's O.K.," Pupu said smiling flashily now, "The Destroyer doesn't love the Destroyer either."  From then on he was sullen and shrank up into himself.

        We were wanted urgently in Waikiki.  Two miserable writers had hung themselves in the lobby of the biggest hotel with piano wire in protest over materialism and their own mediocrity.  I could almost guess who they were.  I'd dated a Chinese girl briefly who once was remiss and smudged enough to drag me to a "reading."  The experience had been queasily familiarlike having to haul a decomposing corpse out of the hotel room in which the spirit had abandoned the flesh as much as a week before.

        I fretted that this part of the day would go as miserably as the rest.  "Local Artists Shock Hundreds," or something to that effect on that evening's news.  We were all spared.  To be completely "honest" in what they were about to do, the twig of a male and the obese female suicide couple had decided to do it in the nude.  The plan was to hang from a sculpture and be on display for as long as possible.  Clumsy as they were, they took a long time to do what should have been done in a hurry.  They had difficulty looping the wire over a piece of the sculpture they had decided would hold them both.  While the male played cowboy, the poetess found some chairs.

        Needless to say, these activities attracted some attention. The manager of the hotel, a healthy Korean/Japanese lady with lots of sense, feared something subversively intelligent was going to happen, that a bomb was going to be set off or something.  Having cleared the lobby as discretely as possible, she was about to plead with the couple not to . . .  but they "jumped from the little stools they were perched on looking like two kids about to hop into a wading pool," the manageress, Mrs. Jo, confessed.  "The beam broke, and, oh God, if they hadn't been using that awful wire nothing would have happened.  I got the boys to throw a canvas over them making it look like the lobby had been cleared to protect people from a rickety piece of art.  Please, I'll have the boys clear the lobby again so that the rubbish' can be cleared.  I'll have an elevator waiting and you can take them out in the basement parking lot."

        I liked the lady's savvy.  Pupu eyed Mrs. Jo drowsily.  She didn't take an immediate liking to him.  We got the two out of there.  By the time we got them to the morgue, it was time to turn in our taxi and part.

        Pupu wanted to go out together drinking so that we could, hushhush, worry about what was going to happen to us when Mr. Clark appeared.  I'd done most of the lifting and carrying of the fat poetess.  I was tired.  I wanted to see Ruth.  My mind wouldn't have too much trouble pretending she was the casual sass that had troubled me when I made my call in from Palolo.

        Nothing happened about Clark as it turned out.  No one in the man's family would miss him that much.  Ruth squeezed me more greedily than usual when I dragged myself through our cottage's door in the evening.

        "What's up?" I said looking down into those firedup eyes as we held one another.

        "Oh, baby!  You're so lucky.  The research vessel you were supposed to go out on this morning sank like a ton of bricks in the Kauai Channel an hour ago."

        AhhhhSit tibi terra levis, my friends.