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a short story by Mark Kolke
January 16, 2012
How do we find love, that one, THE ONE LOVE of our lives?
How can we describe life altering experiences simply – in a single phrase, or tell a whole story in a single sentence.
Hemingway did that once in six words. It went like this:
“For sale: baby shoes, never used.”
If I had to reduce my Maui romantic reunion experience, to just six words it might be:
“black shoes – feet still in them”.
I remember it like it all ended yesterday.
It did, but I’ll be looking over my shoulder, wary of dodgy hotels, always.
I’ll have fond memories of sunny days and spectacular star filled skies every night, but impressions are made on our skulls . . . well, not always by blunt instruments, but deep impressions that mean more, hurt more, and occasionally make us smile more than others.
This is my story:
I was alone.
It hadn’t started out that way.
It had barely begun, and then it seemed over.
I’d driven Laura to the Kahului airport, dropped her and her bags at the door and sped away as quickly as those quick turns around the short-term parking loop would allow. I’m sure I was back in my condo in Kihei – peaceful and alone, before she even boarded her flight.
Anger is stupid.
And I was angry.
This trip, unlike so many of my solo vacations before, was a re-unite, re-kindle and hopefully re-light romantic coals with an old flame. Laura and I had lived together in Houston for two years . . . about twenty years before.Since we parted we’d each had lumpy bumpy roads of romance and relationships. In my case – a failed marriage along that span not to mention twice before when we had reconnected for a short while only to realize we could not, or perhaps would not, work again. She’d had a rough go too – an ex of hers, several months after they’d split, committed suicide. That was two years ago, and she said she was over it. Done. Ready to move on.
We still cared very much for each other, stayed in frequent contact notwithstanding much distance between us.
This January we tried, once more, to step into the past . . . to try again. We agreed to try two weeks in Hawaii, to explore whether we wanted to try again, to put our lives on a common path, again.
That didn’t work so well. On our third day, following a painful squabble when it became clear she was surely not over it, I voted her off the island. I wanted her to go. She wanted to leave. On that issue, we were agreed.
She happily went as quickly as I could arrange a ticket change for her – which, after she left, gave me ten days of absolute relaxation.
I was staying in a condo down in Kihei where I usually do. I spent my days exploring or golfing in the morning, and lounging at little beach in the afternoons. Evenings were not that active, but making dinner, catching up on some work, some writing and the occasional moonlight beach walk was therapeutic for me.
I was alone, but I didn’t feel lonely.
And, given that fight, I felt relief Laura had flown home early.
It was only a few days ago, but now it seemed so far behind, like the last chapter in a book that grips you, until you put it down – and then you pick up another on a completely different subject . . .
I’d been explaining all of this to my new roommate Tony . . .
“I was in the book section at Barnes and Noble store on Keawe Street, in Lahaina today when I found this cool book. It was in the bin, in the last row of the book store where I found a ragged ratty looking book. There was just one copy, rather thumb worn the way you would expect something from the remainder table to look.It was Cedric With Me, by Sloan Williams.
I spent a few minutes thumbing through it and then it hit me like a lightning bolt . . . this guy was writing my life.The main character is a fellow named Robert Waugh, a civil litigation lawyer from Texas, just like me. This guy had a couple of divorces and a string of failed relationships – like me, and he struggles with life. His situation was different than mine, but the story resonated with me because there were some very similar themes.Let me read you this bit of dialogue:
“I read a quote the other day from Somerset Maugham. It was about the hardest love to let go of, being the one that was not returned.Maybe, if I'd read that as a young man, I would have saved some grief.Surely I would have, but then again I would have missed out on some wonderful learning. I would have missed on knowing Annie, and Margarita, and Lauren and KT – and several others who put their emotional brand on me in one way or another.”
Tony responded with – what I was quickly learning was his customary arrogance – “sure Lloyd, but he – and you - would have a lot more money if he, and you, had avoided them gold diggers.”
Etched deep scratches in Tony’s own history would, I suppose, taint his attitude and leave him seeing everyone else’s life through the same dirty lens.We were here to relax, in extra-and-free vacation-mode and catch all the sights other tourists were here for, right?
Well not exactly.
True, there was plenty to do. Water sports, sightseeing, and whaling season.Well, not as in whaling, but whale-watching.Maui in January is the time and place to be if you want to watch pods of humpback whales breaching just to show off.
They have the right to be free, and I’m not so sure they are left alone enough to be happy; but each time they take a plunge after breaching it is like dumping something large in the bathtub, sometimes swamping boats that are too close – allowing passengers to soak up a lesson in Archimedes principle first hand.
I think the whales enjoy it, perhaps regrouping at the end of the day in their pods, to commiserate on how many obese tourists in tacky tourist attire they got wet today.
I’d known Tony all of two days – but it was starting to feel much longer than that.
We met at the airport the other night.
Well, we didn’t actually meet there – but we were there at the same time, part of the same load, due to fly all night from Kahului to Los Angeles where most of us would catch connecting flights to wherever we called home.
Our Delta flight, fully sold except for that seat which would have carried Laura – and we were all there, checked in early as instructed by our respective travel agents.Each plane load must look the same to the staff there . . .
Another typical flying tube of tourists, sunburned, mellow, facing grim reality of work and winter weather back home, sweating like field workers in their flight clothes from re-packing suitcases right there on the terminal floor to get each bag under the 50 lb. limit per bag to avoid those outrageous surcharges, then hustling our gear through the snaky lineup to get the next agent at the next scale, then hoisting them onto the conveyor - - - all of that, only to be told by a Delta employee with a squeaky microphone, that we needed to take all our carry-on luggage with us to the west end of the terminal and wait for further instructions.
And wait . . .
Eventually someone, looking important and senior of course, came out to greet us all as baggage handling worker-bees brought trolley-carts of our checked bags to the exit doors.The boss lady from United explained that our plane had mechanical problems that could not be fixed quickly. There were no other planes available to take us to Los Angeles, and they did not know how long it would be until they could get us on other flights because everything this week was so fully booked. Clearly the plane wasn’t air worthy – and who wants to board a long flight over water with a dodgy plane?
Buses would come.
We would be taken to a hotel in Kaanapali and put up there for a night or two until their agents could get us all fitted onto other flights to our various connections. Our flight was destined for Los Angeles but it became quickly apparent that most of us were bound far and wide across the country with some to outer reaches of Canada and some headed for Europe. Getting us all on flights the next day would be tricky. For some it would take a little longer, another day or two. We all wanted better answers, and wanted them right now – but it was clear there was no point shooting the messenger.
So we waited for buses.I’m sure they came quickly from when United called them, but for those of us standing around it seemed interminably long.
For me, an extended stay wasn’t a problem – except I had work to do at home. And I’d already checked in my rental car. Nearly everyone was good humored about it. Seriously, who complains about ‘free hotel and meals’ extra days in Hawaii?
I called my travel agent Deb to advise what was happening. She laughed with me until I told her we were being put up at the Kaanapali Alii hotel.She said, “Oh, that one.”Her tone was not encouraging.She added, “Lloyd, trust me when I tell you that you won’t want to stay in that hotel one night longer than you have to. I’ll call Delta and get working on getting you on another flight – and soon!”
Deb had been great, doing that ticket switcheroo for Laura the week before had been a life saver. I can’t imagine how the rest of the trip would have turned out if we couldn’t have sent her back.What’s worse, can you imagine if she had stayed – now she would be over-holding with me? Yikes!
Standing around waiting for the buses became a pain – we had to stay outside to mind our luggage, so no air conditioning.It was evening, but still stifling, muggy . . . and a very nice problem to have.
As four busloads of passengers unloaded at the Kaanapali Alii, it was apparent the front-desk staff had very little warning.As coming days would reveal, there was a reason airlines put delayed passengers at this place, because top rate paying customers would be just about anywhere else but there. It is an old condo hotel with few, I expect, owners actually staying in their units. The rental-pool probably does well considering most visitors to the area want beach access and spend as little time as possible in their rooms, but seriously – these was not a good property at all.
Best described as tired, ready for redevelopment and with spectacular beachfront. Food proved to be mediocre.I don’t know how you ruin a simple breakfast buffet of the basics, but they managed to make it so you never went back for seconds . . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Whining children – or rather, parents with whining children over their shoulders were moved to the front of the line, followed by frail old folks. By the time we able bodied middle-aged types were approaching the desk, staff were exchanging fretful looks, counting and re-counting people remaining in line.
By the time I made it to the front of the line it was 11:15PM, a full four hours beyond the departure time on my boarding pass.
I was tired, sweaty, and getting cranky – so I was not prepared to be sweet or easy to deal with when finally I got the front of the line, and the petite smiling Philipina woman behind the desk sporting a name tag that read Josie – trainee, said: ‘Mr. Kenward, we are very sorry, but after we allocate rooms to all of these couples from your flight, there are not enough rooms left in the hotel to give all the single passengers their own room. Is it OK with you if we have you share a room with another passenger?”
There was no point in protesting.
The guy ahead of me had just declined the same offer – and he’d been told to take a seat while they try to find him accommodation at another hotel.I could only imagine how long that process would take – and given it was likely only for one night . . . how bad could it be?
I was dispatched to room #C811, a bellman would be up with my bags shortly.
Sure he would?
I opted to find a trolley myself and wrangled my bags, briefcase and golf clubs to the elevator and soon found myself at the threshold of #C811.
I inserted my key, turned the handle and, to my shock, found the door chained from the inside.
I was about to blow my little cork, already composing in my mind what I would say to the person at the desk once I hauled all my things down there again, in addition to insisting on speaking with the manager – and plans to give United Airlines a piece of my mind – when I got another surprise.
Just then, I heard the chain being freed. The door of #C811 opened; a hand and a voice reached out to me, “are you Lloyd?Hi, I’m Tony Rizzuto. They called to say you were coming up to share ‘dis room. I was on my computer sending some emails and forgot to un-do da chain. Come in, please!”
At that point his outstretched handshake was suddenly welcome, my frustration diffused and I readily accepted his help hauling my gear into the room.
And, it was only for one night . . .
So I thought.Word through the front desk was that most passengers got out on flights the next night or following day because they were headed for Delta-hub destinations like Denver, Salt Lake, Chicago, Atlanta etc., but for Tony who needed to get to Montreal and me, anxious as well, but not panicked, to get going home to San Antonio, it was not to be.
Each day I thought, why don’t they give us separate rooms now?
But, again I thought, it was only for one more night . . .
Tony and I passed through – and passed by, like ships in the night for those days as I rose early, made my calls, checked my emails and went walking the beach. He tended to sleep longer – he complained my snoring prevented him from getting sound sleep until after I left in the morning – and he tended to stay out late.He didn’t act drunken in my presence but I gathered he spent his evenings in the bars along the path between hotel row and the beach.
One thing for certain, neither of us had much opportunity to squiring any beach-bar conquest back to our room – in part because our hotel was not one of a suitable standard to impress anyone, and because the notion of leaving a sock-on-doorknob clue for a roommate was just too weird and tacky to consider.
Tony and I were a bit the odd-couple type, not that I’m a neat freak or anything, but I was clearly the Felix in this relationship, and he was definitely Oscar. He came and went several times a day leaving his side of the room and bed like a hurricane had blown through.
I kept telling myself, as my tan deepened with each day on the beach, that I’d be going home soon and my time with Tony would be over.I tried to socialize with him a bit – arrange lunch together, or play golf at the course across the road – but he wasn’t interested, saying he had some meetings to go to and he didn’t golf. He wasn’t rude or a jerk, but he was obviously unsettled by the delay and cursing each time he checked his emails – so I sensed his need to be back in Montreal was pressing him hard. He seemed stressed, far more than anyone should be in Hawaii, in and out he would go like a hyper-active kid.
By then I finally had a flight booked, for tomorrow evening. Instead of L.A., I was going through San Francisco, then connecting to Denver, from Denver to Houston and finally a commuter hop to San Antonio. Deb had done a great job doing battle with Delta for me because I couldn’t get them on the phone or get them to respond from their website customer complaint section which made exactly that promise. All I got was an auto-response email telling me an agent would be in touch with me at my hotel. None called or came by.
Someone dropped off vouchers for a discount on future flights at the front desk but they didn’t have the guts to face me or Tony.In Tony’s case, I wouldn’t blame them because he looked pretty scary.
So, it was Thursday morning. I’d packed everything except my travel clothes – left the side pouch of my suitcase empty – so I could come back from my beach walk, shower, put my beach walking clothes in that pouch, dress and catch a cab for my noon time flight.
My very non-romantic holiday was about to end uneventfully and I could sleep on the plane and be back to work tomorrow.
I walked back from the beach – I took the really long route down to the edge of Lahaina, along that really cool black sand, stopped for a coffee and muffin at a beach vendor’s stall, and walked back. It was cool when I left, but by the time I got back I was really sweating and my heart was pumping hard because I jogged the last while. As I made my way back to the hotel by way of the pool path between the hotel towers, I heard shots – or at least they sounded like gunshots, like they sound in the movies, and then two black Hummers with tinted windows went screaming, tires smoking, out of the parking lot between the hotel and shopping complex next door.
Kids were squealing, mothers were screaming at their kids to get out of the pool and everyone was running. So I ran too. I ran inside and made my way as quickly as I could to the elevator lobby for tower C. When I got to my floor, there was nobody in sight.That wasn’t unusual I suppose, but a cart – the kind room cleaning staff use – was standing askew in the middle of the corridor.It was near the door to my room, which was ajar. I assumed staff were in the room, cleaning up Tony’s mess again.
As I entered the room, I could see the expected mess on Tony’s side – but the whole room was engaged in dishevelment. My bed had been torn apart too, my luggage open, with contents strewn. It looked like everything was there, but the place was ransacked.
I checked. My golf clubs were there. My brief case had been upended, papers everywhere.My computer was gone. Fortunately, I’d brought my old laptop on this trip – so anything that mattered was either on my desktop computer back home, or on my hot-stick hanging around my neck which I suddenly felt the need to grab, just to verify it hadn’t been lost.
Bad enough that someone’s been rifling through my dirty underwear, and stolen an old computer – but I would freak out if I lost the documents I’ve been working on the last few days.I breathed easy for a moment – and then, I couldn’t breathe at all.
Under the mess on Tony’s side of the room, I saw two black shoes – feet still in them.
Too small to be Tony, the bed coverings were pushed over somebody. I was literally frozen with fear. But I needed to check.
I nudged a foot with mine.
I heard a moan.
I pulled back the bedspread to reveal an unconscious hotel staffer – probably the guy belonging to that cart in the hallway.
He must have been in the room restocking the mini-bar, the one Tony drained each night, when whoever ransacked the room came in.
I was just about to ask the poor guy if he was OK when five flak-jacket wrapped gut toting swat-team types, guns drawn, lunged into #C811.I was pushed to the floor, felt a knee in the middle of my back, was handcuffed and advised I was under arrest before I could gasp twice for air . . .
At least the one who tackled me had soft hands. And she didn’t seem intent on breaking my wrists when she shackled me.
Once it was established to their satisfaction that neither the guy laying on the floor with a five inch gash in back of his head from hitting the footboard of Tony’s bed, or I , was Tony Rizzuto, the mobster from Montreal they were looking for – and that neither of us was a Yakuza gang member trying to kill Tony Rizzuto, the mood of the room relaxed.
Handcuffs were removed, and officers helped me find my passport and travel documents from that pile of debris that once was my neatly packed suitcase and briefcase.
Who were they?
I was stunned – first at the sight of five guns, all pointed at me, but wondering who they were. Handcuffs suggested law enforcement, but nobody announced who they were, nobody showed me a badge, or read me my rights, or responded immediately to my query of who they were once they released the handcuffs.
The leader of that crew, Detective John Conroy was his name, did the explaining while his team got busy with paperwork, taking photos and trying to lift fingerprints from my bags and briefcase.All was well. I could go, and take my things.
But they kept my 7-iron. They found it downstairs, on the parking lot next to Tony Rizzuto’s body.Whoever was after him, they figured, tried to subdue him with it – and they found it with blood and hair on the hosel – and fingerprints on the grip, but it was the four gunshots that killed him. Probably the shots I heard when I was walking back to the hotel.
Well, I’ll have a souvenir 7-iron of the trip – if it ever gets back to me.And I got a ride.Officer Kealoha Kang escorted me to the airport, through security and walked me onto the plane.
The crew and passengers looked alarmed at first, seeing a tanned tourist being escorted by very attractive uniformed cop, but when she softly shook my hand and said, “Aloha, have a nice trip Lloyd Kenward – please come back to our islands again soon”, everyone was relieved.
As I was.
When she shook my hand she passed me something.
A business card, her handwritten home number and e-mail address on the back.
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