"Jesus," I said. "Ralph went soft on us."
"He knew you'd say that," said the caretaker, accepting the joint from Ackerman and inhaling deeply.
Ralph was gone, and soon the whole family would be on a plane back to England, clinging desperately to one another and too exhausted to sleep for more than two or three hours at a time. Like survivors of some terrible shipwreck, only half understanding what had happened to them, disturbing the other passengers with sporadic moans and cries, finally sedated by the stewardess.
OK. Things are really different now. It took a bit longer than I figured, but I think the Kona nut is finally cracked.
Part of the reason it took so long to get to the bottom of this story was that your tragic and unexpected departure from the islands left me with a swarm of odd problems. For starters, I still hadn't caught my fish, which caused the charter captains and fishermen who sat around the bar at Huggo's to constantly humiliate and degrade me. I was drifting into a macho way of life, you see. There was no doubt about it. And no help for it, either. I was living with these people, dealing with them on their own turf—which was usually out at sea, on their boats, mean drunk by noon and still unable to catch a goddamn fish.
Then there was the problem of Heem, the realtor, who wanted the rent for the compound—at least $2000 in cash, and questions would certainly be raised about the crust of red scum on the property.
Once it hardened, not even a diesel sand blaster could get it off. I drove past the compound a few times and noticed a strange red glow; the lawn seemed to glitter and the pool appeared to be full of blood. There was a certain beauty to it, but the effect was unsettling, and I could see where Heem might have trouble renting to decent people. Problem was, Ralph, I didn't have the money. I had given Heem $2000 up front, and the rest of the debt was yours.
Finally, even our fishermen friends at Huggo's were getting nervous about why I was still hanging around so long after you left. By that time, even Ackerman had fled (to Bimini—or so he said). Rumors were beginning to take root all around me—most of them concerning our story. Leaving, as you did, battered and broken was a sure sign to our friends that whatever we finally published would not be good for business—specifically, the selling of real estate, which was all that ever concerned them. There are 600 registered realtors on the Kona Coast alone, and the last thing they need right now is an outburst of bad publicity in the mainland press. The market is already so overpriced and overextended that a lot or people are going to have to go back to fishing for a living. I knew it had reached a break point when even the bartenders at the Kona Inn began saying, "What kind of story are you really writing?"
But nobody patronizes me anymore, Ralph. I could drink with the fishermen now. The big boys. We could gather at Huggo's around sundown, to trade lies and drink stammers and sing wild songs about scurvy. I am one of them now. I caught the big fish.
It was, as you know, my first. And it came at an awkward time. I was ready to flee. We had an eight-o'clock flight to Honolulu, then an overnight haul to L.A. and Colorado. But the whole plan went wrong, due to booze, and by midnight my mood had turned so ugly that I decided—for some genuinely perverse reason—to go out and fish for marlin once again.
All you need to know about my attitude at that point is that I didn't pack that god-damn brutal Samoan war club in my sea-bag for the purpose of crushing ice. (You remember the war club, Ralph—the one I bought in Honolulu to pulverize aloe plants to treat your back wound.) There is a fearful amount of leverage in that bugger, and I knew in my heart that by the end of the day I would find a reason to use it—on something.
Maybe on those drunken macho bastards at Huggo's. They don't dare even lie to one another about boating a 300-pound marlin in less than 45 minutes. Then it usually takes them another 15 minutes to kill it. My time was 16 minutes and 55 seconds on the line and another five seconds to whack it stone-dead with the club.
The beast fought savagely. It was in the air about half the time I was fighting it.
The first leap came about ten seconds after I clipped myself into the chair, a wild burst of white spray and bright-green flesh about 300 yards behind the boat, and the second one almost jerked my arms off.
Those buggers are strong, and they have an evil sense of timing that can break a man's spirit. Just about the time your arms go numb, they will rest for two or three seconds—and then, in that same split second when your muscles begin to relax, they will take off in some other direction like something shot out of a missile launcher.
Yeah ... that poor doomed bastard was looking me straight in the eye when I reached far out over the side and bashed his brains loose with the Samoan war club. He died right at the peak of his last leap: One minute he was bright green and thrashing around in the air with that god-damn spear on his nose, trying to kill everything within reach....
And then I smacked him. I had no choice. A terrible blood lust came on me when I saw him right beside the boat, so close that he almost leaped right into it, and when the captain started screaming,
"Get the bat! Get the bat! He's gone wild!" I sprang out of the goddamn fighting chair and, instead of grabbing that silly aluminum baseball bat they normally use to finish off these beasts with ten or 15 whacks, I laughed wildly and said, "Fuck the bat, I brought my own tool."
That's when I reached into my kit bag and brought out the war club and, with a terrible shriek, I hit that bastard with a running shot that dropped him back into the water like a stone and caused about 60 seconds of absolute silence in the cockpit.
They weren't ready for it. The last time anybody killed a big marlin in Hawaii with a short-handled Samoan war club was about 300 years ago.
It was very fast and savage work, Ralph. You'd have been proud of me. I didn't fuck around.
But the real story of that high-strung blood-spattered day was not so much in the catching of the fish (any fool can do that) as in our arrival at the Kailua pier.
We came in wild and bellowing. They said people could hear me about a half mile out.... I was shaking the war club and cursing every booze-crazy, incompetent son-of-a-pig-fucking missionary bastard that ever set foot in Hawaii. People cringed and shrunk back in silence as this terrible drunken screaming came closer and closer to the pier.
They thought I was screaming at them. Which was not the case. But to the big afternoon crowd on the pier, Laila said later, it sounded like the Second Coming of Lono. I raved for 15 minutes, the whole time it took us to tie up. Then I got out on the pier and gave the fish six or seven brutal shots with the war club while it was hanging by its tail on the gallows.
The crowd was horrified. They hated everything we stood for, and when I jumped up on the pier and began whipping a little 15-pound tuna with the club, nobody even smiled.
But there is one thing I feel you should know, Ralph: I am Lono.
Yeah. That's me. I am the one they've been waiting for all these years.
Or maybe not—and this gets into religion and the realm of the mystic, so I want you to listen carefully, because you alone might understand the full and terrible meaning of it.
A quick look back to the origins of this saga will raise, I'm sure, the same inescapable questions in your mind that it did in mine, for a while....
Think back on it, Ralph—how did this thing happen? What combination of queer and (until now) hopelessly muddled reasons brought me to Kona in the first place? What kind of awful power was it that suddenly caused me to agree to cover the Honolulu Marathon for one of the most obscure magazines in the history of publishing?
And then I persuaded you to come along, Ralph—you, who should have known better. Strange, eh? But not really. Not when I look back on it all and finally detect the pattern— which, in fact, I failed to see clearly myself until very recently. I am Lono . . . that explains a lot of things, eh? It explains, for instance, why I am writing to you, now, from what appears to be my new home in the City; so make note of the address:
City of Refuge
Kona Coast, Hawaii
The trouble began when I came into the harbor bellowing, “I am Lono!" in a thundering voice that could be heard by every Hawaiian on the whole waterfront.
Many of those people were deeply disturbed by the spectacle. I don't know what got into me, Ralph, I didn't mean to say it—at least not that loud, with all those natives listening. Because they are superstitious people, as you know, and they take their legends seriously.
It is not surprising, in retrospect, that my King Kong-style arrival in Kailua Bay on that hot afternoon had a bad effect on them. The word traveled swiftly up and down the coast, and by nightfall the downtown streets were crowded with people who had come from as far away as South Point and the Waipio Valley to see for themselves if the rumor was really true—that Lono had, in fact, returned in the form of a huge, drunken maniac who dragged fish out of the sea with his bare hands and then beat them to death on the deck with a short-handled Samoan war club. It was not easy for me, either, to accept the fact that I was born 1700 years ago in an ocean-going canoe somewhere off the Kona Coast of Hawaii, a prince of royal Polynesian blood, and lived my first life as King Lono, ruler of all the islands, god of excess, undefeated boxer.
How's that for roots?
Don't argue with me, Ralph. You come from a race of eccentric degenerates; I was promoting my own fights all over Hawaii 1500 years before your people even learned to take a bath.
And besides, this is the red thread of high craziness that ties it all together. Suddenly, the whole thing made sense. It was like seeing the green light for the first time. I immediately shed all religious and rational constraints and embraced a New Truth. And I suggest you do likewise, old sport, because we have it now: The True Story of the Second Coming of Lono.
The real-estate Bund won't like it. Indeed, they never liked us, despite all the money we gave them. And when the natives started calling me Lono and the whole town got stirred up, the realtors decided to make their move.
I was forced to flee after they hired thugs to finish me off. But they killed a local Caucasian fisherman instead, by mistake. This is true. On the day before I left, thugs beat a local fisherman to death and left him either floating face down in the harbor or strangled with a brake cable and slumped in a jeep on the street in front of the Manago Hotel. News accounts were varied.
That's when I got scared and took off for the City of Refuge. I came down the hill at 90 miles an hour and drove the car as far as I could, out on the rocks; then I ran like a bastard for the sanctuary—over the fence like a big kangaroo, kicked down the door, then crawled inside and started screaming, "I am Lono" at my pursuers, a gang of hired thugs and realtors, turned back by native park rangers.
They can't touch me now, Ralph. I am in here with a battery-powered typewriter, two blankets from the King Kam, my miner's head lamp, a kit bag full of speed and other vitals, and my fine Samoan war club. Laila brings me food and whiskey twice a day and the natives send me women. But they won't come into the hut—for the same reason nobody else will—so I have to sneak out at night and fuck them out there on the black rocks.
I like it here. It's not a bad life. I can't leave, because they're waiting for me out there by the parking lot, but the natives won't let them come any closer.
Because I am Lono, and as long as I stay in the City, those lying swine can't touch me. I want a telephone installed, but Captain Steve won't pay the deposit until Laila gives him $600 more for bad drugs.
Which is no problem, no problem at all.
I've already had several offers for my life story, and every night at sundown, I crawl out and collect all the joints, coins and other strange offerings thrown over the fence by natives and others of my own kind.
So don't worry about me, Ralph. I've got mine. But I would naturally appreciate a visit and, perhaps, a bit of money for the odd expense here and there.
It's a queer life, for sure; but right now, it's all I have. Last night, around mid-night, I heard somebody scratching on the thatch, and then a female voice whispered. "You knew it would be like this.”
"That's right!" I shouted. "I love you!”
There was no reply. Only the sound of this vast and bottomless sea, which talks to me every night and makes me smile in my sleep.