Honolulu Heat, Between the Mountains and the Great Sea
By Rosemary and Larry Mild
(ISBN 978-0-9905472-3-5, Trade Paper and e-Book, 298 pages, $14.95)
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Honolulu Heat, Between the Mountains and the Great Sea—the long-awaited sequel to Cry Ohana—brings back the same Hawaii families that readers so warmly embraced. They confront fierce torments, take on exotic challenges, and find new loves.
Leilani and Alex Wong anguish over son Noah, an idealistic teenager who teeters on both sides of the law. He meets Nina Portfia, his dream girl, and they unwittingly share horrific secrets. Facing a murder charge, Noah flees and finds himself immersed in a bloody feud between a Chinatown protection racketeer and a crimeland don who, ironically, is Nina’s father.
Violence targets innocent real estate agents, a Porsche Boxster Spyder, a stolen locket, a petty thief, and an odd pair on a freighter to Southeast Asia. Two mob leaders and the police are pursuing Noah. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, only the boy can unlock his own freedom and bring peace to his family—and Honolulu’s Chinatown.
Wind and Water
MAN AND NATURE coexist in a not-so-delicate balance, each pushing, and more often punishing, the other. Beautiful, brilliant, respectful in one moment. Violent, vengeful, destructive in the next. The forces engage and recede. A victor emerges in the ongoing skirmish and then relinquishes the laurels——so true on the tiny Garden Isle of Kauai in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The moment is 11:34 a.m. on the eleventh of September 1992, a Friday.
Alex Wong, an accountant in his early thirties, entered a few more numbers on the keyboard in his home office. But he couldn’t focus on his client’s quarterly fiscal report. His usual pragmatic head just wasn’t in it today. The radio lulled him with Hawaiian slack-key guitar melodies. He leaned back in his swivel chair. Ah, the joy of working in T-shirt and shorts. Gazing out the picture window opposite his desk, he drank in nature at her most seductive. The ocean lay peaceful with nary a whitecap in sight. The sun glared brazenly. Malia, in her baby bikini, sat under a striped umbrella next to Noah, a neighbor’s son. With shovels and pails, the two-year-olds wallowed joyously in the glistening sand. Leilani, in a broad sun hat, sat in a beach chair, dividing her watchful eye between the toddlers and the half-finished seascape on her canvas. The oils were drying quickly in the late-morning heat.
Alex breathed deeply. It doesn’t get any better than this.
At 11:40 a.m., the guitar music stopped in mid-chord. A female voice announced: ‘‘This is a hurricane alert from the National Weather Service. Hurricane Iniki is currently 160 miles south and
80 miles east of Honolulu with winds up to 135 miles per hour. On its present northwesterly track, it is now likely that the main force of the storm will miss the island of Oahu and the islands of Kauai and Niihau. However, the storm’s path is unpredictable. You are advised to secure whatever you can outdoors, then stay indoors, away from outside walls, and particularly, away from windows and glass doors. The storm center is moving at 100 miles per hour. Its track is constantly shifting and could swing north at any time—–onto a collision course with Kauai. Be aware, this Category Four storm is still gathering strength. Stay tuned for further updates.’’
Alex stopped listening. He shut down the computer and placed the monitor face-down on the floor. Sliding bare feet into his size-thirteen sneakers, he hurried out of the house, striding fast to the beach.
Halting squarely in front of his wife, he announced: ‘‘Lani! We need to get the children inside. Now! I just heard on the radio that Hurricane Iniki may be headed our way. We need to get everything inside or else tied down.’’
Leilani, a tawny-skinned Hawaiian with lush dark hair, didn’t even look up. ‘‘Not to worry, Alex.’’ She applied a brush stroke of cobalt green. ‘‘Right after breakfast the TV said the storm was going to pass between Molokai and Oahu and we might just see a little rain.’’
‘‘All that’s changed now,’’ Alex said. ‘‘The hurricane’s eye is moving fast. It could be only a matter of hours before it hits here.’’ ‘‘Alex, the sky is clear blue. Look! Oh, maybe a few more
clouds over that way. So what? I have to finish this. I’m entering it in a juried show next week.’’
‘‘Lani, why are you being so stubborn? Can’t we at least take Noah home?’’
‘‘There’s nobody home. I told Ilima I’d watch him for the day. They went to a house-warming party up in Princeville.’’ She dabbed a bit of silver-gray over a whitecap.
A rare wave of anger crossed Alex’s unshaven face. ‘‘Damn it, Lani, your painting can wait.’’
Scooping up the toddlers, one in each arm, he carried them squirming into the house. He set them down on Malia’s throw rug on the mauka, mountain, side of her bedroom and drew the Hello Kitty drapes shut. Dragging her twin-size mattress onto the floor, he hefted the two children onto it. They gave him a puzzled look, then decided they must be playing a game, and bounced up and down on the soft mattress.
Leilani was about to mix fresh colors, but paused to reflect. It’s not like Alex to be so short-tempered. As if in response, the incoming clouds began to smother the beach with darkness, night descending in midday. She felt a sudden chill. Sharp gusts whipped up the sand, stinging her ample bare thighs. She gathered up her painting paraphernalia and hurried into the house.
When she appeared in the bedroom doorway, Alex looked up, his face grim. ‘‘It’s about time. Give me a hand with the dresser.’’ He stuck a large folded soji screen in front of the window, and the two of them pushed the dresser in front to hold the screen tight against the drapes. Lani gently laid Malia’s matching Hello Kitty comforter over the children; they had already tired of the jumping game and fallen asleep.
During the next hour, Leilani and Alex silently set to work. They crisscrossed masking tape on all the windows; filled empty milk jugs with water; stacked towels and blankets; brought out flashlights plus candles; and laid everything on the floor along one wall of Malia’s room. It was the safest room in the house, with only one window on an outside wall and that was now covered.
Out on the lanai, the steel sofa glider was too heavy to move. They flopped down on it to rest, both of them breathing hard, as much from tension as the physical effort of rushing around to secure things.
Leilani grabbed her husband’s upper arm. ‘‘Look how fast the clouds are moving. They’re coming straight at us.’’
They left the sliding door behind them open to hear the radio——just in time for a new report. ‘‘We interrupt this program… Attention! This is the latest update on Hurricane Iniki. The hurricane’s eye is headed directly toward the south shore of the island of Kauai at 120 miles per hour. Winds have increased to 145 miles per hour with pulsing gusts to 175.’’
The time was 12:42 p.m. Leilani shuddered. ‘‘The humidity is so heavy you could choke on it.’’
Alex eyed the two coconut palms out back and the Cook Island pine at the side of the house. ‘‘There isn’t a leaf or frond stirring out there, and it’s so darn quiet. Not good, eerie even. The calm before the storm.’’
The words barely out of his mouth, a furious gust bowed the two palms inland in deep deference to Laamaomao, the Hawaiian god of the winds. At 12:55 the humidity yielded to a brief drizzle, then a drenching downpour, sending the couple indoors. First checking on the children, who were still asleep, they watched the storm from the center of the living room. Alex drew a protective arm around his wife’s waist. The rain angled at their home from the south. Sand particles peppered the sliding glass doors with a plinking, piling up at floor level as though demanding to tunnel into the Wongs’ domain.
Alex dared not utter his one optimistic thought, as though saying it aloud might jinx them. They had chosen this sturdy little house soon after their wedding four years ago. The outer walls were cement block covered in stucco; the roof was solidly covered in blue ceramic tiles. Yeah, we just might weather this storm, he thought. Or not.
The wind roared and screeched and bellowed. They heard unfamiliar objects strike the house in a clatter of thuds, clinks, and clanks. Although sunset wasn’t due for almost six hours, darkness followed the storm’s intensity, enveloping them. They retreated to Malia’s bedroom. The toddlers slept on, indifferent. Holding hands, the parents leaned against each other as they sat on the box spring of Malia’s bed. Leilani had spread two blankets across the box springs to make the bed more comfortable.
The picture window in the office gave up first. They heard it implode. Flying shards resounded against the common wall between Malia’s room and the office. Plasterboard was no match for
the angry wind. The wall bowed ever so slightly, then a small crack appeared. Like a malicious living thing, the crack spread vertically a few inches, threatening, but somehow containing itself.
The bay window in the living room surrendered next, unleashing the cyclonic forces, toppling lamps and ripping Leilani’s framed paintings from their picture hooks. Shelves displaying her hand-built ceramics trembled. Glazed pots in glowing colors, comical dogs, cats, and geckos turned into missiles, hurtled against the remaining walls and windows——until there were no windows and no art works left to be destroyed.
Alex and Leilani knew from the clatter in the kitchen, beyond the opposite wall, that the winds had attacked from yet another direction——sounds of cabinet doors slamming open against their frames. Thumps and thuds as the wind became a giant sweeping hand across the countertops, littering the floor.
They heard an elongated groan ending in a loud thump outside. Leilani screamed as she sensed it was the massive ironwood tree next to their driveway crashing down——hoping it wasn’t crunching her new Toyota Corolla. It was 2:05 p.m. The blunt force of the storm was upon them.
Another ten minutes passed and the electricity failed. Alex lit one of the candles and heated its opposite end with the match, so it would stick to the bottom of a water glass. This he set atop the dresser and sank back down on the bed next to his wife. He took her hand in his and squeezed it whenever he sensed her quivering responses to what they were hearing. An ear-splitting crash resounded at the opposite end of the house, followed by the clatter of loosened roof tiles falling onto the cement driveway for several seconds afterward. She began to shake. Even the candlelight shivered, creating eerie dancing shadows in the room.
‘‘The avocado tree must have fallen on the master bedroom side of the house,’’ he calmly offered, so as not to upset Leilani.
‘‘Mommy, mommy!’’ The wailing, frantic cry jolted them. Noah thrashed about on the mattress in the middle of the floor. ‘‘I want my mommy!’’ he screamed.
‘‘Maybe the crashing tree woke him,’’ said Leilani.
Alex picked Noah up, cradling him. ‘‘You’ll see Mommy soon,’’ he said in a soothing voice. But the little boy refused to be comforted. His chubby body heaved and struggled as he sobbed. Alex steadfastly kept rocking, until Noah, exhausted from his own protests, nuzzled silently against Alex’s chest.
Leilani’s watch said 3:50 when Malia awoke with a whine and toddled over to her mother, arms raised, to be picked up. Leilani pulled her in and held her close, not able to speak for fear her own anxiety would be contagious and frighten her baby girl.
Minutes later the ruckus and howling winds outside the house ceased, and all they could hear was the persistent beat of the rain. Then, surprisingly, even that disappeared. It was as though nature had flipped a switch and turned the storm off.
Is the storm over or are we merely stalled in the hurricane’s eye? Alex wondered. He had to venture a peek outside and see what was going on. He set Noah down on the mattress and handed him a stuffed teddy bear; the boy seemed content enough, at least for the moment. Selecting the one Maglite from the group of flashlights, he looked across at his wife.
‘‘All quiet. It must be the eye of the storm.’’ He cautiously opened the bedroom door and peeked out into the living room, strewn with sand and debris. He stepped out, closing the door behind him.
‘‘Be careful and don’t go too far from us,’’ Leilani called out to him.
Switching on the Maglite, Alex stepped into what had been their lovingly arranged and organized living room. The irony of it. Weak sunshine illuminated what now looked like a city dump, covered with wet sand and puddles of water. Pieces of Leilani’s artwork amassed and embedded against the inland wall; the two upholstered wing chairs on their sides; the TV set smashed on its belly; end tables overturned with legs broken. Huge shards of bay window glass stuck or lay everywhere.
Glancing through the void where the sliding doors should have been, Alex saw sunlight overhead, but black clouds still blanketed the sky elsewhere. The lanai no longer had its wood-slatted roof. The air was soundless with the exception of water dripping everywhere. They had certainly entered the eye of the storm. Feeling his way to the kitchen, his sneakers immediately met up with the storm’s clutter. He pushed all the cabinet doors shut, but not before noting that boxes and cans of food inside somehow had stayed in place; and luckily, their wooden table had remained upright. From the kitchen he crossed the living room to inspect the master bedroom. Their tall, full avocado tree had indeed fallen onto the roof of that room, denting and slightly caving the roof in, but not destroying it.
The hesitant patch of sunlight now surrendered to a shroud of blackness like a moonless nightfall. A distant whine pierced the heavy air once more and grew louder. Palm trees hunched in defeat, their fronds pointing stiffly in unison. Smaller objects were flying again.
Leilani, making sure the toddlers were still asleep, anxiously opened the bedroom door and stepped out. Her brain stubbornly refused to accept the destruction in the living room. A returning Alex wrapped his arm around her shoulders in empty reassurance. He shuffled Leilani back into Malia’s room, shutting the door behind them. Just as they slumped down beside each other on the box spring, her dark eyes filled with tears. He gave her an extra squeeze.
Alex somehow knew this terrible storm wasn’t finished.
Just then, Noah rolled onto his side and moaned. Husband and wife looked at each other, sharing the same feeling of alarm. Where are Noah’s parents? Are they safe? Did the hurricane hit Princeville?
Alex knew it might be days before the electricity was restored. He stood and walked to check if the door was securely closed. When he turned around Leilani was standing and crying.
‘‘Why now?’’ she sobbed, her hands in motion. ‘‘Why, when everything was going our way? Must we always live in fear?
What have we done to anger the gods so much?’’
Alex acknowledged that there were no rational replies to such questions——and he certainly didn’t have to answer to the Hawaiian gods. His wife’s repeated reference to these gods was a cultural, traditional obsession stemming from her grandmother, Tutu Eme, and not religious in nature. But he felt obligated to give comfort anyway. He wrapped his arms around her and drew her close once more. Alex Wong, the son of a Japanese mother and Chinese father, was neither superstitious nor religious.
The storm howled and battered away, but there was yet another noise, a repeated and distinctive one.
‘‘Listen, Alex! Someone’s pounding on our front door,’’ said Leilani, slipping out of his embrace and putting her ear to the wall.
‘‘I’ll take a look. Push the door shut after me.’’ He pulled the door ajar and bent almost backward to stay upright against the whirling wind. He labored through the living room, kicking away obstacles that had once made their house a home. He was able to hear an urgent voice through the missing stained-glass window that Leilani had created near the top of their door.
‘‘Please, Alex. Let us in, for God’s sake. We’ve lost our whole roof and need shelter. We’re soaking wet.’’
Alex recognized his neighbor from across the road. ‘‘Just a minute, Jesse, while I get this open.’’ It took all his strength pulling and Jesse pushing to get the front door open. Ellie Duran slipped through first, carrying their swaddled four-month-old infant. As soon as Jesse followed her inside, they allowed the door to slam shut again.
‘‘Wait! Be careful! The power’s out,’’ Alex warned. He switched on his Maglite, concentrating the beam on the debriscovered floor toward Malia’s room. Hunching forward into the wind, he followed them and called to Leilani, ‘‘It’s me and the Durans. They’re going to stay with us.’’
Once everyone was inside, Leilani handed them towels and took the baby from Ellie so the family could dry off. Frightened by the darkness, too confused to babble, Malia and Noah sat wideeyed on the mattress and watched the grownups.
‘‘You folks have one of the only houses in sight with a roof overhead,’’ Jesse said. His voice trembled. ‘‘What a disaster outside.’’ He described the impassable roads strewn with downed trees, abandoned cars, and beach sand piled up in little dunes. ‘‘The Kaleos’ house next door was hit bad, but looks like it survived——sort of.’’
‘‘What about our cars?’’ asked Leilani. ‘‘Did you see what happened?’’
‘‘Sorry Lani, your Corolla is a total loss, but the Cherokee appears to be intact.’’
Alex braved a foray across the living room to the master bedroom to bring back dry clothes——pants, T-shirts, and underwear——for the Durans, with hand towels to turn into diapers.
The howling slowly dissipated. The drenching, driving rains eased, then ceased altogether. It was 7:30 p.m. The storm had finally passed over them. Ellie stayed with the children while the others ventured out to inspect the rest of the house. In the kitchen, Alex worked in the beam of his Maglite.
He found a broom and dustpan and swept up the smashed glass coffeepot and other debris. Next, he lifted the dented toaster-oven and small microwave oven back up to the counter.
The master bedroom had a hole in that corner of the roof where the tree had fallen, but the tree still covered much of the opening. In fact, their king-sized mattress had stayed dry, and much of the bedroom furniture was still intact. But there was no guarantee that the roof wouldn’t cave in entirely from the tree’s sheer weight. Nothing in the living room or dining room appeared salvageable.
‘‘I’ve got a small portable gasoline generator,’’ said Jesse, ‘‘and some heavy-duty tarps in what’s left of my tool shed. Maybe we can at least salvage the food in both our fridges and have a little electricity left over for some light. The tarps can cover some of the holes here. Problem is, they’re probably under a mess of debris right now. Are you willing to tackle this with me?’’
‘‘Let’s go!’’ said Alex.’’ He actually felt buoyed up with the relief of having something useful to do.
The two men had to slog through muddy ponds and climb over tree limbs and house parts just to get to Jesse’s property. There was no sign of the Durans’ roof. The men skirted the three remaining house walls still standing. They found the roof of the tool shed wedged between two trees, with the shed’s corrugated steel walls collapsed inward. Using a pole as a lever, they managed to slide the steel walls out of the way. They found the tarps first and searched for the portable generator next. At last they exposed its red metal exterior.
The generator was too heavy to lift. Even in its carriage it couldn’t be moved; the carriage wheels were too small to be of any use without bogging down in the mud. Jesse made a sled out of a flat piece of steel and some heavy cord. With huge effort and a lot of muscle, they slid the generator onto the makeshift sled and got the rig moving. Jesse was able to retrieve an axe and a saw from the tool shed he’d uncovered earlier. They made quick work of a tree branch that barred their way. The two men dragged the sled across the road to the window outside the Wong kitchen.
Jesse removed the gas cap and discovered the tank empty. No surprise. Alex came to the rescue. He kept a siphon in the trunk of his Jeep Cherokee, along with a gas can. When they were ready to start the generator, Leilani tossed the end of an extension cord out the kitchen window. Alex turned the key. The engine choked. He tried the starter cord. After a dozen hopeless pulls, he surrendered the job to stronger Jesse. Five pulls later, the generator engine took hold. Jesse adjusted the choke and throttle until it ran smoothly. Alex plugged in the extension chord and immediately Leilani yelled out, ‘‘The fridge is running. We’ve got lights! Let’s see if we can rustle up some food.’’
The men did a high five, and Jesse said, ‘‘Let’s cover the hole in your master bedroom roof next, pal, then I’ll be ready to call it quits for the night.’’ Hacking away at two large roots, the avocado tree soon slipped away from the roof and fell to the ground.
Using a tree branch, they poled up and draped one of the tarps over a corner of the bedroom roof. Standing on the front window sill, Alex stapled the tarp to a sloping beam and repeated the stapling from the window on the side of the house.
The families huddled up to the kitchen table, children on laps, Ellie nursing the baby. At 9 p.m. they devoured left-over chicken with rice and wilted, warmish salad.
But Leilani was merely keeping up a brave front. She’d already made up her mind. No matter how much repairing and rebuilding they could do to their dear little house, it would never be enough. She wasn’t going to live each day in anguished suspense, fearing another hurricane. She knew that every time high winds or heavy rain assaulted their vulnerable island, she would feel a sense of doom——that maybe next time they wouldn’t be so lucky. She hadn’t graduated with honors from the University of California at Berkeley to spend her life under a cloud of anxiety——from weather they couldn’t control or vengeful gods they couldn’t appease.
She’d wait a few days to break that news to Alex. For sure, they would go back to Oahu. Of course, they’d wait for little Noah’s parents. Leilani’s eyes welled up with fresh tears. He was still whimpering for his mommy.