Down In The Valley
Down In The Valley
How in hell he came to be lying in cloying dismal mud at the base of an extinct Hawaiian volcano eluded Patton. He just lay there, trying to catch his breath, knowing that the softness of the deep red earth was a death trap but not really having the energy to do much about it.
He was sixty. Just days South of it. He didn’t look sixty. That thought made him laugh, nearly aloud. If anyone was to see him in his current condition looking sixty would be a compliment.
The stream running right by him was clear and sparkling bright. Patton diverted some of it with one hand, letting the water cascade over his upturned face, while he rubbed himself clean with the other. Very gently he rolled out into the main current. He realized that his fall had not injured him badly.
The soft mud had saved him, but it was nearly impossible to get off. Red dirt, they called the stuff on Oahu. Some companies even made clothing with the mud being used as a dye. Awful red, Patton had called the pieces on display at a retail outlet on Kalakaua Avenue.
He’d retired ten years before being stuck in the mud. Retired from being a field operations specialist. A real spy. A spy who had to get in and get out with almost no help, and accomplish missions that were too bizarre to be written into movie or television scripts. Spying wasn’t a believable occupation. Not in the culture of modern America. So he portrayed himself as a retired professor, which he resembled much more than the public’s idea of a spy.
He had nothing to show for his work. A small retirement from the Agency.
A family is strewn across the landscape of his life, broken and dysfunctional. It didn’t often bother him. But sitting in the mud, with some unknown mountain stream washing over him, caused him to feel a deep sense of regret. In the words of some kid he’d overheard at an airport, he had no life.
Patton sat up. No broken bones. No cartilage not working, that he could tell.
Only a feeling of immense fatigue. He’d been walking on the trail above, only moments before, and now he was stuck in the mud at the bottom of a deep ravine.
“With not a friend in the world,” he murmured to himself while twisting back to look upstream for the first time. What he saw surprised him to the point of breaking loose from his muddy trap. With a long sucking sound, he pried himself out.
There was a body in the stream, not twenty yards from where Patton crouched, with his hands and knees still plunged into the wet red dirt. With deep rattling breaths coming from his lungs, he began to crawl, moving out to the center of the rushing water. There was no mud in the clear water, but the current worked against forward progress. It took him ten long minutes to reach the body.
Patton rose up to gaze down on the prone form. A man lay before him on his back in the cocooning mud, wrapped in gray duct tape. Even the man’s eyes and mouth were taped over. The only way to tell that the body was of a male at all was by the lack of any swelling on its chest area. He couldn’t judge if the body was alive or dead. Patton reached down with his right hand, worked on one small corner of tape covering the mouth, then pulled sharply.
The body screamed shrilly. Patton jerked back in surprise.
“Help me?” a male voice asked, with a voice weak and raspy.
Patton recognized that voice. It had a distinctive nasal twang to it. Irritating. Just like the man it belonged to. Nathan Makaha Matisse. A man who’d almost written out his own death warrant by attempting to extort money from the United States Government for information that would have damaged that same government from being able to manage the affairs of the State of Hawaii.
Moments earlier, in a clearing located somewhere above them, and following a very unsatisfactory conversation, Patton had told his associates to simply shoot the offensive idiot and leave him in the brush for his relatives, or whomever, to find.
But there he was, lying in the same stream bed as Patton, begging for help.
Slowly, this time, Patton peeled the tape from Makaha’s eyes.
“You’re supposed to up there with a few bullet holes in you. What are you doing down here?” Patton asked, tossing the tape, and then watching it bob and float downstream.
“Why should I help you?” Patton asked, trying to clean more mud from his coated limbs. He noted that one of his Teva sandals was missing.
“Because you don’t have a friend in this world. I’ll be your friend,” Makaha responded.
Patton stared at Makaha, then was overcome by a fit of uncontrollable laughter. Finally, after more than a minute he regained his aplomb.
“ Just what makes you think that some lowlife scum like
you, threatening the government I’ve worked for so long and well, could ever be a friend of mine? I told those guys to shoot you,” Patton finished.
“I forgive you,” Makaha responded, “and besides, that was before we ended up in this mess. Why are you down here?”
Patton looked at the wriggling creature before him, and then came to a decision. He began to pull the tape from Makaha’s body one strip after another. He said nothing until his work was complete.
“I don’t know what happened,” he admitted, pulling himself out of the water, then wading to sit on a nearby rock.
“You’ve got blood on the side of your head,” Makah said, pointing.
“Maybe your friends hit you over the head and dumped you down here with me,” Makaha offered, settling atop a different rock.
“Not bloody likely,” Patton mused, more to himself than to Makaha. Patton’s partner had stayed at the bottom of the trail, to await his return. A strike team of pro operatives had been onsite to handle the rough work when Patton got to the location. They had all been strangers to him. But they were Agency operations people. There was absolutely no chance that a whole strike team, on American soil, was going to go rogue enough to do in a fellow agent, retired or otherwise.
“Then what are you doing here?” Makaha vocalized, in his irritating nasal tone.
“What I’m doing here is why you’re out of that tape, and likely to live. I don’t know. Maybe I fell up there, hit my head, and then rolled down the hill.”
“Not bloody likely,” Makaha repeated Patton’s words, trying to imitate his voice. He waited for a brief moment before inquiring further, “You’d remember falling. Do you?”
Patton thought about his last memory from above. He’d walked away to leave the wet work to the team. His job had been done. He’d made the decision, and then given the orders. The last thing he recalled was beginning the return trip back down to where Frank, his partner, waited.
“No,” Patton replied. “Something hit me on the head I guess, and then down I came.”
“Ah, the cold blooded killer gets taken out….” Makaha began, betting to his feet.
“Not in your case,” Patton cut him off. “I told them to shoot you a few times, not kill you. Those are two different things. “Bleeding, with a few holes added to your ugly local carcass, would have been convincing enough. I wouldn’t have told you to leave that Bellow’s thing alone if I was going to order you dead.”
Without further comment, both men stood and began working their way down the streambed, staying in the current to avoid becoming trapped in the mud that lined both sides of the moving water.
“Where we going?” Makaha asked, after awhile.
“Down in the valley. My partner’s waiting with a car,” Patton replied.
“Down in the valley, the valley so low, hang your head over, hear the wind blow…” sang Makaha, in a voice that was so deep and pure that Patton stopped in his tracks.
“What?” Makaha said, ending his performance. They stood looking at one another.
“That was beautiful. You have a great voice,” Patton said, his tone one of complete surprise.
“Nah, all Hawaiian’s can sing. Haole’s, like you, have no voice,” Makaha responded.
They continued working their way down the valley together.
“Madonna’s a haole, and she can sing,” Patton said, after a few minutes.
“Life is a mystery,” Makaha intoned, as if the beginning words to Madonna’s song, Like a Prayer, was explanation enough. He went back to singing the words to Down in the Valley, while they waded on. Patton said nothing further until they reached an old concrete bridge that traversed the stream above them.
With Patton in the lead, they climbed the steep slope up to the road above.
“What those Marines are doing in Sherwood Forest can’t go on. People are going to die. My people,” Makaha said, behind him.
“Sherwood Forest?” Patton asked, getting more of the red mud on himself as he climbed, and trying to shake it off.
“Take from the rich, give to the poor. You call it Bellows Field.”
“The poor being you local yokels and us haole’s being the rich, I suppose,” Patton stated, his tone one of resignation. “And it’s not your problem.
That’s a U.S. military base. They can do what they want there.”
Patton stopped climbing. “What are you talking about?” he asked.
“I took one of those detectors to the beach. Got it off eBay. Some of my friends turned red and got sick for a bit. Radiation made the detector sound like a chain saw. I know I can’t stop ‘em. I just thought I could get some money because I know.” Makaha stared into Patton’s enlarged eyes when he spoke.
Patton sat down on the slope. “Jesus Christ,” he said, more to himself than the man he was with.
“You didn’t know,” Makaha said, his voice one of surprise.
“No,” Patton forced out. “I was raised on that beach. I camped there as an eagle scout when I was a kid. God damn it, there’s no reason for anybody to have
nuclear by-products there. The Marines use it for training, and that’s all.”
“Why they build that fence on the inside of the road then?” Makaha asked.
“And why they build a road inside that fence and patrol it with those M-Rap trucks?”
Patton rubbed his face, staying away from the painful part by his ear. The Marines had built a very well-made security fence with wire at the top. He’d seen it himself. Local citizens were allowed inside Bellows to use the beach on weekends, but they could no longer park along most of the road. Huge rocks had been moved in to keep them from parking on the sand, as they had before. And what were the armored trucks there for, he wondered.
And he’d seen the posted signs. The real high threat signs warned of fatal harm that might be applied for trespassing. He had seen the same signs only in a place called Los Alamos in New Mexico. Those signs had been on the interior fences protecting nuclear tech areas.
“We take our kids there to swim,” Makaha said, “and so do some of the haoles who come too.”
“Still, there’s just no way that there could be anything that would allow for radiation to be in the water. No way,” Patton stated, emphatically.
“Then what you doing here? You come from the mainland to see me? You bring those nasty people with you? To shoot me? How I become so famous?” Makaha asked, before laughing.
Patton went back to climbing until he reached the top.
“No car. Frank’s not there. Frank would not leave. Something’s not right,” he said, just as a man wielding a large branch broke from the nearby bracken. Patton ducked under the swinging chunk of wood, feeling compressed air whistle past his damaged head. He heard Makaha’s yell behind him.
“No, Ahi, he is my friend. Don’t hit him again.”
“Again?” Patton asked up from his prone position on the ground.
“Ahi’s my brother. He just protecting me,” Makaha replied, taking Ahi’s branch and heaving it back into the valley.