[Congratulations to Patrick Stack for his third-place written entry in our 2011 Creative Competition. Check back daily for the next week, as we post other recognized entries.]
He was rousted from sleep by a pre-dawn telephone call. The early morning calls from the east coast always pissed him off. When will they learn that Hawai’i is six hours behind New York?
“Max? Max? Are you there?”
“Yes Frank, I’m here…and don’t shout. I can hear you fine.”
“Max, the Trade Towers have been bombed. There are thousands of people unaccounted for.”
“Bombed? Both towers? Am I dreaming?”
“Yes, both Towers are completely down. It looks like a planned demolition where they implode from within and crumble into a pile of debris.”
“Hold on for a minute, Frank. I’m going to turn my TV on.”
“No Max, I gotta go. I just wanted to let you know. I’ll call you back later.”
“Okay, thanks for the heads up. Take care of yourself.”
Max watched the television incredulously. It was surrealistic for him to see the images of the place where he had worked for nearly twenty years in total shambles. How many of his former colleagues were dead? Are we at war? What about the markets?
After watching media images and listening to speculative jabber for two hours, Max decided that there was nothing he could do. He looked at his watch. It was 7:30. He remembered that he had a golf date at 8:45 with his regular foursome and thought that he should drive to the clubhouse and see if they’d be there. And, in any event, there’d be people there to discuss this tragedy with.
Max parked in the lot and walked past the cart barn and into the grill. Patrons, employees and golfers were all fixated on the ceiling-mounted televisions. And the news stations were beginning to show video of two different United Airlines planes crashing into the respective towers and the subsequent collapse. The god-awful images were disturbing in a way that made viewers want to watch but not see.
Max felt a hand on his back. It was Elliot Kulahele.
“Hey Bruddah Max, I guess it’s going to be just you and me today. The other guys called and cancelled. You still up for it?”
“Sure, there’s nothing we can do and, besides we’ll practically have the whole course to ourselves.”
As the two were driving their golf cart to the first tee Elliot asked Max if he knew anyone that might have been near the Trade Towers.
“Hell yes. I lived in Los Angeles but commuted to Wall Street every week. I had an apartment in Battery Park City and walked from my place, across the West Side Highway, through The Trade Tower’s atria and then to my office on Water Street.”
“So Max, you must have known someone there.”
“For sure; I just don’t know who, yet.”
“I’m sorry for you. Are you sure you want to play?”
“Yeah, in fact, let’s dedicate this round to all those who lost someone today.”
“How about you Elliot, do you know any one that will be touched, personally, by this?”
“No, thank God. My ‘ohana is all from here, safe and sound in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”
“What about your daughter, Hannah? Doesn’t she travel to New York with her job?”
“Yes, she does, but I talked to her last night and she said she’d be flying from Boston to Pittsburgh. So, she is far from the Trade Towers.”
They teed off on the short, three hundred yard, par four. Both men birdied the hole which caused them to switch from their somber demeanor to a more accustomed, light-hearted, banter. Driving to the second tee both men agreed that they had made the right choice about playing versus not.
Elliot had honors, so he teed off first and found the green. He removed his tee from the sod and turned to see Scott, the club professional, driving towards them.
“Hey Max, here comes Scottie. He’s probably going to give us shit about playing, today.”
“Good, maybe he’s going to play with us.”
Scott was in an odd mood. The usually effervescent pro had a strange look on his face; he looked scared.
“What is it Scott? You want to play in with us?” asked Elliot.
“No. I don’t know what’s going on, but a representative from Governor Lingle’s office and a State Trooper is waiting for you at the clubhouse.”
“Get outta here Scott. You’re just busting my balls.”
“No, really Elliot, they need to see you right now. I’m not fooling around.”
“So, Elliot, what,did you rob a bank?’ asked Max..
“Very funny. Okay, Scott I’ll play along. Let’s go see what the Gov wants.”
“Mr. Kulahele, I am from the Governor’s office in Honolulu. It is with profound regret that I inform you that your daughter is dead. She was aboard the United flight which crashed into the World Trade Tower this morning. We have at your availability Sergeant Kua of the State Police. He will assist you and your family with all travel and hotel accommodations for your whole family.”
Elliot was motionless as he listened. Then like steam engine rising to a full boil he lunged at the Governor’s representative, grabbing him by the throat. The State Trooper jumped on Elliot s back and wrestled him to the ground. It all happened in an instant. Soon, all three men were back on their feet and brushing themselves off. The rep and the trooper were not ready for that reaction, but tried to be as sympathetic as they could under the circumstances.
Elliot’s demeanor changed. He apologized for his assault on the messenger and assumed a state of despondency, whimpering like an inconsolable child.
“This is some kind of mistake. I talked to her last night. She said she was in Boston and flying to Pittsburgh, not New York.”
“Mr. Kulahele, that is correct, however her flight was hijacked and diverted to lower Manhattan where it was crashed, we believe intentionally, by an unknown group.”
“Does my wife know?”
“Yes sir. She told us where to find you.”
“How is she? I’ve got to see her, now.”
“She’s at your home with two neighbors and her sister. Would you like to go there now?”
“Yes” he said in a whisper.
Max turned to Elliot hugged him and quietly said “Whatever I can do Brah.”
Scott was still seated in his golf cart, staying a proper, but curious distance from Elliot and the other men. After an instant of silence Scott said “Go Elliot. I’ll take care of your clubs.”
“Elliot, you want me to come to your house?” asked Max.
“Thanks, but no. I want to see my wife first and see how she’s doin’.”
“Do you want me to drive you?”
“No thanks, I brought the ’55. I gotta get that back home.”
It was agreed that the Governor’s rep and the State Trooper would follow Eliot back to his house and wait to see what they could do to assist. The distance back to Elliot’s house was barely a mile, but the entire way he was uncomfortable about driving such a blithe and sportive car. His customized Chevy convertible seemed to be most inappropriate, now.
The bright red Chevy and the Police car approached Elliot’s house only to find the driveway blocked with four cars. Elliot saw eight or ten women standing on his lanai with folded arms and sad faces. Elliot abandoned his car in the middle of the street and quick-stepped to his lanai and into his house. There he saw his wife lying on a couch sobbing into two pillows while her sister stroked her hair. When she saw her husband moving to her, she sat up and hugged him fiercely.
“Daddy, Daddy, bring our baby back.”
As the bereft couple clung to one another, the Governor’s rep and the State Trooper stayed outside moving cars around so they could get Elliot’s ’55 Chevy into his garage.
An hour passed while most of the ladies on the lanai questioned the Trooper and the rep as to what happened and what information they had. The ladies were generally disappointed that the two men knew less than they.
Inside the house, Mrs. Burnham the next door neighbor placed herself in-charge of answering the telephone calls. The calls were coming so fast that Mrs. Burnham started writing down names and numbers; the whole time explaining the obvious “She can’t talk now. Give me your name and number.”
Mrs. Burnham thought it appropriate because she was more than a neighbor. Mrs. Burnham baby-sat Hannah, taught her how to play the violin and served as her most important auntie.
Mrs. Burnham had just hung-up from caller number 12 when the phone rang instantly.
“Aloha, this is the Kulahele residence. No one in the family is unavailable now, but please leave your name and number.”
“Auntie, it’s me…Hannah.”
Mrs. Burnham made a gurgling, choking sound as she dropped the phone to the floor; both her hands were gripping her chest and her eyes rolled back in her head when she collapsed in a heap.
Two women went immediately to her side while a third hung-up the phone that was lying on the floor and another called for the State Trooper to provide assistance to Mrs. Burnham. In the confusion, Elliot and his wife became aware of what was happening, but both could not let go of each other. The State Trooper used his radio to call for an ambulance. Amid the excitement, no one bothered to deal with the phone that was still on the floor.
An ambulance was at the house almost instantly, but it didn’t matter; Mrs. Burnham was lifeless.
The telephone rang while most everyone was focused on Mrs. Burnham and the EMT’s. The Governors rep was listening to the phone ring when he decided that someone might be calling from the hospital for vital information.
“Hello, this is the Kulahele residence.” said the rep.
“Who is this?” asked the caller.
“Never mind. Who is calling?”
“My name is Hannah Kulahele and I demand to speak with my mother or father, immediately.”
The rep’s face drained of blood. “Is this some kind of joke?” he asked.
“This is no joke. I am Hannah Kulahele and there’s been a huge mistake. Let me talk to my mom, now.”
The rep was assessing whether this was some sick trick or if he should tell Elliot right now. He didn’t wait long. The State Trooper was marching toward the rep with information radioed to him: Hannah Kulahele is alive and in Boston. She failed to board the plane despite having been assigned a boarding pass.
“Ms. Kulahele, hold on for your mother.”
“Hannah is that you?” wailed her mother.
“Yes, mom. I’m okay.”
“What happened, dear?”
“Just as I was to board the plane I came down with severe cramping. I raced to the ladies room and had a diarrhea attack that lasted nearly forty minutes. Knowing I missed my flight, I went back to the ticket agent to re-ticket the next available flight. That’s when everything went crazy. Police everywhere, airlines announcing cancelled flights and I was taken to a holding area where I was asked a million questions. I’m sorry I couldn’t have called sooner.”