Here's my first round entry for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. My writing prompts were:
Location: Working From Home
Character: A Surfer
The sensation of the plane descending woke me. I slid the window shade up and peered out. As the plane circled for its approach, I got my first glimpse of the eight islands. The lush greens and dark, jagged mountains and cliffs grew closer and closer. It was beautiful and foreboding at the same time.
I picked up a car and headed to the rented beachside bungalow. Once inside, I wandered from room to room; it didn’t take long, it was small. Neat and clean, it was furnished with rattan and decorated in hues of blues, greens, and corals. The few boxes of my belongings were stacked in the living room. On top lay a manila envelope. I took a deep breath, picked it up, and settled onto a lounge to study the dossier. After giving it a thorough read, I closed my eyes and repeated, “I am Dora Ann Evans, I am Dora Ann Evans, I am Dora Ann Evans.”
“Dora the Explorer,” I said out loud with a chuckle. Someone had a sense of humor about it this time. Standing and walking to the sliding glass doors, I stepped onto the veranda. The bungalow was situated about a third of the way up a cliff side. It was nestled among a grove of trees offering a sense of seclusion. A stairway off the veranda descended to a small private cove. Before me was a spectacular view of Oahu’s North Shore. To the right Waimea Beach to the left Haleiwa. Lifting my face to the sky, a warm breeze flowed over me. “Home Sweet Home,” for the next six months at least. Someday, yes someday, home would mean something more permanent. Returning to the living room and the boxes I sighed, “Time to get settled in.”
I set up the office first. I hadn’t checked in yet. It was a daily ritual I resented but it was required. Opening my laptop, I quickly scanned e-mail, clicked compose, and penned, “Arrived safely. All is well.” then hit send. My mind drifted to graduation day. The day my world turned upside down. The day a daily “All is well.” became a routine part of life. It was unsettling, the first days in a new location. A reminder of a past I was always trying to outrun. I shook my head in an attempt to refocus on the present. “Work, get to work.” My job was my life, as long as I focused on the task at hand I could forget. I opened a file in Word and began preparing the schedule for the next day. It was going to be a busy one.
The warmth of the sun filtering through the window woke me. I didn’t often sleep well the first few days; it took time to adjust so I was surprised at how rested I felt. I liked to get a lay of the land as soon as possible, so the day was spent driving the island, talking to locals, and scouting for sites and story ideas. My goal, as always, was to find off the beaten path destinations, authentic cuisine, and immersion in the history and culture of the place. I had a knack for being able to blend in, just another face in the crowd. The less impression made the better. The day flew by, my notebook filling with names and contact information, locations to check out, and activities to try. I worked up quite an appetite and was looking forward to attending the luau that evening. Before heading out for the night, I checked in, “All is well.”
I heard a ukulele playing as I approached the canopied tables. A beautiful Hawaiian woman greeted me, draping a fragrant lei over my shoulders. As she showed me to my table, the smell of pork roasting permeated the air making my mouth water. There were other guests at the table already so I introduced myself.
“I’m Dora,” I said extending my hand to a young couple on my right.
“I’m John and this is my wife, Lisa. I’m still getting used to saying that, my wife, we just got married,” he couldn’t stop smiling. There were congratulations all around.
“Is that a bit of a Texan accent I hear?”
“Yes ma’am, Austin, born and raised.”
“I’m Kim and this is my husband George,” said the woman to my left.
“That’s right,” said George. “You have an ear for accents, I see. Where are you from?”
“A hobby. I’m from Chicago.”
The honeymooners were lost in each other, stealing kisses, taking in the sights and the sounds. I looked at them and smiled wistfully thinking, “I’ve never stayed in any one place long enough to find that kind of relationship.” Beginning to feel a bit melancholy, I stared out to the water and let my mind wander.
“Is this your first time visiting Hawaii, Dora?” George asked reeling me back in.
“Yes, it is. I’m taking an extended vacation. I needed a bit of a break. How about you both? Have you been here before?”
Kim replied, “Once before, for an anniversary. We vowed we would come back when we retired and here we are.”
A waiter approached the table with umbrellaed mai tais. “Aloha, my name is Akoni. I will be serving you this evening. Is there anything you need?” He glanced around the table but his gaze lingered on Dora.
“Just keep the mai tais flowing,” said George. “Å'kålè ma'luna!” He exclaimed as he raised his glass. Laughing, we all cheered.
Sipping my drink, I thought to myself the lies came so easy now. At first it was a struggle. Now it was second nature, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like how comfortable and normal it was getting. Soon enough, Akoni was back with the first course. His gaze again on Dora, “Do you have any questions?” Everyone shook their head and began passing the appetizers around.
Kim leaned over to Dora, “I think you have an admirer. He can’t keep his eyes off you.”
“Oh, what, I don’t think so. He’s just doing his job.”
John, now preoccupied with food, turned to the table as a whole and asked, “Did you hear the news? They found and captured The Big “V”, Gino Vecoli, in Texas of all places.” The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I couldn’t have heard that right. Surely someone would have contacted me if this were true. Instinctively I began slowly scanning the crowd.
“You don’t say,” exclaimed George. “I remember him, one of the most notorious crime bosses in New York City.”
“Who?” asked Kim.
“The mobster, remember, years ago the Feds raided his home and the homes of his associates. They arrested Tony “The Ghost” DeLuca, his right hand man. His wife turned up dead shortly after his arrest. Gino went missing.”
“I do remember that now. There was a daughter that went missing too wasn’t there. The daughter of the man arrested, I think.”
I began to tremble. I put down my drink so no one would see how badly my hands were shaking. “Excuse me, I need to use the ladies room.” I hoped they couldn’t hear the tremor in my voice.
Lisa chimed in, “They say he’s been on the run for 10 years. Can you believe it! How does someone just disappear for 10 years! I wonder what happened to the daughter?”
“Likely the same thing that happened to her mother. The “family” would have done anything to keep The Ghost quiet,” voiced George.
My hands were still shaking as I ran a paper towel under some cold water and pressed it to the back of my neck and temples. I checked my phone, no messages. “Take big deep breaths, calm down. You need to get through dinner as though nothing is wrong.” I stood in front of a fan, allowing the cool air to wash over me, taking long, slow breaths until I could feel my heartbeat slow to a normal pace. After regaining my composure, I started to make my way back to the table. Akoni, seeing me, approached, “Is everything alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I forced a smile and small laugh, “I’m fine, really. Perhaps one too many mai tais.” He nodded and I continued on.
Fortunately the conversation had turned to other topics while I was away. As the main course was served the show began. I tried to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening but my mind kept drifting to the bombshell John inadvertently dropped. What might this mean now? I was eager to get back to the bungalow for any news.
“Still no messages.” I checked some news sites, but there was no more information than I heard over dinner. He had in fact been found and was in custody. I carefully composed an e-mail, “I hear a storm may be coming.” hastily hitting send.
I slept fitfully, my mind moving in a million different directions. At daybreak I grabbed a bite to eat and settled onto the veranda. The sound of the waves was soothing; it was quiet, peaceful. I worked through the morning but there was still no word.
“Surfing. That would get rid of some of this pent up tension.” I flipped through my notes for the name of a surfing school I came across yesterday and called to see if they could fit me in for a lesson. I set out for Sunset Beach after lunch. Although I spent more time off the board than on it, it was a cathartic diversion. The instructor was patient and knowledgeable. He schooled me on various types of boards and piqued my interest on how they were made. A friend of his, a surfer as well, was one of the best board builders on the island. As luck would have it, he had a shop a short walk up the beach. That was my next stop.
I knocked on the open door and walked inside, “Hello,” I called. Much to my surprise Akoni walked out from a back room. He stopped short, “Good afternoon,” he said with a grin, “Did you enjoy the show last night?”
“Yes, I did. I was just chatting with the surf instructor, he said I could speak to a board builder here.”
“That’s me. So, you want to buy a board?”
“No, no, after that lesson I think it best not to quit my day job. So surfer and board builder by day, waiter by night?”
“My family owns the business that runs the luaus, I help out from time to time. I’m a surfer at heart, and I have been fortunate to make a living doing it. If you aren’t buying, what can I do for you?”
“I’m interested in how they are made. Do you have time to tell me about it, show me the process?
Amused, Akoni teased, “I’m on to you.”
For the second time in two days my heart began to race. He leaned over and whispered, “Are you The Chameleon?”
“What are you talking about?” I backed away from him.
He walked to the front where there was a small waiting area, and picked up a magazine off the table. He handed it to me. It was Adventure Athletica, the cover featured racing at Baja. “The Chameleon,” he repeated, “the travel writer and critic for the Adventure Athletica. That’s you isn’t it?”
“Why would you think that? I’ve never heard of this magazine.” I handed it back to him.
“Well, someone has been talking to folks and asking lots of questions about surfing. It’s a small island; and the surfing community is smaller still.”
“I’m a tourist, nothing more. I’m curious. I’m sorry to have interrupted your work, I’ll let you get back to it.”
“Please wait, have dinner with me. I’ll tell you more about the boards and how they are made. You’re secret is safe with me.”
“I’m not who you think I am,” and with that I turned and walked out of the shop and down the beach.
Shaken, I returned to the bungalow. Agitated, I paced from room to room. All this time, no one has ever connected me to the magazine before. First the news about Vecoli, now my cover is compromised on the magazine. This assignment was a bad idea; perhaps I should leave. There was a knock on the door. Startled, I glanced out a side window, saw the black car and knew who it was. I opened the door, “Agent Anderson, I was wondering when I would hear from you.” I gestured for him to enter and walked out to the veranda. He followed and sat in one of the chairs. I remained standing, looking out to sea. “So it’s true then?”
“Yes, we found him. He’s in custody. It’s finally over, Sophia.”
My skin prickled. I turned my head; “No one has called me that in a very long time.”
“That’s your name.”
“I have traveled the world in six month intervals, I have had 20 different names.”
“I know it has been a difficult life.”
“I wouldn’t say that. Not difficult, not really. It’s been lonely. Will my father testify?”
“Yes. You have nothing to fear now. There’s no one left to hurt you. What will you do?”
“I still have an obligation to the magazine, at least to finish this issue.”
“So you’ll continue as The Chameleon? There is no reason to remain anonymous any longer.”
“I don’t know who I am if not, The Chameleon.”
“You are Sophia DeLuca. You have a degree in Fine Arts from Columbia University. You are the creative genius behind Adventure Athletica. In all my years, I have never met anyone so strong, resilient, and successful in crafting their “new” lives. You don’t need to hide anymore, show the world who you are.”
“Not DeLuca, never DeLuca.”
“The choice is yours now. Who do you want to be?”
I didn’t speak for some time, just starring out over the ocean. The sun was beginning to set coloring the sky with shades of orange. Perhaps this could truly be home after all. “Liberta, Sophia Liberta.”
Standing Agent Anderson extended his hand, “I’m pleased to meet you Sophia Liberta.”
“Please excuse me Agent, I have to meet a surfer for dinner.”
Once upon a time...
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