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Taylor Camp, Kaua'i 1973
Thresh tossed a cigarette into the water. "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." The roar of the waves nearly drowned out his words. The six of them were seated Indian style around a campfire on the beach. Thresh glanced around the circle: Blossom, Ash, Goob, Angel, and Reefer. Not their real names, of course. No one here went by real names.
Blossom had her gaze on Ash, and Thresh shuffled on his rock. He knew one way to get her attention. She hated the president. "Nixon is the Antichrist," he said loudly. "Someone should take him out."
"Who cares?" Ash lay back with his head propped on a lava rock. Thresh slumped when Blossom continued to stare at Ash and didn't even remark on his comment. The sweet scent of roasting marshmallows mingled with the salty breeze. The blue sky was a curtain above their heads. He tried to think of some other way to capture her attention.
"I still haven't seen Elizabeth Taylor," Blossom said, clasping her arms around her legs as she sat on the sand. "Her cousin owns this place. You'd think she'd come visit sometime. She's so fab."
Thresh smiled at her. "No one is more fab than you, Blossom."
As fragile as an orchid, she could sit on her black hair. Dressed in a bikini with a ginger blossom in her hair, she looked a little like Annette Funicello. Thresh watched as she fingered the pearl peace symbol on her necklace.
Taylor Camp had been their home for three months. They had inherited the tree house above his head from a couple of residents who got busted for growing weed. The tree house had real glass windows and doors. It looked right up the Na Pali Coast. The camp used to be on the beach, but the winter rains kept washing it out, so the residents took to the trees. About a hundred residents wandered in and out of camp on a regular basis. Thresh never wanted to leave here.
Ash stood. "I'm bored. Let's go for a swim."
Thresh glanced around. The others were all too stoned to move, but a swim sounded good. "I'll go. Want to come, Blossom?"
She shook her head. "I'm going to take some clothes to the stream and wash them. Have fun."
Her dark eyes seemed illuminated from within. He watched her sashay across the sand, stepping lightly from one black rock to another.
"Shake it, don't break it," Ash called after her.
She turned and blew Ash a kiss. Ash grabbed at the air as if he'd caught it, and Thresh wanted to puke. Was something going on between them? "You going to stand there staring all day?" Thresh snapped.
Ash flipped Thresh the bird. "Climb it, Tarzan," he said. He stalked toward the ocean.
If Thresh weren't so angry, he wouldn't brave the surf, but he plunged after Ash, anger giving him power against the waves. The blue-green water enveloped them, and they kicked out in long strokes to get past the breakers. In the next moment, a riptide grabbed hold, and the waves tugged Thresh down. His lungs burned, and he fought the panic that had him in an even tighter grip. The rocky bottom rushed past in a kaleidoscope of brightly colored coral, golden sand, and black lava rock.
The next instant, the churning waves slammed his body onto the bottom. Rocks battered Thresh's chest, and streaks of red ran through the water. Which way was up? He was too dazed to even watch the bubbles rise as they hissed from his lips. He had to breathe! His lungs burned with a nearly unbearable desire to draw in oxygen, but it was impossible to break the undertow. Swimming parallel with the beach, Thresh quit fighting and let the riptide have its way. Ash tumbled past, his eyes wide, and a silent scream opened his mouth. The two collided in the churning current and grabbed instinctively at each other. The tide tumbled them around, then just as suddenly, it released them.
Thresh bobbed to the top like a seal. He took a huge lungful of the best air in the world and stared up into the blue sky. He floated there a moment and tried to collect his thoughts, but he felt another tug, and before he could react, the current took hold again. He managed one gulp of air before the riptide took him under again. Fish rushed past, or rather, he rushed past them. He had a vague impression of parrot fish.
His lungs began to burn again. The current propelled him toward a rocky finger that jutted into the water. If the water rammed him against the rocks, he'd die. Thresh dove deep, trying to break the current's grip. The riptide seemed to weaken, then it took a stronger grip and hurled him toward the rocks, then down along the bottom.
He realized Ash was on the same course he was. They rushed through a narrow tunnel so dark they couldn't see anything, adding to the sense of impending doom. Then the grip of the undertoe relaxed. Feeling as though his lungs were about to explode, Thresh kicked up and up, past glowing plankton on the walls, past a colony of shrimp, until his starving lungs could take no more. He inhaled water just as his head broke into air. The shock of salt water in his lungs made him gag and sputter, but he managed to keep from vomiting.
Ash bobbed up beside him and flailed in the still water. "Where are we?"
"Some kind of cave." The ceiling hovered only about five feet overhead. The water was as clear as a goldfish bowl, and plankton lit the area enough for Thresh to make out Ash's face. Thresh glanced around. "Hey, look at the coral. I've never seen anything like it."
"Far out!" Ash dove to the bottom and grabbed a piece of the lapis lazuli-colored coral.
Thresh knew enough about coral to realize they were looking at some of the rarest and most valuable coral on the planet. Aware his mouth was gaping, he closed it. Ash bobbed to the surface with a piece held up in his hand like a trophy. "Blossom will dig this."
Thresh's heart clenched at the mention of her name. "I thought you were gone over Angel."
Ash shook his head. "I already plucked that flower, man. And she's knocked up. Can you dig it?"
He was always on the make. Blossom would be his next victim. Unless Thresh stopped him. Blossom deserved better. "Hey, dude, do me a favor and lay off her," he said.
Ash widened his eyes. "Jealous, Thresh?"
Ash's smirk sent a white-hot wave of anger over him. Thresh launched toward him, his hands digging into Ash's throat. Gulping in a lungful of air, the hated face went under the water against the coral reef on the bottom. After the ride on the current, Ash struggled very little, and it was over quickly.
Thresh stared at the body floating in the water. He backed away as Ash's body bobbed closer. Then the sea foamed, and dorsal fins emerged from the sea. He gasped and flailed back as three tiger sharks zoomed around the enclosure. They were easily twenty feet in length, and he saw a flash of teeth from the closest one. He expected to feel those sharp teeth at any minute as they circled, but the scent of fresh blood pulled them away. They homed in on Ash's body. It was tugged around in the water, then disappeared under the surface.
In moments, the sea boiled blood red.
Thresh knew the sharks would not be satisfied with Ash's body for long. They would destroy him next. He slammed his eyes shut and waited to feel the first shark's teeth tear into his leg. His heart thundered in his ears, and he prayed to Kanaloa, the god of the sea.
Time stretched out until he thought he would howl. Then the sound of churning bodies in the water faded, and he opened one cautious eye. Then the other.
What was that he heard? Whispers of voices seemed to radiate from the walls, but the sharks were gone. It was a sign. Kanaloa, Hawaiian god of the ocean, must have intervened. Thresh answered the voices: "I hear, Kanaloa. I hear and serve."