Here's another excerpt from my latest Noelani B. Lee adventure-in-progress, THE VOLCANO SHAKE.
After dinner—without Millie, who called to say she couldn’t make it—a bummed out Ambrose Bright donned a tan cashmere sweater, poured himself a glass of wine, and had a seat on his lanai.
The Honeycreeper Lodge sat at 3,750 feet, an elevation with a climate unlike most touristy areas of the Big Island. Ambrose discovered this when he and Millie first visited Volcano many years ago, so he was prepared for it when they bought the lodge. Since then, he chuckled behind his uninitiated guests’ backs when they griped about the persistent rain, stifling humidity, chilly nighttime air, and cloudy skies—a common refrain he heard was, “This is so not like Hawaii.” On the bright side, Volcano’s weather helped boost sales of lodge-logoed sweatshirts and long-sleeve tees and lightweight rain jackets, all of which came in handy when Millie led hikes through the rain forest and in neighboring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In time, though, Ambrose succumbed to Millie’s pleas and added a page to the lodge’s website with a link to the National Weather Service. This enabled guests to better prepare for their visits, and insulated Millie from their incessant bitching.
In his favorite rocking chair, Ambrose sipped the wine and listened to the singing of thousands of unseen coqui frogs in the surrounding forest. The tiny, invasive amphibians, native to the Caribbean, posed a huge threat to the Hawaiian ecosystem; with no natural predators on the islands, they were free to feast unfettered on insects whose job it is to pollinate flowers and fruits. To save precious flora and fauna from the voracious critters, the state’s Department of Agriculture targeted them with an eradication program. But the effort proved more well-intentioned than effective, as the frogs continued to flourish and filled the night with their distinctive ko-kee chorus.
Ambrose, being an avid lover and protector of the natural environment, followed the state’s advice and did his best to kill whatever frogs he found by spraying them with a solution of citric acid and water. His efforts were sporadic and the results mixed, in part because there were just so many of the damn things, and also because he had developed a begrudging appreciation for their nocturnal refrain, as had many of his guests.
Above the ko-kees and the rustle of a breeze, Ambrose heard the landline in his office. He went inside answered the phone.
“Hey, it’s me.” Millie.
“Well hi there. How was the trip to Hilo?”
“Great. I probably bought more papayas than we’ll ever need.”
“I don’t know, I think we’ll make good use of them.”
A pause. “So how are you doing tonight?”
“Much better, thanks.” Another pause. “So I guess it’s too late for you to come by?”
“Sorry. But I’ll be there first thing in the morning to help with any last-minute things we need to take care of. Hey, listen, by the way, is the ʻAmakihi still open?”
“It is, as a matter of fact.”
“Oh, fantastic. I ran into a couple of ladies in Hilo who were looking for a girls’ getaway weekend and told them I would check to see if we still have vacancy.”
“It’s just the two of them?”
“Yes. Well, one of them is. The other’s visiting from the mainland. They’re cousins.”
Ambrose sat at his desk and flipped open his laptop. “Well, good then. We’ll have a full house. But it’s a big cottage for two guests.”
“True, but they really have their hearts set on spending the weekend with us. I couldn’t turn them down.”
He smiled at the “us.” “Checking in, when?”
“Tomorrow and out either Sunday or Monday. I told them we’re flexible. Oh, and be sure to give them the kama’aina discount. I’ll text you their names and their contact information in a minute.”
“Sounds good. How’d you meet them, anyway?”
“I was at the farmer’s market and they overheard me talking to the woman I bought all the papaya from. They, uh, haven’t seen each other for a long time and they wanted to get away from Hilo for a few days. They both love hiking and birding, so I suggested they sign up for some of our excursions.”
Ambrose smiled. “Sounds to me like you hit the guest jackpot, then.”
Millie laughed. “You’ll like them. They’re delightful.” Another pause. “So, are you sure you’re okay? You had me worried last night.”
“I’m doing fine. I think I was worried about this weekend, having a vacancy. You know how I get about vacancies.”
“But it was much worse, with you talking about someone coming to kill you.”
He scoffed. “I was being delusional, I suppose. They’re all total strangers. Plus I had some awfully bizarre dreams the night before. I need to stop eating spicy food before bed.”
“Oh please don’t tell me you went to Thai Another Day again without me.”
His favorite restaurant, within easy walking distance of the lodge. “You have an open invitation.”
“Well, get some good sleep tonight, okay?”
“I will. As soon as the Gallants get here and I get them settled.”
“They haven’t arrived yet?”
“Not for another hour or so.”
“Well, when you’re done with them. Nutty dreams or not, I can’t bear the thought of you turning into a paranoid schizophrenic.”
“Hey, I thought you found my peculiar quirks utterly irresistible when we were kids. How could I have been so wrong?”
Now it was Millie’s turn to laugh. “Along with your brains and your full head of hair. You had it all.”
Had? “Okay, well, send me the info for these two women and I’ll get them all set.”
“I will. And I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Great.” Pause. “I love you.”
Another pause. “Good night, Ambrose.”
She hung up.
Ambrose placed the receiver back on the phone and wondered how many more incidents he’d have to fake to get her back for good.