The week started with a volcanic eruption and it continued with a death. Kîlauea volcano burst and Kelsey Araki, a sixteen-year-old sophomore at Kohala High School, was murdered. Both events hit Detective Achilles Naluaka. He was assigned the case of the murdered girl the same day lava started flowing toward his home. The house and the land had been in his family for three generations. At the same time the newspapers were following the murder case as if it was a football game, waiting for Naluaka to slip because he had solved all his previous cases, a curse of the undefeated. Distracted by the lava, and at his wits end with the case, Detective Naluaka, or Nalu, as he preferred to be called, pulled a Hail Mary play. He picked up a local criminal named Sumo Glen, a butterball of a man with a topknot haircut. Despite his teddy bear appearance, he was a low-level enforcer and sometime killer.
They drove on the coastal highway that encircled the Big Island of Hawai`i. In the passenger seat Sumo Glen yanked on the chains that were locked on his wrists and ankles.
“Glen,” Nalu said. “If you keep rattling those chains, the day is not going to end well.”
“What law was I breakin’, Dick-tective?” Sumo Glen asked.
“Your waist is breaking the laws of physics.”
Sumo Glen waited a moment to deliver the best comeback he could find. “Fuck you.”
“Sorry, that costs money.”
Nalu glanced to the distance where Kîlauea volcano loomed large, its lava flowing toward the Pacific. Sumo Glen looked out the window at the rising smoke. “Police station’s the odda way,” he said.
Not far away steam was rising off the land. The lava was burning through trees, lakes, homes, erasing everything in its path. Nalu switched on the windshield wipers to brush away the falling ash. The smell of sulfur entered the sealed car.
“Shit, we going to your ranch,” Sumo Glen said. “That whole area going be covered in a few hours.”
“The lava, it’s going to turn pass the area by.” Nalu had to keep repeating that. A child’s dream; if he said it enough it would come true.
“You lolo or what? —screw dis, stop dis car. Brah, dis against the law; stop dis car right now—”
“Shut up, Glen. If I stop the car, all that’s going to happen is I’m gonna throw you in the trunk. So just sit there and shut up.”
Sumo Glen sunk into his seat and stared out the window. He mumbled something that Nalu couldn’t hear, and didn’t care to listen to. Nalu slowed down as he drove around a roadblock. A sign on the blockade read, “Danger: Road Closed.” Nalu repeated in his head, “the lava will turn,” and he hoped the volcano goddess was listening.
When they reached his ranch Nalu dragged Sumo Glen into the plantation-style house. Nalu dropped his prisoner into a chair in the den. In the center of the room Kelsey Araki’s case file was laid out on a folding table. As the sun set, Nalu cracked the seal on some Black Label Scotch and finished a few glasses before it was dark.
The night was black except for the orange glow in the distance. The lava was coming and it left Nalu in a crimson mood.
“Let’s try again,” Nalu said. He emptied the last of the scotch into his glass and opened a second bottle.
“Brah, the whole island knows the same thing,” Sumo Glen said. “The girl is dead, could have been her teacher, her pops, boyfriend, some random wahine; I don’t know nothing. So let’s go. Let’s get outta here.”
Nalu sipped the scotch and knelt a few feet from Sumo Glen’s chair. “Well,” Nalu said. “We’re going to stay here until we figure it out.”
“Damn it, we gotta get out of here. We going be burned alive…” Sumo Glen continued his monologue, but Nalu tuned him out. He sipped his scotch as he paced in circles looking at the den. He thought of all the work it took to create it. Before big machinery the house was built by hand. Filipino and Chinese immigrants worked for Nalu’s great-grandfather, hammering every nail, molding every piece of material until it fit the structure. He wondered who carved the maile pattern in the stone edges of the walls.
Everything those people had worked for was going to be erased. Nalu wondered what the men in his family would do if they were still alive. They probably would have picked up the land, let the lava pass by, and then put the house right back where it was.
“Eh, detective, you hearing me?”
“I stopped listening a while ago.” Nalu filled up his glass again and drank it just as fast. He leaned over the folding table. Sweat fell from his forehead, splattering the case files. It was getting hotter; the lava was closing in.
Sumo Glen pulled at the chains. “I said, I feeling claustrophobic in here.”
“That’s just because you’re fat.”
“Shit, seriously, it stay a hundred degrees in here; the walls is closing in.”
Nalu ignored Sumo Glen, but the heat was affecting him too. The scotch was probably not helping. Nalu moved the case files around the table, rereading every statement. “I’m missing something,” he said.
“Ch-yeah, one brain.”
“Shut up, Glen.”
Outside the lava hissed in the night, overconfident of its power to wipe the land clean. Louder and louder the hissing grew. Sumo Glen started laughing. The heat was getting to him. “The murder magician: any case, Detective Naluaka will solve it.” Nalu leaned on the folding table. The second bottle of scotch was empty. He swore it must have evaporated in the heat. The lava’s hiss was growing. Sumo Glen’s eyes glazed over and he laughed hysterically. “Kelsey Araki still dead. We going be burned. We going be dead.”
Sweat rolled off Nalu’s face. It hit the table in rhythm, drip—drip—drip. “We going be dead,” Sumo Glen laughed. Nalu stared at the evidence, and he could hear Kelsey Araki laughing at him too. The hissing started to crackle in the air. Nalu’s head pounded, his blood burning. The night was pounding. Louder and louder, closer and closer. The lava was coming. Nalu could hear his grandfather laughing at him, his father laughing at him. The bones of the house were creaking. His heart pounded. His head pounded. His ancestors were laughing at him. The island was laughing at him. The room started spinning. The hissing roared. The lava was coming. The lava was there.
Nalu screamed and flipped the table. The room stopped spinning, and for a moment the papers looked like falling leaves. He pulled his revolver from his belt holster and clicked the chamber open. Six bullets. He spun the cylinder and snapped the chamber shut. Sumo Glen stared at the gun as Nalu moved toward him. Nalu grabbed the chains, pulled Sumo Glen out of the chair, and shoved him out the door onto the ranch’s plains.
The orange glow was a midnight sun lighting up the hills. Lava cut a curtain of fire through the darkness. Nalu walked toward the lava, pulling Sumo Glen behind him. The air, thick with sulfur and heat, battered their bodies. The short walk felt like a mountain trek, and they almost crawled up the embankment. When they reached the property line Sumo Glen fell to his knees, gasping for breath. Nalu stood watching the lava. It didn’t flow or roll; it stalked like a wild animal.
Nalu cocked the revolver, raised the gun, and pulled the trigger. The gunshot did little more than make noise as the bullet disappeared into the flames.
“What the hell you doing?” Sumo Glen shouted. Nalu fired again. Sumo Glen grabbed Nalu’s leg. “I know who killed the girl. I’ll tell you, just get us out of here. I know who killed Kelsey Araki.”
“No,” Nalu said. “You don’t.” Again he fired. “Turn,” Nalu whispered. “Come on turn.” The lava beast was a hundred feet away, seventy feet away. He cocked the gun and fired three shots.
“Wait,” Sumo Glen said. “Just unlock me. I’ll show you who killed Kelsey Araki. I’ll show you where she died. Shit, I’ll show you other bodies.”
Nalu grabbed Sumo Glen’s chains and pulled him up so they were face to face.
“I don’t care anymore about who killed the girl. I don’t care if there are bodies buried right here. I only care about the land. My grandfather worked this land until he could afford to buy it back from the sailor who took it from him. And my then father turned it into the biggest ranch in the islands. Now they’re both dead, and I’m the only one left to protect it. And I’m letting it get taken away in another fucking story of the native lands.” He let the chain go, and Sumo Glen fell to the ground.
The lava was forty feet away. Sumo Glen screamed and put his hands in front of his face as if that would protect him.
Nalu held the revolver with both hands and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked empty. The click was louder than any gunshot. He dropped the revolver and stared at the beast barreling toward him. Twenty feet. Nalu shut his eyes. Ten feet. Then there was silence, a deafening silence. The heat vanished and he stopped sweating. He suddenly felt a kolonahe breeze drifting around him, sending a shiver through his spine. He wondered if he was dead.
Slowly, he opened his eyes, and a few feet in front of him the wave of lava had cleaved, split into two small rivers that flowed around Nalu, flowed around his family land, his family home. His land, his home. When the two rivulets passed Nalu’s property they rejoined into a singular giant flow. It created a kîpuka, a breath between the lava rocks and the hard places. It was no longer a stalking beast, it looked like orange water, but it still glowed like a midnight sun.
Sumo Glen peeked out from behind his hands. Nalu clapped him on the back, “I told you the lava would turn.” Nalu said it with all the confidence he could muster, but he was just as surprised and relieved that they were still alive.
Sumo Glen looked up from the ground. “Great, I don’t give a shit, you crazy son of a bitch.”
“Don’t piss me off, Glen. The night is young, and I got more bullets in the house.” Sumo Glen returned his face to his hands.
Nalu looked at the Kîlauea volcano in the distance. Sparks jumped and lava splattered from the caldera. Against the night sky it looked like a volcanic Jackson Pollack. Nalu looked to the land, the lava, and finally back to Kîlauea. And silently he said, “Mahalo nui loa, me kea aloha pumehana.” It was the best way he could say thank you.
Nalu tapped his foot against Sumo Glen side. “Glen, I think I just figured out who killed Kelsey Araki.”
About the Author: Ryan McKinley is from Honolulu, Hawai`i and a graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California. His work has appeared in Ka Leo O Hawaii, Mary: A Journal of New Writing, Booma, and The Lamornida Weekly. He loves the Pacific Ocean, a good mystery, listening to the world around him, and writing detective fiction.
Artwork: Ryan McKinley