“Wow, that’s a real big pond!” Mason exclaimed as our van drove past a luminescent, briny expanse.
My mom gently corrected him, “Actually, that’s the Pacific Ocean!”
The kids all gasped and gawked at the glistening sea. Aidan squeezed my hand as I stared out at the road ahead of us, and when I looked over in his direction, he kindly brought up, “Do you see where we are?”
“It is beautiful, but…” I trailed off as I caught a glimpse of the beach, and it really was breathtaking! Everyone on the shore seemed to be having such a great time too, so my heart softened a little. “Hmm… Maybe it won’t be so bad here…”
“I hate to burst your bubble, but you’re not going to be living here in Hilo,” the gentleman driving our vehicle notified us.
Everyone in the van moaned in disappointment, and Laraleigh hopefully remarked, “Well, I’m sure wherever we’re going has a coastline that’s equally as nice!”
The gentleman somewhat remorsefully relayed to us, “Uh… you’re going to the one region of Hawaii that’s nowhere near the deep blue. In fact, you’ll be living closer to the state’s only desert!”
“WHAT?” we all cried out pretty much in unison.
“Hawaii has a desert?” Aidan pondered with an overtly boggled mind.
The gentleman confirmed, “Yes, it does! This island has a desert and a rainforest! Isn’t that fascinating?”
Completely unimpressed, I responded, “Yeah, that’s riveting. Um… So, is there a reason we’re going to this dust bowl or…?”
“You’re not heading to the desert, although you should visit it sometime, it’s gorgeous!” He glanced back at us through his rearview mirror, and when he espied my less-than-amused expression, he cleared his throat and went on, “You’ll be residing in a small farm called Lani Noni!”
“Oh, I bet Hawaiian farmlands are pretty too!” Aidan optimistically conjectured.
The gentleman hesitated a little. “Yeah, some of them are quite lovely and attract lots of tourists… This is not one of those farms! It’s a desolate, fairly barren piece of land that the previous owners abandoned. Technically, the current owners are squatters, but… eh!”
I asked him, “Why are we going to this godforsaken place?”
“Fair question!” the gentleman acknowledged. I nodded in agreement, but I thought that he had better have a good explanation for sending us to what sounded like a total hellhole! “The farmers who homesteaded this property requested assistance, so we figured we could partner with the FBI and bring the Witness Relocation subjects where they’re needed most- you know, kill two birds with one stone. And by that I mean we can save your lives and their livelihoods at the same time- no killing involved! Hopefully!”
“Wait, you’re not from the FBI?” Laraleigh puzzled. We all made that assumption, so to discover he wasn’t made us all nervous! I recently observed that it felt like we were getting kidnapped, and once we made this realization, I started to speculate that this insight may have had merit!
The gentleman let us know, “I’m Clifton Bartlett, head of acquisition for the Big Island’s Agricultural and Conservation Service.”
We all stared at him blankly, and Willow confusedly stated, “Mama, he stopped speaking English!”
“I’m from the Department of Agriculture,” Clifton clarified.
“Oh!” most of us reacted in comprehension. Aidan iterated that point to his niece, “He helps plants and stuff.” She and a couple of the other younger ones grasped the subject more easily.
Mom inquired, “The FBI isn’t gonna watch us out here? How’s that safe?”
Clifton assured her, “I’ve been fully trained on surveillance measures to make this program work. It cost a bundle, but it’s worth it to benefit both governmental agencies and the people we serve!”
“And the bureaucrats save money with free labor,” Kinsey insightfully put in.
“How did…?” Clifton almost veered off course at the abruptness of her acute observation. “My, my! Aren’t you smart?”
Kinsey probed, “Why does everyone act so surprised when they say that?”
Aidan queried, “So, we are getting exploited for free labor?”
“I wouldn’t phrase it like that!” Clifton contended. “I’d say it’s more of a mutually beneficial endeavor! And it’s not like you won’t get paid! Agent Hearne will be sending you a stipend for you expenses. Plus, I’m certain you can get share of the farm’s profits once they get some!”
“Yes! Not only are we missing school, but we’ll get ourselves some money too!” Jackson rejoiced.
Laraleigh scolded him, “Jackson! I mean, Joey! You still gotta get your education!” She considered this concept for a second and then added, “Right?”
Clifton certified her conclusion, “They’ll be learning remotely. And try not to use your true identities anymore. No one else knows your real names, and we’d like to keep it that way!”
“You don’t even know who we really are?” I felt baffled at this notion- He was supposed to protect us, but he didn’t even know who he was truly looking after!
“Nope. It’s a vital security measure,” Clifton enlightened us. “If the suspect in your case ever captures me, he can’t torture me to gain any intelligence. I can’t give up data that I don’t know!”
Harper pointed out, “But you heard Joey’s real name!”
Clifton denied that, “I didn’t hear anything!”
“Mama, can we get a new plant guy?” Mason requested. “This guy is deaf like Uncle Kennedy.”
“Seriously! My age hasn’t affected my hearing!” Aidan irritatedly refuted her claim. “Forty isn’t old!”
I petitioned Clifton, “So, if you don’t know our true identities, does that mean the local law enforcement hasn’t been briefed either?”
Clifton told us, “They have no idea you’re even in Hawaii!” Aidan and I grew alarmed by the lack of police involvement in our situation, and Clifton reasoned, “We couldn’t communicate any sensitive information to any cops or detectives due to the compromise in the system!” We didn’t seem totally confident in this decision still, so he supplemented that with, “Wade Toonella is still a wanted criminal! If he shows up in Hawaii, they’ll obviously go after him! If you see him, you can call nine-one-one and get him arrested! Just make sure to give them your aliases ‘til he’s behind bars!”
“So, if we talk to the authorities, we gotta lie to them?” Harper wanted to know.
“Don’t worry, you won’t have to deal with them much!” Clifton affirmed.
With a wry smile, Harper disagreed, “That’s what you think!”
Clifton’s brows furrowed, but then he decided to ignore that statement. “I can magick us to your new domicile. I wanted to use this opportunity to address your concerns while we have this privacy, but it seems like you’re well informed now. If you need anything, Agent Hearne put my number on your phones- I’m listed as Folk Music Fan Club. Any questions?”
“Will there be any animals on this farm?” Willow wondered. Right after that sentence, the cats in the carrier began screeching at each other. Mom sheepishly lowered the crate as if Clifton couldn’t hear them at a lower proximity.
“I imagine there’ll be a few…” Clifton grinned. “Okay, everyone ready?”
I wanted to say no; even after a long flight and a short drive, I hadn’t fully prepared myself for this next step! A part of me believed it was all a colossal joke, and even if it wasn’t, I held on to the aspiration that Wade would get arrested almost immediately. Coming to this phase meant that I would be forced to accept this new reality, and I couldn’t mentally adjust to it because my brain hadn’t accepted that we would truly have to leave our old life behind! I didn’t want to give in to these dire circumstances, but I had no choice- Clifton pulled out his wand, whipped up a portal, and took us out of there in a flash!
We landed on a dirt road, and it wasn’t a particularly smooth one either! Instantly, I understood why the joint didn’t attract any tourists! The ride was so rough that it became difficult to observe my surroundings! Once I got used to this turbulence, I peered outside and found more greenery than I had been expecting! Between the patches of sepia soil rested several palm trees and leafy shrubs, and as I watched some small, colorful birds frolicking around, I considered that perhaps the struggling farm we were destined to wind up at wouldn’t turn out so badly… At least, I did until I saw the dilapidated sign for Lani Noni! I groaned, and Aidan offered me words of wisdom, “Don’t judge a book by its cover!”
A house came into our scope, and it had the look of an abode that was once top of the line but fell victim to many years of neglect! It had two stories, somehow, and with the state of the wood, it surprised me that it supported the habitants furniture or even the roof, which had several loose shingles! The panels were obviously meant to be white, but with all of the dingy spots spread throughout it, it almost bore a gray hue! It had a lot of thriving flora beside it, but I imagined that was due to natural growth since none of it was situated in a methodical order! I folded my arms and opined to Aidan, “Sometimes the cover tells a lot about the contents of the story!”
While we unbuckled, we heard the occupants of this establishment emerge from that shack. Clifton exited the vehicle first, and he merrily greeted them, “Aloha, Mister and Missus Hekekia! Your assistance has arrived!”
“Oh, thank the heavens! We really need…” a male’s voice started to celebrate until he beheld us piling out of the van. “What is this? Who are these howlies?”
“What did you just call us?” I demanded. I would have greatly preferred to not have a presence in his home, but if we had to spend significant time with the Hekekias, I certainly wasn’t about to get insulted! I was close to unleashing my fury over this whole ordeal on him, but a jolt of shock stole the words right out of my mouth! The Hekekias were Fays! Mister Hekekia’s jade skin and his wife’s fiery rose complexion weren’t unusual in the Fay realm, and I had dealt with far more vivid colors before this juncture, but because I pictured encountering humans that hadn’t undergone this undead transformation, I got completely thrown off!
Clifton reassured us, “Don’t be offended! It’s not derogatory- Howli is simply a term for anyone who isn’t a native!”
Aidan challenged him, “How do they know we’re not from here?”
“Dang, the air feels so heavy!” Mom expressed as she gazed at the sweat dripping off of her body. “Is this normal, or did I catch something on the plane?”
“Nevermind.” Aidan retracted his enquiry.
Missus Hekekia spoke up, “Oh, I’d never allow my husband to say something vulgar to our guests! You’re all most welcome here, but… Well, forgive me, sir! We got the impression that we’d be receiving monetary relief! This venture would cost us enough to bury us in debt!”
Kinsey snidely articulated, “That ain’t gonna happen!”
Clifton promised Missus Hekekia, “Their salary is on us, ma’am! So is their food and clothing. All they need is lodging and work to do. I trust that you won’t run out of tasks for them to complete!”
“Definitely not!” Missus Hekekia laughed.
“You all would tell me if I had a serious ailment, right?” my mom entreated everyone.
Clifton chuckled, “Of course! Oh, but that reminds me- if a medical problem does come up, we’ll take care of the bill! Try not to get into major trouble though!” He tittered at his own quip, but no one else joined in his mirth. Sensing a sliver of angst from both parties, he slowly stepped back towards the driver’s seat. “I know you’re all eager to get acquainted, so I’ll get out of your hair…”
Mister Hekekia requested, “Hold on, there’s been a recent development here that… well… can you lend a hand with it?”
“It depends on what it is, but I’ll do my best to aid you with whatever you need,” Clifton obliged.
“Not that long ago, we noticed some eyes on us!” Missus Hekekia explained. I listened with intrigue- surely, this would prove I was correct about Wade’s immediacy to our vicinity! “We constantly feel someone or something staring at us, and… Oh! There’s something in the bushes there!”
The leaves of a bush moved in a particular manner that could only have come from a person, and the law enforcement officer in Aidan and me ached to investigate, but Clifton commanded, “Stay here!” We watched with mounting anticipation as he approached the locale with his wand drawn out. He peeked behind the shrubbery, and…