Last Light

By: Dean Koontz


Look but Don’t Touch

When Makani Hisoka-O’Brien met the murderer, she thought he was a nice guy, perhaps just the one with whom she might want to share her life.

That warm Wednesday in August, the Southern California sky was as wide as the universe, as deep as infinity, as blue as Makani’s eyes, and she could no more resist the call of the ocean than she could switch off her compulsion to breathe.

Her mother, Kiku, insisted that Makani had been born in the ocean, even though in fact she had been born on the island of Oahu, in a Honolulu hospital. What her sweet mahuakine meant was that Makani had been conceived in the sea, in the gently breaking surf, on a deserted and moonlit beach. Makani had pieced this saucy truth together from a series of little things her parents had said over the years and from looks they exchanged and meaningful smiles they shared. Although she was a native Hawaiian, Kiku had been taught reserve and discretion by her traditionalist Japanese mother; she would not speak of lovemaking in any but the most oblique fashion. Heeding the call of the surf, the bed of her conception, Makani drove her street rod, a glossy black ’54 Chevrolet Bel Air that had been chopped and shaved and peaked and frenched and sparkled, to Balboa Peninsula, the land mass that shielded Newport Harbor from the open sea. The Chevy purred like a panther, because she had dropped into it a GM Performance Parts high-output 383ci small-block V-8. She wasn’t a street racer, but if California was ever plagued by road bandits, she would be able to outrun them all.

She parked in a residential neighborhood half a block from the peninsula-point park, in the shade of an ancient podocarpus. Her surfboard hung in a custom sling in the backseat, safer than she was in a driver’s shoulder harness. She zippered open the vinyl, freed the board, and set off for the beach.

In a bikini, she was a flame that drew young men as surely as a porch lamp at night enchanted moths, but this day was not about boys. This day was about the sea and its power, its beauty, its challenge. In medium-length boardshorts, a sports bra, and a white T-shirt, Makani presented herself as a dedicated boardhead, warning off the testosterone crowd.

One of the most famous surfing destinations in the world was the Wedge, formed by a pristine beach and the breakwater of stacked boulders that protected the entrance channel to Newport Harbor. On other days, when the waves were behemoths, smoking in from a South Pacific storm a few thousand miles away, surfers were in danger of being driven onto the rocks. Some had died there.

Makani walked the wet, compacted sand up-peninsula for about a hundred fifty yards, giving the Wedge the respect it deserved. The waves were maybe eight to nine feet, glassy, pumping nicely, in sets of four and five, with calmer conditions between. She waited for the sea to slack off briefly before she paddled out to the lineup. Other surfers straddled their boards, anticipating the next swell, all of them guys and good citizens who kept their distance from one another and were unlikely to snake someone else’s wave. One surfer, one wave was a natural law.

She had to wait through two sets before her turn came with the third. She caught one of the largest swells she had yet seen, rising from two knees to one and then to her feet. She executed a floater off the curling lip, and as she slanted down the face, she realized the breaker was big enough and had sufficient energy to hollow out.

She walked the board in a crouch as the tube formed around her, and she was in the greenhouse, the glasshouse, which glowed with verdant sunlight fractured by the flowing lens of water into kaleidoscopic fragments.

Riding the tube was the greatest thrill in surfing. There could have been no better start to the session. As usually happened when the swells formed high, she found herself deep in the thrall of the Pacific, all sense of time washed away. As the hours passed, she spoke to no one, communed only with the sea, in a kind of pleasant trance.

On two different occasions, she became aware of a man standing on the shore, beside his board, taking a break from the action. Tall and tan, with sculpted muscles and a thatch of sun-bleached hair, he appeared as radiant as a demigod. The first time she saw him, she thought he might be watching her. The second time, she was sure of it. But the sea proved more powerful and more alluring than a demigod, and she forgot him as successive swells gradually moved her down-peninsula toward the Wedge.

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