Final Hour

By: Dean Koontz

1


Unwanted Knowledge


That September day, an offshore breeze polished the glassy breakers, which were sweet ten-footers pumping in powerful sets, and though Makani wanted to be surfing, a chance encounter with a wicked woman left her riding instead waves of dread and chaos.

Morning broke over scattered reefs of eastern clouds painted coral-rose by the early light. From the high hills graced with fine houses pinked and gilded by the sun to the harbor where thousands of sleek vessels were moored, Newport Beach seemed to assemble itself from sunlight, as if it were a Fata Morgana, too beautiful to be other than a mirage.

Some men said that Makani Hisoka-O’Brien was also too beautiful to be true, but she was real enough: at twenty-six already a local surfing legend, an entrepreneur whose car-customizing shop booked all the work that it could handle, a hot-rod aficionado who could build a stylish street-eating machine from the ground up, a woman with a secret that distanced her from those she loved and that for a long time had made the prospect of a lover too dangerous to contemplate.

The problem with being real was that reality kept intruding on a life that, to others, seemed like a dream. After walking her black Labrador, Bob, at first light, she and the dog went to her office at Wheels Within Wheels. Patience was the heart of hoping, and good Bob had a heroic capacity for hope, watching his mistress adoringly as she reviewed accounts payable, in expectation of a touch or treat, and then padding along at her side when she toured the sprawling shop to determine what progress had been made on the four current jobs. The primo was a sleek root-beer-red ’49 Ford Tudor that had been given a 1.5-inch chop, a two-inch nose rake, a five-inch deck-lid extension, a custom grille, and enough tasteful sparkle to out-bling a Rose Parade float.

When her employees arrived, a couple of them had problems to share with her. They were good people, hard workers, gifted stylists and mechanics, but they were human and, as such, had their worries and dissatisfactions. In addition to being the boss, Makani had to listen and sympathize, offer considered opinions, provide thoughtful counseling, and have a ready purse. Financial crises arose, children fell into trouble, wives and husbands cheated, beloved parents died, and to one degree or another, her employees’ problems were her own.

More than she realized, those who worked with her thought of her as unusually caring. Although there was a sense of family among those at Wheels Within Wheels, though Makani was seen as a generous person and emotionally available, everyone remained aware that she was physically reserved. Except with Bob, she wasn’t a toucher and had a sense of personal space that she maintained by countless small strategies and evasions. The theory that she might be gay, physically available and fully comfortable only with women, came and receded and returned, but no one was ever convinced of that. Perhaps she’d been badly hurt by a man too foolish to see what a treasure he had in her. Perhaps she had suffered a loss so terrible that she couldn’t talk about it; and now she saw herself as a widow forever. New theories bloomed from time to time, and withered, and all were wrong.

Her gift, her curse—she knew not which—was that by a touch, skin on skin, she saw the other person’s darkest secret or whatever hatred or acidic envy or unworthy desire corroded his soul at that moment. If violence coiled in the other’s heart, Makani felt it as sharp as a serpent’s bite. Usually, their angers and jealousies and resentments were petty, but too often seeing just pettiness in their minds diminished her opinion of those she read, until the mere act of touching threatened to deny her the blessings of friendship and leave her isolated. Being able to read their minds entire or to see some of their worthier thoughts might have helped, but she was wired to receive only their darkest emotions and wickedest desires.

Her one defense was a certain physical distance, an enforced personal space that made others wonder about her reticence.

By the time she and Bob left Wheels Within Wheels, shortly before 11:00 that morning, her longing for the ocean was no less compelling than it had been when she had awakened to see the painted clouds and the gold-leafed morning light. Her shop was inland from the harbor, but in minutes she could be on Balboa Peninsula. At the peninsula point was a surfing destination called the Wedge, where the Pacific often mounted powerfully to the shore. In extreme conditions, surfers had died on the rocks of the channel-entrance breakwater, so that when she dared those waves, she felt the mortal challenge in her bones, felt the bond of all those who lived for the love of the ride and who felt the truth of eternity most vividly when they were as one with the eternal sea.

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