5.6   "Place of Refuge"

Page 2 »

There are three main roads that traverse Lower Puna: Red Road, Kapoho Road, and the Highway. Only one of those will get you out of town: the Highway. Every car that passes in or out of Lower Puna has to use it.

Source: Modified google map

“So if you want to set up a checkpoint,” Peter Pualoa urged his friend and a couple cousins (one of whom was a cop), “all you gotta do is set up a roadblock in front of the police station.”

It seemed an elaborate plan, one of them suggested. Excessive, maybe?

“Not so,” he declared. He made the case that the Rinpoche had committed fraud on residents of Lower Puna – many of them, if not the majority of them, Hawaiians – and before he fled the man ought to be caught so that charges could be brought against him.

In his official capacity, the chief of police cautioned that it wasn’t a police matter; it was for the State Attorney to bring charges. If they issued an arrest warrant then the cops could go after the guy. But on the basis of community hearsay and no arrest warrant—.  “I can’t set up a roadblock to try and catch him. But. If we were to set up a DUI checkpoint, and he were to pass through, and some of you were to see him—. Maybe you could convince him to get out of the car and talk about what you need to talk about.”

It was early afternoon. The sear of the sun was just barely starting to ease up. The Rinpoche had been hiding out in Pualani’s room on the grounds of Kukio Kai. He’d arrived there a few hours prior, crouched on the floor of Prudence’s pickup truck. Now he was lying on Pualani's twin mattress and watching the wooden planks of the fan as it whirled slowly overhead.

A little earlier, Pualani had been down at the front of the property, talking at the reception desk with another staffer. When she went outside she was approached by Peter Pualoa and his small entourage at the entrance. The four men had been driving around Lower Puna in Peter Pualoa’s black pickup truck looking for the holy man. They’d driven all three roads of Puna, like a cane spider skulking around the corners of a house, searching for the Rinpoche. They went looking for him at the Four Corners Café, at the tide pools, the steam vents along the rift, at the black sand beach of Kehena, and at the ‘awa bar in Kalapana. Nothing. He wasn’t at any of those places nor had anyone seen him.

At Kukio Kai, Peter Pualoa confronted Pualani and asked her several times and in different ways if the Rinpoche was there. She insisted he was not. She denied having seen him at all that day. “Last time I saw him, in fact—.” She guarded an armful of flyers to keep them from blowing away. “—was at dinner last night.” With calculated innocence she confirmed that he “does indeed” live in a house along Kapoho Road, and she confirmed which house it was. “Why?”

The four men sped to the Rinpoche’s rented house near Pu’u Noelani. After taking a look around, checking the closet and opening drawers, they determined that the Rinpoche had vacated the place.

Pualani returned to her hut around three p.m., a little while after the encounter with Peter Pualoa. She said to the Rinpoche, “I don’t think you should wait, Kyle. We should get you to the airport soon.”

Peter Pualoa and his men made one last stop before heading back to the police station: Prudence’s sanctuary along Ohalani Road. Having found the gate to her driveway only fake locked, they drove the narrow, bumpy road all the way in. The passed between the eucalyptus trees and pulled into her yard, where they spotted Lau Lau standing on the dry lawn talking to Pru.

Peter Pualoa got out of his truck and said, “Aloha, Pru. Lau Lau.”

Lau Lau moved ahead of Prudence as Peter Pualoa approached. “Didn’t see the gate was closed?”

“It was fake locked. That means open.”

Lau Lau shook his head. “Sorry, brother.”

“Lau Lau, bro, we came looking for the preacher man.”

“He’s not here,” said Prudence, stepping around Lau Lau. She was annoyed, and her hair was blowing in the angry, voggy wind. “He would never come here. And I wouldn't let him in. So take your witch hunt somewhere else.”

“Witch hunt?! You know what he did?!”

“She knows,” said Lau Lau.

“Yes, I know,” said Prudence. “But what on earth makes you think I would let him hide out here? Don’t you think if he knows you’re out looking for him he’s probably already fled Puna?”

“You think he’s gonna run?”

“Of course he will. Unless he’s down at Kehena with his head stuck in the sand.”

One of the cousins shook his head. “No, he’s not at Kehena. We already looked.”

Pualani and the Rinpoche were in her car, barely moving along the village road. “What is going on…?!” They were only just past the Post Office and traffic was at a standstill.

In the passenger seat, the Rinpoche grew anxious. He leaned out the window and waved at an old hippie who was walking along the edge of the road. The hippie approached the car and stopped. His long, knotted hair and the ratty clothes he wore were flapping in the hot wind.

“What’s going on?” demanded the Rinpoche.

“Nothing, man. Just heading to the kava bar.”

“Not with you, I mean up ahead.”

“Oh, the roadblock.”

“Roadblock? What for?”

“Dunno. DUI check?”

“They wouldn’t do that during daylight,” said Pualani.

The Rinpoche looked at her: “Do you think they’re looking for me?”

Pualani leaned over the Rinpoche’s shoulder and asked the hippie where exactly the roadblock was.

The hippie vaguely shrugged. “By the police station. Couple cop cars and some locals.”

The Rinpoche dipped his head. “Namaste.” He looked to Pualani anxiously: “Is there any way around it?”

Pualani sat back in her seat and had to think for a minute. She inched the car forward and in her mind traced a map of Puna and all possible routes out. She said nothing and then abruptly made a u-turn, heading back through the center of town.

Meanwhile, the old hippie moved along, the southern winds blowing his rags sideways, away from the line of slow-moving traffic.

Prudence and Lau Lau hiked up the makeshift road, after having gone down to take a look at the new driveway that Kam had carved into the jungle.

“Road’s looking good,” said Lau Lau. “Knows how to work a dozer, that brother.”


The breezes of earlier in the day had become long heaving gusts of wind, and the tall cane grass swooped down around them as they headed up to the house.

“You found somebody to rent the ‘ohana?” asked Lau Lau.

“Not yet. I just started looking. Do you know anyone?”

Lau Lau thought for a moment. “Nope. Sorry.”

They walked together with the nearness of friends, the wind every so often pushing Prudence, causing her to brush up against Lau Lau. “That’s strong,” she said at first. Then the next time it happened: “Wow!”

Lau Lau simply smiled.

At one point Prudence asked him: “How’s your niece? Amoka’s daughter.”

“Kiele? She’s good. Thank you. Back in school.”

A third gust of wind blew even harder, and this time Prudence put her hand on the back of Lau Lau’s arm to steady herself from it. “This is crazy!” she laughed, and as she said that there was the sound of cracking in the jungle canopy up ahead. It was followed by a familiar threshing sound as a large branch crashed through trees on its way to the ground. “Uh-oh.”

“Albizia,” said Lau Lau.


The jungle that Prudence’s driveway runs through was filled with albizia trees. The first time she ever saw the trees they reminded her of ones she’d seen in pictures of Africa: massive, graceful beauties creating canopies of filtered light across the savanna. Here in Puna, though, they created dark shaded forests and were beautiful, but a nuisance. Much of Lower Puna was filled with them: the jungle outside of her house and the neighborhoods around Pahoa Town. They rose in large patches along the edges of the Highway from town until almost Ohalani Road. And although they were exquisite to observe, thick and tall and virile looking, they had shallow roots and a biology that caused them to shed their limbs in heavy wind or rain.

Prudence and Lau Lau turned the curve at the top of the makeshift road and reached the top of the hill. At the edge of the lawn they saw a large fallen branch lying there like a pale warrior, snapped into pieces, the frill of its leaves and branch tips littered all around.

“No good,” said Lau Lau. He looked down at the branch and then overhead.

In the jungle another heavy branch snapped and fell to the ground.

“You better get going,” said Pru. “They’re going to be falling all over the place.”

They walked to Lau Lau’s truck.

“I’ll take the Red Road,” he said. “There are no albizia along Red Road.”

“I know, but my driveway—.”

“I will drive fast.”

“Please do. And thanks for coming over. It’s always nice to see you, Lau Lau.”

“You too, Pru. Glad you’re ok.”

“Of course I am—.” (That was a strange thing for him to say.)

Lau Lau rested the palm of his hand on her upper back. “You be careful with all the falling trees and stuff.”

Pualani drove into the grounds of the high school and parked her car in between two of the small campus buildings. She rolled her window up a little bit to block the gusts of wind. “Okay,” she said. “These are the options: Old Government Road. It goes from Four Corners all the way over to Paradise Park but it’s completely impassible without a four wheel drive.”

“Can we try?”

“Not in this car.”

“So, we borrow a truck.”

Pualani was struggling. “Whose?”

“I don’t know,” the Rinpoche fumbled for ideas. “What about Kam? His truck is enormous.”

“I seriously doubt that’s a good idea. He has a lot of Hawaiian friends. I mean, anybody you try to borrow a truck from, in fact—no. It’s a bad idea.”

“Then what else?”

“Well. There’s Cemetery Road, but that takes you right back into town. Theoretically, you could walk out from the transfer station and then hike over to Aiwa’noa to hitch a ride into Hilo. But with the lava tubes and terrain back there – and not knowing who will see you out on the Highway – I wouldn’t risk it.”

“Great. Cemetery Road is also not an option. What else?”

“Maybe someone can take you to Hilo from the boat ramp.”

“From whom am I going to rent a boat?” he squealed.

“Don’t get testy. I’m trying to help you!”

The Rinpoche tried to calm the both of them. He took one of Pualani’s hands and wrapped both of his around it. He took a pronounced breath. “I know you are. I’m grateful.”

Pualani was feeling at a loss. She drew meandering lines on the dashboard with her finger. “The only other way out of Puna is across the lava flow.”

The Rinpoche pulled away. “Well, that’s just ludicrous.”

“Didn’t you say when you were in India you spent days walking on hot coals?”

“Yes. Charcoal. It wasn’t thousand degree lava.”

“It’s not like I’m telling you to walk through molten lava, Kyle. The flow is on the flanks of the volcano, and when it gets closer to the ocean it moves through underground lava tubes. So theoretically, if you stay reasonably close to the coastline and the winds are blowing the right direction—.”

“Theoretically? You’re offering me a theory?”

Pualani shrugged. “Why don't you just wait until late tonight and then drive to the other side of the island. Get as far away from Puna as you possibly can. Hang out in Kona for a while. They’re not going to have the road blocked all night, and they're not going to come looking for you over there.”

The Rinpoche shook his head aggressively. “Not a chance. I have to get out of here now. I’ve been warned about that Peter Pualoa character. He’s dangerous.”

“Well, I’m sorry, Kyle. I’m out of ideas.”

 “I’m not going to risk getting found.” He gets out of the car and rushes around to the driver’s side. “Get out,” he tells her.


The Rinpoche pulls open Pualani’s door and repeats himself: “Get out.” He tugs on her arm. “Get out and walk back into the village and call somebody to come get you.” Pualani stumbles out of the car as the Rinpoche pushes his way into the driver’s seat. He rolls down the window and looks at the dumbfounded girl: “Don’t tell anyone you’ve seen me. Give me until tomorrow and then you can tell people I stole your car. I’ll text you and let you know where it is.”


He grabs Pualani’s purse from between the seats and shoves it through the window into her hands. “Be safe!”

The wind whips her hair around her face and she pleads again, “Kyle!”

The Rinpoche jams the car into gear and it lurches out of the parking lot. As he zooms away, tears start to well up in Pualani’s eyes and she cries again, this time pathetically: “Kyle…”

Page 2 »

* * *

Share it: