We were sitting at one of those benches in front of the Coffee Gallery in Haleiwa. We were supposed to be talking about surfing. It was what I was getting paid for, being a “surfing correspondent” at the time. I was not a girlfriend correspondent or anything like it. But Ted reckoned the key to becoming the Perfect Surfer was to have a Perfect Surfer Girl right alongside you. “Show me the perfect guy and I will show you the perfect woman,” I said, slamming down my glass of iced latte.
Being Ted, he didn’t see that as an irony-laced rhetorical challenge, he thought I really wanted to know what a perfect guy would look like. “I guess he would be something like a combination of Kelly Slater and Winston Churchill,” he said. Slater had not only won the first US Excalibur contest in 1986 but had risen, in the 1990s, to become the hottest young surfer in the world. Churchill was synonymous (in Ted’s mind) with Ted himself.
“OK,” said I, giving way on this point. “So what would your perfect woman look like then?” Again I was being sceptical. I thought this would floor old Ted. As usual I was wrong.
“I know exactly what she would look like,” he replied smugly, as if he already had intimate knowledge of the perfect woman. “One day you’ll see.”
“You’re a dreamer,” I said.
“She is real, I know it.”
“Even if she is real,” I said, trying to meet him halfway, “surely you are narrowing down your options very severely.” I tried reasoning with him. “Isn’t it better just to see what happens and not walk around with an image of perfection in your head? You’re automatically ruling out 99.9 per cent of the female half of the human race. You’re looking at a world of pain. Why make life difficult for yourself?” And other such reasonable and sensible remarks.
But Ted remained unconvinced. Or, to turn it around, convinced. It was all clear in his mind. He would not swerve from the path. The quest for the unattainable must go on. You could almost say that Ted was constantly auditioning. It was thanks to Ted that, a year or so after this conversation, I got to go to Femme Nu, in downtown Honolulu. I guess I might not have gone otherwise. You can call it – as it was then known – an “exotic dance” club. Or a pole-dancing venue. Or just plain old “strip joint.” I’m not going to argue with you.
The scene reminded me a lot of the day before finals at the university library (where I had been not so long before) when undergraduates who had not really worked hard enough were suddenly impelled to study overtime and were focusing on their textbooks so that they would remember everything the next day when they would be tested on their knowledge.
At Femme Nu, all the guys were majoring in anatomy. They were a bit rusty and they needed to go over the details one last time so it would be clearly fixed in their mind’s eye for future reference. They wanted to graduate cum laude. They were focused. I guess the main difference was that they would fork out dollar bills of various denominations and shove them into the band that each of the dancers wore around their leg. Like a tip, rewarding (or soliciting) special attention.
Lola wasn’t on stage though. She didn’t need to be. She was sitting with us in a booth away from the bright lights. We were in shadow, bathed only in a discreet glow. I only ever saw her in outline – the silhouette of Lola. Even though she was naked, many of the details were lost to me. Nor, to be honest, did we have much of a conversation. Ted introduced me and I said hi to her. But she was busy at the time, nuzzling Ted’s neck and whispering in his ear. She was sitting on his lap. She had her arms around him.
Ted had to pull his face away from her in order to speak. Not that he was saying that much as I recall. She wasn’t small, Lola. Probably around Ted’s height, 5ft 9in. Long legs. And even in the darkness it was obvious that she was blonde. Like a lighthouse, lit up even at night, but in her case more liable to sink than save wandering sailors – or surfers – in the darkness. I guessed mainland, probably west coast, in origin. But, as I say, we didn’t have a whole lot of conversation, she and I, and not enough to clarify these matters.
Finally Lola got up, gave me a nod in passing, and strolled away down the aisle to go about her business. I could discern the fundamentals of her geometry, picked out by the pool of light. The basic architecture.
“Was I right?” said Ted, unable to keep a note of triumph out of his voice.
“You were right,” I had to admit. “She is perfect.” You could argue (and some did) that Ted must have been struggling with his “feminine side” and therefore resorted to hyping up his masculinity. It was a theory. But the fact is that Lola (aka “Lois” and “Lulu”, and I imagine her real name was something else again) was Ted’s archetype, finally, the word made flesh. A myth that happened to be real. She was like a miracle, even if I suspected there could have been some element of bio-engineering involved. A fantasy woman who had sprung to life.
“She loves me, you know.”
“I’m not saying she doesn’t,” I said, turning back to Ted. “But do you think it could have anything to do with the $20 bills you kept tucking into that little band on her leg?”
“Nope,” he said, unmoved. It was impossible to catch him out: he reminded me of certain philosophers who have their entire systems fully articulated in their heads. Unshakeable. Evangelical in his faith. “I have to do that. Otherwise the management will give her a hard time. She has to appear to be doing business, you see.” Ted explained patiently, as if speaking to an idiot. “The reality is she really does love me. But we have to keep up appearances. As if I was just another customer. They don’t want her going off-piste.”
“No, of course not,” I said.
Ted sighed. “True love at last.”
He told me how it had happened. He had been working with a photographer called Hank. Hank was a regular at Femme Nu and had invited Ted along. Ted had never been there before and thought it would be an interesting experience. And then he had seen Lola, for the first time, and been instantly smitten (and vice-versa, he assured me). Thus he became a regular visitor, going there every day after class in Honolulu (he claimed to be studying law at the University of Hawaii). “This the real thing,” he said. Even in the darkness I could see him smile broadly. He had the awe-struck look of a man who has seen God.
“And now you’ve found the perfect woman there is nothing to prevent you from becoming surfing champion of the world, right?”
“Exactly,” he said. I was being ironic. He wasn’t. Irony was the product of a cynical, jaded sense that nothing ever quite lived up to the hype. To Ted’s way of thinking, everything was now perfect, it had always been supposed to be like this, and now it finally was, the remaining parts of the puzzle slotting neatly into place. Irony vanquished. Quest complete. Mission accomplished. Except I suppose for one small thing. Ted had already uttered the word. The “management”.
The management, it turned out, was none other than his old adversary Pit Bull and associates (or gang, whatever). He either owned Femme Nu or had a stake in it or was somewhere shadily behind it. But not very far behind. He kept a close eye on everything that occurred within his small empire. Including the women who performed there. Which naturally included Lola. There were different accounts of the relationship between them. Some maintained that Lola was his “girlfriend”. Others said that it was strictly business.
The truth was it didn’t make that much difference to someone like Pit Bull. It was all one. He needed control over his employees. Coercive control, if necessary. And Lola was now officially out of control. She was running around town with this English milord dude. And he was paying her but Pit Bull wasn’t getting his cut, so something would have to be done about it.
A certain amount of time went by and then, one day, Ted heard a knock on his door. I was back in Hawaii and he was telling me about this shortly afterwards. He was still looking a little pale and shaky. We were in d’Amicos – a hundred yards up the Kamehameha highway from Sunset – having a pizza. He wasn’t all that hungry and was merely poking at his Napolitana. Normally he would be shovelling it in. His mind wasn’t on the job.
“What’s up?” I said. Which is when he told me the whole story.
The two guys had been perfectly polite. And that is what made the whole thing so terrifying. You didn’t encounter politeness all that often, not on the North Shore. It was a rarity. And, said Ted, they were “dressed in suits”. By which I think he meant that they were wearing long pants (also rare) and probably short-sleeved shirts. Not t-shirts. They meant business. No weapons were produced either. And yet every word had the force of a sawn-off shotgun behind it. They were big guys, the size of sumo wrestlers, but fit-looking, in shape. Looked like they worked out. And one of them smiled a lot too. Ted never did find out what their names were. Didn’t think to ask.
But they knew his name all right. “Hello, Ted,” they said. “Or should we say Lord Ted?” They were some kind of “security”, but on an island where security made you feel anything but secure.
Ted grinned a nervous sort of grin. “‘Ted’ will be just fine,” he said.
They also knew exactly where he lived, needless to say. Because they had knocked on the door of no 100, East Kuilima. Ted’s little condo. It’s up the stairs. The place downstairs is another number. So it was half a house. Nothing imposing. Modest, but a roof over his head. Space to park his boards and a spare pair of shorts. And these two guys had come up the stairs and knocked on his door and were standing politely on the porch.
Ted had opened the door but was standing on his side of the threshold. They never crossed the threshold either. They did not venture into Ted territory. They remained politely conversing from their side of the line. Two big smiling guys. Or rather only one of them smiled. He did all the speaking too. The other guy just stood there sullenly, not really doing anything. Not yet anyway. He was only an implication, but a damn big heavy one.
There was some exchange to do with how there was a big swell coming. In Hawaii there always was either a big swell coming or a bunch of guys saying that it was. Ted agreed that it certainly was coming.
“We hear you’re a good surfer, Ted,” said the smiler.
Ted tried to be modest, even though terrified. “Well, not bad,” he said.
“Way we hear it, you could be champion, one day.”
“One of these days maybe,” he said. He wasn’t about to argue with that.
Then they got to the crux of it. “Well, look here, Ted, how do you think it would be if you had to surf on just one leg? Do you think you would surf as good then?”
Ted could envisage it all too easily. He imagined that they would probably blow a hole through his leg with a shotgun and it would have to be amputated, something like that. Probably not a machete. That was too much hands-on. They weren’t literally going to chop his leg off, but it would amount to the same thing. He gulped and managed to croak a reply. “I think that would be hard,” he said.
The guy had a good chuckle at that. “Oh, come on, Ted,” he said, striking a cheerful, upbeat note and slapping him on the shoulder. “It wouldn’t be all that bad. A challenge, yes. But you’d adapt. These new artificial legs they have these days, they’re better than your actual leg. Yeah, maybe you’d be even better with just one leg. Don’t you think?”
Ted said nothing. He had run out of words. His throat was dry.
“Or…” said the guy. Long pause. “OR,” ramming the point home with a raised finger just in case Ted was not getting it, even though he clearly was getting it, “you could just leave Lola alone.”
“Lola,” said Ted.
“The blonde. She’s not yours, brah. So you should stop seeing her, stop fooling around with her, stop driving her in your car, stop giving her presents. Stop fucking her. Because if you’re fucking Lola you’re fucking Pit Bull.”
Ted said nothing. The thought was hideous.
“Just stop. Or you could try surfing on one leg. Which would you prefer?”
Ted managed to come out with a line that has stuck solidly in my mind. “It’s her loss,” he said. Good line. That was clear then. The two guys were satisfied with that line. Anyone would be. Anyone other than Ted that is.
“Yeah, I guess she’s going to be real sad for a while. But don’t you worry, we’ll look after Lola. She’ll be OK.” Like they really cared.
They said a polite farewell to Ted, went back down the stairs and got into their car and drove away. There was no violence at all. Ted was not roughed up. No blood was spilt. No injuries were incurred. And yet the threat of all that happening, right up to and including the removal of a limb, was abundantly clear in Ted’s mind. Ted had worked it all out. He always had it all worked out. “Lola told Pit Bull she was leaving him for me and he couldn’t take that so he sends in the heavies. It’s jealousy pure and simple. Guy like Pit Bull, he just can’t stand the heat.” I nodded sympathetically while demolishing my pizza.
“But you want to know the really hard thing about all this?” he said to me, chasing an olive around his plate.
“It all sounds pretty damn hard to me,” I said.
“We were going to get married,” Ted said.
“What!?” I nearly choked on an olive. I guess I shouldn’t have been so amazed. I hadn’t taken the whole thing seriously enough. She was only a chance encounter in a nightclub, I thought – a passing fancy. To Ted it was all deadly serious. She was the perfect woman after all. The real thing.
“Of course,” he said. “We were going to get married right here on Oahu. Then she wanted to come to England to meet my family and all that.” I could envisage the scene. She would have to put some clothes on of course. But Bill (Ted’s father, the Earl of Coventry) would probably be enchanted. He loved dancers too. Maybe even Mimi (his mother) would approve. As usual, Ted had it all worked out.
And now it was all over. “This is going to break her heart,” he said. “She really did love me, you know.” But he could never see Lola again. Not if he wanted to surf on two legs rather than just the one. “Maybe it’s for the best. I have law exams coming up soon. I really ought to concentrate on that. Exactly what I would say in his shoes. The fact is that I had been in a similar position myself. Not over a woman of course. But I had been warned off and I had stayed warned off. If I wanted to continue to live and work on the North Shore I had to behave and abide by the rules and not upset anybody.
We all understood the system. And the same applied to Ted. He had received the warning and so he would stay warned off. Or would he? There was a big fat “OR”, as the two guys had said. And what we know of Ted is that he would always get back on his horse. Mimi had taught him to. It was practically in his DNA
Andy Martin’s Surf, Sweat &Tears: the Epic Life and Mysterious Death of Edward George William Omar Deerhurst is published by OR Books. Use code SURFSWEAT15 to get 15 per cent off at the following link…https://www.orbooks.com/catalog/surf-sweat-and-tears/