A hit TV show set in Hawai’i is ending an eight-season run. Then disaster strikes. 2,874 words. Excerpted from the 2018 novel Waimea: Uprising by Gordy Grundy. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
"I didn’t tell you that Sanders tried to recruit me for his posse party," said Amanda. There was no way in hell she was going to jeopardize her career.
"Equal opportunity," Waimea laughed.
"I’m always up for a new experience." She shook her head and whistled. "But raiding a hippie commune seems highly unadvisable." The TV actress’s star was rising and she wanted to keep the trajectory into the clear smooth blue.
"Heard any word about it on the set grapevine?" asked Wai. His job as second Associate Producer on the Hawaii cowboy epic Paniolo had been waylaid by a favor for his boss. "Any gossip?"
She thought about it and was surprised, "No."
"It’s goin’ down. This Saturday night." Waimea had finally found his boss’s missing daughter in a band of musical hippies. It had been madness and Wai resented the distraction.
With a sigh, he surveyed the wide panorama before him. From the valley to the sea, it was staggeringly beautiful. He said, "Amanda. How can we think of that craziness at a time like this?"
They both sat tall in their saddles. Amanda was astride her dappled Appaloosa. Waimea was barefoot and shirtless on his horse Socrates, a red thoroughbred. When they went out riding, which was often, these were their horses. Lollie was Amanda’s on-screen horse. Within the Paniolo community, no one else rode them. For the last five years, they have had loving relationships with these beautiful animals.
"Look at this view." It never ceased to amaze him. They were on the highest point overlooking the green valley and the blue ocean. White breakers etched the shore. Off to the west, the sun was winking at the horizon. The clouds were towering yellow, like a Maynard Dixon painting.
Amanda reached out with her hand. Waimea took it. She smiled at him. He thought it was a sad smile, a regrettable smile.
"I’ll race you to the Lil’ Grass Shack!" She gave him a mischievous wink. Amanda didn’t wait for an answer. Her boot heels sank into Lollie’s flanks and the movie-trained horse took off at a full gallop, down the long lazy trail across the valley to the beach.
Socrates was of his own mind, but he waited until Waimea shifted in his saddle, a battle command forward. The sorrel took off in chase. The weight of the horses shook the earth. Red dirt clods and grass flew from their hooves.
Amanda was alive and excited in a way that she could never describe. She and Lollie were one. Their movement was fluid. Their weight startled the ground. Wind gave them speed.
Waimea could not pass on the narrow cow trail, so he followed close. "I’m eatin’ yer dust," he yelled, but she did not hear him.
They rode hard as they raced down to sea level.
The road opened up and Socrates did the rest. The big horse took the lead and ran for the beach. By size alone, Lollie was never really competition.
They hit the water with plumes of spray that sparkled like diamonds. The four stood above the waves breaking on the shore. The horses were breathing hard, glad for the cool break.
Waimea and Amanda were so happy to be there, in the blue, together. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Amanda was in period jodhpurs and a sexy low-buttoned Western shirt. A white neckerchief was tied around her neck. Her hair was bobbed because the year was 1941. She looked like a million bucks.
On shore, they walked the horses to the place they called the Lil’ Grass Shack. It was their secret hidden spot for jungle love. They tied the horses to a huge log of smooth driftwood.
Amanda lowered her eyes and reached for his hand. She led him down a sand dune and over a stream that ran to the sea.
Tall bamboo and palms provided privacy and soft grasses offered comfort. Waimea threw down a saddle blanket.
Their dander was still up from the fast ride. They were of one mind. He wasn’t wearing much in the first place. She adjusted only what she needed to, just like they did in the 1940s.
They lay still, breathing hard. They were pure sensation.
Waimea’s mouth was dry. He sat up on his elbows. "This is where we could use a little room service."
She sat up too. They were both disheveled, messy and immodest.
Amanda sighed. "Ya know, in life, you really can’t pick your moments." She brushed the air from her eyes and said, "Here goes. You saw the People Magazine?"
"Island Boy say ‘Yah, sistah.’ It did cause a few waves at home."
"Oh!" She almost stopped to ask about that; she was always curious about his home life dynamic. She blundered on. "And by the way, I didn’t call you Island Boy. That writer was rather frivolous. OK. Well, did you read about the Adam Driver movie?"
"Yeah. Fake news and ballyhoo."
"It’s true enough. They want me to do a screen test."
"Not really. I need to be in LA when we’re supposed to be in Tavarua. In Fiji."
"Just us. Saying goodbye." Waimea was slammed. He was really looking forward to it, especially the surfing. He wanted the trip. He wanted that special goodbye with her. "Well, it’s a bittersweet no brainer." He sighed. "Tell Adam I say hello."
"Yeah. It’s a bitch."
"I’ll miss ya, gal."
"I’ll miss ya, Waimea."
She rolled on top of him and sat astride. She held his shoulders down. "I’ll miss ya cowboy. You’re like a fine piece of art work."
He wasn’t sure how to take that, so he took it as a compliment.
This morning, they were shooting an afternoon scene in the North Forty. It was their northern most point in the valley. Most of the show was shot here. The main house, the bunkhouse and, a hundred yards away, the stables sat on a beautiful pasture at the top of the valley and at the bottom of leaping green and blue peaks.
In the scene, Amanda was riding Lollie. Waimea loved to watch that horse. He thought she had a star quality and she knew it. Under the movie lights, the young mare would perk up like a princess. That horse knew she was on camera.
Oddly, he wondered what would happen to the Appaloosa when the production shut down. Amanda was leaving for points unknown. You can’t call a horse a Comfort Animal and seat it on a plane.
His horse Socrates was in the camera background with a paniolo on its back. In this scene, Amanda, as Kealoa, was in a fury. Lollie, her Appaloosa, was acting appropriately jittery. Kealoa has just found out that their long-time business manager had cut a side deal with the shipping company that will take her stock of calves to the mainland.
The dramatic scene required some horsemanship as she chases the scoundrel in his Ford coupe. She jumps from her horse onto the running board of the speeding convertible. Defeated, he slams on the brakes. She grabs his briefcase and takes out the illegal contract with the forged signatures. Terse words are exchanged. She whistles, Lollie arrives and Kealoa leaps onto the saddle.
It’s a classic western feminist moment. Some thought this had the right juice for an Emmy nomination. Amanda was all for it.
Waimea was walking out of the stables when his iPhone pinged. Showrunner Drew Ross texted: U around office?
Waimea replied: In 5.
Drew typed: Bring banana OK?
Waimea changed course and made for Craft Services. He walked up to Melissa Ross who was adding small bottles of water to a large ice chest filled with every type of beverage you could desire. "Hey, I need a banana for his royal majesty."
She smiled slyly, "Which one?" On a film set, self-importance is a common personality trait. There were many royal majesties.
"The big banana." She went to the open table of delights: muffins, donuts, cereals with milk, bagels with fixings, nuts and a big bowl of many fruits. She picked out a ripe banana and pulled a Sharpie out of her apron pocket. She drew wide, surprised eyes, raised eyebrows, a skinny nose and a smart-aleck smile on the yellow skin. "Dad’s gotta lay off the snacks. Tell him to choose carefully. Banana is fat. This is Barry, Barry the Banana. Don’t eat Barry. Don’t kill Barry."
Waimea smiled as he took the banana. "How’s the job?"
"Loving it. Nalani is going to let me plan a few menus. While there’s still time."
"I’ll be there for that."
"Up on the crater, I was doing all kinds of hospitality. Food and beverage. I like it. I like customer satisfaction."
"Do you miss it?"
"Of course." Melissa smiled, "Sure. I miss the freedom. And the adulthood. The people were cool. I believe we could all use a little Reijie. But this is important." She gestured to all of Paniolo. "It’s ending soon. And it’s a family moment. Dad, Mom, New horizons for everybody. The last eight years of my life, the formative years, have been here, on this set. I need to be here for the last reel."
Waimea decreed, "Spoken like a true producer’s daughter. And it’s a mature decision. To the last reel." He held up the banana. "I got a delivery to make. A hui hou."
She stopped him with a hand on his forearm and she sought his eyes. Finding them, she was sending a strong message. She said, "Mahalo for everything."
Waimea nodded. He understood.
He walked into Drew’s office and handed the executive producer his banana. Drew put it in his shirt pocket so the cartoon face was smiling outward. Tony, a producer, and Andrea, an associate producer, were standing in the room.
"Waimea," Drew said, "We need a tie-breaker. Do we really want to do a ‘Farewell Hawai’i’ Red Carpet fan event in Waikiki? We’ve done it every year. It’s a pain in the ass. Lotta work. Lotta bucks. Screaming fans. The actors hate it."
No one said anything.
Drew added, "Besides, the show is over. We’re not promoting anything. We’re outta here."
"Yah. It’s a lotta work." Waimea shook his head, sorry to disappoint his boss. "But this is Hawai’i ohana. This is for the fans. It means a lot to so many people. We’re in entertainment. That’s what we do."
Andrea nodded in agreement.
Drew was already frowning when they heard the panicked screams of true terror outside. Waimea flew out of the office and through the trailer into the light of day.
The screams and shouts were revealing a terrible chaos. He could feel the ground tremble under his feet.
The South Forty of the valley had the best grazing. The bovine cast members had several green pastures to choose from, all close to the beach. Maybe the cattle and the three buffalo liked the spectacular ocean views best of all.
Hidden above, the assassin who wore tie-dye fingered the remote control board like a gamer jacked on Red Bull. He was a pilot, commanding two drones.
Two cannonballs, self-propelled six-inchers, hovered and buzzed like bees. In and around the grazing herd of eighty-six head, they zipped and circled and spooked. Then one slapped a cow on her right flank and pushed the animal to hop and twist with an annoyed moan.
The other sphere smacked a bull on his forehead, hard. The black beast was hurt and blindly frightened; he spun in circles and bellowed. All of the animals were suddenly attentive to the distress.
Both spheres turned to attack the only Texas Longhorn. The flying cannonballs focused on her flanks and pummeled. She dropped her head and charged. Her long horns slapped and swatted the other animals. The fear was contagious.
The spheres now smacked and punched the beasts along the outside edge of the herd, driving them tighter.
Out of fear, the animals began to close in. Their cries of alarm were creating a panic. Wild urgent eyes. Sharp hooves. Bellowing. Screaming.
The threat was increasing and there was only one way to run.
Stampede was the collective impulse.
The herd of eighty-six, crazed head thundered up the valley. Wood fences became splinters. Barbed wire became broken strips of fur and flesh. Sharp heavy hooves obliterated the trails. As the valley narrowed up, the herd compacted, which heightened the frenzy.
No one on the set heard it coming, nor could anyone imagine such a spectacle. At the top of the North Forty, there was no place else to go.
The stampede came up behind the camera and crew and roared right through, devastating everything in its path.
Surprisingly, only six people were injured. A broken leg and an arm were the worst. A quarter of a million in camera equipment was damaged. Two trucks. Insurance would cover it all.
The news media would make the most of the eerie coincidence. As the cliffhanger for Paniolo: Season Seven, lightning strikes a fuel tank, causing a stampede.
The flow of the panicked cattle came through the stables and toward the main house. By a miracle, one of the experienced wranglers was on horseback and got in front of the stampede and led it in a circle to the right. The stampede circled upon itself and stopped. The pasture in front of the house was full of nervous animals. Two head ended up stuck on the front porch. Cranes, veterinarians and animal psychologists had to be brought in.
Amanda was shooting her scene in the riding ring. A buffalo blasted through the sturdy rail fence. Lollie reared on her hind legs. The buffalo hit the horse in the chest, like a runaway locomotive. They say Lollie was killed on impact; the blow crushed her heart instantaneously.
The force lifted the Appaloosa and Amanda up and back, and together they came crashing down. Amanda landed first, hitting her head. Lollie, dead, fell across Amanda’s lower half and pinned her down for twenty tense minutes. The EMTs thought her legs looked and felt OK. Amanda threw up, the sign of a concussion. They dramatically airlifted the actress to the Queen’s Medical Center.
Waimea sent Elio,, Amanda’s makeup artist and friend, to keep her company. Waimea couldn’t leave the set. Amanda was in good hands.
The rescue efforts were haunted by the sharp reports of a pistol. Some of the injured livestock had to be put down and the shots horrified everyone. Almost a dozen cattle and three horses were dead.
Emergency crews arrived. Police came to solve the crime and hunt for any gross infractions. Union reps, technical and creative, and the ASPCA came to protect their interests and hope for any gross infractions and fines. The media came to speak of the horror in Hawai’i. Visually, it looked like the aftermath of a Western tornado.
Solving the most immediate problem, the ranch wranglers saddled up and led the herd down to the South Forty.
The production crew went into action mode. Meetings were held to assess damage to the available equipment and the feasibility of fast replacement.
Story conferences were held with the original writer who was in Arizona. Could and should we work the stampede into the script?
Film was rushed to the lab to see what kind of footage we had. Fast thinking Skipper D.P. was the Director of Photography and she had kept shooting. Even the video playback ended up with great shots that could be used, if they wanted to tell that story.
Lawyers and insurance companies were scrambling to the job. Drew took the media and spun tales of terror and tears. Amanda had been getting a little bit of attention before this; now she would be a national headline, hanging on to her young and beautiful life. There was plenty of social media footage of the stampede and most frightening, Lollie’s demise.
The Appaloosa took the story worldwide and Amanda Lavery with her. For the next week, it was an urgent narrative; America was eternally grateful for the diversion away from politics.
Waimea focused on the potential interruptions to scheduling. He worked up half a dozen alternatives and contingencies. He was then swept away by the incoming wave of legal and local government intrusion. Waimea was the best front man for all of the show’s concerns and defenses. He became the rational voice to the tragedy, truly an act of God.
About 3 a.m., Waimea, bleary-eyed, finally left the set. He drove to Queens Hospital. Amanda was asleep and under close observation. There was some swelling in her brain, not enough to operate yet enough to worry about. The back of her head was bandaged where she broke the skin.
Waimea sat next to her and held her hand. He thought she might sense it, the touch. He talked to her out loud, recalling the long day and the tragedy. When he spoke of Lollie, his eyes teared up.
Within seven minutes, his head fell next to hers and he was fast and uncomfortably asleep.
A half hour later, a nurse put a blanket across his shoulders.