Black Jasmine (2012)

BOOK: Black Jasmine (2012)
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Black Jasmine

Copyright © 2012 by Toby Neal.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Electronic ISBN 978-0-9839524-6-6

Print ISBN 978-0-9839524-7-3

Cover photo © Mike Neal at
NealStudios.net

Cover Design © JULIE METZ LTD.

Ebook design by
Mythic Island Press LLC

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but leave
room for the wrath of God; for it is written,
“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Rom. 12:19

Chapter 1

Detective Lei Texeira tested the rope running through the cleat, giving it a yank before nodding to the fireman controlling the winch. He switched the engine on, and she rappelled down the cliff, keeping her knees bent as she began a slow descent. Blasts of wind off the ocean whirled her curly brown hair. The rocky bluff was marbled with pockets of underbrush, and minutes later she became tangled in a thick clump of strawberry guava.

“Stop the winch!”

The grind of the machine and the crash of waves masked Lei’s voice, and the rope kept paying out until her full weight rested on the bush. She spread her arms across the springy branches, resting horizontal and horrified thirty feet above the rocks for a few long seconds—and just as suddenly the bush dumped her. Lei yelped and flailed as she hit the end of the rope like a plumb bob, torquing her neck, the harness digging into her crotch and hips.

“Dammit!” She dropped as gracelessly as a load of laundry the last ten feet onto the lava ledge beside the upside-down sedan.

Her burly partner, Pono Kaihale, hurried forward to help her unfasten the harness. He’d been her first partner on the Big Island, and had preceded her to this new assignment on Maui.

“Shit. You okay?” He pushed mirrored Oakleys up onto his buzz-cut head, a worried crease on his wide brow as he unclipped the cable. She groaned, fumbling at the buckle in the front and prying the straps out of her ass.

“Gonna have whiplash tomorrow. You sure there’s a body in there?”

The fireman who’d made the discovery came forward, hand extended. “Ouch. Sorry about that descent. I couldn’t call Ben fast enough on the walkie. Ron Vierra.” Lei shook his hand: strong, calloused grip, big local guy who wore his fire gear like a proud second skin.

“Eh, Ron. What we get?” She slid into pidgin, liquid dialect of the islands, to establish rapport. In Hawaii, a magnet for transients, it was important to be
from here
, a “local,” and that identity was established within minutes.

“We get one call from the public phone in Haiku early this morning. Wouldn’t leave a name. Said one car wen’ crash, no one inside. Probably stay from the tent village on top da cliff. Soon as it got light, we came out wit’ responding officers. Me and Ben, we rappelled down. That’s when we seen her.”

He gestured to the wrecked car.

Lei and Pono followed him over to the vehicle, snapping on latex gloves. Cubes of glass glittered on the rocks, adding sparkle to the turquoise sea, which had retreated with low tide, leaving the wreck shiny with moisture. Lei squatted down beside the blown-out driver’s window and peered in.

The body was upside down, belt still in place, long red hair trailing in pinkish water collected on the roof of the aged sedan. The girl’s neck was broken at such an extreme angle that her face, intact and wide-eyed, looked up in surprise at her crushed body folded around the steering wheel.

The hood of the car had hit the rocks first. As it compressed backward, it had jammed the steering wheel into the girl’s torso, almost bisecting it, before tipping upside down. A regular rinse of seawater through the blown-out windows had washed most of the blood away, leaving the body soggy and bleached-looking.

Lei hated it when the eyes were open. These were blue, glassy as marbles. She resisted the urge to close them, tucking her hand in her pocket, where she rubbed a small, round black stone. She looked at Pono. “Medical examiner on the way?”

“Yeah.” He folded Cupid’s bow lips, hidden by a bristling mustache, into a thin line and rubbed them with a forefinger as he looked at the girl. “Looks like a teenager. Suicide?”

“Could be.” Lei steeled herself and reached in to rifle the pockets of the voluminous jean jacket the girl wore. Empty. No purse on the seat or anywhere in the vehicle. She went around and reached in from the other window to push the button on the glove box. Nothing inside but a dripping map of Maui.

Lei straightened up, slipping the map into a plastic evidence bag. “If there was any trace here, the ocean doing the washing machine all night isn’t going to leave much.”

They continued to check over the vehicle. Nothing in the backseat and nothing on the roof of the car. Lei radioed in the plate number, and it came back as stolen last week out of Lahaina—nothing there to help with the identity of the red-haired Jane Doe.

She turned back to Vierra, who was guiding the Jaws of Life down the cliff on the cable. He unclipped the heavy hydraulic spreaders and cutters and set them on the rocks out of reach of the surf.

“Wish I’d known she was in there last night,” Vierra said. He looked pale under his brown complexion. “I’ve got a teenage daughter.”

“She was gone at the impact—way too late for the Jaws of Life to do her any good, and you guys couldn’t have done anything much at a site like this in the dark.”

Lei looked back up at the cliff. The uniforms who’d first responded were peering over; then the winch rumbled into action again. This time it was the ME on the line, a pudgy doughball of a man in an aloha shirt and jeans. He made no effort to manage the descent, just clung to the line, and still somehow avoided the protruding guava clump.

He landed on his feet but tipped back onto his rump. Pono helped him unclip the cable and hoisted the man back onto his feet. He clutched his crime scene kit to his chest and reached up to wipe his pallid face with a trembling hand. Apparently he was not a fan of heights.

“Hey. I’m Detective Texeira.” Lei hadn’t been on Maui long enough to have met all the essential personnel. She extended a hand.

“Dr. Gregory.” He shook her hand with a soft and clammy one.

She resisted the urge to wipe it immediately on her black jeans and pointed to the body instead. “Teenager. We’re thinking suicide.”

“Never jump to conclusions.” Dr. Gregory awkwardly hopped on one leg as he wriggled the harness off his wide rear end. The metal fittings clanged as they hit the lava, and Pono stabilized his shoulder with a tiny eye roll. The harness jolted its way back up the cliff.

“My assistant is coming down next, but tell me what you know.” Dr. Gregory approached the vehicle, donning his gloves, as Lei recapped the story.

The ME took out his camera and a handful of plastic markers and went to work. Lei could tell that, Humpty Dumpty appearance aside, he knew what he was doing—so she turned to Pono.

“Let’s do a search along the rocks here, see if anything might have fallen out of the car on its way down.”

They picked their way to the edge of the lava that jutted out from the base of the cliff. Like many ocean-facing areas on Maui, the black volcanic bones of the earth were exposed by the relentless wear of wind and sea, forming a promontory that belled out from the edge of the bluff. She and Pono began a slow survey at a considerable distance from the impact site, walking a few feet apart, eyes traveling in what she liked to call “see mode”—a relaxed systematic pass back and forth, focusing only when something odd blipped in her vision.

Nothing but tide pools filled with blennies and tiny hermit crabs, a few of the local single-shelled delicacies known as
opihi
, brown
limu
seaweed, and darting silver
aholehole
. Then something else silver caught her eye, about fifty feet from the wreck. She bent and spotted a shiny key in a tide pool.

“What do you think?”

“I think that has to be from the wreck, because even a week in the ocean and that key wouldn’t be shiny anymore.” The sun was getting hotter, and sweat gleamed in Pono’s black hair. He pushed his ever-present Oakleys up to investigate the item in question. The key was a nondescript Schlage, no markings but the name brand. “Looks like a door key, I’ve got one to my house that looks like this.”

“Better shoot the site.” She stood over the pool, and Pono went to the crime kit they’d brought and fetched the camera.

Dr. Gregory’s assistant had arrived, dressed in scrubs as if she’d just come from the morgue. Glossy black hair in a ponytail emphasized an angular Japanese face. She squatted beside Gregory, who was semi-inserted into the broken window beside the body.

Pono came back, photographing the tide pool with the digital Canon and then turning to take a few shots of the soaring cliff. Pono, with his sociable personality, usually had the inside scoop on departmental business. They’d been partners when they were both patrol officers on the Big Island, and when Pono made detective he’d moved his family to Maui. He’d contacted Lei and her boyfriend, Stevens, on Kaua`i about job openings, and the two had moved to the Valley Isle six months ago.

Lei and Pono continued their sweep and found a few other items: some coins and bottle caps, a rusty beer opener that was probably detritus from the tent village on the bluff. The lighthouse area was a well-known party and drug zone in addition to being a homeless encampment.

The sun felt like a hot lance in Lei’s eyes, and she wished she’d remembered sunglasses, sunscreen, or a hat—preferably all three. Even with her Hawaiian and Japanese blood, her greater Portuguese heritage caused her face to freckle and burn. By then they’d worked their way back to the wreck, and Lei watched the firemen cut the body out of the car.

Ron Vierra handled the bulky hydraulic cutters with the ease of experience. They clipped through steel, foam, and plastic with a guttural roar, like a T. rex dining.

The girl in scrubs approached Lei, hand out. “Hi, I’m Angie Tanaka, ME intern.”

More introductions. Dr. Gregory joined them, glancing nervously up the cliff as he packed his kit.

“So what do you think, Doctor?” Lei asked.

“Seems apparent she died on impact.” Gregory swiped sweat off his brow again. “And she’s a teenager. But I have to do a full workup back at the morgue to make sure. Liver temp appears consistent with death last night sometime. The ocean activity inhibited onset of rigor, but she’s begun now.”

The two firemen, grunting with effort, lifted a section of the steel car frame away from the upside-down corpse. They’d cut the steering wheel loose from the dash, and Vierra pulled it out of the girl’s jacketed midsection.

Lei found herself massaging the stone in her pocket, seeing lost faces as she gazed at the girl’s mutilated body. She’d learned to use a worry stone in therapy some years ago, but this black one was special—she’d picked it up at the funeral of a friend. The stone worked to help her manage her feelings—but it had a price, and that price was remembering.

The body remained upside down and folded into a C shape with the onset of rigor. Gregory and Tanaka moved in, tipping the corpse onto its side into an opened body bag. With some effort, they stuffed and straightened the body enough to fit, and the sound of the zipper closing, one long screech, set Lei’s teeth on edge.

She and Pono helped the MEs lift the bag onto the wire mesh body-retrieval basket that had trundled down the cliff on the winch. They clipped the mesh shut; then Vierra checked the cable attachment and gave the go on his walkie.

Lei took a second to look out to sea, away from the wrecked car, black cliffs and yellow fire truck perched atop them. The ocean was a wind-whipped cobalt, lightening to foamy cerulean near the rocks, and her eyes scanned the horizon automatically for humpback whales.

The winch began with a grinding rumble, and the wire casket lifted. The body bounced and banged its way up the cliff. It caught on the same clump of guava that had impeded Lei’s descent, tipping vertically. They’d closed the cagelike mesh door, but they all gasped as the body tilted upright and slammed against it, swaying and stuck like a bundled black fly dangling out of a spider’s web.

Vierra screamed to stop the winch. After much raising, lowering, and debating, the body remained stuck. Finally, one of the other firefighters on the bluff rappelled down off the truck and untangled it, and the metal cage resumed its undignified ascent.

BOOK: Black Jasmine (2012)
11.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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