Authors: Toby Neal
Tags: #mystery, #Crime fiction, #Hawaii
Stolen in Paradise
A Lei Crime Companion Novel
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, events, companies, entities, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Stolen in Paradise
Copyright © 2013 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 978-0-9891489-0-0
Print ISBN 978-0-9891489-1-7
Cover photo © Mike Neal at
Cover Design © JULIE METZ LTD.
Ebook design by
Mythic Island Press LLC
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity
a time to be born,
and a time to die.
The smell—seaweed with overnotes of decomp—hit Special Agent Marcella Scott as she ducked under the crime-scene tape roping off a rocky corner of Waikiki Beach. A woman’s body was wedged between slippery boulders, waves rocking her in a parody of a lullaby.
Marcella squatted between the boulders for a better look at the bullet hole set between the woman’s brows like a misplaced Indian
. The expression on her face was one of astonishment—mouth ajar, eyes wide and opaque. Iron-gray hair tangled over utilitarian clothing split in unsightly places.
The body still wore a plastic ID tag on a lanyard, and it was the name on it—Dr. Trudy Pettigrew—that had the Honolulu Police Department calling in the FBI. Pettigrew was on a short list of researchers who worked for the University of Hawaii on security-sensitive projects.
Marcella glanced up at Matt Rogers, her partner. “Looks like an execution.”
“Yep. I’m wondering if this lady scientist was working on something that got her killed.” Rogers, an ex-military man, was from the Texas Panhandle and clung to a drawl even after five years in the islands.
“She was a biologist. Maybe her project was involved.” Marcella straightened up, catching the uniformed patrol officer with his eyes on her ass. Not without reason—it was the best Italian heritage and Tae Kwon Do could brew up. She tucked the tail of her plain white blouse back into light gray trousers. “Maybe it was a crime of passion.”
Rogers just snorted, folding his muscled arms. The substantial body before them seemed the antithesis of passion. “I don’t think we can find much else here. No sign that this is the original crime scene.”
The medical examiner, Dr. Fukushima, a prim-looking Japanese woman in a wide sun hat, had been fussing with the body bag and her supplies, waiting for them to finish. Marcella shot the scene and a few more photos with her point-and-shoot, including a pano spread of the high-rise hotels fronted by calm turquoise water, the gleaming beach, and colorful carved dragon boats and canoes pulled onto the sand nearby.
Just beyond the site was the Waikiki Yacht Harbor, sunshine sparkling off the boats—and the mouth of the Ala Wai Canal, a water conduit that ran through downtown Honolulu. She shot that too. Context was important.
She turned to the ME. “Thanks so much, Dr. Fukushima, for waiting on us.”
“No problem,” the doctor said. “I’ll let you know what I find when I’ve completed my report.” The medical examiner picked her way carefully among the slippery rocks to squat beside the body, opening a black old-fashioned doctor’s bag. She covered the woman’s hands, slipping rubber bands over clear plastic bags. She then got out a pair of scissors and gestured to her assistant. “Let’s roll the body.”
“Want some help?” Rogers asked when the assistant, a young woman, and Dr. Fukushima failed to turn the heavy corpse. With the three of them putting some heave into it, what was left of Dr. Trudy Pettigrew flopped with a splash facedown. Dr. Fukushima wielded her scissors and added a coup de grace of indignity by inserting a thermometer deep into the rectum.
Marcella looked away—she wasn’t squeamish, but she sensed how much this particular woman would have hated being this kind of spectacle. “I’m thinking she was shot somewhere else and washed up here.”
“You heard me say it first.” Rogers gestured toward the ocean. “Could’ve been anywhere out there.” Marcella looked back as Dr. Fukushima wiped off the thermometer and stowed it in a plastic sleeve.
“She’s warming up again with decomp starting. Rigor’s come and gone, so it’s been at least twenty-hour hours since she went into the water.” Fukushima looked up at them, must have read Marcella’s expression. “I don’t like doing liver temps.” The ME referred to making a small incision in the sternum and inserting the thermometer there. “Rectum is just as accurate, and later on in the post, I haven’t damaged the liver.”
It took Rogers, a uniformed police officer, the assistant, and Dr. Fukushima to roll and heave the slippery, waterlogged corpse into the body bag. Marcella winced at the spectacle and strode over to the pair of detectives originally assigned to the case, who’d been standing in the thin shade of a palm tree. She let her dimpled smile and shiny teeth wreak some havoc as she snapped off a latex glove and shook Detective Ching’s hand and that of his partner, Detective Kamuela.
“Thanks again for calling us, guys. I’m sure we’re going to be able to work well together on this. What do you know so far?”
“Uniforms called us in, said there was a body. We came down, secured the site, radioed in the ID from the tag, and that’s when the captain called you. Not much to it.” Kamuela, a tall, muscular Hawaiian, was doing the Tiki-god face thing and resisting her dimple. Marcella flicked her eyes to his left hand. No wedding ring.
“The University of Hawaii has some scientists working on sensitive projects. Dr. Pettigrew is one of them.” Marcella unbuttoned the top button of her blouse, fanned herself with the file she’d quickly printed off on Dr. Pettigrew. “Hot down here on the beach.”
When she looked up, Ching appeared hypnotized. That was how she liked them—easily controlled. Kamuela cut narrowed eyes to her, apparently unimpressed.
“So what did you learn from the scene?” Marcella asked.
“Not much. Seems like the lady was shot, pushed into the ocean somewhere, maybe off a boat or something. Nothing on her, so maybe it was robbery, but a head shot seems extreme for that. Shoes still on. We were thinking she washed up here,” Kamuela replied.
“Good summary.” Rogers reappeared behind Marcella. He was spattered with seawater, rings of sweat marking his arms. “Let’s go somewhere more comfortable, get a plan.”
They moved to a nearby hotel umbrella/table combo and eventually sent the detectives to canvass along the hot Waikiki beach. The two agents got back into the air-conditioning of the Bureau’s Acura SUV to head to the University of Hawaii to find out what Dr. Pettigrew had been working on. Rogers got behind the wheel.
“Damn, Marcella. Thought you were going to give Ching a hemorrhage with those shirt buttons.”
“Just spicing up their day a bit.” Marcella unbuttoned a few more buttons, leaned in to the blasting AC with her eyes closed in bliss. “Sucks to be in FBI uniform when everyone else is running around in chinos and golf shirts.”
“They let us stop wearing ties, and the sleeves are short. Don’t know what else we could get away with in the Bureau.”
Marcella wiggled a brow and dusted sand off her low-heeled Manolo T-straps—regulations called for closed-toe shoes, and the delicate leather sandals barely qualified. She worked the computer on its drop-down panel/glove box as Rogers drove toward the University of Hawaii. “Pettigrew was one of their most respected professors,” Marcella read off the university website. “Taught biotechnology and biochemistry. Her specialty was bioengineering with agriculture. Doesn’t sound too dangerous.”
“Lotta people feel strongly about genetically modified organisms around here. Maybe she had a hater.”
University of Hawaii Manoa wasn’t far from Waikiki, but it might as well have been another world. They left the hot, busy streets bordered by high-rises and drove into a lush green valley. Low-key buildings spread along both sides of the road, separated by pockets of trees and verdant courtyards. Lawns rolled away from the road, and spreading monkeypod trees made cool oases of shade speckled with students.
“Maybe, but that’s a pretty serious hater. Says here she did contract work for AgroCon Ltd. Gonna have to look into what they were working on.” Marcella brushed her long, curling brown hair and repinned it into what she called the FBI Twist, a smooth roll at the back of her head. She rebuttoned her blouse into professional as Rogers pulled into one of the stalls in front of the dignified Agricultural Science Building. They got out, each carrying an investigation kit in black leather, and headed up the cement steps.
That’s when they were ambushed.
“Marcella!” A screech somewhere between operatic and fishwife rent the air. “
, darling! What you doing here?”
Marcella barely had time to brace herself before ninety-five pounds of energetic Italian mother catapulted out of nowhere and enfolded her in a hug. Anna Scatalina, formerly a fashion plate in New Jersey, had taken on the muumuu-and-slippers look of Hawaii with a vengeance. Today’s muumuu was a fitted sheath in bright yellow spattered with plumeria print, and the sandals were heeled, glittering with rhinestones. She and Marcella shared a shoe fetish fed by the flow of her father Egidio Scatalina’s shoe-import business.
“Mama! Good God! What are you doing here?”
“’Cella! You know I’m a culinary student. I’ve told you a hundred times. What
“Ma, it’s a case. Can’t talk about it.” Marcella straightened her shirt, detaching herself.
“Oh, Mattie, good to see you!” Anna Scatalina reached up and patted Rogers’s granitelike jaw, making him blush. “We making nice chicken coq au vin at the student cafeteria for lunch. You come? I serve you.”
“Mrs. Scatalina, I would love some of anything you’re making. I’m sure we can fit it in.”
Marcella glared at her partner as she tucked loose hair bits back in. Her mother patted Rogers’s arm, wide, dark eyes sparkling. “Oh good. I see you then. Both of you.” She shook her finger at Marcella. “You come. You never eat my cooking.”
“It’s fattening, Ma,” Marcella said, and sighed as her mother flitted, canarylike, in her lurid yellow muumuu toward the adjacent building. “I don’t know how she never gains weight. Guess I know where we’re eating lunch.”
“I like her.” Rogers turned back toward the entrance of the building. “You must take after your dad.”
“Gee, thanks. And no, not really.” Marcella pushed the stiff glass door open. “I’m something of an abomination, if you ask either of my grandmothers.”
“Something I’ve been meaning to ask you. Why did you change your last name?” His question echoed off the tiled floor of the foyer as Marcella scanned a wall-mounted directory for the biotechnology department. “Scatalina has a nice ring to it.”
“Scott sounds better.” She’d spotted the listing. “Two floors up.”
“I beg to differ. The Bureau would love to identify yet another agent as not only female, but ethnic, any kind of ethnic.”
“Scott sounds better—people don’t ask questions about it. And there’s this: Scatalina means ‘little shit’ in Italian.”
They got into the elevator.
“You’re kidding me, right?” Rogers didn’t bother to suppress a huge grin. “I know what I’m calling you from now on.”
“Don’t even try it.”
The elevator doors opened and Marcella stepped out into a beige hallway shining with state-funded janitorial effort—which was to say, drab, dingy, and deserted. They strode past locked, windowless doors marked with keypads to the biotech lab.
The door was marked with a Far Side cartoon and a small whiteboard that pronounced in bold capitals,
DR. PETTIBREW IS NOT IN
“Ya think?” said Rogers, pointing to the note.
The door opened and a tall young man looked at them through floppy black hair. His Adam’s apple bobbed.
“We’re here about Dr. Pettigrew,” Marcella said. She and Rogers held up their cred wallets. The man’s dark eyes flashed back and forth between them, and Marcella could swear she saw him memorizing every jot on the IDs.
“Come in.” He backed up and they stepped inside. Once again the smell hit her first, an ammonia cleaner and something dark, like burnt plastic. Marcella put her hands on her hips, did a slow survey of a large room laid out with long steel tables topped by shelves.