Black Jasmine(10)

By: Toby Neal

He led them over to the bank of refrigerator boxes, flipped the compression handle on one. It made a sound like popping the lid of an old-fashioned Coke bottle that had been shaken up. He picked up a clipboard and rolled the shelf out.

The body wasn’t draped and the girl’s eyes were still open, the Y incision on her chest cartoonishly stitched into rubberlike skin. Lividity had set in, mottling her face, neck, and shoulders to a dusky shade. She looked like she’d been dipped headfirst into something purple. The girl’s midsection was pulverized, organs barely contained by perforated skin blackened by bruising, the rib cage crushed.

Lei breathed through her mouth, slipping her hand in her pocket for the stone, but she’d forgotten to pick it up in her hurry that morning.

“I should be able to get the report done by tomorrow, but I can give you an oral recap.” Gregory read from the clipboard. “Female, approximately seventeen years old. She has a butterfly tattoo on her ankle. Maybe that will help identify her.” He indicated a tiny, optimistic yellow butterfly on the girl’s anklebone, tapping it with his pen. “Cause of death is massive blunt force trauma.”

“What about her broken neck?” Lei was glad the girl’s head was held upright in a small metal stanchion on the shelf, but her imagination supplied a picture of the head flopping off the table, held on with nothing more than skin.

“Broken neck also a result of blunt force trauma, simultaneous with impact of the steering wheel. Premortem injuries indicate the victim was alive when the car crashed. She has some interesting bruises. Look here.” He held up a hand. A sharp, dark line encircled each wrist. “She was bound at some point. There are no other injuries, except the obvious.” He made a dismissive gesture that encompassed the girl’s mangled torso.

“Any signs of sexual activity?” Lei asked.

“No, but we did all the usual swabs. The toxicology report will tell us more, but it’s going to be at least a week.” He handed her a card with the girl’s fingerprints on it, then pressed a couple of buttons on his computer keyboard and the printer spit out an image on photo paper. “Jane Doe’s picture, for your canvassing. I scanned the prints into the computer as well. I’ll send ’em to you with the picture.”

“Thanks.” Lei was impressed with his efficiency. “So, you said blunt force trauma. Suicide or homicide?” She knew the answer but wanted to hear him say it.

“Given the ligature marks, homicide. Vehicular homicide.”

Chapter 5

Lei ate a cold piece of leftover teriyaki chicken at her workstation as she ran the girl’s scanned-in fingerprints through the AFIS database. It didn’t take long for the dialogue box to pop up. NO MATCH.

“Shit.” The case had just gotten a whole lot harder. She wiped her hands on a paper towel and hit Print on the page for the file. She and Pono had already sent the photo of Jane Doe out over e-mail to all the stations. They’d need to send it to the newspaper, blanket the town with flyers. Surely someone knew this girl.

Lei glanced down at the newly doctored photo of Jane Doe. Pono’d taken the e-mailed shot from the doctor and run it through NCMEC. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s database had sent it back with a disappointing NO MATCH and a digitized version that washed out the ugly mottling of lividity that would distract from identification.

Lei was finally able to really look at the girl’s face, now that the eyes were closed and the dusky purple was bleached out of her skin. Jane Doe had full lips and winged brows, and with that long red hair and knockout body, she’d have been a traffic stopper.

Sometimes Lei’s brain made unfortunate puns.

What was a seventeen-year-old girl doing in an old, stolen Plymouth Volare in the ass-end of nowhere, plummeting off a cliff?

Lei studied the photos of the girl’s clothes that Gregory had e-mailed. She hadn’t really noticed them at the crash scene. The clinical layout of the short, black pleather skirt, thong, lacy black bra, and hot-pink tank top added up to one kind of job that would put a beautiful teenage girl in danger.

The oldest profession in the world.

There were no shoes on the girl’s feet—another oddity. Included in shots of the clothes was the girl’s oversized jean jacket, the reason Lei hadn’t jumped to the obvious conclusion at the scene. Because, as she’d told Pono, a lot of the time the obvious was just the obvious. Lei was so deep in thought that the ringing phone made her jump.

“Texeira here.”

“Hey. It’s Pono. Looks like there’s going to be a big cockfight this afternoon out by Giggle Hill.” Giggle Hill was a nickname for the WWII memorial park out in the lush East Maui area of Haiku, surrounded by jungle and abandoned pineapple fields. “Can you round up some uniforms? Let’s see who we can rope in and shake down. Get those numbers the lieutenant’s after.” Pono’s voice was tight with preraid adrenaline.

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