Black Jasmine(2)

By: Toby Neal

“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.

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