Black Jasmine(3)

By: Toby Neal



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.

Lei was the last to go up. By the time she did, she could feel how matted her curly hair had become, how sunburned her normally olive complexion was. She imagined the hated handful of cinnamon freckles on her nose multiplying as the winch hauled her up the precipitous cliff—this time avoiding the guava bushes. She glanced down at the wreck below her as she rose. The Volare was going to be hauled up with a crane eventually, and it was a good thing, because an oily rainbow already polluted the pristine tide pool around the vehicle.

Unhitched from the winch at last, Lei got into her silver Tacoma truck and cranked on the AC. She chugged a tepid bottle of water. Pono hopped in beside her, sweat rings marking his arms. He flopped the seat back.

“Get me to something cold and wet, please, stat.” Tiare, his wife, was attending nursing school at University of Hawaii Maui and his speech was peppered with medical terms.

“Ha.” She handed him another warm bottle of water and broke open a packet of pretzels. “Let’s take ten and then go canvass those campers in the tent village.”

“So—you thinking suicide?” This was the second time Pono had mentioned it. Something was bugging him, too. She glanced over and, sure enough, he was rubbing his lip with a meaty forefinger, an old habit from when he’d given up smoking.

“Too soon to tell. Usually the obvious is the obvious, but there’s something about this that’s just…weird.” She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. “It was a stolen car, so that bugs me. If she committed suicide, why here, in the armpit of nowhere? Why in some anonymous car we can’t trace, without any ID or note? It’s just seeming like too much work, like she was trying to disappear.”

“What I was thinking.” They continued to hash over the possibilities, finishing the pretzels and a browning banana Lei found in the cup holder.

Lei didn’t want to lose any time; she’d spotted the camp dwellers watching the retrieval of the body and wanted to get to the canvassing while the scene was fresh. Slightly restored, they got out of the truck, which Lei had parked near the huge lighted steel pole that constituted Pauwela Lighthouse.

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