Black Jasmine(8)

By: Toby Neal

Lei looked up at a note card reminder from her therapy, tacked to the drywall above the shower surround. Trust your heart. She was getting better at that, now that her heart wasn’t so fucked up.

She got out, drying off and squishing a handful of Curl Tamer into her hair. It was still short from when she’d shaved her head to go undercover for the Cult Killer case. That case on Kaua`i had garnered so much media attention that she and Stevens had been marked at the station for nonstop harassment in the form of jealousy and practical jokes. It had gotten old being recognized everywhere they went on the small island, especially after a TV movie was made of the whole thing. Six months later, when Pono called, she and Stevens had been ready to put in for transfers.

Every month or two she got little prodding e-mails from Marcella Scott, the FBI agent she’d worked the case with on Kaua`i. Marcella was still trying to recruit her to the Bureau—and Lei was still thinking about the opportunity.

Lei pulled on old sweats and rubbed face lotion into her sunburn, squirted her eyes with Visine for the windburn, and went back into the kitchen.

The dining room consisted of a small bump-out area with a circular Formica table, and Stevens had set it with a pot of rice, a green salad, and a lasagna pan of chicken swimming in teriyaki sauce. Lei set the beer down by her plate and put her napkin in her lap, mouth watering.

“Damn, Michael. This is really awesome.”

“Glad I can get something right.”

There was an edge to his voice, and she realized that he hadn’t really looked at her. She decided to ignore that and dug into the meal, which was as good as it smelled. When she’d finished the first ravenous plateful, she sat back, sipping the Corona, studying him.

Big, sensitive, long-fingered hands worked the chopsticks as easily as a local. When she’d first met him, he hadn’t known how to use them and she’d teased him for it. Dark, rumpled hair fell over a high forehead, casting a shadow over his face. Blue eyes hid under thick lashes as he looked at his plate.

Something was wrong. She wondered if she had what it took to ask about it. Decided she didn’t. She’d never been good at the talking part of being a couple—Pono said she was more like a dude that way.

Lei helped herself to seconds. He’d bring up the problem when he got tired of waiting for her to ask, and the truth was that she wanted to talk to him about the case. He’d been promoted during the transfer and was now detective sergeant for Kahului Station, while she was still only a detective grade II at the small Haiku station. She missed working with him, but now that they were living together, a little distance had been a good thing.

“So we got a weird one. Teenage-looking Jane Doe went off a cliff in an old Plymouth at Pauwela Lighthouse. Plates come back to a stolen Lahaina car.”

“Suicide?” He perked up. They could always talk about work. She got to see his eyes finally, and there was sadness behind them that interest in a murder couldn’t dispel.

Shit. She hoped it wasn’t the marriage thing again.

“We’ll know more at the autopsy, but when we canvassed we found a wit who saw the whole thing, says the car drove to the edge, shut down, and then a few minutes later, rolled off. Says she saw a penlight turning on and off as someone walked away from the scene.”

Stevens straightened up, that spark of intensity back in his eyes. She loved that about him.

“Does sound weird. The scene tell you anything?”

“Nothing but a shiny door key I found in the rocks. Interior of the car was empty, no purse or anything left inside. Body spent the night in the ocean rinse cycle, so I wonder how much it’s going to tell us.”

“Interesting. What are you going to do about those other cases? They’ve been taking a lot of time.”

“Oh, that.” Lei plunked down her beer and sighed. “You know, I don’t know why we try. Damn chicken fighting is a whole layer of economy around here. A part of me hates even busting these people. It’s their main source of income.”

“That’s why the Maui Police Department’s kind of been turning a blind eye for years. But with Mayor Costales in office on his reform platform, we gotta bring in some numbers.”

Now that Stevens was doing administration, he’d developed a sensitivity to what he liked to call “The Big Picture” and Lei called the “Company Store Line of Crap.”

“Yeah, I know. We’ve got some good confidential informants on it; Pono’s amazing at working that end. Good thing, too, because I suck at getting people to talk without giving ’em a smack upside the head.”

“Yeah, you have a way about you.” The tension around his jaw had eased; he patted his knee. “C’mon over here, shrew.”

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