Black Jasmine

By: Toby Neal

Chapter 1

Detective Lei Texeira tested the rope running through the cleat, giving it a yank before nodding to the fireman controlling the winch. He switched the engine on, and she rappelled down the cliff, keeping her knees bent as she began a slow descent. Blasts of wind off the ocean whirled her curly brown hair. The rocky bluff was marbled with pockets of underbrush, and minutes later she became tangled in a thick clump of strawberry guava.

“Stop the winch!”

The grind of the machine and the crash of waves masked Lei’s voice, and the rope kept paying out until her full weight rested on the bush. She spread her arms across the springy branches, resting horizontal and horrified thirty feet above the rocks for a few long seconds—and just as suddenly the bush dumped her. Lei yelped and flailed as she hit the end of the rope like a plumb bob, torquing her neck, the harness digging into her crotch and hips.

“Dammit!” She dropped as gracelessly as a load of laundry the last ten feet onto the lava ledge beside the upside-down sedan.

Her burly partner, Pono Kaihale, hurried forward to help her unfasten the harness. He’d been her first partner on the Big Island, and had preceded her to this new assignment on Maui.

“Shit. You okay?” He pushed mirrored Oakleys up onto his buzz-cut head, a worried crease on his wide brow as he unclipped the cable. She groaned, fumbling at the buckle in the front and prying the straps out of her ass.

“Gonna have whiplash tomorrow. You sure there’s a body in there?”

The fireman who’d made the discovery came forward, hand extended. “Ouch. Sorry about that descent. I couldn’t call Ben fast enough on the walkie. Ron Vierra.” Lei shook his hand: strong, calloused grip, big local guy who wore his fire gear like a proud second skin.

“Eh, Ron. What we get?” She slid into pidgin, liquid dialect of the islands, to establish rapport. In Hawaii, a magnet for transients, it was important to be from here, a “local,” and that identity was established within minutes.

“We get one call from the public phone in Haiku early this morning. Wouldn’t leave a name. Said one car wen’ crash, no one inside. Probably stay from the tent village on top da cliff. Soon as it got light, we came out wit’ responding officers. Me and Ben, we rappelled down. That’s when we seen her.”

He gestured to the wrecked car.

Lei and Pono followed him over to the vehicle, snapping on latex gloves. Cubes of glass glittered on the rocks, adding sparkle to the turquoise sea, which had retreated with low tide, leaving the wreck shiny with moisture. Lei squatted down beside the blown-out driver’s window and peered in.

The body was upside down, belt still in place, long red hair trailing in pinkish water collected on the roof of the aged sedan. The girl’s neck was broken at such an extreme angle that her face, intact and wide-eyed, looked up in surprise at her crushed body folded around the steering wheel.

The hood of the car had hit the rocks first. As it compressed backward, it had jammed the steering wheel into the girl’s torso, almost bisecting it, before tipping upside down. A regular rinse of seawater through the blown-out windows had washed most of the blood away, leaving the body soggy and bleached-looking.

Lei hated it when the eyes were open. These were blue, glassy as marbles. She resisted the urge to close them, tucking her hand in her pocket, where she rubbed a small, round black stone. She looked at Pono. “Medical examiner on the way?”

“Yeah.” He folded Cupid’s bow lips, hidden by a bristling mustache, into a thin line and rubbed them with a forefinger as he looked at the girl. “Looks like a teenager. Suicide?”

“Could be.” Lei steeled herself and reached in to rifle the pockets of the voluminous jean jacket the girl wore. Empty. No purse on the seat or anywhere in the vehicle. She went around and reached in from the other window to push the button on the glove box. Nothing inside but a dripping map of Maui.

Lei straightened up, slipping the map into a plastic evidence bag. “If there was any trace here, the ocean doing the washing machine all night isn’t going to leave much.”

They continued to check over the vehicle. Nothing in the backseat and nothing on the roof of the car. Lei radioed in the plate number, and it came back as stolen last week out of Lahaina—nothing there to help with the identity of the red-haired Jane Doe.

She turned back to Vierra, who was guiding the Jaws of Life down the cliff on the cable. He unclipped the heavy hydraulic spreaders and cutters and set them on the rocks out of reach of the surf.

“Wish I’d known she was in there last night,” Vierra said. He looked pale under his brown complexion. “I’ve got a teenage daughter.”

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