Bone Hook, страница 1
Lei Crime Series Book 10
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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© Toby Neal 2015
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author/publisher.
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Photo credit: Mike Neal © Nealstudios.net
Cover Design: © JULIE METZ LTD.
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E-book: ISBN-13: 978-0-9967066-3-6
Print: ISBN-13: 978-0996706643
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Body retrieval in ninety feet of open water wasn’t for sissies. Sergeant Leilani Texeira hoped she was up to the task as she stood with her longtime partner, Pono Kaihale, on the deck of the heavy Coast Guard Zodiac while it sliced its way across the ocean toward Molokini, a tiny half-moon-shaped atoll off the coast of Maui. A Maui Police Department ball cap pulled low and tight kept the hair out of her eyes, and in spite of their urgent task, Lei enjoyed the smack of the gusty breeze on her cheeks.
“Got to keep an eye out for whales.” Pono scanned the horizon through his trademark Oakleys, worn so constantly they’d made grooves in the brown flesh above his ears. The water around them was the deep blue of lapis, streaked with whitecaps. Both of them watched for whale spouts, scanning the horizon. “We could run into one at this speed.”
Pono’s `aumakua, or ancestral guardian, was the humpback whale. Lei knew he worried about the many boats crisscrossing Maui’s warm waters between November and May, where the whales were calving and breeding.
They soon reached the shallow, sheltered bay of the atoll, a popular snorkeling and diving destination for the tourist industry. The Zodiac drew abreast of a snorkeling charter vessel that had called in the discovery of a body.
It took only moments for the snorkel boat, a big catamaran, to throw a line to the Zodiac so they could side tie the two boats together. The Coast Guard officers went aboard the catamaran first, Lei and Pono following. Tourists, various degrees of sunburned, clustered in anxious knots, watching as the captain, a deeply tanned young man in a blue polo shirt that read Hokua on the pocket, approached them.
“Hey. Pretty great response time.”
“Thanks to the Coast Guard. Took us longer to get through the Kahului traffic than it did to get out here,” Pono said.
“We need to totally clear the bay here to secure the scene.” Lei spoke to the Coast Guardsman standing beside her, whose name she’d heard but missed. She introduced herself and Pono to the Hokua’s captain. “Got somewhere private where you can tell us about the discovery?”
“Yes.” The captain led them up a metal ladder to his bridge above the main cabin. “So we took out some snorkelers, and a smaller group of scuba divers. The scuba divers found the body wedged between some rocks at about ninety feet. We could tell it was a homicide.”
“How did you know?” Lei asked.
“Had a spear sticking out of her back,” the captain said flatly.
“What did you do next?” Lei worried they might have disturbed the underwater crime scene.
“We marked it with a buoy, returned to the boat, and made the calls.”
“Perfect.” She looked at Pono. “You got ahold of Dr. Gregory already, right?”
“I did. Asked him if he could scuba. He said no, just to do our own investigation of the underwater area and bring the body up.” The portly medical examiner didn’t like heights, and apparently, not depths either.
“I should warn you,” the captain said. “The body’s a little—mutilated. Sharks have been snacking on it.”
“Great,” Lei muttered. She had discovered a cache of bones underwater during a case on Kaua`i, and couldn’t participate in a key part of the investigation involving that underwater crime scene due to being unable to scuba. In the years since then, she’d rectified that by getting certified in scuba in case it ever came up again—but dealing with sharks in a deep open ocean dive was a little unnerving as her first underwater body retrieval.
“We’ll go down with you,” said a voice beside her shoulder. “We’ll bring bang sticks in case any sharks are still interested in the body.” She turned, really noticing the Coast Guard officer next to her for the first time. Crisp in his uniform, he had the tilted dark eyes of Japanese heritage paired with the olive-brown skin of part-Hawaiian blood. He didn’t have the freckles she suffered across her nose and cheeks, but other than that, he looked familiar, as if meeting a brother for the first time.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name,” Lei said.
“Petty Officer Aina Thomas. We met on the boat.”
“You’re right; we did.” She smiled, turning to the catamaran’s captain. “Well, thanks, Captain. We’ll take it from here. If you could keep all your people on board and wait for us to take some statements, we’d appreciate it.”
They climbed back down the ladder and headed for the Coast Guard Zodiac.
“At that depth we won’t be able to stay down long,” Thomas told her. “I’ve taken the liberty of calling for some additional personnel support to search the area around the body. Our team is trained in evidence collection and scene preservation underwater.”
“Perfect,” Lei said. “We can go down, do an initial assessment, and retrieve the body, and your divers can follow up and search a grid. We need to completely clear the boats and tourists out of this whole bay.”
“I’ll make sure that happens while you’re down,” Pono said. “And I’ll take the statements from the passengers. I don’t scuba.”
“On purpose you don’t scuba,” Lei grumbled. “So you can leave me all the dirty work, like chasing sharks away from bodies in ninety feet of water.”
“You got me there.” Pono grinned. “I’ll be the one on deck having a beer until you get back.”
Back on the Coast Guard craft, Sergeant Thomas handed Lei a wetsuit. “We’ll deal with the scuba gear when you get this on. I guesstimated. Women’s small?”
“Ha. I hope I fit into that.” Lei eyed the length of rubber dangling from his hand.
“Oh, I’m sure you will.” Lei couldn’t mistake the admiring glint in Thomas’s eye. She reached out and took the suit with her left hand, hoping he’d spot the wedding ring on her finger.
“I’ll yell for a bigger size if I need it.” She turned and went into the boat’s tiny head. She’d grabbed her bikini out of her truck when they’d gotten the call that the body was submerged, so she got into that first. Sure enough, with some hopping, pulling, and cramped gymnastics in the small space, Lei was able to get the rubber suit on.
She’d put on a little weight in the five years since she and Michael Stevens were married, an eventful five years filled with the joy of her stepson, Kiet, growing up and going to kindergarten, interesting cases, and some heartbreak, too—the death of her beloved Auntie Rosario and the loss of her first pregnancy at four months. That pregnancy had turned out to be a one-time event, in spite of their decision to try again some years ago.
Now, with all that was going on with their marriage, it seemed just as well that they hadn’t been able to have another child. She just wished that wound would stop aching. Maybe if they’d had that baby, Michael wouldn’t be where he was, doing what he was doing, and she wouldn’t be sleeping in the back bedroom for the last few months. She shoved the negative thoughts away with an effort and opened the door of the head, startled to find Aina Thomas right outside.
“The suit fits, I see.”
“Barely.” Lei brushed past him, flattered by his frank appraisal of her and annoyed that she noticed how well he fit into his wetsuit, too. “Which way to the gear?”
He pointed out to the deck, and she was conscious of his gaze on her body as she walked.
She and Stevens needed to work things out, and soon.
A junior officer handed her a bright yellow buoyancy compensator device, setting a weight belt, a mask, a snorkel, and fins on the deck for her.
“Scuba would be great if it weren’t for all the gear.” Lei tried to joke. Her stomach was a little hollow at the thought of this deep of a dive when she hadn’t been out at all in a couple of years. Was she going to remember everything? She slung on the weight belt, making sure the square lead weights were to the back, and hauled the slide buckle tight.
“I’ll help.” Thomas strapped the air tank onto the vest with a few efficient gestures. He lifted the BCD, tank and all, and held it open for her. Feeling reassured but highly aware of his proximity, Lei put one arm in and then the other, hopping a little once the vest was zipped on to settle the weight of the belt and tank at her hips.
The sun felt scorching on the top of her head, superheating her body in the layers of rubber and gear even though it was late afternoon. Glancing over the gunwale, she found the turquoise water of the atoll’s sheltered interior bay irresistible. In spite of the grim errand they were on and her uncertainty about what they’d find, Lei couldn’t wait to get into the water.
“Here’s your shark knife. For emergency use only.” Thomas handed her a short, thick-hafted knife in a strap-on scabbard.
“I imagine a shark attacking is an emergency.” Lei hefted the knife on her open palm. “Seems kind of small.”
“There’s a compressed air charge in the handle that injects into the shark when and if you have to use it. Highly unlikely, but since we’re handling a corpse that’s already been bitten, a good idea to be on the safe side.”
“Okay.” Lei slid the knife onto her right leg and tightened the rubber strap around her thigh, anxious and excited. Having the knife on did make her feel a little more confident.
“We have some coordinates for the body and we’ll go down in twenty-foot depth segments, to adjust. Coming back up we’ll do that as well.” Thomas ran through a quick review of underwater hand signals and pointed out where Lei had a plastic tablet with an attached wax crayon for writing in the pocket of her BCD, as well as a flashlight and waterproof camera for photographing the scene.
Lei took the mask, snorkel, and fins from the officer and stood up at the rubber side of the boat, fighting the sense that she was going to sink instantly with all the weight on her back. She climbed up and stepped off after Thomas, splashing down into the refreshing water.
As she’d known she would, Lei bounced immediately to the surface, the inflated BCD and full tank doing their job. Floating comfortably, she slid on her fins, mask, and snorkel, looking up at Pono’s worried expression as he watched her from the deck. She sent him a thumbs-up and turned to Thomas.
“Follow my lead,” Thomas said. They’d been joined in the water by another Coast Guard diver. “This is Officer Kenny Rice. He’s trained in body retrieval, and he’s in charge of the carrier.” Rice gave a nod and held up a tightly woven bright yellow mesh body bag, demonstrating with a tug on his belt how it was attached to him for towing.
They all put in their regulators and at Thomas’s signal released the air from the BCD vests by depressing a valve on the front. Lei watched Pono’s anxious brown face, buzz-cut head backlit by blue sky, disappear in a cloud of bubbles as she sank.
She felt wonderfully weightless and yet sank steadily toward the bottom at the speed set by Thomas. At intervals they paused, letting their bodies adjust to the depth. Lei felt her heart rate slowing as she turned, taking in the wonders of the reef.
At this moment it didn’t matter that they were headed for some grisly body retrieval when all around her the ocean seemed to sing, vivid and crackling with life. The reef below her was a tapestry of colorful darting fish and the graceful shapes of corals. Off in the distant blue deep, Lei could see the sinuous shadows of slow-moving sharks. Her heart jumped a little, even as she recognized them as harmless blacktips and gray reef sharks.
Lei fought a disorienting sense of falling, of dizziness, an illusion brought on by the vast space even as awe filled her at the cathedral-like feel of blue depths pierced by columns of shifting light. Hanging at a pause level in the busy stillness, her breath a stream of silver bubbles marking their descent, Lei felt herself shrink to a dot in the scope of things.
She was so small here, just a little human in a rubber suit trespassing on majesty.
Finally they reached the bottom. Lei adjusted her BCD so that she hovered four feet above the teeming, lively reef. Parallel to her, Thomas took a reading on a compass dive watch on his wrist and pointed.
Lei followed with Rice and his floating yellow bag. She couldn’t help looking out at the depths again, at the lazily moving silhouetted sharks. They seemed closer. It was probably just a trick of the eye brought on by the water.
She refastened her gaze on Thomas’s well-built form kicking along in front of her.
Yes, it had been way too long since she and Michael had slept together. There’d been an erosion between them over five years of marriage, work, balancing the needs of their child with ridiculously busy schedules and trying to manage even deeper problems.
Michael Stevens had post-traumatic stress disorder. Nothing else explained the night terrors, when her husband woke screaming and lashing out, even hitting her by accident. PTSD explained the haunted look in his eyes, his increasingly withdrawn behavior, and the constant checking that the gate to the property was locked and the alarms armed.
And then there was the drinking.
Thomas paused, hovering and checking his coordinates. Lei scanned around, unable to see anything but the bright, darting yellow and purple wrasse and red squirrelfish, their jewel tones rendered black by the leaching of color at this depth. A nearby school of fish caught her attention, forming a defensive, spinning ball as a big ulua jack circled.
And the sharks were definitely closer, though they didn’t seem to be moving any differently.
A whistle, sharp and high, penetrated the loud rustle of the streaming bubbles forming a column to the surface far above her. Thomas had swum off while she was distracted, and she spotted him twenty yards away, gesturing to something on the bottom.
Lei kicked off and joined the other divers. She spotted the buoy, a
The woman was facedown, one of her legs wedged between two coral heads. Her hair, brown and long, drifted like seaweed. She bobbed ever so gently, as if she were examining something on the bottom—except for the steel haft of a spear that protruded from her back and the fact that one of her arms was gone at the shoulder.
The amputation wound was bloodless, and so was the chunk of flesh the size of a dinner plate ripped out of her hip. The mutilations had the look of sample bites that hadn’t been enjoyed, but even as Lei watched, a small dappled moray undulated out from under the body.
Lei fumbled the waterproof camera out of her vest pouch, gesturing the two Coast Guardsmen back. She moved in, photographing the body first, then the area all around it. She let a little more air out of her BCD so that she sank to just a foot or so above the bottom. From there, she shot photo after photo of the corpse, the coral reef bottom, the body from above, from the side, and even underneath as she placed the camera below the floating body.
She didn’t see any unusual objects or disturbances near or around the body, which she guesstimated was that of a five-foot-six female, a hundred and thirty pounds or so, with dark brown hair. Other features were hidden by the woman’s mask and scuba gear.
Finally Lei gestured to Rice, who moved in with his bag.