Toby Neal: Blood Orchids

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Toby Neal Blood Orchids
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    Blood Orchids
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Blood Orchids: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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After combing over every inch of the banks of the small pond, Lieutenant Ohale ordered all available officers to search the two feeder streams for the original crime scene where the girls had gone into the water. Lei and Pono split from the others, taking the lower stream.

Pono trailed behind her, his eyes scanning the ground, as Lei chugged a bottle of water one of the crime techs had given her. Adrenaline from the initial discovery had worn off, leaving her shaky and exhausted-but the same compulsion that had driven her into the water to retrieve the body drove her on now.

Lei’s damp uniform chafed and her duty belt, loaded with radio, sidearm, cuffs, pepper spray, ammo, evidence bags and more, caught on scratching branches as they moved along slowly, looking for any signs of human presence. Humidity caused her rebellious brown curls to frizz out of the tight ponytail she’d restrained them with. Sweat beaded on her forehead and she swiped it away, glad of physical discomfort that distracted her from drowned faces.

Once outside the immediate area of the park, their progress through underbrush along the creek was slow, impeded by tall christmasberry bushes. The invasive species from Brazil had become an islandwide problem, smothering native growth with its rapid spread. Dark green, glossy bushes peppered with clusters of red berries blanketed miles of open space, and almost choked the stream.

A real estate sign marked the edge of the park and abandoned cars filled with trash, a rusted Jeep and rotting Pontiac, had been pushed into the undergrowth from the nearby road.

“We might as well tag these abandoned cars for pickup.” Pono, ever conscientious, took out his pad of orange removal stickers.

“I hate the way people dump their cars around here.” Lei picked her way over boggy ground to the first vehicle by stepping on top of grass clumps. “But it doesn’t help we don’t have any recycling facilities on the island. Anyway, you tag ’em, I’m going to keep looking.”

Pono was still writing his description of the Pontiac as she pushed through long grass, hearing the rushing of water beyond the overgrown bushes. She spotted an opening.

“Pono, looks like a break here. I’m gonna check it out.”

“Right behind you.” Pono peered in to look for the VIN number on the Jeep’s dashboard.

Lei edged her way across the boggy ground, pushing through raking branches. On the other side of the wall of shrubbery, a stream flowed beside a clearing marked with a fire ring and a shelter made by tying a tarp to the bushes. A palm tree leaned out over ruffled water, fronds waving in the slight breeze.

Something about the setting oppressed Lei as she walked forward, surveying the area carefully. Perhaps it was the pile of discarded propane cans, soda bottles, and a dirty sleeping bag that testified to someone having camped there not long ago. Rocks made a handy access point to water otherwise choked by thick grass.

A white rag was caught in the vegetation, along with something shiny. Lei squatted on the rocks and fished the objects out of the water: a long strip ripped from a T-shirt and a cluster of iridescent ribbon attached to an elastic hair tie.

“Hey.” Pono crashed through the bushes, muttering as he slipped on the mud. “Anything interesting?”

“These were caught in the stream.” Lei held up the hair bow. “It looks familiar.”

“Looks familiar to me too. That’s a little girl’s hair tie.” Pono squatted beside her, examining the items.

An image burst across Lei’s brain, indelible. Bluish closed eyes, straggling blonde hair on one side, and on the other… a pigtail with a sparkly ribbon cluster.

“Oh my God, Pono. I think we just found the primary crime scene.”

Chapter 2

“Shit. We trampled all over the ground,” Pono said. He hooked his radio off his belt and called it in.

Lei let her eyes wander slowly over the lush scene, looking for anything out of place. She pictured a scenario: the girls coming out here, maybe to party, and then drugged and tied up. Raped? Maybe they knew their captor?

“Detectives are on their way. They want us to stay put, secure the scene.”

“Okay,” Lei said, standing at last. It was weird she’d found the crime scene so easily; almost like it was staged. This was one of those times Lei felt an electric tingle that signaled she was onto something, and that inner drive she’d followed hardened into resolve. She had to get assigned to the case-Haunani needed justice.

She turned to look at the shelter. They would have to take everything there into evidence, including the trash in the junked cars. Stevens, Ito and the crime scene techs arrived, groaning at the mud and the amount of garbage that they would have to sort through.

Lei helped empty the junked cars, putting garbage into heavy-duty evidence bags. Her uniform was hopeless by then, the legs of her pants soaked and muddy, mosquito bites peppering her arms. Replacements eventually arrived, sensibly dressed in boots and zip-front canvas overalls, with big portable lights to work into the night.

“Stevens.” Lei addressed the tall detective as he sifted through the grass along the bank, latex gloves on his hands.

“Yeah?” He straightened up. “Funny how you keep finding things, Texeira.”

“Just lucky. That’s why I think I should be on this investigation, Detective. I really want to find whoever killed Haunani Pohakoa.” She was surprised to feel tears stinging the backs of her eyes and blinked hard.

“No offense, but I need experienced detectives. I’m asking the other districts to send us some of their best people.”

Lei felt slapped. “You’ll find out for yourself how strapped for personnel Hilo District is. We’re always fighting the budget battle.”

“Yeah, well, I gotta try.”

“Let me know if I can help. I feel like this case found me as much as I found it.”

“You take initiative, I’ll give you that.” He made a gesture that took in her filthy uniform and bedraggled appearance. “I’ll try and find something for you.”

“Great. Hope you can use me.” Lei didn’t bother to suppress the sarcasm in her tone as she spun on a muddy heel and pushed back through the bushes to the cruiser.

Sunset gilded the surface of the creek as a full moon crested above a backdrop of swaying trees. Lush grass lined the bank where a single palm leaned out, leaves fluttering over two girls floating in light-streaked water. The creamy skin of one contrasted with the earth tones of the other as their hair swirled in the stream.

He adjusted the colors in Photoshop and tried black-and-white and sepia tones, eventually rejecting them. The final version enhanced the darkening blue of evening sky, fat pearl of moon and waning sunbeams caressing naked, face-down bodies. Blunt fingers rattled the keys as he titled the photo Orchids, and saved it to an external hard drive in a file filled with flowers.

Not that photos were ever enough-that was why he kept a few reminders.

He took a shiny new metal key ring out of his desk drawer, along with a Ziploc bag. Two long hanks of hair twined together in the bag-one silky blonde, the other a glossy raven-wing black. He eased the hair gently onto the desk, stroking and separating the colors, brushing them with a soft doll’s brush.

Each piece was exactly twelve inches long. He savored the memory of measuring the hair on each sleeping girl’s head, his fingers finding the barely noticeable spot where he cut it, two inches up from the tender dip where the skull joined the neck.

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