Toby Neal: Blood Orchids

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Toby Neal Blood Orchids
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    Blood Orchids
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    Полицейский детектив / на английском языке
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Lei showered and did the beauty routine-a handful of gel in her hair to tame it and a swipe of gloss on her full mouth. She didn’t know what accident of nature had landed her with the sprinkle of cinnamon freckles over her nose-a Portuguese, Hawaiian and Japanese heritage was full of genetic surprises. She buttoned into the stiff navy-blue uniform, buckled on her loaded duty belt, grabbed the stalker note out of the freezer and hurried out the door to her little white Honda Civic.

“Hey, babe,” said Sam, the watch officer behind the front desk, as Lei pushed through the aging glass doors of the South Hilo Police Station.

“Hey babe, yourself.”

Sam chuckled and went back to his crossword puzzle as she passed the second glass door into the bull pen and went straight back into the lab, where Pono waited at one of the workstations. She handed him the note and he sprayed it with ninhydrin.

“Gotta let it set for at least 12 hours, but usually something pops right away.” He slid the paper under the portable arc lamp but nothing fluoresced. “No dice. Let’s come back and check at the end of the day.”

“I expected as much. Damn.”

“Well, let’s open a case for you. In case this isn’t the last we hear from this kook.”

“It better be.”

Lei signed the complaint Pono had filled out under Harrassment/Stalking. They were late for the morning’s briefing and hurried back to the conference room, where Stevens and Ito were clipping pictures of the girls from Mohuli`i Pond onto the whiteboard on the back wall. Lieutenant Ohale had already taken up a stance behind the battered lectern, his broad build dwarfing it. She and Pono slipped into empty molded plastic chairs, trying to be unobtrusive, but Lei felt Ito’s stare-down from the corner of the room. The rest of the current shift officers were already seated.

“Today’s priority is the Mohuli` case. We have a few more facts since yesterday.” The Lieutenant shuffled through some notes. “The blonde girl is identified as Kelly Andrade, aged fifteen, the brunette is Haunani Pohakoa, aged sixteen. Approximate time of death is sometime late evening on Tuesday; the girls were discovered Wednesday 10:00 a.m. Preliminary tox screens came back positive for Rohypnol. There was sexual activity prior to drowning but little premortem bruising.”

He looked up, his deep brown eyes intense, ridiculously tiny reading glasses perched on his wide nose. “I can’t stand this sick shit happening in my town. Detectives Stevens and Ito are primary on the case; I’m requesting more backup from Hilo District. Stevens will be asking for additional support from you as it’s needed. Detective Stevens?”

Stevens came up and took the lectern. “Our top priority is interviewing the girls’ parents. In fact, early this morning we heard from Kelly Andrade’s parents who called in to report her missing. Ito and I did a quick trip to the house to inform them. Mother was too upset to talk so we set up an interview for this afternoon.” He looked down at his notes. “We haven’t talked to Haunani’s parents yet and we need a female officer. Texeira? Can you come do the interview with me?”

Lei went rigid, eagerness warring with apprehension, but her voice was steady as she answered.

“Of course.”

Chapter 5

Lei and Stevens got into the unmarked Bronco he drove. Lei’s stomach cramped around the granola bar she’d eaten on the way into the station, and with a panicky feeling she realized she’d forgotten the tiny cowrie shell. She’d only been on one death notification before and it honestly wasn’t something she’d ever wanted to do again.

“So you wanted a female officer-why?”

Stevens’ jaw bunched as he turned the key and the Bronco roared into life. The vehicle smelled of Mohuli`i Pond. Lei glanced into the backseat and saw muddy boots on a pile of plastic evidence bags from yesterday’s crime scene.

“Kelly’s mom, Stacie, did a lot of screaming, ran into the bathroom and took a big handful of sleeping pills. Not enough to send her to Emergency for stomach pumping, but I’m doubting she’s going to make it into the station this afternoon for the interview. The stepdad, James Reynolds, was cool as a cucumber. Blamed us for upsetting her.” He shook his head. “Ito’s a good partner but he just froze up when it got emotional, left the room. I was thinking if you talked to Haunani’s mom, you know, woman to woman, it might help us get a little more out of them.”

“Not sure why you thought I’d be any better at this than Ito.” Lei gave a short laugh.

“You said you wanted to help. This is all I got right now.”

“Yeah, okay. Thanks for giving me a shot.”

She looked out the mud-speckled window into morning light that failed to brighten the shabby low-income neighborhood they’d entered. Tiny tin-roofed cottages leaned into each other, draped in flapping laundry, lawns decorated with decrepit cars and scratching chickens.

Stevens peered over at the navigator bolted onto the dash. “This is it.”

They pulled onto a scrap of grass in front of a dwelling made of multicolored plywood shaded by a rusting tin roof. A broken Big Wheel leaned against a cement stoop where a thin brown woman sat, wreathed in cigarette smoke that did little to soften the haggard planes of her face. A flagrantly blooming plumeria tree shaded the doorway above her, and as Lei got out, a single pinwheel blossom spiraled down and landed on long black hair that reminded her of Haunani like a punch to the gut.

She hung back as Stevens approached, holding his shield up.

“Hi there. Nani Pohakoa?” His tongue still tripped over the multiple vowels of the musical language.

“I’m Nani. Who you stay?” A smoker’s voice, gravelly and suspicious.

“I’m Detective Stevens and this is Officer Texeira from South Hilo Police Department.”

“What she done? Stupid girl stay gone two days now.”

A long pause. Stevens glanced at Lei, signaling her. She stepped forward, lowered her voice. “We need to speak to you privately, Ms. Pohakoa. Can we come inside?”

Dark eyes peered at her through a rheumy film. The woman’s bony arms gestured to a couple of frayed beach chairs leaning against the wall.

“We talk here. Nowhere for sit inside.”

Lei and Stevens brought the chairs over, sat on them gingerly. The older woman dropped the cigarette butt into a jar of water at her feet, lit another one with hands that fumbled with the red Bic lighter. She took several drags and her eyes skittered away.

“Where’s Haunani’s father?”

Shrug. More drags on the cigarette. “Haven’t seen the fucka in years.”

“Well. I’m sorry fo’ say we get bad news,” Lei said in pidgin. She steadied her voice. “Haunani stay make. She’s dead.”

No reaction. Nani looked blankly out into space, took another drag off the the cigarette, but now her hand shook as if with an ague. Lei reached over and captured the one holding the lighter in both of hers. Stevens shot her a quick glance.

“I’m sorry.”

Nani’s hand felt like a bundle of sticks. The woman’s throat worked as she swallowed. “How?”

“She was drowned.”

“I told her a hundred times never go swimming by the rivermouth but she never listen. She always get one hard head, that girl.”

“It wasn’t accidental.” Stevens’ low voice sawed across the tension.

Another long pause.

Moving faster than she could have believed, Nani brought the lit cigarette down on the back of Lei’s hand, spitting into her face. Nani’s black eyes were empty pits of wild as she clawed at Lei, screaming incoherent curses.

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