Today's Reading


Koa's cell phone sounded the "Star-Spangled Banner," the ringtone reserved for his boss. Chief Lannua inevitably picked the worst time to call, but he wasn't to be denied. "Detective Kane here," Koa answered.

"Where the hell are you? The budget meeting started fifteen minutes ago."

"I'm up at PMhakuloa at the scene of a grisly murder."

"And you didn't bother to let me know?"

During the mad dash to the helicopter he'd asked Piki, the youngest of his detectives, to tell the chief that he'd been called to a crime scene. For some reason the message hadn't gotten through, but Koa wasn't about to hang his junior out to dry. "Sorry, Chief, I should have remembered the meeting when the balloon went up."

"Your numbers are way out of line." The chief got to what was really bothering him.

This was the part of his job Koa hated the most...begging for money. He didn't have enough detectives, his men were underpaid, the department was light-years behind the mainland police in technology, and crime was getting worse, especially with the spread of illegal methamphetamine labs. Some days he wished he'd stayed in the Special Forces. At least they got budget priority. "I can justify every dollar, Chief. Let me get through here and I'll walk you through it line by line."

"Call me when you get back, but figure out how to cut seven percent, unless you want me to apply it across the board."

Ouch, Koa thought, 7 percent. He'd built in a 2 percent cushion, knowing the chief would cut, but seven was going to be a bitch and across-the-board was out of the question. Still, now wasn't the time to argue.

"Okay, Chief, I'll come up with a proposal."

"It better be good," the chief retorted before hanging up.

Like a car changing gears, Koa's mind shifted back to the crime scene. He needed a medical examiner—yet Hawai'i County had none. A county physician, Shizuo Hiro, doubled as coroner when he wasn't delivering babies, yet the seventy-five-year-old Japanese obstetrician wasn't up to this kind of a case. The old man could barely fend off the cross-examination of defense counsel in murder cases where bullet holes established the cause of death. God help them if they had to rely on Shizuo for forensic evidence in a case like this one.

Koa knew the importance of forensic evidence. He'd escaped punishment for his own crime only because he'd staged a suicide by hanging and no competent coroner had ever visited the scene or properly autopsied the body.

As he looked around, the white cross of the military ambulance caught his attention. That gave him an idea. He joined Lieutenant Zeigler. "Jerry, the county physician isn't up to a case like this. I need a competent medical examiner. Any chance of getting an Army doctor up here?"

"I don't know, but I can find out."

Koa was a pro at overcoming initial hesitation. "Get on it, will you?"

"Will do." The military police officer returned to his jeep and used the radio. He soon came back with an answer. "We don't have a doctor up here with mortuary experience, but Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Cater, the deputy scientific director of the Army Central Identification Laboratory on O'ahu, has a lot of forensic pathology experience. We could hook him in by phone, maybe even with video. Then he'll fly over to assist with the autopsy."

"Okay. Get the communications hookup ready and tell Cater to handle Shizuo with kid gloves. The old man's going to shit a brick over an outsider, especially a forensics expert, moving in on his turf." Koa formulated a plan as he spoke. "If necessary, I'm going to tell Shizuo that the Army insists on participating in the autopsy because the body's on federal property." Zeigler gave him a sly grin and hurried off.

Sergeant Basa stepped up as Zeigler left. Basa hailed from a large Portuguese family. They'd originally come to the islands to work as engineers on the sugar and pineapple plantations, but nowadays his nine brothers were into everything from shipping to cement manufacturing. Koa had once joined the sergeant at a Basa family reunion and met some of his colleague's 250 relatives. The whole family, Basa in the forefront, played sports with fearsome competitiveness.

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