Today's Reading

Koa assembled all the military and police personnel. "Here's the routine," he said. "Everybody will wear masks. The body is badly decomposed...the smell is god-awful." Koa pointed to Ron Woo, the pencil-thin police photographer. "I'll go in first with Ron. He'll get pictures. By then Lieutenant Zeigler should have the telecommunications hookup ready and the medical types can do their thing. When they're done, the crime scene team goes in. Everybody understand?" Koa paused, and when those around him nodded, he added, "Okay, let's do it."

Basa already had the ordnance techs sweeping for unexploded duds. They discussed manpower needs with Zeigler, and Koa asked Basa to take command of the search operation. "Tell 'em to be careful," Koa warned. "We've already got one body. We don't need another one."

Shizuo passed out surgical masks, and the military police illuminated generator-powered arc lamps. Once light flooded the underground cavern, Ron Woo and Koa donned masks and entered the cave. Bright flashes bounced off the walls of the ancient lava tube, giving a kind of strobe-light effect to the scene. Woo photographed the body from every angle, then calmly turned his camera on the stone implement, the stone chips, and the ancient fire ring. Koa always marveled that Ron could photograph the most grotesque of crime scenes without the slightest trace of revulsion.

By the time Koa and the photographer finished, Zeigler's MPs had strung coaxial video cabling from the communications van to a video camera in the cave. Shizuo entered the lava tube, wearing both a mask and a communications headset.

"Okay, Doc, you're the executive producer. Just tell me where to point the camera," the video technician announced.

Shizuo glared at the technician, who'd dared to call him Doc, and Koa thought the Japanese physician might blow a gasket. Then the baby doctor got control of himself. "First, pan the whole corpse so Dr. Cater can see the body in situ. Then point the camera where I point my left index finger. My left index finger." Shizuo held up his finger. "Understand, soldier?"

"Yes, sir." The technician slowly recorded the scene for the forensic pathologist two hundred miles away.

Shizuo spoke softly into his microphone, using clinical words to describe the corpse—blunt force trauma...lacerations. Koa moved away, giving the doctor room to work, so he heard only intermittent snatches. Shizuo examined the corpse, using his left index finger to direct the video camera at the legs, the trunk, the slashes across the chest, the battered hands, the mauled face, the empty eye socket, and the remaining eye.

The presence of men in white surgical masks, bright arc lamps, Shizuo's bag of medical instruments, wires trailing from Shizuo's headset, and the video camera all seemed like some desperate attempt to pump life back into the naked corpse spread-eagled on the floor of the rocky cavern. Koa had a momentary thought of Frankenstein at work in the bowels of his castle.

Shizuo inserted a thermometer, measuring the rectal temperature of the corpse. Using thick needles affixed to syringes, the physician drew a variety of body fluids, including blood and spinal fluid. When he dispassionately pierced the victim's remaining eyeball, Koa walked outside to check on the progress of the search.

When the old doctor finished, Lieutenant Zeigler's troops placed the victim into a black plastic body bag. Three soldiers carried the dead man to the military ambulance. The APC's engine roared, belching black diesel smoke into the breeze as it carried the corpse off toward the morgue in Hilo.

Koa joined the county physician. The old man had a wilted look, and Koa wondered whether the strain of the exam or injury to his authority had sapped him. "Well, Shizuo, what can you tell me?"

The little man straightened, but his military snap had vanished. He shook his head. "All this technology." He spat the word with nearly as much venom as he previously applied to the lieutenant. "Video cameras. Spectrometry. Vitreous fluid. Insects. That Army doctor wants samples of the larvae growing in the corpse. Bugs, for God's sake. It is not the way to do a medical examination."

"Shizuo, the crime scene is inside the PTA. We have to work with the military."

"He's flying over now. Wants to work through the night. Through the night!" Shizuo exclaimed. He shook his head. "What's the rush? It's a corpse. It'll still be a corpse in the morning."

Koa kept his face impassive, but inside he congratulated himself for bringing a competent medical examiner into the picture. Shizuo's complaining only strengthened his conviction that the baby doctor couldn't handle the case.

"Give me the preliminaries, Doctor."

"Well, there's not much. The body's been there for days. No way to establish time of death. Definitely male. Adult. Between twenty and forty-five, but probably closer to thirty. Deliberate effort to conceal the victim's identity—dental X-rays will be useless. Looks like a ritual to be some kind of whacko thing."

Koa had already figured that out for himself. "When will you have more?"

"A couple of days. The Army doctor wants tests. Fancy stuff I've never heard of, and that'll take time. The samples have to go to O'ahu. Waste of time and money, and you don't get quick results." Shizuo turned on his heel and walked away as Lieutenant Zeigler approached.

This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.

Monday, November 30th, we begin the book When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson.

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