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Seven A.M. the next day, found Donna Costello, Chief Death Investigator for the Honolulu Medical Examiner's Office, crawling like a snake down a tunnel barely higher than she was.
Investigator-in-training Ben "Tiny" Sugano scooted parallel several feet away. Honolulu PD waited outside for the verdict. Two hours earlier, HPD had received a call reporting a body in a cave, discovered by a couple of teenaged boys.
A death investigator was called to the scene of every death, often before the police, and usually determined if detectives should be summoned. HPD on the Leeward side had beaten Donna here, since Makaha was nearly an hour's drive west from her office.
By the time she and Tiny had arrived, HPD had already sent a reluctant officer in to confirm that there was, in fact, a body. A skeleton to be precise. Upon Donna and Tiny's arrival, the 'body' had escalated to become the victim of a sex crime because the shaken officer thought he had seen remnants of panties and some kind of bludgeon. He had not remained in the cave.
Donna pushed a flashlight ahead of her and scraped forward using her fingers and toes, feeling her jeans and tee shirt catch unpleasantly on the rough surface.
A haole from the Mainland, Donna Costello had been on the job two years--a long time, particularly for females in the field. A co-worker had committed suicide a few months ago, and even now, she pushed it aside, refusing to deal with it.
At the M.E.'s office, it had been a slow week in terms of bodies. A couple of homeless, a domestic death in Palama, and an infant with congenital birth defects.
Tiny stopped and his flashlight beam dipped."I can't go any farther. It's too small. My knees is killin' me."
Sweat poured off them in the confined space. Donna could see it dripping off his nose to form a dark blot on the reddish dirt, even as she felt it run from under her own arms and off her ribs. The air was close and unmoving. The cloying smell of the dirt itself was filled with what she was sure were droppings from various creatures. She shivered. Give her a dead human body any day over a bunch of rats or bugs. Perhaps that discomfort was what had given way to her eccentric hobby of 'insect death scenes', as she termed them. Some measure of control over creepy crawlies. She took dead insects--the large, Hawai'ian flying roaches were particularly good--and formed intricate crime scenes, complete with mini props and police tape.
"Come on, Tiny. Suck it in, brah, you can make it." Donna grunted and shoved herself forward a few inches. "I can see the larger cave. Look." She flashed her light over the walls of a roomy cavern.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you say." Tiny pushed, and with a scraping sound, slithered down a slight slope into the main cave. Donna followed, her light bouncing off the walls and floor to illuminate what she knew to be a piece of bone. She approached the bundle of dried human bones, desiccated, chipped, and cracked. They had been in the cave a long time. With its remnants of ti leaves and other signs, Donna knew this cave was no crime scene, but a sacred, ancient Hawai'ian burial site. The "panties" were a ragged pile of tattered kapa cloth, the "bludgeon", a worn-smooth, lava poi-pounder. An intimidating potential weapon to be sure, but this one had been used for nothing more sinister than pounding taro root into poi--the staple food of the ancient Hawai'ian people.
Donna sighed. The cave would remain untouched, except for a blessing ceremony that was performed any time a sacred place was defiled.
The confined space, the draining adrenaline that accompanied each new potential crime scene, and the musty, guano-laden air were getting to her. Donna beckoned to Tiny and they began their painstaking exit from the cave.
Neither of them noted the second body--only days old--that had been forced into a shadow-filled niche.