and Mystery, Crime Fiction Writer
THIS is amazing. Watch the fast and slow moving lava. It's like watching pizza slices being pulled and the gooey cheese... seriously good :)
I don’t appreciate Madam Pele’s e komo mai—welcome home present to me.
She and I have always had an adversarial relationship.
Pono Kaihale and I are looking at a cordoned off section in a fresh lava flow area. The park rangers look green around the gills, and it’s creeping me out too. There are some things you never get used to.
Stuck in the lava flow is what’s left of a body with a grim expression on his face.
Despite what they say—death doesn’t always take us peacefully. People often look startled or surprised, not relaxed, when they cut the cord and depart this earth.
The lava is still cooling and will be for days. But it has cooled enough to embed the body from the waist down, like he’s just sitting there, enjoying the view of the turquoise waters beyond the lava beds. Poor bastard.
One of the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park rangers, Alex Melelina found him this morning as sunrise touched the East Coast of the Big Island of Hawai’i. We took this one because the Pahoa cops have their hands full with a local situation that needs all hands on deck.
Did he fall in and couldn’t get up? Drunk? High? Incapacitated in some way? I shut my mind down to cope with the grisly scenario it’s playing out, and until we had more facts it’s anyone’s guess.
The lava cooling around him is not very deep and it’s pahoehoe, the ropey slower kind that meanders and looks like pulled taffy or congealing black blood—depending on your point of view. The sharp, fast moving flows and the stuff that exploded from volcanoes with discontinuous layers of clinkers tended to be a’a. So named by Hawaiians because when you walk over it barefoot, you go ah, ah. It’s sharp, crunchy looking, and unpleasant.
“Something doesn’t feel right,” I say to Pono.
“Agreed,” he says, his face grimly set.
“Let’s treat this like a crime scene, just in case. How fast was she moving last night?” I ask Alex Melelina.
“A team were working down here until 11:45 p.m. taking samples because she was moving in a channel and at a reasonably fast clip. Covering at least 1500 feet an hour.”
“Okay. At least that might give us a timeframe.”
Another vehicle pulls up and a man and woman who look like tourists jump out, both carrying backpacks. Or they could be reporters. I inwardly sigh. She strides up the gravel trail wearing a long aloha wear dress, covered in large green and hot pink hibiscus, pink slippahs, and a fresh, neon pink plumeria pinned behind her ear. The tall, thin part-Japanese man sports a hefty, professional looking camera. How the hell did they get through?
Her curves catch my eye, and long, fiery red hair blows in the wind coming off the ocean. Although I appreciate the change of view, they shouldn’t be down here.
I go down to ward them off.
Holding up my shiny, new gold badge, I say, “You can’t come up here. Police business.”
She high fives my badge like she’s toasting me with a drink. “Cheers! Hib O’Neal, acting ME.” And steps around me.
Pono snorts with suppressed laughter beside me.
“Hibby, Kyle, good to see you. It’s been a while. How are you doing?” He hugs her tightly and shakes her assistant’s hand.
“Pono! Great to see you. Yeah, getting there. It takes a bit. How are Tiare and the kids?” she asks warmly.
The genuine caring in Pono’s voice tells me he knows her personally and something happened to her for that concern? I shelve the thought to ask him later.
“My apologies, ma’am,” I say.
“Don’t ma’am me. I’m not that old—yet.” She snorts. “Although it’s the middle of the night, I certainly feel it. This is not an hour any sane person should be awake.” She groans.
Pono shoots me a look over his Oakley’s and grins.
“Give me some warning before I make a dick of myself, first day back on the job, will you?” I mutter under my breath.
“You’ll get used to her. Don’t let appearances fool you. We’re lucky to have her as backup when Ben Mendip’s away.”
Hibby slowly pulls her hair back into a thick braid but the plumeria stays in place. She probably has it speared on a toothpick so it will sit behind her ear.
Watching her take her time doing her hair, I realize she’s actually standing back and observing the scene. Keen, intelligent eyes take it all in and my respect for her goes up a few notches. When she laces up pink combat boots and steps into her protective gear, a smile splits my face. She’s around my age, possibly a little older. For a redhead, she has remarkably smooth skin but she doesn’t strike me as a woman who would do plastic surgery.
“Right. How are we going to get out there?” she asks. “Can we walk on it yet?”
“It’s probably still a bit soft but Aolani is bringing down some metal ramps we can use. She should be here soon,” says Alex.
While we’re waiting for the ramps, I stand with my hands on my hips and look around.
“What’s this guy doing here?” I ask, more to myself than anyone else.
“Drunk or high maybe. Lay down and woke up dead.” Pono startles me. I’m used to working by myself. I’ll have to get used to working with a partner again.
“Bad way to start the day,” I murmur.
“The worst,” agrees Pono.
“How did he get here? It’s a good ninety-minutes’ walk from the northern end of Kalapana if you’re fit. And in the dark, it would have possibly taken longer.”
“It is a long walk. But not if you’re under the influence,” says Pono.
There isn’t a discarded bicycle anywhere, so he probably hadn’t cycled out here. I wonder if there’s a vehicle at the Kalapana parking lot end. No sign of a flashlight or empty drink container anywhere but Pele could have swallowed that up as she started her fiery descent down the slope. I couldn’t see him approaching from the Chain of Craters Road end either.
“Is Chain of Craters still closed?”
“Yeah. There’s a buildup of sulfur dioxide in the area, and the park service has cordoned it off. There’s also the ocean entry.”
We trek down to the water’s edge. The scraggly young coconuts planted by local people to regreen this part of the Puna coast are laid over with the stiff off-shore breeze, already making itself known. It’s blowing vog—a mixture of volcanic dust and fallout, plus fog—around to the Kona side. They won’t appreciate that much. It makes the coastline hazy but at least we all know when Pele isn’t happy. You don’t have to guess.
We crunch our way over the black sand beach this side of the island is known for. The ocean’s a dark turquoise, and the surf pounding on the shore is the only sound out here, other than the muted, somber voices of the waiting personnel. The steam and ash plume from Pele rises in a tall column from the shoreline. Hot molten lava, like giant globs in a lava lamp, hit the sea as it rushes through a lava tube and explodes into tiny fragments of black glass that make up the black sand beaches. On the sunny Kona side, they’re all creamy and pristine looking—what you’d expect from the tropics.
This wet, dark, wild side of the island has an untamed energy to it that either repels or invites people. Pele’s energy and power is felt everywhere.
She throws up black sand and even green olivine in her temper tantrums. Although everyone has to let off steam somehow, and she is a commanding woman. You don’t grow up here in the islands, especially this one, without profound respect for the spirit and power of Pele—our fire goddess who lives in the Kilauea caldera at Volcano.
The ocean is rough with the surge of waves and hot lava being dumped into the cool water but there’s no sign of any water craft. If it wasn’t secured properly, it could have easily drifted by now or caught fire and sunk.
“Maybe get the coast guard to do a search for any water craft on the loose.”
The most likely way he’d gotten out here was by the gravel track from Kalapana. Too many people have trekked over it by now, and there would have been hundreds of footprints from the previous days viewing of the lava flow. But not many vehicles if we were lucky.
Pono’s obviously having the same thought processes as me because he says, “Shame about the tire tracks here, but we can at least take casts and eliminate the vehicles here now and anyone who came down last night like the park rangers.”
“Sounds good.” I run my hand over my long hair whipping around in the wind, feeling the pressure already building. So many things to think about but this could turn out to be a simple death by misadventure. My gut tells me it’s not, though.
I try to recall if I saw any vehicles as we came in. Then radio patrol at the parking lot end and ask them to run a check on any vehicles in the vicinity. Maybe we’ll find his car sitting down there.
Alex, the tall, trim Hawaiian ranger, still crisp in his park uniform is talking to someone on the shortwave, no cell service out here. When he finishes, he says, “The geologists confirm they were up here from about 10:10 p.m. last night until 11:32 p.m.”
“That’s pretty precise.”
“They were recording the flow, so the measurements and recordings were all noted minutely.”
“Okay, makes sense. So at least we know he was probably here after that.”
“They also took a lot of photographs, so we should be able to get an accurate picture up until that time where Pele had reached. Maybe with their help, we can pin down their timing on the lava flow,” says Alex.
“Right. After we get done here, we’ll go up to Volcano and start having a look. There won’t be much more we can do down here.”
Pono runs his finger over his moustache laden lip again and seems to be avoiding our dead spectator.
The metal ramps and a geologist arrive. We heave the car repair type ramps into place and watch as they sink into the still soft, warm lava. But they stop short of disappearing. Suited up, Hibby and Kyle walk out on each one and go to work. They’ve obviously worked together for a while, they’re a well-oiled unit—making it look seamless in a tough environment to work in.
“Anything you can tell us at this stage?” I ask Hibby.
“You know the drill, Detective… Sergeant?” She takes a guess at my rank, raising her eyebrows.
“Sorry, Reef Kahili.”
“Your parents either hated you or you’re Scott Kahili’s son?”
I forget how small this island really is, even though, the Big Island is aptly named as the biggest in the Hawaiian chain. There are so many interconnecting paths here between people’s lives. Karinthy’s “Six Degrees of Separation” might not hold up in Hawai’i. It was probably more like two or three. I wonder how she knows Dad. Although as a long time pro surfer, he’s involved in a lot of community events.
“Yep, Scott’s my dad.”
“He’s a good man. We’ve done some Moana projects with his team. You look like him.” She pauses. “But you’ve had a harder life, been involved in too much crap.”
Her frank assessment startles me but she’s nailed it.
“How do you know?” I ask without thinking.
“It’s in your eyes. They tell us the talk story of the soul when words are not enough.”
We lock gazes, and I nod as a frisson of understanding passes between us.
Damn. She’s interesting and I’d surprised myself by surreptitiously checking for a wedding band before she’d slipped on her latex gloves. Although not everyone wears one. But she probably would. Her hands are covered in various gold and silver rings. Thin gold bands of Hawaiian plumeria on both little fingers and her right-hand ring finger with a thicker plumeria ring, but nothing on her wedding band finger.
She has a soft island accent but no Polynesian coloring. That doesn’t mean she isn’t a local, or kama’aina—an off islander that’s lived here a long time and is considered part of the island now.
Hibby goes back to her grisly task, and I try to tamp the adrenaline surge rolling through my system.
If this wasn’t an accident, he’d probably been placed in Pele’s path with the hope she’d do her thing and roll right over him. But the heat had contracted the muscles and jerked his body into its macabre upright position.
The smell of roasted flesh is surprisingly sweet but I might not be too keen to attend a family luau for a while. His tank top is charred and shriveled. The ink on his body—what’s left of it—will at least help with identification I hope.
The lack of gear around him suggests this isn’t just some unlucky tourist who ignored the yellow markers the park rangers put down for the safe trails on the lava flows still cooling. They and the geologists test out here every day when there’s a fresh flow.
You can’t always tell when you’re standing on top of an active lava flow tube, although the convection heat radiating off it will give you a good idea. As the hot magma flows, it slowly cools on the outside and forms a crust or tube over the still flowing river of molten rock. But stand in the wrong spot and put your foot through it—you’re toast. Literally. The sides are still malleable and brittle, it’s easy enough to fall through one.
Most people who come to see the lava—even the ignorant ones—have at least a water bottle and a flashlight with them. But they could be buried under everything.
There’s a chance he’d fallen and been engulfed by the lava but somehow, I don’t get that feeling. At 1200 degrees with basalt lava, it would have been instant death, not this half-ass attempt at annihilation. Pele looks like she changed her mind here. I wonder if she was on a different course originally? The lava flow peters out into a thinner layer and stops, not reaching all the way to the sea.
This guy looks like a local too, so he should have been well aware of what and what not to do around an active flow.
* * * *
Driving back to the entry at Kalapana, as always, I wonder why people choose to live here. Punatics. A fairly accurate name for the folks who like to live down here in this godforsaken part of the BI where land is cheap and isolated in the ever-increasing lava fields of the Puna Coast.
I like my own space and isolation too, but this is too unforgiving for me.
A few houses stand intact, with no means to access them. Pele spared them but didn’t do the homeowners any real favors. The insurance companies don’t pay out for that type of thing. The house is still technically livable. Just because you can’t access it, wasn’t their concern. People had learned to get out what they could and let their houses burn.
Pono and I head back through the small town of Pahoa with its false front western-style buildings and up onto the main highway to Volcano.
“What’s the story with Hibby?” I ask as casually as I can.
“Local girl, she was married to one of our own, Ray Kyoto. He was a vice detective, got himself shot in a drug bust that went wrong.”
“Shit.” I flick a glance at him.
“Yeah. It got real ugly after he died, and she was caught in the middle of it. My wife Tiare and her are friends, so we probably know more than most. But he was playing around on her, and there were rumors that he was on the take. Hibby. She’s a nice woman. But Ray wasn’t a good guy.”
“In what way?”
“Hard to explain. He just always seemed sly to me, like he was hiding things. You never really felt like you got to know him. Just the pieces Ray wanted you to see. I didn’t like him. Tiare thinks the initial attraction for Hibby to him was his intelligence and complexities. She used to work as a psychologist, so maybe that makes sense.”
“Yeah, she had her own practice but when Ray died, she couldn’t cope and closed it down. Tiare and me helped her a lot. My wife’s a midwife, and well, you know how it works here. She knows Ben Mendip and when he was looking for an assistant ME.—Tiare thought of Hibby. It seems to have gotten her back on her feet. It was touch and go there for a while.”
Pono lapses into silence, answering a text on his cell phone, and I get to think about the intelligent, interesting woman I met this morning.
It’s an easy thirty-minute drive once we’re on the main highway down to Volcano. Most of the BI is countryside. We only have two big towns, and lots of smaller ones dotted all over the island. And while Pele has added a lot of lava over the years, on this wet side of the island, it’s lush and green. Wild, white orchids grow by the roadside, flowering ginger of every variety spread across the landscape, verdant ferns, dense tropical trees, and not a lot of traffic.
I thought I’d miss some of the hustle and bustle of LA but from the moment I stepped off the plane at Hilo, I’d sunk back into my island roots.
We drive past one of my favorite places to spend money—the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, then make the turn into Volcano Village off the highway.
“I’m just going to stop at Kilauea General and see what the bakery has, okay?”
“Sure,” says Pono.
Tucked in on top of an active volcano, this village is like a fairyland. Rustic wooden houses that blend in, with high ceilings and lots of glass are nestled into the wet, intimate, cozy, and jungle-like village. Things grow faster than you can chop them back—if you can be bothered. The whole area looks like the wild untamed West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Giant hapu’u tree ferns, sacred 'ōhi'a trees with their red spiky lehua blossoms, similar to the pohutakawa, wild ginger, and anthuriums cover every inch of ground.
This village always pulls my imagination. Every store here has a little bit of old Hawai’i nostalgia for me. I love the Volcano “upper store” with its wide veranda and buckets of locally grown, freshly cut, pure green, red, or white anthuriums with their solid yellow stamen, and orchids to take home. The old, wooden, double screen doors clang shut behind you and it’s like stepping back in time.
“Is it Wednesday?” I ask him.
“Yeah…” he says slowly, giving me his over the top Oakley’s look again.
“Good. I hope they still do baking today.”
And I pull into the “lower store” of Kilauea with its huge mural of the verdant Volcano landscape and Madam Pele letting her hair down the mountainside. I make a beeline for the bakery section. If I remember rightly, these guys always used to make the best mac bars and ginger cookies.
“You want a coffee or a cookie?” I say as we walk in.
“Just a coffee, thanks.”
“Just a regular is fine.”
“Yeah.” He looks at me like I’m being weird.
I finally decide what I want. “I’ll have a Pure Kona cappuccino, dry, with a shot of mac nut syrup, please. And um...half a dozen mac bars, and a dozen ginger cookies.”
“That’s pretty fancy and rich,” says Pono.
Now I give him a weird look. “We grow some of the best coffee in the world on the island. Are you really giving me a hard time about drinking it?” I ask him incredulously.
“You’re an old school, purist coffee drinker, aren’t you?” I say.
He just laughs, and I grab my things to go.
Back in the truck, we head up the road to the park entrance. The Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park’s impressive stone gateway and sign welcomes us. But the surly ranger manning the fee station is lacking in aloha to say the least.
I buzz down the window, and Pono leans over me, “Clifford.”
“Heard you were coming up,” says the stony-faced ranger.
I flick a glance at Pono, and he gives me a tight smile.
“Cliff, this is Detective Reef Kahili. Just started with us today, local boy.”
He nods, shaking my hand briskly. “Go on down to the observatory headquarters.” He indicates with his chin. “It’s all set up for you.”
I give him an equally brisk “fuck you” shaka and we drive on.
“Last name of Kyoto. Any relation to Ray?” I ask.
“Yep. His brother. There’s another one too, Terence. The three musketeers.” Pono grimaces.
“Fantastic.” I sigh. “Okay, point me in the right direction. It’s round to the right, yeah.”
~ A Lei Crime Kindle World Series in association with Toby Neal
Koko ~ Reef's cat
Anatonio Te Maioha
~ My muse for
Reef's cat Koko
Mahalo!!! ~ a big thanks to eppixadventures.com for these AMAZING videos of Pele letting her hair down. :) Just incredible. The slow flows are as fascinating as the fast ones. Watch the second one for a slow one... Go and check out the other amazing videos they have. MESMERIZING.
Humphrey the gecko
who turns up for his
papaya breakfast most mornings.
Hibby always wear a plumeria
bloom behind her ear
Tiny Ni'ihau shells Reef wears
from his grandmother
A world of drugs, deceit, and death awaits in paradise...
After a near death experience, and burned out from working undercover vice, Detective Reef Kahili returns home to the Big Island of Hawai’i to mend his heart, and heal. But the first day on the job, he has to investigate the charred remains of the partially buried body in Madame Pele’s lava flow. He's instantly thrust back into the world he tried to leave behind.
When he meets Hibby O’Neal, the mysterious assistant M.E, he’s intrigued by her. Is there any truth in the rumors flying around the department about her and her late husband?
The closer they come to the truth, the more things heat up on the island as deeper, more sinister layers of deceit are uncovered.
Integrity and honesty drives Reef, it’s why he became a cop but now that’s also in question. Caught between solving a crime and his attraction for the enigmatic M.E., Reef wonders who to trust. Have his instincts let him down over Hibby?
A Lei Crime Kindle World Novella by J. M. Calverley, in association with the Lei Crime Series by Toby Neal
Cover Art by Lucee Lovett
Hibby O'Neal looks
like Tina Louise