Mana, page 1
Boson Books by John A. Broussard
Death and Near Death
Dead and Gone
Dead Before a Rival
Dear Diary, I’m in Love
Expect the Unexpected
Mayhem, Mystery and Murder
Murder at Milltown Junior College
No Time for Death
The Yoshinobu Mysteries: Volume I
The Yoshinobu Mysteries: Volume II
a mystery by
John A. Broussard
Published by Boson Books
3905 Meadow Field Lane
Raleigh, NC 27606
An imprint of C&M Online Media Inc.
© Copyright 2004 John A. Broussard
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C&M Online Media Inc.
3905 Meadow Field Lane
Raleigh, NC 27606
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Boson Books by John A. Broussard
The breeze was onshore. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to keep the volcanic haze, the “vog,” away from the Angela C. From here, a hundred yards from the fresh lava, it was hard to believe that less than a week before, the black rock had been a red-orange molten stream. Back then it had been flowing into the ocean, sending fountains of steam dozens of meters into the air, accompanied by the crash and crackle of fire doing combat with its arch enemy, water.
Carlo Carlton pointed a dark finger at a sharp outcrop almost directly opposite them on the shore and said to his two passengers, “There’s Noenoe Point. It’s just to the left of that. From what I can make out, the lava built up along there, and the weight of it broke through into an old underground tube.”
Bill Wu, the vulcanologist on the boat, shook his head as he worked his way into his wet suit. “More likely it’s that 5.4 we had last month. A quake that size could easily have shaken away some debris from the mouth of an old tube. Or maybe the explosion of the hot lava hitting the water just broke up some barriers in front of the tube mouth. We might be able to tell what happened when we get down there.”
Carlo grinned. “Whatever caused it, we’ve got a new cave to explore.”
That was what Bill Wu had announced to Lehua that morning. “A new cave to explore.” Bill was one of the dozen or so vulcanologists who had been watching over Kilauea’s long years of eruption. For him, each new fissure, each new flow, every rumble of Hawai’i’s active volcanoes was the lure of drama added to the excitement of science. So, when Carlo called to tell him about Madm Pele’s latest accomplishment, he knew this was his chance to be the first to see what the volcano had uncovered. The next day he was on the Angela C., cruising south from Hilo toward the new find.
While Carlo, Lehua and Bill finished helping each other on with their gear, Carlo’s hired hand dropped a sea anchor. He then heaved the float with the brightly colored diver’s flag over the side and watched the trio, one by one, flop backwards, flippers disappearing beneath the shallow chop of the blue-green water.
Carlo led the way. He had explained how, early the previous day, he had found the mouth to the cave but had been running low on air and had left the exploration of it for today. Now, unerringly, he skirted a frozen peak of basalt, stirred up a colorful school of butterfly fish, dropped twenty feet further, down to the ocean floor, and pointed to a jagged opening almost hidden by some overhanging rock. Smiling behind his mask, he waved Bill on and took up the rear as the other two paddled slowly toward the hole over a bed of pillow lava.
Before entering, Bill explored the opening. A shake of his head indicated he had come up with no explanation for the sudden appearance of the cave’s entrance.
The third member of the group, Lehua Watanabe, had grown up on the Big Island, or rather she had grown up next to it, since her earliest and fondest memories were of the water and surf she had virtually lived in while doing that growing. Even though she thought of the warm ocean as a familiar friend, she knew it always held the threat of death for the unwary, especially where its waters touched the shore.
Opihi pickers, one moment safe and secure while hunting for the small mollusks, could in the next moment be swept out to sea by that one unexpected wave. Surfers, steering for the open beach, could suddenly be slammed onto rocks by a cross swell. Swimmers, tantalizingly close to the elusive shore, could find themselves pulled out to sea and exhausted by the undertow. For Lehua, the dangers of the ocean, too close to the land, made themselves most clearly felt whenever she swam into one of these tubes scattered along the rocky coast of Hawai’i’s newest island.
The prickle of fear added to the thrill of adventure. Ahead, she could see Bill’s light, and she watched him rising up inside what now promised to be one of the largest underwater caves she had ever been in. Following him, she broke to the surface and paddled along in the large pool. He had already removed his mouthpiece, was pointing to the ceiling some thirty feet above them, and saying, “Fantastic!” His voice reverberated in the peculiar way sounds did in these caves half-filled with water. Bouncing off the rock walls and ceiling, the returning voices were muffled by the liquid floor.
Carlo emerged next to them, and their lights darted up and down the sides of the cavern. “Looks like a big one,” he said. “Most of the sea caves I’ve been in don’t go back more than a few yards.”
Bill nodded his head toward the distance. “Yeah. This one sure looks different. Up there, it may be a dry tunnel.” It was—almost. The tube continued on, sloping slightly upward, its floor emerging from the pool. A slender stream flowed along the floor, emerging from the darkness beyond. Finding firm footing, they waded to where the underground creek joined the ocean.
Carlo tasted the water as Bill and Lehua sat at the poolside removing their flippers. “Fresh,” was his verdict. “Not a sign of salt.”
Lehua scanned the length of the tunnel with her light. “I can’t see the end of the tube. Maybe it goes clear up to the top of Kilauea.”
“More likely to an old vent in the southeast rift zone,” Bill said, pointing up at the roof of the tube. “This one’s an old one and a deep one. There are no tree roots or anything else to indicate we’re within yards of the top.”
Once free of their footgear, the three started up the gentle slope, walking along the edge of the stream. Bill unstrapped a small rock hammer and began to break off chunks from an outcrop in the wall. “We know the new flow is covering eighteen-twenty-three lava. A few samples should tell us whether this is the twenty-three flow or an earlier one.”
While Bill was collecting his samples and Carlo explored ahead, Lehua spotted a crack in the wall, wide enough to accommodate her slight figure. As she entered, Bill shouted an unnecessary warning. “Don’t go too far! If you get hurt, we’ll have a tough time getting you out of there.”
Lehua smiled to herself at Bill’s concern, then peered into the recesses of the small cave ending just a few yards beyond the opening.
“Bill!” she shouted. “Look at this.”
Bill peered in, “What’ve you got?”
“That’s what I was going to ask you.”
“Looks like some sort of plastic wrapping, but that doesn’t make sense. Can we get it through the opening? Carlo may know what it is.” Their companion was just returning as they emerged with the object.
“The tube does look like it goes on forever,” he said, then seeing their find, added without being asked, “Whale bladder.”
“Whale bladder?” Lehua asked.
Carlo nodded. “The old Hawaiians used them for containers. See?” He pointed to a knot at one end. “Whoever made this took a chunk, blew air into it, then tied up the loose end. Guess they intended to make a float out of it.”
Bill lifted the unwieldy item, shaking it as he did so. “There’s something solid inside.”
Carlo reached for his fish knife, saying, “Let’s open it up and see what’s in it.”
Lehua shook her head. “No. Let’s get it to the surface first. Whoever put that thing together must have wanted to keep the contents dry.”
Carlo laughed. “How are we gonna do that? There’s so much buoyancy to that thing, we’ll never be able to go down and out through the entrance with it.”
“Let’s give it a try first, before we give up.”
Carlo checked his watch. “We still have some time, you know.”
“I want to see what’s inside,” Lehua said, “and it may take some time to wrestle this thing out of here. Let’s try it now.”
Bill and Carlo looked at each other, shrugged and smiled at Lehua’s impatience.
“OK. Let’s go,” Bill said. “I’ve got my samples, and Lehua has her find. If worse comes to worst, we can slit that thing and get it up that way. Now we know we can breathe down here, we can figure on a lot of time exploring on our next trip. We’ll bring walking shoes, extra batteries, maybe some climbing gear. There’s no telling what’s up there.” He nodded toward the darkness of the tube’s interior.
Lehua was still examining the whale bladder. “Maybe we can all three throw an arm over it and swim down toward the entrance.”
“I’ve got a better idea,” Carlo said, unstrapping some looped cord from his waist belt. “I’ll tie this on the knot and we’ll pull it through the entrance. I betcha that’ll work.”
He was right. Any attempt to wrestle the buoyant float down to the narrow opening and out into the ocean would have been hopeless. With the cord in place, however, and with Lehua guiding the bladder and adding her weight to it, Carlo and Bill managed to pull it down and out with comparative ease, letting it then bob up to the surface. Later, on the boat, the three of them marveled over the contents.
* * *
Lehua and Bill had met at a faculty party almost a year earlier. They had been attracted to each other from the outset, though their explanations for the attraction differed sharply. “I caught you on the bounce,” Lehua insisted. It had been quite a bounce. The woman Bill had married back in graduate school had changed, but even the acrimony of the divorce had barely dented his love for his childhood sweetheart. Perhaps it was the contrast of this small, deceptively fragile-looking Hawaiian/haole/Japanese to his tall and sturdy blonde ex-wife that caught and fixed his attention.
It was more than that. As he soon discovered, the personalities of these two women differed as much as their physical characteristics. Marcella, belying her appearance, had been dependent. The frail-looking Lehua, on the other hand, was strong willed to the point of stubbornness, and she kept a jealous guard over her independence. Where Marcella had been a manipulator, Lehua’s directness had more than once been a source of grief for her, but never of regret.
Bill’s explanation for why Lehua had taken to him was less complex. “That nebbish you came to the party with would have made anyone look good by comparison.” The “nebbish” had been a colleague in Bill’s own department who, soon after the night of the party, had become involved in a scandal surrounding the use of government research money for personal purposes.
Lehua had grinned at Bill’s explanation. “I have to admit you did look pretty good by contrast, but he was hardly a regular date. He was just my excuse for getting to know some of the faculty, to see how the other half lives, and I told him as much. That’s how an investigative reporter gets leads, you know, by just circulating around. I already had some suspicions about what was going on behind the scenes, but the story broke before I could get a handle on it.”
“So you started going out with me, just to pump me about what was going on.”
“I had something like that in mind, but you managed to distract my attention. If you still have any memories of that evening, you’ll recall I never once asked you about grants or what happened to them.”
Lehua did not elaborate on how much Bill’s physical appearance had contributed to her attraction to him. He was tall for a Chinese, and she came only to his shoulder, a shoulder giving little hint of its underlying strength. It was only later in their relationship, when he had invited her along to his Kung Fu club, that she fully appreciated how much speed and power his slender and smooth-muscled body disguised. Lehua admired athletic skills, since hers, other than excellent swimming abilities, were virtually nil.
For his part, Bill had to confess Lehua’s physical attractiveness was what had made him drift to her end of the room at the faculty soiree. Lehua told him she had inherited her Polynesian nose, with its low bridge and slightly flattened tip, from her mother, but her small and slender build had come down to her from Japanese ancestors on her father’s side of the family.
“Mom always said I got my hazel eyes from Grandma Kate. She was Scotch-Irish. But no one seems to want to take credit—or blame—for my hair.” Lehua was referring to her unruly thatch of black hair that was neither the long, resplendent, wavy shower of the native women pictured on Hawai’i post cards and travel brochures, nor the shiny silken halo that crowned most of her female Japanese friends. It had been a pleasant relief when she found her hair so easy to adapt to the “unmanageable” style which had become popular in recent years.
Whatever the chemistry drawing them together, the relationship had now weathered a few minor storms, and both parties had gone beyond the early stage of passionate infatuation, to that feeling of ease in each other’s company which presaged permanency.
* * *
Today, as the two sat on the deck of the boat contemplating the swollen whale bladder, their early encounter was the furthest thing from their minds. “Ready to open it up?” Carlo asked, joining them around the prize.
“OK,” Lehua replied, “but go easy on the packaging.
“Couldn’t that bladder be dated, Bill?”
“I doubt it. Relatively recent organic matter doesn’t lend itself especially well to being dated, but I’ll see if I can find someone at the university who can make an educated estimate.”
Carlo carefully cut the knot and opened the bladder, only to find another inflated one inside. A second cut produced a third bladder.
“Whoever packaged this thing sure wanted to be sure it was safe,” Lehua observed, as Carlo’s knife slipped into the third wrapping. The three of them almost bumped heads when Carlo reached in and removed a piece of flat brown wood, some ten to twelve inches across and roughly square in shape. One side was smooth and blank, the other was covered with incised markings.
“They looks like some kind of petroglyphs,” Lehua said, holding the wood so the morning sunlight heightened the contrast of the carved figures against the lighter background. Maybe there are more down there.” The tone of her voice expressed her excit
Carlo looked up at a massive thunderhead on the eastern horizon. “If there are, they’re gonna have to wait for another day. The forecast was for squalls, and it looks like a good-sized one in the making. Time to haul ass, like now!”
The boat soon rose to planing speed and, after they had settled down into canvas chairs on the rear deck, Lehua continued to examine the strange piece of wood. “Maybe Tessa could figure out what it is.”
“Tessa Kaholakula?” Bill asked. “She’s just a historian.”
Lehua laughed. “Just a historian? So you figure unless someone’s a laboratory scientist, they aren’t worth consulting?”
Bill protested. “That’s not what I meant. It’s just that historians only deal with written history. My guess is this thing goes back to pre-Captain-Cook days.”
“Tessa also specializes in Polynesian culture and mythology. If she can’t figure out what this is, she probably can point me toward someone who can. It’s worth a try.”
“You know Lehua, that’s your favorite statement . . . ‘It’s worth a try.’”
“Just think how dull it would be to be around someone who didn’t have a spirit of adventure.”
“OK. You concentrate on that chunk of wood. I’m going to get back into that cave as soon as possible. Think the weather’ll clear in the next two days, Carlo?”
“Why two days?”
“He’s off to West Africa,” Lehua explained. “There’s a group of vulcanolgists going there to pass judgment on one of those poisoned lakes that keeps erupting and killing people.”
Bill nodded. “I’ll be gone for a week. Can you keep anyone else from finding out about this tube in the meantime?”
“Lotsa luck! The Park Service is warning everyone away from here because of the lava flows. But you know how that goes. There’ll be boaters sneaking around to take pictures, and there are bound to be some divers along.”
“I’d sure like to take another look before anyone else goes banging around down there,” Bill said, “especially right around the entrance. I’m still stumped over what opened it up.”
by John A. Broussard have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes