Media West FAN Q Award winner 2007 - Hawaii - GEN
"Damn!" Sean slammed down the dead bedside clock in disgust. The clock had been losing minutes every day over the past week but he just never got around to replacing the batteries. Sean swore under his breath yet again and threw back the covers. He had no time for self-recrimination now but was certain he'd be paying for his lateness with the usual round of jibes from his colleagues.
He leaped out of bed, for once seeing an advantage in having moved out of the family home for there was no one standing between him and the bathroom, and he showered quickly, pulling clothes over a still damp body as he raced to his car. His hand was on the door handle, fingers curling around to open it when the stench and gore registered on his sight and mind.
"Jesus Christ!" he blasphemed in shock, taking an involuntary step back and feeling the revulsion rise as he eyed the entrails draped over the steering wheel.
Pulling out his cellphone, Sean called in to the station.
"Captain, I have...yes, I know I'm late but...Believe me, I've got a good excuse this time."
The other end of the phone went silent as Sean explained what he'd found, knowing Captain Harada would understand the significance of this desecration of his car. Someone had sent Sean a gruesome message, marking him for death, and though he did not believe in the ancient Kapu, he knew the dark side of that religion had fanatics who would work hard to see their curse came true.
"So... who've you pissed off this time?" asked Declan.
"Oh, just about everyone as usual but I reckon this little gift came from Doc De Lustra."
"You reading the entrails or have you got some special reason for suspecting him?"
"Only man I know who likes to use turkeys instead of chickens."
Declan glanced back inside the car and wrinkled his nose as he inspected the mutilated bird more closely. "Thought that was one mother of a chicken." He looked back at Sean. "Isn't this sort of thing Voodoo?" his hand swept out to indicate the mutilated turkey, "I thought..."
"Hawaii's a melting pot of religions, and some self-styled kahunas aren't averse to picking out the best parts from any number."
Declan grimaced, recalling the boy who had saved him from drowning, only to be ritualistically decapitated in some insane form of revenge on him. From what he had read, following that incident, Brendan Alapaui could have provided any number of reasons for killing the boy. He had called himself a great kahuna, giving him the so-called right to punish anyone who broke the ancient Kapu laws...with death.
However, very few obeyed Kapu law any longer, not since the religion fell from grace during the reigns of King Kamehameha and his son. Women sat down to eat with the men, the people ate so-called forbidden foods, and most no longer prayed and chanted each day to the aumakua, the family's guardians.
However, not all of the customs had faded away. Despite the loss of the religion, the respect offered to an ali'i, a chief, remained so Declan had learned not to cross the shadow of an ali'i or touch any part of him out of deference. Now, he knew better than to offer his hand in greeting, or stand when the ali'i was seated. All of these offences would have been punishable by instant death while the laws of Kapu ruled the islands, with ignorance being no excuse.
He had also learned why Sean had given him that disdainful look when he proposed that victims of Alapaui could have been sacrifices. In Kapu law, only the Kuawa could be used in human sacrifice to Ku, the god of war, for they were the lowest members of Hawaiian society, used as slaves. The Kuawa consisted mostly of prisoners taken in war, beginning with the original inhabitants of the islands, whose society was destroyed when the Tongans reached the islands in their long seafaring boats many centuries after the islands were first inhabited.
However, most of the victims of those ritualistic beheadings by Alapaui would have been considered part of the new high caste of the islands, the new ali'i. There had been but one reason for their deaths, to intimidate their families into handing over their illegal drug, gun, chop shop and gambling empires over to Alapaui. The kahuna had wanted to be 'king' of the islands' underworld. Alapaui had paid for his arrogance at Sean's hands but his death had left a void that other criminals had been quick to fill. One of these was Doc De Lustra, Alapaui's brother-in-law, who had changed his name to one he believed gave him more power.
However, for all his newfound knowledge, Declan knew he had a lot more to learn about the Hawaiian people and their customs before he would truly understand their motivations.
"So what happens now?"
Both Declan and Sean swung around as their Captain's voice came from behind them. "Now, we send you to a safe house, under 24-hour surveillance until we can stop whosoever ordered this."
Declan knew just from the look on his partner's face that Sean did not agree.
"I'm not going to sit around in some safe house..."
"De Lustra declared war on the HPD. He catches you...and that makes you Kuawa."
"Me and anyone else in the HPD."
"Except you killed his brother-in-law, so he sees you as a worthy opponent. A modern-day warrior who'd make a most favorable sacrifice to Ku."
"Give me the 24 hours."
"Can't do it, Sean. I need you to take a backseat on this one. Declan, you watch his back. I'll put Gains and Edwards on De Lustra, see if they can smoke him out."
"I don't believe this," he said, shaking his head slowly in disbelief. "And he actually declared war on the HPD?"
"Got our own message just moments before you called in," explained Harada.
Declan snorted in disgust. "Guess he figures, if he can take out the HPD, then the islands are his."
"You buying that?" Asked Sean, knowing how ludicrous that would be, for Hawaii was not some small republic in the middle of the Pacific, it was the 50th state of America, with a large military presence. De Lustra would not only be taking on the HPD but also the US Navy, and the FBI, CIA and any number of other alphabet agencies.
"No." Harada grimaced. "It's just a smoke screen."
"Then what's he really after?"
Harada glanced at the gory mess in Sean's car before focusing hard on Sean. "You. He wants you as Kuawa."
Sean saw the implacable look in Harada's eye and knew the man would brook no argument so he sighed in capitulation. This day was going from bad to worse--rapidly.
De Lustra smiled as he watched the group of police officers around Sean Harrison from the safety of his hidden office. Although he believed in the old ways, he was not averse to using modern means to capture his quarry. To anyone watching, his soldier was just another one of the locals who had gathered to see what was happening. They would not notice that, covertly, he was transmitting images using the video function of an expensive cellphone. The picture quality was not excellent, but it was good enough to identify all those present: Captain Harada, Declan, and De Lustra's quarry, Sean Harrison.
Harrison had killed his wife's brother, but revenge was not the reason for De Lustra's interest in him. As far as De Lustra was concerned, Brendan Alapaui had received his just punishment from the gods for killing the wrong caste, and Sean Harrison was the tool they used. Still, it meant the gods saw Harrison as a true warrior, a powerful warrior, and therefore a worthy sacrifice should De Lustra offer him to Ku.
However, Harrison was haole, a white islander. Though that did not place him in any particular caste by birthright, it made him untouchable as a sacrifice for the same reason. Ku favored as sacrifice only those caught on the battlefield. Civilian or warrior was immaterial, for no matter which caste they belonged to before capture, as a prisoner of war, they automatically became Kuawa. Of the two--civilian or warrior--De Lustra knew which would be the greatest offering to Ku, and the more powerful the warrior, the better the sacrifice. Moreover, he was convinced that Ku had shown him the only offering that would sate the god of war--Sean Harrison.
With Ku on his side, De Lustra would succeed where Alapaui had failed. He would become chief ali'i for all the gun and drug running, the illegal gambling, prostitution, car jacking, and other illicit activities in the Islands. Anyone wishing to do shady business on the Islands would have to pay tribute to him--or die.
This was where the first problem arose. To become Kuawa, he had to capture Harrison in battle, and battle could not take place until he had declared war. If Harrison had been a soldier in the criminal underworld then this would have been simplicity itself but Harrison was a 'soldier' for the Honolulu Police Department.
De Lustra knew his declaration of war against the HPD could only be a token gesture for he had no plans for an all-out strike against them. That way would be suicide for a far superior enemy backed up the HPD. Still, while the declaration of war existed, Harrison was fair game.
De Lustra grinned at the animated gestures from Harrison, knowing enough about police procedures to understand why Harrison was agitated. Harada would insist that Harrison submit to 24-hour police surveillance, for his protection, which suited De Lustra just fine. It meant Harrison would be off the streets and safe from harm while De Lustra set up the final arrangements for his capture--and sacrifice.
He depressed a switch on his desk, calling a subordinate into his office.
"Is the locator attached to Declan's car?"
"Keep watch over my prize. Let no one harm him before battle commences."
"Yes, sir." His subordinate bowed low and left quickly, eager to impress his kahuna and knowing he would pay for failure with his death.
The safe house was the usual nondescript apartment in a bland neighborhood, set with only the basics--much like his apartment, which still awaited a personal touch. However, Sean had moved in only a few weeks back and work commitments had kept his time there limited to eating, showering and sleeping. Eventually, he would give in to the inevitable, and add the little additions that turned a house into a home, but part of him still hoped he could patch up his marriage, for his son's sake at least.
"Penny for them?" Declan's voice intruded upon his deep thoughts.
"You were miles away. Was wondering what you were thinking about?"
"My son doesn't understand why I had to leave."
Sean sighed. "Yeah. Keep thinking we can patch this up but, truth is, it's been broke too long." He rocked his head from side to side to ease the tension in a stiff neck. "Damn! I thought I hated babysitting the perps but this is far worse. I should be out there, tracking down De Lustra, not sitting here twiddling my thumbs."
"What? You don't like my company?"
Sean groaned. "What I can't figure out is why the warning. If he wants me as Kuawa then he has to take me in battle. Not much chance of that happening around here."
A terrible thought hit Sean. "What if I'm not the target, just part of the smoke screen?"
"Gains or Edwards?"
"Let's go," Sean stated as he headed for the door, only to find Declan barring his way.
"Captain wants you to stay here. I'll get a message to him."
"Come on," he wheedled. "Harada was just playing by the book. He needs us out there."
"Can't do it, Sean. We have to stay here. 24 hours, police surveillance."
Sean slammed his fist against the wall, frustrated by the forced inaction. He stared at the clock; half-believing it was as broken as his bedside alarm, for the minutes passed so slowly. He had been cooped up in this apartment for barely six hours and yet he felt as if he had been staring at these same walls for days.
"Look, Sean. We've been working long shifts this past week. I didn't get much sleep last night, so I doubt you got much either. Why don't you grab some now?"
Sean closed his eyes, feeling the pull of sleep on his tired mind and body. The Munsen case had taken a week to crack, culminating in arrests late last night. He had not fallen into bed until after two in the morning, relying on his alarm clock to wake him in time for his day shift. When it failed to go off, he could easily have slept all day but something had dragged him from sleep. In hindsight, he wondered if he had heard some commotion in the street beyond, perhaps from someone spotting the gory mess in his car.
Sean made his way to the single bed set up in the corner of the room and he lay down, allowing the murmur from the TV to lull him towards much-needed sleep. Later, he would be far more refreshed than his partner, and would be able to talk John into getting both of them out of the safe house and back onto the streets, looking for De Lustra.
When he awoke, Sean was amazed to discover he had slept almost ten hours straight. He rubbed the sleep dust from his eyes and sat up slowly before swinging his legs off the bed and making his way across the room to where John sat watching the TV. As he approached, Sean realized the heavy breathing was light snoring; John was asleep. He grinned in amusement, sneaking right up beside John and then clapping his hands loudly in front of his partner's face.
Sean laughed as John leaped over the side of the heavily upholstered armchair, rolling into a crouched position while scrabbling for his sidearm. He laughed harder still when John began to cuss him, but stopped abruptly as a foreign sound registered on his hearing. Now, all serious, he indicated for John to back up towards the wall while Sean drew his gun and took cover behind the chair.
The door splintered inwards, suddenly, almost torn off its hinges by the force of the blow given from outside. Sean fired as the first man burst through, missing as the man dove for cover.
A bullet thudded into the upholstery, forcing Sean to duck back. He cursed loudly, knowing a second gunman had taken advantage of him being pinned down and had slipped into the room. A glance across the room showed John in a precarious position with very little in the way of cover. Sean knew John needed to move now--or die.
"I'll cover you," he yelled, and then leaped up, firing rapidly in an arc in the hope that self-preservation would send both gunmen ducking. He was rewarded by the sight of John leaping over the counter top, scattering plates, mugs and glasses as he tumbled to the floor of the kitchenette, but a cry of pain caught Sean's attention.
Sean knew he had to reach his partner. "Can you cover me?"
"On a count of three... ONE... TWO..." John began firing as Sean scrambled up from behind the armchair, diving over the counter and almost crashing into Declan as gravity took him the rest of the way to the floor. He scrabbled backwards until he had his back against the kitchen counter, sparing just a moment to send a knowing grin to his partner.
They had set up the code at the beginning of their partnership, moving on two instead of three in order to take any perps by surprise. It had worked perfectly--this time. The grin faded quickly when Sean spotted the blood soaking through John's light cotton shirt.
"Where're you hit?"
"Left shoulder... Damn... hurts like a bitch."
"Let's hope some upstanding citizen notified the HPD of shots fired... or we're in big trouble."
"You know they want you alive," John said through pain-clenched teeth as Sean wadded up a kitchen cloth and pressed it hard against the bullet wound. "None of their shots came even close to hitting you."
Another two shots ricocheted off the counter top, and Sean tried to return fire, cursing when the gun clicked on an empty chamber. A glance revealed frustration and despair as John dropped his gun by his side. Not only were they out of bullets, they were out of luck--and time too, Sean thought as he heard the gunmen moving.
"Detective Harrison, if you surrender now, then we will let your partner live."
Sean looked into pain-filled dark eyes, watching them widen in knowledge and anger. "I know what you're thinking. Don't do it, Sean."
Sean pulled back, his face setting to stone as he made his decision. "If De Lustra is as fanatical as I think he is, then he won't kill me until Friday at sunset, not if he wants Ku on his side. You got till then to find me."
Sean raised his hands in the air, his gun dangling from his thumb in surrender. He gave one last demanding look at John, to tell him he was counting on him to save him, and then he stood up. In the distance, Sean could hear faint sirens but he knew they could never have reached them in time, but it meant De Lustra's men had less time to renege on their promise to spare John. They grabbed Sean as he came round the counter, his shoe-less feet crunching over broken crockery and glass, and making him hiss as shards ripped into the soles of his feet.
"What about the other--"
"No time. We've got what we came for so let's go."
Sean felt a strange sense of relief and gratitude from knowing John would make it, silently thanking whatever gods were rooting for him. The two gunmen manhandled him through the door to a waiting car, leaving Sean only scant seconds to catch sight of innocent bystanders making for cover before they shoved him into the truck, viciously. The lid slammed down over him, plunging him into darkness, and he braced himself as the car accelerated away.
John had dragged his weakened body to the edge of the counter in time to witness Chris Gains and Danny Edwards enter the apartment with guns ready. Kevlar vests covered their normal working attire and Chris had forgone his sidearm in favor of an assault rifle.
"Clear!" he yelled, with the word echoed moments later by Danny as he finished checking the other side of the apartment. Chris dropped down beside John, quickly assessing the injury before calling across to Danny. "We need a 'medic here."
John grunted in pain as Chris pressed down on the wound. "What the hell happened? And where's Sean?"
"They took us by surprise." John gasped as intense pain flared through the wound, and then he grabbed Chris's arm with more strength that he believed he had left. "They took him alive. Sean said we've got till Friday sunset to find him."
Chris swallowed hard and nodded. Of the detectives, Chris and Sean seemed to know most about the various customs on Hawaii, and not just local customs. What had Sean called Hawaii? A melting pot of religions.
"That case with Alapaui... I know Friday's an important day but why sunset?"
"Favorable time of day. Blood-red sky, followed by a night of silent prayer to Kuka'ilimoku."
"We've got to find him."
"We? Oh no, my friend. You're going to the hospital."
Sean tried to focus on the sounds beyond the moving car, and the number and direction of turns. Oahu was not a huge island, and he knew it pretty well. His head slammed against the underside of the truck lid as the car went over a large bump, and he groaned, knowing it was one of the bridges crossing the river canal. But which one?
He heard the deep rumble of a jet engine and knew they were on the outskirts of Honolulu airport. The car slowed, almost coming to a stop before speeding up again, the sound of a barrier clattering down behind warning Sean that they had driven onto the airport, probably close to the private hangars. The roar of the jet became muffled and, moments later, the car drew to a stop.
Throughout the journey, neither of the gunmen had spoken, leaving Sean no clue as to their intentions but he felt the slight rocking as both men got out of the car. The doors slammed shut, one after the other in rapid succession. The sound of their footsteps echoed through what had to be a large hangar or warehouse and Sean braced himself, ready to come out fighting. However, the men did not stop, leaving Sean cursing as the footsteps gradually faded until the only sound around him was the muted roar of an airplane and his own harsh breathing.
Time to stretch until one minute seemed like ten as Sean tried to recall the time gap between the scheduled flights to and from Honolulu. Silently, he wished he had bought one of those wristwatches where the dial glowed in the dark, or had a button to illuminate the display.
By his estimation, the gun battle at the safe house had taken place barely half an hour earlier. Sean could only hope that one of those bystanders had given a description of the car and its occupants to the HPD, otherwise he was in big trouble. He froze as he heard the echo of returning footsteps. This time, they were heading straight for the car and Sean tried to flex muscles that had stiffened in the cramp space of the trunk.
The lid opened suddenly, with bright lights piercing into eyes that had grown too accustomed to darkness. Before he could react, hands grabbed at him, hauling him from the trunk and giving him his first bleary view of scene around him. Through watery eyes, he could see the small charter plane.
"Take him on-board and secure him."
Sean kicked out, swearing at his captors, knowing his chances of being found would diminish rapidly if they got him off Oahu. A cry of pain rewarded his efforts but his victory was short-lived as a fist smashed against the side of his head. Momentarily stunned, he gave no resistance as they dragged him up the short flight of steps and restrained him within one of the six seats. Before he could start hurling more threats, one of the men tore off a strip of duct tape and sealed it over his mouth. He let his eyes show his anger, gaining small satisfaction as the man backed away in apprehension before taking his seat behind Sean.
The pilot prepared for take-off and Sean could only sit in mute fury as it taxied down to the start of the runway. Moments later, the plane was gathering speed, and Sean looked out of the window in concern as the ground receded, quickly replaced by the sparkling blue Pacific as they left the island of Oahu far behind. He had no idea where they were heading, though he was certain they would not be flying beyond the Hawaiian Islands, and that gave him some hope.
Chris looked up as, gingerly, Declan lowered himself into the seat next to Edwards, not surprised to see Sean's partner at the meeting despite his injury. The surgeon had taken out the bullet and stitched up the wound but he could not stop John from leaving the hospital, even though the man was weak from blood loss. It was John's right to refuse further treatment, after all.
Harada glanced in his direction out of concern but Chris knew he would say nothing. Instead, the captain strode up to the map of the Islands, studying it intently before turning to face the small group. His inscrutable stare went from one face to another, passing over Kaleo, Tamiya, and then Declan, lingering on the empty seat before passing across Chris to where Danny sat in uncustomary silence. It occurred to Chris how all of them were creatures of habit, drinking particular brands of coffee, preferring different candies, and taking certain seats in meetings. For as long as Chris had worked for Harada, he had taken this seat beside Sean and yet he had never noticed the absence of its usual occupant so acutely until now.
Harada sat on the edge of the table. "We have less than 40 hours to find Sean. Any suggestions?"
Chris glanced across at Kaleo, aware the big Hawaiian had more knowledge of the ancient gods than he and Sean put together but Kaleo remained silent. Chris decided to start the ball rolling, knowing others would jump in once the ideas began to flow.
"If De Lustra is this great kahuna then where's the chief?"
"No," responded Kaleo. "He's not the great kahuna. He's looking to be high chief, ali'i nui. He wants to rule the Islands."
"And how do you know this?" asked Danny.
"Only a chief can order a sacrifice."
"And De Lustra is behind this order," Chris responded as understanding finally dawned on him. He recalled one of the stories his aunt told him as a kid, about how a chief measured his manu by how many sacrifices he had made, and the importance of those victims. "He may have killed before," he stated solemnly.
All eyes turned to Chris.
"The number of human sacrifices is significant too. The greater the number, the greater the chief's manu."
"Manu?" asked John.
"His sacred power," replied Kaleo.
"No offense intended... but Sean's a warrior, not a chief, so why would De Lustra target him specifically?" asked Linh.
"Revenge... for killing Alapaui," stated John.
Chris recalled the series of decapitations that Sean and John had investigated several months back. They had tracked Alapaui down in the old warehouse district. An assault team had entered, led by Sean. When Alapaui tried to escape, John had gone after him but Alapaui won that particular game of cat and mouse. The Kevlar vest had taken the power from the bullet that struck John but it had left him winded--and defenseless. As Alapaui prepared to shoot John in the face at close range, Sean had arrived on the scene, killing Alapaui before he could take that headshot.
"Not revenge. Sean is a chief in De Lustra's eyes. He led the assault on Alapaui, and he killed him in battle, taking his manu."
Kaleo's eyes widened in realization. "Alapaui was using the shark-tooth club to tear the soul of his victim, probably offering the bodies to Kuka'ilimoku, the war god, to make him more powerful." He frowned. "We never found all the bodies of his victims."
"That's because he was tossing them into the lava flow." Danny leaned forward as he spoke, reminding Chris of their initial involvement in the Alapaui case after someone found a partially destroyed body.
"I don't think so," continued Kaleo. "I don't think Alapaui was using the lava flow to dispose of evidence. The manu is in the bones. The kahuna would place the body in an underground oven and cook it until the flesh fell from the bones. Then the chief would offer the bones to Kuka'ilimoku during a night of prayer. I think he was using the lava flow as a heat source for an oven, but that offended Pele, so she made the lava take one of the bodies and wash it up on a ledge for all to see."
Harada interrupted. "What's the significance?"
Chris offered the explanation. "If Alapaui was following the rituals then he had great manu. By killing him, Sean would have taken that manu."
"And be marked as a favorite of Kuka'ilimoku," added Kaleo.
John's face held confusion. "If he's a favorite then wouldn't sacrificing him to this Ku be a bad idea?"
"On the contrary, it makes him a more desirable sacrifice because De Lustra would have both his manu and his favor in the eyes of Kuka'ilimoku," Chris replied. He turned to Kaleo. "You're right. Like Alapaui, he wants to rule the Islands... or at least its underbelly."
"None of this helps us find Sean," stated John in frustration.
"Except, if he wants to make a sacrifice then he needs a heiau... a temple," said Kaleo.
"And the bigger, the better."
Linh moved to the map of the Islands and pointed to Kawaihae on the Big Island, Hawaii. "Puukohola heiau, where Kamehameha sacrificed his cousin, Keoua, and became ruler of Hawaii." Linh looked at the others, waiting for their response.
"Too public. The ritual requires a full night of silent prayer. That won't happen with all those tourists traipsing around the place," replied Kaleo.
Harada gave a sigh of frustration. "There has to be somewhere else. Kaleo, you know the locals and you know many of the customs. See if you can find out about any important heiau built for Kuka'ilimoku before Puukohola."
The flight took less time than Sean expected, and a glance across the small plane through the window, showed the reasonably familiar sight of Molokai airport. The small plane landed and quickly taxied towards the private hangars. One of the large hangar doors opened on its approach and the plane continued inside, taking it out of sight from prying eyes.
Sean began to think fast, trying to remember the names of any important luakini heiau on Molokai that might serve as a sacrificial site for De Lustra. Only one remote place of renown sprang to mind as he recalled the blood thirsty tales learned in history class: Ili'ili'opae heiau, dedicated to both Lono, the god of the harvest, and Ku.
The thought made him shudder with fear that he quickly suppressed. In ancient times, human sacrifices took place only on certain days of the week for increased manu, so if all the preparations were not set in time, then there had been a slim chance that De Lustra would be forced to put off the sacrifice until the following week. However, if they were taking him to Ili'ili'opae, then he would be killed at sunset tomorrow whether De Lustra was ready or not because, not only was it a powerful day of the week, but it was also the night of a full moon. Human sacrifices at Ili'ili'opae could only take place on a full moon.
Sean frowned, recalling the previous full moon when the number of missing persons across the whole of the Islands had increased -- mostly young males involved in the illegal drug and gun trades, with rumors of far more missing that had been reported. There had been talk of gang wars but no one was willing to say which gangs were involved, and as all had gone missing in separate incidences, no one had made any connection--until now.
He thought back to the pile of case notifications sitting on the captain's desk for the fresh spate of missing persons over the past few days. Except in the case of children, they did not investigate missing persons' cases until the victim had been gone for over 24 hours so Sean would have received four or five of those cases yesterday morning, had he made it to work.
As he continued to think about it, he recalled that a chief's manu was based on the number of Kuawa sacrificed to Ku as well as by the prestige of the victim. Could the missing youths be connected with De Lustra? If he was right then most--if not all--of these missing men were dead, murdered by De Lustra at Ili'ili'opae heiau, and the newly missing would be slaughtered tomorrow, alongside him.
Once more, he wondered why De Lustra had singled him out from the other detectives and higher ups in the HPD. He was no great ali'i chief after all, for he was haole, with no lineage back to Piliaoao, the Tahitian king brought to Hawaii all those centuries ago to refresh the pure bloodline of the ali'i.
The door opened and one of his captors released Sean from his seat only to force him around and bind his hands behind his back using more of the duct tape. They pushed him towards the doorway with one ahead of him and one directly behind. Sean waited until the man ahead was off balance going down the short flight of steps, throwing his head back to head butt the man behind and then shoving the other hard. He leapt over the sprawled body and raced towards the hangar entrance. If he could get into the open then someone might spot him. Even if they did no more than recall the suspicious activity, it might be enough to lead the Police to him before it was too late.
He almost did not make it, his speed vastly reduced because of the painful gashes on his bare feet from the broken crockery and plates in the apartment and due to his bound arms pulling him off balance as he ran. A body slammed into him, sending him flying with no means to break his fall against the hard concrete. Sean tasted blood from a split lip, and felt the trickle down his cheek and chin from scraped flesh. However, he had reached the open air and prayed that might make the difference between life and death.
They hauled him back to his feet and dragged him back inside towards a familiar face. Kamanaui, De Lustra's right hand man, scowled as Sean raised his bloodied face in defiance, and then stared from one of Sean's captors to the other.
"Put him in with the others... and if he escapes again, you'll be joining them too."
Sean knew this was no idle threat from the fear that crossed his captors' faces as they tightened their grasp on his arms. Gripping his arms with bruising strength, they forced him towards the back of a dark van. The doors opened giving Sean his first glimpse of the some of the others who were to share his possible fate. Five young men sat on the floor in the back, each of them bound and gagged in the same way and with eyes filled with fear. With a rough shove, they pushed Sean inside, leaving him to scrabble among the others for space. As he righted himself, he stared around, wishing he could reassure the scared kids that someone would save them. In truth, he knew their chances of being rescued in time were not too good.
The door slammed shut and the van moved off almost immediately. Sean could only guess that De Lustra's men were taking him and his fellow captives to some secluded place until it was time for the sacrificial ceremony to begin. Yet, what concerned him most was that it made little sense for De Lustra to take his captives so early. If De Lustra had waited until tomorrow then he would have left no time for anyone to find them before sunset. There had to be a reason, and that did not bode well for any of them.
Chris and Danny called on every favor owing to them as they scoured the streets of Honolulu for any information on Sean's whereabouts. Other HPD officers, including John Declan, were checking the airport and marinas, in case De Lustra had taken Sean off Oahu but, so far, there had been no news. Eventually, Chris realized that, with time running out for Sean, he had to take a gamble and approach one of the Islands' drug lords. He knew he was playing a hunch but three of the recent missing persons were 'soldiers' for Kelekolio. If De Lustra had declared war on his rivals, then these missing men could also be Kuawa, taken for sacrifice to increase De Lustra's manu--and one of those missing men was Kelekolio's young nephew, Iokua.
Chris turned to his partner as the car came to a halt outside the expensive restaurant that was famous for its Luau celebrations.
"I need you to stay well back and let me handle it. Kelekolio won't speak to a Malihini, a foreigner."
For once, Chris gained no argument from the ex-Miami detective, understanding the seriousness of the situation and knowing Sean's life might depend upon any answers they gained from Kelekolio. "Do what you have to do."
As they entered the empty restaurant, Chris saw several men move within the deep shadows, while the more obvious bodyguards became alert to his presence. He was not surprised to see the drug lord still awake so close to the dawn of a new day, knowing he would be concerned for his nephew. Being careful not to cross Kelekolio's shadow as it was cast out by the wall light--or to allow his shadow to touch Kelekolio--Chris approached the drug lord. Chris greeted him respectfully and then waited for a response. When Kelekolio bade him to sit at his table, Chris did so quickly. Though Kelekolio sent a glance towards Danny, he made no offer for Danny to do likewise--just as Chris expected--and Chris was relieved that Danny did not try to force his company at the table.
"Your nephew, Iokua, has gone missing. I believe De Lustra has taken him as Kuawa. One of our detectives has also been taken captive."
"Sean Harrison," stated Kelekolio.
Chris flicked a glance towards Danny before replying. "Yes." He should have known that word would have spread quickly through the Islands' criminal underworld. "I respectfully ask for your help in retrieving both of them alive," he said, keeping his eyes lowered.
The silence stretched within the room as Kelekolio deliberated. Finally, with a sigh he answered.
"My sister has spent the past day and night in sorrow, crying for her lost child. He is a good boy who wanted no part of this world," he indicated the restaurant but Chris had a feeling he meant far more than that, gaining his answer almost immediately, "...looking instead to become a doctor." Kelekolio looked up with anger firing his dark eyes, his lips trembling as he announced his weakness. "I do not have the power to stand against De Lustra, and save my nephew."
"Within the HPD, I do have that power... if I can find them in time." Chris hoped that the intensity of his words would convince Kelekolio to give him something to go on. Anything. Once more the silence stretched between them and he feared Kelekolio would say nothing more.
"Molokai. He takes them to Molokai, and that is all I know."
"It's a starting place." Chris bowed his head in immense gratitude and then he stood up, carefully leaving the restaurant.
Upon reaching Danny's car, he sat in the passenger seat and sank back, sighing deeply. In the past, approaching someone as important as Kelekolio would have marked him for death but Chris had taken the gamble to save Sean. He owed Sean that much for being both a friend and mentor since he gained his detective rank. He glanced across at Danny, noticing that Danny had already reached forward and grabbed the radio, passing on the information to Harada; he gained an instant response despite the approaching dawn.
The sun would soon rise on another day in Hawaii, possibly Sean's last day on earth, but a police helicopter would be waiting for them on the helipad by the time they got back to the station.
"Now aren't you pleased I made us put a change of clothes in the truck?" Danny said with a smirk and Chris had to admit it had been good advice.
As soon as Harada finished ordering the helicopter, he called the Molokai police department, telling them he had people on the way.
"You think he's here?" Captain Pai asked.
"We have a good source. I need your officers to recheck the airport and harbors to see if anyone has spotted anything suspicious over the past couple of months, and most especially in the past few days. Also, I need a list of luakini heiau that De Lustra could have access to for a full night."
"There are plenty of luakini heiau on Molokai that he could gain access to, though most are in ruins. Most are in hard to reach places so I'll get my people working on it right away."
Harada put down the phone and leaned back in his seat, rubbing his tired eyes in frustration. He thought the babies were a problem, stealing his night's sleep but the people under his command could be equally difficult. He glanced at the wall clock, transfixed for a moment as he watched the second hand sweep away another precious minute from Sean's life. His thoughts went back through the years to the fresh-faced detective who had joined the HPD on promotion from the ranks. Harada had been a detective at the time, barely a few years older than Sean, and his captain saddled him with breaking in Sean Harrison as his new partner after his old partner took retirement. They had worked together for three years before Harada's promotion dissolved that partnership, and Harada had been quick to protect Sean by partnering him with Albert, a stable, resourceful Islander.
Only another cop could probably understand the dynamics of a partnership, and the loyalty and friendship borne out of a need to rely on that person to watch your back. Within three years, Sean had become a close family friend and 'godfather' to the twins. Losing him by any means would be like losing a family member, but the very thought of Sean being murdered so brutally left Harada feeling physically sick.
A knock on his door drew him from his morbid thoughts and he beckoned Kaleo to enter.
"Just had a report in from Molokai airport. One of the baggage handlers thought he saw a commotion over by one of the private hangars yesterday."
"Contact Gains and Edwards and tell them to check it out as soon as they get there."
Kaleo closed the door behind his large frame, leaving Harada alone in the quiet office with just his memories of Sean for company.
Sean looked up as the door opened once more and another of the men held captive with him was dragged out. Of the thirty men who had crowded the room with him when he first arrived, only two remained and Sean knew both of them. Ionakana was the son of Umialiloa, a man who ran one of the largest illegal gambling operations on Oahu. Nothing was out of Umialiloa's league from small-time fake lottery machines to fixing multi-million dollar boxing championships. The HPD had connected him with dozens of murders over his 30 year reign but had never managed to convict him of any. In Hawaiian terms, he was ali'i nui, a high chief with great manu, so his son was a prize capture.
The other boy was Iokua, the nephew of the drug lord Kelekolio, so he would be another important Kuawa in De Lustra's eyes. Sean knew these two would be the most important sacrifices offered to Kuka'ilimoku, affording De Lustra the greatest power should his offering of their spirit be accepted by the war god.
Fresh screams of pain echoed from the rooms beyond. At first, those cries had chilled him to the bone as he waited for his turn but, over the passing hours, he had become more immune, more fatalistic. In contrast, Iokua trembled with each new pain-filled cry and Sean tried to impart as much comfort as he could to the young man as all three huddled together in the cold and damp of the underground chamber. Even the stench of their unwashed and soiled bodies could not shake this instinctive need to hold on tight to one another as they awaited their joint fate.
Faint daylight had filtered through the doorway on this last occasion, leaving Sean with the impression that a new day had dawned. By his reckoning, almost a day and a half had passed since he first arrived on Molokai and he knew they would come for him soon, to suffer whatever atrocities De Lustra's people were inflicting on the lesser Kuawa. He could only be surprised that De Lustra had waited this long to start torturing him and the other two.
He was not even certain which form his death would take for all the luakini heiau had different customs. Some, like Puukohola and the recently destroyed Wahaula heiau, did not care if the victim was alive or dead when brought to the altar. He recalled that Kamehamaha had ordered the bodies of warriors killed in battle carried to the new heiau, including that of his cousin Keoua, who had been murdered almost as soon as he reached Puukohola.
Other sacrifice rituals saw the taking of the Kuawa's life just as significant as the offering of their bones later but even then, the form that death took varied from place to place. Ili'ili'opae heiau fell into that category so his only consolation was that he would be kept alive until sunset, along with the other Kuawa. After that, he had no idea if he and these two boys would be the first or the last to die.
Part of him was thankful that he did not know the full details. He just hoped that, when the time came, his death would be mercifully quick. Though that was of little consolation for, judging by the screams echoing through the maze of corridors and into this chamber, De Lustra intended to make his victims suffer before the final blow fell.
When the door opened again, Sean knew his time was up. He was about to discover what preparations were needed to ensure the offering of his spirit would ensure favor with Kuka'ilimoku for De Lustra.
Chris let Danny take the lead as they questioned the baggage handler but he had little to tell, except that he had seen something that looked like a struggle in the dim light spilling from a private hangar. He had seen a small plane enter the hangar only a few minutes before.
"Why didn't you report it earlier?"
"I only caught a glimpse of movement, and it was low to the ground. Figured it was someone's dog trying to make a break for the runway. There's a hefty fine if that happens. I went off shift not long after."
"So what made you change your mind?"
"Kept thinking it was a damn big dog... and then, when I switched on TV this morning and saw the news..." he let his words hang. "That private plane's been in and out all this week. I'd see a dark van leaving the hangar sometime later and figured they might be smuggling something."
"Dark van? Ever seen the driver?"
"Nah. Only seen it there in the evenings, and it's too dark to make out any details."
"I need you to take us to the hangar."
Chris and Danny exchanged a glance, hoping this wasn't a wild goose chase for Sean was running out of time. They climbed into the airport security car and let the baggage handler direct them out across the field and then along the concrete parking, lined by private hangars. Most were owned by small charter companies but the one they stopped outside was a personal hangar for the owner of a string of successful hotels on both Oahu and Molokai.
Chris stepped out of the car and stopped close to the entrance, his eyes searching the concrete for any signs. He hunkered down next to a patch of dried blood while Danny pulled the large door open wider. Chris's eyes followed the concrete back inside the hangar, noting the dried foot-shaped patches. He recalled the apartment and the blood Forensics had found on the floor from where someone had trodden on broken ceramic and glass. His gut instincts told him this was no coincidence. Sean had been here, and he had tried to escape his captors, only to be brought down and taken back inside.
Chris followed the faint footsteps, easily differentiating between those running away and those' walking' back. They stopped abruptly, close to a set of tire marks. He sat down and buried his head in his hands as the fatigue of the past few days caught up with him, only looking up when Danny sank down next to him.
"He's here, on Molokai," Chris stated softly.
"They put him in the van," remarked Danny, with a voice filled with concern. "He could be anywhere on this island."
"Then we need to figure out what luakini heiau De Lustra's using."
"Ili'ili'opae," said Danny.
Chris stared at Danny. "Fits... but a little too public."
"Not when I was there."
"When were you there?"
"I'm Mahilini remember... did all the touristy things when I first got here."
"You went to Ili'ili'opae?"
"Sounded good in the tourist guides. 'Probably the oldest remaining heiau in Hawaii'," he semi-quoted.
"Was it good?"
"Just a pile of rocks..." He gave a wry grin at Chris's disbelieving look. "Okay... a big, impressive pile of rocks, and a little too quiet. Spooky. It's off the beaten track, about a fifteen minute walk from the highway. I had to get permission to go see it, and was given a sheet of instructions on what you could or could not do. I was asked to leave around four 'cause they don't like anyone staying there close to sunset."
"Probably for religious reasons."
"Nah, probably because it was treacherous underfoot even in good light. You could easily twist an ankle on those rocks."
"But it does mean the place is deserted by sunset."
Chris pulled out his cellphone and contacted Harada, telling their captain what they had discovered and the theory they had. There was a slight delay as Harada pushed the button that put the call through the speakers and called Kaleo into his office. He quickly outlined Danny's theory and heard Kaleo's response.
"The place held great manu before Kamemahama built Puukohola heiau, and tonight is a full moon."
Chris ended the call after agreeing to join Captain Pai's men in staking out the ancient heiau. He passed the significance of a full moon onto Danny, and they set out immediately, knowing Harada would be contacting Pai on their behalf. Yet something was still nagging at the back of Chris's mind and he hoped it was nothing of importance.
Iokua whimpered in fear from behind the duct tape sealing his mouth as Sean was taken from his side, and Sean felt his heart go out to the young man. Two Hawaiians dragged him from the chamber, taking him but a short distance away before ducking into another chamber. Inside, Sean saw the previous captive lying naked and bloodied on the floor. His arms were no longer bound and his mouth unsealed but his battered body had no strength to take advantage of this freedom of movement. Instead, he sobbed, curled up into a ball until another two of De Lustra's men pulled him to his feet.
For a moment, Sean stared into the other Kuawa's face, his eyes automatically drawn to the sore area on the man's forehead and the forbidding tattoo newly etched into the skin. De Lustra was taking no chance and physically marking his victims with the ancient sign for a Kuawa.
The man was dragged away, leaving Sean alone with two guards and Kamanaui, only just realizing that, if De Lustra saw himself as the ali'i nui, then Kamanaui would be his chief Kahuna, his priest. Sean's eyes flicked down to the sharp, crude implements that Kamanaui would use to place a similar marking on him and then back to the sadistic smile that crossed Kamanaui's face.
The order came as no surprise to Sean for both guards were naked, following the old ways of remaining uncovered in the presence of a higher class. In the dim light of the underground chamber, it had not been so apparent as the guards were covered in elaborate tattoos from just above the knees to an inch above the waist, leaving very little skin untouched. In contrast, Sean had no tattoos of any note, just a small one over his left shoulder which he'd had done during a drunken reverie while in the Navy. Still, Kamanaui displayed the smallest surprise at seeing it as very few haoles subjected themselves to the old custom unless they had served in the Forces.
Sean knew his standing in Kamanaui's eyes had gone up a notch and, silently, he hoped this would not mean greater suffering on his part.
The guards ripped the duct tape from his mouth suddenly, and Sean cried out in shock and pain as it tore at the already swollen and split lip. Fresh blood flowed down his chin and Kamanaui grabbed at his chin, inspecting the damage that had been concealed beneath the duct tape until this moment. Sean took advantage of the moment.
"Bastard," he snarled hoarsely, and spit in Kamanaui's face, knowing he was going to take a beating from these men whether he fought back or not.
Fists rained down on him as he dropped to the dirty floor, curling in to protect his belly and groin as the blows became kicks. He cried out as hard feet connected with his ribcage and hip, only grateful that the guards wore slippers rather than boots or shoes or he knew he would be more seriously injured.
The beating stopped only when Kamanaui gave the order, and then Sean was dragged back to his feet, hanging between the two angry guards. At Kamanaui's command, they tied him to the wall, with his head bracketed to stop it moving. Sean knew what was coming next as Kamanaui approached with a crude tattoo needle in one hand and a bowl of ink in another.
The pain seemed to go on forever as droplets of blood trickled down his forehead to funnel between his eyebrows and down the side of his nose. He almost laughed aloud at the single inane thought that swept through his mind as he wondered how much it would cost to have the mark lasered off later.
"He's not going to get away with this," Sean said through pain-clenched teeth. "You will all pay."
Kamanaui backhanded Sean across the face. "If you were not already Kuawa, I would have you put to death for daring to speak to me."
With his head braced tight, his face took the full power of the blow, stunning him. Lack of food and water had already weakened him, and the untreated wounds on his feet had become infected, weakening him further so this blow sent his senses spinning and his stomach lurching but there was nothing left in his stomach leaving him wracked with dry retches.
Kamanaui grabbed his chin with bruising strength. "I shall take great pleasure in killing you."
He completed the tattoo without another word and then ordered the guards to release Sean's bonds. Sean fell to the ground, too weak to climb back to his feet, opening his eyes only when he heard the whimper of fear from the doorway and saw Iokua standing between the other two guards. With every ounce of strength he could muster, Sean surprised Kamamaui by struggling to his battered feet. He knew he looked in terrible condition but defiance flowed from him as he tried to impart what little of his strength remained to the frightened boy. For the first time, the total fear left the boy's dark eyes, and Kamamaui snarled the order for Sean to be taken away to be cleansed for his sacrifice to Ku.
John stepped off the police helicopter with Harada, eager to start the search for his partner but knowing their best bet might be to stake out Ili'ili'opae and wait for sunset. As they waited for Captain Pai, he popped two Tylenol from the blister pack and swallowed them dry. When the car pulled up, they climbed into the back after swift introductions and headed out. The main police force would meet up at Pukoo, a small town just south of Ili'ili'opae, and then move in as soon as officers staking out the site gave the word.
"Are we sure this is the right place?"
"My people have checked every other site on Molokai, and none have been disturbed for months, perhaps years. Ili'ili'opae is the only heiau on Molokai that shows recent activity and fits De Lustra's needs," stated Pai. He looked a little uncomfortable. "I have two of my best men watching over the site...but they have seen nothing suspicious so far."
"If we're wrong..." John left the words hanging, not needing to state the terrible consequences should Ili'ili'opae prove to be the wrong place. Sean's was not the only life at stake, with as many as twenty--and possibly more--other male gang members missing from all over Hawaii who might also be Kuawa. However, he could freely admit that Sean's safety was his true concern.
Since arriving in the Islands from Chicago, Sean had been a good friend to him, willing to show him around and help him settle. Over these past months, he had come to respect Sean, admiring the man's strength of character and his easygoing nature. His soft-spoken voice had defused a number of potentially explosive situations, including calming down a young man half-crazed from fear, pain, and the drugs used to combat that pain.
Yet, Sean had proved he was capable of making the hard decisions too, and John already owed his life to his partner after Brendan Alapaui got the drop on him. He shuddered as he recalled that horrifying moment, reliving the fear of looking down the wrong end of a gun barrel as Alapaui lined up the killing shot.
Sean was the one staring death in the face now, and if half of what John had read up on was true, then he had already suffered at his captors' hands. Even though John knew that if they did not find him in time then at least his death would be relatively quick, that gave him little consolation. He did not want to lose his partner; he did not want Sean to die.
The car slowed as it approached a junction and John spotted a stationary car ahead partially hidden by the curve of the road. The two inhabitants looked like tourists and John smiled, though a little grimly, as he recognized them.
Chris smacked Danny on the arm as he saw the oncoming car slow down. They stepped out and walked the short distance towards the other car, waiting for Harada, Declan, and Pai to join them.
"Pukoo's just a little further on...and back there," he pointed to the junction several hundred yards back, "is the closest you can get to Ili'ili'opae by car."
"We have several army helicopters waiting for the 'go' signal from my men. I don't want to risk anyone else moving in on foot until we hear from them in case it incites De Lustra's people into slaughtering the captives earlier."
Harada nodded his agreement.
Chris scratched his head, as if he could relieve the niggling sensation that crawled beneath his scalp. "Trouble is, Captain, there doesn't seem to be more than a few footsteps in the ground around here..., and those can be accounted for by the number of tourists who've approached the visitor's center in Kaunakakai for permission to access the heiau."
"You don't think this is the place?"
"I'm not saying that...exactly. There isn't any place else on Molokai where it could be...it's just..." he sighed hard, in frustration. "I just have this feeling I'm missing something."
Harada stared hard at Chris, knowing the younger detective had played good hunches in the past. He turned to Danny Edwards but Danny merely shook his head, opening his hands in an empty gesture.
"Sunset is in thirty-eight minutes," he stated ominously.
"I know." replied Chris, miserably.
"We might need everyone working on this if we're to get them out alive."
Chris shook his head slowly. "I know," he replied again, softly. Chris turned away, heading back to his car but stopped when Harada spoke again.
"But if this feeling should find substance...then act on it."
Chris stared back at Harada, and then sighed in relief. He grabbed Danny's arm and propelled him towards the car, quickly getting behind the wheel and starting the engine so he could follow Harada's car to where the helicopters would be waiting. Knowing he had Harada's permission to be a no-show at Ili'ili'opae took a weight off his mind, leaving him to focus on the upcoming assault. As he drove, he kept his eyes trained on Harada's car, barely noticing the occasional billboard advertising various Molokai sights and events but he snorted at Danny's comment about yet another casino hotel to entice the tourists to visit the island.
Chris stamped on the brakes, screeching to a halt; the smell of burning rubber filled the car as Danny slammed forward in his seat. He cursed him. "...next time *I'm* driving--" but Chris looked at him intensely before interrupting Danny's tirade.
"The owner of that hangar--"
"He's building a new hotel complex out by Cape Halawa."
"What if that's not all he's been building?" The question hung in the air for several seconds while Danny thought on it, his eyes going wide in realization.
"Step on it...I'll let the Captain know." The renewed stench of burning rubber filled the air as Chris stepped hard on the gas, sending the car accelerating through Pukoo while Danny reached for the radio.
"If I'm wrong, and Sean's at Ili'ili'opae--"
"And if you're right?" Danny turned his attention back to the radio when he heard Harada's response. "Captain, are you alone?"
"Hold on." A few seconds passed and then Harada spoke again. "What's going on?"
"We're playing that hunch and heading to the hotel construction at Halawi."
"Captain Pai's officers spoke with Lau and checked out the construction site. His private plane and the hangar are used by him and his executives for traveling to and from Molokai but he hasn't been to Molokai for a couple of months."
"But you think someone's lying?"
Danny fell silent, knowing Chris's hunch was tantamount to accusing someone in the Molokai police force of being in collusion with De Lustra.
Cape Halawi was more than ten miles away from Pukoo, along well-paved but often too narrow roads that twisted and turned with hairpin bends, so Chris was thankful that Captain Pai had authorized an off-road vehicle for him and Danny to use. Even so, he knew they would barely reach the construction site before the sun began to sink below the horizon. His heart sank further as he noticed the formation of storm clouds gathering in the east ahead of them. The east side of Molokai had most of the rainfall but also some amazing vistas with Hawaii's highest waterfall, Kahiwa Falls, barely ten miles from Cape Halawi in the northeast. Superstition held that it also housed the hidden remains of the great Kahuna, Lanikaula, whose magic had protected the island, sending fear into the hearts of any potential invaders. This meant that Halawi was a place of great manu.
Chris took the hairpin bends at terrifying speed, making silent prayers to all the old gods that they would not meet another car coming in the opposite direction, or lose control and plunge over the edge of the cliff into the sea far below. The gathering thunderheads sent the land ahead into early twilight as the sun began its final descent towards the western horizon. Chris stopped the car as close as he dared to the construction site and, keeping low, he and Danny raced towards the foundations of the new hotel. On a Friday, at this time of day, the place should have been deserted but Chris could see the flicker of torches slowly lighting the land ahead, outlining a massive stone foundation built using local lava rock. The huge platform rose 20 feet into the air, and more torches were lit as Chris and Danny approached stealthily.
Movement to one side caught at Chris's attention, and he drew in a sharp inwards breath as he watched a line of figures, with arms tightly bound, exit from underneath the platform, suddenly realizing where De Lustra had kept his victims hidden away. One pale figure stood out amongst the rest, and Chris whispered his name--Sean.
Only the soft fearful cries of the intended sacrifices broke the silence as the light faded beneath the setting sun and the dark clouds, and Chris recalled that the whole ceremony would be carried out without a murmur from the onlookers. There would be no chanting; only the sound of the drums and the cries of the sacrifices would fill the night air. If anyone else broke that silence, then they would join the Kuawa in sacrifice.
Danny raised the radio to his lips and whispered his urgent call to Harada, knowing the helicopters could get here in just a few minutes once airborne but Chris knew that these Kuawa might not have a few minutes. He and Danny would have to buy them some time.
The wind picked up as De Lustra's men forced the thirty Kuawa to their knees in a long line that faced the sea. A flash of lightning illuminated the terrifying scene as Chris and Danny scaled the rocky sides of the platform, followed almost instantly by a clap of thunder, and the first fat droplets of rain fell. The small lava rocks shifted beneath their hands and feet but they increased their effort as the cries of fear filled the air.
Sean trudged out behind the others, no longer caring that he was naked as Kamamui's men led him and his fellow Kuawa, up the steps formed at one side of the great platform. At the top, he glanced around quickly, trying to note the position of any guards.
As if that does a fat lot of good, he thought sourly, knowing that he had little chance of escape while his arms were bound.
Kamamaui forced the first man to his knees, and then the following man next to him, and so on until all the Kuawa were on their knees in a long line that stretched most of the way along the lava stone platform. They faced the turbulent ocean, with the waves churned up by the approaching storm. Sean knew Kamamaui would see this as a good sign, for Ku was also the god of rain. He would see the approaching storm as Ku's blessing rather than his wrath.
Sean glanced along the line of men to the beginning. Ionakana was first in line and Sean knew that he was the most important of all the Kuawa, being the son of Umialiloa. Umialiloa's empire stretched the length of the islands of Hawaii, and Ionakana was no stranger to his father's work. Already, there were rumors that he had given orders to have some of his father's opposition neutralized but, once again, the HPD could find no proof. In the face of imminent death, the younger man blubbered uncontrollably, as if only now recognizing the danger lying before him. Sean knew he should feel some compassion for the younger man but, truth be told, he felt more fear for himself and for Kelekolio's innocent nephew. Iokua did not deserve this, whereas Ionakana had made his choice by following in his father's footsteps, craving the power that came with it.
A flash of lightning brought his head up as he looked out across the sea. The storm was approaching fast, perhaps making landfall in but a few minutes. Although he could not see the sun set for he was facing east, Sean knew the precise moment that the sun touched the horizon by the sadistic gleam that leaped into Kamamui's dark eyes. The drums began to beat out, the throbbing bass echoing though the air surrounding him, and he could only watch in horror as Kamamaui dragged Ionakana from the line to the flat rock set ahead of the line of Kuawa.
In silence, the Kahuna's men secured Ionakana face up while Kamamaui took out a ceremonial dagger made of sharks' teeth. He sliced into Ionakana's legs and side, shallow cuts that let the blood flowed freely into the grooves that lined the sacrificial rock, collecting in a pool beneath. Kamamui raised his hand high, as if welcoming the approaching storm, and then he reached down, his hands wrapping around Ionakana's throat. Sean tried to gain his feet as the grip tightened, only to be beat down by a club as a guard forced his submission. Through bleary eyes, filled with tears of frustration and pain, he could only watch in horror as Kamamaui strangled Ionakana with his bare hands, choking the life from the boy.
Ahead, the storm grew more violent and, once again, Kamamaui took this as a good sign. He stood back, grinning gleefully as Kamamui's guards strangled the next four victims where they knelt. Only one more Kuawa knelt between the dead and him. Sean choked back a sob of fear and despair as Kamamui's man strangled the life from the young Kuawa before letting him drop dead to the lava-stone floor.
It was his turn to die but Sean was determined to muster every last piece of courage remaining in him, wanting to die with as much dignity as he could. He watched as Kamamaui turned towards him, knowing he would share Ionakana's fate. He whimpered softly as Kamamaui's men dragged him from the line of Kuawa, barely noticing the way they discarded Ionakana's body, shoving it to the ground beside the sacrificial rock as if he was no more than a piece of meat. A sense of self-preservation took hold, and Sean kicked out at the guards but the guards overpowered him easily, quickly securing him to the flat rock.
Sean could read the pleasure in Kamamaui's eyes as he sent a silent prayer to Kuka'ilimoku before slicing the knife across Sean's flesh. It took Sean a moment to realize he had been cut for the sharks' teeth knife was incredibly sharp...and then the pain screamed through his nerve endings.
Kamamaui raised the bloodied knife above his head, and droplets of Sean's blood splattered onto his upturned face, joined by the first light raindrops that preceded the main deluge. Looking back down at Sean, he grinned malevolently while handing the knife to one of the guards. Sean knew what was coming next but he had no way to stop Kamamaui. He tried to pull back against the rock, shrugging up his shoulders as Kamamaui's hands went for his throat. He felt the strong hands against his vulnerable flesh, felt the pressure slowly increasing as Kamamaui leaned in closer, his dark eyes glinting red from the fiery torch light.
Sean gasped and croaked as his air supply was very slowly cut off, unable to thrash his head even weakly as the pain intensified. Kamamaui gripped tighter and leaned in closer, with sadistic curiosity filling his eyes as he sought to savor every moment of this act, as if waiting to capture Sean's moment of death. His vision blurred, the darkness of unconsciousness encroaching on the edges as flashes of lightning and fire sparked then faded.
Thunder rolled over the luakini heiau, followed instantly by jagged lightning as the rain swept down. Another clap sounded far louder, like a sharp retort. The tableau of death froze around Sean, as if only the storm could feel the flowing of time as the rain lashed against him and his killer.
Kamamaui's head snapped sideways, his eyes showing surprise. He opened his mouth but no sound came out. His bruising grip around Sean's throat loosened as pale fingers pried the others away, with his body falling bonelessly to the blood-soaked ground. A familiar face took Kamamaui's position as Sean sensed the darkness receding.
They were not ready. They had no back up, no cover... no realistic chance of taking out all the priest-guards standing battle ready on the luakini heiau but neither of them faltered. As soon as they reached the top of the heiau, Chris knew they had but two choices. They could watch Sean die while they waited for back up, or they could attack now, even though it could mean all their deaths. Yet that small hope that surprise would be enough darted around the edges as Chris aimed and fired at Kamamaui, going for the head shot because any other might leave Kamamaui alive for the vital few seconds it would take to finish strangling Sean.
As Kamamaui's head snapped sideways, he gave a silent prayer of thanks for all the hours he had spent on the firing range. Mayhem ensued as the rain came down hard, drenching the torches, and throwing everything into dark shadow. Forks of lightning strobed the heiau forming macabre silhouettes of the panicking priests and Kuawa, offering occasional glimpses of Danny as he and Chris raced to where Kamamaui had frozen above Sean.
Chris tore the hands from Sean's throat--uncaring as Kamamaui's body finally fell--and he took the Kahuna's place, staring down into frightened, blood red eyes as Sean failed to draw sufficient air through his damaged throat.
The whirl of helicopter blades scything the air joined the cacophony of sound, blending with the thunder and human cries. A searchlight struck him and Chris looked up, gesticulating madly in the hope that medical help was on its way.
"Hang in there, Sean," he yelled over the terrible noise, unwillingly stepping aside as a Navy medic took his place. He could only look on in morbid fascination as another medic joined the first and set to work, knowing from the pallor of Sean's face that he was having difficulty breathing.
Chris turned his head to the newcomer as a hand dropped onto his shoulder, and saw Harada's profile, recognizing the fear and concern as Harada watched the medics at work on their friend and colleague. His feet were frozen to the spot, his eyes refusing to move from Sean's face until he saw a small head movement that proved Sean was still alive.
"He's breathing better" the medic crowed and with his words, the storm passed. The torrential rain eased to a light smattering of droplets as the full moon came out from behind the dissipating storm clouds to cast a white glow over the heiau.
"Stabilize for immediate med-evac," he said to the other medic before radioing his needs to the helicopter.
Harada called to both Chris and Danny. "He's in good hands. Let's get this mess cleaned up."
With great reluctance, Chris turned away, though the sight of Sean lying deathly still with tubes and pressure bandages covering his bloodied and beaten, naked body would give him nightmares for months to come.
Sean glanced across the private hospital room as the door opened, finding a welcoming smile for the three men who entered. Danny made for the one of the two visitor seats, easing his tall frame into the plastic chair and using his foot to hook the other one and draw it back for John. He gave Chris a triumphant grin that faded when Sean moved his legs and indicated to 'parking space' on the bed.
"Hey, Sean. How are you feeling?"
Sean waggled his hand in a so-so gesture having already discovered how painful talking could be. He stared hard at the three men. Kaleo had been in earlier and had told him how tirelessly everyone had worked since his abduction, and Sean could see the truth of those words in the dark shadows under their eyes. He felt humbled by the respect and caring they had each shown and he wished could give them his thanks in words.
Despite their appearance, Sean knew he looked in far worse shape, with his body a mass of cuts and bruises. He had glanced in the bathroom mirror earlier and his fingers had traced the deep oval bruises left by Kamamaui's thumbs. His bruised throat had looked as bad as it felt, with every involuntary swallow causing him pain. His one attempt to speak had come out croaked and hoarse but the doctor was confident that this would be a temporary condition. In truth, Sean knew he had never had the most strident of voices to begin with.
As if understanding he had problems speaking, the others began to fill in the silence. Although Sean had heard aspects of the investigation and rescue from Terry Harada and Kaleo, he listened in mute fascination as all three men described the path they had taken to find him. Only one aspect of it all bothered him--there had been no mention of De Lustra. Sean did not recall seeing the man at any time during his captivity, or even on the luakini heiau during the ceremony. All he could recall was the presence of Kamamaui...and the terrible death of Ionakana and the four other men who had knelt between them.
He grabbed a message pad from the bedside cabinet and wrote down De Lustra's name with a question mark.
"De Lustra? You must mean plain old Jason Lohilanna...as far as the undertaker is concerned," remarked Danny. His eyes flicked to John, who carried on with the story.
"He was there. Had a prime viewing spot for the...sacrifices...and maybe, if he'd skipped a few picnics, he could have outrun Danny and me and slipped away in all the confusion and darkness. Trouble is, the storm stopped as quickly as it started, and then that big fat moon decided to come out from behind those thunderheads, turning night into day."
Sean smiled, recalling how Kaleo described all this as the work of Ku, god of rain and of death, blessing Sean rather than the men who sought Kuka'ilimoku's favor.
"The Marines took him down cut off his escape...and De Lustra decided to make a stand," added Danny.
Although no smile touched their lips, Sean could see the pleasure in his colleagues' eyes, knowing they felt no remorse at ridding the world of this cold-blooded killer. He sank back against the bed and listened as the three men bickered over the rest of the events, grateful for the snippets that told him how most of the Kuawa had survived, including Iokua.
"So..." started Chris, his head cocking to one side as he stared at Sean's forehead."Are you going to keep it?"
Automatically, Sean's hand reached up to his forehead, brushing the still sore area from where Kamamaui had placed the tattoo denoting him as Kuawa. One of the doctor's had already mentioned laser treatment, though it would leave a small scar. He knew from Kaleo that he could simply have the tattoo altered to form a mark to be proud of, one only a Kuawa freed by Kuka'ilimoku could wear.
Although the tattoo had seemed massive to him at the time, he knew from looking in the mirror that it was actually quite small and well formed, lying almost at his right temple. Sean frowned as Chris pulled a paper from his pocket and placed it in front of him. He stared at the image, recognizing the basic pattern that adorned his forehead. His eyes flicked up to Chris's and then down to the tattoo adorning the man's shoulder, knowing Chris wore it as a symbol of courage. He glanced back down at the image on the paper and then looked back up at Chris.
Sean's smile grew into a wide grin, knowing this would be his mark of courage, of surviving against all odds. It would be his constant reminder of the people who had not slept until they found him; of their love and respect for him that went beyond the call of duty.
As the other's grinned back at him, Sean knew he would wear this mark in pride.