Ghost Ship

an excerpt

1 - Barking Sands

A blue and white sailboat with three sails rested on its side against a rocky shoreline, a gaping hole in the port bow. The sparse grass along the shore had been blocked off by yards of yellow hazard tape, and a rough surf smashed against the hull. In the distance I could see a surfer cresting the top of an early morning wave.

"Turn up the TV volume," I said to my partner, Mike. We were watching Wake Up, Honolulu!, the morning news program on KVOL, the scrappy independent TV station in Honolulu where my brother Lui worked. It had become our habit now that we were empty-nesters, with our foster son Dakota a sophomore at the University of Hawai'i and living on campus. The twins we had fathered four years before lived with their moms, a lesbian couple who were our close friends, and came to visit us on alternate weekends, or whenever their moms needed a break.

Mike raised the volume in time for us to hear the perky female anchor say, "A jogger on the Leeward Coast made a gruesome discovery just after dawn this morning. Police are already on the scene but have declined comment."

She turned to face the camera. "And now, let's take a look at the newest baby otter at the Honolulu Zoo!"

"You can lower the volume now," I said.

"I'm at your service, master," Mike said with a grin. Mike was half-Italian and half Korean, while my parents had passed down Caucasian, Japanese and Hawaiian strains. We both had skin that tanned easily, dark hair and facial features that identified us as mixed race, though he was a few inches taller than I was.

Cathy and Sandra, the mothers of our twins, had worked out a scheme which we went along with. Mike's and my sperm were mixed with Cathy's eggs, and the resulting embryos had been implanted into Sandra's womb. That way all four of us were participants in their birth. The twins looked like a mix of all of us--just as we'd hoped.

While Mike finished getting dressed I made sure that our golden retriever, Roby, had water and toys to play with while we were at work. Before we walked out, we stopped at the front door for a goodbye kiss--another of our newer rituals.

Mike was a fire investigator with the Honolulu Fire Department, evaluating any suspicious blazes and teaching his colleagues about new techniques in arson evaluation. My job was no less dangerous than his--after years as a street patrolman and then homicide detective with the Honolulu Police Department, I'd gone on assignment to the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

We'd both made a pact years before never to leave each other angry, not knowing what the day could bring. And with Dakota out of the house, we'd indulged in the kind of hot, deep kisses that sealed our desire for each other. Mike grabbed my ass and leaned down, pressing his lips against mine in a clash that grew hotter as we pressed together.

My dick popped up and strained against my pants, and I panted with desire. "I don't have to be at work on time this morning," I said, arching my head back so Mike could nip at my neck. "How about you?"

He unbuttoned the white dress shirt I had begun to wear when I joined the FBI. Mike was wearing a polo shirt with the HFD logo on the breast, so it was easy to pull the tails out of his slacks and stick my hands underneath, sliding through his silky chest hairs.

He unbuckled my belt and unhooked my pants, and they fell to the floor. My dick popped out of the slit in my tropical-print boxers and he wrapped his hand around it as we exchanged hot, sinful kisses.

My cell phone rang as I undid his pants and shoved them to the tile floor. "Let it go," Mike growled into my neck, and I ignored the call--and also released his dick from his briefs.

We kept kissing as we jerked each other in hard, fast strokes. My heart raced and my orgasm rose, suffusing my body with an energy so strong I thought I must be glowing. Then I came, spurting into his hand, and he followed a moment later.

Our bodies sagged together, and I reached out for the front door to steady myself. "Still got it, babe," Mike said.

My phone beeped to announce a new voice mail, but I ignored it. Mike and I were a tangle of pants around our ankles and sticky come on our hands, and it took a few minutes to extricate ourselves and clean up. Then we kissed goodbye again--this time just a quick peck on the cheek--and I walked out to my Jeep.

It was a gorgeous day in the islands, just a few clouds striating the blue sky, a light breeze dancing in the palm fronds. As I got onto the highway, a broad-winged bird soared high above the highway, and I wished I could be that free--if I didn't have to go to work, I'd have been out on the surf beyond that wrecked sailboat.

Then I remembered that missed call and voice mail. I turned the Bluetooth on and heard the voice of my detective partner, Ray Donne. "Need you here ASAP," he said. "We've got a meeting in the small conference room as soon as you get in."

I hit the gas and zoomed around a convertible full of tourists taking pictures of the scenery with their cell phones. When I got to the office, Ray was waiting for me.

He and I were like brothers from another mother. We'd worked together for nearly nine years by then, at HPD and the FBI. He was a couple of inches shorter than my six-one, his hair was wavy brown and mine straight black, and he was stockier than I was. But over time we'd developed the ability to read each other's thoughts and finish each other's sentences.

We hurried down the hall together. The conference room was set up with a dozen chairs auditorium style, all except two in the front occupied. Francisco Salinas, a tall, tanned Cuban-American guy with wavy dark hair and perennially pressed white shirts, stood by the podium, talking to a pair of agents I didn't know.

Ray and I had worked with Salinas on a couple of cases back when we were homicide detectives, and he'd requested our assignment to the JTTF, comprised of members of various law enforcement agencies who worked on Federal cases, with all the rights and privileges of special agents. At first, I'd been resistant, but over time I'd come to enjoy the diversity of cases Ray and I were able to work on, as well as the sense that occasionally what we did helped protect our country.

"The SAC is in DC," Salinas began, letting us know that the Special Agent in Charge had gone to our nation's capital. One of the things I hated about working with the Feds was the endless alphabet soup--the POTUS and FLOTUS (president and first lady) and so on. I often wondered if there was some Acronym Nomenclature of the United States, or ANUS, that we'd have to stick our noses into.

"I'm in charge until he returns," Salinas continued. "We've got a hot case that's unfolding right now, and I'm going to need all of you on it right away."

Besides Ray and me, the team Salinas had assembled included agents from Evidence Recovery, Field Intelligence, High Tech Crimes, and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Task Force. There was also a language specialist and an analyst liaison to the Japanese embassy.

The last two intrigued me. In the four years Ray and I had spent at the Bureau we rarely interfaced with foreign language specialists. What kind of case was this?

The team also included a woman from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and a guy from the Coast Guard. Salinas motioned toward the guy in the white uniform shirt. "Zach, since your agency were the first responders, you want to kick things off?"

Zach Hessler was a tall, slim haole--or white guy, with the sides of his head shaved, leaving just a bristle at the top. In his early forties, the epaulets on his shoulders identified his rank as a Lieutenant JG. He had a military bearing and I almost expected him to salute Salinas as he stepped over to a laptop on a podium.

He brought up an aerial photo of a beach on the big screen behind him and I recognized the boat crash I had seen on TV that morning. The time stamp on the photo of the boat and surrounding area read 7:14 AM.

"This is an area just south of Ohikilolo Beach Park on the Leeward coast," he said. "Sometimes called Barking Sands-- not to be confused with the missile base on Kauai." He used a laser pointer to indicate the boat. "At approximately 0500 hours this morning, the Coast Guard received a report of a sailboat that had crashed into the shore."

He clicked and the screen shifted to a closer view of the boat. I knew a bit about sailboats, from a life spent around the water, and I followed as he indicated the sails. "This sail here is on the main mast," he said, pointing. "This one here is attached to the forward stay -- for those of you without a nautical background that means a wire fastened to the hull which supports the mast and controls how much it bends."

Then he pointed to the third sail. "This boat is what we call cutter-rigged that means it has an additional forward stay with this triangular jib attached to it."

He smiled. "Sorry for all the lingo, but it's important to recognize because all this equipment means the boat was prepared for long-distance sailing. With this combination of sails, an experienced captain can keep going in light or strong winds, which makes it possible it traveled all the way across the Pacific to reach us."

Another screen, this one a photo of a metal box with a nuclear hazard warning as well as extensive writing in Japanese. "Our first responders boarded the vessel and found this box on board, which further supports the hypothesis that the port of origin was somewhere in Japan."

I had learned a bit of spoken Japanese to communicate with Ojisan, as I called my Japanese-born grandfather, and I had taken four years of Japanese in high school. But whatever knowledge I had of kanji, the written language, had faded. I could recognize restaurant items and some street signs, but that was about it. The nuclear hazard symbol on the box, the yellow circle containing the three black triangles, was the same in any language.

Hessler pointed at a series of characters. "These ideograms mean Fukushima Dai-Ichi. The nuclear power plant on the Japanese island of Honshu, which was severely damaged during the earthquake and tsunami back in 2011. First responders called in our Hazmat team, which removed the box." He paused. "The responders also found four deceased individuals on board. Because of the possibility of nuclear contamination, the bodies are still in place."

He stepped down, and Salinas took his place. "The box was transported to our Hazmat facility, where the contents are under investigation right now. Unfortunately, because we have a couple of agents in training and we're involved with a hazardous waste site on the North Shore, our Hazmat teams are short-staffed. I've had to call in a favor from the Honolulu Fire Department and ask them to take over management of the site. Fortunately they have a Hazmat specialist they can spare."

I immediately thought of Mike, who was one of several with Hazmat experience in his department. Would he be there? I hoped not, because I didn't like the idea of him anywhere near nuclear contamination, even though I knew he was trained to deal with it.

Salinas put the pointer down. "We need to begin an immediate investigation into the individuals on board, the source of the nuclear material, and the intentions of those involved."

He ran through our assignments. An agent from Forensics would manage the Evidence Recovery Team, and another from the Cyber Task Force would get hold of the boat's navigational computer and figure out where it had come from and where it had been headed. An agent from High-Tech Intelligence would investigate suspected terrorists on the island who might have an interest in nuclear materials.

Then Salinas turned to Ray and me. "Since you gentleman have such extensive experience with dead bodies, you'll be going out to the site to liaise with the Medical Examiner and our brethren in the Coast Guard and the HFD."

We dispersed and Ray and I walked back to our office. "You know where this place is?" he asked.

"General idea. We head up Farrington Highway and stop when we see the flashing lights and yellow tape."

Ray drove and I navigated, past the housing for Barber's Point Naval Air Station, flat land with mountains looming in the background, the suburban sprawl scattered with swaying palms and wind-twisted kiawe trees. The blue skies of earlier that morning were gone, and dark-bellied cumulous clouds loomed ahead of us.

That's not unusual--because of our mountainous geography, O'ahu is an island of micro-climates, and you could go from sun to showers to a full-on tropical downpour in a matter of minutes.

We got onto Farrington Highway, which quickly shifted from an interstate (yes, the Feds require us to call our highways interstates in order to get funding) to a divided four-lane with traffic lights and business driveways. Squat cabbage palms and spikes of pink ginger lined the road. We followed a pickup with a bumper sticker that read, "Sleep well, America, my Marine has your back."

It began to drizzle as we passed the broad white sands of Makaiwa Beach Park. Through the rain, we saw glimpses of the Pacific to our left, beyond the old sugar cane railroad. On Sundays, a diesel locomotive pulled tourists there in open cars for about six miles along the shoreline.

The tracks beside us ran out, and we passed through lots of open area--flat scrub to our right, rocky shore to our left. But soon enough outcroppings of development popped up--fast food, auto tint shops, a Head Start program and a Samoan Methodist Church. The rain intensified as we entered Ma'ili, a smaller outpost with a beachfront park and the Holy Hill of Zion Full Gospel church. It was a side of the island tourists rarely saw, without the glittering hotels of Waikiki or the towering surf of the North Shore. It was just a place where people lived.

After Ma'ili, we were back on a wild stretch of highway. By then the downpour had turned into a sheeting rain, and we were almost on top of the emergency vehicles before we saw their flashing lights. Ray pulled to a stop along the verge behind the ME's van.

We sat in the car waiting for the monsoon to pass. A pickup towing a sailboat crept past us, wipers flapping, and then suddenly the rain slowed to a drizzle and a rainbow appeared ahead of us. They're such a common phenomenon in the islands that the University of Hawai'i named their sports teams the Rainbows. Once the rainbow became a gay symbol, the administration tacked "Warriors" on to the end of the male teams. Then they figured out that made them sound like a bunch of radical gay activists, and they allowed each team to choose its own nickname. The result was a mishmash of Rainbows, Warriors, and Rainbow Warriors.

As Ray and I approached the yellow hazard tape around the sailboat in the light rain, someone in a bulky Hazmat suit climbed awkwardly off the bow, looking like a giant lime-green marshmallow man with a gas mask and bright yellow shoes. Even in that getup, I recognized the man I'd been sharing my life with for almost ten years.

Mike stepped onto a polyethylene walkway, stretched out his arms, and let the rain wash over him. The shower dissipated and the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. A guy in a firefighter's uniform stepped up to him, staying outside the yellow tape, and ran a long-handled scanner up and down the hazmat suit.

Mike was stepping out of the suit when I reached him. We tried to stay professional when we were working--no sweetheart, or honey, and that was difficult because I was worried about what he might have been exposed to on that boat.

I struggled to stay cool. "Hey. You find anything interesting in there?" I asked.

"Four dead bodies." Mike looked grim. "Two of them little babies. They look like Addie and Owen did at that age."

I could see why he looked shaken. The birth of our twins had rocked our worlds, bringing home the joy and the terror of parenting, and everything that happened to kids reminded us of how fragile those two little lives were.