Sixteen Hours to Die

by Mary Clare

Joe Nalowale clutched his screwdriver and scrambled for a better footing on the rocks as the ocean crashed around him. He carefully jimmied the screwdriver under an opihi and pried it up from the slippery surface. These shellfish tasted great with seaweed and a little chili pepper water, but man, it sure took a lot of work.

Joe was 22, and glad to have a day off from his construction job. He and his buddies came out to Makaha every chance they got to swim, surf, and fish. Today he had an extra reason to feel happy: After almost a year of trying, his wife Charlene found out yesterday that she was pregnant. Joe felt excited just thinking about it. He couldnít wait to tell his family.

Joe dropped the greasy opihi shell into his bucket just as a wave hit. The impact almost knocked him off his feet. He was grabbing for a better handhold when his eye fell on something shiny glistening in a tidepool nearby.

At first he thought they were jellyfish, washed in by the tide and deposited behind the breakwater. But they didnít look like any jellyfish heíd ever seen. There were four small spheres -- milky white, almost translucent, and about the size of a childís play ball.

Bracing one hand against the rock to steady himself, Joe bent down and picked one of the spheres out of the water. It felt like a slippery bubble in his hand. The outside was springy, but not tough like rubber. The ball was hollow, with a little bit of shiny liquid inside.

"íEy! Look what I found!" Joe called to his wife. He held up the ball and waved it in the air.

"What is it?" Charlene yelled back.

"I dunno. Some kinda cool fishing float! Itís like a big bubble or something!"

"Well, put it back and come on in. Iím about to fix lunch."

Curiously, Joe put the ball against the rocks and poked it with his screwdriver. The slippery surface gave, but didnít break. He reached in his back pocket, found his pocketknife, and jabbed it through the rubbery skin. Shiny liquid oozed out onto his hand.

"Weird," Joe said. The liquid didnít look or smell like anything in particular. He tossed the empty rubber skin out to sea, then crouched down and washed his hand off in the tidepool. Then he grabbed his bucket full of opihi and made his way back towards the beach.

Later that afternoon, Joe dropped out of a beach volleyball game, saying he had a headache. Charlene figured heíd just spent too long in the sun picking opihi. She gave him a couple of aspirin and tucked him under a beach towel in the shade to take a nap.

An hour or so later, Charlene came back to check on him. Joe didnít respond when she shook his shoulder.

"Joe?" she said softly. "Joe, wake up. Itís time to go home. Remember, weíre gonna go over to Mamaís and tell her the good news tonight."

Charlene lifted up the beach towel, then screamed in horror. Her husbandís eyes were open and staring. His face was crusted with foam and dried blood. He was dead.

***

Danny Williams swung his big black sedan into the parking area at Makaha Beach Park. Theyíd got the call from Doc Ė an unexplained death had occurred out here this afternoon, something unusual. Steve thought it sounded worth checking out.

Danny threw the car into park and hurried towards the picnic tables, where a small crowd had gathered. Doc was already there. Kimo and Dick from the Medical Examinerís Office were loading a stretcher into an ambulance. They stopped when they saw Danny.

"Can I get a look at him?" Danny asked. Gingerly, Kimo lifted the sheet covering the deceasedís head. Danny winced. "Yikes. Looks like somebody hit him on the head with a tire iron."

Kimo shrugged. "Nope. No external trauma." He pulled the sheet back into place, finished loading the body into the ambulance and drove away.

Danny turned, found Doc. "Doc, what can you tell me?" he asked.

"This is a strange one, Danny," Doc said. "The victimís name is Joe Nalowale. According to his wife, he was fine this morning Ė in fact, he was fine a few hours ago."

"Well, heís not fine now," Danny replied. "What happened?"

"A massive physical reaction to something he ingested," Doc said.

"Are you telling me it was something he ate?" Danny asked incredulously.

"I canít certify the cause of death until I examine him, but I suspect he died of internal bleeding, or perhaps suffocation, brought on by a rapid disintegration of the mucus membranes in his respiratory system."

"What would cause that, Doc?"

"Bacterial disease -- viral infection Ė poison," Doc speculated. "He could have ingested it orally, or absorbed it through the skin. Iíll know more once I open him up."

"Poison, huh?" Danny snorted softly. "Who was with him at the time of death? Anybody?"

Doc angled his head towards the picnic tables. "That young lady is his wife."

"OK, Doc," Danny said. "Keep me posted." He strode over to the picnic tables, where a young woman was huddled on a concrete bench. She was crying and talking to a beach patrol officer. The officer seemed grateful to turn her over to Danny and get back to fining litterbugs and chasing truant kids.

Danny squatted down so he and the woman were on eye level and took out his badge. "Mrs. Nalowale," he said, "Iím Dan Williams, Hawaii Five-O. Weíll be investigating your husbandís death, to rule out anything besides natural causes. What can you tell me about what happened this afternoon?"

"I Ė I donít know what happened," the girl stuttered. "He was fine and then Ė all of a sudden he was dead."

"Did he say anything? Show any signs of illness? It could be important," Danny said.

"He said he felt tired, and that he had a headache," Charlene Nalowale replied. "He didnít wanna play volleyball. Usually he loves it. And he said he felt thirsty Ė I mean, really thirsty. He must have drunk a whole six pack. I didnít think much about it."

"What were you doing earlier today? Anything different from your regular routine? Have you been anywhere unusual in the past few days?"

"No," Charlene croaked. "Just to the doctorís office. Iím pregnant." She started to sob. "Joe wanted to come pick opihi today. He loves opihi. He was out on those rocks for a couple of hours."

"All right, Mrs. Nalowale,." Danny said. "Iíll get somebody to take you home, OK?" He went to call for a patrol car, sighing inwardly. This was a dead end. It was obvious to him this girl hadnít poisoned her husband. Theyíd just have to wait for Docís report.

He was about to get back in his car when Charlene Nalowale ran up to him. "Mr. Williams," she said, "I forgot something. I donít know whether it means anything, but Ė my husband did find something unusual out in the water."

"What was it?" Danny asked.

"Some kind of funny Ö bubble," she said. "He thought it was a fishing float. To me, it looked like something out of Star Trek. You know, a big shiny egg or something."

"Whereíd he find it?" Danny asked.

"There Ö out on those rocks," she pointed.

Danny patted her arm. "Thank you, Mrs. Nalowale," he said. "Iíll check it out."

Danny took off his shoes and socks and rolled up his pant legs. Ignoring the curious stares of onlookers, he waded out into the water and scrambled up on the rocks. After a minuteís inspection, he saw what Mrs. Nalowale was talking about Ė three shiny bubbles, floating in a tidepool.

Wet and sandy, Danny hurried back to his car and got on the radio. "Central," he said, "patch me through to Che Fong."

When Che finally picked up a minute or so later, Danny could hear noise and laughter on the other end. "Whatís going on? Sounds like you guys are having a party over there."

"Itís my birthday," Che said sheepishly. "Weíre having a little get-together."

"Well, as soon as youíve got it together, would you mind meeting me out at Makaha Beach Park? Iíve got some possible evidence in an accidental death Iíll need you to take a look at. No rush."

Che sobered immediately. "Iíll be right out."

***

The tide was getting higher. Danny braced his feet on the rocks as another big wave came crashing in. He braced Che Fongís elbow as the diminutive lab man crouched over the tidepools where the mysterious bubbles were floating.

"I canít say what they are just by looking, Danny," Che said, wiping a damp piece of hair off his forehead. He was soaked to the skin. "Probably just some industrial debris. But I can run some tests back at the lab, just in case."

"OK, Che," Danny said. He set down Cheís clear plastic evidence bin and maneuvered around him to help shoo the bubbles into it. "Sorry to interrupt your birthday party."

"No big thing, Danny," Che smiled. "To tell you the truth, I was kind of glad for the interruption. Once you get to be my age, the last thing you need is another birthday party. Careful now Ė letís try and keep all of the bubbles intact."

They got two of the bubbles in the bin, but the last one had washed up into a small crater in the rock. Danny fished a pencil out of his suitcoat pocket and turned the eraser end down. Gingerly, he nudged the bubble with the rubber tip.

With a small poof it vanished, splashing them with a fine mist. Che gritted his teeth. "So much for keeping them intact," Danny said apologetically.

"Well, we have two Ė that should be enough to figure out what weíve got," Che replied. "Like I say, Danny, theyíre probably nothing significant. But itís worth checking out. If you want to come back to the lab, Iíll run a quick analysis. I might be able rule them out the cause of death in pretty short order."

"Service while you wait," Danny smiled. "Great, Che. Iíll let Steve know, then Iíll follow you over."

Within a few minutes, they were back on shore and headed into Honolulu.

***

Steve McGarrett sat at his desk, trying to concentrate. It was just after six oíclock. He had budget hearings coming up the following morning. Steve ran the numbers on his adding machine once, then again, and cursed softly. He hated spending his time on this stuff, but he guessed it came with the territory of being head of Five-O.

Kono poked his head in, reluctant to interrupt. "Boss?"

"Yeah?" McGarrett put down his pencil.

"Somethiní funnyís goiní on."

McGarrett lifted a corner of his mouth. "Make me laugh, Kono."

"I just got a call from the MEís office. You know that kid they found dead out at Makaha Beach this afternoon? Joe Nalowale?"

"Yeah," McGarrett nodded.

"Heís gone missing."

"Missing!" McGarrett frowned, his eyes demanding an explanation. "Kono, a corpse canít get up and just walk away from the morgue."

Kono shrugged. "This one did."

"Well, you better get over there, and find out what happened! Could be itís just a mix-up. But thereís gotta be an explanation." McGarrett glared. "What are you still standing around here for?"

Kono gave him a baleful look. "Donít blame the messenger, boss. Wonít make him any less gone."

He started out the door just as McGarrettís phone rang. Steve motioned for Kono to wait and snatched the receiver from the cradle. "McGarrett."

A voice crackled on the other end of the line. "Steve, this is Admiral Jenkins."

"Jenks, you old sea dog! How many years has it been? What are you up to these days?" Steve grinned Ė heíd known Jenkins since Annapolis, and considered him a good friend.

"More than I can tell you. Steve," Jenkins replied. He sounded harried. "Iíve got a real emergency on my hands. Itís top secret Ė and it needs to remain so. Iím going to need your help."

"Of course, Jenks, anything," McGarrett replied. He had an uneasy feeling that a phone call from Jonathan Kaye was in his future and felt a headache starting behind his eyes. "What can I do to help?"

"Well, it involves your agency," Jenks said in a labored voice. "I understand that one of your men from Five-O picked up some Ė some items on Makaha Beach this afternoon."

"The manís name is Dan Williams," McGarrett said. "And those Ďitems,í whatever they are, have been taken to the HPD lab for analysis."

"They must stop what theyíre doing immediately, McGarrett! Itís terribly important. I have to retrieve the items before anybody else is exposed."

"Exposed to what, Admiral?" McGarrett felt a sudden chill. "Whatís in those capsules? Jenks, would you know anything about a corpse thatís missing from the Honolulu morgue?"

"Yes, but never mind that now," Jenkins said. "I canít tell you anything more, Steve. I just need to get those capsules!"

McGarrett felt angry; Jenks was evading him, and not doing a very good job of it. But there was no point in pressing the Admiral any further. Heíd get his answer later, from Jonathan Kaye. "All right, Jenks -- Iíll meet you at the lab."

***

McGarrett stepped from his car. The evening air was warm and sweet. He noticed two staff cars bearing the insignia of the United States Navy a short distance away in the parking lot.

"This oughta be interesting," Kono muttered.

"Yeah Ė itís always a riot when you get involved with the Navy brass." They hurried up the steps and into the building. Admiral Jenkins was there, accompanied by two seamen wearing protective clothing and carrying a large metal locker.

"Admiral, I called the lab immediately after I talked to you. Che Fong hadnít started his examination yet, and he put everything on hold until we could get here." McGarrett eyed Jenkins warily. "Is there anything you want to tell me, Jenks?"

"No Ė just take us to where the items are being stored."

"Are my men in any imminent danger? I get a little uneasy when people show up wearing spacesuits."

"I hope to God not, Steve," Jenkins said. "As long as the remaining capsules have remained intact, everything will be fine."

McGarrett turned and stared at him as they hurried down the hall. "A man is dead, Admiral," he said. "Iíd hardly say everythingís fine."

"I know that, Steve Ė and I regret it." Jenkins avoided his eyes. "My main concern now is to make sure nobody else gets hurt."

They came to the lab door. McGarrett was surprised when the two seamen opened the metal case and took out gas masks. Jenkins strapped one on as well, and handed one to McGarrett.

"Is this really necessary, Admiral?" McGarrett asked. Kono looked alarmed.

"Probably not." Jenkinsí voice sounded muffled through the mask. "But since weíll be handling the items, itís wise to take every precaution."

Leaving Kono to stand guard outside, they entered the room and saw Che Fong and Danny sitting at a lab table. They were looking over some bits of evidence from another case Five-O was working on. Dannyís eyes widened when he saw the spacesuits and gas masks. Che gulped.

"Where are the capsules?" the Admiral demanded.

Che pointed meekly towards his plastic evidence case. "In there."

Without a word, the two seamen picked up the evidence case and carefully placed it in the metal locker. They lowered the lid, secured the locks, and rushed it out of the room.

Danny gaped at Steve. "Whatís this all about, Steve?"

"I wish I knew," Steve said from behind his gas mask. "Admiral Jenkins doesnít want to answer my questions."

"I have some of my own," the Admiral said. "At approximately what time were these items retrieved?"

Che checked his watch. "Iíd say approximately 4:20 pm. About three hours ago."

"How many did you find?"

"Three," Che said. "Thatís not counting the one that was picked up by Joe Nalowale."

"So thereís three in the box?"

"No," Danny said. Thereís only two. One broke when we tried to pick it up."

The Admiral paled behind his mask. "Was there anything inside? Did you get it on your skin?"

Danny and Che exchanged worried glances. "There was a little bit of liquid inside," Danny said. "It splashed on us when the bubble broke."

McGarrett was astonished when Admiral Jenkins turned around, grabbed him, and shoved him bodily out of the room. Jenkins slammed the lab door behind him and bleated, "SEAL OFF THIS DOOR!"

McGarrett tore off his mask. "Are you crazy?" he roared. "Thereís two men in there!"

"Theyíre a walking public health emergency, McGarrett!" Jenkins blubbered. "Those bubbles contain a dangerous, deadly virus! As long as it stays in the capsules, itís harmless! But as soon as it finds a human host, it starts to multiply Ė "

"Are you saying --" McGarrett tried to interrupt.

" Ė and the host becomes highly contagious within a few hours. It could potentially infect thousands, on this island alone!"

"Goddamnit!" McGarrett hollered. "Donít you think thatís something you should have clued me in on, Jenks? God knows how many people Danny and Che have come into contact with since they were exposed. Not to mention Joe Nalowale Ė his wife Ė"

"We already picked her up, McGarrett," Jenkins said. "There shouldnít be any risk to those who came into contact with Joe Nalowale after he was dead Ė the virus dies along with the host. This much we know."

Jenkins paced, rubbed his forehead. "As soon as I can arrange it, your men will be taken to the Naval Air Station for quarantine, along with Mrs. Nalowale. God willing, they havenít become contagious yet."

McGarrett was about to reply when Kono came running heavily down the hall. "Steve! I just got a phone call from Jenny! The Governorís on the line. He wants to meet with you wiki-wiki!"

Helplessly, Steve looked through the small glass window in the laboratory door where Danny and Che stood, slack-jawed with astonishment. They stared at Steve, then at each other, with an expression of wordless dismay.

Stunned, Danny remembered what day it was. He looked at Che and managed a crooked smile. "Happy birthday."

Go to Part 2

   
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