Grey fabric panels surrounded Latoya Benson in her staid cubby hole desk in the drab brick office building across from Safeco field. Illumination from the lights high above Second Avenue brightened the after-hours still of the quiet office. The occasional roar from the evening’s Seattle Mariners game vibrated her window and broke her concentration.
Blue and silver light emanated from her computer screen as she accessed the department database to review the city’s crime statistics. A Sound Transit train rumbled just beneath her window, heading south through the stadium parking lot to the airport. Its headlights flashed through the office window, catching her attention and causing her to take another brief mental pause. The giant walls of the city’s football stadium just adjacent to the baseball park loomed above the elevated tracks and blotted the moon between the late evening clouds.
Agent Danny Johns moved across her view, eclipsing the sight of the stadium. Kumi Oshiro entered the room just behind him. Her 5’2” petite stature looked almost childlike compared to Danny’s 6’3”, 225 pounds of well-proportioned muscle.
“I got the spreadsheet you sent,” Latoya said, as Kumi sat at the table by her desk with her laptop open and humming. “Thank you, Kumi. You must’ve put in a lot of work to pull together all this research.”
“She just transferred to Investigations,” Danny said. “She came from Quant.”
“All I ever wanted to be was a cop,” Kumi added. “But I was really good in math and data analysis, so they kept giving me desk jobs in Predictive Analytics. I guess they figured I was better with a laptop at a desk than a gun in the field.”
“Don’t let her fool you,” Danny said, towering over his diminutive partner. “It’s only been a couple months since we started working together. She’s 98-pounds of total kick-ass. Only a matter of time before Captain Gonsalves figures that out.”
“You’ll have to explain some of these charts to me,” Latoya said.
“In summary, crime’s way down north of the bridges,” Kumi said. “Fremont, Wallingford, Woodland - you name it. Hutchinson and Peters are lower across the board than almost any other area.”
“They sound like dicks,” Latoya said. “But is there any evidence that they’re dirty in any way?”
“There’s some drug activity,” Kumi continued, spinning her 15-inch laptop to face her audience. “It’s not noticeably more than the gang-controlled areas south of downtown. But, look at this.”
On the Seattle Police website, a picture of officer Rodney Peters splashed across the top of a page posted about six months earlier.
“Highest rate of car recovery in the entire city,” she said. “He’s shaking hands with the friggin’ Mayor for Christ’s sake.”
Kumi turned the monitor back toward herself and clacked away at her keyboard again.
“Major crime’s down from one of the highest districts to dead last,” she said, staring at the numbers on her screen. “Dirty districts usually have a higher footprint of violence. Gangs feel empowered to act out, knowing they have the police at bay. But they’ve got the fewest incidents of violence, not a single shooting and minimal hard-core gang activity reported across their territory.”
“There were problems with gang wars for a while up there,” Danny said. “Was a real issue two years ago. There’s one small group that we try to keep tabs on, but otherwise, it’s a pretty well-patrolled section of Seattle. HQ sees them as the models for all the other beats.”
“By most of the data,” Kumi said, “The last two years have shown a significant clean-up in gang activity and violence in the northeast.”
“That’s about when Peters and Hutch took over the beat,” Latoya said, sipping her soda. “There’s a couple Seattle Times articles quoting the Chief as crediting them for the decline in gang-related violence. It doesn’t add up. By all stats, they’re among the best cops in the city.”
“According to our homeless witnesses, they’re scumbags,” said Danny as his chest flexed to reveal a shoulder holster and gun strapped across his left pectoral muscle.
“I know,” Latoya said. “I don’t get it. They’re stars in every category.”
“Every category but one,” Kumi said, pointing at a small purple spike in her multi-colored chart.
“What category’s that?” Danny asked.
“Missing girls,” she replied.
Alex Svoboda lay on a bag of laundry on the floor of Edeyo Okeke’s apartment. Rulon lay next to him with his head resting on the bare thigh of a curvaceous young girl in a white ribbed tank top and hot pink panties. The skunky, fruity smell of pot dominated the air. He could smell it on his plain white t-shirt and imagined he could still see wisps of it dancing in the air above his head.
The moonlight through the sunroof of Edeyo’s two story townhouse illuminated the whites of his scant clothing and glinted off Rulon’s bare chest. Edeyo sat on the futon couch with a heavily tattooed woman. He propped his feet on a wooden workbench that served as his coffee table, adorned with beer cans, pot ashes and remnants of white powder.
He smiled a menacing, controlling expression and scratched his balls through his thin boxer shorts.
“You getting hungry little man?” he asked Alex. “I was taking bets on who would pass out first, you or Rulon. I guess he got more messed up than you tonight?’
Alex rolled to his side and attempted to rise from the floor, which was covered in crunched aluminum cans and sticky with spilled beer. As he attempted to push up to his knees, he felt lightheaded. The moon caught his eyes and the headache he experienced earlier in the evening intensified.
“Little man don’t feel too good,” Edeyo laughed, toking a drag. “You been out since midnight.”
Alex made it to his knees and looked out the window at the dark north Seattle streets. The sexy frame of a girl about his age stirred next to him. She reached for his thigh and rested her hand inside his groin only a few inches from his crotch.
Alex looked at her cobalt blue eyes and pale wavy blond hair with a combination of familiarity and unrecognition. He remembered grinding his hips into hers earlier in the evening, her hair flailing like the wispy, wavy smoke that filled the air. Rap music flooded his ears and he recalled Edeyo, Rulon and several others cheering him on as she slipped his pants down his thighs and kissed his stomach.
“That’s my shirt,” she muttered, pointing to a twisted piece of fabric next to his makeshift laundry bag pillow.
He handed her the peach-colored blouse and she slung it over her skimpy tank top, sliding on her white tattered jean shorts to cover her black lacy panties.
Rulon remained comatose against another half-naked woman. Edeyo sat on the couch, grinning in a hazy stupor.
“You like her?” he asked Alex with a grin. “You have fun with my little Evie tonight?”
The girl put on a pair of socks and tucked her feet into a tiny pair of sneakers. She glared at Edeyo.
“I gotta go get something to eat,” she said. “You want anything?”
“Nah,” he replied, flipping her several twenty-dollar bills. “Take the kid out and treat him good. Give him something to eat.”
The girl took the money and looked back at Alex, torqueing her shoulder to beckon him to follow her.
They descended the dark, dank staircase and opened the door to the apartment. A wave of brightness from the overhead streetlight flooded the foyer. The cool evening air flushed their lungs.
“You want a slice of pizza?” the girl asked Alex. “Only a couple places open this time of night.”
“Sure,” he answered, shaking the fog from his head. “That’s a pretty good wad of cash you got there.”
The girl didn’t respond and started to cross the street without him.
“So, you’re Evie?” Alex continued as he trotted to catch up to her.
The girl continued up the avenue and cut left on 38th toward Stone Way Ave. where a little strip of stores brightened the otherwise pitch-black night. She walked quickly and Alex found himself striding behind her, watching her jeans wiggle back and forth as she took each step forward.
“I never seen you before at the apartment,” Alex said to her as they entered the bodega and she placed their order for two slices. “I didn’t even get your name before.”
They sat at a creaky wooden table by the plate glass window with their food and two oversized plastic cups full of soda.
“Did we?” Alex started to ask. “Did I, uh, I’m sorry, I don’t totally remember.”
“Summer,” the girl said. “He calls me Eve, because he only wants to see me in the evenings. My real name’s Summer.”
“That’s cool,” Alex said. “Want me to call you Eve or Summer?”
“Summer’s fine like this,” she answered. “But when he’s around, call me Eve. He’ll get mad if he hears you call me Summer.”
Alex gulped his soda and crunched on his crust.
“And, no,” Summer continued. “We didn’t. That was more of a lap dance, with some, uh, other stuff.”
“Ah, I was pretty out of it,” Alex said. “I wasn’t positive, cause I’m pretty sure I…”
“You did,” Summer said, sipping her soda through a straw. “That was just a little handy. You seemed like you needed it.”
“Oh, uh, thanks.”
“Just doing my job, Babe.”
Summer took the cash from her back pocket and paid for the pizza. They exited back to the street and stood awkwardly on the sidewalk.
“You have to go back to Edeyo’s?” he asked.
“Nah, I’m done for the night,” she replied. “If I stay out another hour or two, he’ll either be passed out on the couch, or doing Kimmy in his room. Either way, I can slip in and go to bed. I sleep in late enough, that he’s gone for the day doing God knows what, and I can hang out and relax.”
“Kinda early to be done working for the night? Isn’t it?”
“Trust me,” she looked away. “I done enough for one night.”
Alex decided to drop the subject. They walked aimlessly to 40th street and across Whitman Ave.
“That was my school when I was a kid,” said Alex, motioning to the brick building just across the way from busy Aurora Avenue.
“Me too,” Summer beamed. “When’d you go there?”
“I was seven or eight I guess,” Alex said. “When were you there?”
“Same, I guess. How old’re you now?”
Alex told her he was 16, even though his birthday wouldn’t come for another couple weeks.
“Me too,” Summer said.
“I don’t remember you.”
“I stayed back a year when I was seven,” Summer said. “I had some sort of learning problem. I couldn’t read too good.”
“We might’a been in the same class,” Alex said, maneuvering around the building to the open playground behind the old cafeteria. “Did you go to the middle school?”
“Nah, I never made it that far,” she said. “My mom was pretty hard up on heroin and died four years ago. My dad tried to take care of me, but he was a junkie too. And then, one day, he just disappeared.”
“So, you been on your own since then?”
“Since I was 12 or 13,” she said. “I stayed in the apartment as long as I could. But, eventually, the landlord had to kick me out to make the rent from someone else.”
“Where’d you go?”
“I lived with the landlord for about a year or two,” she said. “Then, I met Edeyo and he took me in to his place. I been there for the last year or two. Sometimes I stay with my sister and her boyfriend, but I can only stand him for a couple days at a time. Then I gotta fend for myself. At least Edeyo gets me out of the cold.”
“I’ve been living in that apartment for the last six months,” Alex said. “I ain’t never seen you before.”
“I just got out of jail,” she said, walking across the blacktop and taking a seat on one of the swings. “I took a misdemeanor possession charge and they locked me up for the last six months.”
“You kidding?” Summer said. “Got me off the street. I didn’t have to spread my legs for no one that whole time. It was actually better for me than this.”
Alex fell quiet. For a distant moment, he thought of Amaya, the young girl he had watched for a few hours as a favor to his mother. She must’ve been about the same age as Summer when she lost her father and her life devolved into the nightmare it was. He tried to imagine the transition from a scared, mousey 12-year-old like Amaya to a seasoned and hardened 16-year-old like Summer. The image scattered and all he could picture was the pretty blond-haired girl in the swing next to him laying underneath some old, sweaty, 40-year-old landlord.
“How long you been out?” he asked her.
“Wow,” Alex looked at her, catching the blue of her eyes. “So, now, you’re uh, just gonna go back to…”
“I wasn’t planning on it,” Summer cut him off. “I wasn’t out an hour when Edeyo tracks me down walking along Fifth and Cherry, downtown and makes me get in his car with him.”
“How’d he know?”
“I had no money. Just the clothes on my back and a little duffel bag from my locker. So, I called my friend Kimmy - collect - from the payphone. Turns out she was strung out at Edeyo’s place. He answers and wants to know where I am. He offers me a place to stay, a roof over my head.”
“I see,” Alex nodded.
“Otherwise, I’m on the street,” Summer continued. “I spent a couple months on the street last year and it sucks. So, I told him where I was and he comes gets me.”
“And, now you have to work for him again?”
“You gotta do what you gotta do,” she shrugged her shoulders. “What do you do?”
“Usually, I just work in the pizza place and get them beers and food,” he said. “They’re paying me pretty good to drive cars for them now.”
“Drive cars?” she asked. “What kind of job is that? Stolen cars?”
“No clue,” Alex shrugged. “They don’t tell me and I don’t ask.”
Summer looked at him dubiously.
“Probably stolen,” he said.
“But you don’t steal them, you just drive them?”
“That’s right,” Alex said. “I just gotta take the train down to the car in the garage and drive it back up here.”
“The train?” Summer asked. “To where?”
“Down to the airport, “ said Alex “They’re paying me a couple hundred.”
Alex sat in the swing next to Summer and stared at the moonlight through the trees. Summer shivered in the breeze. They swayed in oblong oval patterns, rotating in small, but misshapen circles. Their swings nearly collided. Alex struggled to formulate his next question.
“So, uh, earlier tonight?”
“Don’t worry about it,” she smiled, suddenly seeming so much older and more experienced than him. “Edeyo just wanted to see you get off. He thought it was funny.”
“Sorry about that.”
“No worries,” Summer smiled, nudging him with her shoulder. “You were kinda cute about it.”
Alex looked away.
“You tried to kiss me,” Summer said, softly. “That was sweet. Most guys would rather choke me.”