GM - Story #7

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Chapter 12

Cliff lugged the two plastic trash bags over his shoulder. The sound of the cans rattled and crunched. He stepped out from behind the hedge into the driveway of the church. He looked at Winona in her pale sundress and dirty hiking boots. She moved the hair from her face.

Her smile lit like the Pacific sunset and he walked back to face her. She cocked her head and dropped her hands to her side. Cliff took her by the back of the neck and guided her face toward his, kissing her lightly on the lips.

“Go in. Get warm,” he said, softly to her. “Find a nice bed and I’ll join you as soon as I get back.”

“Hurry,” she said nervously. “I can’t stay here alone, without you.”

At that, Cliff turned and trotted off with the bags clanking awkwardly against his back. He watched Winona make her way to the shelter entrance. The light in the church basement looked warm and inviting. Winona hesitated, glanced over her shoulder and disappeared down the stairs.

Cliff crossed 41st street and strode down the dimly lit Densmore Ave., a much safer route than Woodlawn that ran parallel, but contained many more stores, traffic and streetlights. He moved like a ghost in the night. Local residents brushed past him. He walked by other drunk, homeless people littering the streets. Some crashed lifelessly on benches, others splayed themselves in alleys on thin carboard boxes. Still others jammed themselves against the doorways to stores that had closed for the evening.

He descended the hill and felt the cool air from Lake Union and the Fremont Canal. Traffic along 35th street seemed light. By then, the sun had largely slipped beyond the horizon and the darkness gave him confidence to tread along the walkway toward the store. He roved his eyes as far ahead as he could, to make out any signs of a police car, while also glancing back, to make sure he wasn’t surprised from behind.

The store loomed a block away. He could see the friendly lights across the large parking lot. He approached carefully, crossing the street and slipping through the open paved expanse as quickly as he could.

Gertrude greeted him with a smile.

“Where’s Winnie?” she asked.

Cliff paused, hesitant to reveal her whereabouts.

“She was too tired to make the walk,” he answered.

“She usually comes in the mornings,” Gertude said, glancing at the clock behind her. “Odd, she would send you in her place.”

Cliff heaved the two oversized bags onto the counter and let the cans and bottles pour out.

“We’ll be back tomorrow,” he said. “We’re planning to work together from now on. I think we’ll be visiting you here even more than she has in the past.”

Cliff spoke as cheerfully and optimistically as he could to stem any suspicion about her whereabouts or why he suddenly showed up late at night without her.

“She’s the only one that knows about us,” Gertrude said as she counted the cans. “Everyone here really likes her. Tell her we’ll look forward to seeing her tomorrow.”

“Definitely,” Cliff said. “I have a goal to save up and one day get off the streets.”

Gertrude nodded as she punched keys into the cash register to log the number of cans.

“I’d like to help her get off the streets as well,” Cliff continued. “Maybe get a job.”

Gertrude’s smile widened and she complimented him on his “wonderful idea”, wishing him the best of luck and reminding him that he and Winona were welcome at the store any time.

“If you ever need anyone to clean up a little bit,” Cliff said. “I could get all the carts from the parking lot and bring them in, maybe sweep up or something. Maybe Winnie could get a job doing something.”

Gertrude continued to smile. Cliff tried to read it, but couldn’t tell if her lips parsed in real or faked support.

“I’ll talk to the manager,” she said.


Danny Johns sat at a black conference room chair, leaning with his feet atop the dark, cherry wood. The chair creaked under his weight. Kumi stood by the computer monitor affixed to the wall staring at a map of Seattle. Color-coded symbols dotted the map in both the northeast sections above the Aurora bridge, throughout the downtown financial district and across the southeast by the airport.

“Why northeast Seattle?” Kumi asked herself out loud. “What’s the pattern here?”

“There’s so much more gang activity down by the airport,” Danny said, reaching into the half-empty pizza box for a slice of pepperoni. “We know there’s human trafficking going on down there.”

“The south is much more violent, with three or four times the gang activity,” she agreed. “But, Beacon, Columbia, Brighton; they all show fewer incidents of missing girls.”

“How many girls have gone missing north of the channel?”

“This year,” Kumi answered. “11. Two from the park along the Ballast, three from the zoo, two from the streets in and around Wallingford, three from the area near the hospital and one college freshman at the university. All young teens or pre-teens but the college student.”

“All Asian?”

“One Spanish. One northern European. Nine Asians,” Kumi said, scrolling through the missing person database. “All 12 to 14. One 16-year-old and the college student was 18.”

“Let me guess,” Danny said, crushing a coke can in his giant hand and tossing it like a tiny basketball into the recycle bin. “Petite, maybe just over five feet tall, no more than a buck ten like the profile?”

“You got it,” Kumi nodded. “Five-foot-two, 95-pounds. Easily mistaken for a high school or middle school student.”

Danny let out a gasp as he tossed the crust from the last slice of pizza into the empty box.

“All but the Caucasian spoke English as a second language,” Kumi continued. “Most of them were either undocumented or recent immigrants. The college kid was on a student visa.”

“How many recovered?” Danny asked.

“Two down by the airport, but months later, one at a crack house in Tacoma.” she answered. “Just the one, Amaya, up this way before...”

Kumi’s voice trailed and Danny closed his eyes at the thought of the ordeal the young girls must have endured. Danny sat forward in his chair, causing it to creak and moan with the shift of his weight.

“Back when I was a detective down in the south,” Danny said. “When we busted the Bloods, we followed the drugs. As twisted and dangerous as they are down there, they’re still all like 20-year-old kids. They get sloppy. They’re dealing girls for drugs. Eventually, you catch a doped-up banger who spills enough intel to break it up.”

“My theory was that we could figure out which gangs are involved by the correlation of drug busts and missing girls,” Kumi said. “But I don’t see any patterns that help us figure out which gangs to target. Without those pointers, it’s a big city to canvass from scratch.”

“We need a lead,” he said. “What the hell was Amaya doing in the back of that car? And how’re Hutch and Peters caught up in this? If at all?”

“Don’t know,” Kumi said, tightening her gaze on the map. “But there’s a pattern here somewhere. I know there is.”


Cliff strolled along Canal Street, breathing the crisp, salty air. Without the two bags of cans, he moved more briskly. Gulls screeched overhead. The magnolias swayed in the breeze. Up Fremont Ave, he could see the troll under the bridge like a sentry. He could hear Elmer rant in the distance.

Trucks rattled the rafters of the bridge as he crossed under it a few blocks south of the underpass. As the troll disappeared from his sight, he remarked to himself that it didn’t call out to him and that he didn’t experience any confusing visions of the old hag from the train.

Instead of the harrowing image of the wrinkled cripple that he robbed only a few days earlier, he pictured Winona’s light brown eyes and curvy body beneath her thin, silky sundress. He imagined laying with her on a soft mattress at the shelter with his arms around her. He could feel the tickle of her curly hair across his face and hear the gentle soothing sound of her moaning in pleasure as they made love on the patio earlier in the day.

The images scattered as a fast-moving vehicle entered his peripheral vision. The headlights washed him in blinding illumination as the police car screeched to a halt only inches from where he walked along the sidewalk.

The wheels screamed through the dark air and the door opened right next to him.

“Get in, shithead,” officer Peters barked at him.

Cliff froze. He looked up the lonely road for witnesses, but the evening street remained dormant. Peters emerged from the car, opened the back passenger-side and grabbed Cliff by the collar, shoving him violently into the back seat.

As soon as his face hit the vinyl, the car peeled away with another loud screech.

Cliff recognized Northlake Drive and the entrance to Gas Works Park between the Aurora bridge and the I-5 overpass. The car veered off the street and cut across the grassy lawn, parking in a remote area behind an abandoned coal processing plant at the edge of the green.

Located on a quiet peninsula that jutted into Union Bay, officer Peters yanked Cliff out of the car and threw him onto the cracked asphalt behind the tallest rusty structure on the site. Cliff lay on the ground, his hands scraped by the course pavement.

Officer Hutch, raised him by the lapels of his overcoat and brought him to his feet, facing him with his back to the water.

“You took something that didn’t belong to you,” he sneered. “We want to know what happened.”

“You kidnapping little girls now?” officer Peters, said, shoving his shoulder. “We saw the video.”

“Why was she in the trunk of that car?” Cliff asked.

Hutch threw him to the ground, smacking his head against the hard pavement.

“None of your business,” he shouted against the dark water behind him. “We just need to know what you and your little girlfriend did with her.”

Cliff rolled to his knees, expecting the kick to the gut, which Peters delivered as if on cue. Cliff gagged and clutched his sore ribs.

“Don’t mess with us,” Hutch said. “We’re the law. You don’t exist. We could strangle you right here. Throw your lifeless body in the water. Nobody would know or care. You’re nothing. You have nothing. You’re worth nothing.”

Cliff rose to his knees again and faced his tormentors.

“What do you want from me?” he wheezed. “I didn’t even see the girl in the trunk. I wasn’t there. I heard about it after the fact.”

“We saw you and that slut skank on police video walking around town with the little Japanese girl,” Peters said. “You didn’t call 911, or we would’ve heard about it. We just need to know what you did with her, who you told about her and where she is now.”

“I have no clue,” Cliff said. “We got her something to eat and sent her off on her way.”

Hutch punched Cliff in the face, causing him to see red and blue dots in his right eye and flooring him dangerously close to the edge of the pavilion near the water.

Hutch grabbed him by the lapels of his overcoat again and hoisted him against the railing by the short, jagged rocks leading down to the bay.

“We’re trying to keep peace on the streets that we patrol,” Hutch snapped. “By getting in our way, you’ve made it much harder for us to keep order and avoid a gang war. Do you understand?”

“No, I…” Cliff stammered.

“You help us find the girl and maybe we just won’t toss you into the water with a broken neck.”

Hutch pressed Cliff against the railing, bending his back over the round metal. He could feel the spray from the water hitting the rocks below.

“Easy, fine, Ok,” Cliff whimpered. “We gave her to Child Services.”

Hutch dropped Cliff at the base of the railing and kicked him in the shoulder and again in the side of the face. The back of Cliff’s head hit the hard metal and he could feel a lump start to grow.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Hutch said, crouching to his prey’s eye level. “You know what that’s going to do to the city?”

“What?” Cliff asked. “I don’t know what any of this is about.”

“Every day, we protect this city from the Crips and the Bloods in South Seattle,” Peters spat as he spoke. “You kidnapping this girl will get us bad payback.”

“Payback?” Cliff muttered. “We didn’t kidnap…”

“Payback,” Hutch said, smacking Cliff across the face. “They expect payment for their goods.”

“Goods?”

“Like I said,” Hutch continued. “You see us as dirty cops. But we’re the heroes here. Before we took over this beat - Wallingford, Fremont, Meridian, Phinney Ridge - they were all overrun by drugs and violence. You remember the West Woodland shootings? The Greenwood drive by? All the dead bodies in Canal Park?”

“Not really,” Cliff continued to mumble as he rubbed the side of his stinging face. “I don’t read the papers.”

“In addition to the Bloods and the Crips, you’ve got the Locos, the Asian Hoods, the Mad Pack,” Hutch continued to explain. “Ten years ago, it just got too crowded for them all down in south Seattle. So, they started moving uptown. They took over Pike and Pine, but the real opportunity for them was to move into this section up here; our territory.”

Cliff coughed and Hutch gave him another kick to the gut.

“Let me tell you something,” he said. “I grew up here, right by the friggin’ university. We never had these gangbangers pushing drugs on the kids, recruiting students into their ranks and shooting each other dead in plain sight. It’s bad enough we have to deal with all you bums crowding up the street corners.”

“What does the little girl have to do with it?” Cliff wheezed.

“None of your damn business,” Hutch said, raising Cliff back to his feet and setting him atop the railing. “I just need to know who else you talked to beyond Child Services. You must’ve talked to Internal. Otherwise we’d have heard about it. So, unless you can swim with broken arms and legs, I suggest you tell us who else you talked to.”

Cliff looked at the rocks below the railing and the black, murky water that lapped them. He thought of the view from the top of the Aurora bridge and the terrifying sensation of falling through the air. Sweat burst from his brow. And just like when he jumped off the Aurora bridge - instantly regretting it - the same intense survival instinct kicked in.

“I’ll tell you what you want,” he said. “Just let me down. We spoke to someone from Child Services and some group like you said. That’s all I know.”

“Did they take a statement?”

“Yes.”

Hutch paused.

“What did you say about us?”

“Just that you were there soon after,” Cliff pleaded. “That’s it. That you were the first ones there and that you asked us about the car and that we said we didn’t see anything.”

“Where was the girl?”

“We had her hidden under a tarp.”

“And they talked to the girl?” Hutch asked.

Officer Peters swore under his breath. Hutch temporarily dropped Cliff to the ground. They huddled and spoke quietly, but urgently with each other. Cliff leaned against the railing and clutched his sore ribs. Peters expressed concern about the internal investigation and made some sort of comment about eliminating the witnesses. Cliff heard him say something to the effect of “who would ever know.” Hutch cut him off and said something about their bigger problems with the Crips. Hutch asked what seemed like a rhetorical question about whether it was better to lose their jobs or their lives.

“She was too terrified to tell them anything,” Cliff called to them.

“Are you supposed to speak with them again?” Hutch asked.

Cliff shook his head and tried to clench his jaw closed.

“You know what?” he continued. “Go ahead. Clam up. We can go after the whore you hang out with. Either she’ll help, or we’ll sell her to the Crips to keep them happy. How about that scumbag? Huh?”

“Fine,” Cliff responded. “What do you need me to do?”

“You hear from Child Services or Internal, you tell us immediately,” said Hutch. “You tell us what they discuss with you. You tell us what they know. You tell us who they’re talking to and what their next move is. You hear me? You tell us everything. You disappear or fail to meet us when and where we say, and I’ll personally deliver your girl to the Crips, right after I have my own way with her. You got it?”

Cliff stood and wobbled.

“I’d hate to see that whore get hurt,” Hutch sneered.

A wave of dread washed over Cliff. As much as he wanted out of his situation, he knew they could discard him and target Winona instead. He decided to cover for her if he could.

“She didn’t see what I saw,” he lied. “I was on the bridge, watching. I’m the one that did all the talking.”

“Watching what?” Hutch asked, his voice belying a hint of insecurity.

“Watching the car pull up and park in that spot,” Cliff said, giving just enough detail to bluff more knowledge than he had. “When I spoke with Child Services, I just told them we found her under the bridge. That’s all. I didn’t want to get you into any trouble, so I just said we found her. That’s all.”

“You spoke with them?” Hutch asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “I called them from a payphone. I didn’t even tell Winnie until they came to get her.”

“Where?”

“The zoo,” he lied, sweat dripping just under his hairline. “We met them there.”

“And, they took a statement?”

“A brief one,” Cliff strained to present a plausible story in reaction to Hutch’s questions. “Winnie didn’t see anything. I told them what I said. They were more worried about reuniting her with her parents.”

“They spoke with the girl?”

“Too traumatized,” Cliff said. “She couldn’t remember any details. She was useless to them.”

“They’ll want to talk with you further,” Hutch said. “They’ll dig. Have they set a follow-up?”

“Yes,” Cliff answered.

“When?”

“Sunday at four,” he replied, his voice reduced to a hoarse whisper.

“Then, we’ll see you under the Aurora at ten. Don’t break, or we’ll break you.”

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