Danny Johns kicked the accelerator in his Chevy Suburban and felt it respond to his urgency with a jolt from its V8 engine. Kumi grasped the handrail inside the passenger seat with one hand, while staring at her phone in the other. Alex, Cliff and Summer all knocked shoulders in the back seat. Their bound wrists made it hard for them to remain upright with the side-to-side jolting of the vehicle.
Sirens blaring, they sped down a long, straight main road as cars and trucks veered aside to let them pass. They barely slowed for intersections and blew by stop signs as if they didn’t exist.
Kumi shouted directions to Danny and pointed hurriedly as they snaked through the streets of south Seattle. They cut left and right on her commands as she received updates on her phone from their support team in their office.
“They have them on Ambaum Ave. five minutes ago, right on 146th, headed toward 4th,” Kumi shouted above the sound of their siren. “The bird’s a minute out. If we catch them on one more cam, the chopper can pick them up from there.”
Danny screeched the tires as he whipped through a crowded intersection between two shopping plazas.
“Best guess is somewhere on 4th, maybe between 137th and 140th,” Kumi said. “If they’re on the street, either we’ll run into them or the eyes in the sky’ll spot them. We’re close.”
Cliff’s head hit the side window. Unable to impeded the impact with his hands, he leaned awkwardly against the door. Summer fell across Alex’s lap.
“You guys alright back there?” Kumi shouted above the sound of the revving engine. “Sorry to bring you along. We had no choice. A girl’s life’s on the line. We called back-up.”
The vehicle lurched to the left to avoid a slow-moving car in the breakdown lane.
“Sorry,” Danny called back to his passengers.
“Truck’s bullet-proof,” Kumi added. “You’ll be locked in and totally safe from harm. I’ll cut your hands free when we get there. Don’t exit the vehicle for any reason.”
Danny squelched the sirens and slowed. He wound his way between the side streets and the avenues. The one-story ranches and tenement buildings looked the same from block to block and ran together as they traversed the narrow streets. Time ran off the clock. Kumi’s face thinned. Her eyes drooped. Danny accelerated down the tight corridors, navigating around parked cars. They peered left and right, desperate to catch sight of the Chevy.
“Anything from above?” Danny asked.
“Damnit,” Danny said, slamming the steering wheel.
Cliff spotted it first, only a nose sticking out of a recessed garage. He recognized the gold logo. Kumi noticed it a second later.
“Stop,” she yelled to Danny. “Back up.”
Danny halted the truck and parked next to a bush on the far side of the property next door.
“Stay here,” he whispered to the three passengers as he unholstered his gun.
Kumi jumped out the other side of the truck. Using Alex’s knife, she cut the plastic bindings of her three passengers, pocketed the knife and took cover behind a bush next to the car with her gun drawn as well.
Summer angled her shoulder away from Alex. Cliff tugged at the locked door handle. They all watched Kumi and Danny creep along the hedges of the neighboring house toward the ranch with the Chevy Suburban parked in the garage.
They disappeared around a corner before reappearing next to the side door to the home. They used a stick with a mirror affixed to it to look in the windows.
Cliff watched them motion to each other and point at the detached structure behind the house. Kumi investigated the truck in the garage while Danny covered her. Danny spoke into his phone and looked quickly across the sky for the helicopter.
The entire scene played out as if sped up. The smacking sound of gunfire echoed in the garage. It rattled all three of the passengers in Danny’s SUV. Three gunshots vibrated their ears. Danny sprinted toward the garage; gun drawn. Kumi emerged, with three women under her arms, all running away from the structure with her. At the same time, a short, athletic figure bolted out a side door and sprinted across the back yard.
The man pulled out a gun from his belt loop and shot toward Danny. A notch of wood broke free from the side of the structure above where Danny knelt.
Danny popped out of his crouched position, standing upright with his gun extended. A single pop split the air and the runner fell to the ground clutching the back of his thigh. His gun sailed out of his hand, a few feet ahead of where he lay squirming in pain.
The front door to the SUV opened. Kumi shouted for the three women to duck below the seats. She slammed the door closed behind them and sprinted back toward Danny, who had moved his position to the side of the garage. He squatted about 100 feet from the fallen man, who continued to roll in agony. Kumi disappeared into the garage, emerging through the same door the assailant had exited, only seconds earlier.
She flashed a thumbs-up sign to Danny and they both slowly approached the man on the ground with guns drawn. Kumi kicked the handgun further from his reach and spoke into her phone. Two more black SUVs, with blue and red sirens skid in the sand driveway to the house. Four officers, all dressed like Danny and Kumi, jumped out and approached the building. Two of them broke through the front door with a battering ram while the other two ran around the far side.
The three women in the front of Danny’s SUV whimpered and cried. Cliff could barely see them as they remained slumped below the seat. All four of the back-up officers converged into the back yard, each flashing thumbs-up signs. They advanced their positions toward the fallen perpetrator, who buried his face in the dirt, while continuing to clutch his bloody hamstring.
Danny and Kumi stepped away from the scene as their back-up officers cuffed and tended to the man on the ground. Cliff watched them look back and forth from the backyard to the SUV.
“What do you think they’re arguing about?” asked Summer.
“You think they’re arguing?” Alex asked.
“They’re discussing something debatable,” she answered. “They seem to be trying to figure out something important and don’t look like they agree with each other.”
“They’re trying to determine what to do with us,” Cliff surmised.
Danny, Kumi and a muscular detective - a few inches shorter than Danny - strode ahead of the officers. The detective spoke into his shoulder-mounted radio for his team to take possession of the wounded suspect and hold him until he could speak with him. Danny holstered his weapon and slung open the door to his SUV. The detective spoke softly to the three women, who continued to whimper like kittens.
“I’m detective Tom Barnes of the SPD South Precinct,” he said as he guided a thin, wispy Asian girl, a few years older than Amaya, out of the front seat. “We’re going to bring you by helicopter to Harborview. Standard procedure. We want to make sure you haven’t been hurt.”
Danny helped guide the other two women, a little older and much more disheveled looking, down from the tall vehicle and into Tom’s care.
“We’ll take their information and contact their parents,” Tom said, as the other two women clamored out of the front seat.
Cliff took a doubletake at the two glassy-eyed teenagers, one with big curly blond hair and the other with wavy brown hair. They looked at him with vague recollection. He knew them as the two drug-addled women who slept most of the days away under the Aurora bridge with Winona, Duff, Jackson and old Elmer.
Kumi opened the back door and ushered Cliff, Alex and Summer onto the street as well. Several additional police vehicles flooded the area, filling the air with alternating red and blue flashes of light. One officer, dressed more casually in jeans and a plain, white t-shirt wandered about the yard filming everything with a shoulder-mounted camera.
“When did your contact expect you to appear with the Ford Taurus?” Kumi asked. “Was it Mr. Okeke, or this Julio De La Cruz?”
“We’re supposed to drive around to the back of the zoo,” Alex answered without hesitation. “My roommate Rulon Jones works there in maintenance. He was going to leave the gate open. We’re supposed to leave the car behind the dumpster, unlocked.”
Kumi and Danny looked at each other, exchanging wordless communication. The cameraman approached them and shot footage of the three women as one of the back-up officers led them toward an ambulance that would take them to the park and the waiting helicopter.
“No other way,” Danny muttered to his partner with a nod of his head.
“If your beat cops in Fremont are dirty, they’ll hear about this bust,” Kumi explained. “It’s a big one.”
“Is that Romeo Balseca, that you talked about before?” Summer asked.
“Number two leader of the Crips,” Kumi replied. “If Hutch and Peters are involved in this slave trade for drugs operation...”
“Word travels fast,” Danny cut her off. “They’ll find out either way.”
“Are we still under arrest?” Alex asked. “We really don’t know anything about slave girls, honest.”
“We have a volatile situation at present,” Kumi said. “So, if they’re expecting you to deliver the car, we’ll need you to do so as instructed.”
“You’re going to set a trap for my roommate,” Alex surmised. “I’m going to serve as the bait, aren’t I?”
Latoya Benson had driven about a mile from Amaya Naito’s home when the text came from Kumi. She listened to it over the radio of her car, noting the urgency in her voice and their desperation to uncover a lead to find the young Korean girl who had just been reported missing.
She called her office and received a rundown on the high school freshman. A few years older than Amaya at 14-years-old, she also spoke limited English and had been in the country only a few months. She disappeared from the hospital while visiting a sick relative with her parents. She had only wandered a hallway away in seek of a water fountain. But that’s all it took for her to fall into the wrong hands.
Latoya shuttered to think how quickly a human being could be abducted and how unsafe even the most secure environments could be. Her first thought, in picturing the drop, led to three words; “Damn, dirty cops.”
Pulling a reckless u-turn across a busy Seattle intersection, she wove through the grid toward Fremont Ave and the Aurora bridge.
“Kumi,” she shouted into her car speaker. “Where are we? Did you find the girl?”
“Yes, and the two homeless women,” Kumi answered as she and Danny wound their way back toward the storage facility in Beacon Hill. “All safe. We believe they’re unharmed, but we’re sending them for medical eval at Harborview.”
“I’ll get my staff over there,” said Latoya. “Did they give us any more insight?”
“The two homeless women were barely coherent,” Kumi replied. “The Korean girl was just as shell-shocked as Amaya. She referred to her captors as ‘two men’, but that’s all we got out of her. We had a bit of a language barrier.”
“I’ll find a Korean translator and let you know what we find out.”
“We need you to meet us at the zoo,” Kumi said. “We’ve got a few witnesses that need protection and we can’t trust our own.”
Danny pulled up to the garage where they left the Ford Taurus. Alex punched the code and the door opened to reveal the blue sedan where they had left it.
“Again,” Kumi spoke slowly and deliberately to Alex. “You’re going to drive the car to the exact rendezvous spot and leave the keys as instructed. Then, you get the hell out of there. If your contact engages you, act naturally. We’ll have the scene surrounded. If anything happens, get in the dumpster and wait. You’ll be safest there. Danny will be right behind you in the SUV.”
“Where will you be?” Alex asked, noting the curious omission of her role in the operation.
“I’ll be right here,” she said, clicking the key fab to unlatch the back while holstering her gun into her shoulder strap, affixing Summer’s shades to her nose and her headset to her ears. “In the trunk.”