Danny sat at the long cherry table in the Internal Investigations conference room. He arrived early, printed and organized his evidence and took a seat near the head of the table. The sounds of telephones ringing, computer keyboards rattling and detectives talking on phones filled the office like ambient white noise. His supervisor, Captain Hector Gonsalves sat at the head of the table. Across the from him sat Tom Barnes, the detective from the South Precinct that helped arrest Balseca and cared for his captives. Captain James Nichols shifted his weight in the cheap fabric-covered metal chair next to Barnes.
Several bottles of water and cans of soda littered the center of the table. Nichols placed his hat on the table next to a long, thin reporter-style note pad. Barnes had a hard-bound book with his notes. Danny straightened his pile of manila folders, stuffed with pictures, reports and signed testimony from Alex, Summer, Winona and Cliff.
“What’s the progress on finding Harsh Garlag?” Hector asked Tom.
“We’re pressuring a couple gang members we have in custody,” he replied. “But, nothing yet.”
“Do we know where he is?” Danny asked.
“We think he’s up north,” Tom said. “Somewhere in the Fremont area.”
Danny shook his head and looked at Hector.
“We have him pegged as our suspect for the drive-by shooting of Jimmy Bonina,” Captain Nichols said. “Pretty clear case. We know who to take down and we’re working hand and hand with the south precinct to bring him in.”
“Alive?” Danny asked.
“He’s top ten for the SPD city-wide,” Nichols said, arching his lip into the tiniest smirk that only Danny detected. “Dead or alive.”
“Who else do you have?” Danny asked.
“I assume you have two suspects pegged,” Danny clarified. “Same person can’t drive and shoot. You need a driver and a shooter, don’t you?”
“We’re pretty sure he parked, shot and drove off,” Nichols clarified. “Alone.”
“That’s not how gangs usually operate,” Danny said. “You got evidence?”
“Sure,” Nichols smirked again. “We got two witnesses. Showed them pictures. Say they saw Okeke and Jones drop the car off under the bridge with the girl in it. Also saw Garlag take out Bonina.”
“You have witnesses that say they saw both the drop at the bridge and the hit in Fremont?” Danny asked, looking for support to his supervisor. “Who?”
“The two homeless men living under the bridge,” Captain Nichols said. “As you know, the homeless often see everything. People forget they’re even there. They’re like rats. Hidden from view, but always there, lurking in the shadows. Tap into what they know and see, and you get all the evidence you need.”
Danny sat forward and pushed his folders aside.
“Where are the witnesses?” he asked.
“You know the homeless,” Nichols said, leaning back. “Here today, gone tomorrow. My boys got their statements on video in case they split town on us. They were pretty shaken up, you know, on account of what they witnessed. They said they’d be moving on.”
“They turn up dead somewhere, we’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks,” Danny stood, looking again at his supervisor.
Nichols stood across the table to face Danny with his hands against the surface of the table.
“You’ve had a hard-on for my boys since this case opened,” he said, pointing a finger across the table. “But you don’t have anything on them.”
“We have statements,” Danny said.
“You have eye-witness accounts, like we do?” Nichols replied. “Or, do you have random, speculative impressions of police behavior toward a group of homeless illegally loitering under a public space?”
“We’re putting it all together now,” Danny said. “One of the girls will eventually speak up.”
“The Naito girl hasn’t come forward,” Nichols said. “The two cokehead chicks were useless and the Korean girl’s family took her back overseas already. You’re so convinced my boys’re doing something wrong, but where’re your witnesses?”
“I’m not telling you that,” Danny snapped. “They’re safe from your asshole beat cops.”
“Watch yourself Johns,” Nichols said, his finger wagging through the air. “My boys are the best cops in town. The Chief doesn’t appreciate Internal smearing his best guys. Anything goes beyond these walls, it goes bad for you.”
“Anything happens to those two homeless,” Danny shouted back. “I come for them. Then I come for you.”
Hector smacked the table and rose to his feet.
“Enough,” he raised his hand in the air as if to part the tension. “Danny, you don’t threaten a supervisor like that. And, James, you’ve already got one dead witness that could have helped us. Two more witnesses show up dead and we’ll have to take a harder look at your boys.”
Nichols placed his hat back on his head.
“Beyond that,” Nichols said, more calmly to Hector. “My boys are not under investigation and will be able to conduct their business without hassle or scrutiny?”
“Of course,” Hector said.
Nichols and Barnes walked around the table. They shook hands with Hector and Danny by the glass conference room door.
“Now, if you’ll step aside,” Nichols said. “I have real police work to do.”
Kumi sat at Kipp Collina’s kitchen table reviewing her neatly typed notes that she had scanned into her laptop. Danny had left an hour earlier to attend the meeting with Nichols, Barnes and Hector. She stayed behind with Kipp, Alex, Winona, Summer and her sister, Mandy.
Kipp served lunch and found a Seahawks football game on television. Alex watched with passing interest. Summer played videos on her phone while Mandy slept half the day in Kipp’s spare bedroom.
“I didn’t know there were girls in the trunk,” Alex said to Summer.
“I don’t want to hear it,” she replied. “It’s been a shit week and I’m still pretty pissed that you kidnapped girls and sold them to slavery.”
“I didn’t,” Alex pleaded. “I didn’t do any of that. I just drove the cars. I had no clue.”
“Well, you had something to do with it.”
Summer turned her shoulder to Alex and stared deeper into her phone.
At the kitchen table, Kumi read each piece of lined yellow paper with all the signed statements. She asked Winona for clarifications to her comments and more detail as to why she believed Amaya was so afraid of Hutch and Peters. She urged her to recall the timing of when the trunk popped open and when Hutch and Peters started looking for Amaya.
She accessed her e-mail and reviewed reports from the coroner and forensic investigators.
She read Alex’s statement one more time.
“They only asked you to drive cars from the south to the north?” she called to him.
“I took the train down and drove back,” Alex replied.
“Every time?” Kumi asked. “Never the other way around?”
“No, man,” Alex said. “Train down. Drive back. That’s all I did. I never even opened the trunk.”
“I see,” she said, reviewing highway traffic video footage. “How did the Ford get down there in the first place?”
“You were the only one driving for Julio?”
“Nah, man,” Alex said, joining Kumi in the kitchen to escape Summer’s cold shoulder. “Rulon made a buck driving cars too. He did it a lot more than me.”
“He drove them north like you did?”
Kumi switched from the database of highway camera footage to the network of traffic cameras mounted above the intersections between Fremont and Highland Park near the airport.
“How did you drive back?” Kumi asked. “I mean, what roads did you take?”
“Back roads,” he said. “No highways. Like, 8th to Memorial, on up Marginal to 4th. Then all the way up to Aurora and into Fremont that way.”
Kumi filtered the video footage by date and time. She narrowed the available clips by make, model and color.
“I only did it a couple times to cover for Rulon when he was too high or hung over,” he said.
“Is it possible that Rulon drove the cars south?” she asked, switching to the database of passenger footage from the Sound Transit train.
“I suppose,” Alex replied. “I remember one time, I asked him to come with me in the afternoon and he said he had a job in the morning.”
“I’m trying to find the Ford Taurus in the morning on one of the traffic cameras, followed by Rulon on the train later that morning,”
“Why does it matter?” Alex asked.
“My theory is that he drove the cars south to the Crips with the girls in the back. And you drove back north with the drugs.”
“Why would they do that?” Alex asked. “Why not just have one of us drive both legs?”
“Diversifying their portfolio,” she answered to a confused look on Alex’s face. “If either of you caught on to what you were doing, you’d only know half the story. They didn’t want to expose the end-to-end operation to either of you.”
“So, I didn’t have girls in the cars I drove?” Alex asked.
“The cars were being stolen in the north and recovered nearby, also in the north,” Kumi said to herself. “So, we never caught on that they were moving south and then back up north.”
“But I didn’t have the girls in my cars?” Alex repeated. “Right?”
“I believe that’s right,” Kumi said.
Summer stirred in her chair. Alex caught her briefly looking his way. She averted her eyes back to her phone.
“Hear that,” he said. “I didn’t have girls in the car.”
“Still had the drugs,” Summer said without looking up. “That’s almost as bad.”
“What’s done is done,” Kumi interrupted. “What matters now is that you stand by your statement and you’re willing to testify in court if we need you to.”
Alex slumped into the kitchen chair.
“Rulon’s my friend,” he said, eliciting a loud sigh from Summer. “And, Edeyo’s my landlord. You want me to face them in court.”
“Of course, you have to face them in court,” Summer rose from her chair and joined them in the kitchen. “Either those fuckers or these dirty cops shot Jimmy. I know the dude was a scumbag, but my sister loved him for some dumb reason. So, we need to make them pay.”
Kumi suppressed the urge to smile, or even laugh at Summer’s spunk.
“Fine,” Alex said. “Will it make you like me again if I agree to testify?”
Summer slid a kitchen chair between her legs and straddled it the opposite direction like a cowgirl.
“Maybe,” she purred.
Danny stood waiting for the elevator to the parking garage. He felt the weight of the squad room ebb from his shoulders when the bell rang and the door opened to take him away from the overbearing hum of the office. The doors slid closed, but stopped short when a hand reached between the sensors.
“Guy’s an ass,” Hector said as the doors closed behind him and sealed them in confined solitude.
“Which one?” Danny asked. “Nichols or Barnes?”
“Both,” he smiled. “But he’s still Captain of a squad, Danny. You have to respect that.”
“I don’t have to respect him if he’s not going to respect the job.”
“You have to be respectful.”
“He’s got to respect what we do,” Danny retorted. “If it weren’t for Internal…”
“I get it Danny,” Hector interrupted. “We bust bad cops. But we have to be sure.”
“Cap, I’m sure,” Danny said.
“But you don’t have the evidence.”
“Don’t go on a hunt,” Hector said. “If you have the case, make it. If not, let it go.”
“They’re bad, Hec, I know it.”
“Until you can prove it, you only think it,” Hector corrected him. “We don’t want to put away good cops if there’s any sliver of chance they’re clean.”
“Cap, I –“
“You don’t come up with anything soon, you have to back off,” Hector said as the elevator came to rest at the bottom floor of the building. “I’m taking heat on this. HQ loves these boys. Either seal the case today or I gotta pull you. You might have to let this one go.”
“They’re helping kidnap girls and ship them off to sex slavery,” Danny said, as the doors slid open. “I’m not taking my foot off the gas.”
“Hutch is up for promotion,” Hector said, pressing the button to return to the third floor. “The Chief himself is pushing for him. You lead-foot this one, lose control and crash and burn, I won’t be able to keep Nichols from bringing the Chief down on you. And, he’ll come down hard. Trust me. You won’t survive a misstep on this one.”
Danny walked across the parking garage toward his SUV, shaking his head in disgust. He clicked the key fab and the beep of his lock bounced off the cement rafters above his head. A figure stepped out from behind his car, obscured by the shadow of a cement column. Like an old gunfighter, Danny moved his hand toward his shoulder holster.
The familiar face of Tom Barnes emerged into the light. Danny glanced furtively over each shoulder and met him behind the vehicle.
“Get in,” Tom said with his hands up in a peaceful pose. “I have important intel for you.”
Danny complied. Tom took the passenger seat and ducked below the window. Danny exited the precinct garage and drove down random back streets that he knew wouldn’t have traffic cameras.
“Want to explain what’s going on?” he asked.
“I didn’t know anything about girls,” Tom said.
“Ok, what did you know?” Danny asked.
“Drugs,” Tom said. “That’s all I knew. I thought it was a cash transaction. Nothing else.”
“You let it go?”
“I had a guy under cover that I trusted.”
“What happened to him?”
“You shot him in the leg yesterday.”
“Balseca?” Danny asked.
“He was on the job,” Tom nodded. “But he went bad. I knew about the drugs. That was the whole reason for him going under. He never said boo about the girls. Kept telling me to wait, wait, wait. Keep patient for the next bigger bust. Don’t smash the bee’s nest until we have to.”
“How long did it go on?”
“Two years. I know. Two years of drugs flowing up to your district. But we were keeping our stats down. The gangs were happy. It was quiet. Nobody was getting killed. I was up for promotion just on my numbers alone. After a while, Balseca got sucked in and I got lazy. I knew I needed to step in. I just didn’t want to rock the boat if I didn’t have to. Life was too good.”
“He took potshots at me and my partner.”
“I know,” Tom said. He didn’t even bother saying he was on the job when they took him in. He knew he was screwed.”
“Three of those girls are confirmed dead,” Danny’s face went cold. “Another half-dozen are still missing. God knows where they are or what horror they’re experiencing. Even the four we recovered are traumatized, probably for life.”
“I know, I know,” Tom’s voice tightened.
“What’s Garlag doing in Fremont?” Danny asked.
“He’s looking to clean house,” Tom replied.
“And your homeless victims,” Tom replied. “All of them.”