Kipp’s meager dining room morphed into a full-blown crime investigation war room. Their poster with the maps and pictures connected by a triangular string pattern took up half the table. Kumi’s notes spread across the other half. Kumi, Danny, Latoya and Winona sat hunched looking over the array of information. Kumi cross-checked her typed notes and police reports. Danny reviewed the board. Alex and Summer observed from the kitchen while Mandy quietly watched television with the fleece wrapped around her shoulders like a cocoon.
Kumi called the Forensics investigator who reviewed De La Cruz’s prints on the phone to probe her questions regarding the cleanliness of the evidence.
“According to your report,” she asked, like a lawyer cross-examining a witness. “The prints are crystal clear.”
“Yes,” the technician replied. “A perfect match.”
“And no smudges?”
“We were lucky,” the technician said. “One of the phones had a lot of partials, but the other gave us a good clean full print. It was almost too easy.”
“Exactly,” Kumi said. “Why do you think one phone had such a clean print and the other had so many partials?”
“That’s a simple answer,” he said. “The more one uses a phone, the more they overlay their own fingerprints on top of each other, smudging them and obscuring them. The trick is to isolate a clean portion and extrapolate from there.”
“But you didn’t have to extrapolate on one of the phones?”
“No, it must have been used very seldom,” he replied. “In fact, the print was so clean, I’d say it was used only once.”
“Or not at all?” Kumi said.
“Well, there was a clean print…”
“What I mean,” Kumi elaborated. “Is it possible …”
Kumi stopped in mid-sentence as a detail in the forensic report struck her as odd.
“Which keys did you pull the prints from?” she asked.
“Uh, the one, two, three, five, six, seven and nine keys,” he said, making a rustling sound as he confirmed his answer. “Yes, that’s right.”
“But not the four, eight or zero keys?”
“No ma’am, only those seven.”
Kumi’s face turned red. Her pulse leapt and her heart pounded against the inside of her chest.
“Then De La Cruz couldn’t have used this phone to set up the crimes,” she said, half to the forensic scientist and half to Danny and Latoya. “With Seattle’s three area codes of 206, 360 and 509, there’s no way he used this phone to call anyone without pressing the zero key.”
“Hmm,” the investigator said. “The only way that could be true…”
“Is if someone wiped them clean and then hastily pressed the dead suspect’s fingers on a random seven keys. That’s our evidence against Hutch and Peters.”
“Interesting theory,” he said. “I can conduct a silver nitrate test in conjunction with the iodine- cyanoacrylate gas to enhance any oil patterns on the keys that didn’t have De La Cruz’s finger prints. Ironically, by wiping them and leaving them clean, they potentially gave us a better shot at proving your theory.”
Kumi instructed the forensic investigator to note her deduction in an addendum of the report, and to conduct the deeper research as soon as possible.
“I’m the first and only call you make on this,” she said. “You don’t even document it until you tell me what you find.”
“It still doesn’t peg Hutch and Peters,” Danny said as Kumi hung up and slid the phone into her back pocket. “We still have nothing other than Amaya’s reluctant ID.”
“Enough blah blah,” Winona interrupted. “Where are Jackson and Duff?”
Kumi looked through her notes as if they could magically reveal the answer.
“They could be anywhere,” Danny said.
“They wouldn’t cooperate with those assholes,” Winona said. “Not unless they roughed them up good.”
Danny and Kumi shared a quick defeated glance at each other.
“I won’t lie,” Kumi said.
“Then don’t say nothing at all,” Winona cut her off. “Just don’t say it.”
On the floor of the bus station, not far from where he awaited the bus, Cliff spotted a random pen, cast aside and resting innocuously against the foot of his bench. He picked it up, tested it by drawing a smiley face on the back of the wood bench and inserted it into his pocket that contained the information about the Earthy Eatery and his broken watch.
In the bus station gift shop, Cliff found a palm sized notepad for a couple dollars and bought it. As he waited for the bus to Seattle, he counted his money. He jotted the figure $16.11 and searched the overhead television monitors to figure out the date.
Recognizing the day as Sunday, he remembered that Hutch and Peters had demanded he report to them at 10pm later that night. With the bus arriving in Seattle around 9pm, he wondered if they would be there waiting for him. He thought if he met with them and lied that Danny and Kumi didn’t suspect them at all, maybe they would leave Winona alone.
He could give them the watch as a sign of faith that he was being honest with them. If he could get them to back off, he thought, maybe he and Winona could seek a fresh start, maybe leave the area and work on that plan to get off the streets together.
He took out the brochure on the Earthly Eats restaurant and noted the location of the downtown Seattle franchise. If he and Winona moved to the center of the city, they could give up can collecting and storytelling for the security of a steady job. They could take advantage of the support programs offered by the chain and start to save a little bit of money each day. They could keep their hair trimmed and take regular showers.
“Cleanliness,” he thought, “Is one of the most important ingredients of human viability.”
The image of Winona emerging from Kipp’s bathroom, a week earlier, in the floral sundress with her skin beaming and her hair shining, brought a smile to his face.
As he reclined in his seat on the bus to Seattle, the last image he pictured was of Winona’s naked body lying on top of his on the bench by the Ballard Locks with the gardenia flowers and the butterflies casually surrounding them.
Kumi paged through the scanned documents that she uploaded to her virtual file folder on their confidential server within the Internal Investigations case management system. She accessed grainy pictures of Julio De La Cruz and Harsh Garlag, mined from surveillance photos and old misdemeanor arrests. She re-read statements written and signed by Cliff, Winona and Alex.
“We don’t have enough to charge them do we?” Kipp said, looking over her shoulder. “Just the hearsay of a couple homeless people that a jury might not take seriously.”
Kumi shrugged and rested her forehead into the palm of her hand. She scrolled through the Seattle Police department web site and found pictures of Tom Barnes with his partner Romeo Balseca, well before Balseca abandoned the force and sided with Garlag. She even found a photo where Balseca and Barnes appeared with both Captain Nichols and Captain Hector Gonsalves at a cross-department awards ceremony. She scrolled through numerous shots of the event. Officer Len Hutchinson appeared in the background in a picture of Captains Nichols and Gonsalves standing beside the Chief of Police proudly displaying their awards for the camera.
“Where does it end?” she asked herself.
She closed the web site and pulled up diagrams of the city. Red X-marks highlighted locations where key events occurred. As she rolled her mouse over each X, a text box appeared with a description of the activity. Down by the airport, a pop-up box described the capture of Romeo Balseca. Next to the hospital, a box indicated the spot where the young Korean victim, Jenny Cho, was abducted. The garage where she and Danny recovered the blue Ford Taurus had a red X as did the power plant where Hutch and Peters threatened Winona, the pizza restaurant where Edeyo Okeke ordered Alex to pick up the car and the zoo, where Alex delivered the car to Rulon Jones.
She clicked a timeline file and reviewed what they knew about the relative times when Hutch and Peters badgered Winona and the homeless crew under the bridge. She paged through other dates such as the time the call first came in to Latoya from Kipp’s phone, the evening that Hutch and Peters roughed up Cliff by the side of the bay and the time they abducted and abused Winona at the power plant. She reread the note from Cliff’s statement that Hutch and Peters expected to meet with him under the bridge later that night at 10pm.
Kumi clicked a file that she had reviewed quickly once before. A scan opened of the picture Amaya drew of Hutch and Peters accosting her in the rain with the siren on top of their car lighting the night. She opened another file with the finely detailed drawing of the dragon that Alex created for Amaya. She studied the shading and shadows, the perspective and the belabored contouring of the creature’s muscular form. The picture inspired her to think creatively. She formulated an idea in her mind.
“Do you have magic markers?” she asked Kipp. “And, how emotionally connected to your wife’s mannequin heads are you?”
Alex brought two glasses of water to Summer and Mandy. The color had returned to Mandy’s cheeks and she mustered a smile in thanking Alex. Summer looked away without speaking to Alex. Mandy looked at him with sympathy as he turned to walk back into the house. He heard the two girls whisper before Summer called to him.
“You can sit with us,” she said. “We don’t bite.”
“I wasn’t sure if you wanted to be around me.”
“I’m sure it’s scary to think about being a witness and testifying against Rulon and Edeyo,” she said. “I’m pretty pissed about this whole idea of girls like Amaya getting kidnapped. But I get that you didn’t know.”
“Honest,” he said. “I didn’t know nothing.”
“My boyfriend was part of it,” Mandy said, her eyes still puffy from crying earlier. “I feel so stupid.”
Summer slid her hand into her sister’s.
“The real assholes are the ones you’re going to help lock up,” she said to Alex, looking him in the eyes. “That’s all I’m thinking about now.”
Mandy withdrew her hand from her sister and wrapped her arms around herself.
“When we get out of here,” she said to Summer and Alex. “I got space in the apartment for you guys to stay with me if you want. I could use the company. And, I don’t want to go back there alone.”
Alex dodged the question, apprehensively clearing his throat.
Summer laughed, a sweet sexy and slightly even nervous giggle. Alex took their empty water glasses and moved back toward the house.
“Think about it,” Mandy repeated.
“I have to go in,” Alex muttered. “Kumi asked me to do some artwork for her.”
Kumi took a yellow highlighter and traced a paragraph in Winona’s statement while Alex used the Styrofoam mannequin heads as blank canvasses. Winona sat at the dining room table next to Kumi watching Alex work.
“They took you to the old power plant?” Kumi asked Winona.
“A little garage on the far side overlooking the I-5 overpass,” she replied.
“Did Cliff elaborate to you about where Hutch and Peters took him?” she asked, reviewing the statement Cliff had submitted. “It just says ‘by the water’. Did he give more details?”
“I never even heard about that til you asked him yesterday,” Winona said. “I had no clue.”
Kumi took out a photocopy of Amaya’s picture of the police car sitting in a garage with the smoke stack extending above the roof. She circled the smokestack and held the picture next to the highlighted section of Winona’s statement.
The paragraph in Cliff’s write-up caught her attention.
“They took me to a cement area in the middle of nowhere,” he wrote. “Downtown on the left and the Space Needle on the right.”
The extra bit of detail caught her by surprise. She closed her eyes and imagined a view with the buildings arranged the way he described them.
“He was looking straight across Lake Union to Capital Hill, South Lake and Queen Anne,” Kumi said to Danny. “Let’s go. I think I know where they are.”