GM - Story #7

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Chapter 8

Kipp Collina’s house sat wedged between two similar one-story structures. Tall trees blotted the sun and provided welcome shade from the noon heat. A row of tulips lined the walk from the driveway to the house. Birds chirped as the occasional car eased by the small, manicured lawn in front of Kipp’s elevated front porch.

The interior matched the immaculate neatness of the yard and smelled sweet and fruity like a breakfast cafe. Winona led Amaya by the hand. Cliff followed down the main hall to the bright, orange and white tiled kitchen.

Natural sunlight streamed through the back window and illuminated the pale wood butcherblock table. Amaya took a seat and Kipp opened the sparsely stocked refrigerator.

“I have water, lemonade, iced tea and soda; whatever you like,” he said.

Amaya pointed at a bottle of water. took the lemonade and Winona asked for a glass of iced tea. Kipp put out a plate of tea biscuits and vanilla wafers and all three of his visitors devoured them.

“Tell me about this little girl and the trunk of the car,” Kipp said, handing the water bottle to Amaya. “We can figure out what to do together.”

Winona recapped the story of how she, Jackson and Duff witnessed Cliff’s fall and how the trunk of the sedan opened to reveal its cargo upon impact. Cliff described the interactions with Hutch and Peters, and how they stashed Amaya at the pizza place while they ventured to the doctor to have his leg checked.

Kipp listened quietly, his elbow on the table with his fist propped under his chin. He nodded at mention of officers Hutch and Peters as if not completely surprised at their abrasive behavior. He refilled the plate of cookies and poured Winona and Cliff more iced tea and lemonade.

After hearing the story from end-to-end, he looked out his back window.

“If your instincts are right, we can’t call 911 or the police,” he said. “We don’t know what’s happening here. And, we can’t risk giving her back if these police officers are somehow connected. We should start with the King County Department of Child Protection Services or the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. Or maybe the Seattle branch. Let me check on-line which would be best.”

“We don’t want no cops,” Winona reiterated Kipp’s logic. “We just want to help Amaya find her parents.”

“I have to figure out how to communicate that to the social worker on the other end of the line,” said Kipp. “If the story sounds too suspicious, they may call the police anyway. Then we’re at the mercy of whoever picks up the call. If Peters and Hutch are dirty, they’ll be watching for a call like that and we’ll have to deal with them.”

“Just tell them like it is,” Winona said. “They have to believe you. It’s the truth.”

“One homeless man survived a suicide jump over the side of the bridge, landing on a parked car and releasing the trunk,” Kipp ran through the story. “Three other homeless people find a kidnapped young girl. The two of you evade the police for two days and flag down a random citizen on the street to help contact the authorities. You don’t think that sounds a little far-fetched?”

“It’s what really happened,”

“Maybe I should say that I somehow found her and not give the details about how?”

Cliff sipped his lemonade and weighed into the discussion.

“Let Winona make the call,” he said. “Be honest. You know what happened. You can tell it with conviction. If we lie, they’ll pick up on it and alert the police. But if you’re authentic and they believe you, then they’ll take care to be discreet. That’s the best chance of protecting Amaya from them.”

Kipp thought about Cliff’s suggestion for a second and then handed the phone to Winona.

“Ok,” he said, reading the number to her from his laptop on his kitchen counter. “It’s up to you.”

After a brief recap with Kipp providing guidance on how to approach the conversation and Cliff providing moral support, Winona clutched the phone, tentatively dialing each number, one at a time.

“Haven’t used one of these in a while,” she said of the smart phone with the smooth glass face and the digital touch screen buttons. “It’s ringing.”

Kipp put away the lemonade and iced tea and sat next to her.

“Uh, hello,” Winona said. “I wanted to speak with someone about a lost girl I found.”

After giving some high-level summary, the first person asked her for her address and phone number and she had to explain her status as homeless. Kipp prompted her to give his address and phone number and the associate asked to speak with him to confirm the information. Over speaker phone, Kipp reiterated the need for discretion due to the circumstances around which they found Amaya and the agent escalated the call to her manager.

Winona retold the story to several higher-level attendants, gaining confidence and smoother retell at each step. She finally reached a social services director named Latoya who asked to hear the whole account from start to finish. Winona’s voice still trembled slightly. She spoke slowly and deliberately, describing every step of the story in detail. Latoya listened patiently and did not interrupt with any questions, instead allowing Winona to work through the entire saga. Cliff closed his eyes. The woman he heard on the phone in Kipp’s kitchen sounded more like the business professionals he used to know than the crass former stripper living under a bridge.

Latoya restated the story and asked for confirmation on each point before placing the line on hold to discuss with her team what to do.

“We’re coming over there now,” she said. “Don’t go anywhere. Don’t speak to anyone else. We can be there in 20 minutes.”

Winona slid the phone across the table and exhaled. Cliff put his arm around her, and Kipp rested his hand over her forearm.

“I don’t know why I was so nervous,” she said. “I’d much rather chew out some asswipe on the streets, than talk to someone like that over the phone.”

Cliff squeezed her shoulder and gave her a wink.

“You did great,” he said. “You probably saved Amaya’s life.”

Kipp refilled the cookie plate and offered his shower to Winona.

“My wife was about your size,” he said, with a pause in his voice. “It’s been a year now since she died. You could pick something out from her closet.”

Winona ate another cookie and handed one to Amaya. She saw her reflection in the mirror above Kipp’s kitchen sink. Her dirty forehead and cheeks highlighted the wrinkles that had started to form on either sides of her eyes and above the ridge of her nose. Her hair spun and swirled like a hornet’s nest. And, her grey, ragged clothes drooped across her nondescript body like melted ice cream oozing down the side of a cone.

The beautiful spotlessness of Kipp’s home surrounded her peripheral view. She imagined Kipp, with a doting wife, filling his bright, cheerful house with the sounds of cooking and cleaning. She sensed a sadness that lingered just beneath the fresh coats of paint and the perfectly framed pictures on the walls.

“I’m sorry about your wife,” she said. “I couldn’t wear her clothes. They belong to her and you.”

“Nonsense,” Kipp eased back in his chair. “They’re going to waste in her closet. I’d rather see them in use. She’d prefer they go to someone who needs them than sit there like…”

Kipp didn’t finish his sentence. Instead, he moved out of the kitchen and into the bedroom. Cliff and Winona could hear the closet door open and close. He returned with a neatly folded towel.

“Bathroom’s on the right,” he said, with a smile that brightened the kitchen’s orange and white tiles. “There’s soap and shampoo. I laid out a couple dresses on the bed. Take whichever one you like best.”

He guided Winona into the small master bedroom. A queen-sized bed took up most of the floor space. A neatly smoothed yellow and blue quilt covered the bed like ganache frosting on a wedding cake. Next to the bed, a huge mirror created the illusion of depth. Three white Styrofoam mannequin heads sat atop the bureau, each displaying two or three fancy hats.

“My wife loved hats,” Kipp said. “She looked great in them. Berets, bowlers, those newsboy hats. She could really carry them off.”

Winona pushed a smile to her lips while trying not to imagine the clever Styrofoam displays as severed human heads.

“Here’s a picture of her in her red felt Fedora,” he said. “It was her favorite. My daughter took it with her when she moved out. Feel free to take one.”

He opened a drawer in the bureau that appeared to be filled with random strands of hair. He pulled out a wig. Several others filled the drawer, all different shades of brown and almond-colored.

“In the end,” he said. “She used the mannequin heads for her wigs after her hair started to fall out. But I couldn’t stand to look at them. So, I stashed them in the drawer. I like to think of her wearing these hats before the chemotherapy.”

“Your wife was a beautiful lady,” Winona smiled at the picture of Kipp’s sweetheart. “I don’t want to mess up her pretty hats. I’m more of a baseball cap girl.”

Winona disappeared into the bathroom with the towel in her hands and one of the dresses over her shoulder. Kipp took Cliff and Amaya into the television room and found a cartoon channel which seemed to interest Amaya. He handed her some printer paper and pens and motioned to her that she could draw if she liked.

“I think I have some toys somewhere in the attic from when my daughter grew up here,” said Kipp. “I’m afraid I’m not the best host for a little girl.”

The shrill ring of the doorbell startled everyone in the house. Winona had just moved, still dripping wet, from the bathroom to the bedroom and closed the door behind her. Cliff sat at the kitchen table drinking his third glass of lemonade. A medium build woman in neat white blouse, navy pants and matching blazer entered the kitchen and extended her hand to Cliff.

“Latoya Benson,” she introduced herself. “I spoke with Winona by phone.”

A large, barrel-chested man in a blue blazer followed behind her and introduced himself as Danny Johns. He didn’t share his title or role and stood at the back of the kitchen with his arms across his chest.

Winona emerged from the bedroom. Her hair, straighter than the curly nest she sported before her shower, shined in the orange light of the kitchen. The long, slim, pale white, floral sundress hugged her figure and gave her curves that Cliff had not previously noticed.

A short, paper-thin woman, dressed in skinny jeans, white polyester shirt and black blazer entered the kitchen a step behind Danny and introduced herself as Kumi Oshiro, Danny’s partner.

“This is the team that’ll try to figure out what’s happened here and how to help this little girl,” Latoya explained. “I’m with Child Services. We usually work closely with the Seattle PD. But we brought in Danny and Kumi from Internal Investigations just in case there’s a connection to the beat cops you described over the phone. Hopefully, Kumi can speak with Amaya and learn about what happened to her.”

Cliff sat next to Winona. Kipp offered them bottles of water. Amaya remained in the television room.

“So, you haven’t alerted the Seattle PD?” Cliff said. “They’re damn dirty.”

“No, we’ve kept this within our team,” she replied. “It may all just be a misunderstanding. But we don’t discount your instinct either. We’re just here to figure out what’s going on.”

Latoya asked Winona to walk through the story one more time, stopping at several points to probe and question details. Kumi had a notebook full of neat, bubbly writing and asked a series of questions as to the make and model of the car, the exact location where they found it, and even queries as detailed as the number of miles on the odometer. Winona couldn’t answer most of Kumi’s questions. But she spoke of the sequence of events in roughly the same order and with a similar lucid elaboration. Kumi wrote every word of Winona’s story, often repeating her words back to confirm she had captured them correctly. Latoya nodded as if confirming her belief in Winona’s recollection.

“Ok,” she said, looking at Kumi. “You got enough?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Let’s speak with Amaya.”

Winona and Kumi entered the television room. The rest of the people stayed in the crowded kitchen to avoid overwhelming the little girl.

Cliff could only make out Kumi’s voice at first, speaking slowly but firmly in Japanese. Amaya initially remained quiet. But then her little voice chirped like the birds on Kipp’s porch. Cliff peered past the kitchen wall to see Winona on one side of the couch holding Amaya’s hand while she conversed openly with Kumi sitting on the recliner chair next to the couch. Amaya smiled at times and at other times, looked down at the carpet while she responded. She started to cry, but Kumi looked her in the eyes and spoke confidently, causing Amaya to smile broadly and hug the young woman.

“It’s the Naito girl,” she said to Latoya. “It was her first day of school at the Japanese academy. She was with her classmates, but they separated and she got lost walking home. She said a car stopped and two men grabbed her.”

“Hutchinson and Peters?” Danny asked.

“She wouldn’t say,” Kumi replied. “She’s too traumatized. She started to panic and cry. Whoever took her scared the crap out of her and she’s not ready to talk about it.”

“Was it a police car?”

“She clammed up,” Kumi said. “I got as much out of her as I could. Maybe she’ll open up when she sees her parents,”

“And, maybe not,” Latoya said. “I’ve seen children take years to confront these traumatic memories. Some adults still can’t talk about their deepest darkest moments. And, we shouldn’t push her too hard.”

Kumi paused, reading her notes to herself and asked Winona another question.

“Have you seen other cars parked along the street beneath the Aurora bridge?” she asked. “Do you ever see cars parked in that exact spot?”

“We don’t pay no attention to stuff like that,” Winona said. “We just happened to be looking for a place to get out of the rain. Jackson grabbed the door handle and noticed it was open. So, we climbed into the big back seat and hung out there for a bit. We didn’t mean no harm. Sometimes we like to chill out in the back of cars if we find them unlocked. We don’t do nothing. We just get out of the cold when we can.”

“Of course,” Latoya said, resting her hand on Winona’s shoulder. “We’re just looking for any details we can to understand the circumstances leading to Amaya’s abduction.”

“Can you help her?” Cliff asked.

“The good news is that her parents filed a missing person report,” Latoya said. “We know who she is and where she belongs. And, we can reunite her with her family.”

“You gonna get them cops?” Winona asked. “We don’t want this to happen to nobody else.”

“It’s still not perfectly clear exactly what happened and who abducted her,” Latoya said. “These cops could have some involvement. Maybe they’re caught up in some of the recent gang activity in the area.”

“What gang activity?” she asked.

“There are rival gangs in Seattle,” Latoya continued. “One small one up this way in the north, across the channel and a couple more dangerous ones down south near the airport. Over the years, they’ve grown and clashed somewhere in the middle. But they’ve been at peace for some time now and we believe it’s the result of a truce between the gangs.”

“What does that have to do with Amaya?” Winona asked.

“We believe this truce is based on an arrangement, like a trade agreement.”

“A trade agreement?” Cliff asked.

“One of the gangs provides drugs and weapons to the other,” said Latoya. “The other provides young girls to be sold into slavery. They target immigrants with little command of the language. We’ve only noticed a slight uptick in drug activity up this way. But we believe there’s a connection.”

“Bastards,” Winona muttered quietly. “I’ll kill him.”

“Come again?” Latoya asked. “What was that?”

“She’s just grown attached to the girl,” Cliff interjected. “That’s all. I’m sure she’s pretty emotional about this.”

“What happens to her now?” Kipp asked.

“We take her back to her parents,” Latoya said. “Kumi explained it to her and she’s excited to see them again.”

Winona entered the television room. Amaya stood and walked over to her. As she neared, she ran the last stride and hugged Winona’s waist tightly. From behind her back, she produced a plain white piece of paper. On it, she had drawn a picture of two stick figures, both with triangular bottoms to connote females, wearing skirts or dresses, including a tall figure and a shorter figure. A series of Japanese characters floated above the stick figures.

“It says ‘thank you’,” Kumi explained.

Winona stepped back, staring at the picture. She looked at Cliff and back at Amaya.

“How do I say good luck?” she asked, her voice trembling on the verge of tears.

“Kōun o inorimasu,” Kumi replied.

Winona crouched to Amaya’s eye level and said “thank you” in Japanese the best she could pronounce what she heard Kumi say. Amaya giggled and gave Winona a kiss on the cheek before Danny walked her out of the house to their black SUV in the driveway.

“Sayōnara,” Amaya called back as she disappeared into the back seat.

Latoya remained in the foyer as Kumi and Danny pulled the doors to the vehicle closed and started the engine.

“How will I reach you?” she asked Winona and Cliff. “We’ll get as much information as we can from Amaya, but we’re going to need more. If we can avoid making her testify or face anyone connected to this, we’d like to spare her that trauma. Poor girl’s been through enough.”

“We ain’t got nowhere to live,” Winona said, her street-talk contrasting with her sweet, new, suburban look. “I’m sure you can find us in an alley somewhere if you just look hard enough. Most people look right past us and don’t even see us.”

“I’ve taken your statements, but I may need to see you a few more times as we work with Internal Investigations to stop this from happening. Are you willing to help us?”

Winona hedged. Cliff stepped forward.

“We have to help Winnie,” he said. “We can’t let this happen to another little girl.”

“Can we take you to a shelter?” Latoya asked. “There’s a place right up the hill in the Wallingford area.”

“I been to the shelters,” Winona snapped. “I ain’t going back.”

“It’s a nice…”

“Thank you,” Winona cut off Latoya in mid-sentence. “I ain’t going there.”

“You can meet here next Sunday,” Kipp said. “I’ll make you a nice dinner. You can use the shower again and pick out another dress if you like.”

Everyone looked at Kipp. Winona smiled and nodded her head.

“Sunday it is,” she said. “What day is it today?”

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