Given that’s it’s Memorial Day Weekend, and I have been posting two chapters of “No Safe Harbor” every week for the past 11 weeks, I’ve decided to take a break this weekend and spend time with my family. HOWEVER: Chapters 22 & 23 will be posted next Saturday (June 2) as we head toward the final 12 chapters! For those who need to catch up (You know who you are. If not, I have a list), here’s your chance before things get rolling again as Seattle private investigator Shane McPhearson puts his trust in KIRO-TV reporter Patty Mead to help him expose the corruption within the 8th Precinct and keep 8-year-old Jacob Bettington alive.
The Sable rolled into a parking space behind the 8th Precinct. Aames and Kazad exited and made their way through the double doors and along the hall to the staircase leading up to the squad room. Aames collapsed into his chair and sifted through a handful of pink message slips scattered over his desk while Kazad filled his mug with stale coffee, then held the pot up toward Aames.
“How can you drink that motor oil?” Aames then watched Kazad spoon heaping mounds of sugar and dry creamer into his cup. “Never mind.”
Kazad continued stirring as he took a spot on the corner of his partner’s desk. “Anything important? he asked, gesturing to the messages.
“Not really. But I should return a couple of these calls. One is from Zeahna. Probably ready to give back her engagement ring.”
“Nah. But you need to make that call first. In fact, always make that call first.”
“Spoken like a man who knows.”
Kazad offered a sad smile and changed the subject. “I’ll give you some privacy. While you’re groveling and begging, I’ll go talk with Bill Parnelle at Internal Affairs. He might have some insight on the shooting.”
“You sure you don’t want me to tag along?
Kazad took a sip and shook his head. “It might spook him. I’ll try being cozy. If that doesn’t work, I’ll press him and see what happens.”
Kazad and Aames followed Hollins as he crossed over one of two bridges on Highway 90 that spanned Lake Washington and connected Mercer Island with the surrounding Seattle area. During summer months, the lake was alive with Jet Skis, canoes, seasonal fisherman and the occasional late-night couple skinny dipping. But in the off season, when rain showers were the only disturbance over the quiet waters, life centered near the southern tip of Lake Washington on The Mercer.
Leaving highway 90, Hollins headed south on Island Crest Way, which was the main artery connecting the northern and southern ends of the island. His destination was located at the furthest point south and surrounded by a private community of expensive weekender homes purchased primarily for short get-aways and lazy stretches of summer. As a result, most remained empty for a majority of the year.
But this morning, among a cluster of fancy cabins near the Mercer Island Beach Club, one unit was occupied by a team of police investigators — and the body of Sharon Reese.
Following Hollins in the Sable, Kazad and Aames left the paved road and maneuvered over a narrow gravel drive that took them past a small wooden sign labeled “cabins.” Police lights broke between clusters of trees as they neared the end of a large cul-de-sac bordered by two-story structures designed to feel rustic while still providing every possible amenity.
For any amenity not available in the cabins, there was someone at the Beach Club able to provide it.
It was an idyllic spot, thought Kazad. Except for the strands of bright yellow crime tape.
Ahead, Hollins parked along the cul-de-sac, leaving room for the medical examiner’s vehicle to eventually arrive and transport the body. He stepped from this car carrying a leather bag as he entered the cabin.
A patrolman recorded his badge number and arrival time.
Kazad and Aames came to a stop and waited before exiting the Sable to avoid the appearance of arriving with Hollins. After a few minutes, they approached the crime scene, hands buried in their coat pockets.
The patrolman clicked his pen, ready to jot down their badge numbers from memory. “How’s it going with the Bettington kid?” he asked. “Is this tied to that?”
Aames and Kazad entered the Sunriser Cafe and quickly spotted Hollins sitting at a back table, far from the row of booths lining the front window. His face was grim. A plump waitress wearing a checkered apron and jeans that were a size too small was refilling his coffee as the two detectives slid into the booth. The waitress set the coffee pot on the table and grabbed her order pad.
“What can I get you?” she asked, as if they had driven there with a particular favorite in mind.
“Coffee, please. Black,” said Kazad.
Aames held up two fingers.
“Okay, two coffees. Anything else for you two?”
Aames pulled a slightly sticky laminated menu from behind the condiment caddy, flipping between the two sides. “I’ll need some time to process all this, ma’am.”
“I’ll check back,” she said, unamused, then disappeared into a side station.
“Looks like real home cooking,” said Kazad.
“Maybe your home,” replied Aames.
The waitress returned with a pair of coffee cups and filled them black. “Are you ready to order?” She glanced at Aames first.
“I’ll pass this morning, thank you.”
She pivoted to Kazad, pencil at the ready.
“I’d like two eggs, medium hard, hash browns, sausage and orange juice, please,” said Kazad.
“You can go ahead and start my order too,” said Hollins.
“I’ll get that out shortly,” she said and headed toward the kitchen.
Kazad blew on his coffee. “So what’s going on, Roy? Why the secret meeting in Hooterville?”
At a small, under-utilized state rest stop just east of Tacoma along a quiet stretch of Highway 167, Shane splashed his face with cold water and did his best to wash up. Jacob sat in the stall next to him, crouched on the seat of the commode. A pair of Shane’s mud boots had been positioned in the gap of the stall door to give the appearance of a full-grown occupant. Shane looked around for a paper towel dispenser to dry his face but only saw a hand dryer that appeared in questionable condition. He twisted the blower nozzle upward, positioned his face over it, then pushed the chrome start button. A spider blew out, glancing off his cheek.
“JEEZ!” he exclaimed, jumping aside and brushing at his face with both hands.
“What happened?” Jacob asked from inside the stall.
“Nothing,” Shane answered, drying his face with his shirt sleeve. “Just an air-born spider attack.”
“What?!?” The door to the stall flew open as Jacob quickly emerged, his eyes darting around the room.
Shane pushed the chrome button again, turning the dryer off. “It came flying out of there. I didn’t see a parachute, so I don’t think he made it.”
A smile broke Jacob’s worried expression. He began to laugh, the sound of his giggling echoing between the bare concrete floor and ceiling.
It was a good sound, thought Shane, who realized it was the first time he’d heard Jacob laugh. He began chuckling as well, then shushed himself and Jacob quiet as he gathered up his boots. Peeking through a gap in the restroom door, Shane made sure no one else was around before the two of them hurried into the cab of the pick-up and drove from the parking area.
Rick Sparlo sat on the covered veranda, swirling his rocks class and mixing rare scotch between pearls of ice. “So where is he now?” he asked in the general direction of his speakerphone.
“We’re not sure,” came Perkins’ hesitant voice. “Things are hush-hush. Reporters are in a frenzy trying to get information. All anyone knows is he’s been found and he’s alive.”
Sparlo bit down on a piece of ice, crunching. “You realize he could be in a room somewhere with a video camera, telling about how two policemen threatened his mother and aunt a few nights ago.”
“We know that.”
“I’m not waiting until I’m on fire before I put out the flames,” said Sparlo. “You understand that?”
“Yeah. We’ll take care of things.”
“So you keep telling me. I’m running out of patience and you’re running out of time.”
Sparlo stole a long sip, draining his glass, letting the oaky scotch filter between his teeth.
After an awkward pause, Perkins spoke up again. “What about Sharon? Me and Jerome… we feel she’s a risk.”
Digging his tongs into a fresh supply of ice, Sparlo dropped a few frozen spheres into his glass and refilled it, then settled back into his spot on the veranda. “Let me prioritize things for you,” he finally said. “You’re up shit creek without a Goddamn boat. Stop worrying about finding a fucking guide!”
“But we —”
“Sharon is my problem. You just worry about dealing with that kid before I deal with you,” Sparlo said, then thumbed the speaker button, ending the conversation.
I honestly believe I was a resident of Seattle in a past life. And not just because of things like free gum, fish tossing and some of the coolest graffiti I’ve ever seen (although those are all good reasons). There’s just something about Seattle that strikes a chord in me more than any other place I’ve lived or visited — from Dallas to Atlanta, NYC to Anchorage. Without question, it’s the main reason I chose Seattle as the setting for my crime novel while I was still living in Atlanta back in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
I’ve been to Seattle four times over the years, the most recent being last week as part of a writing road trip that included stops in Cannon Beach, Ore., for a special three-day conference for writers to “Get Lit at the Beach,” (That’s “lit” as in “literary,” folks) and then on to Seattle for some final research as I finish my book AND to attend a Chemical Brothers concert with my oldest son. (Warning: If you click on that link and have ingested any type of Mary-ju-wanna, you’ll be sitting there a while.)
Spotless white nurse shoes squeaked past Aames and Kazad as they waited in plastic chairs across from the examination room, paper cups of coffee between their feet. They had been at St. Anne’s Hospital for more than an hour and had yet to see Jacob.
At the other end of the hall, elevator doors opened, releasing a thin brunette wearing a tweed jacket and dark slacks. She walked briskly toward them offering a courteous smile.
“I’m Tabitha Mills. Child Protective Services,” she said, extending her hand. “I’ve been assigned to Jacob Bettington. Any word on his condition?”
“Not yet. So far, things seem pretty routine,” Kazad said. “The exam should be finished any time now. Would you like some coffee?”
Mills declined with a wave of her hand. “Caffeine triggers my PMS.”
Kazad and Aames exchanged glances as Mills took a seat, unclipping a barrette and releasing folds of thick hair. “It was a joke, boys,” she said, gathering her hair into a ponytail. “So, what can you tell me about Jacob?”
“Missing since Wednesday night. Probable kidnapping,” said Kazad.
“Noted,” said Mills. “Now can you tell me anything I haven’t already read in the paper or seen on the news?”
“I can speculate,” said Kazad. “Then again, the news seems to be full of that, too.”
Mills slipped a pen and legal pad from her courier bag with fleeting amusement. “I’m not the enemy, detective. I need information — speculative or otherwise — that can help me help that little boy in there,” she said, pointing her pen at the exam room.
Kazad began to reply but Aames broke in. “Please forgive my partner. He’s had a long day,” he said, patting Kazad’s shoulder. “He’s usually in bed before 7 p.m.”
A bleary-eyed doctor emerged from the exam room and crossed the narrow hall. “I’m Dr. Freely. You must be with the 8th Precinct,” he said as all three stood and exchanged introductions.
“How is he doing?” asked Kazad.
“Well, other than the need for a bath, some supper and a good night’s sleep, he seems to be in good shape,” said Dr. Freely, who then added: “Come to think of it, that’s about all I need, too.”
“Any idea how long he’s been on the street?” Mills asked.
“It’s only a guess, but judging from his condition and what little he told me, maybe ten to twelve hours,” said Dr. Freely.
“Did he say anything to you about where he’s been?” Kazad asked. “Or has he mentioned any names?”
“No. The conversation has been very limited,” said Dr. Freely. “You have a very frightened little boy in there.”
As the heavy rains edged across Puget Sound and away from Seattle, a lazy drizzle followed, stalling out over Lincoln Parkway. In the alley between the deli and coffee shop across from Sharon Reese’s condo, Shane had propped open a trash dumpster lid, angling it against the wall to create a makeshift cover as he huddled beneath it and listened to the dull strike of raindrops.
His collar-length hair was now slicked back and oily. Two days without shaving had darkened his face. A plastic garbage bag had been fashioned into a poncho over torn khakis and a soiled sweatshirt. The boots were gone, replaced by dirty sneakers; no socks.
Exhaust fumes spiraled down the alley as a city bus departed from a stop near the entrance, continuing on its route through Lincoln Park and to a ferry a little more than a mile away. Shane had parked the Wrangler there for safe keeping, then caught the bus to avoid the risk of being seen.
He shifted uncomfortably as renewed concerns seeped into his thoughts. The sitting and waiting in the darkness while staring at Reese’s drawn curtains allowed his mind to wander into places he preferred not to go — places where Jacob was frightened and alone.
They were places mapped by Shane’s own childhood of being shuffled between foster homes and time spent on the street avoiding them. It wasn’t that he’d experienced a lot of neglect or physical abuse, although there had certainly been some measure of both. However, it was the constant and prevailing sense of indifference that stung the most. The feeling that he was just another kid being moved through a limbo-like system until he was old enough to be booted out, making room for the next sad story and monthly state check. Though he was now a grown man with a life of his own, the twin prongs of abandonment and indifference that defined his childhood still lingered. His cautious approach to friendship was testimony to that. So was his fear of commitment to Sam.
She was everything he could want in a companion and a lover, which made her everything he was afraid of losing again.
Shane sat quietly under the battered dumpster lid, understanding that his connection to Jacob was deeper than he’d been willing to admit.
Shane returned to Lincoln Park, parking the Jeep near the pay phone across from the playground. He knew the park was now dangerous territory; if the police were looking for him, this was a likely place to start. But it still remained his only link to Jacob. If he was going to spend time on the phone and looking through reports, it was going to be where there was a chance — no matter how slim — of spotting Jacob.
Scanning the area, Shane stepped from the Wrangler and into the phone booth, punching the numbers to The Nook. Sam picked up on the second ring, dishes clanging in the background.
“The Nook, this is Sam.”
“You beeped?” asked Shane.
“Oh thank God,” she said. “I’ve been watching the T.V. looking for you in handcuffs. Did you get what you were looking for?”
“I did. It was a little dicey but I managed to slip in, get the reports and slip out without sounding the alarms,” said Shane. “How about Gerald at City Hall. Did he get you anything on the dad?”
“Unfortunately yes. He’s a colorful guy.”
“What shades?” asked Shane.
“My guess is black and blue,” Sam replied. “Two DUIIs and a charge of disturbing the peace. All in the last year. The man is a drinker and he’s violent. You fill in the blanks.”
“What did the report say?”
The clanging kitchen sounds faded as Sam moved into the storage room. “Neighbors called the police and reported yelling and screaming from the Bettingtons’ apartment. The incident report describes broken plates and furniture, but no obvious marks on Jacob or his mom. Police charged the father with what they could and left. I think if the neighbors hadn’t called, the marks would’ve been there.” She paused. “As you know, I’m a bit of an expert on the subject.”
Shane absently nodded. Sam was open with him about her childhood and a father she only referred to as Jack Daniels. “The file I got shows the Bettingtons living in Woodway. That’s a good forty miles from from here. That’s too far away for Jacob to find his way back to. And if your abuse theory is right — ”