Truth & Lies: Excerpt 2

Sunday, November 9, 9:00 am
Oakley Police Station, Oakley Neighborhood, Cincinnati, OH

“Yo, Deck. Welcome back, man.”

Deck Murphy nodded tightly. It was the third such greeting he’d received in the span of the last sixty seconds. The handle of his arm crutch burned in his palm. The stare of what felt like thousands of eyes bored into the back of his neck, and the effort required to keep his gait as steady as possible made his leg ache even worse than usual. He just wanted everything back to normal. Whatever normal meant now.

He came to the stairs. A year ago, he would have sprinted up the steps to the second floor without a thought. Today, he pushed the button on the elevator with a sigh, and a small piece of what was left of his pride withered and died. He stepped in and hit the button for the second floor. The ancient elevator closed and shuddered as it made the rare climb to the second floor. His boss’s office was directly opposite the elevator doors. He knocked on the open doorframe and cleared his throat.

“It’s good to see you, Deck.  Welcome back.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Captain Rupert rose to his feet and came around his desk. He stood nearly as tall as Deck’s six feet five inches, but unlike Deck, he had the lean frame of a runner. He held out a hand, and Deck released the handle on his crutch and took it.

“We’ve got a desk for you on the first floor.  You should have had someone call up. I could have come down.”

Deck had known this day would be an agony of helplessness. He just didn’t realize how much it would make him want to throw himself out of a tenth floor window. Unfortunately, District 2’s police station was only two floors tall.

“I—” Deck’s voice actually cracked and he had to clear his throat. “I appreciate that, sir. I may not be as fast on my feet as I once was, but I can still get from point A to point B.”

Captain Rupert jerked his chin down. “Understood.” He extended an arm, indicating Deck should precede him. “Let’s get you settled.

Rupert punched the button on the elevator like it was something he did every day. A hot wave of shame crept up Deck’s neck. His ears burned, and he wanted to howl in rage. He resisted the urge, instead stepping into the elevator, as if he didn’t resent its very existence.

“For now, I’m going to have the desk sergeant kick any potential investigative cases to you so that you can make a determination about whether they need a detective or can be sent out to Patrol. Other detectives will use you as their man on the ground, helping to coordinate investigations and resources. And finally, we have a stack of boxes containing cold cases that you can dig through in any spare time you have.”

Busy work, in other words.

They came to Deck’s new desk, which apparently had been the drop-off point for miscellany for some time. Precarious stacks of paper, a set of handcuffs in a leather pouch with a broken belt loop, a variety of pens without lids, and paperclips littered the top of the desk. La pièce de résistance came in a dirty coffee mug that looked like it might have been there long enough that the contents could soon become sentient.

“Sorry. Someone was supposed to have cleaned this up.” Rupert looked toward the front desk, but the desk sergeant was engaged with one of the patrolmen, neither of which Deck knew. “At least they remembered your computer.” He indicated the laptop bag sitting on the chair. “Contact IT for your login info. It’s probably the same as before you were deployed.”

 “No problem. I appreciate the opportunity, sir,” Deck said.  And he did. Riding a desk wasn’t ideal, but it beat the hell out of riding his Lay-Z-Boy at home while collecting a disability check. It had been nearly nine months since the roadside ambush in Afghanistan had all but wiped out his leg, and the loss of activity had driven him near to the breaking point.

“It really is great to have you back, Deck. Let me know if you need anything.”

“Will do.”

Captain Rupert strode back toward his office on the second floor, and Deck sat down and began sorting through the detritus on the desk. Tidy stacks of paper went into the inbox, the coffee mug and random bits of junk went into the trashcan. An hour and a half later, Deck got his computer setup, and then started picking through the first box of cold cases.

Just after eleven thirty, a disturbance sounded from the front of the bullpen. Deck turned to see that the desk sergeant had stepped away. A large, bearded, barrel-chested man, dressed in a Bengals jacket and sagging jeans, manhandled a slight Asian woman by the upper arm toward the counter. Another woman hovered behind them, clutching her purse in front of her and biting her lip.

“Dude, let her go!” This from an early-twenty-something Asian kid with an alarmed look on his face, his arms filled with bags bearing the logo of Tiger Wok, the Chinese joint from several blocks down the street.

Deck reached for his crutch, tightening his grip on the handle as he stood. He moved to the front of the room at top speed, which wasn’t very fast.

The Asian woman, who could have been anywhere from fifteen to twenty-two, wore black polyester slacks that were at least a size too large, a plain, black, sleeveless blouse, a black apron with two pockets in the front but no other markings, and cheap-looking black shoes. She wore a white nametag that read “Jennifer” in black lettering from a label maker. As she whimpered in a foreign language, Deck would have bet his left nut that her name was not Jennifer. He’d also bet she was freezing. It was thirty degrees outside this morning, and he didn’t see a coat anywhere.

“Can I help you?” he asked, narrowing his eyes as the guy in the jacket jerked the woman toward Deck. She cowered, raising an arm to cover her head as she wailed.

“We found this woman hitchin’ a ride in the back of our truck. She’s an illegal. We think she was gonna try and rob us.”

Deck’s eyebrow tried to climb into his hairline, but he forced it back down.

The desk sergeant came back at that moment.

“Could you take their statements?” Deck wanted to get the woman out of the guy’s grip.

“Aren’t you going to arrest her?”

“We need to get to the bottom of things, first, sir,” the desk sergeant said. “Please come in here and tell me what happened.”

With some protest, the man shoved the girl toward Deck, and she shrank in on herself, narrowly avoiding colliding with him.

Deck turned back to the kid with the Chinese delivery. “What’s your role in this?”

“I’m just here to deliver lunch.” He lifted the bags.

“Set them on the counter.”

Deck spoke as calmly as he could to the girl. “Can you tell me your name?”

She stared at him blankly.

Deck pointed to his chest. “Detective Deck Murphy.”

Then he pointed to her and held his hands up in question.

She just looked at him.

“Do you speak English?” he asked.

She shook her head.

Without being prompted, the Asian kid spoke in a rush of what Deck assumed was Chinese.

The girl responded, relief and gratitude rushing over her face.

 “Hey, kid. What’s your name?”

“Zhong Yi. But most people call me Shawn. And this is Lee Jing.”

“Would you mind translating for me?”

He grinned. “Nope. But it’s gonna cost you a big tip.”

Deck felt a short bark of laughter bubble its way to the surface. It was such an unusual, forgotten feeling that it escaped before he could catch it.

Shawn spoke slowly to the girl. Relief showed instantly in her expression.  Deck looked back and forth between the two while they spoke. Finally, Shawn turned back to Deck. “She said she ran away from her home in farming village in the south part of the Guangxi province, near the border of Viet Nam. She was promised if she worked for the people who smuggled her in for a year that her trip would be paid for. Once she got here, she was housed in a dormitory with a bunch of other women. They taught all the women how to do nails. Lee Jing wasn’t given access to phones or computers and wasn’t able to contact anyone from home. They told her if she tried to run away or contact anyone that they’d kill her family, and to make sure she believed them, they’ve shown her recent photos of her parents several times.”

“How did she get to the country?”

Shawn spoke to Lee Jing. “She was smuggled in a shipping container.”

“How did she break away now?”

There was more conferring, and Lee Jing spoke animatedly for an extended period of time.

“There’s a TV in the salon where she works. This morning, she saw an interview on the news of a couple who had traveled to the Cincinnati area trying to find their daughter. It was her parents. She realized if they’re here, they’re not at someone’s mercy in China so she didn’t have to worry about their safety.  So after she finished the pedicure she was doing, she faked a stomachache, went to the bathroom and while the person in charge was busy with a customer, she slipped out and hid in the back of a pickup truck. When the people got to their destination at another shopping center, she got out of the first truck and hid under a tarp in another truck just to get as far away as possible.  Unfortunately, though, the tarp flew up and the couple saw her and brought her here.”

“Does she know where the salon is?”

Shawn asked.

Lee Jing dropped her chin and shook her head slowly.

“Does she know what station the TV was on when she saw her parents?”

They conferred.

“Channel 5.”

“We’re going to need more information from her. But first, let me call the station and see if we can get her parents down here.”

Shawn translated Deck’s words for Lee Jing and she started crying again, this time sobbing into his handkerchief. “Thank you!” Her words were heavily accented.

Deck located the number for the station on his computer and picked up the phone. “This is Deck Murphy with Cincinnati Police.  You had a report on a Chinese couple who had a car accident this morning looking for their daughter? Their daughter is here at our station, and I’d like to get them in touch.”

“One moment please.”

“Jane Stephens.”

Deck explained.

“Oh my goodness. That’s amazing. The parents were staying at an Extended Stay America. I’ll go pick them up and bring them to you.”

“Keep the cameras away. There’s an active investigation.”

“Oh.” She sighed. “Fine.”

She hung up, and Deck excused himself to talk to the desk sergeant. “Did the couple with the truck say where they were coming from?”

“They had been parked at Rookwood before they discovered her,” Sergeant Tyler said.

 “How long had their truck been there?”

“They were parked outside of Marshall’s and were there for less than thirty minutes.”

Deck returned to his desk.  “Do you know the name of the salon where you worked?”

Shawn translated.

She shook her head. “She doesn’t read English. And barely reads Chinese. She’s from a little farming community and didn’t do well in school.”

Deck felt his frustration level rise. “Can she tell me anything about the salon? What it looks like? Where it’s located? Anything nearby?”

“She said the salon overlooks a parking lot next to trees.”

That really wasn’t enough to go on.

“Does she have any names that I can follow up on?”

Shawn asked her, she replied and then he turned back to Deck.

“The woman who is in charge at the dorm and at the salon is Chinese. She’d been here for years and had more privileges than the other girls. Her name is Mei Ling, but she’s not really the boss. Mei Ling usually called the boss ‘Mr. Milton’ on the phone, and she thinks also maybe Mike of the Night as a nickname but Lee Jing never heard her say it to him. Lee Jing wasn’t sure what that meant, or even that she was pronouncing it right. I suspect it could be a reference to the cartoon Mike the Knight, but she didn’t watch any television except the news that was on at the salon.”

Lee Jing let out a loud squeal at that moment and jumped from her chair before she raced across the bullpen to a Chinese couple who welcomed her into their embrace.

Shawn continued to help with the translation. “Could you let her know we’d like her fingerprints?” Deck asked.

Lee Jing took a step back behind her father as a burst of Chinese came from her mouth.

“She’s been kind of traumatized,” Shawn said. “The people holding her told her the police would lock her up.”

Deck sighed. He needed a way to corroborate her story before he warned the Feds, which was standard procedure in trafficking cases.

He got her father to write down the location and phone number before the older man insisted they leave.

Deck sat back down to his computer to do a search on the name Mike or Michael Milton. There were forty-seven Michael Miltons in Ohio. Ten in the greater Cincinnati area on the Ohio side, five in Northern Kentucky, and a couple more in Southeastern Indiana.

It would have been so much easier if the guy in charge had an unusual name.

Still, this was the first time in months that Deck had felt even remotely useful, and he couldn’t wait to dig into this case.