Written by Bridgid
Debt bondage is much
worse than being chained up in the literal sense. Lonnie
had gone over as many case studies as she could stand about the
human trafficking surge in California. Take a family living in an
impoverished country. Offer them the world on a silver platter, a
piece of American pie, three square meals a day and they're going to
listen. Here's the deal. Just like the rules on the Titanic, it's
woman and children first. They'll be sent to America for a fee, but
the fee doesn't have to be paid up front. They can work it off and
in no time their families will join them in the land of opportunity.
Problem is, no one ever explains to them that it will take them the
rest of their lives to pay back the debt, no matter how short they
may be. No one ever tells them what type of work they'll have to
toil at in exchange for this once in a lifetime chance. Would they
ever agree to it if they knew they'd be put out on the street to
make thirty dollars in exchange for sex? Of the thirty dollars mere
pennies are applied to their so called debts which usually go in to
the tens of thousands of dollars.
"How can you confirm where they're from?" Bud enquired … distress evident in his voice.
"First off, the officers in this district didn't recognize any of the victims. They're all new to the area and second off, the clothing they're wearing is unique to the Khmer. Even if we were wrong in our assumptions, one of the young girls had pictures from Phnom Penh."
The incident commander led Bud and Lonnie into the scene as he spoke.
"We questioned some of the neighbors but they seem to be afraid to speak to us. One older woman, a Korean, seemed pissed off about the presence of these folk. She did give us the name of the landlord but we were not able to reach him."
The interior scene was quite disturbing. One of the older girls cradled an infant on her chest and if it was not for the color of the skin around her mouth, one would guess they were sleeping. Three of the other children were lying on the floor together and it appeared they passed in their sleep as well. The other teenaged girl was sitting at the table with her head cradled in her arms. She was probably the first to die as carbon monoxide settles to the floor last.
"Is this what they think caused the problem?" Lonnie squatted down to inspect a small hibachi like grill in the center of the room.
"Fire chief thinks so. He thinks they were using it to warm the room up after cooking with it for a good part of the evening."
"Apart from the obvious is the chief thinking about foul play? Maybe someone offed this group intentionally?" Bud glanced at Lonnie as he spoke. How could it be that this scene seemed to affect him more than it did her? Maybe he'd underestimated her.
"We won't have any answers for you until the scene is fully processed. Which one of you should I forward the report to?"
Both Bud and Lonnie answered at once with a "Me." A few moments of silence passed before Lonnie conceded. "Send it to him." She nodded toward Bud. "We're all working on this case together. Detective Coffee is my partner and I'll keep him in the loop."
"Quid pro quo. If you advance on your case, let us lowlifes here at Wilshire know, okay?"
"Will do. Here's my partners card." Lonnie scribbled her cell phone number on one of Coffee's department business cards and handed it to the incident commander. "Thanks for the heads up."
Bud and Lonnie were back in the car a short time after that headed to the motor pool. He was pretty damn quiet about everything.
"What do you make of this, Bud?"
"You know how I feel."
"I don't mean us. I mean the case. I figure if O'Hara gets the info on the landlord, it's a good place to start. He'd have to have a record of who the place was let to."
"Yeah but I wouldn't get my hopes up about it. A lot of these places rent out to people and never even ask for ID or anything like that. All they care about is the money."
"Yeah well at very least; this one will be getting a few citations from the fire department. You reckon he'll think twice before he rents again?"
"No. The money these scumbags bring in more than makes up for the fines they pay out. The system is fucked."
Lonnie shook her head in disgust. She knew there wasn't much their department could do about this, but solving the case would be a step on the right direction.
She and Bud talked a bit more about the case on the way back to HQ. When they arrived, Coffee met them by the watch commander's desk.
"What'd you two stop for a quickie? Never mind, forget I asked. Brodie took the deal. I've got some good shit but we've got to move fast. The moment they realize Brodie vanished they'll be suspicious."
Lonnie glanced at Bud and rolled her eyes. "You're an asshole, Coffee, and what are we gonna do, set up a sting?"
"Yeah. I figure we could set up an appointment with this travel agency. I don't think I'm the type of guy that would be in the market for a housekeeper from Asia." He looked White up and down and shook his head no. "Neither are you. We need to find someone to go in with Lonnie, someone who could pass as a rich boy."
"I don't like this idea." Bud huffed. "Let me go in alone."
"White, do you really think you'd pass for someone looking for a housekeeper or worse, do you really think you could pull off a pedophile act?"
Lonnie stepped directly in between Bud and Coffee. She felt the tension rise and there was no place for it right now. "I've got someone in mind."
Neither man asked but it seemed they were both looking at her for an answer.
"Thomas," she stated "He's perfect. Get him dressed properly and he'll pull it off with flying colors."
"How soon can you get him in here?" Coffee asked
"Tomorrow morning too late?"
"That'll work just fine. How's this sit with you, White?"
He was obviously none too happy about it. "Find someone else," he responded sharply.
Coffee knew their situation but he also figured Lonnie would get her way a lot quicker without his interference. "I think you two have a few things to hash over. White, you're off shift. Lonnie, you're about to be. Go home. I'll have the logistics ready for you when you come in tomorrow morning." He gave Bud a pat on the back that made the big cop cringe but it wasn't about to disturb Coffee any. Some cops may have been afraid of big old Wendell Bud White but Coffee's been around way to long. He's see his share of the likes of him. All he could do was wonder what Lonnie saw in him. What did Bud White have that bonded her too him?
Lonnie waited for Coffee to vanish behind the detective bureau door before she nudged Bud.
"We've got a full twelve hours to talk this through. You gonna come home tonight?" In three seconds flat her voice changed from the straight level tone of a detective to the sweet croon of a woman in seduction mode. "Come on, baby. I'm missing you."
"You see me now don't you?"
"Not the way I'd like. Home, Bud. You, me …home." She reached into her pocket and dangled her keys in front of him.
"I'll drive." He snatched the keys from her hand and without further ado he started walking toward the parking lot. Two dozen or so steps later he stopped and turned to look her way.
"You coming or what? Twelve hours isn't much time. You gotta call Thomas and we'll need some sleep. Tomorrow's gonna be a hell of a fucking day…A hell of a fucking day I'll tell ya."