Preface

I have been fascinated with writing since I was in elementary school. Reading has always been a way for me to escape into other times, places, and universes. Writing is a way to take people with me to times and places I create. Like the pixels on a screen, which can be manipulated in an infinite number of new combinations to create new images, so can the written word.  I like to believe I paint with words.  I also love writing because it is such a primal experience and a tradition kept alive for thousands of generations.

I had only written non-fiction books before this. I have vowed to get this done and I have a tremendous support system around me.

Based on my commuting across the Puget Sound from Poulsbo, WA via the Bainbridge Island Ferry and a walk through Pioneer Square, I have noticed an increase in the population of homeless in the city. Seattle is now ranked in the top four cities in total homeless citizens. A recent volunteer count totaled 4,505 homeless in Seattle. In Kitsap County where I live, there are over 650 homeless. The statistics are staggering and sobering.

While this book is a mystery that takes place in the Seattle and involves some homeless people as primary characters, my research and personal experiences have shown that the despair of homelessness drives inappropriate behavior. Not only by those in that situation but those who would prey on them. On January 26, 2016, two homeless people in Seattle were murdered and three others were injured in a place called “The Jungle,” which is a makeshift hovel  of tents, sleeping bags, and garbage, where many homeless people camp underneath I5. By November of 2015, 66 homeless people had died in Seattle. The Mayor declared a state of emergency.

Why do I tell you this? Streets of Blame is raw and paints a realistic picture of how hard it is to live when you have no place to permanently call home.  The streets are a hard place to claw out a living and in the case of Seattle, often cold and wet too.  I have had a major personal epiphany while writing this, which has driven me to take personal action to help these souls out in some way. I have started a campaign to provide support to the homeless and will give a portion of the proceeds from this book when finished to a reputable charity focused on improving the lives of the homeless and homeless veterans.

Darin Hartley
February 12, 2016

Prologue

Advertisements

Chapter Three

Google_Maps

NED MEETS ADAM – APRIL 2010

In the two years since his wife and son’s death, Adam Lutz was beginning to get a slight sense of normalcy. He thought about his loved ones multiple times a day, but he was at least able to get into a cadence of work and life that worked for him. His coworkers were very helpful. He was in therapy twice a week in the beginning, but now twice a month sufficed. He developed a couple of OCD habits, which seemed to bring him comfort.

Pioneer Square is full of lower rent office buildings and businesses. Many startups and companies looking to be as frugal as possible dot the landscape in the square. Adam’s office was located in the open area directly across from Occidental Park between Main and Jackson Streets known as Nord Alley. It was an older building with a lot of character, exposed brick, and earthquake safety upgrades. Many of the buildings in the area are still sport uneven flooring and earthquake shoring devices in the walls after the big quake in 2001.

Adam typically caught a bus from near his house in Capitol Hill and got off the bus at 1st Avenue South near Yesler. He would walk down 1st and would cut over to Washington and then through Occidental Park. He always had a couple of pieces of gum in his mouth and in systematic fashion would throw it into the street at Main. He tried to hit one of the large square vents in the sidewalk. Sometimes the gum would fall through. Sometimes it would rest on top. And other times it would roll across the street.

Ned who was in Occidental Park most days Adam was walking through got very interested in Adam’s gum-throwing habit. He liked that he could get a large sample of one person’s gum. He didn’t pick it up the first time they crossed paths, but after a third, fourth, and fifth day of expelled gum, Ned couldn’t resist and started religiously collecting it. Adam was a good find and enabler for Ned.

Adam was oblivious.

Chapter Four

PREFACEPROLOGUECHAPTER ONE

(c) 2013 – 2015 – Darin Hartley

Chapter Two

Image


NED

Ned Strahan sat on one of the park benches in Occidental Park, near the bronzed firefighter statues; and he looked as nondescript as one of the many inlaid stones that created the un-level, yet geometric appearance of the park’s pavement. In most places, Ned would have caused passersby to stir, or squirm, or look away. In Occidental Park, Ned’s unkempt beard, blackened fingers, matted hair, gaunt face, and stained clothing caused no alarm. The half-acre park is nestled in Pioneer Square between Occidental Avenue South and Main Street South in Seattle. It is conveniently close to one of Seattle’s missions and additionally boasts ample seating with benches, steel chairs, and tables, which at night transform to sleeping surfaces and makeshift living quarters. For these reasons, the park is a haven for many homeless people and other vagrants, who nightly stage territorial wars with each other over the park benches, trash cans, and access to those people who dared to walk around the park after dusk and before sunrise. This is important for him. He needs to blend with his environment and like a phantom be able to disappear at will.

He travels as light as possible, with all of his belongings fitting into a rolling duffle bag and a nylon backpack. He has a toothbrush and some other basic supplies in the backpack. He has clothing, including multiple pairs of mismatched socks, jeans, a hat for the rain, and a thin sleep mat. A box of sandwich bags and disposable latex gloves are in the duffle bag also.

Ned is a regular at the park, he routinely is seen scribbling notes with a short pencil into a black and white composition notebook he normally holds closed with a rubber band. It isn’t uncommon to see a homeless person writing with apparent diligence and passion on paper or other things to pass the time and to appear busy or to respond to the voices compelling the person to action. Most people passing through figured Ned is writing innocuous notes or doodling or maybe working on a Sudoku or crossword puzzle. And that is what he wants everyone to think. In fact, Ned is tracking the movements of the regulars that pass through the park. Not unlike a person bird-watching and cataloging the birds, activities, time and location of sightings, Ned keeps detailed notes on the movements of his potential…prey. He notices movement and behaviors of people passing through and creates an elaborate tracking and rating system for people who traveled through the park, and even gives them nicknames, which sound like chat handles on the Internet.

Ned’s “trackees” are rated on a five- point scale based on several factors including, Apparent Weakness (fitter people got more points), Park Commuting Time (very early or late are given more points), Age (younger get more points), and Disgust. The latter classification more subjective than the former, and Ned gave this rating based on the first sight reaction he got with a person. Each tracked person has a rating from 0 – 20. The higher the score, the higher the risk or satisfaction would be derived from the potential kill.

There was “Blonde & Curly,” the young professional woman who pretends to talk on her cell phone as she walks quickly and awkwardly, with her four-inch high heels. She feels strangely safe when she holds the cell phone to her ear, even when no one is actually speaking with her. She is a legal assistant but has an apartment on Jackson Street, and uses the diagonal shortcut from Second Avenue South through Occidental Park to kill some time from her walk home. Ned rated her a 13.

“Long-Boarder,” a 14, walks through the park on a regular basis during the day and occasionally after dark. He carries his board under his right arm and typically slings a small backpack over his left shoulder. He routinely guzzles Red Bull or Monster energy drinks as he heads to and from the paved walkway along the Alaskan Way viaduct. It is perfect for skateboarding and cycling.

Other regulars Ned tracked included, “Pudgy,” (a 10), “Speedy,”(a 17) “Never Looks Up,” (a 12) and “Gotta Get Coffee,” (a 19). The latter trackee had the current highest score…largely for Ned’s disdain for Seattle’s coffee-based sub-culture. None of the people being cataloged could ever have guessed this was occurring, which played perfectly into Ned’s ultimate scheme. He has been planning this for a long time… and things were coming together nicely.

In another section of Ned’s notebook, he diligently, almost anthropologically, tracks and records the names, key attributes, and any noted events from the plethora of homeless people he lives among. Because of the transient nature of many of these people, he spends time at this activity daily. There is always something new to note and edits to make. When Ned talks with these street people, they often ask, “What are you writing in that notebook?”

Ned casually replies, ”Notes, for the next great American novel,” and strangely enough, this disarms those who ask this question. It is like they feel like they might be famous some day.

A question that Ned always asks his homeless peers is, “Have you ever been in jail?”

If the person says, “Yes.” Ned quickly follows with, “What for?”

It never ceases to amaze Ned some of the hardened, and potentially dangerous ex-convicts that are wandering the streets of Seattle. He places special notes on the pages for those vagrants, because he has a diabolical vision for them.

Do you want to read CHAPTER THREE?

PREFACEPROLOGUECHAPTER ONE

(C) 2013 – 2016 – Darin Hartley 

Chapter One

ADAM – MARCH 2008

Adam Lutz was writing a proposal for a new opportunity he was working for his software company one early Saturday, March morning. His beautiful blonde wife, Janie and his energetic son, Dylan wanted to go skiing, but Adam couldn’t. “You guys go…there aren’t going to be many days left this season.” Adam’s wife and son left early from their Capitol Hill home that Saturday morning to ski at Snoqualmie for the day. He would have loved to go with them, but the deal he was working on was the largest-to-date for the startup software company and if won, would keep ten people employed for over a year.

He worked for many hours on the proposal and at one point woke up to find that he had keyed pages of gobbledygook with his left cheek after a quick nap. He went back to the last intended writing in the proposal and removed his accidental text, and saved his work. Janie is going to love it when I tell her that one, he thought.

It was well past 5:00 PM and Adam hadn’t heard anything from his family since they left. They frequently wrapped up the skiing by 3 or so, to beat the crowd and traffic back into Seattle. Adam ambled over to the refrigerator, grabbed a bottle of Fat Tire beer, popped the top, and headed to the living room to catch the local news. There was a “Breaking News” banner flashing across the local network news. The image on the screen was from a mountain somewhere covered in snow with emergency vehicles and helicopters everywhere. Various parts of cars, trucks and RVs could be seen partially buried and erupting from the snow in unnatural angles.

A female reporter was reporting live,” At a little after 3 o’clock this afternoon, on I90 in the Snoqualmie Pass, a freak avalanche ripped across the highway obliterating the backed up traffic in its path. Witnesses say it sounded like a thousand freight trains and what looked like 25 feet or more of snow rushed across the westbound side of I90.”

The bile in Adam’s stomach raced into his mouth. His beer fell from his hand, hit the ground, and leaked its contents onto the hardwood floor. His hands were shaking violently, and he broke into a cold sweat.

Adam was trying to call his wife’s cell phone when there was a knock at his door. His legs felt like they were encased in quicksand as he struggled to get to the door. The news flash and the knock were too perilously close together. Adam finally opened the door slowly. As his eyes caught the sight of the two Washington State Police officers at his door, he briefly kneeled to one knee.

“Hello. Are you Mr. Adam Lutz?” the tall dark-haired officer asked as he helped pull Adam up. He was accompanied by a female officer who stood close.

“Ye..Yes. I am.”

“I am Lieutenant Ross with the Washington State Police and this is Sergeant Kurtz. Not sure if you have seen it or not, but there was a massive avalanche in Snoqualmie, and we have been able to recover some of the victims from the scene. I am sorry for your loss Mr. Lutz. Janie and Dylan were retrieved  from the site and both died. Is there anyone who can be with you now?”

“Oh my God. I should have gone with them today! I stayed home to work on a fucking proposal. And now they are dead.”

“Mr. Lutz. This was an accident. It is not your fault, and no one could have predicted or known this was going to happen today. Again…Do you have someone who could be with you now?”

“Both our parents are dead. My twin brother, Donnie, is a professor at the University of Washington. I’ll call him.”

The trooper spoke again, “I am so sorry for your loss. You will need to identify the bodies at the morgue.”

(Want to read CHAPTER TWO?)

PREFACEPROLOGUE

(c) 2013 –  2016 – Darin Hartley

Prologue

Prologue.jpgPROLOGUE

The smoker took his last drag on his cigarette, which made the embers pulse, like a tiny heart. He flicked the cigarette away, and the glowing end spun in an erratic arc like some drunken firefly before it hit the ground and rolled momentarily before gravity and friction took hold. The hurried smoker didn’t miss a step as he quickly left the area where he discarded his cigarette. When he was about fifty feet away from the still-burning remains of his smoke, a shadowy figure emerged from behind one of the large maple trees in the park.

The mysterious man, dressed in mostly black, skittered like some two-legged crab and quickly and with gloved hands, picked up the cigarette, carefully tapping the glowing end of it on the ground. Once the cigarette was out, the man placed it in a plastic sandwich bag and labelled it. He did this several more times over the course of the evening and repeated a similar action when another person discarded his gum on the pavement.

The man’s name is Ned. Ned Strahan.

*****

Dr. Donald (Donnie), Lutz’ iPhone, vibrated and moved slightly across his desk. He had been reviewing a paper written by one of his forensic science students and didn’t appreciate the interference or the distraction. Oddly, most people would have loved a reprieve from grading a paper, but not Lutz.

The caller ID displayed “King County Jail.” He was instantly alarmed. Curious, He answered the call.

“Donnie…You gotta help me. I swear I didn’t do it. I swear I didn’t kill that man in the park.”

And like that, after no contact for over three years, Adam, Lutz’ twin brother interjected himself back into Lutz’ life.

“This is my only call man…and I couldn’t think of anyone else to call. Can you help, please? The Arraignment Judge set my bail at one million dollars because of the brutality of the crime.”

“Holy shit! I haven’t heard from you since Janie and Dylan’s funeral. And now you need me to cough up 100 thousand dollars? I don’t think I can pull that kind of cash together, especially on short notice, but I’ll do everything possible to help you. I was wondering if you were even alive.”

“Thanks, Donnie. I understand and will take any help you can provide. I have a court-appointed lawyer, Angela Barnes…or maybe it is Braun…she is very young; but seems to be working hard for me so far. I’ll ask her to call you when I see her.”

Donnie heard the guard telling his twin to hang up the phone. “Donnie…I’ve got to go. Please help.”

The receiver clicked, and Donnie wept quietly at his desk.

PREFACECHAPTER ONE

(c) 2013 – 2016 – Darin Hartley