The Columbia River Murders
By Dale A. Johnson
Copyright © 2012 by Dale A. Johnson
All rights reserved.
This book, or no parts thereof, may be reproduced
in any form without express written permission
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Dale A. Johnson
The Columbia River Murders
Manufactured in the United States of America
A pool of blood reflected the round lens of the camera like a mirror. The photographer groaned as he got up from his kneeling position. Mark Wales leaned over the body careful not to touch anything as he put on his plastic gloves. He bent over and ran his finger over the back of her neck. She was lying face down. The detective flipped up her hair to get a closer look at the skull line. The occipital lobe was crushed. He touched the knob and it seemed to float on a mushy cushion. The whole back of her head was shattered.
The coroner entered the room. He had on a green wind-breaker. It was dripping wet from rain. Mark knew him from contact at other crime scenes. Three to be exact! Mark was a new detective. He was known for his careful reporting and detailed description. The coroner was a twin opposite. He was quick, deliberate, and always in a rush to get out of the room. He used an electric monitor to measure the temperature of the corpse.
“Yup, she’s dead. I will have the remains picked up in an hour or so. Does that give you enough time? The coroner looked at Mark pensively.
“We need an autopsy. I am told she is from mainland China” Said Mark.
“Only good Gook is a dead Gook.” The coroner laughed. Russ Anderson was a Viet Nam veteran. He had been elected coroner based on the fact he had been a medic and was the president of the local V.F.W. which gave him the few extra votes he needed. His attitude and bigotry rubbed Mark the wrong way.
“Ok, give me an hour and I will be here” said Mark who wanted the coroner to leave before he offended anyone else.
Before entering the motel room where the victim lay in her pool of blood Mark had interviewed the owner of the Saint Helens Motel. Rama Shiva was from northern India. He was part of a family that owned a dozen motels in the Pacific Northwest. They were ‘seedy’ places known for prostitution, drugs, and nearly homeless people. Rama acted nervous Mark noted on his IPAD. Mark had created his own note taking app. It allowed him to quickly enter data and fly through standard checklists. Rama gave one word answers as he fumbled around for keys.
“We go now, yes?” Rama sputtered. Rama was talking to the detective from behind a glass window with iron bars behind it.
“Excuse me sir, I have a couple of questions. Can you show me her registration card and could you come out into the lobby?”
“She didn’t have one. She work here.” Rama disappeared from sight and a door opened and Rama shuffled out into the lobby. “She work here” he repeated.
“Thank you sir. Can you tell me when she began to work here?” Mark noticed food stains on the shirt of Rama. Do you have some identification?” Mark looked at this disheveled man. He had a scar on his right wrist.
“We go now?” Rama laughed.
“After I see some identification.” Mark was getting frustrated. He decided to take his time and put some pressure on Rama to see why he was in such a hurry.
“Ok, ok!” Rama pulled out of his shirt pocked a thick billfold. He pulled out a driver’s license. It was from Texas.
“Mr. Shiva, I see you have lived in Texas. Why do you not have a Washington State license?
“I am here only one month.” Rama was sweating.
“Is this your motel?
“No sir. My uncle owns it. He send me here to manage.” Without saying anything Rama bolted out the door and headed down the sidewalk with keys dangling in his hand.
Mark followed Rama down the walkway and up to a second story room. Mark was still holding the driver license. He slipped it into his jacket pocket.
Rama jammed a key into the door. “Sir, please do not enter the room.” Rama turned and looked at the detective. “Has anyone else been in this room?”
“Just me sir.”
Mark poked his head in the room. A metallic odor was present; it was the smell of blood.
A squad car arrived. Mark waved them up and asked them to tape off the scene before entering the room.
Rama began to scurry away. “Mr. Shiva, your license.” Mark held it out and made Rama come back to him. “Mr. Shiva, I will have some more questions for you tomorrow.
The room was a mess. Mark observed that the drapes were closed. He used all his senses to survey the scene. He took out his flashlight and studied the carpet.
“You see a cleaning cart outside?” Mark asked the officer standing in the doorway.”
The body was at the side of the bed. It looked as if she was struck from behind on the back of the head and fell face forward onto the bed and slumped off to the side. Mark noted from the amount of blood that she must have bled out. Still, it will take an autopsy to determine the manner of death he thought to himself.
Mark was a patient man. He did not jump to conclusions. He had wrestled in High School and College. He learned that he did not have to always initiate the action. Sometimes it is best to let the action come to him and effectively counter the offensive move.
Eagle Landing was Mark’s hometown. He grew up outside of town hunting and fishing as a boy. He developed a strong set of friends, many of whom worked for the city as firefighters, police, and park workers. It was a lumber town. The smell of chlorine could be detected in various parts of the town depending on the direction of the wind. Chlorine was used as a solvent to breakdown the wood pulp. Two paper plants produced commercial paper for cardboard boxes and other types of paper packing material.
The wood that didn’t go to paper production such as the poplar and alder trees was shipped to Japan and China as peeled logs. Fir timber was the prime type of wood that became plywood for the Asian market.
Mark loved his town and was not blinded by the side of life he saw on a day to day basis. He had fishing and hunting buddies who formed a brotherhood of friends that offered him positive bonds with strong and solid family men. Almost all had been in the military like him and returned home to finish their college educations.
Mark had a family of his own. He had a son and a daughter. What set Mark apart from the rest of this small town brotherhood was a father who was an eccentric resource in his life. His father and mother divorced when he was in college. It was a difficult period of time for him and he gave a huge amount of support to his mother. His father traveled the world to follow his academic passions. Mark never knew how to describe his father to his friends. He was a linguist, master of too many languages to count, an anthropologist who studied exotic cultures by living among them, and a humanitarian who built schools for many of the world’s poorest children. It was a mystery to Mark as to how his father could travel, survive, and exist in so many places. He sometimes wondered if he worked for an intelligence service. Nevertheless, from time to time he called upon his father to help him solve a difficult case.
At present his father was in China teaching English to Chinese students in a remote area of western China near the border of Tibet. He needed him now.
Mark returned to his office at the police station. He called Mr. Shiva and asked for the passport number and VISA number of the victim. Shiva faxed copies of both. He sent an email to the Chinese embassy in Washington D.C. and requested information on Li Xia. Within the hour he received a phone call from the embassy. A woman politely asked, “Is this Detective Mark Wales?
“Could you please give me your badge number and the name of your superior.”
Mark fired out his number and the name of his superior without emotion.
“Is this call about Li Xia?” Mark asked.
“I just needed to verify that I am talking to the person who sent the email. Sorry, but this is a sad but important case for us. We have been watching this woman since she arrived in the States. I will send you all the information we have with a request for a complete investigation on the circumstances surrounding this death. But I thought I would give you a head’s up by phone.”
“Why were you watching her?” Mark asked.
“She may have been a victim of human trafficking. We have had complaints about the Longjiao Cultural Experience Agency for a coupe of years now. They send college girls to the States on the pretense of getting experience with learning English through an immersive experience. What happens is that they are sent to remote places, work for three or four months for room and board, given a tiny stipend, and work seven days a week giving them no time to experience America as they were told. For all this their parents pay large fees to send them here.”
“And what is your name may I ask?”
“Sorry, it is Ms. Vivian Peng.”
“I appreciate the phone call. What kind of complaints were there against this agency?”
“The girls have been disappearing. This is the second death. Last year there was a girl found in Hood River. She had been working as a prostitute after she came to America on one of these cultural experience missions. She overstayed her VISA and disappeared until she showed up dead. You should look into that case too. The investigator over there did not do a very good job.” Ms. Peng almost seemed out of breath.
“Ok, anything else?”
“Yes, just one more thing. She comes from Chengdu in Sichuan province. She is said to have attended Chengdu University of the Liberal Arts but we cannot find any record on her. I am sorry but you will just have to work with what you have there in the Columbia River area.”
“Ok, thanks. I will look forward to the material you are sending.”
Mark knew that his father lived somewhere in the region of China mentioned by Ms. Peng. He shot off an email asking him to look into this Longjiao Cultural Experience Agency and to nose around the campus of Chengdu University of Liberal Arts to see what he can find on Li Xia.
In the meantime, detective Mark Wales returned to the motel the next day to interview Mr. Shiva.
“Mr. Shiva could you come out here and talk to me.” Mark did not like talking to this man behind the glass.
Mr. Shiva stood in the lobby shifting his weight from foot to foot. “I cannot talk long.”
“Don’t worry I just have a couple of questions. Can you tell me how you and Ms. Li came to this motel last month? Did you come at the same time?” Mark waited for an answer. Shiva seemed to be thinking.”
“She arrived the day after I came here. I was told that she was to work as a maid. She did not speak much English. I gave her food twice a day that is about it.” Shiva shrugged his shoulders.
“Did you pay her?”
“No I was just to see that she work and she got food.”
“Who told you to do this.?” Mark was very curious now.
“Mr. Jim from Portland. He sends China girls to places like this to work for experience.”
“What keeps them from running away?”
“We hold their passports.”
Detective Mark looked directly at Rama Shiva, “Mr. Shiva, what you are telling me could be illegal. You are required to pay at least a living wage. Can you provide me the name and number of this Mr. Jim.”
“Yes, wait a minute!.” Shiva ducked into his office and came out with a business card. He noted the name, Jim Binford, International Import/Export. It had Chinese writing on it. On the back it said, Long Zhu Cultural Experience Agency. There was a logo of a Dragon’s foot.
“Am I in trouble?” Shiva asked.
“I do not know Mr. Shiva but I am asking you to remain available for more questioning and not to leave the State. Mark could see the worried look in Shiva’s face.
Mark returned to his office. He called Jim Binford but got no answer. He headed over to the city morgue to check with Anderson the coroner. He slipped on a sport coat before heading across the street to the morgue. It was downstairs in a former bank building. It was always cold . Anderson was hovering over the body when Mark knocked on the window.
“Wait a sec!” shouted Anderson. He was dressed from head to toe in white plastic. He had white rubber boots on and a rubbery white apron He used his elbow to press a button next to the door. He still held in his hands a small circular saw and a tool in the other hand. Mark entered. He could smell burnt bone. He saw bits of blood and human tissue on Anderson’s apron.
“You need to sharpen that saw. I can smell burnt bone.” Mark half laughed. “What have you found?”
“Well it looks like blunt force trauma at the back of the head. The occipital region breaks easily. It probably did not kill her instantly. She bled out which means the heart was still pumping. Whether she was conscious or not is hard to tell. “
“My guess is that she blacked out. She did not extend her arms to break the fall.”
“I agree from the body position. The photographs of the body position are on my thumb drive on my desk. Go ahead and grab it. As Mark walked over to the desk in the corner of the room Anderson continued, “She was sure hit hard.”
“What kind of object?” Mark asked.
“Definitely metal. What is strange is that I found a fleck of bronze and a chip of patina embedded in the skull; like it was an old candlestick holder or somet’n.”
Mark returned to the stainless steel table. The body was a blue grey. He had seen this before in corpses that have bled out. “What was the shape of the object that struck the head?”
“Definitely round as if it was a disk.”
Mark took note of the information. He had to get back to his office to follow up on leads. The people closest to the victim were the people who sent her to the states. Once back in the office he called Jim Binford. This time he got an answer.
“Sorry to catch you so late but my name in Detective Mark Wales of the Eagle Landing police department. Is this Jim Binford?
“Yes, how can I help you officer?”
“I would like to met you tomorrow morning in Portland. I was given your card and I have your address over in the Saint John area. Can I meet you there at around 10 am?”
“Jim answered, “Sure, may I ask what this is about?”
“We are investigating the death of Li Xia and I understand you have had contact with her.” Mark waited. There was a pause.
“I didn’t know. So sorry. See you tomorrow then.” Jim abruptly hung up.
Portland was only an hour away from Eagle Landing. Mark always enjoyed a reason to go to Portland. The next morning he called the Saint John police to let him know he would be interviewing a citizen in the area. As he crossed over the Saint John Bridge he glanced up at the gothic arches. It was a beautiful structure. The police station was at the north end of the bridge just as he entered town. He stopped in a left his card with Perry Smith, the officer on duty.
“Officer Smith could you help me with this address I have here. I am looking for Jim Binford at this address. Is it close by?”
Smith was a lean man with little expression. He looked up at Mark and grunted, “I do not think you will find him at this address. It is an empty bank building now. Binford hangs out at the Rose. It is a back alley bar and betting house. Talk to Mary the bartender. She knows everyone.”
Mark followed the directions given by Perry Smith. As he said the Rose was on a back alley about three blocks from the police station. He walked in and saw a number of patrons sitting at the bar. To his right were a number of monitors showing horse races and sports events. Several Asian men were clutching tickets. Mark asked one of them the way to the bathroom. Mark learned over the years that the men’s room often offered many clues. Graffiti adorned the walls. A condom and needle were on the floor. Mark walked into a Chinese restaurant area. He could see through the window this was the front side to the building facing the main street. He returned to the bar in the back.
Mark saw a kind looking woman at the bar. She smiled and asked, “What will you have?”
“Coffee please.” Mark sat down at the bar. “Are you Mary?” She nodded. “Here is my card. Sorry to bother you during work but I understand you might know where Jim Binford might be.”
“He was just sitting where you are now. He took off when he saw you come in.”
“Do you know why?” Jim asked.
Mary studied the card. “He can smell a cop a mile away.” She laughed. “Come back at four this afternoon. He is always here to play cards with his buddies.”
This Jim Binford was becoming a person of interest. Mark was careful not to jump to conclusions and zero in on a suspect too early in a case.
On his way out the bar one of the Asian men got up and followed Mark out the bar. Mark stopped and turned around. “May I help you?”
The Asian man walked up to Mark and in a determined manner said, “I hear you are looking for Binford. He owes me money.”
“Can you tell me why?”
“He owes many people money with his scams. I give him money for antiques from China. No antiques. My money gone.”
“This is good information.” Before Mark could ask the man handed him a card with personal information. It had the address of an office and store in China town in downtown Portland.
“Thanks, I will be contacting you later.”
The Asian man smiled, bowed slightly and spun around and hurried back into the Rose.
Mark headed in the opposite direction down the alley out to a side street. A shot rang out. A bullet bounced off a wall. Mark ducked for cover behind a metal dumpster.
Gunner Wales was mounting an Argreus hyperbius sometimes known as an Indian Fritillery butterfly. He heard a knock at his door.
“Hello Jerry, come on in.” Gunner welcomed his Chinese graduate student. “Please sit down.” Gunner graciously motioned to the sofa. “I understand that you have a chance to go to America?”
“Yes, I went to that agency you told me about. They say I can go this summer if I recruit a couple of girl classmates.”
“What else did they say to you?”
“They say they will loan me money for the air ticket and that I will have a job waiting for me when I get there. They did not say what I will get paid but that I will have money to travel and practice my English. I do not think it is a good deal because I have to pay a fee. My parents cannot afford such fees.”
“How much did they ask for?” Gunner waited for answer.
“Really it does not matter. I am not interested.” Jerry bowed his head.
“Jerry, I am sorry to have put you through this ordeal. You are one of my best students and I trust you but I could not tell you why I sent you. Now I can say. My son sent me an email asking me to investigate this agency called Longjiao Cultural Experience Agency. It may be a cover for human trafficking. Several girls have gone to the United States and they have ended up missing.”
“I wondered about this place. They did not seem interested in me. They really wanted to know about girls I knew who might want to go. They also wanted to know about children in my village who might want to go to families in America.”
“Jerry, this is exactly the information I needed. Did you have any costs? I have some money for you.” Gunner handed Jerry 100 RMB.
“No, no, please professor. It was my honor to assist you.”
“Jerry, you are taking my Human Rights class. I want you to do a paper for your final. This is exactly the kind of information you need to research and the kind of corruption the government says they want to be rid of. As you know I am a guest of the Chinese government under diplomatic immunity to study issues of human rights here in China. You do not have such protection. This could be dangerous so you do not have to do it. Also you must pledge to me that you can tell no one of the real reason you are doing this work. If you have to tell someone then say you are doing a paper on employment opportunities for Chinese students.” Gunner leaned over his butterfly carefully pinning strips of paper over its wings.
“Professor Wales, it is my duty not just to help you but to help my country.”
“One more thing, I think we must send a girl to the agency. Can you find a classmate? You cannot tell her about the real reason we are investigating the agency. Send her to apply for work in the USA. I will provide her the fee but I want her to report to you for the reason I indicated. You are doing a report on employment opportunities in the USA and you need her to provide you information. By not telling her about me she has deniability.”
“What does that mean?” Jerry asked.
It means if the agency suspects her of being a plant or a spy she cannot reveal me. She can deny knowing me or the real reason the agency is under suspicion.
“Yah, that is great. Do you know Bonita?”
“Yes, she is perfect. She once told me that she wants to be a policewoman. Remember you cannot even hint at what we are doing.”
Jerry left the faculty apartment of Gunner Wales. Gunner returned to his tedious and exacting work of pinning up his butterfly specimen. It was the 50th specimen of the season. Gunner was writing a book on Lepidoptera of the Chengdu region. It was one of his many passions. He was in China to study the history of the Tang Dynasty through Sogdian and Syriac documents left behind by travelers along the Silk Road. As a cover, his day job was teaching in China on a grant for the U.S. Embassy in cooperation with the Chinese government.
The phone rang. Gunner put his last pin just outside the left forewing of the Indian Frittery.
“Dad, this is Mark. Have you found out anything on the Longjiao Agency?”
“As a mater of fact I have. A student of mine was just here and here gave me some information you might be interested in. It appears this is a human trafficking operation. I have set up a sting operation so I cannot confirm anything yet but I would suggest that you try to find other people who have been involved in this. I do not think this is the first girl they sent.”
“I have father, send me an email with what you have so far. What have you found out about the victim: Li Xia?” Mark paused.
“Nothing yet! I will go to Chengdu tomorrow and inquire. Also I will ask the American Embassy to see if they have any reports on this agency. Our State Department has put a high priority on Human Trafficking. How are you dong Mark? How are my grandchildren?”
Mark responded, “Fine Father, I am just so busy right now. Send me what you have.”
The relationship between Mark and his father was not strained but there were some issues. Gunner had divorced his mother in order to follow his passions. Mark was in the Marines at the time and it did not make life easy for him. Emotionally he resented his father for a period of time and attended to his mother. He knew his parents loved each other but it took a toll on him. It took a few years but he learned to admire them both. His mother was a rock of person and her unconditional love helped him through his period of maturation. Mark had grown into a solid man able to separate his emotions from the rational side of life. It actually helped and prepared him for his work as a detective.
Mark had gone to work for the Los Angeles Police Department for five years. He hated the city life and moved back to the Pacific Northwest when an opportunity opened up in his hometown of Eagle Landing. He was hired as a detective and he could not have been happier.
He was close to his mother and his father had turned out to be an invaluable resource. He had actually helped Mark to solve a big case in Los Angeles. Although he was not a detective at the time his father had translated a Latin inscription for him in a serial murder case. It turned out that the murderer had fixated on the writings of Moses of Mardin who was a 16th century priest who lived in Rome and wrote a prayer to the Pope in defence of his eastern faith. The killer left clues in his letter from the Latin text of Moses of Mardin. He used key words to identify and describe each of his victims whom he connected to various heresies of the ancient past. He saw one women in his demented mind as the mother of Nestorius and lured her to an Assyrian Church in LA and killed her there. It was the clue Mark needed to solve the crime. It was front page news and Mark got the credit and an opportunity to move up to detective.
It was a slam dunk for Mark when he applied for a detective slot at Eagle Landing. It was everything he dreamed of being and doing. This is where he would stay for the rest of his life.
Mark married his High School sweetheart and they had a son and a daughter who were now five and six years old. Settling down had helped him come to terms with his father. Now they were a team again.
Gunner Wales lived in faculty apartment on the campus of Western Sichuan University. It was filled with relics he acquired in his travel around China. His most recent exploration was to the region of Turfan in the autonomous region of Turfan. At the turn of the 20th century it had been a hotbed of exploration by German, Russian, Japanese, British, and American archeologists. They packed off tons of materials in the form of manuscripts, statuary, and relics that would help the western scholars piece together centuries of activities at this nexus point in the Silk Road. Turfan existed along the rim of the Tarim basin known in the west as the Gobi Desert, one of the most forlorn and desolate place on earth.
Gunner came across a manuscript written in the language of Silk Road traders: Sogdian. What was unique about this text was a commentary in Syriac. This was a religious language of Asian Christians from the Persia and the Middle East. It told a story of the explorations of a renegade priest who was the assistant to the fabled Prester John. Gunner had created a buzz among the academic community in America with this find. It was also keeping him in China to determine if this was a genuine historic document or not. He could not take it out of China because of international laws related to Chinese relics. He had to remain in China to thoroughly study it. It was like a detective story trying to piece together its provenance.
The next day Gunner traveled to Chengdu to visit the university there and check on the former life of Li Xia. Gunner had called ahead and set up an appointment with the Dean of students telling him that he was coming to talk about a student named Li Xia. When he arrived on campus and found his way to the office of the dean he was told that the dean was out and would not be able to meet him. It was not unusual for people in China to be casual and even careless about appointments. On his way out of the office he was called back by the office secretary.
“Sir, go to the tea house across the street and wait, please.” The woman did not smile and pointed in a general direction.
“Yaode, ok” Gunner responded. It seemed like good news to him. Maybe the dean would meet him at the tea house.
Across the street he entered the tea house. It had all the elements of Feng Sui. Fish were swimming in a stone pool near the entrance. Plants and a comfortable sofa offered a welcoming place to sit. A tall and elegant woman offered him tea. She went through a ritual of preparing the tea pouring hot water several times through a sieve until the tea had the right color and its aroma filled the area.
A woman sat down next to Gunner. He turned to see who was sitting next to him. “Oh, hello again.”
It was the secretary. “The dean is not coming. I asked you to come to speak with me privately. I am so sorry to trick you like this.”
Gunner remained silent.
“Li Xia was a student at this university but I have destroyed here records. She never existed.”
“Why?” Gunner asked.
“I really do not know. We have had several students leave the university to the USA. I think my boss receives money for making recommendations.” The woman looked very worried. “Please do not tell my boss about what I have told you. I am planning on leaving this job this summer. I have such a bad feeling about what is happening to these students. I thought nothing about it until recently. I just thought these students had dropped out but I got a call from Li Xia’s parents. They have not heard from her in months.”
“Could you give me their phone number. I am afraid I have bad news. Also I will want to talk with you some more. I am afraid your worries are correct and you may be involved in something very dangerous.”
“I am so sorry but I have to go now.” She extended her hand and Gunner felt something pass to his palm. He grabbed it without looking down. Later when the woman left he went to the men’s room. Gunner was worried that someone might be watching him. In the men’s room he saw that the item in his hand was a business card of the secretary to the dean. On the back was the phone number of the Li family.
Mark peeked over the dumpster briefly in the direction of the shot. He pulled his cell phone out and called 911 and reported the shooting. Within 30 seconds there were local police present. A few moments later Perry Smith showed up.
“Doesn’t take you ling to draw trouble.” Smith joked.
“Who did you talk too?”
“Mary behind the bar and an Asian gentleman who said that Jim Binford owed him money and a few other people.”
Mark spend the rest of the day at the local police station providing information and writing report. He was interviewed by several officers. The shooting had drawn in the Saint John’s police.
In the late afternoon Mark drove back to Eagle Landing. He did not stop in the office but drove straight home. He lived in the hills above the town. He could see the paper mill and port where logs were stacked awaiting shipment to Japan and China.
“How was your day?” Pamela greeted him at the door.
“Only was shot at once.”
Pamela cringed. She was the daughter of a police officer. She knew the life and the pressures and fears that go with it. It still did not make it easier when she read about an officer dying in the line of duty or heard about a near miss from her husband. Her worst fear was having to raise the children alone. Mark was a good father and involved in the daily lives of their children. Mark was a baseball coach for the Pee-Wee league.
“What happened?” she asked.
“I was over in the Portland area. I guess I asked too many questions. Anyway, where are the kids?”
“Out back playing on the swings.”
Mark grabbed a whiffle ball and bat and headed out into the backyard. He played with his son and daughter for about an hour until they were all called inside for dinner.
“Sam called. He wants to know if you can go fishing tomorrow?” Pamela reported.
“I will call him. I cann’t. Got to work on this case.” Sam was Mark’s best friend from High School. Some people thought they were twins they spend so much time together hunting and fishing. In the streams of Abernathy and Germany Creeks west of Eagle Landing.
The next morning Mark returned to his office. On his desk was a FAX from his father.
You might be onto something. The Longjioa Cultural Agency appears to be involved in human trafficking. They recruit Chinese girls from universities. To do this the universities need someone who will recruit these girls. In return the university official gets a “finders” fee. The Dean at Chengdu University of Liberal Arts has his secretary destroy any paper trail to cast a veil of deniability over the student. The only weakness in their system is that the parents raise a fuss when their daughter disappears. I will have the Embassy send someone to get affidavits from the people I have contacted so far. A secretary at the university is onto the Dean and I think she is willing to testify against him. In the meantime, I will interview the parents and I will have a decoy female apply to the agency to get more facts on their operation.
Remain in Peace,
This was good news. Mark sent an email back to his father to encourage him to get evidence he can turn over to a prosecutor if and when he tracks down the people responsible for the death of Li Xia.
On his email, Mark got a letter from Jim Binford. He apologized for not meeting him but said that he had an urgent meeting. He asked if Mark could meet him in China town in Portland and the cultural center.
Mark called Jim. “Jim, his is Mark Wales. I understand we just missed each other. You are not the one who shot at me are you?”
“What, no, you were shot at?” Jim Binford seemed surprised.
“Yes, just outside the Rose.”
“I assure you it wasn’t me and I am sorry to hear of the trouble. I haven’t been back to the Rose and I guess I will have to catch up on the news.”
“I will meet you on two conditions. First, I want you to bring any correspondence and notes you might have on Li Xia. I understand you helped her come to America to work through an agency called Longjiao Cultural Experience Agency. I will be asking you a lot of questions.”
“Yes, I will help in anyway I can. Can we meet at 10 am? There is a teashop inside the center. What is the other condition?”
“I want to know your relationship with Rama Shiva the owner of the Saint Helen’s Motel. Bring any documents you two might have between you.”
“Ok. See you tomorrow.”
The next morning Mark drove to Portland. The Chinese Cultural center had a garden and banquet area. There was a small gift store and teashop just inside the door. Jim Binford was already sitting at a table. He looked up and motioned Mark to the table.
“Are you Jim Binford?” Mark asked.
“Yes, and you are Mark Wales? I am so sorry about the other day. I have brought as many of the emails I could find from the Longjiao Agency. Also I have a small memorandum of understanding I signed with Rama Shiva a year ago. I hope this is enough.”
Jim Binford was a tall man in his late 50s. He had a full head of white hair. He was dressing in a grey suit and red tie with yellow dragons on it. He wore very thick glasses to the point that Mark wondered if he was legally blind. Jim had that open mouthed look of someone who is visually impaired.
Mark took a few minutes to look through the paperwork Jim handed him. “I will look this over and I am sure I will get back to you with some more questions. While we are here could you tell me about your relationship with the Longjiao Agency? By the way what does Longjiao mean?
“It means Dragon Foot. I have been involved in assisting people in China who have been victims of human rights violations. I recently assisted an artist who had been jailed for 15 years in China for speaking out against the State. I brought him here to Portland to begin a new life. Over the years I have developed a network of contacts in China. Right after the Tienmen Square Incident in 1989 I assisted a student to come to the United States to study. He returned to China and started an agency to bring ore students to America. Two years ago he contacted me to be his agent in the United States and assist with the work visas for the students and find places for them to work and live.”
“So how did you find Mr. Shiva?” asked Mark.
“I put and ad in the Willamette Week newspaper and posted and ad on Craigslist. I forget which one Shiva responded to but he said he was looking for a maid who could work as a kind of intern. I thought that a Chinese student would be perfect for his situation. I wrote up a memorandum of understanding where he promised to employ, house, feed, and pay a stipend to these girls who wanted to experience America..”
“Did you ever check up on Ms. Li to see if the terms of the contract were being fulfilled.”
“Not really, until I got a letter from the Longjiao agency saying that she was complaining about her situation. They asked if I would go talk to her and keep her quiet.”
“Did you visit her?” Mark asked.
“I tried but every time I went over to the motel she was not there or not available. Shiva said she spent a lot of time here and at an antique shop up the street visiting a relative.”
Mark noted how matter of fact Jim Binford seemed in his manner and composure. “Who would that be. “Ms. Li Tang. She imports and exports Chinese antiques. I have done a little business with her. Her store is the called the Eye of the Dragon.”
“Speaking of business, I understand you owe money to a number of people around town.”
“How do you know that?” asked Jim.
“I’m a detective.” Mark smiled.
“Just a cash flow problem at the moment. Nothing important. Anyway perhaps you should talk to Ms. Lu at the antique store.” Binford seemed eager to leave now.
“Mark stood up. “Ok, I will be contacting you soon. Please be available for more questioning.”
Jim left immediately. Mark went to the front desk to pay for the tea. When he got outside he walked to his car. There was a note on the windshield. “You have been warned once. This is your second warning. Forget Li Xia or I will be forced to make you forget.”
The message sent shivers down the spine of Mark. This was a clear threat. Did Binford put this note on his car? How would he know his car? Did someone follow him to the Teahouse?
Mark sent a copy of the note the next day to the Saint John police and asked if the forensics lab would take a look at it. Mark was careful to handle it and put it in a plastic evidence bag.
The correspondence between the Longjiao Agency and Jim Binford did not reveal much but there was one email in particular that made Mark curious. A Mr. Wang who seemed to be the owner of the agency did ask Jim Binford if he knew of any families who might want to adopt a baby.
The next day Mark drove to Portland. It was his third trip in as many days. It gave him time to think during the hour and half commute. He was still suspicious about Jim Binford? Was he telling him a story about helping people as a cover for the more sordid business of Human Trafficking? Why had he told Rama Shiva not to pay the victim but only feed and house her? Who was Ms. Lu Ling who seemed to be in contact with the victim? Did Jim point to Ms. Lu as a kind of red herring to take suspicion off of him_
Mark arrived at the Dragon Eye shop of Ms. Lu about 10 am. It was in the China town district of Portland near the river. The window front was stuffed with Items from Asia. Most of them looked to be from Thailand but Mark was not an expert in these things. A young Caucasian lady was at the cash register.
¨Welcome. May I help you today?¨
“I am looking for Ms. Lu. Might she be available?¨
Just then the most stunning Asian women entered the room. She passed through a doorway covered with colored beads that hinted at the image of the Guatama Buddha. She lowered her right hand that she used to part the beads. Her wrist grazed her slender hip ever so slightly. She moved with the grace of a dancer. She made eye contact with Mark and smiled briefly.
¨Hello, you are asking for me?¨
Mark hesitated for a moment. He was not easily distracted but this women seemed to float into the room and his consciousness and held his mind in suspended animation. He could smell a hint of Jasmine.
Äre you Ms. Lu Ling?¨¨
¨Yes, and who are you?¨
Ï am Officer Mark Wales from Eagle Landing.¨ Mark glanced at the young woman at the cash register. ¨Ms. Li, could we talk in private?¨
Ms. Li did not budge. She stared hard at Mark. ¨What is this about?¨
¨I would rather not say here. Could we speak alone?¨¨
“Anything you need to ask can be said here.¨ She was playing tough. Ï am running a business here. So what is this about?¨
¨I am investigating the murder of Li Xia. I understand you have had recent contact with the victim. This is just a routine set of questions I have for you.¨ Mark thought he would try to put her at ease.
¨Am I under suspicion?¨
Mark thought this was a rather defensive response. He wondered what she was hiding.
¨No, this is just a routine set of follow up questions I have to ask.¨
Ms. Lu seemed nervous to Mark. He asked, “Tell me why you and Ms. Li Xia had contact?”
“Well, she said that she was not being paid much and did not like the work here in the States. Besides she was not getting opportunities to practice English and experience American culture. She felt that she had been lied to. She brought a family heirloom to sell to me.”
“What was it?”
“It does not matter. It was a fake and not worth much. She was quite depressed when she left the store. Now if you do not have any more questions I have to get back to work.” Just then Ms. Lu’s cell phone rang and she turned to leave the room.
Mark walked over to the desk and picked up a card with all the information he needed to contact Ms. Lu again.
Mark drove back to Eagle Landing. He had a note on his desk. “Mark, can we go fishing tomorrow. The fall run is in. Sam.”
Mark had the next day off. He always looked forward to spending some time with his best friend Sam. Besides, he wanted to run a few ideas past Sam about this case and get his opinions.