Wednesday, January 24, 2024

THE MISSING WITNESS by Allison Brennan


My parking garage off Fifth was nearly a mile from where I worked at city hall. I could have paid twice as much to park two blocks from my building and avoid the rows of homeless people: the worn tents, the used needles, the stinking garbage, the aura of hopelessness and distrust that filled a corner park and bled down the streets. 

I was listening to my favorite podcast, LA with A&I. Amy and Ian started the podcast two years ago to talk about computer gaming, technology, entertainment and Los Angeles. It had blossomed into a quasi news show and they live streamed every morning at seven. They’d riff on tech and local news as if sitting down with friends over coffee. Like me, they were nerds, born and bred in the City of Angels. I’d never met Amy or Ian in real life, but felt like I’d known them forever. 

We’d chatted over Discord, teamed up to play League of Legends, and I often sent them interesting clips about gaming or tech that they talked about on their podcast, crediting my gaming handle. Twice, we’d tried to set up coffee dates, but I always chickened out. I didn’t know why. Maybe because I thought they wouldn’t like me if they met me. Maybe because I was socially awkward. Maybe because I didn’t like people knowing too much about my life.

Today while I drove to work, they’d discussed the disaster that was city hall: all the digital files had been wiped out. The news story lasted for about five minutes, but it would be my life for the next month or more as my division rebuilt the data from backups and archives. It was a mess. They laughed over it; I tried to, but I was beginning to suspect the error was on purpose, not by mistake.

Now they were talking about a sweatshop that had been shut down last week.

“We don’t know much,” Amy said. “You’d think after eight days there’d be some big press conference, or at least a frontpage story. The only thing we found was two news clips—less than ninety seconds each—and an article on LA Crime Beat.”

“David Chen,” Ian said, “a Chinese American who allegedly trafficked hundreds of women and children to run his factory in Chinatown, was arraigned on Monday, but according to Crime Beat, the FBI is also investigating the crime. And—get this— the guy is already out on bail.”

“It’s fucked,” Amy said. “Look, I’m all for bail reform. I don’t think some guy with weed in his pocket should have to pay thousands of bucks to stay out of jail while the justice system churns. But human trafficking is a serious crime—literally not two miles from city hall, over three hundred people were forced to work at a sweatshop for no money. They had no freedom, lived in a hovel next door to the warehouse. Crime Beat reported that the workers used an underground tunnel to avoid being seen—something I haven’t read in the news except for one brief mention. And Chen allegedly killed one of the women as he fled from police. How did this guy get away with it? He kills someone and spends no more than a weekend behind bars?”

“According to Crime Beat, LAPD investigated the business for months before they raided the place,” Ian said. “But Chen has been operating for years. How could something like this happen and no one said a word?”

I knew how. People didn’t see things they didn’t want to. 

Case in point: the homeless encampment I now walked by. 

I paused the podcast and popped my earbuds back into their charging case.

“Hello, Johnny,” I said to the heroin addict with stringy hair that might be blond, if washed. I knew he was thirty-three, though he looked much older. His hair had fallen out in clumps, his teeth were rotted, and his face scarred from sores that came and went. He sat on a crusty sleeping bag, leaned against the stone wall of a DWP substation, his hollow eyes staring at nothing. As usual, he didn’t acknowledge me. I knew his name because I had asked when he wasn’t too far gone. Johnny, born in Minnesota. He hadn’t talked to his family in years. Thought his father was dead, but didn’t remember. He once talked about a sister and beamed with pride. She’s really smart. She’s a teacher in…then his face dropped because he couldn’t remember where his sister lived.

Four years ago, I left a job working for a tech start-up company to work in IT for city hall. It was barely a step up from entry-level and I couldn’t afford nearby parking garages. If I took a combination of buses and the metro, it would take me over ninety minutes to get to work from Burbank, so factoring the combination of time and money, driving was my best bet and I picked the cheapest garage less than a mile from work.

I used to cringe when I walked by the park. Four years ago, only a dozen homeless tents dotted the corner; the numbers had more than quadrupled. Now that I could afford a more expensive garage, I didn’t want it. I knew most of the people here by name.

“Hey, Toby,” I greeted the old black man wearing three coats, his long, dirty gray beard falling to his stomach. He had tied a rope around his waist and attached it to his shopping cart to avoid anyone stealing his worldly possessions when he slept off his alcohol.

“Mizvi,” he said, running my name together in a slur. He called me “Miss Violet” when he was sober. He must have still been coming down off whatever he’d drank last night.

I smiled. Four years ago I never smiled at these people, fearing something undefinable. Now I did, even when I wanted to cry. I reached into my purse and pulled out a bite-size Hershey Bar. Toby loved chocolate. I handed it to him. He took it with a wide grin, revealing stained teeth.

One of the biggest myths about the homeless is that they’re hungry. They have more food than they can eat. That doesn’t mean many aren’t malnourished. Drug and alcohol abuse can do that to a person.

A couple weeks ago a church group had thought they would bring in sandwiches and water as part of community service. It was a nice gesture, sure, but they could have asked what was needed instead of assuming that these people were starving. Most of the food went uneaten, left outside tents to become rat food. The plastic water bottles were collected to return for the deposit, which was used to buy drugs and alcohol.

But no one gave Toby chocolate, he once told me when he was half-sober. Now, whenever I saw him—once, twice a week—I gave him a Hershey Bar. He would die sooner than he should, so why couldn’t I give him a small pleasure that I could afford? Toby was one of the chronics, a man who’d been on the street for years. He had no desire to be anywhere else, trusted no one, though I thought he trusted me a little. I wished I knew his story, how he came to be here, how I could reach him to show him a different path. His liver had to be slush with the amount of alcohol he consumed. Alcohol he bought because people, thinking they were helping—or just to make themselves feel better—handed him money.

As I passed the entrance to the small park, the stench of unwashed humans assaulted me. The city had put four porta-potties on the edge of the park but they emptied them once a month, if that. They were used more for getting high and prostitution than as bathrooms. The city had also put up fencing, but didn’t always come around to lock the gate. Wouldn’t matter; someone would cut it open and no one would stop them. Trespassing was the least of the crimes in the area.

I dared to look inside the park, though I didn’t expect to see her. I hadn’t seen her for over a week. I found myself clutching my messenger bag that was strapped across my chest. Not because I thought someone would steal it, but because I needed to hold something, as if my bag was a security blanket.

I didn’t see her among the tents or the people sitting on the ground, on the dirt and cushions, broken couches and sleeping bags, among the needles and small, tin foils used to smoke fentanyl. I kicked aside a vial that had once held Narcan, the drug to counteract opioid overdoses. The clear and plastic vials littered the ground, remnants of addiction.

There was nothing humane about allowing people to get so wasted they were on the verge of death, reviving them, then leaving them to do it over and over again. But that was the system.

The system was fucked.

Blue and red lights whirled as I approached the corner. I usually crossed Fifth Street here, but today I stopped, stared at the silent police car.

The police only came when someone was dying…or dead. 


I found my feet moving toward the cops even though I wanted to run away. My heart raced, my vision blurred as tears flashed, then disappeared. 


Excerpted from The Missing Witness by Allison Brennan, Copyright © 2024 by Allison Brennan. Published by MIRA Books.

The Missing Witness : A Quinn & Costa Novel 

Allison Brennan

Series: A Quinn & Costa Thriller (#5)

On Sale Date: January 23, 2024



$30.00 USD

Fiction / Thrillers / Crime 

416 pages

About the Book:

When Kara Quinn is framed for the murder of an FBI agent, she'll have to go rogue to clear her name without putting her partner, Matt Costa, in danger in this latest thriller in the USA Today bestselling Quinn & Costa series.

A fast-paced, race-against-time thriller to wrap-up Kara Quinn’s back story…

Kara Quinn is ordered back to Los Angeles to testify in the case against David Chen & his illegal businesses. Chen is out on bail, and there is still a threat to Kara because of it. The FBI doesn’t want to provide federal protection for Kara (they believe that the LAPD should be responsible for her safety) but Matt Costa and Michael Harris accompany her to LA, knowing that Chen’s got people inside the LAPD on his payroll.

Shortly after Kara gives her deposition, someone tries to kill her. When that fails, Kara is then framed for the murder of an FBI agent—which means, if it’s discovered Matt is protecting her, it’ll be the end of his FBI career (he could be accused of harboring a fugitive). Knowing this, Kara flees, determined to cure the mess herself, but she puts her life in jeopardy. Ultimately the book reveals layers of conspiracy and corruption in Los Angeles that enabled David Chen, and others, to operate their illegal sweat shops. This book will resolve the murder of Kara’s former partner—and will leave Kara at a critical crossroads: return to her old life, or sign on officially with the MRT.

About the Author: 

ALLISON BRENNAN is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling and award-winning author of over forty novels, including The Sorority Murder. She lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids and assorted pets. The Missing Witness is the fifth thriller in the new Quinn & Costa series.

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