When the body of a young black woman is found in a bathtub at the Avenue Hotel in Seattle’s University District the victim is unidentified. The crime scene yields little evidence beyond a blue banquet ticket to a teacher conference from the night before, a possible semen sample on the bed sheets, bruising on the victim’s neck, and the torn tissue of her earlobes. The specifics of the crime are withheld from the media. The desk clerk identifies the room renter as John Smith; large, early thirties, married, wearing a big southwestern watch on the left wrist, and Caucasian.
Homicide detective Michelle “Mitch” Santiago is young, smart, sassy and sexy. She is a twenty-eight year old University of Washington graduate, Police Academy graduate; and member of the Seattle Police Department for four years including two on homicide. She is on the fast track to advancement; a gifted but independent investigator. Santiago and partner Chance Stewart are assigned the case. As the investigation proceeds Santiago is forced to deal with personal issues and a lifestyle that parallels the victim’s.
Using the limited clues Santiago and Stewart identify the victim as Hailey Cashland through a missing persons report filed by gay artist neighbor Terry Shaw. They discover Cashland led a double life with a sordid background beginning with a childhood of sexual abuse including rape, to college and the porn industry in Las Vegas, to the day of her death; successful teacher by day, many lovers by night. The case becomes high profile enough Santiago and Stewart’s other case, the killing of a hobo at Golden Garden’s is shifted to another team.
Santiago and Stewart focus on four persons of interest. Jack Hartley, Superintendent of Gold Coast Academy, has known Hailey for years going back to their days in the Las Vegas skin industry. They are close and he has a unique and distant relationship with his wife. Moses Cruz is an infatuated student athlete stalker, a jealous and confused teenager. Terry Shaw is the angry gay artist neighbor who loves Hailey like a naughty sister, reported her missing, and tries to manipulate the investigation. Trevor Gunn is the mystery man in her life, known of by all her colleagues but not by name; a man with an alcoholic wife, two sons and unable to earn tenure at any of three community colleges where he has taught.
The investigation leads Santiago and Stewart back to the hobo killing, linking one of the suspects to both murders. The suspect runs. He’s traced to Port Angeles, Washington. Did he take the ferry to Victoria, British Columbia or go into hiding? Santiago discovers he once had a relative living in Forks. He is traced to La Push. The motel is staked out. .
When found the suspect is battered and bruised after meeting the enraged brother of a local Native American woman he had attempted to seduce. He is confused and disoriented as he fluctuates back and forth contemplating escape, starting over, suicide and murder. All the key players are present. At the close Santiago moves closer to resolving the personal issues revolving around her background as a stripper while in college, sexual harassment within the squad room, and whether to remain with SPD.