A Walk in the Dark

Episode Seven in the

Copper and Goldie Mysteries

Kianah Nahoe heard footsteps falling in behind her. Quickening her pace down Pensacola Street, she glanced over her shoulder for the second time, yet each time she looked, the footsteps stopped and no one was there. Someone is following me. She’d felt it twice last week—and ignored it. Tonight, after leaving her office at nine, she hurried to her car in the lot on Young Street. Not so easy in heels. She’d always considered Honolulu a safe city. But not now. She’d figured stalkers were generally benign—heard and not seen, that is, until it was time for their mischief. And that’s exactly what Kianah was afraid of. But who and why me?

“Kia” didn’t look the part of a fearful female, nor did she usually feel like one. In her late thirties, she was a tall, robust Hawaiian with olive skin and a mane of dark brown hair that curled about her neck. Tightening her grip on her briefcase handle, she passed Auntie Pasto’s. For a split second she thought of ducking inside and ordering something, just to throw off whoever it was, but she was dead tired, anxious to get home. Most of the businesses down the block were black as the night at this hour. No surprise there. Luckily, the traffic light turned green. She crossed the street, continuing to pursue her over-the-shoulder vigilance. Twice she caught a tall figure on the side of Pensacola she‘d just left, moving parallel to her, slipping from the shadowed doorway of the cookie shop to the darkened Korean lunch place. That proves it. I’m being stalked. When I get home I’ll call Sam. He’ll know what to do.

She had ended their loving marriage under the cruelest of conditions. Detective Sam Nahoe left the Honolulu Police Department with a bullet lodged in his spine, disabling him to the point of needing two walking sticks he wryly called Cane and Able. The termination of his career and long days with nothing to do but endure pain roused such anger in him that he became unfit to live with. His wife divorced him, despite the protests of their daughter, Peggy. They moved to an elegant condo apartment on Beretania near Punahou, sheltered by a huge banyan tree.

But now, two years later, Kia had to admit that Sam was a happier guy. He’d found a new niche in life. Most of the time he drove a yellow Checker cab, carting passengers around the island of Oahu. His lady friend rode shotgun while harnessed into the front seat. Goldie was a rescue golden retriever. Sam believed she had just enough Doberman in her to provide smarts and measured aggressiveness. Recently, the cab had also become his office, a place to receive his PI clients as well.

Kia stepped out of the condo elevator. Peggy opened their door when she heard her mother in the hall fumbling for the keys. “Hi, Mom, I already ate, but your supper’s in the microwave. Want me to turn it on?”

“Yes, sweetie, I’m starved.” Setting her briefcase down in the front hall, Kia managed a quick hug for her child, then flopped into a puffy armchair. “Sorry I’m late, but where’s Ms. Dana? I hired her till 9:30. She couldn’t stay another half hour ’til I got home?”

“She had some kind of lecture series at nine for the whole week,” said Peggy. “I told her you’d be home soon and I’d be okay alone for so little time.”

“Peggy, you know I’m not happy about that. I expect Ms. Dana to be more responsible. And you’re too young to be left alone, especially at night.”

“Mom, that isn‘t fair. You treat me like a child.” Peggy’s thick chestnut-brown braid flopped on her back as she tossed her head. “I’m not too young. I’ll be twelve next month.”

Kia, too worn out to argue, couldn’t help but notice that her daughter was turning into a younger version of herself: expressive eyes the color of coffee brewing, sturdy (approaching shapely) figure, and just old enough to debate with an exasperating sense of logic.

Peggy’s voice softened as she called from the kitchen. “What’s wrong, Mom? You look like you’ve had one long, miserable day.” At the microwave she poked in a series of monotonic beeps. The appliance came to life with a light and a rasping hum.

“It was a long day, but that’s not what I’m worried about. I’m wondering if I’m being stalked.” Kia threw in some details, but tried not to get overly explicit so she wouldn’t frighten Peggy. “Remember last week when I said I thought someone was following me after work? It happened again tonight. I was too far away to see him clearly, except that he was tall and wore dark clothes.”

“That is creepy, Mom. Shouldn’t you be calling the police?”

“And tell them what, dear? I have no proof. They’ll think I’m a nervous Nellie, imagining things.” She opened the fridge, pulled out a half-bottle of White Zinfadel, and poured herself a hefty serving in a goblet glass.

“Mom, there must be something you can do.”

“I suppose I could put your father on the case now that he’s a licensed private investigator. I’ll give him a call after I eat. By the way, were there any calls for me today?”

“Not really.” Wearing oven mitts, Peggy set the dinner plate of warmed-over lasagna and broccoli in front of her mother.

“Not really? What does that mean?” Kia picked up a fork and dug in.

“Well, our landline phone rang several times this afternoon, but each time I picked it up and said hello, no one answered, although I could hear someone breathing at the other end.”

“How many times did this happen?”

“At least four that I remember. It happened once on my iPhone, too.”

“That’s funny,” said Kia. “I’ve had a few like that in my office over the last few days.” She kept her real feelings to herself. This is getting seriously scary. It’s like a mounted attack on us.

As soon as Kia finished supper, she told Peggy to get her father on the phone. Peggy stretched the landline to the table and poked in her father’s numbers.

“Hey, Peggs,” answered Sam. “How’s my sweetheart today? . . . Where am I? Taking a fare to Restaurant Row, then Goldie and I will head home. Your mother? Put her on. Love ya.”

“Hey, Kia. Hold on a minute, I’m with a passenger,” said Sam, as he dropped off his fare and collected his compensation.

“Hi, I’m back.” He pulled into an empty parking space so he didn’t break the law  forbidding talking on a cell while driving, even though he had a Bluetooth hands-free setup on the dashboard. “What’s up? . . . A stalker? You actually saw him today? By the way, are you sure it’s a he? . . . Phone calls, too? That‘s not good. Has anyone new or strange recently come into your life, like trouble with a neighbor in your condo? . . . How about a disgruntled client? I know that’s the reason you became an estates attorney rather than a criminal lawyer. I completely understand. You don’t need threats of revenge, especially with Peggy in our lives. Another question: Have you ever felt vulnerable walking to work from the Young Street lot? . . . No?”

Sam listened. What to do? “If it happens again tomorrow, I can start a photo surveillance and maybe identify your stalker. All I’d need from you is a phone call an hour before you leave the office, so I can be in place before he shows up. . . .No, you may not know where. I can’t have you tipping off my presence. Just know I’ll be there for you if you need me. Goodnight and hugs and kisses for you both.”

Posted next to Sam’s hacker license was his PI license. He acquired it when he realized that he and his dog always managed to land in a hotbed of trouble. For Sam, this worked just fine. Once a cop, always a cop. Goldie happily went along with his plan; she had no other agenda.

He was only too aware that he’d never be able to physically chase a perp. Auntie Momi called his canes “giant chopsticks.” But at thirty-seven, Sam still turned women’s heads. A six-foot-four Hawaiian with taut biceps and a ruddy complexion, his black hair and high, round cheekbones hinted of his Polynesian ancestry.

Sam and Goldie headed for their apartment. Once there, he raided the front hall closet for his camera equipment. The EF-S 18- to 200-millimeter lens threaded neatly into his Eos Rebel T3i camera, setting it to handle the telephoto shots he might need. He set the backpack containing the camera equipment and spare memory cards by the front door to take out to the cab in the morning. He hadn’t wanted to put additional pressure on Kia, but he’d been wondering for a while now why she had to work so late so often. He figured she had partner ambitions.

***

On Tuesday evening, Kia’s call reached Sam around seven-thirty. It was already dark. He knew his ex-wife’s route to the car, so he backed the cab into a parking stall on the Diamond Head side of Pensacola. He steadied the long-lens camera on the open window ledge and waited for Kia and her shadow to show.

At 8:43, she crossed over Beretania to the pertinent block of Pensacola, walking toward where Sam had positioned himself. He periodically adjusted the lens so the image included a sharp shot of Kia and the corner where she’d previously crossed. When she had reached a position nearly opposite his cab, a tall figure stepped out of a doorway and fell in behind her about thirty yards back. Sensing him even at that distance, she whipped around to force a confrontation. At this point she assumed it was a man—in a black hooded sweat jacket. Agile enough to evade her, he ducked behind the wide trunk of a monkeypod tree.

Sam zoomed in and began tracking him, but the hood hid most of his face. A hawk nose and a quarter of a hairy cheek were all he could manage. When the hooded one passed a lamp-lit trash receptacle, Sam made a mental note of the stalker’s height, weight, and build, definitely a male, but there was nothing obvious he could pinpoint about either the stride or carriage.

Kia turned onto Young and disappeared from view. Soon afterward the stalker did the same. Sam quickly packed his gear, left the cab, and ski-walked to the corner. He saw Kia hurrying safely a block away, but there was no sign of the stalker. Sam followed a few steps until she climbed into her Mini Cooper and drove off toward home. He waved as she passed him.

***

The unnerving telephone barrage continued at Kia’s apartment and office. She left work earlier on Wednesday night, about seven, when the sun had just set. Sam left his cab and positioned himself around the corner along the hedges on Young, a much more mobile station. With the camera strung around his neck, he used a shorter lens, figuring on the element of surprise, but the target didn’t show. On Thursday night, Sam used the same strategy and at 8:55 he came face-to-face with the hooded one. He snapped the picture all right, but the stalker reacted so fast that the live image had no chance to register in Sam’s mind. The stalker spun about and disappeared back down Young, sprinting past Goodwill like an athlete. Anything more than a trot was no match for Cane and Able. Sam stopped under a streetlight. Checking out the picture on the digital camera’s small screen, he assured himself that he had an image to work with—a scruffy face with an unkempt short beard. No one he recognized, but at least a face to show Kia.

***

The next morning, Friday, Sam used his police alumnus influence at Hawaiian Telcom to put traps on all of Kia’s phones, so that caller origin might be traced. Next, he dropped in for a consultation at her office. When he showed her the shot, she just shook her head, her strong shoulders slumping in defeat.

Sam refused to give up. “Someone you represented maybe? You could have lost the case. Think back,” he urged.

Kia straightened up and adjusted the collar of her blue silk suit as she launched into a more analytical mood. “I haven’t lost that many cases, and it’s those losses that I remember best. No, I don’t think so.”

“What about the wins?” Sam pressed. “There’s always a loser in every dispute. Anything there?”

“Nothing off the top of my head. I’d have to go through at least thirteen years of case files.”

“Then do it. Look for big money lost or even a jail term involved.”

“Okay,” she said, her voice firm. “I’ll let you know if I find anything.”

“Me too. See ya.” He threw her a two-fingered kiss from across the desk and ski-walked away.

***

Sam drove back to the apartment to pick up Goldie and together they conveyed fares across the city of Honolulu for the rest of the day. It wasn’t until five in the afternoon that he got a call from Danny Oshiro, the HPD homicide detective Sam had worked with—and still often did, even as a PI. Early that morning, Sam had sent him an email with the stalker’s picture and asked whether Danny would run an ID on it against local motor vehicle licenses. Danny came up with a facial recognition hit. The man’s name was Roger Okamalu, a thirty-five-year-old local. When Danny checked for a criminal record, a lone drunk and disorderly charge was all he found.

“Thanks, Danny,” said Sam. “Do you have an address for him?”

Sam wrote it down as dictated, and stuffed the paper snippet into his aloha shirt pocket.

“By the way, Sam, has this stalker broken the law yet?” Danny asked.

“I’d say so. I’ve got multiple shots on magnetic media cards of him following Kia.”

“But that’s only circumstantial,” reminded Danny.

“Put that together with the phone harassment and what do you have?”

“Still only circumstantial, pal,” Danny said. “Does Kia have Caller ID?”

“No,” Sam replied. “She’s been meaning to get it, but no.”

“He might have a legitimate reason for contacting your ex-wife. Of course, he should make an appointment to see her in her office.”

“Right,” said Sam. “Then why did he run from me when I took his close-up picture?”

“He probably doesn’t know who you are, and you might have frightened him with the picture-taking.”

“Then what are we supposed to do?”

“I know your ex-wife is an attorney. Let her get a restraining order against this man.”

“Thanks for your help, Danny. I owe you one.”

Sam pushed the disconnect button on the dashboard cell phone and sat back to think. It’s Friday. Five-thirty. Kia can’t possibly get a restraining order until next week. What can I do in the meantime? Would Roger Okamalu have the balls to stalk tonight, now that we have a picture of him? Does he have any way of knowing that every phone call he makes to one of Kia’s numbers piles up harassment evidence against him? Sam decided to check out the address Danny had given him, but first he took Goldie to the Itchy Butt for takeout supper: a loco-moco (two eggs, and a burger over rice smothered in thick brown gravy) and a bowl of chili with rice for himself.

The address was a modest two-story home nestled deep in Palolo Valley, a vast community surrounded by thickly forested mountains. Making a U-turn, he parked across the street a few houses away where he could keep an eye on the place. He unhooked the harness and took Goldie for her call-to-nature walk, edging close enough to the house to see a light on in the rear, probably in the kitchen. An older-model Volvo sat in the steep driveway, hood facing up. Sam smirked. It was simple justice that Goldie deposited her calling card on the tiny front lawn. He refused to feel guilty, even though the law said he should be armed with a baggie and scoop.

Back inside the taxi, he and Goldie continued their stakeout.

At 6:15 Roger left the house, climbed into the Volvo, and drove out of the valley. At Eleventh Street he entered the freeway, into the usual stop-and-go traffic during the evening rush hour. Sam followed a few cars behind. When the Volvo turned off at the Wilder Avenue exit, Sam suddenly realized that the perp was not headed for Pensacola and Young streets, but to the apartment where Kia and Peggy lived. With Kia still at work, that meant Peggy would be home, possibly alone. That worried Sam. Is my precious Peggs in grave danger? What is this bastard up to?

The Volvo parked on the street in front of a fire hydrant directly across from the high-rise, but kept its engine running. Sam found a space two doors away. As long as the Volvo engine runs, Sam reasoned, the guy has no intention of going inside. But within minutes an adjacent parking space opened up with a Home Depot delivery truck pulling out. The Volvo re-parked and shut off its engine.

Show time, Sam knew.

Okamalu left the car, crossed the street, and stopped at the intercom beside the condo’s glass front door. Sam and Goldie were only a dozen feet behind when they heard him announce “Delivery, UPS” A series of clicks followed with an automaton voice reciting “Access Granted.”

Sam reached out and grabbed the door before it closed completely, but didn’t re-open it all the way until Okamalu stepped into the elevator.

Eyeing the staircase to the left of the lobby, Sam urged Goldie up the stairs. Her seventy pounds of power surged ahead, having no idea how far to climb, but gleeful and eager to help. Sam grimly placed Cane and Able in his left hand, clutched the banister with his right, and hauled himself up despite the extra back pain. When he could see that the dog had reached the third floor landing, he called, “Goldie, stop!”  She sat down panting, pink tongue hanging out, waiting for her pal to join her.

Pushing the landing fire door ajar, Sam had a view down the long hall to number 307, Kia’s unit. Okamalu stood in front of it, dressed in his black hooded sweat jacket and cargo pants. His hands gripped what looked like a metal box about a foot long. He knocked and waited for a response. Apparently, Peggy did respond, because Sam heard him say, “UPS delivery, got a package for you.” A few seconds later he spoke in a stern, gruff voice. “I can’t leave it, you gotta sign for it.”

Sam swung the fire door away, and he and Goldie rushed to number 307, but before they were able to get there, the apartment door had opened, closed, and self-latched again. Sam’s heart hammered inside his broad chest. Okamalu was inside and they weren’t.

“Peggy, it’s Dad. Let me in!”

Peggy screamed, then uttered a muffled word that sounded like “Da“—the start to “Daddy.”

Sam pounded and Goldie barked. A flash of memory hit him. He still had his key from before the divorce, still clipped to the ring on his belt. The split had hit him so hard he just couldn’t part with it. He fumbled for the right key, slipped it in the lock, and released the door. He and Goldie lunged inside. Four feet away, Sam’s worst nightmare was confirmed. The stalker held his precious daughter captive with his arm in a chokehold around her neck. His free hand held a hypodermic syringe to her neck. Sam figured that’s what had been in the box. Peggy’s normal high color was ashen. She stood frozen, in after-school shorts and T-shirt, yet her eyes were watchful, trusting her father.

“Stay back or I’ll use it.”

“What’s in it, Roger?” Sam asked quietly, surprising himself. He was trying a more personal approach.

Roger didn’t respond.

Sam held up two fingers to Goldie as he took another step forward and to the left to see better. Goldie circled slowly around to the right, growled, and bared her teeth. She was responding to Sam’s two-fingered signal that he had taught her in response to delinquent tippers.

“Stop!” cried Roger. “Don’t come any closer!” His head bobbed back and forth between them. Sam could almost read the man’s mind, vacillating between using the syringe and giving up the only deterrent he had to stop Sam and the dog.

Another small step and another. Sam and Goldie approached on either side. Yet another step and they were both within arm’s reach. Roger swung the needle away from Peggy’s neck and tried to stab Sam, who sidestepped the move and held up one cane as a parrying weapon. Goldie was now close enough to clamp her teeth around Roger’s right ankle. Howling with pain, he released Peggy. She spun about and started kicking his bare shins, her flip-flops not so much hurting as distracting. He waved the needle arm in an arc above his head, but Sam was quicker. Dropping the cane in his right hand, he grabbed Roger by the wrist and wrestled him to gain control of the syringe. Without the syringe, the attacker became the victim, no match for Dad, dog, and daughter.

Sam held his arm high, clutching the syringe in his fist. “Okay, Roger, one more move and I’ll plunge this thing into your neck.”

Roger stopped in his tracks, but Goldie kept her teeth clenched on his ankle until Sam shoved a straight-back chair under his knees, forcing him to sit. Sam gave Goldie the one-finger signal, and she released her grip on the raw and bleeding ankle.

“Peggy, get me some rope or duct tape, whatever’s closest, while I call the police.” He yanked his smart phone out of his jeans.

Seeing Sam’s right hand occupied, Roger leaned forward to make his own move, but Goldie, being a dog with innate initiative, growled again and showed her teeth without being signaled. Roger shrank back into the chair.

Sam speed-dialed Danny at HPD. The lieutenant promised to send in the cavalry.

Peggy emerged from the kitchen. “Will these do?” she asked with a nervous giggle. She held up a pair of Sam’s old handcuffs that he’d left behind in the apartment.

“You bet, sweetheart,” replied the proud father. “How about you call your mother now? Tell her all of us are safe and unharmed.” Sam clamped the manacles behind Roger’s back.

“Why?” demanded Sam.

“Why what?” Roger mumbled and turned his face away.

“Look at me, damn it!” Sam flipped the perp’s hood off, revealing disheveled, unwashed blond hair, then grabbed the bearded chin and yanked his head up. “What’s this all about? What have you got against my wife and daughter?”

Roger knew he’d reached the end of the line. “Eight years ago last month, Kianah Nahoe stole my father’s inheritance from me and gave it to my stepsister, Polani. It belonged to me. I had a right to it. That bitch of a lawyer mixed up what Papa intended and convinced the stupid probate judge to give everything to Polani.”

“Just how did she do that?”

“After Papa died, I sued Polani over the will. He’d left everything to her. Kianah was her lawyer. She twisted all the words around so I didn’t get a friggin’ thing. Polani wasn’t even related to him! I’m the real son and I was broke. My daughter got sick and died because I couldn’t afford proper medical care. She was only seven! I wanted Kianah to know what that felt like.” Roger hung his head and started to sob.

***

An hour and a half later, the police had come and gone, taking Roger Okamalu in fresh cuffs with them. Kia burst in. “Is it all over?” she asked, gasping.

“Yes. He’s in police custody,” Sam replied.

“Thank God!” Kia said. She hugged Peggy—and Sam, too, then bent down to hug Goldie, who gave her a slurpy kiss.

Dropping into an armchair, Kia took a deep breath and told the whole story. “Yesterday, after reviewing my files, I remembered more about the case. Polani was the devoted caregiver to Roger‘s father for over two years. During that period, Roger lived by the bottle, an alcoholic, a complete wastrel who stayed away for months at a time. The grateful old man clearly wanted Polani to have everything. I don’t know why Roger put the blame on me. I feel sorry for him. Losing a child that way, any way at all, is a tragedy.”

It was time for Sam and Goldie to leave, but not before another round of embraces.

“Does this mean you two are gonna get back together?” asked Peggy tearfully.

Sam’s heart skipped a beat as he looked to Kia for the answer.

“Maybe, in time,” she said. “We’ll see.”

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