Copper and Goldie Mysteries
It was only the third major case Detective Sam Nahoe had caught since making lieutenant six weeks earlier. His birth name was actually “Kamuela,” Hawaiian for “Samuel.” He appreciated it, but as a police officer he felt it sometimes got in the way. So he chose to be “Sam” in the workplace.
Sam and Detective Sergeant Mose Kauahi of Honolulu’s homicide unit hurried over to a mid-rise apartment building at 2330 Lanahi Place. The call had come in at 9:30 a.m. The caller said she’d been trying to reach her neighbor for several days without response. Peeking in his first-floor rear window, she saw him collapsed over his desk.
The detectives met Ms. Doris Haliburton inside the apartment lobby. Sam assessed her quickly. Nearly waist-length kinky blonde hair. Forty-ish trying to look thirty. They followed her down the hall to apartment 1A.
Sam tried the door and found it locked. “It’s another one of those steel security doors with the anti-pick locks,” he announced. “We’ll have to find another way in. Is there a resident manager here?”
Ms. Haliburton shrugged. “Only part-time. But you could try the windows out back, I suppose.” Without waiting for consent, she started down the hall toward the rear of the building and held the door open for both men, an exit to a fenced-in backyard. “It’s those two double windows—there and there,” she pointed. Her voice quavered. “He’s in the living room.”
“You look to be about five-five,” Sam said, running an impatient hand over his curly black hair. “How did you see in those windows? They’re at least six feet off the ground.”
“I used my kitchen stool,” Doris answered smugly.
Mose stepped closer. “It would be helpful if we could use it too,” he said. “That is, if you wouldn’t mind, ma’am.”
She flinched at the word “ma’am.” Sam knew why. It made women feel old.
“Yah, sure, I’ll get it. I’m in apartment 1C. Back in two shakes.”
Mose had no intention of letting her out of his sight. He followed her inside, and the two returned with him carrying the stepstool. He placed it below the first set of double windows. Sam climbed up until he had a clear view into what was obviously the living room. It was furnished with two leather couches, a glass-topped coffee table, and an elaborate entertainment center on the left wall. A rather affluent bachelor pad. But against the right wall, sure enough, a male body lay slumped over a large modern desk—teak, Sam guessed. Examining both sections of the window, he found no sign of forced entry. He tried to move each section; each one was immovable, locked in place, self-locking. He climbed down and moved the stepstool to the second set of double windows, hoping for better luck. Climbing back up, he peered into a bedroom and tested that set of windows with the same result. He decided entry there would cause less damage than in the more elegant living room.
“I guess we’ll have to get a locksmith for the front door,” said Mose.
“Can’t wait for that,” countered Sam. “The man may need medical attention.” He removed his Glock 9mm, turned his head away, and ducked to his left as he drove the weapon, handle first, against the lower left glass panel, smashing it to pieces. He brushed the bits of scattered glass off his jacket, then gingerly removed the remaining shards from the frame.
“Here goes nothing,” he said, hoisting his six-foot-four body through the cleared frame, head first. He landed on one shoulder in front of a queen-sized bed and rolled over onto the area rug. Scrambling to his feet, he shouted, “Come around front into the lobby. I’ll let you in.”
As he entered the living room, the stench of decay hit him. He whipped a handkerchief out of his back pocket and covered his nose and mouth.
With his free hand, he placed two fingers on the man’s carotid artery, feeling for signs of life. There was no pulse. He hastily backed up when he realized he had almost stepped in blood that had dried on the beige carpet. He traced it to the man’s belly.
“We’ve got a stiff here, Mose,” Sam called out. “Gut wound—small caliber—male, maybe fifty. A couple days, I’d say. No weapon. We can’t touch anything. Better call the crime scene bunch.”
He tried to open the door of apartment 1A to go out into the hall. But in addition to the anti-pick lock, Sam discovered a second lock—keyless—with a rectangular-shaped deadbolt operated by only an inside knob. Deadlocked from the inside, he determined. No way anybody got in or out of this door. Pulling on a pair of Latex gloves, he turned the knob, unlocked the door, and let Mose in. Without invitation, Ms. Haliburton slipped in behind Mose. Sam noticed that she seemed to know her way around. She plopped herself into the La-Z-Boy recliner that sat in front of a large flat-screen TV. But the rotten odors of death permeated the air. Having second thoughts, she jumped up and darted back out to the lobby.
Mose grabbed his handkerchief and covered his face. The detectives shut the apartment’s unlocked door and retreated to the lobby. Pecking away at his cell phone, Mose delivered the necessary message to their captain.
Ms. Haliburton sat huddled in a vinyl chair, her mop of yellow hair almost hiding her face. While they waited for the crime scene technicians, the detectives questioned her. She looked up at them, teary-eyed and sniffling. Moist mascara smudges dotted her sharp cheekbones.
“I still can’t believe he’s dead,” she said, her face a mixture of distress and horror. “His name is, I mean was, James Castile.” She explained that he was a sales manager at one of the anchor department stores at the Ala Moana Center. “He was a pleasant fellow—wouldn’t hurt a soul. A nice man.” No living relatives that she knew of.
“How well did you know him?” Sam asked.
She hesitated, then said, “We . . . we had a few dates.”
“How many?” Sam asked. He noticed her eyes had shifted off to one side.
“Well, about a dozen.”
“Do you have any idea why anyone would want to kill him?”
She shook her head. “No—except maybe that he liked to gamble some.”
“Some?” Sam asked.
A scowl approaching anger crossed her face. “He played online poker. A lot.”
She turned silent after that, but Sam persisted. “Did he owe you money?”
She shrugged. “Some.”
“Just how much, Ms. Haliburton?”
Her ash-gray eyes smoldered. “About $4,000.”
Sam and Mose looked at each other.
By 12:30, the CSI unit had finished their scant evidence search. No prints, no fibers. Nothing useful. They were not pleased that one window had been smashed, wondering whether evidence had been destroyed. The body was transported to the morgue.
What bothered Sam most, nagged at him, was the lack of access to the apartment. Then it dawned on him. The windows. The killer shot Castile, locked both doors from the inside, and let himself out through one of the self-locking windows. He had to be wearing gloves because he’d left no prints there. He tried slipping the frame up while pulling the two shafts from the anti-theft stop holes on both sides. He discovered they had to be pulled every four inches from fully open to fully closed. This presents a whole new problem, he realized. How could the perpetrator pull the shafts as he dropped to the cement? He’d have to be double jointed or something. Until Sam examined the stop holes on the opposite window, he was totally stymied.
There he discovered that strips of Scotch tape had been laid in the tracks covering all the stop holes except for the last pair, which allowed the panel to lock in its frame as the perpetrator left the scene. The exposed side of the strips appeared to be wiped clean, and any unlikely prints on the opposite or sticky side would probably be destroyed during removal. Sam had one last idea on the subject: the tape dispenser. The CSI team would have dusted the dispenser, but maybe the tape itself had something to offer. He picked up the dispenser and forced a breath of air over the tape. Sure enough, a single clear print emerged.
“Mose, get an evidence bag from the car trunk, please. I think we’ve got a clear print here.”
* * * *
It was 10:20 the next morning when the report came back from the FBI’s Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). They had a 24-point match: Daisy Skinner, aka Doris Skinner, aka Doris Haliburton, a skilled con artist wanted in several states. Sam and his partner went to pick her up. Mose rang the bell next to her name plate. It took four rings before she answered the intercom and buzzed them in. She stood in her doorway in jeans and a bulky University of Hawaii Warriors sweatshirt.
“Sorry I took so long. I was indisposed,” she murmured, batting lashes thick with fresh mascara. “You know how that is, gentlemen. Come on in. How can I help you?”
The detectives stepped inside. Sam immediately got the impression of an exceptionally well-heeled tenant. Living room with plush wall-to-wall carpeting; velvet sofa with matching side chairs; full kitchen with gleaming appliances; an open door revealing a spacious bedroom with four-poster bed.
“Ms. Haliburton,” Sam announced, “you are under arrest for the murder of James Castile.” He began reading her the Miranda rights spiel from his prompt card.
As he was about to cuff her, she pivoted and faced him. “Detective,” she said with a Marilyn Monroe breathiness, “I assure you this is all a terrible misunderstanding. I couldn’t even get in his apartment, let alone murder the poor man.”
“Look, lady, we got your prints on tape in the tape dispenser,” said Mose.
“How is that relevant, Detective?”
“Well, our perpetrator had to be the last person to use the dispenser. You used tape to block the window stops. You needed it for your retreat from the crime scene.”
“And he owed you a bundle,” Mose added.
“But gentlemen, if I killed him he couldn’t very well pay me back, could he?” She smiled with the satisfaction of her logic.
“Lady,” said Sam, “I’m thinking it’s the other way around. You’re the gambler, the big loser. But you have expensive tastes. You borrowed the money from him and you didn’t want to pay it back. We can easily check that out.”
She shrugged in a “So what?” gesture. Her smile remained fixed, but her eyes turned cold. “Can I get my purse from over there on the table?”
“Sure,” said Mose. “After I look through it first.” He opened the Coach handbag of fine soft leather and dumped out the contents.
“Is this what you’re looking for?” Doris held a .22-caliber target pistol pointed straight at him. She had hidden it cleverly under her heavy sweatshirt, tucked into her jeans belt.
Just as he heard the click of the gun’s safety, Sam dove to knock Mose out of the line of fire. He heard the shot and felt the sting in his back—just as the bullet lodged in his spinal cord channel. Mose hit the floor first. Sam fell on top of him.
Mose rolled free in one rapid move, picked up his gun, and managed to fire three quick shots angled from the floor at the fleeing Doris Haliburton. The first shot blew out her knee, the second went through the main leg artery, and the third landed upward, deep in her gut, doing irreparable damage on the way. She screamed twice, convulsed, and died. The gun had to be pried from her hand.
* * * *
Mose, grateful for his own life, had used his cell phone to hurry an ambulance to the scene. He turned pale when he saw his partner in agony on the floor. Sam was still alive, but suffering from pain and shock. By noon he lay prone on the operating table. But there were hard choices to be made. The doctors had performed exploratory surgery and needed to decide whether to remove the bullet, which was lodged in an extremely dangerous and difficult place. Or they could simply treat the wound and close it up, leaving the slug inside to possibly cause new damage at some future date. Either approach could bring about the detective’s premature death.
Mose had immediately phoned “Kia,” Sam’s wife of eleven years. Kianah, Hawaiian for moon goddess, was a tall, robust Hawaiian woman with olive-skin, full lips, and a mane of dark brown hair that curled about her neck. Black-framed glasses seemed only to enhance her eyes, the color of coffee brewing. Now, in the hospital waiting room, she had to make the most important decision of her life. They had married right out of the academy, and she loved her husband deeply. But his dangerous profession took its toll on her. She could never quite suppress the knot of fear that, at times, wore her down. At this moment what she feared most was the prospect of bringing up their nine-year-old daughter, Peggy, alone. She saw Sam’s doctor coming down the hall toward her.
“Mrs. Nahoe, he’s awake now and wants to see you before he goes back into surgery. He wants us to close up the wound. He says he’ll take his chances for now.” The decision had been made for her.
* * * *
Five months later, including a month’s hospital stay and four months of intense physical therapy, Sam emerged to face the grim truth. He had a troublesome walking gait, a serious limp. To overcome it, he needed not one, but two metal canes. He chose a pair in a subtle pattern of maroon and navy blue with curved, foam-cushioned handles. These canes were not just for balance. They carried his full l90-pound weight with each step. The bullet that lurked in his spine remained the culprit and a constant reminder of the unknown, of potential ill to come.
In a lighter moment, he dubbed his two walking canes Cane and Able. No, not Cain and Abel—he liked the play on words. Sam soon learned to support his shifted weight by coordinating each leg with the opposite cane, much in the same manner as the motion of a cross-country skier. “Ski-walking,” he called it. He could manage decently enough with a single cane, but quickly tired of that mode when he discovered it put his full weight on his right shoulder and would just create a new problem for him: rotator cuff damage.
Despite his disability, Sam Nahoe still presented a striking figure when he entered a room. Somehow he had managed to retain his commanding physique. With his broad, ruddy face, straight nose, and wide-set dark eyes he still turned women’s heads.
His spirits had remained high throughout the recovery period, despite the awkward gait and a constant aching in the lower back. He would be back on the job soon—or so he thought. A week after returning to his squad-room office, the captain handed Sam an envelope. A forced retirement notice. It came not only with a commendation for solving his last crime, but a commendation for saving the life of a fellow officer. Plus a pension and health benefits. The retirement hit him hard. He was a damn good cop, only thirty-six years old, with a promising career. He wasn’t trained to be anything else. He wasn’t even offered a desk job, although he would have hated it. But it would have been better than walking the plank, as he viewed it.
In a matter of days, Sam Nahoe underwent a metamorphosis from an easy-going, loving husband and doting father to a demanding, sullen grouch. There was no living with him. At home alone all day, with Kia downtown in her successful law practice and Peggy in school, he refined the art of sulking. Following three months of constant morose bitchiness, Kia’s pity and even her love grew thin. Threats of divorce mounted. Then in June, after a major screeching skirmish, Sam moved out to his own apartment. But the trial separation resolved nothing, with each one blaming the other and Peggy hopelessly begging them to reconcile. The divorce became final the following February. He reluctantly surrendered child custody in return for Sunday visitations every other week.
Sam spent more than a few evenings a week sopping up suds at Charlie’s Bar and Grille over on Waialae Avenue. Often he shared a few beers with a fellow police retiree, who tossed out a new thought for him. “Sam, why don’t you drive a cab?”
He thought it over—for fifteen minutes. Not a bad idea, he decided. He could keep busy, earn a little extra cash, and still stay off his feet. Besides, driving might even be therapeutic. Convinced, he took the cash settlement for his disability and bought a used Checker Cab, bright yellow, well maintained, and obtained all the necessary licensing to become an independent owner/driver. It wasn’t long before Sam the Hack had a regular clientele, freelance fares that took him throughout the island of Oahu. It proved to be a lonely life, but he became a much calmer man now that had a job—a job where people actually depended on him.
On one of his Sunday afternoons with his daughter, he took Peggy to the Honolulu Zoo. A miniature of her mother, she had a sturdy body and lush hair in two thick braids. And the dawning of wisdom that comes from a child seeing her parents get a divorce.
They strolled past the gazelles and other African animals. “Know what, Daddy?” Peggy said. “You need a pet. Then you wouldn’t be so lonely.”
Sam looked down at her and grinned. “Are you suggesting I get myself a zebra?”
She giggled. “Of course not, Daddy. How about a dog or a cat?”
“It wouldn’t be right to leave an animal alone all day while I drive my cab.”
Peggy’s eyes sparked with an idea, the nine-year-old psychiatrist at work. “Why couldn’t the pet sit up front with you?”
“Pegs, that’s a crazy idea. But . . . we’ll see. Thanks for worrying about me.” He gave her a big squeeze.
The next day Sam dropped a fare in Moiliili and headed for the Hawaii Humane Society. Maybe it’s meant to be, he chuckled to himself. There he befriended a female year-old golden retriever named Goldie. Well, mostly golden. Guaranteed to shed and eat a lot, he thought wryly. She had soft, wavy fur that would get glossy if he ever brushed it, a plume tail, and a mouth that curled up at the corners—the only breed he knew of that looked like it was always smiling. It was an adoption made in heaven, and took only an hour for the paperwork and loyalty lecture. Within a week he was able to settle Goldie into the passenger seat, her front-row view of Honolulu streets. Of course, she wore her own canine seatbelt harness. Sam had ordered it off the Internet for $39.95.
The ex-policeman and Goldie spent most of their days together in the cab. Sam ran the air conditioner full time to control the inevitable doggie smell. A daily doggie treat, plus a semi-recreational walk, satisfied the rest of their needs. Goldie proved to be as intelligent as his new owner had hoped, and soon picked up a number of habits. Whether good or bad remained one’s point of view.
When they dropped off the last fare of the day at the airport, Sam pulled himself out of the cab and came around to open the passenger’s door. The passenger counted out the exact amount, $45, and handed the bills to him. Sam held up two fingers behind his back. Goldie, poking her head out the window, began a slow growl and just slightly bared her front teeth. The man blinked in shock and quickly fished another ten-spot out of his wallet. Sam held up one finger behind his back. Goldie stopped the growl and broke into her usual friendly smile.
“Good girl,” he told her afterward, slipping her a Milk Bone.
Yes, Goldie proved useful for his business and also provoked much-needed conversation from the back seat. Many of Sam’s patrons were pet lovers. Who couldn’t love a smiling golden?
One day, after parking in the PetSmart lot, Sam and Goldie were ski-walking and padding their way toward the store, when they witnessed a purse snatching. The thief dodged between cars to escape, and mindlessly ran straight toward them.
Once a policeman always a policeman. The ex-detective stepped in his way. When the thief tried to change direction, Sam turned one of his canes into an impromptu weapon. He sharply hooked Able’s handle around the thief’s ankle, causing him to trip and fall on his face to the ground. Sam stopped to pick up the purse and said “Go, girl!” Goldie placed both front paws and much of her fifty-pound weight on the young man’s back. As he struggled to get free, Sam held up two fingers for Goldie. She growled and bared her teeth next to the thief’s face. To her it was a game.
It’s a good thing this loser doesn’t know goldens are charmers, not fighters, thought Sam, as he approached the two.
A quick frisking let Sam know the perp wasn’t armed. Adding his own left foot to Goldie’s paws in the middle of the perp’s back, he called the nearest precinct for police assistance. The victim rushed over to retrieve her purse and offered him a reward. But Sam, still thinking like the honest cop he’d always been, refused. Instead, he gave her his business card: “Copper and Goldie Taxi Service,” complete with phone number and email address—and Goldie’s picture on the reverse side.
Sam couldn’t really announce that this collar was the beginning of their crime-fighting adventures. He could hardly know it himself.