THE GETAWAY CAB: The Copper and Goldie Mysteries, Episode Four

Ex-detective Kamuela (“Sam”) Nahoe owned and operated a bright yellow Checker taxi with a ring of black and white squares painted just below its windows. Black lettering on both sides and rear of the cab read “Copper and Goldie Taxi Service.” This particular Monday afternoon found Sam driving his cab down South King Street with his mostly golden retriever partner harnessed in the front seat beside him.

Sam found a measure of contentment carrying passengers through the Honolulu streets and the farthest reaches of Oahu. This was the job he reluctantly settled into after he took a bullet in the line of duty. A killer fired a shot that lodged a slug in his spine and ended his police career. The strapping thirty-seven-year-old Hawaiian couldn’t be a real cop any more. He could no longer pass the physical, and he sure didn’t want the offered desk job.

But somehow trouble always found him.

At the corner of King and McCully, Goldie let out a sharp yip, scratched at her door handle, and leaned out her window when she saw a man frantically trying to wave them down. Alerted, Sam eased toward the curb and gave him the once-over. He looked clean-cut, as though he could afford the fare, so Sam stopped. He’d been burned that way recently. The tall, trim haole, neatly dressed in a small-print aloha shirt and black chino pants, slid into the back seat and shut the door.

“Where to, bro?” Sam asked briskly.

“Kaimuki! And make it snappy!”

“Any particular address?” Sam queried, noting that the clipped voice wasn’t as cool and calm as the man’s appearance.

“Yah! 554 Sixth Avenue, but . . .” the man added in a voice now tinged with tension, “you can let me out at the corner of Sixth and Waialae. I got some shopping ta do. Yah?”

“Sure thing!” said Sam as he powered away from the corner and nosed the cab toward the fourth eastbound lane. A glance in the rear-view mirror revealed the stranger gripping his blue gym bag for dear life. Sam also got a keener look. The man had put on sunglasses with almost black lenses. His large head was completely bald. He had a dark mustache, the tips drooping to the edges of his wide mouth, and a goatee, carefully clipped. His full pink lips looked at odds with the macho facial hair.

Several blocks later, as they passed Hausten Street, Sam braked slightly when he saw a turmoil of activity in front of Oceanic National Bank: two police cruisers, a shiny black SUV, and a crowd of onlookers. Although the cabbie’s days as a detective were over, once a cop always a cop. He put two and two together.

But a lot of good it did him. The next thing he felt was a cold gun barrel pressed a half-inch into the back of his neck.

“Keep driving, sucker, or yer one dead dude, yah?”

Sam’s large-knuckled hands tightened on the steering wheel. What the hell? The guy looked legit at the curb. How could I have been so wrong? The cab kept rolling on its current course, and he swore under his breath, because he hadn’t bothered to close the plate glass window shield between the front and back seats. As usual he’d wanted to converse a bit. Goldie, God love her, was a companion of few words. But even without a substantial vocabulary, she quickly perceived the situation and struggled against her leather restraining harness. She began to growl and bark intermittently, trying to get at the stranger’s wrist—smartly kept just out of her reach. The barrel of a revolver now pointed in her direction.

“No, No! Don’t hurt her,” cried Sam. “I’ll take you wherever you need to go. Honest! I won’t try anything funny.”

“Then make her stop that damn racket.” The passenger kept his gun pointed at the dog. Sam stole another glance at his fare. The impenetrable dark glasses and the goatee, which ended in a sharp triangle on the man’s chin, gave him a distinctly fierce, even satanic look.

Keeping his left hand on the wheel, Sam held up one finger of his right hand in Goldie’s direction. It was their signal to stop growling at non-tipping fares. Two fingers always began that useful drama. She reluctantly gave up the cause and tilted her head questioningly at Sam, who said, “Stop it, girl. Easy now.”

“And while you’re at it, hand me that smartphone off the dashboard.”

Oh crap, the lifeline to my business. Sam pulled it out of its clip and did as he was told.

“Now, buster, both hands on the wheel or you lose one fine dog.”

“Sure, sure, anything you say, man.”

Satisfied, the stranger leaned back in the seat and rested the elbow of his gun hand on the armrest while still training the weapon on Goldie. The quieted retriever still didn’t trust him. She turned as far as her harness would allow and managed to keep staring at him, making an obviously nervous man even more so. The fare tried to look away, but couldn’t. The dog was too prominent a distraction. He shoved the gun in her face, but that only elicited a single bark.

“Tell her to stop staring at me or she’s a goner.”

“Goldie!” Sam scolded half-heartedly, yanking her harness around with his free hand so that she faced front. Without the weapon, the scene would’ve been comical.

The cab left South King, entered the H-1 freeway, and sped toward the Sixth Avenue exit to carry the passenger to Kaimuki. When Sam changed lanes anticipating that exit, the emboldened passenger gruffly announced, “No, don’t get off. Keep going.”

“I thought you—”

“This piece sez I’m doing the thinking in this here cab. Stay on H-1 ’til I tell ya ta get off. Yah?” The man’s movements became jerky, and his speech Ping-Ponged between King’s English and pidgin. He leaned forward to push home the revolver barrel against Sam’s neck, then slouched back once more.

“Yeah, I get you.” Sam began to have visions of being mugged and rolled for his paltry cashbox contents and left somewhere in a ditch in the boonies. Or worse yet, separated from Goldie or killed. Not so much for himself, but he feared for his golden and pined for his ten-year-old daughter, Peggy and her mother, Kia, his ex-wife. And, of course, there was no hope of this hoodlum bank robber paying his fare, even though the meter now showed $16.50 and climbing.

As Sam drove past Kahala Mall, the freeway became the Kalanianaole Highway and the scenery more residential. “Where are we headed?” he asked when the meter now showed $38. “A hideaway, maybe?”

“Don’t know. I’ll tell ya when I git it all figured out. Meanwhile, butt out. Yer dog, too!”

“You mean you stuck up a big-time bank and didn’t have any idea of a getaway? An escape plan of some sort?” Sam looked up at the mirror and cracked a nervous smile.

“Yah, it was kinda sudden. You know, an impassive kinda thing.”

“You mean impulsive, unplanned?”

“Yah, dat’s it, impulsive. It seemed like the only solution. And you kin wipe that silly smirk off yer puss. Hey, why ya slowing down, clown?”

“You don’t want a cop stopping me for running a red light, yah?”

“Right! Good thinking. But don’t get cute. And don’t let me hear any more of your English lessons.”

Sam rolled up to the light and stopped.

Large upscale homes lined the highway, many with imposing gates or walls and attached two-car garages. Off to the right, on the grass beside the curb, a prominent real estate sign advertised an Open House for the following Sunday. As the light turned green, the passenger ordered, “Keep going, but slower. I’m looking for something.” And half a mile later, “Hey, take that street and follow it around.” Sam made a sharp right, then slowed to a crawl, creeping along, turning and winding where instructed.

“See that house at the end of the street? Turn in there. I got an idea.”

Even before they reached the property, Sam could tell it was an anomaly in the neighborhood of imposing luxury homes: an isolated stucco rancher, lemon-yellow, no attached garage. As the cab approached, Sam spotted the FOR SALE sign out front and a lockbox on the front doorknob. The front lawn had been manicured, but looked rather overdue for a mowing. Odd when you’re trying to sell, he thought. Real estate agents always harped about curb appeal. A cluster of white azalea bushes to the left of the front door looked healthy and recently watered.

“Pull into this driveway,” his passenger ordered, “and keep going all the way to the back.”

This is bad, Sam realized. Long, narrow driveway, no parked cars, probably no one home. We’ll be out of sight of the street. At the rear of the house he braked in front of an empty one-car carport, also painted yellow, surrounded by a small yard of untended grass.

“Into the carport, bub. Turn off your engine and stay where you are, hands on the wheel.” The passenger left the back seat, fist clutching his prized gym bag, and walked the twenty feet sideways to the back door, continuing to point his weapon in Goldie’s direction.

Inside Sam’s powerful chest his heartbeats pounded painfully. During his six months as a cabbie, he and Goldie had never been physically threatened. Now this son-of-a-bitch. Bank robber. Kidnapper. Armed. Why didn’t he just highjack my cab and leave us out on the street? Sam split-seconded the idea of escape. I’d have to reverse at least twice to get out of this carport and turn around. Or drive backward all the way to the street. Too slow. Too many opportunities for the guy to shoot the tires out, or worse yet, us.

In the late afternoon sun, sweat gleamed on the gunman’s bald head as he used the barrel of the revolver to punch through the nylon fabric of the screen door. He released the hook and eye securing it. Still holding the gun, swinging it every few seconds toward the general direction of the cab, he peeked inside the house through the window in the upper half of the door. He tried the doorknob. It was locked. Grabbing the gun barrel, he slammed the grip into the glass pane, then ran the barrel around the perimeter of the broken pane to clear the shards. Reaching in, he released both deadbolt and button in the knob. The door swung open. He approached the car once more, pointing the gun at Sam. “Leave the keys in the ignition and get out.”

Still in dark glasses, the gunman loomed over the driver’s window and scowled. Deep vertical creases split his eyebrows. “No funny business now. And bring the damn mutt, too. Don’t want her barking and alerting all the neighbors.”

Oh, shit! Sam thought as he released Goldie’s harness. Fearing his canine partner’s reckless bravado, Sam clipped the leash onto her collar so he could restrain her when he needed to. He pulled Cane and Able from their dashboard clips as he slowly climbed out of the cab. They were his two walking canes, which he’d named in one of his less miserable moments during rehab. He could no longer walk normally. A year ago, the bullet that killed his police career also killed his normal walking gait. Sure, he could stand tall and walk awkwardly without the canes, but he couldn’t get more than a block or two.

The gunman stepped back, realizing that the canes could also be used as weapons, but from his perspective, they did keep Sam’s hands in constant view. He motioned Sam and Goldie to walk ahead of him toward the back door. “Get going, bub! Stop wasting my time. Into the kitchen!”

Sam jerked to a stop before they approached the door. Shards of glass littered the patio flagstones. Supporting himself on his canes, he swept one foot from side to side to clear the shards away before they could lodge themselves into Goldie’s tender paws. The revolver pressed against his back nudged him forward through the kitchen door, and his canine pal followed suit.

The kitchen had an antiseptic 409 smell as well as a new-ish quality, most likely scrubbed and fitted out for selling. The granite counter and shiny appliances looked like they hadn’t been around long. Sam’s gut churned. What the hell are we doing here? He found out soon enough. The gunman dropped the heavy gym bag on the counter. Then he flung open the double doors to the under-sink cabinet and instructed him to tie his dog to the drain plumbing underneath. Sam undid the leash while holding Goldie between his legs. He passed the leash clip around the drain trap and through the leash’s loop handle before clipping it back on Goldie’s collar. She strained against the futility of the tether, then flopped down on the tiles, resorting to a low, frustrated whine.

“Now, hackman, face the wall,” the gunman commanded. “Over there,” he pointed with the revolver.

Sam took a few steps and turned to face the blank white wall, pressing down on his canes to support his upper body weight. Just as his eyes lit on a wall phone a few feet to his left, the gunman’s left hand reached out and ripped the connecting cord from its innards. Not daring to turn around, Sam listened. He could hear rummaging through many of the kitchen drawers and cabinets. An “Ah” of satisfaction told Sam he had found what he sought. Then the gun barrel’s steel returned, this time to incite searing pain into the small of his back

“Move!” the gunman ordered. His shove sent Sam into the dining room.

Sam stood there, scanning his new surroundings. For a small home, this dining room is quite grandly furnished, he thought. It had a breakfront displaying fancy china; a credenza sporting Southwest pottery; and a large oval dining table with four high-back tapestried chairs. Then Sam suddenly realized, The possessions—the current residents haven’t moved out yet. That family could be in real danger if they return home too soon.

Flanking the double windows on the driveway side of the house were two small matching armchairs. They had a formal look: graceful black wood frames, round backs, and beige linen upholstery. Another bruising nudge against Sam’s back moved him toward one of these chairs, where he was ordered to sit. He laid the canes against the adjacent one and sat down obediently. Sam soon learned what the prized kitchen discovery was. The gunman produced a large roll of silver duct tape and instructed the cabbie to tape his own right wrist to the chair’s arm. Sam picked at the tape end until it was free. He laid his right arm down on the chair arm, and stretched the tape over his wrist, binding it with two complete wraps.

“Three times around,” the gunman ordered. “Tight, too.”

That done, the gunman laid the revolver down on the table, picked up the roll, and roughly continued the job himself. He taped Sam’s left wrist to the other chair arm. At that point Sam seriously considered: What if I stand up quickly and round-house this guy with the chair? Nope, too heavy, too awkward, too risky. My reflexes just aren’t that fast anymore. I’d get myself killed. Maybe Goldie, too.

After finishing Sam’s left wrist, the gunman taped his shins to the chair legs. As an afterthought, he added a few turns to Sam’s forearms and a strip across his mouth, then disappeared back into the kitchen. Sam could hear him rummaging around again. A barrage of choice words accompanied the repeated openings and closings of the refrigerator door, indicating the lack of anything to eat there. If the fridge is empty, maybe the family has moved out, Sam reasoned.

The next thing he heard was the screen door banging, followed a few moments later by a familiar car door slamming shut. Out of the corner of one eye he saw a flash of yellow pass by the window as his taxi returned to the streets out front.

Icy pools of sweat collected in Sam’s hairy armpits and trickled down his bare skin under his polo shirt while he tried to figure out the gunman’s next moves. Either he’s leaving us like this to rot or he’s gone to get food. If it’s for food, I’ve got maybe twenty or thirty minutes to get us out of this mess. But how?

The wide duct tape pressed across his mouth was making it hard for him to breathe through his nose, especially with his chronic sinus condition. The tape wrapping his arms and wrists was cutting into his flesh. He tested the flexibility of his bonds, but the tight taping had left no slack for movement between his wrists and elbows.

Refusing to panic, Sam Nahoe now considered his own vulnerability. If I’m a goner, what happens to little Peggy and Kia? Maybe I was too hasty agreeing to our divorce. God, was I that tough to live with? Yeah, I was. If I die here, they shouldn’t want for anything, what with my disability pension and Kia’s law practice. Hey, wait a minute! If the bastard intended to kill Goldie and me, why bother tying us up? It would’ve been simpler to just shoot us right off the bat. Maybe he plans to hole up here for a few days. Not likely. He must know the family could be coming back. Besides, the house is on the market. Real estate agents will be bringing buyers.   Maybe he’s headed for the airport to get off the island. Nah. This guy is no professional. He left the gym bag in the kitchen. I wonder how much money’s in it. How much he forced from a teller. Hell, I can’t stay here helpless forever. What happens when I gotta pee? I’ve got to try something to get loose. And fast.

Sam started by testing the durability of the chair. He shifted his 210-pound bulk left and right, then rocked back and forth until he heard a few encouraging creaks. He’d been annoyed with himself for putting on twenty pounds since he left HPD, but at this moment, the extra weight was working for him. That and knowing he had built considerable upper body muscle during his rehab and with his continued gym workouts. Sam applied all his forearm strength inward, then outward, repeating the motion until a glue joint at the rear of the left chair arm came free and the front of it splintered downward. Now he applied the power of both his own forearms to the right chair arm. Crack! It gave way. If the gunman had merely bound his wrists, he doubted whether he would have had the leverage and strength to achieve this much. The two small chair arms remained attached to his forearms like splints. They also added a degree of clumsiness to his every movement.

He tried picking at the tape ends with the opposite hand using his fingernails, but it proved slow and tedious. But, first, he had something more urgent to do. He lowered his head until his face met his fingers. Awkwardly, he peeled off the duct tape sealed across his mouth, and took several deep breaths of relief.

Each of his legs was still taped to each front chair leg. He leaned forward until he could reach out to touch the table with his taped hands and then a little to the right—the chair tilting with him. He placed a good portion of his weight on the right chair leg by re-positioning himself. The leg cracked at the glue joint. He flopped to the floor as the chair fell over, but the right chair leg did not break; it only bent at a slight angle.

He had to try again. He could hear the wall clock in the kitchen, each second’s loud tick an audible warning. Sitting on the floor, anchoring both hands on the edge of the table, he chinned himself until he could wrestle first one splinted forearm and then the other up to the tabletop. Leaning on one elbow, he used the opposite wrist to push down, lifting himself enough to drag the chair seat underneath him once more. At the pinnacle of stress he howled in pain. The splint had stabbed his underarm. Injured from leaning on his right elbow, blood trickled down the inside of his polo shirt. Hearing his cry from the kitchen, Goldie replied with an anxious yelp of her own and started straining against the plumbing with renewed fervor.

Allowing several minutes for precariously resting, or rather balancing, in the cockeyed chair, Sam readied himself for the second try. This time the leg broke free! Now he was able to move one of his own legs independently from the other. He limped and dragged what was left of the attached chair into the kitchen. As he expected, the gun was gone. He itched to open the gym bag. Just how much money had the SOB gotten away with? But he didn’t dare take the time.

Goldie joyously lurched toward him. With all seventy pounds of her strong body, she tore the U-shaped drain trap from the rest of the plumbing. Puddled water squirted out, and with it, the faint smell of sewer gases. Goldie’s nails scratched the tile floor as she gained traction and loped to him, with the U-trap clanging and bouncing behind her.

“Good girl!” Sam said. “Now lie down!” In the third most likely drawer, he found a nine-inch serrated knife. Working on the left arm with his right hand, he began sawing through the duct tape on the chair arm side to avoid cutting himself. Once through the length of forearm tape, he rolled the wood arm away—slowly peeling the tape away from his bare skin, and along with it, tufts of his own curly black hairs. He repeated the process for the second arm and then for both legs. Panting from the exertion, he scooped up all the ragged chair limbs, limped back into the dining room, and threw them in the corner behind the breakfront, where the gunman wouldn’t see them when he re-entered the kitchen.

Next he limped around the table to retrieve his canes. Ski-walking down the hall, with irrepressible Goldie clanging close behind him, he found the master bedroom. He hoped to locate a second serviceable phone there. “Bingo!” he said aloud, spotting the land line phone on the nearest nightstand.

Punching in 911, he reached HPD headquarters and his friend Lt. Danny Oshiro, and told him as much as he could as fast as he could. Danny said he would alert the FBI and send out the nearest local police response. “Better approach without a siren,” Sam cautioned. “You don’t want to frighten him away if you get here before he returns. And remember, he’s armed.” No sooner had Sam put the phone down when he heard his cab coming up the long driveway.

Shaking from exhaustion, he grabbed Cane and Able and ski-walked back down the hall and into the kitchen with Goldie clanging right behind him. He tossed the leash loop and U-trap into the under-sink cabinet and closed the door on the leash so that Goldie still looked tied up as before.

The cab door slammed shut. Sam set his canes against the counter, grabbed the serrated knife, and hid behind the kitchen door. He waited. Minutes passed. The screen door squeaked open. Goldie’s head jerked up. She stood, her whole retriever body frozen on alert. The storm door opened, with their captor’s gun arm extended. He stepped into the kitchen, cradling a large grocery bag in his other arm. From Sam’s hiding place, his stomach gurgled out of control. The gunman turned toward the sound.

Goldie lunged toward him, popping open the cabinet door and dragging the noisy U-trap behind her. The startled gunman dropped his bag of groceries and pivoted toward her. Sam reached out from behind the door and slashed the man’s extended arm all the way from the elbow down to the wrist. The gun fell to the floor. Sam kicked it out of the way. He dove at the screaming man, slamming him against the wall. There they struggled and exchanged a half-dozen short jabs. The man howled and went for Sam’s eyes with two fingers, but Sam grabbed that threatening wrist in time and wrenched the elbow with his other hand in a move that flipped his opponent around to face the wall. Sam wrestled him to the floor by twisting his good arm behind him. Kneeling on the man’s legs, Sam unclipped Goldie’s leash and used it to lash the twisted arm to the back of his prisoner’s belt.

Goldie, overjoyed to be free of the leash and plumbing pipe, placed her front paws on the man’s shoulders to help. Sam had trained her well.

“Git that damn dog off me!” Their prisoner was lying with his head to one side, spitting and sputtering from her shaggy fur covering his mouth.

“Down, Goldie!” Sam commanded, out of breath but laughing while she retreated.

Struggling, the bank robber rolled over onto his back. “Hey, hackman, you gonna let me bleed to death?”

Still one arrogant SOB, thought Sam. “Maybe I should, the way you left us. What do you think of that, bub? Should we help him, girl?”

Goldie let loose a short high-pitched bark.

Sam grinned. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

By now blood was spreading across the floor. Sam pulled several dish towels off a rack above the sink, wrapped them around the knife wound, and held them in place with the lengths of duct tape he’d cut from his legs and arms. “That should hold you for now,” he said. “And this, too.” He took a couple of turns of tape around both the man’s ankles.

Sam suddenly remembered that he’d been forced to hand over his smart phone in the cab. He’s probably got it on him. He found it in a pants pocket and called for an ambulance. Grabbing his canes, he ski-walked to the front door, unlocked it, and left it wide open. Then he hobbled back to the kitchen. Goldie trotted close behind, fearing danger was still with them.

Two uniformed officers arrived first and burst through the open front door with their guns drawn. “Police! Toss out your weapons and you won’t get hurt.”

“All clear, Officers,” Sam called to them. “I’ve got the turkey trussed up in here—ready for the oven, but he’ll need some medical attention first.”

One officer entered through the dining room, yelling, “Clear!” The second one came down the hall from the bedrooms and entered the kitchen from the opposite direction. Doing a double-take when he saw Sam, he cocked his head quizzically and asked, “Hey, aren’t you that detective from Homicide?”

“I used to be him,” admitted Sam. “Now I’m just a plain solid citizen whose cab got high- jacked along with my partner here. That’s my cab out back.” He went on to provide more details. Just as Sam finished telling the story, Lt. Oshiro arrived, along with the ambulance and two FBI agents, who took charge of the gym bag.

As the EMTs attended to the bloody, swelling forearm, Danny pulled the bank robber’s wallet out of a hip pocket, studied the driver’s license, and read him his rights.

“Wallace Mackenburg, you’re under arrest for armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, and who knows what else? You have the right to remain silent . . .”

The weakened Wallace still managed to spit out, “Screw you, cops, and you too, you friggin’ cabbie. My life is ruined.”

The cops looked at each other. Danny shook his head. “Can you believe this guy?”

In the dining room, the FBI agents had upended the gym bag and spread the bills out on the table. Sam just had to know. “How much cash was in there, anyway?”

“About five thousand bucks,” one agent reported.

Danny faced Wallace. “Hey, guy, you’re gonna spend the rest of your pathetic life in prison for five thousand bucks.”

The ambulance carrying Wallace Mackenburg sped away, accompanied by a police officer. Sam knew he would be heading down to headquarters to make a complete statement. His heart had begun subsiding to its normal rhythm as he studied the mess in the kitchen and dining room. There was going to be a heap of explaining to do to the homeowners, not to mention cleaning and repairs.

What the hell, it was all in a day’s work . . . although not exactly what he had in mind when he took to the road as a cabbie this morning.

But where was Goldie? Not hard to find amid sounds of rustling paper. She’d discovered the gunman’s groceries strewn around the far side of the kitchen floor, and was rewarding herself with slices of deli ham—and more.

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