Episode Six in the Copper and Goldie Mysteries
The little boy’s chortling laugh roused Sam Nahoe from a snooze on the park bench. He looked up and casually smiled at a young Chinese woman sitting on a bench not twenty feet away. She seemed to be dividing her attention between her smart phone and her kid playing with his toy truck. The woman stared back at him with a cold, blank look.
Sam, a six-foot-four good-natured Hawaiian, wondered, What the hell? Does she think I’m trying to pick her up? I guess she doesn’t see my two canes.
Sam led four parallel lives. Cab driver; newly minted private investigator with no clients right now; divorced dad with only visiting rights; and the worst of it, disabled HPD ex-detective. He had a .38 caliber slug lodged permanently in his spine. Cane and Able became his two walking aids. Despite them, at age thirty-six he still turned women’s heads with his commanding physique, curly black hair, and ruddy face. High, round cheekbones gave him a hint of Asian ancestry.
But even as a licensed independent cabbie, Sam wasn’t privy to taxi stands or a formal dispatcher. He relied on fares he could pick up while cruising, or from repeat and word-of-mouth business. At slow times he had to park somewhere to save on gas. On this too-quiet Thursday afternoon in June, he chose Magic Island, actually a peninsula jutting out into the Pacific Ocean from Ala Moana Beach Park. Of course, he left his business cell phone on.
Sam felt a tug on the leash from his rescue golden retriever. He had trained her well as his clever, responsive partner. Goldie trotted to within a few feet of the youngster and sat down to watch him. Sam noted that he was a handsome little boy, with walnut-brown hair neatly cut short and dimpled cheeks. The child soon tired of the truck and swapped it for a striped rubber ball out of his mother’s tote bag. He kicked the ball toward Goldie, who scooped it up in her mouth and trotted it back to him. Sam watched keenly. With each turn the boy kicked the ball a few feet farther. Now he gave it a mighty boot and chased the ball himself beyond Goldie’s reach. A slight incline in the terrain sent it rolling faster and farther away. Goldie released a shrill bark. The mother looked up from her texting, game-playing, or whatever. But by that time, both boy and ball had traveled at least fifty yards in the direction of the parking lot.
She sprang up and yelled, “Paulie, come back here this instant! Let the ball go!”
Either ignoring or not hearing his mother, the boy charged gleefully on.
Sam hefted himself up off the bench, yanked the leash close, and unclipped it. “Fetch him, Goldie! Go!” Ski-walking with his canes, despite the stabbing pain in his lower back, he managed to get down the incline, quite near. But before his dog could reach the child, Sam witnessed a horrific sight.
A large man in a white T-shirt and khaki shorts stepped out from behind a monkeypod tree, grabbed Paulie around the waist with gloved hands, and lifted him up. Paulie, wiggling, struggling, shrieked “Mommy!” The man hauled him off into a gray pickup truck parked next to the grass and slammed the passenger door shut.
Barking all the way, the dog closed in. The truck began to roll. Goldie was prepared to give chase, but a sharp whistle from Sam brought her back. He knew she wouldn’t be able to keep up, and a street chase would only put her in danger. At least he was able to catch a partial plate number before the vehicle sped off.
Screaming, clutching her phone, tote, and purse, Paulie’s mother ran down the grassy incline and stopped short. Frantic and forlorn, she knew her precious child had been kidnapped.
Sam realized the grotesque irony of the scene. If it had been a weekend, Magic Island would have been teeming with locals on all-day picnics; surfers carrying their boards; brides and grooms posing for photos; half the Honolulu world at play. The kidnapper would never have made it out of the park. In fact, he’d probably never have even found a parking space.
Sam phoned 911 on his cell and gave the HPD dispatcher what little he’d observed. Tall, muscular Caucasian in white T-shirt and khaki shorts. Longish hair, maybe dirty yellow. Gun-metal gray Toyota pickup, older model, and a partial plate. After he rattled off his own credentials, former badge number and his Checker Cab plates, he was promised that an alert would be issued shortly.
He signed off and turned to the child’s mother, who was pacing back and forth. “Ma’am, I phoned the police dispatcher. A cruiser will be here any minute.”
“That horrible man took my baby! Why Paulie? Why him?” whimpered the mother. Tears streaked down her pale, gaunt cheeks, outlined by black automatic hair that draped her bony shoulders. Carefully coiffed bangs swept to one side of her high forehead. She wore an embroidered sleeveless blouse and matching miniskirt An expensive designer look, Sam decided.
“Ma’am, I’m a former HPD detective, a private investigator now,” he said, extending his retiree credentials so she could see them. “While we’re waiting for the police, may I ask you a few questions?”
Still eyeing him suspiciously, she said, “Okay, but why aren’t they here yet? He’s getting away with my Paulie.”
“Can you tell me your name?”
“Cynthia Set Fong. My husband is Douglas Ang Fong, the lawyer.”
Sam recognized the name: a big-time defense attorney. “And the boy’s full name, please.”
“Paul Ang Fong. He just turned four.”
“Did you recognize either the man who took your son or the truck he drove?” asked Sam.
“No, why would I?” Her voice had an imperious ring to it.
“Could he have been a family member?”
“No member of our family would do such a thing,” she retorted.
“ Or could it be a known enemy of your husband?”
“I have no way of knowing that,” she snapped, her head lowered as she speed-dialed her husband. It appeared to Sam that the secretary answered.
“He’s with a client?” Cynthia asked shrilly. “This is an extreme emergency. Disturb him anyway!”
The police cruiser pulled up in front of them. Missing Persons Detective Mitchell Bailey, mustached and squarely built, exchanged curt greetings with Sam and took down all his information. Sam and Mitch had known each other briefly at HPD. Slightly annoyed, Mitch thought Sam should have waited for him to arrive and ask the questions, but conceded that time was of the essence and Sam was, after all, a P.I. now.
He introduced himself to Mrs. Fong. “Ma’am, what is your son wearing?”
Her dark eyes glanced beyond him, hoping against hope that Paulie would magically reappear. “A new outfit. Plaid shorts—blue, green, and white plaid—and blue polo shirt. Blue Crocs with white socks.”
“Do you have a photo of him, Mrs. Wong?”
Cynthia opened her smart phone once again, and with her index finger swiped to her photos. “This is Paulie at his birthday party last month.”
“Excellent, Mrs. Fong.” Bailey recited the HPD email address for Cynthia to immediately relay the photo to Missing Persons.
The frightened mother, barely controlled up to now, grew more and more agitated, and stamped her elegantly sandaled foot. “Why aren’t you out there looking for my son?”
“That’s exactly what we’re about to do, Mrs. Fong,” said Mitch, “now that we have your son’s photo and other information. HPD will now issue a MAILE AMBER ALERT.”
“What is that?” she demanded.
“It stands for Minor Abducted in Life-threatening Emergency.” He refrained from the grisly details: that MAILE and AMBER were in memory of two abducted, murdered little girls. “All HPD officers will be out there doing everything in their power to find your son. I still need a little more information from you. ”
“Come on, Goldie, I don’t think we’re needed here any longer,” said Sam as he signaled Mitch that he was leaving. He hooked Goldie into her harness in the front passenger seat and drove off, passing the police car with another wave. He wondered, Is this a random kidnapping to acquire a child or a targeted one to extract a ransom? Does it have something to do with the husband? Maybe revenge by a former client? A convicted felon the lawyer didn’t succeed in getting off?
* * * *
Early the next afternoon, Sam had just dropped off a customer on King Street when he got a call from the detective asking him to stop by an address on Kapiolani Boulevard. When he and Goldie got there, Mitch and FBI agent Will Manning were waiting for him. He rolled down the window.
Sam had never met Manning, who wore the typical agent’s dark suit and white shirt, but his was open at the neck. No tie, maybe because of the eighty-five-degree day, but more likely, the sweaty frustration of yet one more child-abduction case. Manning looked grim. “Last night the Fongs received a call on their landline, voice disguised, demanding ransom of $200,000. We were with them and tried to trace the call, but it was from a burner phone. Just ten minutes ago, Cynthia got a call on her cell. The same disguised voice instructed her to order a taxi to pick her up—only her and with the money—outside their Kapiolani Boulevard apartment building at exactly 2:15. She would receive further instructions for the driver once they were under way. Douglas Fong withdrew the ransom money from their bank this morning in accordance with the untraceable call they’d received the night before.”
“Two fifteen? That’s only twenty minutes from now,” said Sam. “How the devil are you going to work that one?”
“That’s exactly why I thought of you, Sam,” said Mitch. “You’re already familiar with the case and the neighborhoods on Oahu. We don’t have time to set up anything else. The apartment is in the next block. When you pull up to the building, Mrs. Fong will walk out carrying the gym bag with the money and get into your cab. We don’t know if they’re watching the building or not so we have to play it close to the vest. I should ask, Are you willing to handle this?”
“Of course. I feel for those parents, and Paulie Wong is a cute, smart little guy. But that’s beside the point. We need to find him before he’s harmed. My partner and I will do whatever it takes.”
Agent Manning looked at Goldie, harnessed in the passenger seat. He frowned. “That’s your partner?”
“You bet,” said Sam.
Manning shrugged. “Okay, then.” He checked his watch. “Wait ten minutes, then pull into the semicircular drive out front. Oh, I almost forgot. Dial this number, keep your cell phone open, and repeat your instructions out loud. She was told ‘No police.’ We’ll follow at a safe distance.”
Sam set up the phone, lingered the ten minutes, and took off down the block. He pulled into the drive, stopped at the entrance, and waited. A minute or two later, Cynthia Fong, in a navy blue pants outfit, emerged from the lobby of the upscale condo, and climbed with her gym bag into the back seat. Her face reflected a mix of fear and determination. Dark circles under her eyes told Sam she’d probably been up all night. He waited until he heard her cell ring tone.
“Yesss,” she answered, her voice trembling, and then began to repeat aloud. “Head east on Kapiolani to the freeway entrance and get on H-1 east.” A little under five minutes later she announced, “Get off the freeway at the Sixth Avenue exit. Turn left onto Sixth Avenue and move to the far right lane. Pull into the Eden Presbyterian Church driveway in the middle of the block before Harding—and get out.”
Sam followed the instructions until he realized he wouldn’t be able to hear Cynthia once she had left the cab. As soon as he pulled into the driveway and stopped, she got out with the bag, walked back to the avenue, and turned left toward the highway overpass. In a flash Sam knew what the kidnapper had in mind. She’s been told to drop the money bag off the overpass onto the service lane on the freeway. But in which direction?
Sam reacted quickly. He drove up the church driveway to the empty parking lot and did a U-turn. Inching back toward Sixth Avenue, he watched Cynthia stop at the near edge of the overpass and lean over. Westbound! It will take at least a minute for the perp to retrieve the drop and get back in his car. Is that enough time for him to go around the block to the freeway west entrance? He’ll try!
Sam turned right on Sixth, then left on Harding against the light between two horn-blowing cars headed in opposite directions, and left again at the Fifth Avenue ramp onto the freeway. In the middle of the ramp he discovered a silver Honda sedan accelerating away from the westbound service lane. He’d found his quarry. The perp had been too smart to keep using his pickup truck.
Sam accelerated to fall in behind the Honda with at least one car between them. As soon as he got into position he spoke to his open cell phone, explaining that he was on the freeway following the money car. The silver Honda slowed and turned onto the University Avenue ramp. Sam relayed the turns information and followed. They passed the UH campus and headed north into Manoa Valley, then onto Manoa Road, deeper into the thickly wooded neighborhoods with narrow streets. A few turns later, the Honda slowed and swerved into the driveway of a single-story bungalow. Sam drove past it, did a U-turn at the next intersection, and parked a few doors down on the opposite side of the street to watch. The Honda driver, the burly scumbag who had abducted Paulie, got out of the car with the gym bag and carried it around to the rear of the house.
Sam relayed the address into his phone. Mitch told him to stay in the cab.
“By the way,” said Sam, as he rolled all his windows down and turned off the ignition. “Could you send someone to pick up Mrs. Fong? I left her at the overpass. She must be busting a gut and spitting mad by now.”
“Way ahead of you, Sam,” said Mitch. “Her husband went to pick her up as soon as you left her. She must be with him already. We’ll be with you in five or six minutes.”
Sam saw a light come on in the front room of the house and his curiosity got the better of him. Once a cop always a cop. He unhooked his partner’s harness. ‘“Stay,” he ordered. “Stay, Goldie!” He scanned the property, assessing how close he could get without being seen. In the front yard he would get help from a low-branched plumeria, lavishly in bloom with clusters of white blossoms. He grabbed Cane and Able, climbed slowly out of the cab, and plodded across the street. Approaching the small house from the side, he tried to get a better look, maybe even inside. The front windows were a little high for him, but he noticed the driveway grade increased some toward the back, so he inched along between the house and the parked Honda. At first, all he could see was a dark form inside, but now another light came on, and he saw two male adults moving about.
There was no sign of the boy, so Sam ski-walked to a second window, but stumbled and kicked an empty soda can on its side. It rolled noisily down the gravel driveway. Expecting a threat from the back of the house, he ducked behind the Honda, keeping it between him and the house. Crouched down and quiet, he was jolted by a raspy male voice behind him. “Get up and reach for the sky, snoop.”
Sam awkwardly stood, raising his hands and canes in the air. He tried to turn and face the voice, but a shove in the shoulder told him “Forget it!”
Sam caught a glimpse of a gun pointed at his neck, but took the offensive anyway. “Hey, scumbag, where’s the boy?”
“I’ll ask the questions. Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?”
Before Sam could answer, a huge bundle of sunny, golden fur slammed into the man’s side, taking him off his feet onto his back. Sam was actually startled. Goldie had jumped out the passenger side window, against his command to stay. But he couldn’t have been more relieved. The gun had slipped onto the driveway. He now got a good look at his assailant. Yup, it was the kidnapper, all right. Same T-shirt and shorts, dirty blond hair. Grungy, unshaven face. Sneakers, no socks. He could also see the gray Toyota pickup parked on the grass in the backyard.
“Good girl, Goldie!” As the kidnapper tried to reach for the loose weapon, Sam hooked the crook of Able around the man’s ankle and yanked his foot out from under him. Falling on his face this time, he bellowed, “You friggin’ shithead!” While Sam picked up the gun, Goldie placed both front paws on the man’s upper back.
Sam shoved the gun in the perp’s face. “Where’s the boy?”
“Have you ever been torn apart by a dog?” asked Sam, holding two fingers in Goldie’s line of sight. “One command is all it takes.”
The dog obliged with her most ferocious growl. Little did the perp know that golden retrievers are incapable of inflicting that kind of pain, but Goldie proved to be quite an actress.
“Okay, okay! He’s locked in the bedroom with some toys. He ain’t harmed. We didn’t do nothin’ to him.”
“Where’s the bedroom?” asked Sam.
“On the other side of the house,” he said, lifting his head slightly and rubbing the bloody gravel scrapes on his left cheek.
“Hey, Joe,” yelled a male voice at the back door. “Where the hell you at?”
“Who’s that, and is he armed?” whispered Sam.
“It’s my friend Frank, and I don’t know whether he has his gun with him. It may be in the car, but I can’t be sure. This whole thing was his idea.”
“Yeah, sure. Tell him everything’s okay.”
“Everything’s okay, Frank,” Joe yelled back. “I’m getting something out of the car.”
“Tell him you need some help out here,” ordered Sam. “Stay, Goldie. Keep him there.”
“Hey, Frank. I could use a little help out here,” yelled Joe.
They heard the screen door slam shut and work boots clumping down three wooden stairs. Sam backed up a few feet, concealing himself behind a corner of the bungalow.
Frank was a slouching, skinny guy with a shaved head, receding chin, and weasel blue eyes. “What the hell, man? Wha…wha…what’re you doing lying there and where’d that goddamn mutt come from?”
Sam stepped forward and pointed the gun at the skinhead. “Put your hands up.”
“Who’re you, creep?”
“I’m your worst nightmare,” said Sam as he frisked Frank for a weapon. He found none and decided from the slurred speech that Frank was zoned out on pot or maybe painkillers.
Four unmarked police cars drew up to the curb. Flinging doors open, several officers emerged with Detective Mitch and FBI Agent Manning. They immediately spotted Sam and the kidnappers in the driveway behind the Honda. Frank turned around and tried to run toward the backyard, but all he could manage was a pathetic shuffle. An officer easily caught up and cuffed his wrists behind his back.
Sam ordered Goldie to back off. She obeyed, but looked up at him like “Where’s my reward?” Sam didn’t happen to have a Milk Bone on him.
Another officer hoisted Joe to his feet and cuffed him. Joe glared at Sam. “Bastard! Look what you did to my face,” he whined. The blood had already dried from the gravel scrapes.
“You poor guy,” muttered the officer with a suppressed grin. The two officers arrested the men for kidnapping and more and read them their rights.
Mitch and Agent Manning entered the house from the back door and found the gym bag stuffed with the money under the kitchen table. But the money wasn’t important right now. They began searching the house, which didn’t take long; it had only four rooms. “Hey, Sam?” Mitch called out as he returned to the driveway. “We searched the house. The boy’s not here.”
“What?” Sam refused to believe it. He hauled himself up the steps after Mitch, who pointed out the key in the lock to the bedroom, where Paulie had been held. He saw a twin bed with rumpled sheets shoved up against an open, unscreened window. “My God, Mitch,” said Sam, his throat nearly closing up. “Paulie’s only four, but—”
“Damn!” said Mitch. “How could we have missed this? Naw, he couldn’t have jumped out the window, could he?”
“Yeah, probably,” Sam said. “He’s quite an athletic little kid, but he might be hurt. It’s about a six-foot drop. We’d better start looking outside.”
The two police cars carrying the kidnappers had already sped off to the station.
Sam bumbled out the front door, wondering what exactly he should do next. Blame himself, for one thing. He knew that the first three hours after a kidnapping, especially of a child, were critical. This is all my fault. It’s not my case. I should’ve waited for backup.
Mitch and Manning had been prowling around the backyard. They reappeared alone. Joining Sam on the sidewalk, they were about to start searching the neighbors’ yards.
Sam suddenly shouted, “Hey! Where’s my dog? She’s gone!” The three men, in unison, looked to their right. With a shock, they witnessed Goldie galloping down the block in pursuit of Paulie. He was running his little legs off, crying, “Mommy, Mommy!” Goldie charged just past him and jerked to a stop, effectively blocking the child’s path. She sat down. Paulie recognized her from their game in the park. He flopped down on the sidewalk, sobbing, and buried his face in her thick fur. She licked his forehead patiently, as if this whole scene were scripted and she was just acting her part.
Mitch and Manning raced to them. Mitch called Douglas and Cynthia Fong, who estimated they would arrive in fifteen minutes. Mitch then called in a report of success to HPD. Weeping wasn’t normally in Sam’s repertoire, but as he ski-walked down the block to greet his heroic partner, tears of joy came.
* * * *
Around nine o’clock that night, Sam was sprawled out on his couch watching NCIS and devouring slices of leftover pizza, washed down with Miller Lite. Goldie had inhaled her supper and canine bacon treats and was zonked on the rug, when the phone rang.
It was Mitch. He and Manning had interrogated the two kidnappers separately. Both were jobless and broke. The house belonged to Frank’s aunt and uncle, who were off-island for a three-week vacation. He and Joe had read a newspaper article about Douglas Fong donating two million dollars to his prep school alma mater. They figured he’d be good for the ransom. After all, what’s two hundred thousand to a guy who can do that? They had planned to let the little boy go, but didn’t have a plan for how and where.
“That’s great news, Mitch.”
But the detective wasn’t finished. He chewed Sam out for attempting to rescue Paulie without backup. Sam knew he should let it go. Of course he was wrong. Still, he couldn’t resist: “But I did have backup. Goldie saved my okole just fine.”