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I've been hinting for years but you still don't seem to get it.
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One day, when he was playing in the yard belonging to the family of my girlfriend (at the time), he disappeared. Her other dogs remained but Moose was nowhere to be found. Panicked, we ran around her neighborhood (between Koreatown and Hancock Park in LA) scouring the streets and yards. Nothing. We put up signs offering a substantial reward (probably too substantial, in retrospect, but we were desperate and not thinking clearly). The next day I got a call from a man who said they’d found our dog. I had just started to eagerly thank him when he interrupted me to coldly ask “So, can I get that reward money in cash?” In my excited relief, I’d forgotten about the reward and, more importantly, how substantial we’d made it. Red flags went off by how blunt and inconsiderate his tone was. I told him I could get half in cash and would he accept the rest in check form. “Uh... no, it’s gonna have to be all cash”, he responded. More red flags. I could’ve opened a whole red flag store, if that weren’t too niche a thing and not at-all sustainable from a business perspective. I agreed to get him cash and we set a time to meet up....
Before we made the reward-for-dog exchange with Moose's temporary (and potentially shady) guardians, my girlfriend and I decided to consult with the police. We went to the station and met a hard-boiled, Ed Harris-type detective who took pity on us after seeing how distraught my girlfriend was ("I hate to see a pretty lady crying" I remember him saying). He agreed to accompany us to the exchange, just to make sure it went smoothly. I told him I didn't know if I could get enough cash to deliver to Moose's chaperone and he scoffed and said "Doesn't matter, you don't have to give them a goddamned penny" I tried to lighten the mood by suggesting the reward money would be too cumbersome if I delivered it all in pennies. At this point, any fleeting amount of respect he may have had for me was gone and he no longer felt it necessary to give even the occasional glance in my direction. We left the precinct and I called Moose's custodian to confirm the meeting time and exact location (across the street from my girlfriend '5 parents house). My girlfriend thought it best if she waited in the house and that I did the exchange alone - which made sense, for a few reasons - mostly, because we didn't want to behave in a way that scared this guy off and I've always been extraordinarily non- threatening. As I made my way to the corner, I spotted the detective sitting on the front porch of the house across the street! He nodded to me, conspiratorially, as he pretended to casually read the newspaper. My pulse began to race a bit more and I hoped that he was just being overzealous to impress my girlfriend. I waited on that corner for about 20 minutes when a college aged boy and girl wearing black shirts cautiously approached me.
The guy asked if I was the dog’s owner, I confirmed that I was and when I asked why they didn't have him, they both gave very vague answers that amounted to what sounded like he was being held nearby in a waiting car. "He’s close by” and "her cousin has him" and "yeah, my uncle has him"
‘ .Ieir answers and general restlessness confirmed my suspicions about their shitty intentions. I was trying to remain calm. They put me on the phone with the girl's “cousin” who supposedly had Moose. He was immediately hostile and insisted I show the cash to the two teenagers brokering the deal.
I took out the rolled up wad of cash (with the bigger bills on the outside so as to pass for the full amount). The boy nervously confirmed to the man on the phone that it was enough (thankfully he didn't count it) and the girl was told to bring the cash to wherever this guy was and he'd give her the dog to bring back. Trying hard not to sound like I was losing my fiatience, I told him I'd give her the cash when I had my dog.
When the girl returned a few minutes later without moose but with his unmistakable hairs all over her black shirt, she was out of breath and on the verge of crying - “he wants to make sure all the money's there".
I demanded the boy call back and insist he bring the dog immediately. My girlfriend must've seen things unraveling from the window of her parent’s home because she shot out the front door and began marching towards us. As I was on the phone, melodramatically requesting "Bato" show his face and bring us our dog, the Ed Harrisish detective on the porch across the street had gotten up and calmlj started walking towards the fracas. Relieved, I remember thinking “oh good, he’ll easily and quickly resolve this nonsense”. He was steps away from us when I saw his face and realized what I'd read as calm, peaceful reassurance, was actually steely, authoritative resolve.
"Thank you, offi—“ but he quickly cut me off - "Get the fuck back", he barked. At the same time, TWO other cops jumped out from somewhere (the bushes?) - one, wearing a bullet proof vest, grabbed the college-aged gil (who was now shrieking), spun her around and put her in handcuffs. Ed Harris(h) did the sam to the boy and the third cop took off running in the direction from which the girl had returned empty-handed and hairy-shirted. Ed Harrish took the boy’s phone and redialed his last call.
We were a little too far from them to know exactly what was said but it looked like whoever was on the other en of the phone wasn’t reacting as submissively as I had t4 the officer's tough, authoritative energy
A few minutes later, the detective, looking defeated, angrily flipped the phone shut (it was 2004 or 05), as t'ie third cop trudged back empty handed. My heart sank and my poor girlfriend, sensing it hadn't gone wel started softly cursing. One cop took the college-aged kids away in a cruiser and the now-slightly-softer- boiled detective gave us a very odd and infuriating speech about how human life is more important than ar animal's life and, at least, none of US were harmed.
I asked what we could do next and he said the case would get transferred to another precinct (turns out this area wasn’t his jurisdiction) and it would take a few days for the paperwork to blah blah blah and in the meantime, chances are, “your dog will be long gone". His guess was that it would be driven to Mexico if it hadn't already been, and he lowered his voice for this next part,
.ossed in the desert somewhere". My girlfriend and I returned to our apartment in silence. I remember feeling a very strong but totally unfamiliar mixture of anger, sadness, and worst, helplessness...
I’m so sorry but I gotta give my thumb and eyeballs a rest. I promise I’ll finish this story soon! And Mel 1- Bug + others, I'm weirdly flattered by your frustration D ’e‘
Moose was officially gone. Later that night, the two college kids who were supposed to return him had been booked and released from prisonand my girlfriend and I forced a few bites of dinner down, still stunned by how quickly and thoroughly the supposed hand-off had unraveled. All we were left with was the distant hope that maybe one day a good Samaritan living in some remote corner of th California wilderness (perhaps theleader of an apocalyptic cult?) would call the number on Moose's tags (if he was even stillwearing them). The detective had said it would take a few days to transfer the case from one jurisdictionto its proper one and I'd seen enough Cold Case shows to know how crucial those days were.
The only thing the cops had gotten out of the collegiate liaisons before their parents and lawyers came to bailthem out was that the man holding our dog in a nearby car (Bato} was not, in fact, their relative but their drug dealer - they'd apparent ly taken Moose from t he yard he'd been frolicking in and traded him to Bato for some weed and omet hing like 10 or 20 dollars (not accounting fn · inflation). Af ter they saw the reward signs in their neighborhood,they hatched a plan wit h Bato
Of course, none of this inf ormation was comforting at the time. But then it occurred to us t hat, at some point, the college guy had called Bato from my phone. I looked and, sure enough,there was a 213 number in the recently dialed calls!
Without hesitating, I redialed it. It rang a few times and then somebody picked up and said ""Que paso?"" Now,though I didn't speak Spanish, Irecognized it as a greeting and responded with uh...que paso? In an attempt an ingratiating accent that was probably just offensive. Silence. "Bato?" I asked, almost completely dropping the offensive attempt at assimilation.Who's this?" He demanded. Fair enough. I kind of resumed t he accent attempt, "Vo uh...you gotta give the dog back to those people, man".Itried my best to sound friendly but firm and, like I said, vaguely regional. I'm sure I failed on all fronts because Bato launched into a tirade which included a lot of words you can't say in PG-rated movies that basically amounted to a firm "no".Then he hung up. My subsequent attempts to reach him went straight to his voicemail - on which, in the next few days, Ileft so many messages - ranging from hostile and demanding to lling him some movies I'd been in and assuring him I had money to pay a ransom and promising the cops were no longer involved.
My friends later teased me that, for a couple days, there was a guy who'd point to my little Moose and say to his friends "you ever seen Jeepers Creepers"? You know that dude in it who gets his eyes ripped out? Well that's "his puppy"".
It stillmakes me laugh. Especially when we'd imagine his friends one-upping him with pets they 'd stolen - Oh yeah,well check this out ...Jake Gyllenhaal's ferret " "Speaking of great actors, my girlfriend,at t he time, had the same agent as Benicio Del Toro and connected us witha guy who'd consulted Benicio in the movie "Traffic".He was an ex-DEA agent who'd since become a private detective. Desperate for help,we called him and made arrangements to meet him at a restaurant in the valley. I'm also remembering him looking a lot like Ed Harris but much f riendlier than the first Ed
Harris detective who'd botched the handoff. He told us about his incredible history of drug busts, raids, takedowns,etc he'd been a part of in a casual off -handed way that made it sound unmistakably true. His confidence and resume was so comforting. Then he told us that he usually worked on much bigger,more high-stakes cases but he'd do us (and Benicio's agent) a favor and find Moose.
My relief and joy was briefly interrupted when he told us his price - even his favor price "..." looks like Iwas definitely doing Herbie: Fully Loaded!
The next day when we met up wit the Second Ed Harris at another diner, he proved how good he was. He'd used the 213 number to somehow get all of this information: Bato had NOT gotten rid of Moose - in fact, he'd given him to his girlfiriend in an attempt to smooth things over after he'd (apparently) demanded she have an abortion.
The Pl knew where the girlfriend lived and told us he planned to simply approach her or her boyfriend and ask for the dog back. "But what if they refuse?" Iasked. And, as calmly as you'd explain what you'd eatenfor breakfast, he said "then I'll show them this and he lif ted his suit jacket back revealing a handgun holstered to his side in a shoulder strap.
Trying to match his calm cool, I asked what kind of gun it was (like Iknew the difference between a glock and a super soaker!) -"It's a Beretta he confirmed. I nodded to my girlfriend like ""yeah, that makes sense. That'll do the trick and, I don't remember, but she probably rolled her eyes.
The Pl then said his partner had gone to the shop that the college kid's dad owned, in order to try and get more intel from the kid about Bato. He invited us to come but warned that it'd be best to not talk or get directly involved. We went to the store on Larchmont street where the kid, it turns out, was refusing to say anything.
At one point, her anger got the better of her and forgetting (or ignoring} he Pl's instructions, my girlfriend got in the face of the frustratingly tight -lipped kid, demanding information. I took her aside and tried to calm her down.
While we were sitting on the curb in front of this strip mall of stores, my girlfriend crying and me trying, in vain,to comfort her, a feeble old bespectacled man walked out of the kid's dad's store and asked us what was wrong.
At that point, I'd been telling the story about Moose to anyone who'd listen so it just spilled out, rote and automatic. This little old Yoda-of -a-man told us his name was Deeno ("Dino?} and he was from the Philippines where he'd been a member of Ferdinand Marcos's secret service. "People know me he kept reassuring us. He referenced a hospital bracelet he was wearing and told us he'd JUST checked himself out, against his doctors orders, because he didn't want to die there and he'd rather live fewer days as a free man than hooked up to machines in a hospital.
He told us with even more calm than either Ed Harris had that he'd find our dog and that he wanted to do something nice for somebody, to make amends for some of the things he'd done in his life. He added another "People know me" and asked me for the phone number I had for Bato.
As I'd already been giving it out like it was candy on Halloween, I didn't hesitate. But, as riveting as his story was, Ididn't believe a word of it. Dino meekly shuffled away and I went back to the business at hand - consoling my barely consolable girlfriend•...
A couple days had passed since the second Ed Harris had tried to squeeze information out of the, now completely uncooperative, college kid. During that time, the P.l. had become frustratingly unresponsive himself. In an act of desperation (and stupidity), I drove down Normandie Ave in South Central Los Angeles (near where we'd heard Bato had been dealing) and began to go door-to-door in an attempt to hand out ﬂiers and find out any more information about where Moose might be. Most of the doors I knocked on didn't open or, if they did, they did so VERY slowly/suspi ously. One older woman, a sliver of her face exposed through a still chain-locked door, told me very bluntly that she'd never heard of anyone named "Bato". As I was thanking her and sliding a flier to her through the cracked door, a voice bellowed from somewhere in the house, "Who's askin' for Bato?!?".
She quickly shut the door, wisely not giving me an opportunity to explain, and I backed away from the house. As I did, I could see someone watching me from behind a curtain hanging in front of a window on the second floor. Just as I noticed them, they disappeared behind the curtain and I put a little bounce in my step as I headed back to my 2005 Toyota Prius (the same exact car I'm still driving 15 years later). From behind me I could hear the sound of a door opening and footsteps approaching me. "Hey! Why you askin for Bato?!" I turned around and the guy I'd seen in the window wasjogging towards me. He studied my face as I explained my predicament. Before I could finish doing so, he interrupted to ask, his face scrunched in incredulity, if I was an actor. "I used to be before I became an amateur vigilante", I should've clarified but ljust said "yes".
Turns out, he really enjoyed the movie "Jeepers creepers" and I'm so glad he did because he then gave me some fantastic advice. He had heard of Bato and knew him to be a local dealer BUT, he explained, nobody in the area is gonna give any information about a known dealer to someone who "looks like [me]" - that everybody will assume I’m a cop (unless they’re "Jeepers Creepers" fans... or, less likely, .ans of the short-lived early 2000's NBC dramedy “Ed"). It hadn't occurred to me that people who look like me (and I don't mean "boyish") are almost never seen in this neighborhood. The guy seemed surprised that I hadn't considered the danger of doing what I'd been doing for the last few hours and kindly suggested I leave. I thanked him and took his advise.
Later that night, my girlfriend and I were supposed to attend a screening of a movie we'd both been in together but neither of us could muster enough desire to see friends or a movie or, really, anything that wasn't our dog. We went, instead, to a restaurant adjacent to the farmer's market off Beverly Blvd. This is apropos of nothing but I REALLV miss the Iaksa soup and roti from Singapore's Z‘anana Leaf in that farmers market - and the people watching is GREAT (ugh, can't wait for this vaccinel). ANVWAY, we were sitting at ANOTHER restaurant, both struggling to accept what was becoming clearer with each passing hour: we had run out of options. Even the hot-shot Hollywood private detective had failed to make any real progress (he had been unable to track down exactly where Bato's girlfriend, and alleged recipient of Moose, was living).
My phone buzzed. I only answered it because I thought it was someone from the screening - someone whom I'd failed to let know we weren't attending. "Hello?" I said. "Uh... hi... um...” it was a woman's voice, nervous and shaky - "uh... are you the owner of Moose?" My pulse immediately began to race. She explained that there'd been a huge misunderstanding and that her boyfriend had given I‘er our dog but she had had no ide 't belonged to someone else. I was REALLY struggling to contain my excitement and, as hard as this may be to believe, my gratitude. I remember feeling such overwhelming waves of excited relief and...yeah, gratitude - so much so that I mentioned the reward money! "I can get cash! 500 dollars! It’s your's!" There was a pause, then; "oh... could it be maybe closer to what it said on the reward sign?" I mouthed “Do you have cash?" to my girlfriend, who shook her head no.
I asked if $1,000 would be enough of a reward for her... kindness(?). She said it would and we agreed to make the handof in the parking lot adjacent to the Farmers market In an hour. She described that she'd be arriving in a white car, I thanked her profusely and hung up. Then I called my best friend @iontogo and asked him if he could bring me $500 in cash (as I'd exhausted my daily ATM limit). I hope I never have to ‘ sk a friend to drive to the farmers market at 10 PM with 500 dollars in cash... especially if it's for a ransom - But if I do, it’s comforting to know I've got friends like Jon who would do it, in a heartbeat - "ransom friends" you might call them. Jon played detective Ryan Wolfe on CSI: Miami so, including fictl ous detectives, there had now been a total of three involved in Moose's case - not bad for a scrappy little beagle/something mix.
Jon's presence at that restaurant was also comforting because I knew if anything went awry with the handoff, he wouldn't be afraid to step in and... assist. A tough amateur boxer from working class Boston, Jon is the guy you want around if there's any potential for fun, interesting conversation or violence. But then I decided, since I hadn't mentioned there’d be another person there, I didn't want anything to scare Bato or his missus by ' eviating at all from what we'd planned on the phone. I had also called the private detective, just to fill him in and let him know it looked like it would be resolved. But he insisted on being parked nearby, in case Bato showed up, knowing I had $1000 in cash on me. “We need to assume they'll be armed - so somebody near you should be too", I remember him saying. Gulp. I guess he didn't become a decorated member of the DEA for his gentle bedside manner.
Though I hadn't been sleeping much over the days leading up to it, I remember feeling so hyper awake and alert. While I stood in that, now nearly empty, parking lot, my head whipped towards every approaching white car, wondering if it was the one contai ng little Moose. Ironically, Moose used to sit by the window reacting with similar nervous, head- whipping-excitement to cars passing by. Finally, one pulled in and stopped and a woman got out holding... « oose! He was panting and wagging his little nub of a tail, without a single care in the world. We came running up to them and when Moose saw us he went berserk. The woman put him down and let him jump all over us. My girlfriend was beside herself with ioy and I threw my arms around the woman, hugging her tightly until just before it got uncomfortable. She repeated what she'd said to me on the phone and said he'd been a great dog for a few days. I think I may have even thanked her for watching him.
I gladly gave her the envelope with the cash in it and she gladly accepted it. I truly didn't think twice about it. It felt like it was going to someone who both needed it and just did something REALLV nice - someone who MORE than deserved it. My girlfriend and I were both too happylrelieved to have Moose back that we failed to really examine how and why, suddenly, Bato had such a dramatic change-of-heart For anyone who was anxious about Moose's fate, you can relax. He was back. After several sleepless nights, thousands of dollars, and two (and a half?) detectives. BUT the real hero to this saga will be revealed in the final THRILLING (or, maybe, it's thrilling that it's FINALLV ending?) installment of The Dognapping of Moose. Thanks for sticking with it! It's been fun to reminisce about it.