Detective Tony Mariani and Officer Pam Johnson sat in a North Beach Starbucks decompressing from their last case, the arrest of a terrorist cell in San Francisco before their planned attack. It involved a top-secret NSA company, the 7 Hills Technology Group, with underground offices below a Dutch windmill in Golden Gate Park. It meant going undercover as tourists to capture a high priced call girl and a software engineer from 7HTG. But the best part of this case was the relationship Tony and Pam forged, while dodging bullets and North Korean agents.
"It seems like we've been working straight for months. Don't they compensate us for all those days off we missed?"
"Sorry, dear. But you should see quite a bump in your next paycheck for all the overtime."
"That's great, but I feel like I've run two marathons, back to back."
Just then, Tony received a text message from Captain Williams. Pam's phone also got the text. Captain Williams didn't know they were a couple.
Tony and Pam ... you did such a great job on the last case, the mayor has directed me to give you an extra paid week off, starting next Monday.
Pam showed Tony her phone. "Well, what should we do?"
"I know what we're going to do. I was just wondering where." He squeezed Pam's knee under the table.
"All right, you picked what we're doing, I get to pick where. Hmm. How about San Diego?"
"Sounds good to me. Tomorrow's Friday. We can get a flight on Saturday and be on the beach by Saturday afternoon."
Pam took out her tablet. "I'll just reserve the flight and hotel."
"What hotel, dear?"
"Why the Coronado, of course. You're a lieutenant, aren't you?"
Tony didn't mind splurging a little. He was in love with Pam. This was more of an investment than a gamble. "No worries sweetheart. I have no one else I would rather spend it on."
On Friday afternoon, Captain Williams called Tony and Pam into her office.
"Guys, I hate to do this to you. Something has come up. Normally I wouldn't bother you, but there's just been a murder in Korea town."
"All right, but what does that have to do with us?"
"Well, it's Alice Kwan, the daughter of the grocer who was murdered."
Pam was visibly moved. "She was only 19."
Tony was also upset. "Yes Captain. We want this one. Was it at the grocery?"
"Yes, Dr. Lee is there waiting for you."
"Off we go." Detective Mariani and Officer Johnson rushed over to Korea town. When they arrived, they saw Dr. David Lee, the SFPD forensic and medical officer.
"David, what do you have?"
"Well detective, we have a single gunshot through the chest. It was long range, coming through that window. I recovered a rifle bullet." He held it up for Tony.
"All right, see if you can get something from it. I don't see any reason to kill this poor girl. She just lost her father."
"Nothing to do with your North Korean terrorist cell?"
"No, David. Completely unrelated. At least, we can't see a connection at this time. We'll have to check our notes."
"All right, we'll see you back at the station."
"Thanks, David. Pam, we need to take the video surveillance from this shooting. Do you remember where their recording equipment is?"
"Yes, Detective, I'll copy the last few hours."
When she returned with the surveillance video, Mariani continued his speculation.
"Maybe Alice's father found out about the terrorist cell and was about to call the police. If the terrorists thought her father tipped us off, this could be revenge."
"Then that would mean we didn't capture the entire cell. Detective, I hate terrorists."
"So do I, Pam. So do I."
"Start doing a deep dive on Alice's life, all her social media, financials, etc. Maybe we'll find a connection."
"Right away, Detective."
Later that afternoon, Pam sat down with Tony and Captain Williams.
"I may have found something. There was a $100,000 deposit in her account last month."
"After her father was killed?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so."
"You think she was in on the assassination?"
"I hope not. She seemed so distraught when he was killed."
"It may have been an act. Can you trace the source of that deposit?"
"It was written by Park Lee Wholesalers, a food distributor in Oakland."
"Looks like we'll be paying them a visit."
Captain Williams interjected, "Tony, take some backup with you."
"Will do, Captain."
Tony, Pam and four officers drove over to Park Lee Wholesalers in Oakland. Tony knocked on the office door and held up his badge.
"I'm Detective Mariani from the SFPD. Can I speak to the owner?"
The door opened. "Come in, Detective. I'll get her for you."
A minute later an attractive Korean woman, in her mid thirties comes in.
"May I help you, officer?"
Tony held up a copy of the deposit. "Did you write a check for $100,000 to Alice Kwan?"
"Yes, why, Detective? I'm sure the check is good."
"Oh, I'm sure too, but Ms. Kwan was killed this morning, from a sniper with a long range rifle."
"That's terrible. Do you know why?"
"What was the money for, Miss ..?"
"Lee, Angie Lee. We were buying the grocery store. That was a down payment. It was to increase our name presence in San Francisco."
Tony read her body language. Nothing suspicious.
"Can you provide some sort of business documentation about this sale?"
"Why yes, of course, let me get it."
Angie Lee showed the detective the purchase and sale agreement. $100,000 down on a sale of $800,000.
"So this must have included the building, Ms. Lee?"
"Yes, Detective. You know real estate in the city."
"All right. Can I get a copy of that?"
Ms. Lee copied the sale agreement and gave it to the detective. They returned to the station to work on the case.
Detective Mariani briefed Captain Williams.
"Captain, Park Lee Wholesalers was buying Alice Kwan's grocery store. She had already made a down payment of $100,000 on a sale of $800,000. She made that payment two weeks ago."
"Does the sale look legitimate?"
"As far as we can tell. Officer Johnson has looked into their company. They have a clean record."
"All right. If they had nothing to do with the murder, who did?"
"Could be leftover members of the terrorist cell. Or could be something completely unrelated."
"Well, then you two have some digging to do."
Mariani and Johnson retreated to their office. Mariani was the first to speculate.
"Pam, put a timeline up on the board, with one branch attached to the terrorist cell and one to an unrelated source of the murder."
"All right. Maybe we need to look at that surveillance video from the grocery store again."
"Let's look at surveillance from both murders, to see if anything seems related."
Pam tapped on her computer to bring up the saved video recordings; she sent one recording to a monitor on the left and the other recording on the right.
"All right, on the left is the video from Alice's murder. She's standing behind the counter putting money into the cash register, then boom. A sniper bullet crashes through the window and she collapses."
"Play it back in slow motion Pam."
Johnson did so. They reviewed the video many times.
"I can't see anything unusual, Detective. Can you?"
"Not really. Now let's look at the video from her father's murder."
They looked at this video several times.
"The main difference is that Alice witnessed the killer inside the store shooting her father. Remember we captured the killer with the tracer bills."
"Yes, but Alice was killed by a sniper with no video of the shooter."
"There is one similarity, Detective. In both cases, the victim was behind the counter at the cash register."
"Yes. That would make sense in the father's murder; it was a holdup. Alice was behind the counter too. What do you think, Pam?"
"It's not that they are both next to the cash register. I noticed something on the counter that was different."
Pam synched both videos up, one on each monitor, with a freeze frame on the counter.
"Look at the counters, Detective. There is a plastic sheet on top of the counter. Under it are pieces of paper, maybe money and family photos. But next to one of the pictures, there is a round item about two inches wide. Right here."
"So, the round item is on the counter during the murder of Alice Kwan, but not there when her father was killed."
"Can you zoom in on that?"
"Just a minute. Thank goodness for digital cameras. There it is."
"Looks like paper money. Can you make out what country?"
Pam zooms in some more. "Yes, it's Chinese currency. Small denominations. And that metal object looks like a coin."
"Can you see any more detail?"
"It looks like a pagoda with characters around the outer edge. I can't read Chinese."
"Well, I know someone who can. Call David in here."
David Lee came into the room and inspected the video.
"Well, it's definitely Chinese. This appears to be a rare coin because the date is 1938."
"Probably. I'd have to examine the real thing to tell you."
"All right. Thanks David. Pam, crop out a picture of that coin and print it out with the highest resolution. Then give one copy to David."
"Right detective, it will just take a minute."
"Meanwhile, Pam, we have to find out if that coin is still at the grocery. Let's go."
Mariani and Johnson headed over to the grocery.
An officer was guarding the store, as it was still a crime scene. Mariani showed him his badge and went inside.
"There it is, Pam. Get that coin and put it in an evidence bag. We'll have to look for prints and DNA. And take the paper money too."
* * *
After Pam Johnson tested for prints and DNA, she gave the coin back to Detective Mariani.
"Let's take this to a coin expert." They headed to a coin store in the financial district.
They entered the coin store and showed it to the owner. He looked it over with a magnifying glass, carefully holding it with soft gloves.
"What you have here detective is a forgery of a valuable coin, a 1938 Republic of China Kweichow Province Silver Dollar. If you look here at the edge, you can see a little mark. That shouldn't be there."
"Maybe it was just added to an authentic coin."
"No, sorry. The authentic coin is made of pure silver; this is some sort of tin. You can tell by the weight."
"Have you ever seen anything like this before?"
"No, where did you find it?"
"It was in a Korean grocery store on the counter, next to some Chinese paper money."
"Hmm. Well, the average person wouldn't recognize it as a fake, especially if they couldn't handle it. May I take a picture of it? I can let you know if any more of these show up."
"Of course. Why, is the authentic one valuable?" The owner looks into a book of coin values.
"In this condition, it would be worth at least $50,000."
"Why would someone copy a valuable coin with such obvious flaws? It wouldn't pass as authentic to anyone who examined it."
"That's what I'd like to know, Detective."
"Thanks very much. Here's my card. Please let me know if you see any more of these."
Detective Mariani and Officer Johnson reported back to Captain Williams.
"Tony, you and Pam haven't had a break in over six weeks. I want you to take the rest of today off and the weekend. Rest and re-energize and come back Monday. Don't worry about this case. We're at a point where we can pause for a bit."
"Thank you, Captain."
Tony and Pam drove back to his condo.
"Pam, I've been thinking about our relationship."
"Well, you've been spending most of your time on the cases or at my place."
Pam smiled at Tony and took his hand. "I can see your detective wheels spinning, dear."
"Do you think you might want to move in with me? I mean, you could save some money and time."
"I'd like that very much. But not to save money and time."
"Tony, I love you. Our time together is precious."
"I love you too, Pam. So you don't think I'm rushing you?"
Tony got the answer he wanted from Pam.
"Can we move my things now so we can relax later?"
"Of course." Tony leaned over to kiss Pam. They headed to her rented room. Within a short time, they had packed up all her things. She gave her landlord a hug and told her where she was going.
"I'm happy for you. Detective Tony seems like a wonderful man. You've been so happy since going out with him. How serious is it?"
Pam thought for a moment. "I don't know yet, but it feels right."
They moved Pam into the condo and went out to dinner. That night they made love in their new home, sharing a special new relationship.
Tony and Pam shouldn't have had such an easy relationship. He was 36, she was 24 and they were partners in the San Francisco Police Department. It was not only forbidden, but dangerous if either one of them wasn't able to focus out of worry for the other. That's why partners aren't allowed to marry.
But they were like high school sweethearts, with all the boyfriend-girlfriend benefits that implied. He cared deeply for her and she would do anything for him. Now that they were living together, she could really see a future, perhaps with marriage and children.
Living together made their relationship at work even more hush-hush. Tony had already anticipated a problem with the same address, setting up a PO Box for Pam. They still arrived separately at work, Pam in her uniform and Tony in his suit. Still, a police department with detectives isn't the best place to keep a secret, except that Tony was highly respected and others would probably keep his confidence anyway. Everyone loved Pam too, the forensic officer who helped others on their cases. Only Captain Williams was left to keep in the dark. But that was easier said than done.
That Saturday morning they woke up, made love, showered and headed out like tourists. After walking the Golden Gate Bridge, they had lunch in Fisherman's Wharf at Scoma's, that same restaurant where they were tracking Ted Eisenberg and Lisa Appleton, suspects in the terrorist cell case.
"Tony, this is so wonderful. It feels so natural living together." They kissed.
"I can't think of anyone else I would rather be with. You're the only one who has erased the pain of my wife's death. I will always be thankful for that. I didn't think I would meet someone like you."
Holding hands now, they walked to Pier 39, had some of those mini-donuts and an ice cream from Ben and Jerry's, a low cost dessert to go with their gourmet lunch. It was a perfect day, finally a restful break from six weeks of non-stop police work. They had almost forgotten about the Chinese coin when they spotted an Asian grocery store.
"Pam, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"That we should go in and check out the counter, yes."
They went in, bought a pack of gum and went to pay. There it was, the same counterfeit coin under a plastic sheet on the counter next to the register. Not wanting to let on they were law enforcement, Tony played it cool.
"Ah, young lovers stopping by at my store. May I interest you in a rose for the lady?"
"Why yes, thank you, and a pack of gum."
As the owner went to get the rose, Pam quickly snapped a picture of the coin.
"Here you go. That will be a dollar for the gum and three dollars for the rose."
"Who says you can't afford romance in San Francisco. Thank you."
They left, Pam holding the rose and Tony's hand.
"Tony, maybe we should visit more Asian groceries."
"I was thinking the same thing Pam. It might be the key to solving the Kwan murder."
After his father and sister were killed, Jim Kwan was anxious to complete the sale of the grocery to Park Lee Wholesalers. He kept some personal items, but left the store inventory to the new owners.
During the investigation, Detective Mariani had requested that he give him all the security equipment and recordings. That was fine with Jim. He had enough heartbreak in the last year and decided to go back to school.
So Officer Johnson and Dr. Lee kept the security evidence at the precinct, looking for clues about both murders and that unusual counterfeit coin.
Tony sent an internal memo to all the police precincts in the state, requesting they visit Asian grocery stores and look for the coin on the counter. Within a week, they had received responses. One store in Los Angeles and one in San Diego observed the coin, but took no action. In the Bay Area, 13 stores had the coin on the counter. Now detective Mariani could make a map of these locations.
Officer Johnson did a search of other murders in the city, to see if any were located at grocery stores. None were in the past year. She also did a search of other crimes and grocery stores. There she found a number of holdups, teenagers stealing items and a few people taking lottery tickets, but no murders.
"Those minor crimes don't rise to the level of a cold murder and sniper murder. I think we need to visit grocery stores in the area to look for that counterfeit coin."
So they spent the better part of two days undercover casually visiting other stores. They confirmed reports that the same coin was on the counter of 13 stores in the bay area, plus one in Los Angeles and one in San Diego.
"Pam, I'd like to put these stores under surveillance. We don't have enough for a warrant, but we can have the local boys keep an eye on their operations."
"I'll put in that request with the captain. Is there anything else?"
"Yes, check all those stores financials. See if anything looks suspicious."
* * *
During the following two weeks, reports came in from local officers on the 15 stores. Most of the reports were unremarkable, but there was one fact noted at all the locations. Each cop witnessed the buyer paying for a bag of groceries with a single coin.
"That seems highly suspicious. Pam, let's see if we can get a warrant to take a closer look at those transactions."
Since Detective Mariani had been known to bust cases with hunches before, the district attorney granted them a limited warrant for video surveillance, outside of the grocery stores. That meant getting the techs to set up a long-range camera nearby. Within a week, they had visual proof that the coins being used were the same ones found at the Kwan grocery store.
Mariani requested that the buyers using that coin be followed. Local undercover cops made notes on where these buyers went. The results were sent to Mariani. He and officer Johnson met with Captain Williams.
"Captain. Here's what we have. Buyers at the 15 Asian grocery stores are using this coin to make purchases. It's a counterfeit of a rare Chinese coin. Those buyers were followed back home. It appears that each of the locations is tied to a major criminal enterprise, drug dealing, prostitution and gambling. I think those bags contained payments for drugs or other pursuits."
"Well, if this is a major drug ring, busting one of the buyers will tip off the others, and they will shut down operations. But this could be even wider. What if this is just the California chapter of a drug ring on the west coast or nationally?"
"Yes, Captain, I see the problem."
"Pam, send out a query nationally about our case; request any similar information from their precincts."
"Yes captain. Right away."
* * *
But after a week there were no other reports of Asian groceries with the coin or suspicious purchases outside of California. The captain was relieved.
"Apparently, this is still limited to California. That will make it easier to make a synchronized bust. But this is a RICO case now. Call Agent Moore in here to coordinate a simultaneous bust. We can't take out these stores one at a time."
"I'll tell her to meet with us right away."
"Tony, write this up and send a notice to the other precincts involved."
"The cartel is running an underground economy with the counterfeit coins. They are used for buying and selling drugs, prostitution, gambling and for arranging contract killings."
Pam Johnson quizzed Tony. "Aren't currency crimes an FBI matter?"
"Yes Pam. Looks like we need to bring in Agent Jenny Moore again."
Agent Jenny Moore met them at the precinct.
"Good to see you two again. Guess there's no rest for the San Francisco super cops."
"Thanks Jenny. But we need a vacation."
"Thought you two were going to San Diego for a romantic getaway?"
"How did you know about that?"
"Tony, we're the FBI, remember?"
"You guys are slicker than Russian hackers."
"Some of them work for us, too."
"All right, Jenny. What do you think about this organization using fake Chinese coins in exchange for drugs and other nefarious actions?"
"Yes, it's actually brilliant. They can get around the problem of money laundering by running their own underground economy with counterfeit coins. If one of them gets caught with a counterfeit coin, it's not the same as a lot of cash, and they can use the coin to make sure they aren't infiltrated by law enforcement."
"So, the coin stands for a payment to be made later?"
"Yes, probably in secret somewhere, same as the drug deliveries. The coin is like a password to make sure that all parties are on the same side. Don't worry. We'll make the connection between the coins, the drugs, the cash and the contracts."
And the FBI did that with the help of local law enforcement around the state. The main case was in San Francisco with the trial scheduled for next Monday.
Captain Williams brought Mariani and Johnson into her office for a debriefing.
"Tony, you and Pam have done a great job busting up this drug ring with the counterfeit coins. Other precincts around the state are sending up congratulations as they investigate and round up the bad guys."
"Well captain, I have to give officer Johnson a lot of credit. Her tech skills were integral to our work."
"I know that. There's also some good news coming from San Diego."
"Seems they were able to bring down a major drug scheme following your investigation. It pervaded the gaslight district and the high end tourist areas."
"Well, that's where the dealers would find people with money."
"Yes, but it was even discovered at one of their premier hotels, the Coronado."
"You don't say."
"Yes Tony. They sent up this certificate for a week's stay there, hotel and food all paid for." Captain Williams handed Mariani an envelope.
Tony looked uncomfortable, realizing this might be the day his secret got out.
"You and Pam can go down there any time with the extra week off the city still owes you."
"But captain ..."
"Tony, you don't think I wasn't aware of you two. I was a detective before making captain. I'm just so glad it hasn't affected your work; in fact it seems your professionalism and work ethic has rubbed off on Pam."
Pam was blushing. "That's very kind of you to say, Captain. We had no idea that anyone knew. We've been very careful. Are you going to transfer one of us out?"
Captain Williams paused a moment. Tony and Pam were visibly nervous.
"Tell you what. As long as this doesn't affect your performance, we can make you an exception to the rule. But if I ever see your work compromised by the relationship, then something will have to be changed. You're on a short leash Tony."
"Yes, Captain. I understand."
"And you, Pam?"
"Absolutely, there will be no problem keeping our personal life out of work."
"Good, now take off. I expect to see some pictures from San Diego."
"Tony, I have to pick up dry cleaning. I'll meet you at home and we can pack."
"All right, dear." Tony squeezed Pam's hand and headed for home.
As Pam was leaving the dry cleaners, a van pulled up beside her. Two men grabbed her, one taking her gun and the other injecting a needle her into her neck.
David Lee was about to leave his lab when he received a phone call.
"Yes, this is David Lee."
"This is Jan Sawyer, from the 7 Hills Technology Group. We have some potentially disturbing news."
David tensed up. "Tell me Ms. Sawyer."
"Is your phone secure?"
"No, not by your standards."
"Then I suggest we meet. Can you and Detective Mariani come to our office immediately?"
"He's leaving for San Diego in the morning."
"I don't think he will be. That's all I should say on this line. Come to our office in an hour."
"All right Jan. We'll be there."
David called Tony. "Tony, this is David."
"Yes David. I'm home packing for our trip to San Diego."
"Is Pam there?"
"No, actually she should have been here already. Said she was picking up some dry cleaning. Hold on David, I'm getting another call." Tony put David on hold and took the call.
A disguised voice spoke.
"Detective, we have Officer Johnson. Don't contact the FBI or your precinct. Lose the evidence in the trial or you'll never see her again. If our people are released, we will release her."
For the first time in a long time, Tony was visibly shaken and sweating. He got back on the line with David Lee.
"David, I'm back. But I have to go."
"Wait, Tony. This is urgent."
"I just heard from Jan Sawyer, from the 7 Hills Technology Group. She said she had disturbing news and needs to see us in an hour."
Tony, still in shock from the call stammered. "David, Pam was just kidnapped and I can't come to the precinct."
"You don't have to. I'll come by your place and pick you up. Jan Sawyer said it was urgent. Maybe she has some information about Pam's abduction."
"All right, but hurry."
As they drove to the windmill, both were on edge. "Tony, did you try tracking Pam by her cell phone?"
"Yes, but there was no signal. The kidnappers probably destroyed her phone once they had my number."
David and Tony arrived at the windmill. Tony, still sweating, pushed the button in the elevator and they were taken down three flights. When the door opened, Jan Sawyer was waiting.
"Dr. Lee, detective Mariani. Thank you for coming."
"What is this about? Do you know where Pam is?"
"Come into our SCIF first." They entered the secure conference room and turned on the security system. Then Jan spoke.
"What I'm about to tell you is top secret. We have been working on an application that tracks people anywhere in the world by their DNA. I just got a ping on my system that Officer Johnson is somewhere in San Francisco Bay."
"What do you mean somewhere and how do you know her DNA?"
"Everyone who comes into our facility is entered into our system. When you and Pam were here, we tagged her DNA, probably when she left it in this room. Your DNA just pinged us when you pressed the elevator button. Were you sweating?"
Tony was stunned. "Yes, I still am. My partner is missing and you just said she's somewhere in the bay."
"Well, the DNA from your sweat set off our tracking system. That's also how we know where Pam is."
David interrupted. "That's not possible. How does the DNA set off your system?"
"All I can say is that some fluid containing DNA triggered an alarm."
Tony was both angry and alarmed. "Jan, you're sure that Pam's sweat did that?"
Jan looked downward. "It could also be blood detective. I'm sorry."
"Is she dead?"
"We don't think so. The signal is strong. Once a person dies, they stop sweating."
"Where exactly is she?"
"It appears that she is on a boat, somewhere in the bay. If she was on land, we could pinpoint her location precisely, but the salt water confuses our locator."
Jan hands a cell phone to Tony. "Take this burner phone. I'll keep in touch with you and let you know when we have an exact location."
Tony told David about the call. "David, the kidnappers want me to destroy the evidence from the Chinese coins case. The trial is Monday. How can I do that?"
David was mulling it over. "You may not have to destroy the evidence, just so that it appears that you did. Maybe Jenny can help us."
"They said no FBI involvement or she dies. It would have to be secret."
"Jenny could tell the prosecutor that the evidence went missing and the judge would throw out the case. Then they would release Pam, wouldn't they?"
"It's the only play we have, David. I'll call Jenny now."
Tony called FBI agent Jenny Moore.
"Agent Moore, this is Detective Mariani."
"Tony, good to hear from you. Are you and Pam on vacation?"
"Pam was kidnapped. They told me to destroy evidence in the Chinese coins case or she dies. But if they notice that I've contacted law enforcement or you, she dies."
"Tony, I'm so sorry. I can meet secretly with the prosecutor and tell him to say that the evidence was lost. The judge will throw out the verdict."
"Dr. Lee was thinking the same thing. All right, will we be able to prosecute later with the evidence?"
"Yes, if the case is dismissed without prejudice. We will have to let the judge know what's going on."
* * *
That Monday, the judge threw out the case, without prejudice and the defendants walked out of court gloating. Tony's cell phone rang. The disguised voice spoke.
"Very good detective. We will keep our agreement. Officer Johnson will be released at noon today."
"We will tell you that later, after we are long gone."
When noon came, Tony's phone rang again. It was Jan Sawyer.
"Detective, Pam is on land, at Alcatraz Island. You better get over there."
"Thank you Jan."
David and Tony got a police boat to take them to Alcatraz. Tony scanned the island with binoculars as they approached.
"There, I see her." The boat driver headed for her. Tony took the microphone for the loud speaker and called out.
"Officer Johnson, we see you. Stay right there."
At long last, Tony and Pam had their romantic getaway in San Diego. Long walks on the beach, seafood dinners and a suite with a view of the ocean, all courtesy of the Coronado Hotel. Sitting in the hot tub by candlelight and looking out at the stars, Pam had just one question.
"Tony, so why was Alice Kwan killed?"
"When the gang found out that she was going to sell her grocery instead of becoming part of the crime syndicate, they had no choice. Once she was gone, she could have turned them in and exposed the counterfeit coin gambit. It's a good thing her brother never found out or they would have killed him too."