Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of war
This is the first(and probably last) time I've ever quoted Shakespeare on my blog. Here is an amusing story from today's Palm Beach Post. Was it a case of dognapping and extortion or a misunderstanding?
Open Post- Big Dog, Don Surber, Jo's Cafe
WEST PALM BEACH — Miguel Hernandez got out of the car and followed orders: Keep walking. He didn't know where he was being led. But he had $500 in hand, and he wanted to save his baby.
No cops. That was the deal. This was James Bond stuff. A surreptitious handoff on a darkened street.
His girlfriend, Jorie Volatile, waited in the car at a convenience store, out of sight. With a cellphone to his ear, Hernandez listened to the man's instructions. He walked south on Parker Avenue and turned right on a side street.
It was Thursday night, the crucial moment in the couple's weeks-long post-Hurricane Wilma saga. They were here to rescue Cuba, their 18-month-old Great Dane, youngest of their four dogs. And they would pay ransom if necessary.
By now they had run the gantlet. Missing-dog fliers and paid newspaper ads. Radio show call-ins and false alarms. A groundswell of neighborhood support, negotiations, a failed ambush. Then, a case of mistaken identity that ended in gunfire.
And now Hernandez was walking blindly down a side street with cash in hand.
All they wanted was their dog back. How did it come to this?
Winds purport escape
It started when the fences came down on their home in West Palm Beach, blown apart in Hurricane Wilma's winds. In pre-dawn darkness on Oct. 28, Volatile, a 43-year-old multimedia producer, let out the four dogs: two cocker spaniels, a Shih Tzu and Cuba, the scrawny, brindle Great Dane.
When she called them back, only three returned. In the dark, Cuba had vanished.
Cuba had been a Father's Day gift from Volatile to Hernandez in 2004. When he disappeared, Hernandez, a 43-year-old landscaper, was saddened. But Volatile was devastated.
"I don't have children," she said. "I felt like somebody stabbed me."
She launched a one-woman public-relations blitz. Fliers went up across their Flamingo Park neighborhood and surrounding blocks. Parks, grocery stores and dry-cleaning businesses carried the dog's color picture and the promise of a reward.
Volatile bought newspaper ads. She called radio shows. On the street, she stopped mailmen, FPL workers, joggers.
Her cellphone rang with tips and well-wishes.
"I had strangers calling me just heartbroken," Volatile said. "People were looking who I didn't know."
A tip, and a track
The search dragged on for more than a week.
Then, last Thursday, her phone rang. A woman who called herself Carmen described the dog, saying her neighbor might have it.
She asked about the reward.
Volatile said she was offering a reward but would not tell her how much. She was thinking $100.
Not long afterward, Volatile got another call from a man named Julio. "I think I have your dog," he said.
Julio said he found the Great Dane in the street and took him in. Now his daughter had fallen in love with him. If he was going to give it up, he said he needed $500 to buy her a new puppy.
She grew angry and Julio hung up. She told Hernandez to continue the talks. He called Julio back, and the men, both Cuban, negotiated in Spanish.
They arranged a meeting for the handoff: 6 o'clock in the Winn-Dixie parking lot on Belvedere Road.
Volatile and Hernandez arrived at the arranged time, but they brought friends. Some fellow dog owners they knew from the dog park were there. So was a cop, lying in wait behind the plaza.
It was an ambush, but Julio never showed.
Unfazed, Volatile and Hernandez went on the offensive.
They had called the Metro PCS cellphone company in an attempt to track down the owner of Julio's phone. They said the company gave them Julio's name and an address on nearby Magnolia Street.
Armed with a street number, the couple and a concerned neighbor took to the neighborhood, knocking on doors.
Along Magnolia, they asked a man if he'd seen a Great Dane. He pointed to a nearby house.
They rushed to the home and their neighbor looked in. He saw a Great Dane inside and began yelling. He shouted for them to open the door, and smashed the glass in their front-door window.
Then a gunshot rang out. A man inside, frightened by the commotion, panicked and reached for a 9mm handgun. He fired into the wall.
It was mistaken identity. The police were called and mediated the situation. The neighbor apologized profusely, promising to pay for the damage. The man agreed not to press charges.
By then Volatile and Hernandez had had it. Defeated, Hernandez called Julio, saying they just wanted the dog.
No games. No cops. Just them and the money.
Julio told them to drive to a convenience store on Parker Avenue, just south of Southern Boulevard. He said to call when they arrived.
They pulled in about 10 p.m. and Hernandez dialed up Julio, who told him to get out and start walking.
Hernandez strode down Parker and turned when Julio told him.
"As soon as I started walking down the street, I saw him waving at me," Hernandez recalled.
Julio was there in the road, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap. A beard covered his face. He was with his daughter. She looked about 21, and on a leash she held Cuba.
They exchanged few words. The daughter handed Hernandez the leash, and he handed Julio the money. Hernandez told him to count it, but Julio shook his head.
"He said, 'I don't need to count it,' " Hernandez recalled.
Hernandez turned and walked away with the dog. He did not see which way Julio left, and he never saw him again.
Healthy dog, hurt pride
Days later, the couple said they were glad to have Cuba back but were angered that they felt forced to pay what they called a $500 ransom.
"He was smart enough to know the time was right," Hernandez said. "He knew he had us under his thumb."
The Post contacted Julio, who identified himself as Julio Perez, a West Palm Beach handyman. He said he found the dog in a street near his neighborhood and pulled him from traffic.
He admitted to taking $500 from the couple in exchange for the dog's return but insisted they volunteered the money. He said he would have turned the dog over without receiving the $500.
"If they didn't want to give me the money, I'd give them the dog anyway," Julio said. "I don't want trouble about a stupid dog."
Volatile reported the incident to West Palm Beach police. A police spokesman said investigators will discuss the possibility of criminal charges with the state attorney's office, but said an arrest is not considered likely.
Because the couple had advertised that a reward would be offered for the dog's return, the police spokesman said it would be difficult to prosecute an extortion charge.