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“This is what happens when you f**k with New Zealanders!”
Part II of The Crook, The PI, and the Kiwi Journalist Stuck in the Middle.
I think it’s fair to say I left you on a real cliffhanger last week.
Kiwi journalist Daniel Smith and private investigator Brian Wolfe were hot on the heels of a rental scammer.
Somehow they’d snuck into his apartment building, set off all the alarms, then bullheadedly marched into the manager’s office to demand information.
The information was not positive: Scammer James Pamphile had been subletting an apartment in the building, but had disappeared three weeks ago under a cloud of mystery — and unpaid rent.
But that wasn’t the end of the story.
This is the end of the story.
The Crook, The PI, and the Kiwi Journalist Stuck in the Middle.
Part II: “This is what happens when you fuck with New Zealanders!”
by Daniel Smith.
I spent a week sulking that my story and chance for revenge had died in the wails of an apartment’s alarm system. But then, from the digital aether came a message.
A few months back, in a bout of hopelessness brought on by the Hollywood PD telling me they had lost our original police report my girlfriend made an enraged post on Twitter. The post, sans expletives, explained that James Pamphile was a con artist who should not be trusted, and insinuated that he had sexual relations with his mother.
Then, months later, in the early hours of the morning, somebody responded to the post. A woman recognised James as the man trying to rent her Santa Monica apartment.
Once I frantically explained that James was planning to use her apartment to defraud people out of thousands of dollars, she agreed to help us take him down. She turned out to be a compliance and ethics attorney with a background in theatre. She was a scammer’s worst nightmare. We shall call her Denise.
Denise had arranged for James to meet at the apartment tomorrow to pick up the keys. She told me where and when he would be there, but it was left to me to arrange the bust.
Brian explained that he couldn’t arrest James himself and told me to, “Contact the LAPD immediately. You might need to plead for assistance.” Pleading being one of my strong suits, I began making calls.
After almost eight hours of dial-tone, unanswered messages, frantic explanations and frustrated tears, I managed to track down Santa Monica Detective Leone. Once he called the other precincts and confirmed my story, he realised that I was not as crazy as my accent implied and began to arrange a sting operation.
But once the detectives got in contact with each other, the usefulness of a frantic foreign journalist became zilch. They unilaterally cut me out of their plans.
Luckily, Denise had previously told me that James would arrive at 1pm, and I was not about to be cut out of my own investigation right at its climactic finish.
I called Brian and we made a vague plan to meet in Santa Monica, sit in the apartment lobby, incognito behind newspapers, silent observers of chickens coming home to roost.
Almost immediately the plot went sour.
Denise let slip that I planned to watch the arrest and the detectives definitively banned me from the area with loosely veiled threats of arresting me for obstructing justice. I considered posting up in the nearby shrubbery, but before I could assess the landscape for camouflage capabilities, Brian arrived.
I jogged over to Brian’s truck, and accidentally crunched the door into a tree growing out of the sidewalk.
“Jesus Christ, watch the door!” Brian yells.
Brian had rushed here from USC, where a suspicious grandfather had hired him to check that his granddaughter was attending her classes. Before I could picture Brian Wolfe going full Jump Street, I told him about being banished from the sting and lamented we would just have to wait in the car.
“Are you kidding?” Brian Wolfe hadn’t struck me as a man to wait until given permission and he doesn’t now, stomping towards the building as I peek nervously from his truck. He stands at the glass door frowning into the empty lobby, bangs twice on the front door, then starts pressing apartment buzzers. But before long he sees even a ‘Rouse’ would be no help to us getting through those doors and he returns sulking to the car.
At 1:10 James was officially late. The detectives channelled their frustrations through Denise’s phone, texting me; “He hasn’t shown up. He might have seen you.”
I told Brian that the detectives were worried we had scared James off, but Brian didn’t buy it. “He’s late because he’s a knucklehead. He’s gonna walk in there and get arrested. Just you wait.”
Soon after he said this, two squad cars began getting into position on the corner.
“See, something’s going down,” he says.
We get out of the car and I again slam the door into the tree. Brian winces but there’s no time for reprimands. We move down the street, keeping pace with the police vehicle rolling up to the apartment. In our path is a man in a suit taking photos of a truck.
Brian without breaking his stride says, “If you’re looking for his truck, It’s the other one.” The man looks up and Brian sticks out his hand, “Brian Wolfe, Wolfe Investigations.”
The man warily shakes his hand, confused.
Brian points to me, “And this knucklehead is a writer for the L.A. Times.”
“Well-” I begin, but the suited man cuts me off.
“Are you Daniel?”
The man shakes my hand, “Detective Leone.”
Detective Derek Leone has a Santa Monica tan, slicked back hair and a sharp silver suit. His face is warmer than his 2015 SMPD investigator of the year picture would suggest. Right now he is noting the license plates of the cars parked outside the apartment, whilst giving Brian a wary eye, trying to figure out how he fits into all of this.
I asked Leone, “Did you get him?”
Leone nodded, “Bringing him out now.”
We cross to the apartment building where a squadron of officers are forming on the pavement. Leone instructs me to stay back. I pull out my phone, hands trembling.
Then suddenly he emerges. Escorted by officers on all sides, his head bent low, he squints as he is pushed out into the light. His expression is what we in New Zealand might call a ‘stunned mullet’; wide eyes; slack mouth; confused.
Then from the midst of the phalanx of officers, he sees me filming him. His eyes narrow in vague recognition. I didn’t want the moment to slip by without him knowing who had caught him so I yelled, “This is what happens when you fuck with New Zealanders!”
I turned bright red, immediately regretting the idiotic gloat.
Once Pamphile was cuffed and in the back of the car, Leone introduced me to the other cops, “You’re the guy!”, “Good work kid”, “You done good”. I never felt more like a nark in my life.
Brian Wolfe was hanging back by his truck, inspecting the damage my over-animated door opening had caused.
“You see him?”
“He see you?”
“You say anything to him?”
I told him what I had said, shamefaced.
Brian scoffed, “Jesus Christ.”
I looked down.
Brian yelled, “You should have said: FUCK YOU, YOU TWO-BIT SLIMY SCAMMER, YOU DESERVE TO ROT IN PRISON FOR TAKING ADVANTAGE OF ALL THE KNUCKLEHEADS LIKE ME!”
“You should have spoken for all the victims, not just yourself.”
I probably should have. But somewhere in the midst of the ego-dream of catching someone who had wronged me, I’d lost sight of the fact that this man had caused a world of hurt. People had lost their homes, their money, their trust in strangers. And I had lost sight of all of this in the thrill of the chase.
Brian Wolfe on the other hand hadn’t lost sight of anything.
He hadn’t pursued this case for any lofty ideals like justice, or for anything as selfish as revenge. Wolfe had worked this case for the same reason he works all his cases.
The simple, and noble pursuit of making sure every knucklehead gets their due.
David here again.
Many thanks to Daniel Smith for one of my favourite Webworms of all time. And thanks to all those who pay for Webworm, as it means I can pay guest writers like Dan!
I found myself wondering what had happened to James the rental scammer. In short, he’s still out there — and still works in Real Estate.
Beverly Hills, of course.
I like to think he’s reformed.
And if not, he’d better keep a look out for the unstoppable crime busting team of bonafide knucklehead Daniel Smith, and hard-nosed rouse enthusiast Brian Wolfe.