The handcuffs sing as his wrists dance back and forth behind his back. He shifts side to side as he struggles to free himself. Don’t let anyone notice what you’re doing or how it’s done. The tiny click sounds and the metal clanks to the ground behind him. “Tada,” he exclaims as his daughter cheers wildly. That animated girl? It’s me.
My dad reminded me of this magic trick he used to show me when I was a bright-eyed, curly haired, spoiled little brat. His words. I was just a tiny one-year-old. He’d slipped the key to the cuffs in his back pocket and used them to free himself after showing me that there was no way he could. I was so naive. During a seemingly normal conversation not too long ago, he told me how cool I thought he was. We debated that and other moments I thought were cooler, like the time I was 10 and squeezed my tiny wrists through handcuffs so tight he thought I must not have any bones. It all came down to my thumb and being double jointed. He said I won. He never quite knew how I got out of those cuffs when I was a child, until we had that conversation. That wasn’t the most surprising confession of the day though. That came when he casually mentioned how the magic trick from when I was a toddler also saved him from dying.
I’m named after my father. His first born just had to share his name. He also wanted me to go into the same career path he had been in. I was born in 1990. He was a security officer with law enforcement training. He thought he’d groom me to do the same. Something involving law enforcement. In 1991 he worked in an upscale city sitting on a mass of water in the middle of Los Angeles County. The city had multiple high-end condos and apartments. The gated community he patrolled had a few businesses within it that residents owned. There was a deli, a convenience store and a cleaners. But, while the city was richer than some of the surrounding areas, it wasn’t immune to what was happening around it.
Break-ins and thefts were the main concern and some residents were beginning to get fed up. One evening, a blade, a gun and a belligerent man had Randy thinking on his toes and hoping he’d make it to see the sun the next morning.
In order for this all to make sense, here’s a small history lesson about the climate of Los Angeles around this time.
Rodney King was beaten severely by LAPD officers. On March 3, 1991, LAPD used a different level of excessive force against King and after a fast-tracked trial began nine days later, the city watched and listened as testimony poured over into the community. This and other events surrounding the time sparked a racial tension in the city as well as the country. King was initially pulled over for speeding and eluding police. He was intoxicated and on probation for robbery. After a high-speed chase, he stopped his vehicle in the San Fernando Valley nestled just outside of Los Angeles. This is where the incident between King and the LAPD occurred.
Subsequent situations between law enforcement and the community continued throughout the King beating investigation, trial and thereafter. The causality of it all? Los Angeles County.
Car thefts, riots, robbery, murder and kidnapping were common cases that plagued the county and officers were spread thin trying to solve cases and protect community members. While there was still a rising volatility in the county as the King beating trial dragged on, my dad wasn’t on the police force. He was just a security officer. A lead — a sergeant of sorts.
Randy arrived at his post around 7 p.m. on a typical September afternoon in 1991. He was always first on duty. He had to get all of the equipment in order and make sure everything was up and running before his crew would trickle in throughout the night. He signed in and started to do his normal checks and balances to settle in for another night, when a resident said he wanted to show him something at his on-site business. Unlike other nights, Randy hadn’t finished getting himself ready. He didn’t have all his gear. He left behind typical items, like his radio, he’d take with him on patrols. But, he wasn’t going too far, so it didn’t seem to bother him.
The resident was a Russian businessman who owned the convenience store and the deli in the community. He said he’d notice something about his storage unit that was next to his businesses. Randy realized something was off, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
It took him walking into the storage unit, without the businessman behind right him to realize that the situation was going to quickly turn from normal to terrifying in the blink of an eye. The storage unit was dark, the businessman hadn’t turned the lights on yet. With confusion and squinted eyes, Randy turned around to see a gun pointed at him.
“Remove your gear.” “Toss everything to me.” “Handcuff your hands behind your back.” Commands Randy remembered the man giving him. Now, my dad isn’t a small person. He’s 6’2 and at that time he was 225 lbs. His height masked the heft of his weight, mostly muscle hidden beneath his uniform. He kept his hair cut short to his scalp, with a handlebar mustache and piercing brown eyes that would stop me in my tracks when I got out of line. He was a brick house with an inviting smile. But, when it came to work, his friendly demeanor was replaced with that of continuous caution and politeness.
The businessman had him beat, though. He was just about the same height, but he was built like a track star, maybe even a basketball player. His slender build, dirty blonde hair and sandy skin tone were the only difference to my father’s handlebar mustache. My father weighed the option that this man could probably move as fast, if not faster than him and since he also had a weapon pointed at him, he complied with the demands and was then bound to a chair in the middle of the room. The main thought passing through his head: Survival.
“I was filled with rage and I wanted to survive. I thought he was going to hurt me and all I could think was ‘how am I going to get free? Get this man away from me? Get out of this situation?’” Randy thought.
The businessman pulled out a camcorder and kept the gun fixed on Randy.
“He said ‘you’re going to tell me how you guys are robbing me or I’m going to kill you. I want names and I’m recording this so I can take it to the police.’ I was at a loss for words,” Randy said. With the threat of being cut slowly so he would bleed out, hung upside down and his throat slit, beaten until he was unconscious and shot among other things lingering in the thick air of the dark room, Randy feared what would actually happen.
He was the only guard on duty and he didn’t have a way to contact anyone. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed. What if nobody came looking for him. Would he died? What if someone did come looking for him. What if they were shot by this man. He was angry, throwing accusations around, drinking and threatening to torture him until he died.
Randy needed to gain control in some way. His family, his friends, his colleagues; none knew what was happening. In what way would he be able to send a message to them if not by getting free of this man’s watchful eye? He started by trying to play into the man’s demands. “I want to help you figure this thing out,” he told the man. “I want you to get what you want, but we have to work together. I don’t know who did this. Let me help you.”
Not wanting to hear Randy’s plea of fear or him feign ignorance, the man put a blade to his throat. He wanted a name. He said if he didn’t get one, he was going to end his life. He didn’t believe that Randy knew nothing and that put the situation on rocky ground. A eight-inch blade rested on his skin. A wrong move or the wrong word could be the end.
Randy decided quickly he would give him a name and description of a fictitious person. He needed some breathing room and the knife on his throat didn’t allow a proper inhale or exhale. He spit out a name. He said he thought that he heard something from that fake person about some items he “came up on.” He started to describe this nonexistent security guard and the man eased up, pulling the blade slightly from his throat. Some stubble might have left with it, too.
More importantly, Randy was able to convince the man that the fictitious security guard should be starting his shift soon, if he hadn’t already. Since he had no idea of the time. He had to keep the story sounding as organic as possible. “Keep the fear at bay and reign in the calm that was threatening to abandon ship.” he thought.
If the man would just ease up. If he would just take a step back and give him some space to breathe. Maybe Randy could think of something besides the blade and gun the man possessed. As if he could hear parts of his internal thoughts, the man stepped away. Maybe to weigh his options after finally getting a name.
Then the man made his decision, whatever it may have been, and he left Randy alone in the storage unit. His heartbeat was the only thing he could hear and he strained to make sure the man was gone. That magic trick he showed me immediately popped to the forefront of his mind.
“Trick, daddy. Trick,” my dad said I would say when I wanted him to wow me using his cuffs. He said that exact morning I told him that. The morning before he went to work. Before the incident. I wanted to see the trick. Had I known, in some weird way, what was going to happen later that night? He walked down the hall to his bedroom to grab the cuffs and brought them back to where I was waiting on the carpet. We were sat in the living room on the floor after we finished eating breakfast. I couldn’t walk quite yet, so he had just put me down and I had crawled over to his lap. I watched him intently as he showed me the shiny silver cuffs. I reached for them, but he said no and smiled. He said he’d showed me the trick. I stared waiting for him to put his hands inside the metal prisons. He would sit on his knees so that he could show me his hands behind his back and then turn around so that I couldn’t see him sneakily use the key to get free.
After he got free of his cuffs I would squeal with excitement and clap my tiny hands, my dad told me, but that morning I just looked content. He said I had a face that looked old for my age. Like I was pleased, but relaxed. He said we sat on the floor and he let me examine the cuffs and he also showed me the keys. He told me that the keys could open the cuffs and when I got bigger he’d show me how they worked. None of which I remember. He would show me how the magic trick worked. Also, something I don’t remember. He said he put the spare key back on his personal keys and we continued on with our morning. With that morning’s memory, something clicked inside his mind.
He must have had a moment of divine intervention because although the man took the gear he had, he never took his personal keys. They hung quietly on his belt loop, waiting for their debut. Adrenaline and fear melted together and tainted the air as Randy struggled through his rope ties to reach the keys on his belt — the spare handcuff key to be exact.
The ropes ate away at his skin through his clothes. They begged him to stop fighting and to sit still. For him to comply with the demands on the man’s request. But his wrists pleaded for him to continue. To get free at any cost. To cleanse them of their metal prisons. Once they got what they wanted, the cuffs didn’t say another word. They clinked against the concrete waiting to see if he could pull off another trick that didn’t involve them. They wanted to see if he could he tame the hiss of the ropes that were not looking to let go.
As if a burst of energy exploded from his body he wriggled free of his ties. Ignoring their protest. Their burn. Their bite.
The rest blurred by. The storage door opened to find no one watching or waiting. The dark corners of the walkway outside invited Randy to join them. The guard shack welcomed him as he kicked open the door, beating the man to it. His radio sang to him. It never sang so loud. Dispatch had been trying to reach him for more than an hour. On bended knee and in the corner, he grabbed the radio and responded while grabbing his weapon and sneaking out of the guard shack. The calvary would be on its way soon. The owner of the community, the LAPD, sheriffs, SWAT and other security from the company had already been informed of the situation and were enroute. Everyone had to lie in wait until the man finally appeared to take his fictitious victim. Which was quicker than he could count to ten.
The man was arrested and charged on four felony counts: assault, battery, kidnapping and burglary. After pleading down to a diminished capacity, he was released and disappeared not only from the community, but also the area.
Randy had an explosion of emotions when he found out what happened. “If everything was turned around and I had done that to him, I’d still be in jail today,” he thought. He screamed in the closet of his room and nearly lost his mind after finding out the man was released.
What’s even more bizarre, Randy said things probably would have happened exactly the same if he were in the same situation today. There were moments of wanting to get free and destroy the existence of his captor, but he didn’t want that on his conscience, the risk of it being used against him regardless of it being self defense. One thing he learned is that thinking clearly can help in any situation.
“I can’t see myself back in that chair, I don’t want to think of that moment being stuck and being a captive, but if I were there again, survival and rage would still overcome me the same,” he said. “Fear is a motivator, but when you don’t want to die or be tortured and your also angry, you have to think rationally.”