How an un­sus­pect­ing cab­bie found him­self at the cen­tre of a dar­ing, dan­ger­ous crime.



“Take us to Wal­mart,” said the man who set­tled into the pas­sen­ger seat – and this was the se­cond sig­nal that some­thing was off. Ma recog­nised the man’s voice as the one who’d called for the cab, telling Ma that he and his friends had needed a ride home. His name was Bac Duong and he spoke to Ma in Viet­namese – their shared na­tive lan­guage – and wore on his thin and weary face a salt-and-pep­per goa­tee. It was 9.30pm, and now they wanted to go shop­ping. What hap­pened to go­ing home? Ma won­dered. In the rear-view mir­ror, Ma could see Duong’s friends, quiet in the back­seat: Jonathan Tieu, a pim­ply 20-year-old, and Hos­sein Nay­eri, a 37-year-old ath­letic Per­sian with an air of in­sou­ciance. Ma said noth­ing, just plot­ted a course through the out­lays of Orange County. Ma had moved to greater Los An­ge­les’s Lit­tle Saigon four years ago, af­ter a painful di­vorce, tak­ing a room at a board­ing house and start­ing a new life as a self-em­ployed cab­bie. He never bothered to get his car – a worn Honda Civic – reg­is­tered for com­mer­cial use. He didn’t see the point. Lit­tle Saigon had al­ways felt to him like a place that en­forced its own rules, and so he lived by an old Viet­namese proverb: The king’s rule ends at the vil­lage gate. He was 71, and in more ways than one, he was on his own. The work had a way of eas­ing the lone­li­ness he felt. At Wal­mart, Ma dropped the men off at the door and was asked to wait. But soon 43-year-old Duong and the oth­ers wan­dered back to the car. They needed to go to a Tar­get in Rose­mead in­stead, they told Ma. As Ma be­gan to protest – the store was 45 min­utes away – Duong re­as­sured him. “Look, we’ll pay you $100 ex­tra.” “Fine,” said Ma. Once at Tar­get, the men were in­side a long time. Ma had no way of know­ing what they were do­ing in there – that they were des­per­ate for phones, clothes, and some sem­blance of a plan. For all their ca­sual si­lence since get­ting picked up, the three men had grown im­pa­tient. The night was tick­ing away. Out­side, Ma was try­ing hard not to be frus­trated, too. He paced to the far end of the de­serted park­ing lot, a slim Viet­namese cig­a­rette be­tween his fin­gers. He had been asleep when Duong had called and he hadn’t bothered chang­ing out of his py­ja­mas. This was sup­posed to be just a quick ride, he thought. What was go­ing on in there? It was af­ter 11.30pm when they emerged, and as they found their seats in the car, Duong seemed to sense the driver’s ag­i­ta­tion. “My mum’s place is right around here,” he lied. “Take us there, please.” The streets were dark and quiet, and af­ter


a few min­utes, Duong mo­tioned to a cof­fee shop that an­chored a mangy strip mall. “Pull in here,” he said. Ma re­alised this was no home, but he re­luc­tantly com­plied. As Ma parked, Duong twisted around and locked eyes with Tieu in the back seat. Duong spoke in English, “Give me the gun.” Ma flinched. His eyes darted to the mir­ror, and he watched with panic as Tieu handed Duong a pis­tol. A mo­ment later, Duong had it pointed at Ma and told the driver, calmly, in Viet­namese, “We need your help.”

Ma’s mind raced. “Please, just take what you want,” Ma told Duong, his heart drum­ming in his ribs. Duong flashed him an odd look. “No, you need to come with us,” said Duong. “Get out of the car.” The men pat­ted the driver down and placed him in the back­seat, where Tieu trained the gun on Ma’s stom­ach. Nay­eri jumped be­hind the wheel, and they set out for a nearby mo­tel. By the time they ar­rived, Ma was con­vinced he was go­ing to die – he just didn’t know how or when. In­side a cramped room, he watched as his cap­tors pulled clothes and cell phones from their shop­ping bags. The men were grow­ing tired now, it was clear. He watched as Nay­eri, who he sus­pected was the group’s ring­leader, splayed out on one of the two beds. Ma was ordered to dou­ble up with Duong on the other as Tieu curled up on the floor near the door, rest­ing the gun care­fully un­der his pil­low. For Ma, there was no es­cape and, with all the dread he felt, no easy way to fall asleep. In the morning, as the sun broke through the cur­tains, the old man felt Duong roll over and grab for the re­mote. He clicked it and the TV came alive with break­ing news of a dar­ing prison es­cape. “Hey,” Duong shouted, “that’s us!”

Mug shots filled the screen. A mas­sive man­hunt, Ma now learnt, was un­der­way for the three guys he was watch­ing sit up in bed. They were riv­eted as the broad­cast­ers ran through the litany of al­leged crimes that had put them in jail – mur­der, at­tempted mur­der, kid­nap­ping and tor­ture. They hooted and mar­velled at their own im­ages on TV, their in­stant fame. The scheme that had won them their free­dom had clicked into mo­tion a day ear­lier in the last mo­ments be­fore dawn. That was when Duong – sprawled on a bunk in the open-floor dor­mi­tory of the Orange County Jail’s Mod­ule F – had watched the guard fin­ish his 5am head count. In the months that the three men had been for­mu­lat­ing an es­cape plan, a se­ries of fac­tors in­side the jail had been tilt­ing the odds of suc­cess in their favour. Ac­cord­ing to a law­suit later filed on be­half of jail guards, the fa­cil­ity had grown over­bur­dened and in­suf­fi­ciently staffed. Duong had al­legedly ex­ploited this, tap­ping crim­i­nal con­tacts on the out­side to help him ac­quire con­tra­band tools that could be use­ful in an es­cape. Gath­er­ing in­tel had been eas­ier than it should have been, too. Months ear­lier, Nay­eri had met a col­lege in­struc­tor, a woman named Noosha­farin Rav­aghi, who vis­ited the jail to teach English. She spoke four lan­guages and had au­thored a se­ries of chil­dren’s books about a girl dis­cov­er­ing her Per­sian roots. When the Ira­nian-born Nay­eri be­gan at­tend­ing her class, the two grew friendly. She seemed to re­spond to his per­sua­sive charm, be­cause one day she passed him some­thing he’d needed – a print­out from Google Earth that showed a satel­lite im­age of the jail’s roof, one floor above Mod­ule F. On the day of their es­cape, Duong watched as the guard fin­ished his count. He gath­ered the knives and other sharp tools he’d been hoard­ing and shuf­fled to the rear of the hous­ing block where Nay­eri and Tieu waited for him. There, be­hind a bunk bed, was the metal grate they knew could lead to free­dom. In no time, the three used their tools to work the grate loose. The trio quickly bel­lied through the hole to reach the jail’s in­nards. Sur­rounded by pipes and wir­ing, they crouched low and inched along a metal walk­way un­til it dead-ended against a wall. There, they looked up. In the gloom, sus­pended 12 feet above them, they could see their sal­va­tion – a ven­ti­la­tion shaft that ran to the jail’s roof. Us­ing pipes, they shin­nied sky­ward. Af­ter saw­ing off the bars that sealed the shaft, they shoul­dered their way into the cramped duct­work. They moved up­ward on hands and knees to­wards a trap­door. With a hard push, they got the thing open and felt on their faces the rush of cold, fresh air. They were on the roof now and made a quick dash to the build­ing’s north­east cor­ner. There, they cut through con­certina wire and un­furled a makeshift rope they’d fash­ioned from bed sheets. Fas­ten­ing one end of the line to the build­ing, they tested its strength and peered over the edge of the roof, four storeys to the ground. When the last of their feet touched the dewy grass out­side the jail, the men still had more than a half hour be­fore the sun rose. No alarms sounded; no lights swept the ex­te­rior. They’d done it. They were out. The fugi­tives al­legedly first vis­ited a friend of Duong’s, hop­ing he would give them enough cash to leave the coun­try. Nay­eri had thought he could spirit the group to Tehran. But Duong’s pal could give them only $900. So, Tieu con­tacted what po­lice later sur­mised were mem­bers of his Lit­tle Saigon gang. A se­cu­rity cam­era out­side a deli recorded what ap­peared to be a hasty mid-morning ren­dezvous. But what­ever money Tieu may have re­ceived wasn’t enough to get them far. At 9pm, the es­capees were still in Santa Ana, eat­ing at a Viet­namese restau­rant a few kilo­me­tres from the jail. They needed to put dis­tance be­tween them­selves and their predica­ment, which meant they needed a car. Steal­ing one would be risky and re­quire ex­per­tise they didn’t have. But what if they took a driver hostage? The only trick would be lur­ing some­one close. Duong di­alled a cab ser­vice that ad­ver­tised in the lo­cal Viet­namese news­pa­per. Long Ma an­swered the call. As the men in the mo­tel stud­ied the tele­vi­sion, Ma was in­tro­duced to his cap­tors by their rap sheets. Tieu had taken part in a drive-by shoot­ing that left one uni­ver­sityage kid dead; Duong had shot a man in the chest af­ter an ar­gu­ment. And Nay­eri, well, Nay­eri was plenty no­to­ri­ous. Four years ear­lier, act­ing on a hunch that the owner of a mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary had buried US$1M ($1.34m) in the Mo­jave Desert, Nay­eri had alegedly snatched the guy and his girl­friend and driven them to the spot where the loot was thought to be hid­den. There, he and his crew shocked the man with a Taser, burnt him with a bu­tane torch, poured bleach on his wounds, and sev­ered his pe­nis in a failed at­tempt to lo­cate the cash. Af­ter the man as­sured Nay­eri there was no buried money, he was left out there to die. (His girl­friend found help and saved his life.) In the mo­tel room, the es­capees seemed to re­alise that the me­dia at­ten­tion was prob­lem­atic. Spooked, per­haps, by the prospect that Ma’s dis­ap­pear­ance had been no­ticed, they de­cided they needed a se­cond ve­hi­cle – and now, with their pho­tos ev­ery­where, they also needed to mask their ap­pear­ance. They hauled Ma out into the park­ing lot. He was again ordered into the back seat, where Tieu stead­ied the gun on him. He was afraid and un­sure what would hap­pen next – it was a mix of dread and con­fu­sion he hadn’t felt in 40 years. Ma had been a lieu­tenant colonel in the South Viet­namese Army dur­ing the war. At night, he would ven­ture with the Amer­i­cans in search of Viet Cong guer­ril­las – the ones who, by day, shelled his base, hard against the Cam­bo­dian moun­tains. Af­ter the war, af­ter the Amer­i­cans fled, Ma then en­dured a se­cond hor­ror as a cap­tive, held for seven long years in a Com­mu­nist forced-labour camp. “You are an es­pe­cially stub­born case!” one Com­mu­nist of­fi­cial

would shout be­fore club­bing him with the butt of a ri­fle. All these decades later, Ma could still trace with his fin­ger the scar just be­neath his hair­line. He’d sur­vived, while oth­ers had not. But time can weaken re­solve, and as an old man with a gun to his belly, too frail to fight, too tired to re­sist, Ma thought he would surely die. As they drove to­wards Los An­ge­les, his cap­tors said noth­ing, which fright­ened him even more. Ear­lier that morning, the es­capees had found a van for sale on Craigslist. Duong fig­ured he could take the ve­hi­cle for a test spin and then sim­ply drive away. And so, on a quiet back­street in LA, Nay­eri slowed the Civic to a stop, and Duong got out and dis­ap­peared around the block. Be­fore long, he reap­peared with a white van. Af­ter the theft, the day took on a sur­real ve­neer of sub­ur­ban nor­malcy. The fugi­tives went shop­ping at cloth­ing store Ross Dress for Less; they vis­ited a hair sa­lon. The three es­capees each al­tered his ap­pear­ance – none more than Duong, who had his goa­tee shaved and his hair dyed black and cut into an army-is­sue high-and-tight. When they left the sa­lon, Nay­eri and Tieu took the van. Duong and Ma got into the Civic, and here, alone in the car – away from Nay­eri and Tieu – Duong’s per­son­al­ity changed, just as com­pletely as he’d changed his ap­pear­ance. Dur­ing the drive back to­wards Rose­mead, he be­came re­laxed and even chatty with Ma, ask­ing about the cab­bie’s life in their na­tive Viet­namese. At one point, he even called Ma “Un­cle”, a term of en­dear­ment that im­plied re­spect for the old man. Ma, un­able to shake his sus­pi­cions, didn’t know what to make of this. Duong steered the Civic to­wards the Flamingo Inn, a mo­tel where rooms are rented by the week. Nay­eri and Tieu were wait­ing in the park­ing lot. They sent Ma to the front desk, where he reg­is­tered room 116 in his own name. From the liquor store across the street, the es­capees bought a case of Bud Light and a bot­tle of Jack Daniel’s. Deep into the night, they laughed and drank and smoked cig­a­rettes, while on tele­vi­sion the an­chors said that the re­ward for in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to their ar­rest had in­creased from $29,000 to $67,000.

Sun­day dawned and some­thing wasn’t

right. Nay­eri seemed more dis­tant than usual. They drank and talked in ur­gent tones that Ma, with his lim­ited English, couldn’t al­ways un­der­stand. They seemed eager to go some­place, but no one headed for the door. At one point, Ma watched a dis­cus­sion grow heated. The gist of the de­bate eluded him, but the truth was the men were al­ready low on cash. Worse, they’d only made it to Rose­mead. They re­alised that the me­dia sen­sa­tion of the jail­break, while grat­i­fy­ing – they were fa­mous now – also served to con­fine them with each pass­ing hour. Out­side it grew darker. Another day was slip­ping away. At 6pm, a lo­cal tele­vi­sion sta­tion aired a bomb­shell re­port, an in­ter­view with the mother and sis­ter of Tieu. Lu Ann Nguyen, his taut and tiny mother, stood near a row of bushes in a pub­lic park and heaved for air. “Jonathan, I miss you and I want…” Nguyen shook her head from the pain, sob­bing in bro­ken English – “and I want you to be … I want my son back. Jonathan, please!” His 18-year-old sis­ter, Tif­fany Tieu, at one point looked di­rectly into the cam­era. “Please,” said Tif­fany, cry­ing, “just turn your­self in. Don’t let this drag on!” In the mo­tel room, there was a som­bre si­lence as Tieu seemed to grasp the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of his es­cape. He’d al­ways wanted to be the good boy; he was a solid stu­dent be­fore he found trou­ble with the po­lice. Now he’d caused his fam­ily new and sear­ing pain. Tears welled in his eyes and fell upon his cheeks. Maybe it was the news re­port, or maybe it was ev­ery­thing com­bined – too much booze, too lit­tle cash – but Nay­eri soon be­gan yelling at Duong. The room be­came loud and tense and small. Ma sensed that the ar­gu­ment concerned him. He’d be­gun to con­sider what the men must have re­alised them­selves – if they killed the driver now, they could make a cleaner es­cape. Nay­eri had no more use for a hostage, and Ma watched as Nay­eri pointed in his di­rec­tion and shouted, “Boom-boom, old man!” At that, Duong stepped into Nay­eri’s face and then took him to the ground. They strug­gled for a mo­ment, and Nay­eri, who had wres­tled at high school in Fresno, ended up on top. With a punch to Duong’s face, he ended the fight. As he climbed off, Nay­eri stared hard at the cab driver. But for what­ever rea­son, he didn’t make for the gun. By night’s end, the weapon rested with Tieu, un­der the kid’s pil­low by the door. Its where­abouts con­sumed Ma as he tried again to sleep.

“Un­cle, go take a shower.” Duong mo­tioned to the bath­room Mon­day morning, but Ma shook his head no. He still wore his py­ja­mas from Fri­day night and had not bathed since pick­ing up the es­capees. I’m dead al­ready, Ma told him­self. Duong shot him a concerned look, and as Ma stared blankly back, the old man won­dered what to make of him. Last night, had Duong been pro­tect­ing Ma? Or merely him­self? Did he care for Ma, or did he sim­ply fear that the blast of a gun and a dead body on the car­pet might has­ten his cap­ture? Over the past cou­ple of days, Duong had seemed to take an in­ter­est in Ma’s well­be­ing. But Ma was leery, all too aware that it was Duong who had been the first to point the gun at him. For all Ma knew, Duong was play­ing an an­gle the other in­mates didn’t see. As al­ways in the US, the hard­est peo­ple for Ma to read were his fel­low Viet­namese. He’d felt wronged by them so of­ten in his life. When Ma had landed in Cal­i­for­nia in 1992, with a wife and four kids, he’d strug­gled. The war and his time in the labour camp had placed him nearly two decades be­hind the first wave of im­mi­grants who’d left Viet­nam for the US af­ter the war. For years he took me­nial jobs, and he’d later say that his sib­lings – den­tists and phar­ma­cists and white-col­lar suc­cess sto­ries – who’d ar­rived ear­lier, made him feel ashamed of the life he had made. Money had al­ways been tight, which ex­ac­er­bated the ar­gu­ments be­tween Ma and his wife. He knew she was los­ing re­spect for him and knew that ev­ery­one in the fam­ily no­ticed it. Rather than suf­fer the in­dig­nity, Ma moved out one day, with­out ex­pla­na­tion, from their home in San Diego. He found a lit­tle room in the Gar­den Grove board­ing house and be­gan a soli­tary ex­is­tence as a driver, a choice that seemed to have led him here – as a hostage in a squalid mo­tel room, won­der­ing whether an ac­cused killer ac­tu­ally cared for him. The es­capees de­cided they needed to move north, and on Tues­day morning, they drove 560 kilo­me­tres to San Jose, where they found another mo­tel. The tense jour­ney ex­hausted Ma. And that night he be­gan snor­ing so loudly that he woke Duong, ly­ing be­side him. But Duong didn’t el­bow him awake. In­stead, he slowly climbed out of bed, care­ful not to stir Ma, and curled up on the floor, so Un­cle might rest more peace­fully.

They needed cash. On Wed­nes­day morning, they piled into the car and drove to a Western Union. Nay­eri walked in­side, and when he re­turned, he had $3000 on him – his mother, he said, had wired him the money. But the group didn’t set out for Mex­ico or Canada. They no longer har­boured delu­sions about Iran, ei­ther. Nay­eri had another plan in mind. He drove back to the mo­tel, where he dropped off Duong and an­nounced that he and Tieu needed to take Ma out for a while in the van. Out? thought Ma. Oh no. By the time they parked near the ocean in Santa Cruz, Ma’s imag­i­na­tion ran dark and un­bri­dled – and not with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. The day be­fore, the Orange County Reg­is­ter had pub­lished a story in which Heather Brown, a deputy district at­tor­ney fa­mil­iar with the tor­ture charges against Nay­eri,

de­scribed hear­ing about the jail­break: “My first re­ac­tion was, ‘Oh, my God, they let Han­ni­bal Lecter out.’” Brown added that Nay­eri was “di­a­bol­i­cal”. Ma fig­ured he’d been driven to the beach to be ex­e­cuted. His stroll with Nay­eri and Tieu be­gan aim­lessly – and be­cause of that, it felt even more malev­o­lent to Ma. Nay­eri had them pose for pic­tures. With the ocean, the beach, and the pier as their back­drop, Nay­eri acted as if they were friends. What is he do­ing, Ma won­dered. And then... noth­ing. The three got into the van and drove back to the Alameda Mo­tel. When they re­turned from the strange trip, grim news awaited. Five peo­ple had been ar­rested for aid­ing the prison­ers be­fore and af­ter they’d fled. Po­lice weren’t re­leas­ing any of the names, but the es­capees be­gan to won­der: Was it Tieu’s al­leged gang as­so­ci­ates? Duong’s con­nec­tions? The English in­struc­tor with the map? How close were the cops? Their small room be­came claus­tro­pho­bic. Ma watched Nay­eri and Duong start shout­ing at each other – the noise loud and fast and vis­ceral. Sud­denly, Nay­eri glanced at Ma and ran his in­dex fin­ger across his throat. In an in­stant, days of anger and anx­i­ety broke, and Nay­eri and Duong fell to a rolling heap. Af­ter thrash­ing on the floor, Nay­eri ma­noeu­vred his way atop Duong and landed a se­ries of clean shots to the nose and jaw, one af­ter another, the whole thing hard to watch. Sat­is­fied, Nay­eri pulled him­self out of his rage. Each man gasped for air. Ma was too ter­ri­fied to move. But Nay­eri didn’t grab the gun and kill the cab driver. He didn’t haul the old man out­side and, in the shad­ows of the mo­tel, slit his throat. Nay­eri sim­ply re­treated to a cor­ner. For yet another night, the four men watched one another and, as they went to bed, stewed in the frus­tra­tion that had filled the room. The news re­ports were no bet­ter the next morning – their sixth on the run. Law en­force­ment shared pho­tos of the stolen van the men were driv­ing. This rat­tled Nay­eri and Tieu, who an­nounced to Duong that they were leav­ing to have the van’s win­dows tinted and its li­cense plates changed. When the door closed be­hind them, Duong – his face bat­tered from the fight – turned quickly to Ma. “Un­cle, we have to go,” said Duong in Viet­namese. “What?” Ma was leery of fall­ing into a part­ner­ship with Duong. “We have to go now,” said Duong. Ma knew he didn’t have any other op­tion. He nod­ded, and the two rushed to his car. They drove south. The hori­zon opened, and the fear of be­ing no­ticed, or the panic of see­ing the white van be­hind them, lev­elled into some­thing more pro­saic. The day felt like two men on a road trip, tyres hum­ming along the high­way. Ma was back be­hind the wheel, em­pow­ered but still uneasy. When Duong said to him, “Don’t be afraid, you’re not in dan­ger any­more,” Ma snig­gered to him­self. We’ll see. He had un­der­stood enough of the news to piece to­gether Duong’s crim­i­nal past – a 1995 bur­glary con­vic­tion in San Diego, four years af­ter he be­came a US res­i­dent; twice plead­ing guilty to sell­ing co­caine; stints in state prison; and then, in Novem­ber 2015, the al­leged at­tempted mur­der of a Santa Ana man af­ter an ar­gu­ment. In spite of Duong’s past, this week there’d been another side on view – that of a flawed but com­pas­sion­ate man. Ma’d caught flashes of de­tails, but not the full pic­ture of Duong’s con­flicted life. He didn’t re­alise how chronic drug de­pen­dency and what Duong’s friends saw as men­tal disor­ders had pushed him onto a crim­i­nal path – and he didn’t yet know that Duong was also the fa­ther of two boys, Peter and Benny, whom he al­ways wanted to make happy. He lived for their smiles. Duong be­gan to tell Ma that he re­gret­ted his mis­deeds and hated how his crimes placed him out­side so­ci­ety. That was the most painful thing – not be­ing ac­cepted. A few years ago, out of prison af­ter serv­ing a drug sen­tence, he’d asked a friend of a friend, Theresa Nguyen, to ac­com­pany him to his grand­fa­ther’s me­mo­rial ser­vice. She found the in­vite strangely in­ti­mate. But she un­der­stood it bet­ter when she walked in – his fa­ther wouldn’t speak to him. His mother later said she was ashamed of him. Duong, a dis­carded man, just wanted some­one to stand by him. Another time, Duong asked Theresa and her hus­band, Tri, to go with him to his mother’s home – “Be­cause I want her to know that I have nor­mal friends, too,” he told her. He could never atone in his fam­ily’s eyes. Theresa be­gan to get it, why Duong called her “Sis­ter”. Why he phoned her the day her daugh­ter grad­u­ated from col­lege, another im­mi­grant suc­cess story: “I’m proud of you, Sis­ter.” He’d wanted so badly to make things right but kept get­ting so much wrong. That was what he recog­nised now – this was what he told Ma as they drove. As he sat there, next to a cab driver he’d kid­napped six days ear­lier, Duong’s eyes filled with tears. He had caused so much pain, brought such shame to the ones he loved. Ma lis­tened, ret­i­cent but know­ing that some­times peo­ple need to be heard even more than con­soled. Duong re­alised he should never have gone along with Nay­eri. He was a mon­ster, said Duong, and the al­lure of join­ing in Nay­eri’s jail­break had only trapped him once he made it to the out­side. He told Ma that Nay­eri’s plan had been to kill the driver on the beach. But for what­ever rea­son, Nay­eri didn’t go through with it. The bru­tal fight the night be­fore had been over Ma, too. Duong said that Nay­eri was adamant – if the driver were dead, the men would have no wit­nesses to their es­cape. But Duong couldn’t abide see­ing the cab driver mur­dered – or suf­fer­ing for Duong’s mis­takes. Ma drove on, try­ing to ab­sorb this. At last he said, “You should turn your­self in.” Duong didn’t baulk at the sug­ges­tion. He looked con­trite, in need of some sort of ab­so­lu­tion. He was grate­ful for the way Ma hadn’t judged him. He didn’t want to call Ma “Un­cle” any­more, he said. Given the cir­cum­stances of the last week, Duong said he wanted to call Ma “Fa­ther”. The sug­ges­tion moved Ma, who un­der­stood the cul­tural obli­ga­tion that came with the moniker – to call Duong “Son”. To trust him, to love him, even. This scared Ma. Life had taught him to be cau­tious around love. And yet when he looked at the dam­aged man next to him, his face bruised, his psy­che scarred, he saw the good that the rest of the world failed to see. Con­tin­ued on page 168.


“Yes,” said Ma. “You can call me ‘Fa­ther’, and I will call you ‘Son’. ” A while later, they pulled up in front of an auto-re­pair shop in Santa Ana. As in­structed, Ma slunk in­side the garage while Duong sat in the car. The old man re­turned with a woman who put her head in­side the ve­hi­cle. Duong started to cry, his face swollen and al­most un­recog­nis­able. “Sis­ter,” he said to Theresa, “I’m tired.”

Months later, Ma picked me

up in his Civic. An in­ter­preter and I drove with him through Lit­tle Saigon. As we talked, Ma told me how it had all ended. The day af­ter Duong turned him­self in, Ma spoke with the po­lice about where the other two fugi­tives might be. The next day, a home­less man in San Fran­cisco no­ticed a white van on Haight Street. Tieu was found in­side the ve­hi­cle, and Nay­eri bolted. Po­lice tracked him down a few blocks away. The home­less man shared in the re­ward that had climbed to $269,000. For his part in the cap­ture, Ma got noth­ing. (He’s since filed a suit claim­ing he de­serves a por­tion of the re­ward, ar­gu­ing that lax over­sight at the jail led to his kid­nap­ping.) He re­turned to his board­ing room in Gar­den Grove. No one had even re­ported him miss­ing. There were mo­ments, Ma told me as we drove, when the aw­ful mem­ory of the or­deal came back to him in waves of anx­i­ety. But still, he agreed to share his ex­pe­ri­ences, from which this story has been drawn. Nay­eri and Tieu con­sented to jail­house in­ter­views as well, though there were many as­pects of their week on the run that they’d nei­ther con­firm nor deny. They face new charges, in­clud­ing felony counts for kid­nap­ping and car theft (each pleaded not guilty), and didn’t want to com­pro­mise them­selves. “It’s a hell of a story,” ad­mits Nay­eri, in a sur­pris­ingly gen­tle voice. De­spite their re­fusal to elab­o­rate, a pic­ture of each emerged through nu­mer­ous pages of po­lice and gov­ern­ment re­ports I re­ceived, and the rel­a­tives and friends of theirs who talked with me, as well as the lawyers who rep­re­sented them and the law-en­force­ment agents who pur­sued the men and those who helped them. (Three as­so­ci­ates sus­pected of aid­ing the trio were charged with crimes. And for her part, Rav­aghi, the English teacher who’d worked in the jail, was ar­rested but never charged with a crime.) Though Duong is now back in jail, Ma has stayed in touch. He has sent Duong books on Bud­dhism, to as­suage his guilt. And while money has al­ways been scarce for the cab driver, he’s put cash into Duong’s jail ac­count. The two men have talked by phone, and Ma has even vis­ited the man who’d kid­napped him. The last time he went, Ma watched through a glass par­ti­tion as Duong, in an orange jump­suit, bowed when they met. “Daddy Long!” said Duong, greet­ing his friend. Through­out their half-hour visit, the two men wept softly and spoke of the bond they had nur­tured since their week on the run. They both felt so grate­ful, so sur­prised by the pos­si­bil­ity of friend­ship. Ma, es­pe­cially. What­ever he had ex­pected on that cold night when he left his house in his py­ja­mas, it wasn’t this. Wher­ever he’d fig­ured that trip might lead, it wasn’t here. Ma told me that as he grinned through the glass of the vis­i­tors’ room wall, he re­alised that Duong had saved his life, even re­deemed his soul. “My son,” Ma said to Duong, “as long as you are still here, I will res­cue you like you res­cued me.”

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