“Animal urges bring dire
consequences, but out of dark
thunder canyons come shards of light.”
“Totally her fault…”
“But how in blazes could they…”
“Pheromones, scent of a lesbian,” I said. “Ripped her to shreds, then claimed she was to blame.”
“Absurd beyond belief,” Paulen replied.
“But that was his story—hers, too. And they stuck with it to the bitter end.”
Now then, coming off either a punchy little phone conversation or animated, time-sensitive voicemail, the professor had rejoined me at Pacific Avenue, gazing upon one painfully familiar six-story apartment building dead across Fillmore. A Moorish, faintly Art Deco fortress on the north side corner, this high-rent address was by now the closest morbid landmark Pacific Heights had to Rockingham, Dealey Plaza or New York City’s Dakota. And the continuing fascination didn’t only come from out-of-townies.
Staring back at us, shades mainly drawn, was a bit torrent of searing imagery. My mind took to racing like a particle collider, jaw clenching, teeth on edge. I felt an ear-thumping, upending my equilibrium even more, gradual gyro shifting of the balance. We watched a stocky, bearded docent lead his gawkier assemblage to that cater-corner, where the dozen or so architecture-cum-horror tourists—largely a graying, white socks and sandals bunch—encircled a bulk mailbox, gazing straight up at the beige building’s roofline.
The guide, looked to be a retired high school drama teacher, had them in thrall as he baritone bellowed his well-rehearsed spiel—gesticulating heatedly no less, for morbid effect. The routine worked: As his story echoed within eavesdropping distance across the intersection; we couldn’t take our eyes off him, either.
“So ladies and gentlemen,” the docent proceeded, flaring and flailing for the dramatic. “Picture some neighborly afternoon dog walking, an after-school run…pricey corner apartment house in fashionable Pac Heights, six floors up…chance encounter, fateful collision course, beauty and the beasts with a Tarantino twist. Two-time all-American lacrosse champion, NCAA player of the year: five-foot three, 110-pound college coach with a live-in bankerette lover. Raging bull mastiffs breaking free from leashes, 112-120 pounds of Presa Canario rampaging menacingly down the top-floor halls. Sniff, snarl, sudden lightening strike: Bane of her existence, unnatural attraction, snoot up her crotch like she was a mongrel bitch in heat.
“Fear biter, highly aroused, feeding frenzy, massive haunches, sabre teeth of steel: ‘Your dog jumped me—help me, help me’…grabbed her neck in his foaming jaws—‘no, no—get off, off’…crushed her larynx, chomping nearly two inches into her vital arteries and veins…gruesome, horrific, huge gashes all over….girl next door crawling out her doorway, naked and alone, bloody hand prints all over hallway walls, collapsing in her bodily fluids in full cardiac arrest, clothing shredded like wet bathroom tissue.
“Beyond mere nightmare, frantic 911 call by neighbors and strangers, Code Three emergence, nine squadrols converging on this placid Pacific address, animal control wrestling with the killer dogs, vomiting paramedics removing the mauled-over prey—dog catchers perp walking the more bloodied, vicious Canario through a polished marble lobby under long-pole restraint. But that wasn’t the half of it.
“Right here, this pretty nutmeg edifice, vertical window cases leading up to the now notorious building ornate pilasters and spires: I now replay the bizarre images and angles which followed that chilly January afternoon. The spunky athlete as grisly victim, the odd, delusional lawyer couple bottom feeding at the public penal trough. Their back-east, rent-controlled resentment—overstayed and overplayed by tormenting this sedate, pet-loving neighborhood with these lunging, growling dogs of war. Deny, deflect… blame, blame, blame: Her lover didn’t protect her; helpless neighbors be damned, they can move; just a timorous, mousy blonde who could have saved herself by just closing her apartment door. That’s when, even by San Francisco standards, the charges and counter-charges turned inordinately surreal.
“Misplaced dogs, misfit lawyers digging deeper and deeper to rationalize this ‘incidental contact’ away. ‘Loving, docile’ dogs suddenly turned crazed man-eating monsters: It was a twenty-minute battle; they just wouldn’t stop, maintained the paramedic-trained wife who apparently spent the victim’s crucial final minutes missing in action, searching for her own housekeys.
“The stone-cold husband dropping that pheromone bomb, dismissing any notion that he knew those fighting monster dogs were dangerous in any way. ‘Just behaviorally neglected and psychologically abused on arrival, they’d become like kids to us—simply playful, real sweethearts, certified licking specialist machines’—never mind blurring the boundaries between humans and canines.
“Then came still another family unit, cornfed bestiality, a triangle of death reaching to the solitary cellblocks of dreaded Pelican Bay. Project Adoptacon involved bonding with the body and mind of no less than the most dangerous inmate in California, assuming parent-child relations with a thirtysomething prison gang boss—all rights of inheritance and intestate succession with a white supremacist lifer bent on breeding these Mastiffs as meth lab guard dogs for the Mexican mafia—nothing but child’s play. Seemed, however, that what the fun couple really wanted was to adopt the guy. Hence the Frenchy love letters, the medieval dominatrix décolletage photos, whispers of full-frontal peep shows during Pelican’s visiting hours.
“Specious filth, the defense counsel claimed, as the manslaughter trial ensued, nothing but a tawdry little flag. The re-venued L.A. courtroom was crawling with lawyers, the unrepentant couple reduced to separate tables and matching jumpsuits of jailhouse orange.
Berserk crazy dogs, nothing more: Was she callous, indifferent, criminally negligent for losing control of them, then doing too little, too late to prevent the gore, with conscious disregard for human life? ‘Nonsense, she struggled heroically against her canine kids,’ cried her mouthpiece, crawling like a simulated rat terrier across the courtroom floor.
“Was he devious and archly contemptuous? Pul-eeze, he wasn’t anywhere near the alleged crime scene at the time. Indeed, this entire sham trial was just San Francisco’s DA carrying political water for the homosexual crowd. Playing the gay card, motion to dismiss for cause: So went the venue change, the juiciest Tinsel town-style show trial since Mark Fuhrman and the Simpsons. Witnesses were intimidated, prosecutors were threatened—even the defendants split at the matrimonial seams. Guilty, guilty, guilty. He sat stoically through an involuntary manslaughter verdict. His high royal mistress, that once fleshy seductress in black corset and opera gloves, collapsed in the face of murder two, sobbing toward her parents, ‘help me, help me, help me’. Each got four big ones, joining their kindred ‘son’, albeit in separate facilities, The Bane-ster already needled off Animal Control’s death row.
“Word had it, this was San Francisco’s first recorded human death by dogs; their defiant lawyer/keepers had become The City’s most despised couple. Lawyer pere was last seen playing dominos with some three-strikes transvestites and a convicted pedophile priest. Their model Nordic son was placed ‘in the hat’ by gang cronies for bringing the white snitchin’ heat of publicity to their cellblock conglomerate. Hera, that furry queen of the gods, that cosmic wife of Zeus, ultimately joined her Presa gladiator via the big put-down in the sky, her descendent litter grand-pups selling like Third Reich memorabilia on E-Bay.
“The vic’s same-sex partner filed a wrongful death civil suit; the prosecutors became mayoralty and media darlings. As for the lawyer mere, she had shrunk from vamping neo-Nazi dog moll to drab, scowling co-defendant, to needy sob sister in wheelchair and neck brace as her appeals continue to twist and turn through judicia—somewhat the timorous, mousy little brunette—reinstated murder rap still hanging over her shrinking head, along with an unappealing 15-to-life. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of what happened in the gorgeous horror den that lay before you. Next stop, bawdy house to the stars…”
Whew, what an earful, rightly spun: it was San Francisco’s dog mauling tale of the decade, a bloody tabloid dream. Or so I told Paulen, watching the tour group move on downblock toward Madame Sally Stanford’s lusty old mansion of ill repute. “Point is, newspapers had the lawyer guy somewhere between 58-59 at the time,” I continued, as we turneed to cross over Fillmore toward that handsome twill-tan building with the white Arabesque-style frescoes and mace-like spires, now haunted by the whole grisly affair.
As if that dog mauling speal wasn’t rattling enough, we nearly got clipped in the crosswalk by a flat-black Chevy 4-door gunning for a quick right turn down Pacific Avenue, full iron bumper guards, swivel twin spots, cluster of tiny antennae on its trunk lid. The sedan’s grill lights flashed red as its tail lights, two front seaters popping a little friendly beep as they blew through the white stripes ahead of us the moment we paused. They looked to be the duo who had been sucking down double Macchiatos in MeccaJava. Their move flustered the hell out of me, all right—like a hard slap in the brain pan with a sock full of slugs. But Paulen seemed shrug it off, perhaps way past mindful of San Francisco’s yield-to-pedestrian laws.
“As I recall reading, they also played up the Jewish angle quite prominently,” Paulen replied, in passing the building’s garage bays, opening and closing like game show trap doors. “There, wouldn’t you know. Nice girl from Brooklyn under fire and a microscope—Holocaust survivors in the family, and all that…”
“Dunno what that has to do with it, but…” Again, already—why’d he keep looking through that prism, playing that card? Otherwise, I wondered which stall held the lawyers’s semi-classic motorcar vengeful neighbors had keyed and trashed. “Think it was her lawyer who brought that up, actually. Although I must say her attraction to the Aryan Brotherhood did seem a little weird …I mean, for a middle-aged woman…”
“Perhaps she was some more of your Saturnian damage,” the professor said dryly. “But her husband still has to live with it, too…”
“Hmph, a lot he bloody cares. He got off way easy with an early parole. And even though they both lost their law licenses, she’s headed back for a second-degree murder rap to this day.” I guess it wasn’t so much the Semitic, the gay baiting, or even the species vs. species nature of this story that made me queasy as the underlying triangularity of it all: a presumably committed domestic relationship abruptly going to the dogs.
“Well, who knows where a person’s demons might reside?”
“Roger that,” I said, over the rumble of re-routed traffic up Fillmore. Between the buses and horny taxis, a tricked-out metallic lime Escalade slow rolled along, crankin’ deafening Jay-Z through its twelve-speaker Bose set-up. Homeboy in velour loungewear jammin’ his steering wheel to the sound, the Caddy EXT’s gold spinners whirring counter clock-wise—snuff on tapes, pump n’ run—a Rottweiler doggin’ shotgun, its black leather muzzled snout growling out the SUV’s aqua-blue tinted side window. “But then you’ve had your own scandal and spectacle in Boulder, right?”
“Me? What on earth do you mean by that?
“Nothing, I’m just talking about the neverending JonBenet Ramsey thing.” Sensing an opening, seeing some daylight, I scratched my aching back, digression being the better part of candor.
“Yes, so what about it,” Paulen replied, even as the Escalade torqued up his latest Kanye West, which reverberated in this canyon between two multi-story apartment houses, with their subtle exterior variations on permutations of tan on tan.
“I was thinking about the similarities…”
“Similarities? Look, two freakish, untimely deaths, inexplicably bizarre circumstances that’s all. What’s your point, for godsakes?”
Tsk, these…people, this traffic, could easily have rained down from above: As if the infernal jazz music circus weren’t bad enough, now came all this outré debris. Residents of these lofty apartments got rent gouged for the privilege and express purpose of remaining comfortably above such street-level refuse, critically observing it from the safety, sanity of their pricey middle-aged spreads. This was Pacific Heights, after all, not Seamy Valley.
The august, right proper tenants—predominantly cognac-sipping coupon clippers—sneering down from those windows most assuredly couldn’t, and shouldn’t have been bothered so. Not when there were retrospectives to open, a symphony series and chardonnay—oh, that gorgeous MTT—at which to be seen. When there were so many Blums, Swigs, Haases and Gettys to keep up with, society page-wise and in the Nob Hill Gazette. Soiree cards to covet from Danielle Steele and the Trianas at their old Spreckel’s mansion, those ballet-box tickets to beg, borrow or steal, that invitation to wheedle for the Lake Tahoe workshop weekend up on the North Shore, to be sure. Rully, keep it down, would you please…and put on some proper apparel.
“What I meant was, you know, tiny blonde victims, slain at the throat,” I said, as we pressed further up Fillmore Street, in the seven-story shadows of a chalky white apartment house. Then, of all things, a vintage Volkswagen Squareback chugged past, carrying me back momentarily to Chautauqua Park dog runs and the lonely open road. “Parental figures as vilified suspects, flower vigils for the vics, all the satellite TV trucks…”
“Boulderdash, utterly preposterous,” Paulen dismissed. “Next you’ll be positing that this is all Saturn’s doing. Good god, man, where’s your reviewable evidence of that? Forget the correlational hooey, show me some valid causitive data, or jettison that malarkey altogether.”
“Hey, I can’t pinpoint every Saturn Return everywhere—24/7/365, good or bad, if that’s what you’re getting at,” I replied. “But evidence? You’re looking at it, for Christsake, even in the mirror. And who knows where all Saturn’s demons might reside?”
“Or what they may hide,” he chortled, “as the case may be…”
With upper Fillmore Street having crested at Pacific Avenue, it was all downhill from here. The shadow canyon gave way in short order to a broad blue expanse, opening fully across Broadway to San Francisco Bay and beyond—Belvedere’s condo-laced hills backdropping sailboat-clustered straits and channels, commandeering the horizon, from sea to Berkeley.
The sudden splendor of it all was numbing in scope, at least until some overaged, undersexed hack job turned left, Broadway down Fillmore, trolling in his Viagra-blue Turbo Porsche for stray JazzStreet snatch somewhere about his estranged daughter’s age, scoring his exploits with full-cockpit surround sound Eminem, heavy on the sub-woofer and power chords.
“Anyway, I saw where a new investigation back there has some fresh leads on the ‘intruder theory’,” I stoked, noticing a bit of a pick-up of the on-shore breezes as we closed in on the Broadway intersection. “So, who do you think did JonBenet in, ‘umbrella of suspicion’ and all that…”
“Who in fact knows anymore,” Paulen shrugged, soaking in the emergent view, where Fillmore Street appeared to be tipping forward chin-first into the Bay, cars vanishing down over the hilltop before the Marina began to largely reveal itself, shoreline on inward. “We Boulderites are just glad the media zoo is mostly over, wishing foothill winds would just blow the whole tawdry episode back east where it came from. I for one have certainly washed my hands of it.”
“They still doing candlelight vigils at the Ramsey house every December?” That cumulative pounding music only re-triggered my latent tinnitus, Saturn ringing in my ears, flapping pinnas, rattling temporal bones, banging the tympanums clear to uncoiling my cochlears, penetrating vestibular canals and Eustachian tubes deeply enough to rattle my middle brain auditory cortex. Namely, earaches to the beat.
“Sure, and probably will continue until the case is finally solved, I’m afraid, whoever the killer may actually turn out to be,” the professor said tersely. “But enough. So, are you interested in partaking more music back there, or…”
“Actually, the jazz festival is happening all over town.” I covered my ears, as if an ICU-bound ambulance were screaming by. “In fact, I think there’s some sort of ’Trane Reaction thing at the Palace of Fine Arts downhill there.”
“Sounds like a splendid plan to me,” he beamed, “let’s do it…”
“Us? No, why don’t you just go ahead,” I bluffed, panning down over Cow Hollow and the Marina, my virtual vertigo seemed to be setting in again, along with a dutiful ambivalence, while bracing like a high hurdler for an out. “Really, I’ve got a lot on my platter these days…”
“Nonsense, Herbert,” Paulen said, steadying against the afternoon gusts sweeping up Broadway hill, hooking my arm. “The weather certainly seems cooperative…I insist you join me…for old time’s sake.”
“Right…” Bluff uncalled, I heaved thinly, following on along, against my judgment, better or worse—as if I was at war with myself all over again. Only this time any remaining symmetry felt way long gone. I checked my cheapo digital watch, then looked up and down that last ten-story condo tower just across Broadway, the oyster white one with the wide-screen panoramic view. “Guess it would be good to get away from all this high-rise jamble for a brief bit.”
“Careful, this neighborhood is home turf. Mother’s had a two-bedroom co-op several blocks away from here for years.”
So, like, totally impressed by that Nakamichi throbbing Porsche roadster—that boy-toy cruising machine in midlife crisis mode—were a giggle of Catholic schoolgirls huddled at the street corner. We gained warily on these teeny hottabies, filling out nicely in their uniform gray skirts and burgundy sweaters, feisty after an extracurricular prep assembly over at the Convent School. They ostensibly were letterbox gaming the block for planted Scavenger clues—but by all appearances seemed keener on searching nearby stunted trees and bushes for the cigarettes and stuff they had been stashing away. If they weren’t smoking, toking or tabbing, these snotty little latchkey ingenues were now busy comparing navel piercings and hidden thigh-high tattoos. I couldn’t help but notice; the professor could barely turn away.
“I see a lot of that in Boulder, too, especially on the buckskin fringes of the Hill and Pearl Street Mall,” he mused, “junior Olympic flame-outs, abdicated little snow queens, ex-yoga/granola bad girls rebelling against their hippie parents—all crazy enough already without the 4/20 drugs bringing out even weirder sides in them.”
“Yeah, I guess who knows what that stuff can make a body think they can get away with…”
“In a manner of speaking—say, what have we here,” he abruptly diverted, pausing at a portion of the corner sidewalk catching his eye.
“Memorial…I first spotted it about a week after the crash.” A full concrete square outside this beige near-corner 12-flat building had been perma-painted in red, white and blue. No mere corpo-guerilla graffiti, its inscription read, ‘Dearest Regina, love forever—United Flight 93’.
“How very touching, indeed…you know, no Jews died in the World Trade Center or anywhere on 9/11,” Paulen said, staring intently at the sidewalk as the jailbait snickered off for some underage coffee. “Yessir, they were all pre-warned by Mossad, the proverbial fix was in—just ask Al Jazeera.”
“Huh? Well, I wouldn’t know anything about…” Now what’s up with that? I snatched a spindled jazz festival program left atop a corner mail drop. We followed the amber traffic stripes across Broadway, as Saturn’s blimp drafted further westward toward the Golden Gate.
“At least that’s what some people would have you believe, am I right? That your thinking, Herbert?”
“No, uh, really haven’t paid much attention…” Jesus, how should I know…why are you asking me? Oh, I get it, just more subterfuge, pressing, prodding me, getting me to guessing—catching me off guard—gotta step up my game. But hey, whose Q&A was this, anyway? Who was the canvasser and who was the subject…really, who the hell was the hammer here, and who was the nail?! Like, if this was the sandbox we were playing in, I increasingly wanted out. “Must be some sort of urban myth…”
“More like urban mythtake, wouldn’t you say? Bane, indeed.”
“Tell you the truth, I don’t know what to say.” I raised my elbow to finger flick a dust spec out of my eye. That’s when the newspaper slipped from my under arm and grasp, dropping like a 49er fumble with goal to go.
Care for more?
Chapter Twelve. A spilling of the ink
prompts some backlash and backfilling,
then revelations that run deeper still…