“Fly with the phantoms,
and run the risk of some
highly suspect implications.”
“It here, was s’post…”
“S’post big center…beeg nutting, kapuutz!”
They must have been refugees from a smoke belching tour bus in the nearby cross-trail parking lot, a load of Russian tourists hostelled out in the Richmond District by way of the Holy Virgin Cathedral. A bundled, dark-haired woman suffered either from windburn or low-grade psoriasis. Her lumbering escort was another story, however—a few too many Balkan burgers, rash faced like some exiled dissident with a terminal case of dioxin poisoning, courtesy of the KGB. Or a little too much Stoli over at the Black Muscovite Café, if not ray bagging in some Geary Boulevard tanning salon.
The pair had possibly fallen prey to some misguided tour operator who pitched the long aborted Gorbachev Center, like Fisherman’s Wharf hucksters who oversold DiMaggio’s North Beach haunts or Mark Twain misquotations on the summers here, only cloaked in barely bilingual recitation. When in harsh reality, the center’s global visions went down along the lines of 9/11, as in world peace out. And this ruddy duo looked plenty bitter about it, flushed plum redder than Gorby’s birthspot. Mindful of sudden shrapnel or casual transmission, Reese Paulen and I were well advised to keep discreet distance.
“Mebbe moved—not tell…”
“Mey god Perestroik heem dead…”
“Russkie rage this time, huh,” I asked, recollecting a late Sunday night procession of black Soviet-era ZIL 41041 limos clandestinely delivering Mikhail Gorbachev to a Soviet Consulate reception over on outer Green Street—back before the CCCP fell, when that fortress’s rooftop antennae nakedly jammed, tapped into TV reception and home phones, from Cow Hollow to upper Broadway.
“Careful, Herbert, you may be speaking of potential Judea settlement material—USSR expats passing Israel’s matrilineal test, bringing along plenty of rubles. The more Aliyah, the better for the Law of Return.”
“And against the right of return. Fix them up with a nice hilltop view of beautiful downtown Ramallah. Just don’t forget the flak jackets.”
“Ah, but they rather remind me of what I might be facing back at CU,” Reese Paulen shrugged, looking over the Russo-tourists as if they were of Cossack strain. “How do you say academic gulag…”
Cutting between us and the mad Russians was a trio of well-prepared runners—kicking up dust and gravel, A/X ballcaps pulled down, all stretch black Lycra with pastel diagonal racing stripes, skin tight as a 200-meter track pack, rounding the gentle curve. Paulen and I in turn followed the trail slightly rightward, facing off squarely with Gorby’s folly—dead in the water as his reputation back home—which instead had been quietly civilianized into something of a Marine Sanctuary Center and Gulf of the Farallones gift shop.
“Boulder, you mean,” I asked, as we approached a neat, dress-right cluster of palm garnished military quarters. “Where did you say you live there exactly?”
“Oh, the Hill, you know,” doc evaded, taking stock of several unlikely white clapboard buildings hugging the shoreline directly ahead. “But enough about me, Herbert, what have you been up to otherwise out here?”
“Me? I don’t know, sorta cleaning house, keeping a lid on thing, taking names—eyes and ears, like that,” I parried, recalling how dilapidated these de-commissioned structures all appeared before the Feds revitalized this entire area, how invigorated their bushy, flower bedded grounds did look now. “But more importantly, where are you coming from on all this Jewish business, and where are you headed with it?”
“Good question. Perhaps I’ll stay put, initiate my program on a campus right around here—become a card-carrying coastie again. Or I suppose I could always morph into a public intellectual,” doc pondered aloud. “Then again, a Judaic rabbinical Torah scholar, a nice, cushy gig. What was that you said you did?”
The former Fort Point Coast Guard compound had been de-commed, along with the Presidio as a whole. Its gambrel top and Cape Cod Cooler buildings looked little different from its original life-saving incarnations as a seafarer’s aid station, wherein uniformed surfmen braved wind and waves to rescue the shipwrecked and stranded back when San Francisco was one of the world’s busiest ports. Watch cupola crow’s nests still topped the compound’s Spanish-red roofs. A long marine seaplane pier still swept clockwise out into the bay, with its lonely, shack-like boathouse at dock’s end—as though awaiting its emergency surfboats, out chasing distress calls up and down the central coast, buoys at the ready.
The USCG station may have moved across to Marin’s Horseshoe Bay, but that didn’t deter a second orange turbo copter from whooshing through the billowing Gate fog, out between the bridge towers, now up to their crowns in wet white gowning not unlike a Christo coverall extravaganza such as his ribbony Marin County fence.
“Guess I’m a pseudo wannabee public intellectual—whatever it takes, wherever it leads,” I shifted a bit nearer, what with an upticking wind. “You live on University Hill now, huh—right there by campus?”
“Indeed, smack in the thick of things, all right—all the proverbial sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, as the case may be.”
“You mean, by Columbia Cemetery,” I pressed. “Or more JonBenet way?”
“Borderline, Herbert—what’s the difference,” Paulen looked me up and down. “Suffice to say it is an easy stroll or bike ride to the quad.”
“Yeah, the…quad,” I could but reflect again upon all the snow-capped splendor—once so near and dear, now so far and rigor mortarboard. “Periphery, huh? So how about the whole JonBenet thing? What’s your take on the great unsolved?”
“My take? Trust me, you don’t want to know.”
This Specialized 12-speed bike pulling a baby wagon bell-rang past us, fearlessly bucking the tide, in the same direction as the Coast Guard chopper—drawing us toward yet another EcoGlobe, installed prominently at sanctuary compound’s edge. Bright red and green, its theme was enviro-friendly fleets—all sorts of clean public and private sector vehicles—Illinois green fleets, to be more exact. Again, with the Midwestern hook: this was really beginning to frost my extremities, getting a tad too familiar for words.
And even a cordon of canary palm trees rustling this side of compound proper didn’t spot me any thermal relief. Those chilling blasts, the low moan and groan of the Gate’s revolving foghorns weren’t helping much either.
“First of all, what you think you may know to be true about the Jay-Bee situation may not be so true, at all.”
“Jay-Bee? Wait a minute,” I replied, closing in on his JonBenet citing. “This isn’t another one of those you know, ‘you don’t know, but don’t know what you know or don’t know’ deals…”
“Not exactly…it is infinitely more intriguing that that.”
“And you would know that how?”
“Ahh, but that is the nub, now isn’t it? Yes indeed, that is the nub…”
Hang the wailing foghorn loop around the neck of that billowing overcast now enveloping Doyle Drive and the coastal ridge up ahead. As it was, we had just regathered ourselves after an unnerving encounter around the promenade bend with a tandem band of ardent trailbikers shortcutting back from the Dipsea course with gripping intensity. These blood-spinning rough riders were fiercely pumping their muddied Mark Fishers and Cannondales in full racing skins, Giro clamshelmets, photo-chromatic wraparounds—toe clips flying, grimaces vice-clamped down on performance mouth guards to keep from spitting root-canalled chiclets.
The bikenuts were more attuned to their micro timers than anybody in their path. It was all we could do to panic slide aside, all I could do to keep things on track, so to speak, looking to the Coast Guard for those overboard rescues they always executed in the nick of time. Anyway, so much for traditions: as went Gorbachev, so went Semper Paratus.
“Incidentally,” Paulen momentarily strayed from his preoccupation with my current occupation. “What you term the ‘great unsolved’, I suggest is more on the order of the ‘great dissolved’. From the moment family and friends traipsed all over the crime scene, and the police bungled the evidence, Boulder itself went on trial.”
“Yeah, I’ve followed it some, in and out…on and off the clock.”
“You had to be there, Herbert. It was a fascinating case study in crowd swarm dynamics,” he continued, letting that clock reference pass, as if actually talking shop to a colleague. “Honestly, those hayseed parents were thumping bibles and playing harp strings from the very beginning…cornpone cowflakes hustling to buy their way into community respectability.”
“Well, Boulder did still cash their checks, right?”
“Hmph, whatever, they were lawyering up before their little daughter was even in the ground.”
With the bay’s tidal flood came yet more fog, magical for movie scenes, miserable for clear-eyed visions. Across Great Meadow from the marine sanctuary, white froth began spilling like a weakly drawn head of Guinness over West Crissy Field. The leather-clad ghost of airfield pioneer, Colonel Hap Arnold could nearly be seen hovering over Crissy’s former hangars and red crane-roofed maintenance shops, its uniformly white wartime billets and Mission-and Mediterranean-style support buildings along Old Battery East.
Currently a hodge-podge of bike shops, artsy-craftsy studios and mutant trampoline playpens, remaining West Crissy Field structures—the Hose Reel House and Glass Palace to Stilwell Hall—were newly pacified and creatively industrious, all hands on deck, minus the aero spit and polish.
Still, I could just picture the rousing welcome for a daring ‘Dawn to Dusk’ transcontinental flight, plowing over the treetops and through the soup to land on Crissy’s kidney-shaped runway and grassy braking patch in 1924. Or brass and locals saluting the modified Atlantic-Fokker C-2 tri-motor ‘Bird of Paradise’ as it took off for the initial non-stop to Hawaii several years later. Alas, a space crunch, bridge construction and these horrendously foggy winds forced 91st Squadron Army flyers to dip their wings in farewell to Crissy Field by the mid-1930s.
And today brought all the excitement of the latest inbound Chevron tanker emerging this side of the Golden Gate shrouding. On the other hand, there was no accounting for that Coast Guard cutter steaming in not far behind.
“Oh, right, the whole ‘umbrella of suspicion’ thing,” I said, gazing off at the erstwhile aviation buildings now staring us in the face off left of Crissy Trail. I could almost still smell the grimy army-grade grease and kerosene fuming out from the Field’s old gas pump house and motor test building’s roll-up doors, rather than the clean, non-toxic, biodegradable essence of today.
“Then that gaudy hick did a CNN interview, sobbing that ‘everybody should keep their babies close to them, there’s a maniac killer on the loose’ nonsense,” Paulen huffed, rather mindful of the fog more fully obliterating the south bridge tower dead ahead, searching about it like Lucky Lindy over La Manche. “As though Boulder were some sort of pedo-ghetto or West L.A.”
“Yeah, but they did put up $100,000 reward posters for leads, didn’t they?”
“Pure theatre…do you really think those two expected to have to pay out? Meanwhile, they were pointing an accusatory finger at everybody else.”
“Dunno, maybe they were just desperate to nail whoever killed their kid. I mean, like when people were calling them liars and murderers. Maybe they’re still doing so.”
“Very well then, if the Jay-Bee’s folks were so innocent, why did they dodge and do battle with Boulder authorities from day one? This, after the Boulder PD and DA, Alex Hunter bent over backwards to coddle and defer to them—as if city hall wasn’t already gun-shy enough as it was.”
“Could be they felt a noose tightening around them, public opinion-wise, huh? Like, because of those captivating images of JonBenet in the cowgirl get up…”
“So, what did the family do? They stonewalled, resorted to PR spin—proceeded to hold Boulder captive to their taxing evasion, until they slithered back down to Dixie, where they belonged…”
“Couldn’t stand the heat,” I asked, recalling my own piping winter finale in Boulder proper. “I mean, how could they stay in that big house after…”
“After they turned Boulder into a backlot from Amityville,” doc spouted, as though beginning to wonder where my interests might actually lie about now. “The Hill and 15th Street were caged in with the media zoo. Satellite trucks everywhere, news anchors barricading streets with their sets against Flatirons, sleazy tabloid reporters snooping, hounding, throwing cash around…”
“Good for business, though…”
“Good and corrosive. The People’s Republic of Boulder was sick of it all. While Jay-Bee’s mom and pop were off peddling their sob stories on ‘Larry King Live’.”
Between here and Crissy’s 1921-era Army/Air Corps buildings, the Great Meadow’s civilian exercises and post-military pastimes continued unfettered or close-quarter drilled. Hallowed ground as playground: True-blue dogs chased back and forth between ultimate Frisboys and Frisbabes, against a blustery backdrop of long-decommissioned Battery Blaney and Sherwood. Extreme pogo-ers spun and backflipped as they strang and boinged across the commons on compressed air, 4-5 feet off the ground.
Speed climbers worked out rappelling gear bought and brought over from the cavernous Super Sports Center—a former commissary boondoggle left over from the Reagan era, barely ever activated for military duty. North Facing the scaling of El Capitan’s Nose, they were already grass staining their Patagonia striders, TEVA Deacons and Salumbra ultrapants, everybody jacked up on the Odwalla joy juice. Then again, gusts by now felt stronger than them all, of Langley wind tunnel ferocity, shredding what few kites remained airborne like so many tissues at a tearjerker premiere.
Yet we pressed ahead, albeit against my nagging lack of judgment, but all-in at this point nonetheless. Meanwhile that Coast Guard chopper screamed back by to our shore side, a harbor patrol boat roaring over the bay from Alameda, some emergency sirens converging up along Doyle Drive.
“But they did pass a polygraph, right?”
“Oh, yes, their polygraph,” Paulen countered, put out by my fuzzy line of reasoning. “Their turf, their terms, their army of lackeys—all thoroughly compromised. Boulder authorities never bought if for a second. Even Governor Romer admonished them to come clean.”
“OK, what about the Boulder grand jury? And now the DA, Mary Lacy, citing new ‘touch DNA’? They all cut the family free…no guilty trip there, at all. Maybe just the desire to find the real killer.”
“But the indictment quash was Alex Hunter’s doing. Point is, why in heaven’s name did they and their shills not only stiff Romer, but sandbag every Boulder police interview, right down to Chief Beckner’s fealty trek to Atlanta? Real killer indeed.”
“Didn’t Lin Wood call the prosecutor an overzealous witch hunter chasing scalps for raw political gain?”
“Mother dearest was a primary witness. While Mike Kane was just a good prosecutor hot on the trail, and the family’s team knew it,” doc said, as if wondering what, why and how much I knew of this all. “Then of course there was the battle of the books…”
“You mean Detective Steve Thomas’,” I spotted a wild Irish Setter rolling on its back and wriggling in the meadow grass, much as Seamus used to do—otherwise letting doc’s catty epithet slide. “They called it a smear job…sued him for libel…”
“Truth always hurts, Herbert, even the Boulder DA’s office. However, not as fatally as the family’s ‘Death of Innocence’ trope and tour, shamelessly hawking their book and pimping out their dead little girl in the process.”
“They just said they wanted to set the record straight and rebuild their lives in Atlanta—that’s the way I heard it. Anyway, your Trisha’s gone now, buried next to her daughter in Georgia, huh? And Mr. Access can’t get elected fishmonger in Michigan…”
“Poor them,” Paulen sniffed, nose up toward what could still be discerned of the West Bluff ridge ahead and bridge beyond. “Given Jay-Bee’s tombstone date gaffe, they’re still suspects to this day. While the city and state are millions in the hole for this entire fiasco. Still worse were all the truly innocent people they threw under the bus along the way. Boulder friends and neighbors like Fleet White and professor Santa Claus. Bit players like Linda Arendt, Chris Wolf and suicide Mike Helgoth, to name a few. Half the town simply tried to help or support those manipulative ingrates, only to be repaid with diabolical accusations behind their backs. The devious hicks poisoned everyone and everything they touched in Boulder.”
“And yet, rightly or wrongly, they continue to be top public enemies with a bullet,” I was barely able to make out that row of Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival houses up the tree-topped bluff along elevated Lincoln Boulevard—once Crissy Field’s BOQs and married pilots’ homes. “Hell, JonBenet has taken on an Elvis afterlife of her own…”
“You mean industry—half-baked docudramas, jailhouse tipsters, supermarket rags, Web conspiracy sleuths, mad psychics—even some cockamamie snuff-buff hotlines that finger the ‘real’ culprit for $9.99, such a deal. Cap that off with the morbid anniversary re-exposes…”
“Jeesh, such a waste, sooo costly—all that collateral damage…”
“And so utterly unnecessary,” doc ventured, now casting a glance slyly my way. “Especially when one considers that there is such an overlooked solution to this entire affair.”
Care for more?
Chapter Fifty-Two. Foggy revelations,
not least their attention to detail, clear the
way for a scoop of far-flung intimations and
the windblown power of suggestion…