Chapter Fifty-Three (Edited)
“Be leery of fessing up, for
it might ultimately make
for some facing up.”
“Capsized ship out there?”
“Clear a path, people…”
Helping me shake off ‘Waif and Grain’ references and lingering mental schisms, was this flurry of official activity and alarm. Doc and I stepped lively trailside as another park ranger sped along in his enclosed motor scooter, amber roof light flashing toward the Golden Gate Bridge. We angled over a V-fork here in the promenade, to a brown wood topped picnic table just vacated by a short-sleeved Indonesian family that had been chillingly ill informed.
Its cement bench was cold to the touch, let alone to our tushes. But tucked as the table was between the mound of some steel-doored former munitions bunker and the first grassy berm, we found a brief respite from the winds. Still, we remained near enough to the gravel path to hear the siren call of small Park Service utility truck closely following that NPS scooter, not to mention the conjecture of pedestrians it pushed to the margins.
“We have a situation here, people, thank you…”
Yelled the mouthier of two graybearded day hikers who had grudgingly made way for the emergency vehicular traffic on this stipulated foot and pedal-only trail.
“There’s a heightened state of alert, folks—your cooperation is greatly appreciated.” With that, the loudspeakered truck gunned ahead gateward in a further spray of dust.
“Well, at the risk of coming across as patently diabolical, I shall sally forth. So please bare with me on this,” Reese Paulen said, brushing away crumbs and cook-out debris from the table top, seemingly unfazed by all this shoreline commotion. “Now, would you believe Trisha’s general idea was to be snatching Jay-Bee from her frilly little bed in the dead of night—complete with tools, binding supplies, ransom note, the whole shmeer? Jay-Bee was to be in on it, of course. Little thing thought it would be a fun acting game, sort of like her beauty pageants. I actually was to whisk her off to an ice show playdate upcountry for the day, while Trisha drove the ol’ man to panicked distraction.”
“To say the least,” I replied, rather preferring to track that Bay Trail action than becoming fretfully glued to—or unglued by—what doc might be revealing here. If only I’d had the choice. “That sounds incredible—incredibly crazy…”
“Just the beginning, my friend. It was so intriguingly devious, and Trisha could be gratuitously persuasive, in a bipolar sort of way. Moreover, by that time, of Mister John Boy, I was not exactly a fan.”
“Gotcha, accounts payment due…anything else?” Still and all, I forged ahead conversationally like a speed metal ADHD head in SAT prep.
“Seemed that was enough at the time; I had nothing better to do—together with the empirical anecdotal data-set potential on class/status pressures, sociology wise, as you would well know. Then there was my own pressing imperative to square some fiscal circles…”
“Squarely bizarre, all right…” I found myself leaning further in the Elmer’s Glue-All direction.
Beyond the promenade, a 45-foot Kelly Peterson double spreader heeled acutely, up to its fin keel, off Torpedo Wharf, its jib ripped to tatters in the mid-channel gusts. Asian fishermen lining the long, right-angling pier barely budged, however—dropping lines for rockfish and roaming stripers like there was no dinner tomorrow. Between here and there, trailing runners hurdled the roll-a-leashes that fat Pugs and feisty, cone-necked Labradoodles stretched out across the trail path.
Their clueless masters doted over the cuteness of their precious little darlings—the joggers ready to relegate them to that pet cemetery over in the shadow of Doyle Drive. Port side, picnickers rushed to fold up the tents and trappings of their Saturday outings in full breakdown mode, even though nestled in the comparatively calm isobaric troughs between a ribbed configuration of grassy knolls.
The West Bluff picnic area comprised a scattering of wood and steel frame tables bolted to concrete bases, public grills mounted and cooking aside a few. The green tufted grounds were cradled by two even grassier berms—slightly kidney-shaped mounds contouring from ground level upwards of ten to fifteen feet across the width of the picnic area to Bay Trail’s shoulder.
Flat topped and family friendly, the half-dozen area berms were like monster molehills, ostensibly designed and configured to break the very winds we saw today—good luck with that. Atop the berms, young sportsTV clicker jocks still played softball catch and aired out wobbly spirals in Under-Armour muscle shirts or ’ Niner and Baby Bull throwback Gigantes jerseys like they were Stu Miller all-stars, and this was windblown Candlestick Park.
“In retrospect, yes…but as I’ve said, you had to have been there,” Paulen continued, shifting on the concrete bench in a piles-prevent defense. “I’d dabbled just enough in cross-disciplinary psychology to find the scheme utterly compelling. So prepare, I did—with a back-up measure or two. Not least, rigging some suitable footwear, and mixing and mismatching semen samples I had extracted from several used condoms I found among variously discarded Coors twelve-pack cartons on the front lawn. They’re all over the Hill on weekends, you see. Something of a cocktail on the come, just in case I needed some faux left-behind traces. Also mixed in a little hair and skin flakes I scraped together in the public library men’s room, where all the homeless dregs go. You know all about DNA, don’t you?”
“Whoa, not so much, actually,” I gasped, immediately erasing that mental picture, instead inhaling the lingering aroma of tri-tips, merguez sausage with harissa, sriracha chicken and beef-mozzarella rice balls from nearby grills. “But that’s desperately crazy, doc. What the hell were you thinking?”
“Suffice to say, god bless Lycra body socks and surgical gloves. So, off, I went—all according to plan, loaded up the ol’ Outback, parked over on Baseline Road.”
“By Chautauqua? You must be joking. Besides, what about the notorious intruder theory? Or the drunken drop-in molester suspects on University Hill?”
“Can only hypothesize about the latter. But wouldn’t it be bizarre if you were actually looking at the former right now—the old me, that is,” Prof snuck in a twisted grin. “Say, if I had vital ingredients and provisions in a backpack, including a pair of repurposed cycling shoes that had seen better miles. That I was just handy enough to rig each cleat plate with a long, slender spike, sort of like tree climbers use. Which I surreptitiously practiced balancing on for days. Better that than incriminating footprints in the snow…shall we go?”
I followed his lead back onto the Bay Trail, merging with the vanquished volleyballers and several foiled birders who kicked gravel on their way out of a fenced Snowy Plover habitat area just down the beach. Tucked within those berm troughs to our left, outfitted Team China toddlers chased a junior soccer ball on to the trail, a red, white and black one that rolled by us like Nevada tumbleweed.
The next little landscaped valley revealed Latino kids crying over an upended plastic playset. Their extended family wrestled with the plastic swings-and-slide jungle jim, however distracted by engine company and heavy rescue sirens blaring out Lincoln Boulevard above the bluffs, now so fogged in the upper pilots’ houses were nowhere to be seen.
More immediately before us, Presidio Fire Department equipment raced down Long Avenue, out Marine Drive, hazily Fort Point bound. But what stopped me even colder yet was that tune from the hispanic family’s boombox, loud enough to drown out the creaking of tall, ridge-top pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees.
There was no mistaking that platinum moldie from The Zeitguys—those now middle-aged rockers still strumming oversexed love songs to juicy teenage girls. I pegged this classic number as ‘Spoonin’ For You’—track one, side two of the group’s epic album, ‘Can’t Love Enough’. The Auto-Tuned reissue made me wonder where those Midwestern pretty boys might be cribbin’ by now, another ratted hair band as they were that mega-manager Josh Gravanek had gobbled up on his way to the coast.
He’d all but bought, sold and re-bought the L.A. music scene many times over since his toss-the-hotel room Chicagoland days. River Road dives to Hollywood Hills to Telluride to Pacific Palisades to Montecito and Carpenteria, with a bullet: Business trade rags had it that, for an encore, Josh now was cornering the ticket scalping industry, gangsta hop to geezer rock.
His modus operandi involved stealing acts, slapping pirater lawsuits, still skimming, sharking, squeezing, seizing and rehaggling 360 deals to expand his star-studded, platinum stadium, anti-establishment/neo-establishment empire, likely snapping up MP3-reeling major labels, burning the artist-concert promoter candle from both ends, just because the little bastard could. Wonder what more She would make of her shlubby schoolmate with the messiah complex now, much less poor little me?
“You’re not serious…” I dodged sod clumps and coarse sand blowing by us with hypocenter force, nevertheless jumping like a starving marmoset through aspen trees to one tempting conclusion.
“Dead,” Paulen continued, decreasing his volume. “I changed from my Hi-Tecs in some bushes several doors down from Trisha’s house, then stepped lightly under cloak of darkness, a black ski mask and Alfani topcoat, shedding my spikes in through her garage and butler’s pantry, just before midnight, as I recall.”
“Jeesh, how could they not hear you?” Although between the wind, sirens and boombox riffs, I could barely hear myself.
“The family happened to be away about then, at a Christmas party,” doc said, rubbing circulation back into his glutes. “And their yappy little dog was with the neighbors—precisely as Trisha planned it—right down to leaving the alarm system off.”
“She had told you this…”
“Spelled it all out in a thank-you note accompanying her cash stipend,” he nodded, peering off to what remained to be seen of the bridge’s north tower. “Still have that, as well—hearts and flowers all over it. So I quietly repaired to the basement to bide some naptime, setting my watch alarm.”
“You could actually sleep with all this going down?!”
A flock of hovering sea gulls nearly bombarded us with guano before perching on a series of tall signposts behind the mud brown plank benches to our left. Posted Park Service pennants and banners were shredded worse than Fort Sumter battle flags at this late stage of the afternoon. Seemed the gulls sensed feeding time, poised to swoop between here and a lone, scraggly cypress tree, beneath which were two umbrellaed food carts—snack stops, side by side. In pole position was a red and yellow ‘Frank-o-phile’ wagon, its salty haired mom and pop owners dishing out grass-fed beef hotdogs and hot soft pretzels.
To its right sat a Tex-Mexicali padre in a Lakers cap and Mighty Ducks jacket manning a tamale-burrito cart with ice-cold sodas and ices—bad form and timing all around. Yet both were overstocked, undersold, out of pocket—packing it in for the day, throwing the rest away. Hence, the gathering of the gulls, marking time for the bun-warmed spoils. Then again, so were some of the strategically benched codgers: Funny, the fewer their brain cells, the more they thought they knew about scrounging ways and means. Not that I didn’t have to check my own competitive juices. The force of old OCD habits kicking in gave me some freebie-jeebies of my own.
“Strictly fast-wave dozing was all,” Paulen nudged my elbow, pulling us away from the food cart refuse bins, much as I once did Seamus from steamy Boulder Valley horse droppings. “Anyhew, several hours hence, I popped a Dexedrine or two, then pressed ahead with the plan at hand.”
With that, we looped around between the last-call sandwich carts and barn-size NPS Warming Hut, Paulen futzing with his earphone, me nearly stumbling into some rental trail bikes a Danish family had parked under the cypress tree. Squinting and straining, I was unable to make out the bridge and Marin Headlands for all the fog cover, even though they usually appeared little more than a long toss away. On second thought, I decided to whizz pass on any cold colas, while doc quickly signed off to voicemail again, only to rejoin me with a duly closing billfold.
Clinging tighter than those hotdog wrappers, I tailed him on a narrow gravel path arcing over eastward toward a set of concrete slab stairs, streamlined Art Deco style, an amphitheater of sorts, curving around West Bluff’s outer berms, forming charter seats for commanding views of the Golden Gate, fog permitting, of course.
“Until she strayed from her script how?” I tried to throttle my curiosity, but this potential car wreck of doc’s was guardrail jumping worse than The Fast & The Furious.
Vaporblocked: Sordid details to come…
Having settled on an upper step, we caught a straightaway view of an Asian Star container ship fog horning its way through the chowder, loaded for Oakland crane docks, blowing laser sailboats and a Red-and-White Fleet sightseeing ferryboat out of the center bay channel. Up here, we also had an ultra-wide, over-the-shoulder panorama of the cityscape, Telegraph Hill down to Potrero, still gleaming brightly in whatever remained of the late-day sun, an East Bay ridgeline backstopping the clear, seamless skyline.
I sought momentary escape by counting off a still sunny Treasure Island, Coit Tower, Transamerica Pyramid, BofA, Hilton—all the way over to a Spanish tile roofed stronghold up on Steiner Street, lording over the Pacific Heights doc and I had so rashly left behind. How far back was that? Couldn’t have been more than an hour or two ago. I just wanted to be up there in more familiar neighborhood territory as we spoke…
“Don’t know if I really want to hear about…” Although I knew I had to, part of the deal.
“Of course you do, Herbert, of course you do. It’s your business, your very words, remember?
Vaporblocked: Sordid details to come…
“Man, hate to say this, but that’s pretty damn appalling,” I gasped, teetering somewhere between avaricious and aghast.
“Of course it is,” doc replied, rising to catch a second wind. “Why do you think I got religion in short order, took up Moses and the Torah? Why I’m about to be delving into the Mishnah Talmud…”
Directly above, the leading froth of the fog had since passed us by, still layering, lathering in, winds pushing it well over East Beach and the St. Francis Yacht Club, obliterating Fort Mason piers—much less the Crissy tidal marsh and those pro-lifer hicks bused in from the sticks. Still, not to be deterred was a scattering of chronic tan lizards up and down these cold, crescent steps, hanging tough for a sudden sunbreak—old bait shop boatsman slickers draped over their Speedos—stubborn ramrod shivering despite themselves.
The sort of buzz-cut hard guy dater dudes who were into noose-neck sex back in their day—online porn surfers who might have once dive-bombed their old flame-outs in a hijacked Piper Cub given half the chance, but now were merely testosterone depleted. Made me want to find a cure for the male pedicure, or at least spot them a closer shave. Otherwise, nice view though, as much as could still be made out—watching the ships roll in, watch them roll away again.
“I should say…” I was still thunderstruck by this whole psychodrama, so much more than I bargained for, the mere possibility of such a gruesomely hellish scenario in a heavenly place like Boulder.
“But all told, it could have been worse,” Paulen sighed, beckoning me back down to the trail. “Fortunately, Trisha grasped the severity of the snafu straight away, aware that she and I were both in for a dollar—joined at the hip, as it were. I can imagine she went whiter than her usual ghost. Still, she played out the intruder angle like an improv pro, didn’t miss a beat—I surmise certain she could finagle her cheating, guilt-ridden husband into defending and protecting her at all costs. Even though he probably didn’t have a clue about any of this.”
“You wouldn’t think so, now would you?” I followed him glove closely. “But what about yourself?”
“Let’s just call it mutually assured deception, shall we? Besides, Trisha’s gone now and Boulder DA authorities just want to absolve the family, make this whole morbid case go away. I went in and volunteered to answer all their questions early on, and guess my own DNA markers and nucleotides didn’t match, touch or otherwise. So they either honored my position in the community or wrote me off as just another tabloid publicity hound. Still, that lovely little cowgirl really got me where I am today…”
“Ri-ri-right,” I paused. “But pretty far-fetched, all in all…”
“No more implausible than the dog-and-pony show that supposed mogul and his southern belle have been putting ever since…”
“Or any of the crackpot theories thrown around out there, I guess…but what makes you think their narrative is so implausible?”
The strato-cumulous white tourist dirigible aimed to start hovering over downtown hi-rises against still clear skies, if not appearing to dock Hindenberg-like atop the ominously dark BofA monolith. No sign of that red Saturn airship, however. Instead, we got those Coast Guard turbo-choppers, circling like Live-at-5 news copters over John Edwards’ place in the Carolinas.
I couldn’t help but take notice—that is, until a pair of young loco parenties paused to pull an emergency diaper change of their newborn on the lower steps, barely upwind at that. So much for the appetizing aroma of Dijon mustard and chilly dogs. But at least that outbound Maersk freighter’s revolving foghorns were somewhat drowning out the bloody sirens of yet more arriving trauma and bomb squad vans, winding down Long Avenue. Crissake, no more bullshit, what the hell was I doing out here any longer, let alone going one step further? Really, was I dealing with some kind of patsy or some kind of killer perv…
“See, I dunno, doc,” I continued, moving us on along the Bay Trail’s grassy shoulder, fighting a mighty urge to ride tailwinds all the way back to the Marina Green. “Really, why are you telling me all this, anyway?!”
“Why,” Paulen asked, firmly hooking my arm instead toward a Warming Hut swarmed about by overexposed hikers and travelers. “Because I’ve concluded that you of all people could relate to the dilemma on which I am horned, in a manner of speaking.”
“Me?” I grudgingly obliged, leaning into the wind again, and more toward the unglued mode. Bundled up against the elements, my spinal nerves forcefed a synaptic surge, this cranial discord, all the way down to my coccyx lumbar—fissures, sensory ganglia, pia mater and all. “Why the hell would I…”
“Simple, for I’m aware of what you have done, as well. You must be quite conversant with the rages of physical transgression. Indeed, haven’t you yourself long wrestled with such primal urges? And so birds, feathers and the like…”
“Come now, Herbert—I happen to have heard otherwise. Like I said, bare with me on these things.”
“Heard? From who…”
“Oh, I have my credible sources. Case in point, a little tough-love episode in your cabin’s kitchen way back in the day. Then there’s the matter of your tail dragging dog, and who knows whom you’ve done in since.”
“Huh, cabin? Boulder?! That was a long, long time ago, doc, at least a Saturn ago—how the hell would you know…” Ion particles rooter flushed through my cerebral plumbing, pumping across cell membranes, depolarizing, repolarizing—complex separation: electrical spikes positively, negatively, repositively charged as they raced along myelin internodes, fast forward meeting head on with flash-driven reverse of my own. Slinging this bullshit, after I doggedly spike-stepped through all his SemitIsreal stuff—it was clicking me off something fierce.
“You’d be surprised, Herbert. I suspect you’d be most thoroughly surprised…”
Care for more?
Chapter Fifty-Four (Edited). Revelations of
a most personal kind only obscure the outlook
further, clearly not going by the book…