“Venturing into no-no territory
is not likely to result in
many positive returns.”
“Shame we can’t see more…”
“Mox Nix—a bridge is a bridge. It is what it is.”
“New York has great ones, too…that Brooklyn Bridge, now there’s…
“Brooklyn? Come on, Roy, the Golden Gate is so much more iconic…”
Contrarians, a pair—braving the elements, bucking a trend, these gents had dropped anchor just beyond the Marine Center, apparently waiting for the bridge to break clear. Sagging khaki sans-a-belts, faded Brooks Brothers and Van Heusen oxford cloth, they had zipped tight their Olympic Club and NYAC windbreakers respectively, tugged down their Pebble Beach and Stanford ballcaps—the latter dating back to Elway days, whence that legendary Big Game ‘play’ was etched for eternity into Farm and Strawberry Canyon infamy.
Evidently spun-off products of merger-mania in the financial sector, the two were also talking Giants, coast to coast: debating whether Say Hey, Y.A. and September Sunday loyalties lay somewhere in between. Possibly far too-early retirees, discarded like so many put/short hedge strategies, with gilded parachutes opening on a just-in-time basis: One of them couldn’t stop lauding everything New York City; both had seen better, bicoastal days. Come to think of it, so had I.
“59th Street—the trams—when I lived in the Big Apple, I knew a guy who…”
“Yep, there’s nothing like a Golden Gate glow at sunset.”
“Can’t see it. Now, back in my Manhattan days when I was with Lehman Brothers, the Verazanno Narrows ruled…”
“Dodo, you’re not in Gotham anymore…”
“Does that mean we’re any less a target here than at Ground Zero? Because I went through 9/11, and I say there’s something going on out there on the bay.”
“A JonBenet solution, hey? Which would be…” Bingo. I moved in a bit as we moved on along the promenade. “I mean, you’re not trying to replay the John Mark Karr card on me, are you?”
“Not going anywhere near there,” Reese Paulen replied, with a quick change of tone. “Look, Herbert, can I confide in you?”
“Me? ’Course, it’s a lock…do my level best to keep it close to the vest…”
“Fair enough. All right then, for sake of argument, what if I told you I know more about this Jay-Bee business than one might think—rather more than I’ve let on to anyone? But I do feel this overwhelming need to unburden myself, to a knowing person safely removed from that scene.”
“Feel, knowing? Well, sure…suit yourself…”
“Now, as to how and why you seem to be so familiar with this case, I can only speculate,” Paulen continued, looking me up and down anew. “However, if I appear to be on a first-name basis with things Jay-Bee, it is only because I’ll admit to having been around there in my more…saturnalian days, as it were.”
“You, really? What does that mean, ‘around there’?”
Over the witch hat-peaked belfry, the one atop Marine Center’s battered two-truck garage, I spotted a sleek, 42-foot Catalina tacking away sharply from the old Coast Guard’s seaplane ramp, which extended in its own rickety way out into the restive bay. Ghosted images of a PN-9 pontooner emerged amid the fog cover, canvas bi-wings set for Kauai at barely 115 m.p.h., oil-spitting twin engines revving down the once-strategic naval landing. Now, it could scarcely handle a toy balsa-wood glider.
“All right then, bear with me, Herbert,” Paulen nodded, tapping my forearm. “Let’s say I first encountered…Trisha. She insisted I call her that, something of a projection, a covert compartmentalization on her part, I supposed.”
“You mean Patsy?”
“No, to me, she was strictly Trisha, flush with that barium, slightly pasty complexion of hers,” Prof mused, as if back tippling in the faculty lounge. “In any case, we met walking dogs up on a Chautauqua trail…”
“W-w-wait, you have a dog?”
“There is a dog in the picture, yes.”
For his part, Paulen seemed instead to be gazing off at the sweep of aged airfield structures that had supported seaplane operations dating back to the Roaring Twenties. Barracks, HQs, full hangars and maintenance sheds arching about Great Meadow’s western edge: All were in various stages of renovation, uniformly white with mission red roofs. Muralists, anarchic sculptors and metal wizards were toiling in the open bays under long chain-cranked skylights, much as military mechanics and fabric stretchers used to hold sway in defense of coastal skies, so crisply dress-right-dress were they. Although presently, the commotion appeared to be coming via land, sea and air.
The larger of the hangars turned studios closed in from the left, such retro-imagining combined to carry us around the bend, a gentle shoreward trail curve that brought us face to face with further Bay Trail evacuation. Here, even the harder core triathletic cardionauts were dashing for cover. Marathon milers in Luna visors and Ironman skullcaps legged along full stride in their five-toe Foot Gloves. Anxiety rushes outran endorphin highs among these most disciplined, dedicated trainers, never mind the women yanking up their Pearli arm warmers, sucking hydration bottles of Powerade and Propel to maintain fleefall pace.
Nonetheless, fog and tailwinds were gaining on them, pouring on down, from the Crissy Field Overlook to the coastal bluffs. For doc and me, that meant more sand curtains slapping us upside the face.
“So, where’s your dog? What kind…”
“Oh, just one of those field variety…it’s back with neighbors…a friend, thank you,” Paulen hedged, parsing his own words. “Nevertheless, the point is Trisha happened to be out there with her daughter, overdressed like she had just come from a charity luncheon up at the Flagstaff House. The little girl was dragging along her Pekingese, I think it was, on a gem-studded martingale leash. I helped untangle their pooch; the both of them took to…mine.”
“Your…field dog, what breed of…”
“Oh, you know…something of a setter,” he minced, looking out in the general direction of a bounding Belgian griffon. “Anyheww, Trisha and I proceeded to meet a few times up at the Chautauqua dining hall after that.”
“With the dogs—your…setter dog, really…” Seamus sprang snow blindingly to mind.
“Accompanied by the canines, if you please. Before long, she was lamenting her rocky recovery from stage-four ovarian cancer, how she spent so much time alone in her nearby house, was taking up painting as a new avocation.”
Grinding past us was a grumpy Patagonian on a surly mountain bike with fat, knobby tires, tailgated by a trio con brio of screeching stragglers piloting rental Segways sporting even wider wheels than that. I brushed aside the panicky trail mix, peering off toward an ever-rising bay, which by this time seemed to float ferry boats and 37-foot Hunter Legends and Beneteau 411s alike markedly well above normal sea level, higher than the shoreline itself. Optical illusion, I gulped, had to be. Whatever, the rising tide had no bearing on that second Coast Guard cutter gunning across the tidal swells toward Fort Point and the Golden Gate anchorage.
“How about her little one? She painted and drew…”
“Meaning dear Jay-Bee,” Paulen said, rather wistfully. “An incredibly gifted young thing, indeed. She took to me right off, as well. Alas, the little darling was not without her tribulations—which her mother ascribed to spoiled crankiness and natural…mishaps…”
“Bed wetting, huh,” I asked, “diapers and rubber sheets…”
“If you must. Now, get this: when I mentioned my faculty position in the Sociology Department, Trisha beseeched me to somehow coach Jay-Bee on her discipline and poise.”
“But you’re not a shrink.”
“So I noted. That’s what made it so unbelievably strange. Nevertheless, she said she had grown frustrated with her analyst’s efforts and new-age dance studio kibitzers, and liked the way I interfaced with Jay-Bee and handled the…dogs.”
“Including your setter dog…Gordon setter, is it?”
“Not exactly, Herbert. But right therein I sensed the ingredients of a significant study…”
High-surf advisory: Illusion or not, I wasn’t alone in bracing for some semblance of refuge. Beyond dune scrub, bulrushes and scruffy ice plants—an occasional sprig of yellow poppies—the outer Crissy shoreline was once dotted with domed huts and thatched by the native Ohlone tribes. They and the Miwoks were displaced or colonized by Spanish and Russian explorers, 18th century settler conquistadors like Gaspar de Portola and Juan Batista de Anza—if not converted to laundry slaves by the northern coast Christian gringos to come. Fast forward to today, this native beachfront landing site was being voluntarily surrendered by body boarders dragging their boogie supremes out of the raucous surf before our inflamed eyes.
Veritably bare breasted vollyballers along shoreline dunes struggled to right or strike their nets altogether before the next gust did the honors. Had it been my call, we ourselves would have turned tail in retreat just the same, particularly in the face of that menacing fog bank all but erasing the Gate Bridge’s south tower before us, issuing well over bluff pine and eucalyptus trees to our all-too-immediate left, smothering that old seaplane hangar like Pesto al Formaggi over a bed of spinach pasta.
“Sosh study…of what?”
“At that precise moment, I was unsure,” Paulen allowed hazily. “I simply resolved to keep my professional distance, and a little added income didn’t hurt. In due time, she had me over to the house, this three-story Tudor add-on manse on 15th Street. You’ve seen it in the news, I’m sure—international notoriety that it has had over the years.”
“Seen where the place has changed hands a few times since—changed addresses, too.”
“Hmph, still, that’s like taking over Sharon Tate’s nest in Benedict Canyon,” doc snapped to, then glanced away, up toward the car crowded overlook. “So before long I’m over there on a semi-regular basis, striving to coax Jay-Bee into dialing it down a tad and better minding her mum. We’re getting along famously, building up genuine trust.”
“How about the bed wetting?”
“Well, she still had retention issues—horrid lack of toilet training,” he said clinically. “Poor dear also had this habit of asking others to wipe her after the fact. Odd, that—no boundaries whatsoever…”
“But you did it?”
“All in a day’s work, Herbert. All in a hard day’s work—and I evidently wasn’t the first explorer down in that territory.”
“Don’t even wanna hear it,” I winced, his unburdening beginning to burden me with sensory, motor overload—I could but feel the pressure mounting against my cerebral cortex, swelling the wrinkled cortical quadrant lobes, bulging each groovy gyrus and sulcus—laterally frontal to occipital, steaming down the double yellow corpus callosum medial strip. “Man, talk about keeping your distance…”
“Already in for a dime, who ever said chivalry was dead?”
Where Mason Street fed into the Golden Gate Promenade, we met with up with Polynesian spillover from an Aloha Festival breaking up over at the Presidio parade grounds. Transplanted South Pacific islanders in native dress, they had never at all acclimated to the raw turns and rougher edges of Bay Area weather, let alone an unseasonal sea change like this. We obligingly yielded to their prominent Tongan-Samoan girt—me with a feeble shaka of the hands from my Maui wowie days, which put the next EcoGlobe squarely in my sightline—again already, with the Midwestern bent.
I flinched at one last wind-blown Frisbee and leaping Tibetan terrier from the narrower Great Meadow stretch we were departing from, delivering me unto an out-of-context organic-sustainable farming globe painted with sprouting soybeans, cornstalks, seeds-of-life wheat fields and heaps of e-composted produce. Straight furrow fertility, rich black soil: this could have been anywhere from Prairie Crossing to LaSalle-Peru, in essence central Illinois on down. Except here we were coastside, with the Golden Gate Bridge doing a foggy fan dance before our sandblasted eyes. How flat unlikely, I blinked, or that a flap-happy wedge of pelicans above us would ever actually make it out to an agitated sea like this, what with gravelly grit blowing everywhere to be seen.
“Christ, where the hell does a body go from there?” Accounting for the situation, I was now fixed on his every inadvertent dangling participle.
“By then, I had gotten to know the lay of their house rather well,” Prof continued, so matter of factly. “Honestly, they’d do these home tours, open the place to just about anybody to show it off—must have had over 600 people traipsing through. Trisha pointed out framed photos from her Miss West Virginia days, but the main course was always Jay-Bee. News clips, picture spreads, pageant crowns, the videotapes of her in all those beauty competitions. You should have seen the wardrobe closets flush with rhinestone cowgirl ensembles.”
“Creepy stuff, doc,” I said, glancing bayward, toward a stretch tanker discharging bilge sewage gray water on its way in the gate. “Kinda like companion mother-daughter shrines…Eve’s apple not falling far from Eden’s tree, or a momma gone haywire.”
“Albeit dueling shrines. A not-insignificant aspect of Jay-Bee’s behavioral issues was why her flirty stage-mother kept pushing her into the pageant spotlight, and for whose glory in the main. That was but one of the wrinkles we were working through after hours, to the point where Trisha discreetly added me to her house key list, so I could counsel Jay-Bee on occasions when her mother was down at the salons.”
“Mommy dearest keeping her competitive edge, or…” That’s right, humor him, keep drawing him out…even though this scenario of his was boring, drilling down deeper into my limbic lobe—cinching up tighter and tighter on the wraparound fornix. Tensions squeezed my mamillary bodies, popped my olfactory bulbs, took to crushing the custom tuck ’ n’ roll patterns of my cerebellar scheme. I needed to hear this like a kick in the cranium, yet needed to grab it like a big bang for the buck…
“No contest, a generational overshadowing and Trisha knew it. Much as she adored her daughter, she couldn’t let it go,” Paulen shook his head. “But diets, hairstyles—try as she might, she just wasn’t Boulder material, and the after-cancer effects didn’t help. Sometimes I felt like cartilage getting between their clashes on pre-pageant days. Trouble was, her Boss Man rather saw me as an overblown babysitter, or penniless egghead with suspicious aims. Alas, Ol’ JR stopped payment, just like that. I inferred jealousy was setting in…”
“How did that grab you?” I tapped in, filing away the categorical resentment.
“Actually, I was so busy with classes and research, that particular dismissal came as a bit of a relief. Kept the key, though—largely for Jay-Bee’s sake. But Trisha was another matter entirely.”
Maybe it owed to an hourglass narrowing of the Great Meadow’s outer tail, to a rebroadening West Bluff picnic area—as well as the proximity to all that roiling salt water—but I was commencing to feel a little seasick queasy in the knees. Of little help was what looked to be happening on the waters, a second Coast Guard Scout speedboat hydroplaning across from Angel Island by way of Raccoon Strait and Richardson Bay, machine guns at the ready.
Meanwhile, another, larger long-range techno-cutter swept in stealthily through the Gate from North Coast duty. All appeared to be converging out in the general vicinity of Fort Point. Scattering the cormorants, pelicans and phalaropes was another orange and white turbo-whirlybird, screaming past us, loudspeakers squawking unintelligibly overhead, as it joined the larger Jayhawk chopper in circling what little remained of the bridge’s rust orange tower tops—zero visibility or no. Something was amiss out there, disorientingly so. I hadn’t seen drama like this since the last Blue Angels Fleet Week strafe-a-thon, even while Paulen here kept dragging me back down to earth.
“Aw, she was probably just thinking of her little girl’s welfare…”
“No, she was more concerned about her hubby,” he countered, seemingly oblivious to the turbulence beyond. “On the side, she began telling me as how she suspected he was spending his ‘long workdays’ philandering. That he had already cheated on his first wife, and that she now had reason to believe he was drifting into his workplace access at the Graphic—or worse, call girls and porn. Trisha said she would fret and cry over his alienation of affection. I told her I understood completely.”
“Big mistake, there…”
“Do tell, Herbert. This is about when she left me a phone message, if you can believe that. I’ve kept it, of course—taping is such a dastardly business, wouldn’t you say? She had me meet her in The Sink, as a matter of fact—way in the back.”
“Yeah, that’s kinda like how I feel about cell phones,” I digressed, otherwise holding my tongue. “Robert Redford your waiter?”
At some point, this must have been deemed a prime location, at the leading edge of West Bluff’s widening wedge of green, smack between the Bay Promenade’s forking outer trails. So the SPCA-PETA folks had stacked up their Adopt-A-Pet display, milk crate-sized cages of adorable kittens and pups—strays and lost causes purring, whimpering for a home in the weekend sun. Instead, these entreating little critters became not quite canaries in a cool mine, but yapping frontline lab rats in a jumble of tumbled metal cubes, helpless criers of where conditions were headed from here.
Tempting no end was the lingering smoky aroma of burgers and BBQ/ teriyaki short ribs, conspiralling further along from a scattering of outdoor public grills, even though diffused by this ill-tempered wind. Checkered cloths billowed off concrete picnic tabletops, propelling paper plates, bun wrappers, Tupperware and utensils like number balls in a lottery spinner drum. Grecian buff frat boys righted their kegger cups and beer-pong boards; weekend artists wrestled with their collapsing easels, as if the bridge backdrop they so strained to depict had not vanished at all. Thermo cooler lids, wine caddies, Huggies and stylish straw hats were reduced to latent injurious projectiles, owners too busy securing blankets and buggies to give chase. However joyfully their outing had begun, it was no picnic in the here and now.
“Sure, he was bussing tables, real Deep Throat sneaky like,” Paulen rankled, with a micro-expression of annoyance. “But picture this: Trisha comes in all dark Garbo sunglasses and upset over her wandering husband. Seems she had concocted a plan—sort of an attention-grabbing device, and needed someone intelligent and trustworthy enough to help her pull it off. That she would make it well worth my while, from her own discretionary accounts.”
“Her…mistress distress plan,” I homed in, while dodging an errant long-toss football.
“A prank, really,” doc drew closer, of his own accord. “The idea was to stage an abduction to bring them closer together again…”
“A kidnapping—Jay-Bee being the kid? Unbelievable…”
“Mock, of course, like our little debate here. Right around Christmas time. Well, ‘penniless egghead’ on holiday break that I was, I decided to hear her out.”
“Famous last words…”
Neither a gentle upslope, nor the grassy berms landscaped into this West Bluff picnic grounds, proved to be much of a buffer. And with bay waves pounding nearer to the Promenade, there came this sensation of nowhere to hide. Gone were the beach dunes laced with scrub brush, ice plants, pink verbena, brown bur or silver-blue lupine. Between us and the churlish surf was this narrow shoreline strip of wave-piled rock and sediment—winds even cutting that precarious barrier down to size.
Still, there was just enough tapering shoreline room for a latter stage EcoGlobe—this odd Illinois Heartland Prairie Restoration sphere, planted firmly against one of the worldliest of settings, fogged in though it was at the time. Totally juxta-improbable; where in blazes was all this spherical shtick coming from? More staggering yet was this particular globe’s aesthetic style, native grasses so redolent of a textured painting technique rooted vaguely, ethereally in the distant past. That’s when it hit me, full on as the wind gusts, to where I steadied myself against a tall utility pole for the nearest solar-powered emergency call box: Her long-lost rendering, the sisterly portrait enigmatically titled ‘Waif and Grain’. Naw, impossible—not a chance in the world…
“Be that as it may, Trisha would proceed to sketch out her caper on the proverbial paper napkin—believe I still have that little item, to this day.”
“Hmmm, probably just noodlin’ around, huh? A little innocent venting…” Wasn’t long before I was all but hyperventilating myself…
Care for more?
Chapter Fifty-Three (edited). The spilling
of unspeakable details takes on an
unexpectedly accusatory tone…