Monday,26 Aug 2013
Summertime can be hit and miss for surfing in Sayulita. Fortunately, there are other things going on in town. Yes, we did have a couple of crocodiles swimming right off the town beach the other day and an enterprising fisherman wrangled one in so we could all stand around and gawk at it for a while until it was hauled back to its home in the San Pancho estuary. And yes, I did see half a dozen blue-footed boobies on Playa los Muertos on Saturday afternoon—these guys are supposed to stay in the Mariettas, and the Galapagos, and nowhere else, but there they were, hanging out on Muertos begging for fish scraps from some local hombres fishing with nets and droplines right off the beach. And yes, even though this has been a relatively dry rainy season, the jungle is incredibly lush and green right now. The flowers are flinging themselves open in startling bursts of colors. Summer has its own special magic, in Sayulita. > Read more
Saturday,24 Aug 2013
Was this the end of the story? She couldn’t help but ask herself two weeks later, after everything was cleaned up and painted and back to normal in her loft. By then Harold had given Jack Harshman a five thousand dollar retainer to get Lascovich off her back. This had taken a bit of doing but eventually–in a rushed hearing called by Lascovich’s lawyer, spying what he imagined was an opening that might lead to a successful tenant eviction–Lascovich did have to admit, squirming and snarling under oath, that yes, Lucy Ripken had lived in the space for over five years and yes, he had accepted rent from her for all of those years. Also there were copies of the checks written by Lucy to Lascovich, that Jack got from the bank. They kicked Lascovich’s butt up and down the courtroom and that was that, until the next round.
And so home sweet home was home again, with a fresh set of locks. Money-flush Harold even bought Lucy an air conditioner on June 21st, the summer solstice, so the ninety degree, ninety per cent day outside magically went down to seventy degrees in her freshly-painted, climate-controlled house.
They plunged into the sour depths of summer, which Lucy once upon a time had imagined, when she was rich and famous and working in The Industry a month or so back, would be spent in the balmier climes of Southern California, rather than stuck downtown in this torpor-producing, brain-slogging Manhattan heat; which she could not truly relax into ever, and even less so now, wondering where and when Maria Verde might strike again.
The woman had gotten under her skin. There was no way around it.
Lucy heard from Terry in July. The X Dames television premier had been set for a late August Saturday night on the Outside Network. Definitely the Dog Days in TV land. The only thing working in their favor, Terry said, was that rumor had it, and rumor was everything in The Industry, that in addition to the surfing contest and the murder investigation swirling around it on this reality show, there was supposedly some seriously cool hard core triple X footage of several very buff champion surfer girls, in the company of at least one male surfing champion, going at it in a very big bed. So speculation went, bubbling up from the depths of the Hollywood rumor swamp to surface in bits and pieces of stories in Variety and the choicer gossip columns on the left and right coasts. There in the doldrums of late summer they had a bit of a buzz on.Lina Weissman
Sometimes a little buzz can go a long way.
On August 17th, four days before the show’s premiere, Schamberg Productions announced that the X Dames Episode One debut would be followed one week later by the second X Dames event, a snowboarding competition that had taken place in the Chilean Andes a week after the surfing contest.
The same night that announcement was made, and ran everywhere it needed to, a gardener called Max, who’d been working at Bobby Schamberg’s Malibu house, was arrested and charged with his murder. Schamberg had been shot three times, in the head, chest, and groin, and died in a helicopter en route to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. Lucy heard it on Entertainment Tonight. Late that night she got a call from Teresa.
“Hey, it’s me in LA.”
“Hey Ter, how goes it?” The whole X Dames thing had cast a strange pall over their relationship. Nothing bad had really come between them, but they’d seen and been done some serious wrong, and had been unable to do anything about it. Things had shifted as a result. The Verde poison, seeping.
“Passably. I was inches away from completing Schamberg at long last when this miserable business with Bobby came down. So now I have to do another bit about his sad fate and tie it into the tragic arc of his father’s life.
“I heard. Kinda sad but somehow I’m not surprised.”
“Nor was I. Been watching ET and its ilk way more than you should, right?”
“Yeah. It’s utterly stupid but I’ve been there so I need to know.”
“Trust me, you don’t. But listen, I thought you might want to savor these little nuggets, which I picked up in what had to have been one of the coldest and most heartless voicemails I’ve ever gotten.” She paused.
“What?” Lucy asked.
“Your favorite surfer girl Judy Leggett left me a lovely personal voicemail. After letting me know she was at the airport about to board a plane for Puerto Vallarta, she announced that Bobby wasn’t shot by any gardener named Max. Apparently that was the made-for-media version of reality. I don’t know how she did it, she left that out of the message, but somehow she framed Max. And the reality of Bobby’s death was quite a bit sleazier—or “more intriguing,” in Judy’s own words. She said Bobby was shot by the father of a fourteen year old girl, some Malibu nymphet whose Dad Bobby once did business with. He’d known this little chickita all her life, apparently. Judy said Bobby was up at the saucer in bed with this girl and another one, also fourteen, when the father charged in, in an understandable rage, and shot him three times, in the face, the chest, and the groin, and then threw him off the cliff and drove off down the mountain with the two girls. Now that’s ugly but it gets creepier still, because Judy said she was in a closet with a camera and got it all on tape and said that it was awesome footage. Then she said that she had been the one to call the dad to let him know where his little girl was that afternoon. And after that, she said, when she was sure Bobby was good and dead at the bottom of his very own cliff, she had called EMS to come save him.”
Lucy was quiet for a few seconds. “Jesus, no wonder she and Maria were friends, or whatever you call people like that when they get together. They were peas in a pod.”
“The Pod of Evil Incarnate,” said Terry. “Who’d a thunk, heading off to Sayulita to crank out some high-priced verbiage for a made-for-TV surfing contest, that we would run into such despicable characters?” She sighed. “Well, Luce, the show’s on in a couple days. You gonna watch?”
“Yes–but let’s just say I’m not going to throw a party, know what I mean?”
“I do indeed. Let’s compare notes afterwards, OK?”
“Deal.” They cut it off.
Three days later THE X DAMES reality-based tv movie, SURF AND MURDER IN SAYULITA, ran on the Outside Network in a Saturday night at 9 pm time slot, with a warning to parents about sexual content. Lucy insisted on watching it alone at home. The version that ran was surprisingly close to the one Leslie had screened for them in LA, only they’d hired a better voice to do the narration. The high point of the whole thing had to be Marcia’s aerial three sixty high above the lip of a ten foot wave face. Lucy found it totally embarrassing to see herself in a TV docu-movie, although several friends called right after it ended to tell her how great she looked. The sex scene Lucy had shot at Bobby’s house was also included, although assorted crotches were digitally scrubbed. And finally, at last, the show ended with the question of guilt or innocence. Viewers were invited to call an 800 number and vote on whether anybody in the “cast” had conspired to commit murder, or had committed murder, and if so, who?
Lucy didn’t bother to cast her vote. In the morning she got a call from Marcia, who told her she looked great before cutting to the real question: asking if Lucy’s offer to put her up in New York was still good, as she had been accepted at the Pratt Art Institute, and also what did she think of “the verdict?” “Yes, of course you can stay here for a while,” Lucy said. “And what was the verdict, by the way?”
The audience by an overwhelming majority had found Ruben Dario and Judy Leggett guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.
Lucy felt little or no satisfaction with this “verdict.” After all, both of them, and possibly Maria as well, were down there, in Sayulita or somewhere farther south, tearing down pretty little houses to build big ugly apartment buildings, knocking people off if they got in the way, getting away with murder.
Marcia showed up. She and Lucy surfed Coney Island twice, waist-high waves but it was trippy riding the D train with surfboards. Marcia and Harold hit it off, although Lucy’s sex life was temporarily limited to trysts in the love nook, as she’d named his little walk-up. She’d grown quite fond of it, once she got the loft back. And when Harold’s neighbor Jack Verblonski died at the age of 91 in late September after sixty-seven years in the same apartment, Harold called in favors and bagged Marcia her own little East Village fourth floor walk-up, bath down the hall, tub in the kitchen, just like Harold’s, for a rent-controlled, miraculously cheap four hundred a month.
They went out to celebrate with a dinner at one of the overpriced new French bistros on Ludlow Street. Afterwards Harold cited work to do, and Marcia cited unpacking to do, and so Lucy and Claud went home alone. She went up to the loft and turned on her laptop for a last look at her email before crashing. There was a message from Teresa in LA. She opened it.
Hey Luce: I’ve been working on this operation for a few weeks now, and forgive me for not including you from the get-go, but I wanted it to be a surprise. Check the link. I think you’ll find it somewhat satisfying. Teresa.
Lucy clicked on the link and found herself directed to a story that had been published that very morning on the Los Angeles Times website.
SOUTH OF THE BORDER, REALITY CATCHES UP TO REALITY TV
By Howard Stone
In a twist of fate sure to set tongues wagging from Hollywood to Mexico City, a reality-based TV movie that ran in late summer on cable has triggered a series of political and legal confrontations south of the border. The film, ostensibly a pilot for a reality series about women in extreme sports, called The X Dames, was made in Sayulita, a small town north of Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Sayulita has become an increasingly popular vacation and second home spot for Americans in recent years. Since it also has a fairly good surfing beach right in town, the X Dames producers selected it as their location for the first show, which was shot last spring with a surfing contest as the competitive event.
However, during the show’s surfing competition one of the contestants drowned under what some believed were suspicious circumstances. These circumstances–the death, by accident or murder, of American surfer Sandra Darwin–along with the contest, became part of the show, resulting in a fairly unusual bit of programming—a reality show with a real murder investigation worked into it. However, there was no legal action at the time, for reasons which were also included in the show. Instead, the audience was asked to decide who was guilty by calling into an 800 number. Such audience votes are nothing new, but this one was slightly different in that there were, possibly, actual and serious crimes committed.
In light of that the show’s writer, LA art critic Teresa MacDonald, was not satisfied with having only an audience find the guilty parties guilty. This was, after all, not only entertainment but reality. And so, MacDonald said she wanted “reality-based justice,” meaning actual pursuit and arrest of those she believed to be the guilty parties—several of whom were involved in producing the show.
Thus, in unprecedented and possibly illegal fashion, she “borrowed” a dvd of the show from director Leslie Williams, made copies, and couriered them to several high-ranking government officials in Mexico City and Tepic, capital city of the province of Nayarit, where Sayulita is located. Along with the dvd of the film—I’ve watched it, and it does include some thought-provoking questions about the death of Ms. Darwin, which has never truly been investigated—Ms. MacDonald, a recent recipient of a McClellan Fund grant, also wrote a detailed explanation of the work she and her partner, New York writer Lucy Ripken, had done in investigating the case. Not in the least bit coincidentally, both writers played significant roles in the X Dames movie.
Several government officials in Mexico and Tepic viewed the film and as a result, one Arturo Augustino Dario, provincial head of the Federal Police for Nayarit, was removed from office. His replacement, Sergio Figueroa, wasted no time in seeking warrants for the arrest of several “characters” in the movie, namely Mexican-American real estate baron and sometime film producer Ruben Dario—not coincidentally the brother of the former Federales district chief Arturo Dario–and an American woman, Judith Leggett, a former surfing champion and one of the show’s original producers (the other, Bobby Schamberg, recently died under suspicious circumstances at his Malibu home). Ms. Leggett currently calls Sayulita home. These two have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, obstruction of justice, and real estate fraud, and are presently being held in the provincial jail in Tepic. Two others—a local doctor and another American woman surfer—face lesser charges. Another American who served as a producer on the film, Sophia Greenberg, is believed to be traveling in South America. Greenberg’s role in the events that transpired in Sayulita remains unclear at this time, although Mr. Figueroa has described her as a “person of interest.”
The grace note came the next day, in the form of an email from Mariela Pastor, who wrote: I do not know how you do this, Lucy, but thank you for stopping them. They were going to begin to tear down Sandra’s house in two days’ time, but the police have taken Ruben Dario and Judy Leggett away and Senor Townsend has decided he will return to the United States. Muchas Gracias, Mariela. ps If ever you wish to come here you can stay with us, please. Mariela.
The biggest problem in Lucy’s world remained at large, in South America, with a remodeled face and revenge in her heart. Otherwise, all was well for the moment.
Thursday,22 Aug 2013
The strangler fig is surely one of the most visually striking trees you’ll ever see in the rain forest or anywhere else, and there are plenty of them to be seen in and around Sayulita, where they have devoured—or maybe smothered is a better word—many a palm and/or other local tree. If you start looking, you can’t miss the twisting latticework of roots and branches, ascending and descending, wrapped around the host tree, which, depending on how long the fig has been growing, is either still alive or has been killed by the fig. > Read more
Wednesday,21 Aug 2013
Lucy called Jane, and they made the arrangements. By the time Jane came down to let them in, Lascovich’s workers had cleaned up the shattered glass and stuck a plywood panel onto the door. He and his wife were back upstairs in their office.
They trooped up to Jane’s place—the elevator remained unfixed—and went in. Her place was cluttered with paintings of dogs, for that’s what she did. Painted dogs. She did lovely dog portraits for uptown ladies, and street drawings of mutts for downtown dudes. But her floor layout was much the same as Lucy’s: at the far northwest corner, three steps rose to a door that led out onto a fire escape that hung off the north side of the building, overlooking Broome Street. A row of tall windows ran the length of that side of the building on each floor. Theoretically, they could go out on this level and go up one flight and from the fire escape somehow break into Lucy’s place. Lucy had never installed alarms, the glass was ancient, the window-locks even more ancient. Harold had not a bat but a small crowbar, just in case the mysterious Sandra Green was there and had some muscle around. You never knew.
After checking to make sure Lascovich wasn’t down on the corner where he could spot them, they went out and quietly ascended the fire escape from the fourth to the fifth floors. They found the shades up on all the windows, on both north and west sides. They looked in. No one moving. They tried the access door. Unlocked, weirdly enough. They opened it and went in to Lucy’s home.
“Oh no,” she cried out, for they had walked into a place that had been utterly destroyed. Furniture broken, papers strewn, food thrown and smeared, shit everywhere, stench overwhelming, the scene was complete, hideous chaos—and there was no one to be seen. “Oh my God, Harry, she’s ruined my house.”
“What a fucking mess,” he said. “Let’s check the kitchen and bath. And keep it down, Lucy. She might–”
“You know she’s gone, Harry. She did this and left,” Lucy said. Just then her computer chimed it’s you’ve got mail chime. She opened it and read.
I hope this note finds you well. I must say, I did enjoy my stay in your lovely loft, and I hope that you appreciate just how lucky you are to have such a large and pretty home here in New York. Had you not shown up—the best-laid waves—oops, I mean plans–don’t always work out exactly right–I might have enjoyed living here for a while.
As for me, I’ve been living “south of the border” since, well, since we last saw each other, but I do manage to get back home to the good old USA every now and then. By the way, did you not in all your years here learn about how you can get out of the building by going up on the roof and onto the building behind, on Crosby street, and then into their stair well and down to the street? They never lock their roof door, it seems…oh, but why would you need to know that?
Oh, by the way, I, too, know a good hacker, and so, well…about that money that Bobby Schamberg paid you, that you put in your LA bank account? You can kiss it goodbye. I’ve been having a lot of work done in Brazil, and I found myself in need of a fresh infusion of funds.
I’ll see you one of these years, Lucy Ripken, for I am not done with you yet.
One last thing: In case you hadn’t figured this out, I have been working in “The Industry” for the last year or so, and in The Industry I am known as Sophia Greenberg. Does this come as a complete surprise? After Sayulita, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pay homage to our late, great, surfer girl, Sandra Darwin, and so this is farewell,
Love and Kisses,
Your friend Maria “Sandra Green” Verde
“Man, I had no idea she was that diabolical. Harry, we have got to–”
“To what? You know she’s long gone, Luce. But at least you got your place back.”
“Until Lascovich gets wind of us.”
“Her lease ain’t worth shit if she’s not here, Lucy. Especially since the name she used is completely bogus.” He frowned. “God, what is that woman’s name, anyways?”
“Way back when, down Jamaica way, I heard she was once called Sophie Potts.”
“That’s what Mickey told me.”
“Well, that name isn’t on any lease, that’s for sure. There’s no way that lease has any legal standing.”
“Hope you’re right, Harry. But I don’t have one either, do I?”
“No but you’ve got a documented history of living here, right?”
“Shit,” she said, and hurried back into the other room to look in her smashed-up desk. “It’s gone.”
“What?” He followed her.
“My documented history, Harry. I had a box of papers locked in this drawer.”
“Jesus, Lucy, why didn’t you take that stuff with you?”
“Harry,” she said, and burst into tears, “Don’t blame me for–” she waved at the horrid mess that had been her home—“for this. Please, Harry.”
He came to her, and held her. “I’m sorry, Lucy. That was lame of me.” They hugged quietly for a moment, until she calmed down. She let go of him.
“Well, I’m going to keep cleaning up. But first, I need to make a few phone calls. I have got to put this thing together.”
“Harry, Maria Verde or Sandra Sophie Greenberg Green or whatever she calls herself was working on the same TV show I was on. Don’t you want to know how this happened?” Lucy flipped open her cell and speed-dialed an 800 number for a bank in LA. She punched in assorted codes, and then listened to her available balance, read to her by a computer: Twenty-three dollars and forty-seven cents. She’d been robbed of nine thousand four hundred dollars. Next she called Bobby Schamberg.
“Hi Bobby, this is Lucy. Lucy Ripken, remember me?”
“Lucy! Remember you!? How could I forget you, baby? Hey, I’m sorry about the, ah, employment termination, but after what happened I didn’t think you’d want to be working with my partners any more, and–”
“Forget about that, Bobby, its just sludge under the bridge at this point. But listen, I was wondering, I mean I know you said you read my book and I know that I came highly recommended by our mutual pal Teresa, but I really need to know who it was that first suggested that you hire me to work on the show.”
“It was Terry, I’m sure–no, you know what, to tell the truth, I’m thinking back, and I remember Judy had a copy of your book before I even talked to Terry about it. And I think she said something about how you would be a good person to hire because you weren’t a TV writer but you seemed tuned in to womens’ sports and also knew your way around Mexico. So yeah, I guess it was Judy. Why? What’s up?”
“So how did you and Judy find Sophie Greenberg and Ruben Dario, your producer partners?”
“Judy knew Sophie from way back, she said. They met when Sophie was working as a writer and had interviewed her for a story on womens’ sports for one of those ladies’ magazines. Then she’d been in and out of Latin America for a few years, and she’d made some great connections. That’s how we found Ruben. Hey, he had money to throw at us, what was I going to say? I mean to this day I’m not sure if you and Teresa got it right with your murder conspiracy thing, but it makes for a great subplot and I think we’ve got a hell of a show to open with as a result. Doncha think so?”
“I guess, Bobby. I’m glad it worked for you. Oh, just one other thing. Who does your books? You know, payroll and such, for Schamberg Productions?”
“That was part of Judy’s gig.”
“Right. That makes sense.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing, nothing.” She would have had Lucy’s personal and financial information right at her fingertips. That money was gone for good.
“Cool.” He paused. “So, ah, anything else?”
“Nope.” She stopped. “I’ll see ya, Lucy.”
“Sometime or other. Bye Bobby.” She clicked shut, stood, took a deep breath, and then joined Harold, who’d already started cleaning up. Judy and Maria, old friends.
Saturday,17 Aug 2013
In a cab en route from LaGuardia, Lucy called her own land line, and discovered, no surprise, that it had been disconnected without a forwarding number. She had the cabbie drive by the building and stop down the block. She looked up. The lights were on, the shades drawn. Could she see a silhouette moving up there, an evil, black, spider-like shadow against the white shades she’d finally had installed last year? She briefly considered hiking up the stairs and simply knocking, to see what would happen, but she knew what would happen: whoever the sly bitch was in there would not answer the door. She thought of going to Jane’s and climbing up the fire escape and smashing her way in through a window, using an axe and the element of surprise, but somehow the very thought of such combat exhausted her. As did the idea of buying a gun somewhere and shooting out the lock. This was not a viable option. Here she was back in Manhattan and fundamentally nothing made sense. She wanted to go home but someone else lived there, in her loft. Some anonymous person had stolen her home. Why did life in New York always have to be so difficult?
Instead, breathing sighs, she had the cabbie take her and her heap of suitcases and her groggy dog to the East Village, where she paid him an extra fifty dollars to carry her suitcases up to Harold’s floor and put them outside Harold’s door. She waited by the cab in the warm May air of New York, watching her stuff. There were fewer bad guys and more cops now but it was still night time in New York so you had to watch your stuff.
When the cabbie came down she went upstairs, banged on 3C, and collected a key from a guy named Antonio, who turned out to be Antonia, a gorgeous Puerto Rican drag queen who managed to let her know in the space of thirty seconds’ interaction that he loved Harold madly and she was one lucky girl to have him.
“Muchas gracias,” Lucy said, and hiked down the hall and up the grungy stairs to Harold’s place. There she found Claud, still a little woozy but oddly attentive, standing at Harry’s door staring at the knob expectantly. Lucy stuck the key in the lock and after monkeying around a bit, she turned it, and pushed the door open.
Surprisingly, the room felt cosy, and candlelit, and smelled of–Harry! There he stood, in wine-red pajamas, with a frosted bottle of champagne in one hand, and two flutes in the other. He looked utterly ridiculous in the lounging jammies, but at the same time totally sexy. “Harry! Jesus, you’re home!”
“Surprise, baby,” he said. She ran to him, jumped up and wrapped her arms around his neck, and planted a wet kiss on his clean-shaven face. He put the champagne and glasses down and took her in his arms. The door slammed shut. “I finished and came home early, just for you.”
After they made love again in the very early morning Harold came up with a plan, not much of one, but it was a start. Good old-fashioned surveillance. After taking Paco for a dawn romp in Tompkins Square, they dropped him back at Harold’s apartment then speed-walked to SoHo in time to arrive at the Cuban coffee shop on the ground floor of the building caddy-corner to Lucy’s loft at seven a.m., when Ignacio opened. They set up shop at the table by the window, eating toast and slurping down sweet steamy Cuban-style cafe con leche.
They waited and watched as Lucy’s neighbors, one by one and two by two, emerged from the building in their daily routines. By nine everybody from all the floors except Lucy’s had come out and headed off to their jobs; excepting Jane, a painter with a trust fund who worked at home. Jane, who’d made the mistake of letting the woman in, and yet was Lucy’s only real friend in the building. The rest of them were partners in the assorted landlord-driven lawsuits they’d been fighting forever, but none of them were really friends. Only Jane, who finally came down at ten a.m. to get her mail. She stepped out onto the street just as Lascovich, the landlord, pulled up in his late model ruby red Chrysler, parked illegally in front of the fire hydrant, and emerged from his car, wife in tow. The wife went in the entry of the building next door, where Lascovich’s business occupied the second floor. “Damn,” said Lucy, her fourth cup of Café Cubano rattling in her hand. “Landlordovich is back. And all over Janey.” The two of them were head to head, toe to toe, yammering at each other angrily. That went on for two minutes, then Lascovich jumped back in his car and drove off. “He’s just going to park,” Lucy said, dashing out. “I’ve got to talk to Jane.” She stopped on the corner and shouted, “Jane, Janey, hey, over here.” Jane looked up and around, and spotted her. She waved, waited for the light to change, and made her way over.
“Hey Lucy,” she said. “You’re back early.” She looked downcast. “I guess because you’re trying to get back into your place.”
“Yeah,” Lucy said. “How goes it?”
“God, Lucy I am so sorry about what happened. I don’t know what I was thinking. This woman was so convincing.”
“Does Lascovich know she’s up there?”
“Yes. God, it looks bad, Luce. I was just arguing with him about that. He’s apparently given her a lease.”
“A lease? How can he give her a lease? She’s not even–”
“Unfortunately, possession is nine-tenths of the law, as our dear friend Jack Harshman likes to say, Lucy. When he’s talking about the building. And at the moment she’s got possession.”
“Well who the hell is she?” asked Harold from the restaurant doorway. He was hanging back, slightly out of sight.
“God, I wish I knew. Maybe Lascovich planted her in there himself since he knew you were leaving. But I have no idea how she knew what she did about you, Lucy.”
“It is strange, isn’t it?”
“And Lascovich has changed all the entry door locks, and the elevator locks. He had to give us all keys, of course, but you’re not going to be able to get in there with the keys you have. I’m pretty sure the new tenant also changed the locks on your door, because the locksmith was up on your floor for a while after he did the building doors.”
“God damn, I can’t believe this,” Lucy said.
“There’s Lascovich now,” Harry said. Lascovich strutted down Broome Street, scowling at the world. “Maybe you should make yourself scarce, Luce.” She ducked in, followed by Jane.
They sat at the table. “So what’s the plan?” Jane said. “I can get you copies of the new street door keys, but that’s not going to get you into your loft.”
“This woman has been in there, what, almost a week, and you haven’t seen her since the day she moved in?”
“I don’t know what she’s doing up there, Lucy, but I swear to God she has not come out since she went in. Not that I’m always there but I am there most of the time.”
“Listen,” said Harry. “We need to find out who she is. Lascovich doesn’t know me so I’m going to go to him, act like I’m looking for a place to rent, and see if I can find anything out. Here’s what I’m thinking.” He laid out a plan. Jane went off to get keys made. Lucy put on her sunglasses and went out onto Broadway and headed south, looking for a heavy object. Harry crossed the street and went into the building next door to hers, to visit Lascovich in his office. She thought Harold’s plan to be sketchy, since the results, most likely, would be nothing more than a name. But they needed to move fast, for the longer Lucy was out of the loft the more difficult it would be to get back in. Harold seemed to think this would serve as a starting point.
Ten minutes later she waited down the block, across the street, on the sidewalk by the parking lot on the corner of Broadway and Grand. She’d found a fist-sized piece of brick at a construction site down Grand, and now she waited. Her cell phone rang, once. The signal. “Christ,” she muttered, talking to herself. “This is such a bad idea.” She did it anyway. She crossed Broadway on the green light, walked north, and then, when she reached her destination, she simultaneously stumbled and threw the brick as hard as she could at the glass-paneled entry door to the ground floor landing of Lascovich’s office. The panel shattered as Lucy fell very carefully onto the sidewalk so as not to hurt herself. An alarm began blaring loudly, somewhere inside the entryway.
“Are you all right?” a passing guy asked, stopping to help her to her feet. Crowds streamed past, a busy workday morning on Broadway, everybody intent on getting where they needed to go, right now.
“Yes, I’m fine, thanks,” she said. “I guess there was a brick or something. I must have kicked it.” She brushed dirt off her jeans.
“I’ll say,” he said, as people swarmed by, not noticing the mini-drama playing out. “You kicked it right through that door.”
She heard them coming down the stairs. “Wow, that’s something, huh?” she said, extricating herself from his helpful hands and strolling up the sidewalk. “Well, I’ve got to run–” She zipped across the street in a mini-mob of people just as Lascovich emerged onto the sidewalk in a rage, followed by his wife. The man who’d helped her up must have tried to explain, because Lascovich’s eyes darted up the street after her a moment later, but by then she’d crossed Broadway in a knot of moving bodies and slipped back into the coffee shop, where Ignacio poured her another. She tapped on the counter twice, and then raised an eyebrow, and he quickly pulled a bottle of rum out from under the counter and hit her coffee cup with a shot. “Thanks, amigo,” she said, taking a big gulp. “I needed that.”
“No problem, Lucy,” Ignacio said. She’d been drinking his coffee for five years, and every once in a while she needed a bump from the illegal bar under the counter. A liquor license was a pricey thing. He was happy to provide that occasional shot.
Harry came in five minutes later. “Mission accomplished. Good job with the brick, Luce. You totally took out the door.”
“I did feel a certain satisfaction, watching that glass shatter. You get a name?”
“I got some photographs. Break out the laptop and let’s have a look.” While they set up and downloaded he went on: “That Lasko’s really after you and your building mates. And he seems to think he’s got something going. I asked about renting a place in his building and he said there was nothing available but he thought that maybe in the building next door that he also owns he would have something coming up soon. I asked at what rent, he said $3000 a month and up.”
“Jesus, I’m paying–”
“Six hundred. So now you know what the market will bear, Luce.”
“No wonder he’s after us.”
“When the alarm sounded he and his lumpen missus went downstairs so I tore through his desk at high speed, and shot what looked interesting as quickly as I could. I think I got six pictures.”
The first three were useless. The fourth was a commercial lease dated May 10, for five years, for a rent of $2800 a month for the fifth floor premises at 486 Broadway, etc., etc. Lessor Itzak Lascovich, lessee Sandra Green. “Sandra Green?” Lucy said. “The name kinda rings a bell, but–”
“What kind of bell?”
“I don’t know, I guess it’s just a sad coincidence. The woman who died in the surfing contest was also named Sandra.”
“That’s too bad—but it’s really not that uncommon a name, Luce.”
“I know, I know.” She looked at him intently. “So now what, maestro?”
“I say we break the goddamned door down, Lucy.”
“What about using the cops here, Harry? Maybe we should play this one straight.”
“Lucy, do you want to get your loft back? If we do this through legal channels it could take months. Lascovich will be all over it. You’ll be in a much better position if you’re already in, with your documented history of living there.”
“You’re right, Harry. So—what do we do?”
“Call Jane. Tell her we need to get into her place. She owes you on this. We’ll go up the fire escape from there, and I’ll take out a window with a baseball bat if I have to.”
“And what about Sandra Green?”
He gave her a look. “We’ll do what we have to, Lucy.”
Friday,16 Aug 2013
The first time I saw this bird, I was stunned. A flock of them had roosted in a clump of trees I walked under, and noticing them–they were making a lot of noise, yakking away–I assumed these birds were some local version of a blackbird, with yellow markings. Then they took off, in a huge explosion of yellow and black, the contrasting colors a visual showstopper. > Read more
Thursday,15 Aug 2013
The four women flew back to LA later the same day, upgraded to first class courtesy of Bobby Schamberg. They were uniformly depressed by their lost cause, but they also felt rich: Lucy and Teresa surprised to find themselves on the $2500 a week payroll for another week at least, Marcia holding a Schamberg Productions X Dames Weekly Winner check for twenty-five grand, Leslie on contract and off to Chile as soon as they got the first episode wrapped and in the can. Bobby had instructed Leslie to take all the footage they had and turn it into a ninety-minute movie. He said take no prisoners.
As soon as they landed she turned on her cell phone and discovered that Harold had called three times that very day. She checked the messages. “Hey Luce tried to reach you at the hotel but you were checked out. What’s up? I’ve got news.” “Luce, call me when you get this.” “Where the hell are you, Lucy?”
She called from the plane as soon as they said it was OK. His was busy. She left him a voicemail. “Harry, I just got back. I’m here in LA. Lots of news. Call my cell.”
He called while they waited for the baggage. “Hey Luce, how are you? How come you’re back so soon?”
“I’m fine, treasure man. I mean considering that one of the surfer girls got murdered and I know it but can’t prove it. But enough about me. How’d it go?”
“Murdered! What the hell are you talking about, Lucy? You got yourself into another situation, didn’t you, you crazy dame!”
“Kind of. Officially this woman drowned, but there were drugs involved. Look, it’s a complicated tale. I’ll tell you the whole damn story when I see you. But right now I’m fine and I want to know how your deal went.”
“Strangely? What does that mean? Did you find your million, Harry?”
“No, I mean not exactly, but–”
“But what. Stop beating around the bush, Ipswich. What happened?”
“How come you’re back so soon? I thought you were going to be down there for a couple of weeks.”
“Harry, come on, you’re playing with me. Our bags are coming down the belt and I gotta run.”
“OK. Here’s my story: me and my crew—Clarence and Harvey, the two Jamaican dudes I told you about—spent like five hours every night digging, and then shoring up the stinking mud with these wooden pallets we kept stealing from the back end of the store above us. The whole operation was an insane and stupid idea, I told myself every five minutes every night, as I was wallowing through the mud wondering if an alligator might decide to move into our burrow and eat one of us for dinner. I should have listened to you. And then eventually we got to where the money was supposed to be according to my calculations. And it wasn’t there.”
“So you didn’t find it. Well what did I tell you, Harry? Didn’t I–”
“At that point I should have bailed, but like I said to Clarence and Harvey, I know these guys weren’t bullshitting me. I just know it. Plus I was already into this for around two thousand bucks so I wasn’t quite ready to give up. So they’re like OK, mon, we not have to stop now, which way you want to dig further? They were each making a hundred and fifty dollars a day off me so why would they want to quit? So I closed my eyes and waved my arm around and then, since I had no clue which way to go, I just pointed and said, there. So we all went at it again, did another five feet, and there it was, lo and behold, a black plastic bag.”
“So you found it?! You found the million dollars? Harry, I’m–”
“Not exactly. See, the money was actually in five separate smaller bags inside the one big bag. And unfortunately the drug-dealing dolts didn’t seal them very well, so–” he stopped. “Four of the seals had been breached and the money had rotted away or been eaten by bugs, worms, whatever. It was all confetti and dirt. But,” he stopped again, and waited, for dramatic emphasis.
“But what, Harry–that one’s mine,” she said to Marcia, pointing at a suitcase. “Could you grab it? Thanks.”
“So I didn’t get a million bucks but we did get the one bag that didn’t leak–and it had two hundred grand in hundreds in it.”
“You got two hundred thousand dollars? Harry, that is amazing. Terry, he found the money!”
“The doper’s buried million? I don’t–”
“Most of it was rotten but he got two hundred thousand. Jesus, Harold, that is so amazing. I can’t–”
“Actually I only have one-fifty because I gave Clarence and Harvey twenty-five thousand each.”
“Is that what you agreed on?”
“No, I had told them ten per cent but when we actually got the money, it seemed like the right thing to do.”
“Cool, Harry. Generosity is always cool.”
“Yeah. And a hundred fifty grand ain’t bad for a week’s work, is it?”
“No it isn’t, amigo. But it won’t be enough to buy a loft if I can’t get back into mine, will it?”
“God, that’s right! Did you figure out who’s in there, Luce?”
“I was hoping you were on the case, rich guy.”
“I’m flying back day after tomorrow. I gotta wrap up some other business.”
“I’ll probably be out of here tomorrow myself. We’ve got some stuff to take care of, and I have to decide if I want to go to Chile to work on the show again—I’m feeling a little uneasy after what happened in Sayulita, to say the least–but first things first, and I really need to get back there and see about my loft.”
“You do indeed, or Lascovich will be all over it. If he isn’t already.”
“He’s been out of town I heard but I think he was due back today.”
“You’d better get a move on, Luce. Well, listen, I gotta talk to this guy about alligators for my article. A hundred and a half is pretty fat but it ain’t enough to retire on. I’ll see you in a couple of days.”
“Sounds good Harry. Love you.”
“Love you, Luce. Hey, listen, I’ll call my neighbor Antonio downstairs and tell him to let you into my place if you get there before me and the loft situation is still dicey. He’s in 3C.”
“Cool, Harry. Tell him elevenish tomorrow night. See you soon.” She shut the phone. “Teresa, Harry found his money! He actually found two hundred thousand dollars buried under a Walmart in the middle of a swamp in Florida!”
“Wow!” said Teresa. “That is amazing. We’re all getting rich.”
“What are you guys talking about?” Leslie said.
“Yeah, what’s this money story?” Marcia chimed in.
Lucy told the story of Harry’s found dope money en route from LAX to Venice in Leslie’s black Lexus SUV. As she dropped off Teresa, and then Lucy and Marcia, Leslie said she’d have a rough cut of X Dames Episode One ready to show them the next morning, rushed because she was heading down to Chile to start shooting the snowboarding episode in two days. She also said, just before driving off, that she hoped they’d stay on the show in spite of “Bobby’s bad karma.”
Marcia fetched Claud from her apartment, and after saying goodbye Lucy walked him over to Teresa’s place. They’d planned to hit the beach together to watch the sun go down. The door of Teresa’s bungalow was open when Lucy got there. She went up and called in. “Hey Ter.”
“I’m quitting,” Teresa said, as Lucy walked in.
“Quitting what?” Lucy said.
“The stupid X Dames, Luce.” She looked slightly stunned but immensely happy as she waved a letter of some sort at Lucy. “Pardon my goof-ball grin, Lucy, but I am in a state of simultaneous grace and shock. Luce, I got a McClellan.”
“A McClellan? That’s great I think, but what are you talking about? What’s a McClellan?”
“The McClellan Fund. They give these grants in all kinds of different fields. I got one for art criticism. I don’t even know who nominated me. They’re not allowed to tell me. In any case they’re going to pay me fifty thousand a year for the next five years. I can finish my book and do another one without even having to hustle. I am so made I can’t even believe it.”
“Jesus, Terry, that is phenomenal! Congratulations. God, is it totally payday or what?” They hugged. “Everybody must get rich, as Bob Dylan might sing it. That’s fantastic! God damn! Plus you just made my decision way easier, kiddo.”
“What decision is that, Luce?”
“Terry, you know the only reason I was even considering going on with this X Dames fiasco was you. The vibe was kind of ugly already and with what happened to Sandra I can’t see working anywhere near that Judy, or Dario, again. I can’t believe they’ll even let Bobby keep us on if we don’t quit. And I’d much rather quit than get fired, know what I mean? So: if you’re off the show then I’m off too, so fast Bobby’s not even gonna remember my name.”
“Ha,” said Terry triumphantly. “Let’s let him pay us another week’s salary, then we bail. Payday should be tomorrow.”
“Sounds good. So when do you get the free money?”
“It says the first payment will be in September, twenty-five grand, then twenty-five more every six months for five years. And they pay the taxes.”
“Amazing. I guess this calls for a celebration, Teresa MacDonald. What’s the most expensive restaurant in LA these days?”
“I don’t know but I bet Leslie does. Let’s call her. And get Marcia, too. We’ll have a little reunion.”
Leslie was too busy editing and Marcia didn’t want to go out that night so they moved the party to brunch the next day at Michael’s Restaurant in Santa Monica.
Early the next morning the four of them watched Leslie’s rough cut of the premier/pilot of THE X DAMES: SURF AND DEATH IN SAYULITA. Leslie had done a wonderful job of putting the whole thing together visually, surf contest overlaid with murder investigation; she’d even done a temporary voice over narration. And at the end, when she asked, rhetorically, of the viewers, “And so who do you think is responsible for the death of Sandra Darwin?” it seemed quite clear, at least to this gang, whodunit.
“Bobby’s gonna love it, Les,” said Lucy. “But what are you going to do about Judy Leggett and Ruben Dario? They look totally guilty.”
“Nothing. Bobby said take no prisoners. This is the story we need to tell. If they can’t live with it they’ll have to bail on the show, but I think they both know that they stand to make a ton of money if the series flies. And I think it will. Surfer-babes, accusations of conspiracy to commit murder, and an exotic Mexican setting. What more could a network executive ask for? So I figure they’ll just ride it out. They are a pair of evil, unethical assholes anyway, so why wouldn’t they?”
Then a messenger showed up from Schamberg’s office. He had money and letters for each of them. The checks were for $5000 each, two weeks’ pay, and the letters, signed with a Bobby stamp, regretfully informed them that their services were no longer needed as the show would be moving in a different direction commencing with Episode Two. “Damn,” Lucy said. “I so wanted to quit first.”
“Yeah, but now you don’t ever even have to talk to that knucklehead again. Whereas I have at least another six hours of interviewing him about his daddy to look forward to. Hey, let’s go spend some of his money!” Off they went to brunch. The four of them ate the best of everything off the menu and downed several bottles of shockingly expensive wine, running up a tab of nearly eight hundred dollars. Paying the bill gleefully, Terry said, “That was my entire income for the months of January and February of this year, girls.”
Leslie headed back to her house in Silverlake to work on the edit, while Lucy and her two compadres went back to Venice. She gave Claud his doggie downers and took him for a walk. Then she and Terry loaded all her stuff into the back of the little orange VW. It had been eight days since she arrived in LA. She told Marcia that she could stay with her in New York indefinitely if she did decide to go to Pratt and needed a place—assuming I have a place myself, Lucy added, and leave the yage in LA, please—and then Terry drove Lucy to the airport and the two women hugged and said their goodbyes. Lucy checked in her dog and her bags, and headed to the gate. She was due at LaGuardia at ten pm east coast time. She settled into her first class seat and soon the wine caught up with her and she fell asleep, only to dream of falling out her loft window on the crest of a very large wave. An hour before landing, she woke up with a headache, worried. Back to reality. Real estate combat.
Saturday,10 Aug 2013
There were plenty of threads to untangle, but chief among them, to Lucy’s thinking, was the mysterious role of Judy Leggett. What was her stake in this deal? Lucy hoped the email trail, should Slope Tweed come up with one, might resolve that, but meanwhile she thought she’d drop in on Bobby’s house and have a look around. With Leslie’s digital mini-cam in one hand, shooting away, she pedaled her fat tire bike up the hard-packed low tide beach, shooting filler material. Now that the X Dames had folded up its tents and faded into the background, dead surf-chick included, Sayulita life had returned to its eccentric norm: as she swooped up the beach, she grabbed footage of castle-building kids, tussling dogs, soccer-playing Mexican teenagers, beer-swilling California surfer dudes, joint-toking Euro-hipsters, and margarita-sipping high rent daytrippers from Puerto Vallarta, vamping on rented lounge chairs. She taped the town’s resident surfing dog—a small, black-and-white mongrel, he rode the nose while his tattooed owner-man carved up a dinky little wave on his longboard—as she passed the point. North of the point the crowd thinned, and she surreptitiously captured pairs of well-groomed Norteamericanos power-walking the sand, their well-groomed lapdogs marching in leashed lockstep. When she reached the house of the big fat moon she parked the bike by the beach steps, went up, and approached cautiously, still shooting.
When she got closer, she heard cries and moans, not of pain but of pleasure; sexual pleasure. She stopped, uncertain, and then heard clear as day, Bobby Schamberg saying, “Awesome, baby. Keep it going. Oh, yeah.” This definitely required a closer look. She crept up to the window, mini-cam ready, and peered into a large bedroom. On the kingsized bed in the middle of the room, beneath a ceiling mirror, El Pantero the surfing champion lay on his back. Next to him on the bed, naked, intertwined and writhing, Henrietta and Judy worked on each other. They both had gone Brazilian down below, Lucy could not help but notice. Bobby stood a few feet away from the bedside, also naked, shooting the scene with a video camera. Lucy shot thirty long seconds of footage, then ducked down and scurried away. That clip would probably not make it into the movie. Or maybe it would, if they ended up in the edgier precincts of cable.
When Lucy got back to her room, she found email from Slope. “Hey Lucy, getting this done was way easy for the seedytweedy. As was making your email disappear into the void, so no worries there. It would take a far smarter crew than this bunch to track me down. These people all had their passwords sitting right out there practically in the open for me to grab. They’re either stupid or lazy or both. But there’s a lot of junk. I don’t know what you’re looking for so I didn’t dare edit. It’s in six attachments. Each one covers a week’s worth of correspondence between the names you gave me, sorted by date. Good luck, kick butt, hope to meet you sometime since Mickey says you’re way past cool. El Slopo Mexicano.”
Lucy downloaded the attachments and split them up between the two laptops and the desktop in the café. Marcia stayed at the desktop with two weeks’ worth, while Lucy and Terry headed back to the hotel to work through the other month of mail.
Four hours later, bleary-eyed but verging on triumphant, they stopped, reconnoitred, and made a few calls. First, Terry called Bobby and told him to plan a meeting at his house, next morning, 9 am, and to get everybody there including Dario, Townsend, Judy, and Henrietta. Then Lucy called Dario’s office to personally deliver the same message. Violeta claimed he was out of town again. Lucy said, “Fine, but let him know that I know everything about the deal with the Pastor and Gonzalez families, and I know a certain Dr. Cardozo in Bucerias, and…”
“Senorita Ripken,” Dario interrupted. “I just walked into the office and Violeta tells me you are on the phone for me. Can I help you with something?”
“Tomorrow. 9 am. Bobby’s house. Bring your partner.” She hung up.
“Damn, you’re a fierce one, Luce,” Terry said.
“I think we’d better watch out for that guy,” Lucy said. “He knows we know stuff.”
“Well, you might say you’re pushing a few of his buttons, Lucy,” Marcia said.
“And that’s why we love you, Luce,” said Terry drily. “Meanwhile, let’s get Leslie in here to document our email finds. These are major leads.”
They tracked Leslie down by calling around town, and she showed up soon thereafter. They staged several scenes with each of the women making incriminating email finds. This was reality staged, yes, but the emails weren’t. They were solid bits of cyber-info, undeniable truths even if obtained by dubious means.
After a run to the liquor store for a bottle of sauza and a stop at El Juicy to print out a couple of dozen pages of emails, the women spent the evening knocking back shooters while weaving their lovely web of accusations. They were done just short of midnight.
Unwilling to go back to Bobby’s house at this point in the drama, Leslie spent the night on Lucy’s sofa, leaving her matching bed boys on their own for the night. “They’ll be OK by themselves,” she said. “I think they like screwing each other more than they like doing me.” She sighed. “But at least they don’t ask me to make movies of it.”
“They’ve been invisible all week, Leslie,” Lucy said. “They’re like–pet dogs.”
“Exactly,” Leslie said. “A fine pair of puppies.”
After breakfast the four of them headed up to Bobby’s, accompanied by Hector Valdez and his camera. Leslie also had hers, so they could get a couple of different camera angles in what they hoped would be the climactic confrontational scene. The Big Bust. Bring Down the House.
The usual fleet of SUVs had parked in the driveway. They went in the open front door and found them all sitting in the living room: Bobby Schamberg, Judy Leggett, Ruben Dario, Henrietta Walton, and Wally Townsend. Violeta was there too, in her sexy secretary outfit, with a notepad and a pen, ready to take dictation. The other surfer girls and the surf stud, uninvited, were not on the scene. Leslie’s boys, their “work” done, had gone home on an early flight. “Hi girls,” said Bobby. “How are you today?”
Terry went to a wall switch and turned all the lights on high. “We’re good, Bobby,” she said. “I hope you’re well, after your strenuous–workout–yesterday afternoon.”
He smirked. “God, do you guys like, have to know about everything?”
“Not only know it, Bobby, my man,” Terry said. “We have to document it.”
“Please,” Dario cut in impatiently. “I have many things to do today. Can you kindly make me to understand why we are here?”
“Well, as you know,” Lucy said, “Teresa MacDonald and I, X Dames writers, have had our doubts about the stated cause of Sandra Darwin’s death in the surfing contest the other day. These doubts were raised by a number of facts, the central one being that someone drugged me that morning—and though we never had a chance to prove it we believe that the drugs I ingested were in coffee that Sandra also drank.”
She was being too formal, she decided. Too stiff. This was performance! The camera was on her. Lighten up, Luce. “So, gang, here’s what we did. We found out about Sandra’s real estate deal, and her partners. We found out where she lived, and how she bought the house. We found out–”
“Wait a second, Lucy,” Terry interrupted, on cue. “You’re getting ahead of yourself here. All in good time.” She held up a sheaf of papers. “Although we were able to dig this stuff up only after we’d looked into the real estate deal, these emails turned out to be quite revealing about what happened before the surfing contest was even set up. “What we have here, amigos, is a number of emails sent between Ruben Dario’s office and Judy Leggett, and even a few involving you, Senor Townsend, and you, Henrietta. They date back a couple of months, to a period just prior to the decision by Judy and Bobby to stage the surfing contest in Sayulita, and date forward until last week. It seems that Judy knew Ruben Dario from previous surfing trips—and also they both knew Sandra, and knew exactly her living circumstances. You, Ruben Dario, knew Sandra even better than most, for in spite of having a wife and three children living in Santa Barbara, California, you were involved in an affair with Sandra. And following from that information and several of the emails we discovered, it looks to us as if the point of having the contest here, in Sayulita, was to set up a situation that you—Judy and Ruben– might use to your advantage—as in, somehow getting Sandra to buy the Gonzalez property, where she had been living for several years, since as you very well knew she had become friendly with her landlords. You knew they would never sell that property to you, because they did not want that land developed or Sandra’s house torn down. So the idea was to get her to buy it and then get her rights to it. This was your idea, Ruben, so you were quite happy, even eager, to lend Sandra the down payment of fifty grand, seemingly no strings attached.
“Once Bobby signed on to the Sayulita location for the X Dames show, on Judy’s advice, it became a matter of coming up with a plan to get hold of the property and the easiest and most obvious way to do this, you decided, was to somehow get rid of Sandra. I know you considered bribing her—buying her out for a fat chunk of money–but were not convinced she would take your money to betray her friends, the Pastors and Gonzalezes. Then you lucked out when Judy’s wave tracker reported a major swell was going to show up this week, raising the possibility of a surfing accident, say, during the contest, when the women competitors would be expected to take chances in the waves, to score more points. Of course Judy knew Doctor Cardozo, she’d been down here a few times on surfing trips, so she knew she’d be able to get as much dope as she needed, oxycontin for herself, and seconal for whatever other purposes.
“Henrietta, aside from bad taste in lovers and friends, your only problem is that you knew what Judy planned to do to Sandra, so you’re guilty of accessory. You figured, I guess, that it might give you an actual shot at winning the contest. Townsend, you’re just a greedy fuck with no heart, happy to come along for the ride and collect your commissions. Bobby, you’re the horndog supreme, incapable of thinking with anything but your dick. We find it hard to believe that you weren’t aware of any of this, but I don’t think you were. The rest of you, well, we have evidence in writing, right here, of a fairly solid case for conspiracy to commit murder, since you are all on the deed to Sandra’s property as partners or investors. With Ruben as prestanombre—we know that Sandra’s neighborhood has not yet been regularized so that there was no bank trust involved–you were all set to move forward, turning the fifty grand you paid the Pastor and Gonzalez family into what, five, six, seven million dollars?” She stopped.
“There’s no way–I dump all my email every week,” Judy said. “You’re just making this shit up.”
“You guys are utterly stupid when it comes to email. Anyone with half a brain knows once you write and send an email it remains in your computer, somewhere, unless you proactively delete it. It was a simple matter to dig them all out. And here they are,” she said, waving her stacks of paper. “Your names, email names, your scheme to make sure the contest was down here, your plan to approach Judy with your falsely generous offer to help her buy her house, the deal to get the drugs and get some into Judy’s body on the day of the contest, all of it is right here, on paper.”
“And now let’s go to the video,” Lucy said. They’d loaded all the footage on to one dvd, and now she slid it into the player so it would run on the big screen. “By the way, people,” she said, “we have two more copies stashed elsewhere, so don’t even think about trying to mess with this dvd. You’ll be wasting your time.” It began with the unedited footage from the breakfast, with Lucy describing the business about the dope in the coffee. Then they cut to contest footage interspersed with a series of stills Lucy had shot from the water, including several that showed Sandra collapsing on her board just before her deadly wipeout. Then they moved to the scene in Bucerias, tracking down Doctor Cardozo, and Teresa’s description of what happened in the office. From here the story shifted to the real estate office, and from there to the scene at Sandra’s house and the house behind it, where Mariela and her father and husband had their say. Finally, just for fun, they ended with thirty seconds of pornography that Lucy had shot the day before.
“Christ, why is that in there?” Bobby said. “You don’t have to–”
“Bobby, don’t forget this is going to be a movie of the week.” Terry said. “That part will go away before it hits the little screen. But we thought it would be amusing.”
“You can’t be serious,” Dario said with a sneer. “You can’t make this into a movie!”
“Yes, we can, and we can also take it to the police, which we intend to do this very day,” Lucy said.
“Senoritas,” Dario announced, his tone turning supercilious as he rose to his feet. “You must wait a minute before you begin speaking about the police. Now I personally do not care what you want to show on television up in the United States, except that I hope it has a good audience because I have invested some money in this project. But I will tell you this. One, I don’t know if you are familiar with Mexican laws about internet privacy but you have violated many of them. Therefore everything that you claim you have in those papers there is worthless as evidence, if that is what you think to use it for. Two, there is nothing in that video footage that incriminates anybody. The breakfast tells me nothing. The surfing footage shows somebody falling down. The business with the doctor, Senorita MacDonald here can make this up, and even if it is true, there is no reason that Judy Leggett, who has a documented history of back pain due to many surfing accidents, would not be legally able to obtain these prescriptions. I do not have anything to say about the Caselins and Gonzalezes except that they are angry that they did not charge a higher price for their property, and now they want to blame me and my partners because we will be making so much more money. And finally,” he said, “Do you know the name of the district superintendent of the Mexican Federal Police? He is in Tepic, and he is the man who would be responsible for prosecuting this case, should you actually choose to drag your ridiculous pile of evidence up there and give it to him. At which time he might decide to prosecute you, ladies, because you have stolen private email.
“I’m sure you do not know him, or his name. But you see I do, because his name is Arturo Augustino Dario, and he is my younger brother.” He stopped. The room fell silent for several long seconds.
“Shit,” said Marcia.
Lucy and Teresa exchanged looks. Without saying a word they gathered the papers and the dvd and headed towards the door. Marcia followed them. Leslie and Hector continued filming as they too moved towards the door. There, they all stopped. “See you in court,” Lucy said, but her tone was defeated. Hector lingered in the doorway, shooting reactions. Leslie followed the women across the driveway.
Hector’s last shot from that sequence was one of Bobby, who muttered, “Good job, amigo,” then raised his voice to announce, Donald Trump-style, “Hector Valdez, you’re fired!” before slamming the door in his face.
Leslie’s last shot was Lucy and Terry in conversation.
Lucy: “We’re screwed, aren’t we? There’s no way we can go after them, is there?”
Terry, shaking her head: “I don’t think so. I mean I don’t know if he knows what he’s talking about regarding internet privacy. But our case is primarily circumstantial any way you cut it, and if his brother is in charge of the local cops, you know he won’t touch it.” She brightened marginally. “But if Bobby will let us weave it in with the surfing contest, you know it’ll make a great piece of TV, Luce. We’ll call it THE X DAMES: GUILTY AS NOT CHARGED.”
Wednesday,7 Aug 2013
At ten o’clock the next morning, accompanied by Leslie with her mini-cam hidden in her bag, the new X Dames surfing champion Marcia Hobgood wandered into the office of Sayulita Development Company and asked to speak with Ruben Dario. Dario had gone to Puerto Vallarta, according to snarky, self-important Violeta, sexy young high-heeled office manager, and so they met with Wally Townsend instead. Lucy knocked back a fresh carrot, celery, and ginger juice while waiting in El Juicy Internet Café across the street, watching. Lucy had sent an email to Slope Tweed at seven am, before her surfing lesson with Marcia commenced. She’d ridden six waist-high waves, done a couple of decent bottom turns, and even shuffled up and tried a little nose-riding. Now it was down to business.
Fifteen minutes after entering the office, the two women emerged with Townsend. He was around fifty, a heavy-set white guy with a permanent terra cotta tan, thinning slicked-back hair, and a taste for gaudy Hawaiian shirts. He’d been around all week, but seemed a marginal character, the resident gringo knucklehead in the plot as it developed thus far. Now they were going to use him.
The three of them climbed into a red SUV and drove off. Lucy jumped onto her borrowed-from-the-hotel, fat-tired beach bicycle and followed them up the street, eating dust all the way. They went halfway around the plaza, turned right, and headed down a narrow side street jammed with parked cars. Three blocks later they stopped. Lucy caught up to them just as Townsend unlocked a gate and they stepped into a property hidden behind a high white wall.
They went in. She waited a minute, then approached the gate. It let into a lush, beautifully-landscaped yard, with myriad fruit trees, flowering shrubs, and small fountains. Flowing water and birds made sweet, soothing sounds, and butterflies fluttered amidst the flowers. A stone path led through the secret glade to a charming little one-storey white stucco house with a red tile roof and a small covered verandah: a tiny jewel of a dwelling, in perfect condition. The lushly-planted grounds extended around both sides of the building, and seemed to go on beyond it for quite a ways. Lucy had a quick look around the yard, then dodged out the gate as Townsend emerged from the house with Marcia and Leslie. Lucy jumped on her bike, waited, then followed them back down the road. They returned to the realty office and after a few moments the two women came out. They gathered at the internet café.
Leslie started. “I don’t think Townsend was in on it, since he seems so utterly amazed at his own good fortune that he can hardly contain himself.”
“In on what? What do you mean?” Lucy asked.
“That was Sandra Darwin’s house,” Marcia said grimly. “She had just recently bought it, in partnership with Dario and Townsend. And now they’re going to tear down that beautiful house and rip up all those trees and flowers and build a three-story 14-unit condominium project on the site. Townsend thought maybe I wanted to put my 25 grand in prize money as a ten per cent deposit on a pre-build price of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for a two-bedroom unit, possibly with a territorial view. He’s sure I’ll be able to double my money once they get the plans in place and start marketing the units. Even better I don’t take the money across the border I don’t pay taxes. Yadda yadda yadda. It was an offer I could refuse.”
Lucy considered things. “I guess the question is where did Sandra fit into this deal? I know she was concerned about her living situation, but how was she involved?” she said. “We need to find out who was the seller and what were the terms.”
“I asked Townsend already,” Marcia said. “Just playing curious, you know? He said the seller had requested that they not reveal his name.”
“Did he say why?”
“He said it was a matter of privacy.”
“Hmm,” said Lucy. “I think he’s full of shit. Well, listen girls, I’m going to ride back up there and sniff around a bit, OK? I’ll see you back at the suite later.” They headed off to the beach while Lucy jumped on her bike and rode up to the property.
She went past the house, turned at the next corner, bounced down a bumpy little alley, and turned again. She rolled a few yards down the street, to where she would be directly behind the house—and here she discovered another pretty little house of about the same vintage, only this one did not have a wall around it. Instead, in a somewhat scruffy yard chickens pecked at the dirt, a trio of fat brown goats ate weeds, a single cow stood still, lines of laundry fluttered in the faint breeze, and three small boys dashed about underfoot. A Mexican woman roughly Lucy’s age was taking shirts and underwear down from one of the clotheslines. Lucy approached. “Buenas Dias,” she said.
“Hola,” said the woman, and gave her a smile. “How are you?” she said in lightly- accented English.
“You speak English?” Lucy said, a little surprised.
“Yes. I have been studying it with my friend, but she is–” she stopped, and her face fell.
“Your friend? You mean–” Intuiting, Lucy looked past her, and past her house, to where her yard flowed, unfenced, into what was clearly the back yard of the house beyond. Sandra’s house.
“Si. Yes. Sandra. I teach her Spanish, she teach me English. We were–like sisters. Friends for many years.” She stopped again, obviously overcome.
“I’m sorry,” Lucy said. “I just met her and…I am trying to find out something about what happened to her. Do you know who owns the house she lived in?”
“The owner? Yes but of course. It is my father who owns that house and this, where I live with my family.”
“Your father. Is he here? Could I speak with him?”
“He is fishing, like he is every day. He will be back in–” she looked up at the sun. “One hour more, maybe two.”
“Does he speak English?”
“No but I will help you talk with him. And my husband who is with him also speaks English a little bit like me.”
“I seem to forget my Spanish as fast I learn it,” Lucy said. “But I keep trying.”
“No problem, Miss–”
“Lucy. Lucy Ripken.”
“And I am Mariela Pastor.” They shook hands.
“Muchas Gracias, Mariela. See you later.”
Lucy found Terry and Leslie sitting in a coffee shop on the plaza, fending off the chattery advances of a couple of shave-headed, ear-ringed, nipple-ringed, tongue-pierced, and heavily-tattooed aging Dutch hippie men. They shooed the Dutchmen away and Lucy gave them the latest news. They then gave her theirs: they were scheming to turn the thing into a two hour reality-based movie of the week, and Leslie thought she and Bobby might even get one of the broadcast networks to bite, if they could push the Outside Network into a second slot by guaranteeing them syndication rights if the series followed. The story was weird enough, she figured, in its evolution from reality-based womens’ sports competition to real life murder mystery. If that’s what it was. They sat for a minute, watching the tourists and locals wander by, mulling the decidedly strange, post-postmodern nature of what they were doing: investigating a crime while making a movie out of the investigation. Or was it a documentary at this point? A docudrama?
Then back into action. Lucy took Leslie and her mini-cam with her on the second trip to Mariela’s house, where she found her in the company of two men, a slender, well-built white-haired guy who looked to be pushing seventy, and a heavyset man of forty or so, with longish hair and a bandito’s mustache. They sat on the porch steps gutting fish at high speed, and throwing the innards to a pair of small black dogs, who caught and gulped them down as fast as the men could throw them. Unable to resist, Leslie turned on the camcorder and started shooting.
The men stood, wiping their hands on blood-stained t-shirts and ragged cut-offs. Lucy and Mariela did the introductions, and Lucy then explained that they wanted to film the discussion. Leslie kept filming. The men—Mariela’s father was Jose Luis Gonzalez, and her husband was Pancho Pastor—wanted to know why. Lucy hesitated, and chose to be blunt. She explained, in English, that they were not sure that Sandra had died by accident and so they were looking into any reasons anyone would have to do her harm, and wanted to make a record of everything they discovered. Mariela quickly translated for her father, who said something back rapidly in Spanish. When he stopped, Mariela said, “You mean to say that you think someone caused her to die, yes? This is what my father asks.”
“Yes,” said Lucy. “That is what I think is possible.”
“Why do you think this?” Mariela asked, and then turned to her father and spoke briefly. Her father, Senor Jose Luis Gonzalez, had seemed a taciturn man to that point. But now, with a determined look on his face, he began speaking, and as he worked his way into his argument he grew more animated and excited. Clearly he was getting something serious off his chest. It took him five minutes, a non-stop tirade. And then he fell silent and sat down, exhausted.
“He says many things, Lucy,” Mariela said. “My father and my uncle Leon helped their father, my grandfather, built these two houses, and Leon lived there in the house behind our house for most of his life. He never married so after he died five years ago, we rented it out. Sandra was our first and only tenant, and lived there these five years. We became friends because she was a very good gardener. So when she came to us with a proposal to buy the house and land we were happy to think about it. It turned out that she did not have the money to buy it, but she had found some partners to finance it for her. We made a deal with them that we would sell them the house and lot for a good price, but only with the condition that Sandra is able to stay there for as long as she. We did not want to sell the place to any other person. This is what Sandra asked for. When she wants to go, we told them, we will need the money and you can do your project. They said that was fine. They paid a down payment of fifty thousand dollars, with the rest of the money—two hundred thousand dollars US—they were going to pay when Sandra left.” Her eyes filled with tears. “But then she died in the surfing contest–”
“Her rights to the place go to her family, or back to you, right?”
“No, they go to the partners. That was part of it. We never imagined her dying. We hardly even talked about this part of the contract. She was only twenty-seven years old.”
Her husband finally spoke, in heavily-accented English. “That cabron Ruben Dario and his American partners plan to rip all the trees out and tear the house down and make some big ugly condos over there, and sell them all. They are planning to start this summer. We get a lot of money that we don’t need and they are going to ruin that land forever. I have seen what development brings. Our street will never be the same.”
“Well Lucy, I guess we’ve got our motive,” Leslie said, her voice tinged with sadness as they trudged back down the road a few moments later. “And I’ve got some more great footage.”
“But how are we ever going to be able to prove anything? How can we nail these guys?”
“I think you should get that Tweed character on this. I bet there’s an email trail. These days there’s always an email trail.”
Back at the internet café, Lucy logged on and discovered that Slope Tweed had sent her an email with a link to his other website, email@example.com. She went there and had a look. The site offered internet services, no details beyond that. There was a photo of Tweed on the street in the East Village. He looked like Homer Simpson in black hipster clothes. Lucy sent him an email: Hi Slope. Lucy R here. Saw your site. Mickey says you can find things out. The company is Sayulita Development Company, website Sayulitaforsale.com. Any email from anyone there, especially a guy called Ruben Dario but also Wally Townsend, to someone called Judy Leggett, JudyLegs@Yoohoo.com; any email between any of them and SanDar@mns.com. If you could cover the last month that would be great. Do your best. We think these people are guilty of murder. Also PLEASE do what you have to do to make this email completely go away at both ends. Thanks Lucy Ripken.
Sunday,4 Aug 2013
Here in tropical Sayulita, we are surrounded by and live in the jungle. While the vegetation dries out from late winter into early summer, for much of the year the hills and valleys of Nayarit are buried in dense, verdant lushness. At times, the vegetation is so profuse, one can hardly focus on individual types of trees, flowers, and other flora. And so in an effort to bring attention to bear on some of the more intriguing or unusual plant species in the region, we are going to do the occasional tree or plant blog. This is tree blog one, and the subject is the so-called “gringo” tree. > Read more