Saturday,10 Aug 2013

For New York-based freelance writer and photographer Lucy Ripken, every month brings another financial adventure, but it all boils down to one challenge: how to make ends meet. In X Dames, Lucy gets lucky when an old friend, Teresa MacDonald, calls with a seemingly unbeatable offer to work in LA on a new reality TV show—Called X Dames—featuring a shifting cast of curvaceous female athletes competing in extreme sports.

Lucy jumps at the chance, makes a move to Southern California, and soon finds herself en route to Mexico’s Pacific coast, to the small but booming resort town of Sayulita, the location for the show’s premier event: a women’s surfing contest. Giant surf, real estate shenanigans, and a mysterious death by drowning combine to transform the reality show into a real-time investigation of murder in the high waves.

With video cameras recording everything for the upcoming premiere of X Dames, Lucy and her pals soon find themselves deeply enmeshed in uncovering a conspiracy involving crooked real estate dealers, corrupt politicians, and an old nemesis returning from one of Lucy’s earlier adventures.


Justin Henderson is responsible for most of the the text on this site. Justin is an established writer, having published six novels as well as many non-fictions and travel guides. When he’s not writing, he’s usually riding waves on a surfboard or a paddleboard in Sayulita or Punta de Mita.

Photography by

Donna Day

Donna Day, our accomplished, full of life, professional photographer does most of the images on our site. Donna did editorial, advertising and architectural photography in New York and Seattle before bringing her talent for vibrant imagery to Sayulita.


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.”

X DAMES 11: Back in the USA