Saturday,24 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.


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.


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.