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His outside thermometer showed it was sixty-eight degrees at that height, not bad even in “America’s Finest City” for a November 22nd. In this fall of 2008, almost no breeze was coming in off the big blue Pacific Ocean and there were no clouds at all to block the chest-warming sun.
Leslie had been shot by Mexican bandits just seven weeks before and nearly died from two bullets drilling through his right arm-pit into his right lung.
The sun felt good on him. His chest wounds were healing well, according to the doctors. He had spent almost all of the last week on his balcony, recuperating in the sun, getting nicely tanned. He felt stronger every day.
That morning he had checked and sure enough, silver hairs were sprouting in his black waves; they were “salt and peppering” his temples. That made him look more mature, he supposed. Well, he was nearing the ripe old age of forty-two years; so it was expected.
He wondered if his supposed look-alike, the old time movie actor, “Black Irish” Tyrone Power, ever got gray haired; maybe not, as he had died young.
Leslie had received many compliments on his looks and on his deep baritone “radio announcer’s” voice.
A most amazing thing in politics had just happened – a remarkably gifted and charismatic African-American had been elected President of the United States.
The stock market had crashed, real estate values had tanked and the whole world, it seemed, had fallen into a bad financial “Great Recession”.
Leslie’s own paid-for condominium had lost much value if he were to sell it then – but he had zero plans for that.
He could hear his Blackberry cell phone ringing in the kitchen.
“Ronica, would you answer that, please?” he asked.
Bride-to-be Ronica McCarty with the great mass of curly red hair told him, “It’s Captain Noffsinger; he’s gotta talk to you.”
Leslie took the offered phone. “Yes Captain?”
“Jack, I’ve got a squad car coming to your place right now. He’s gonna speed you up to Montgomery Field where you’ll meet the Chief at the helicopter to fly to Black’s Beach. Jesus Christ, Jack! Somebody’s just slaughtered two or three dozen folks on that damn beach!”
“Two or three dozen? Sir, that’s just gotta be a hoax.”
“It’s no hoax Jack. Your replacement leading Team Three, Sergeant Vogel herself was flying in one of those goddamned paraglider rigs along the bluffs up there and spotted them on the sand. She got so nuts over it she broke her leg when she put down there and then phoned it in. Please hurry down to the cruiser; he will be pulling up about now.”
“On my way Captain!” Leslie shouted.
It was Saturday and he saw a clock showed l2:25.
That night they would “fall back” to standard time.
Because he was still recuperating from his wounds, he wasn’t supposed to be back “on the job” until Monday, November 24th.
Leslie hurried off his shorts and put on his black shoes, armored vest and black San Diego Police uniform with a silver bar on each collar. Then he wrapped his belt around him that held such gear as cuffs and pistol.
He whipped on a black necktie and donned his short black jacket.
He then plunked his cap on and grabbed his camera, dashed for the fifteenth floor elevator and took it to the lobby of his downtown condo at First Avenue and Market Street.
Outside, sure enough, a police cruiser was waiting for him with the lights on top already flashing.
As Leslie jumped into the passenger seat, he told the Officer, “Fly fast as you can! Don’t talk! Concentrate on not killing anybody!”
“Yes sir!” the Officer said and indeed, he knew how to drive fast with siren blaring and flashing lights warning other drivers out of the way.
The one who reported in about the slayings was Sergeant Marge Vogel, Captain Noffsinger had said. She was Leslie’s replacement as the leader of his old Homicide Team Three when he became a Lieutenant and Homicide Detail Co-Commander.
Vogel had been a Detective on his Team and was an unusually talented police woman; she was thirty-three years old and married with two little sons. Leslie had known Vogel was very much into things like paragliding, swimming and diving; she was big and strong – great assets for a Police Officer, male or female.
On his second day after the promotion from Team Sergeant/Leader to Homicide Detail Lieutenant, Leslie had been nearly killed, twenty miles south near the border with Mexico.
The three shooters had begun firing at him in the dark and Leslie returned fire at the gun flashes rather more accurately than the three border-crossing Mexicans and they all died. The DA’s office declared the shooting with the lop-sided result was justified.
Of the seventeen shots in the magazine of his 9 millimeter Glock Police pistol, he was told he had expended – remarkably – an even dozen of them.
“McCarthy, you are one excellent driver!” Leslie told the Officer as he pulled up to the waiting helicopter on Montgomery Field.
“Damn! Lieutenant, this here Crown Vic hit over a hundred and ten there on the freeway!” the man smiled.
Leslie jumped out. The chopper already had its rotor blades going around and around. The side door of the craft was open and he saw Police Chief Charlene Slumberjay and her Officer-Driver-Aide inside. Leslie leaped up into the thing and slid the door closed.
The pilot immediately rose up into the air and headed for Blacks Beach on the Pacific Ocean, only a few miles to the northwest.
The beach was just below the world-famous – and famously beautiful – ocean-bluff-side Torrey Pines golf course and the Torrey Pines State Park.
The Torrey pines were a unique-in-the-world species of tree, native only to San Diego and to Catalina Island. That island, said scientists, had been split off the continent and pushed a hundred miles north of San Diego and twenty-five or so miles out to sea by gigantic geologic forces many eons ago. That mountainous island had taken some of those distinctive pine trees along for the ride.
Leslie had never seen his diminutive boss except as she was then, in her black police uniform, wearing the usual four stars on her collars and four more on each shoulder strap.
Top Generals and Admirals also wore the same indications of rank, despite having vastly greater responsibilities.
There were pretty gold “scrambled eggs” on the visor of her cap, the same as for top warriors. Chief Slumberjay was in her mid-fifties and only five feet tall. The attractive hundred-pounder looked younger than her age and was a capable and popular police chief.
The so-called “Black’s Beach” was below the towering, crumbling sandstone bluffs of Torrey Pines State Park and it was popular for those wishing to immodestly sun themselves in their birthday suits.
It was a difficult-to-reach extension of the “family portion” of that beach.
Perhaps some of those “sun bathers” were exhibitionists and there just to brag of their exemplary physiques. Supposedly, nothing “indecorous” happened there, since no sexual activity was being reported. Some of the men who regularly hung out there were said to be strictly voyeurs – peeping toms out in the open, usually with cameras.
The place was difficult to get to, it being a long trek in loose sand from the closest family beaches north or south and a particularly hard climb up or down the high, rough and dangerous bluffs over it.
The Chief hollered up to the pilot, “For God’s sake, don’t land near any bodies you see! The rotor wash would surely destroy evidence in the sand!”
“I’ll try to put down on wet sand, ma’am,” he shouted back to her. “Must be one helluva scene!”
The chopper was flying at about a thousand feet up when it cleared the park and the bluff overlooking Black’s Beach.
Actually, the very wealthy Black family had requested that their name no longer be used for the beach. Leslie had heard they were related to the former child movie super star and ambassador, Shirley Temple Black. It should be called Torrey Pines State Beach, that family had insisted, as the long-used name wrongly seemed to many to imply it was meant for Black people.
The first thing visible to Leslie was the gleaming red cloth of the flimsy paraglider Sergeant Vogel had been “flying”. The movement of air off the ocean and up the cliffs supported persons gliding in such frail craft over the beach. The fragile flying contraption was lying in a heap next to the water and they could see Vogel sitting close to it, waving at them.
Sure enough, bodies seemed sprawled all over the place.
Leslie slid open the side door of the ‘copter and began shooting pictures with his camera. He shot them as fast as he could, up and down the beach, up the rugged bluffs and even out into the ocean as the craft circled on the way down. The amazing little memory card in his new digital camera could hold over a thousand photos or an entire hour of video.
He took advantage of that fact and kept on clicking photos non-stop until the ‘copter settled down near the water but a bit south of the bodies. Even so, plenty of sand was kicked up.
Chief Slumberjay yelled at the pilot, “Shut this damn thing off and be ready in a little bit to take Sergeant Vogel outta here. She thinks her leg’s broken so come and help us with her.”
She further instructed him to radio other choppers coming in to set down near him. Others would be coming to bring Crime Scene Investigators and many Police Officers.
Police Department Lifeguards might also be driving down close to the water in their special vehicles which regularly drove about on loose beach sand.
“Leslie, do you have lots of capacity with that thing?” she asked, pointing to the camera.
“About a thousand shots, ma’am. I’m not back to strength enough to help with Vogel so I’ll keep on taking them on the ground before hordes of Officers disturb possible evidence,” he replied.
Then he immediately jumped out and began snapping the digital miracle as he walked among the corpses.
Forty-one-year-old Leslie had seen many a corpse – more than a few of course totally unclothed – in his sixteen years of Police work with much of that time in the Homicide Detail.
But he had seen nothing like that number of naked dead human beings lying about in one place, mostly on blankets, and some of them obviously shot several times.
Since the age of ten, Leslie had kept a daily diary and today’s experience would surely take a few pages, he thought.
During the warm summer tourist season, Black’s Beach attracted hundreds at a time, many in the crowd with cameras to titillate “their friends back home.” They would photograph uncovered crotches and bare breasts they couldn’t normally, openly gawk at.
Naturally, there were numerous cell phones lying about on the sand or on blankets; all the phones were closed that he saw. It seemed to Leslie that folks were so taken by surprise and disbelief that none of them apparently phoned anyone to report the disaster happening to them.
All of those phones would be examined by the Crime Lab to see if pictures of the shooter might have been taken. They of course would also try to discover messages on them that amounted to threats by someone. The victim’s computers too, might reveal some telling thing.
The homicides, Leslie reasoned, must have been almost fantastically rapid.
They weren’t all totally naked. Several of the females had a tiny bit of cloth over their privates although they wore nothing above. All the men he saw were completely nude.
He made no effort to note just then how many gunshots had killed them; they could figure that later with the help of the pictures he was taking by the score.
He noticed none were children although a few women looked to be perhaps in their teens.
Those who had been wounded in their faces…. well, some he couldn’t tell what age they might have been.
The bodies were more or less clustered in groups on blankets, as though they were friends.
Then he saw two corpses perhaps fifteen yards away.
They seemed to be a middle-aged man and an older woman; they had to have been running north, away from the shooter, when they were each hit several times and fell face first. Those two had plowed awkwardly into the sand. Oddly, they appeared to be the only ones running away. Why had the others apparently stayed still to get shot?
The killer or killers must have had a fully automatic weapon or weapons, he assumed.
The victims had to have been staring at the shooter or shooters in disbelief, not believing that their lives would be over in mere seconds.
Bags of clothing, shoes, sandals, drink coolers, food and even two little barbeque grills were by them.
The over-done steaks that right then were sending smells and smoke into the air on one of the grills and the charred burgers on the other, would never be eaten.
As Leslie looked up he saw Chief Slumberjay had come up quite near him and as he turned toward her, she held out her hands to him and her expression of grief said she was about to bawl her head off.
“Cops must not cry!” he actually growled at his boss in his low, baritone voice. “There’s a rule, you remember. Everybody can cry but us Cops. That’s the rule, as you well know.”
He added the last with an easy, soothing smile despite being in the midst of carnage.
She stiffened, brushed her hands against her sides and nodded.
“Thanks Jack. Damn near lost it there. You count how many yet?” she asked.
“No ma’am, I didn’t. Hope CSI gets here soon and covers these bodies. News choppers will be overhead any minute, I suppose. I’m going to keep on shooting here,” he added and kept right on with his work, knowing many pictures would be duplicates. That was alright for photos at different angles might reveal something.
Some of the men and the women were well-tanned with no lines indicating that they had never worn a stitch in the sun. They were “regulars” at that beach, Leslie assumed.
Only one person was African-American and he looked to be an athlete.
Although the light breeze coming in from the sea was hardly warm, none of the bodies had any clothing on.
He saw a startling thing. On the right arm of the Black fellow, a pretty blonde girl lay. She appeared to be no more than eighteen. She had three or four gunshot wounds in her chest and two of the shots had exploded the pouch of silicone in each of her breasts. Her “enhanced” breasts – her “boob jobs” – were blasted to smithereens!
A blonde to the African-American’s left was similarly pretty and her torso also was shot up badly. But her large firm breasts had not been hit. Both girls had dark pubic hair, indicating they had much help from a bottle in becoming yellow-haired up top.
Leslie noted the African-American’s privates had been shot so much as to leave very little there.
It seemed that the other folks lying about very dead but no longer bleeding, had merely been shot to death.
None but the black fellow and his blondes seemed shot up excessively as though in revenge for something or other.
Too soon he heard the sound of helicopters overhead; two of them landed close by the first chopper.
As Leslie looked up, he saw two others coming from the south, from town; they would be hired by television stations and possibly by the city’s only newspaper, he thought.
Only in drug-gang-plagued Mexico and other war zones would such a number of dead people be regularly scattered about on display.
The news people would be anxious to get “firsts”, especially since the salacious aspect of nudity would be appealing to scandalized and titillated audiences.
As the Chief had ordered by radio, a half dozen CSI men and women carried bundles of yellow plastic sheets to cover the bodies and they hurried to do so.
Leslie shot the last few images before the beach was chewed up further with the footprints of the newcomers. Then he walked over to the Chief who was talking to Sergeant Vogel.
“Jack, Marge says she didn’t see anyone anywhere near these bodies when she flew over in her paragliding rig,” the Chief said. “Obviously, they had been killed a short time before she saw them. But it looks to me that all the bleeding is done. Got any clues at all yet, Jack?”
“No ma’am, not exactly. I’ve covered this area pretty well and I saw nothing of a weapon but I did find this bullet back over there. It was just lying on the sand and I assume it went through somebody’s gut and that slowed it down so it skipped along on the sand without damage. It’s a .45 caliber pistol slug. I’ve shot a thousand of these myself in my old Colt .45 – which you might recall you forbid me to use any longer.”
“Let me see that, Jack. Oh. Oh, it sure as hell is. But whoever shot all these folks sure as hell couldn’t have done it with a pistol, could they Jack?”
“No ma’am, it’s gotta have been an automatic weapon. The .45 caliber weapon that can have a huge magazine would be the old Thompson Submachine Gun. It had a round drum magazine that would hold as many as a hundred shots and I’d guess off-hand that’s at least as many as were fired here. I recall it used to be called a TommyGun typewriter.”
“Well goddamn, a TommyGun! Jesus Christ! That’s what those old time gangsters used, such as the Capone gang in Chicago during Prohibition days,” the Chief said.
“I’ve read also Chief, that huge numbers were produced and used in World War II but they were expensive to make. Also, they were only effective at short range. But at the short distances to shoot here, a TommyGun would be extremely deadly. Somebody maybe got one on the black market because I think they’re now against the law to own. So that means somebody probably used a war-time Soldier’s submachine gun to slaughter these people,” Leslie continued.
“What in heaven’s name for, Chief? Aha, maybe that’s it,” Leslie said. “Maybe somebody thought these folks were terribly bad sinners for sunbathing nude and thought they should be sent straight to Hades! Had it been a really hot day, there might have been hundreds here to get murdered. Chief Slumberjay, we might find a religious nut has done this awful thing.”
“You may have something there since we know religionists sometimes go way over the edge in their twisted beliefs.”
“Yes ma’am, but I should know better; I’m jumping to conclusions before I have any right to,” he said.
“Jack, I’ve been told many times that you have a genius for coming to quick conclusions and it’s been proven your hunches are almost always right.”
“But I’ve been wrong too, ma’am. No, I must reserve judgment until we know a lot more. I counted the bodies, Chief.
“There’s thirty-three, all more or less adults; fourteen females, nineteen males. As none of them were bleeding anymore, I’d guess they’ve been dead about an hour or a little less. Every one of them. They were killed about high noon or a bit after.”
The Chief wheeled away to direct and help cover the bodies and have officers put up stakes and a yellow tape “fence” to ward off intruders.
Leslie turned to Sergeant Marge Vogel, a plain-faced woman with short, straight brown hair. She was long-legged, bigger and stronger than most women and that was a definite advantage for a lady Police Officer. She was dressed in tan slacks, a modest sweater and sneakers.
“How’s the leg, Marge?” he asked.
“The Chief gave me some naproxen but it hasn’t taken hold yet, Lieutenant Leslie. I suppose I’ll live but damn, I was so shook up when I tried to land that I think the tibia’s maybe busted on my left leg. It wasn’t difficult to fly that thing the way the wind’s coming from the west although it’s too chilly for most people. I heard what you said to the Chief, that ‘Cops must not cry’. Well, I damn near lost my cookies at the sight here but at least I haven’t cried…. not yet, anyway,” Sergeant Vogel told her Lieutenant.
“You’re a good and sharp Officer, Marge. When the world’s going all to pieces around us, we Cops have to keep a grip on our senses. You must’ve been most interested – I guess I could say – at all those dead people on the sand when you flew over. So you didn’t notice anyone going away on the beach or up the bluffs there? Or any boats in the water?”
“No Lieutenant, I absolutely did not. I’m certain anything like that would’ve caught my eye. So whatever madman did this thing absolutely got away before I floated over this scene of slaughter.”
“Marge, there’s every sort of footprints going every which way but I noticed there’s no sign at all of tire tracks. No tracks of horses, either. And you saw nothing like that from above, either?”
“Sure didn’t, Lieutenant Leslie. Although of course, I wasn’t looking for anything like that. That was the most astounding sight I’ve ever seen; absolutely the most astounding although at first I couldn’t believe all these people on the beach were actually dead.”
“Yes, I agree with you there, Marge. I’ve never seen anything like this before either and I’ve been at this business over sixteen years now. I want you to be very careful Marge and try to remember what you saw. Were any of those bodies acting yet not quite dead? Were any of them bleeding yet? The Medical Examiner people will certainly ask you those questions.
“It might be important to know precisely when they were shot if we’re to determine who murdered them. They should get you up to the chopper pretty quick. I’d help but you know I don’t want to bust anything loose in my shot-up chest yet. You’re looking a little pale but not too bad, eh Marge?” Leslie asked her.
“No sir, I’m gonna be okay. I phoned my husband. He’s waiting up there at the glider port where I took off from. I was only in the air just minutes when I saw all this. Hopefully, nothing’s broken on my leg after all. I think I can remember what I saw, despite the shock. I heard – well, everybody knows, I guess – that those Mexicans that robbed the Chief’s husband shot you up pretty good but you made it okay after all, sir,” Vogel said.
“Turns out, Marge, I was told that although all three of those guys shot at me with identical Smith and Wesson .32 Specials, only two of their shots got past the armored vest.
“I got it twice in the chest because that guy to my right’s shots nicked the edge of the Kevlar under my right arm. Forensics showed both wounds came from just one of those revolvers. Those bullets smashed through two ribs and took bits of Kevlar, cloth from my suit, shirt and undershirt into my right lung. The docs had a lot to dig out. The other two shooters did pretty good to shoot the devil out of the car door I was behind, instead of me. Lucky habit of mine, never to leave my home without that vest over me and my pistol in its holster,” he added.
He noticed then he was filled with tension from those thoughts so without hesitation, he took a deep, deep breath. It always hurt his right chest when he did that, but it was worth it to calm himself.
“They shot up the car door, Lieutenant?”
“Well, when I was driving along that road there, I saw some men run into the bushes and being curious to what they might be up to, all I did was pull over close by and opened the window and then the door a bit to step out and here comes a hail of bullets. So I fired back. Heck, they were only a few feet away so it wasn’t exactly difficult to shoot them.”
“I heard they measured it as twenty-nine feet,” Vogel said.
“Really? All of twenty-nine feet? It really did seem a lot closer at the time and after all it was dark and I hardly expected a shooting-match with some illegal border crossers. Ah, here they come with a stretcher for you. Hope your leg is not actually broken, Marge,” Leslie said.
Two burly Officers helped Vogel up onto a stretcher and with help from two others, went away with her. They would take her to the helicopter, load her in, the chopper would take her up to the glider port so her husband could take her to the hospital to have her leg X-rayed.
The Chief came up to him as Leslie studied the scene of the covered bodies again and again. “Jack, I want you to talk to the media. They’ll be here shortly, beyond our choppers. I’m getting out of here and you’re in charge. You do feel up to it, don’t you? I’ll have the chopper come back for you later.”
“Well ma’am, I accepted this promotion and I knew it involved such a duty so…. yes, I suppose I feel composed enough.”
He thought to add for her benefit, “From a long habit ma’am, I always try to keep my calm around the dead by remembering they aren’t people anymore, only flesh and bones and blood; just inanimate things. Those that had been in those bodies have gone either up or down to their rewards or maybe somewhere unknown.”
“Yeah, guess so,” Police Chief Slumberjay acknowledged.
“Chief, I’ll get somebody to check out that cliff for evidence. I’ll phone for a couple of divers over here to scour the ocean bottom off shore quickly before waves push the sands around to bury any evidence. The perp or perps might have thrown that TommyGun or whatever into the water before disappearing. Maybe more than one magazine was used too, so the divers must look for those as well.”
“Excellent Jack. Thanks for everything.”
“I wonder why we see no shell casings. The firing may have been done in the water and those will be out there, too,” Leslie said.
“Or there’s a trick I saw in the Viet Nam war,” she said.
“Those Viet Cong would sometimes tie or tape a bag on the side of an AK-47 Kalashnikov to catch the casings as they flew out so’s not to leave evidence, you might say, that they’d been there. Also, they’d save the casings to be reloaded. Maybe that could be done with a TommyGun, too.”
“Well, well. Hadn’t heard of that one, Chief.”
“Please Jack, the bodies are all covered now and I see those reporters are over there beyond the tape. You’ll know what to say maybe better than me. I’ll see you in the office Monday.”
“I sure doubt I can do it as well as you, but here goes,” Leslie said.
The Chief left in the chopper hauling Vogel away.