Continued from Chapter 19.
Sheila Masters was anxious. She fidgeted as Tyrone drove the van south, up the hill into Clairemont and away from the park. The fact that she had just killed Christopher Swank did not bother her. He was an insignificant tweaker who had outlasted whatever usefulness he had ever possessed. The fact that the greasy little Arab had gotten away did not really bother her either. And while she was concerned about what Leonard would say, he did not really scare her. As they passed the Moonglow, she saw cop cars in the parking lot by the cab. She chewed her thumb nail. But the cops did not concern her. What had made her exceptionally nervous was the fact that she did not have her Gad. She left it hanging on the rearview mirror of Christopher Swank’s beat up Buick, and she did not know it was gone for good; impounded by the cops.
Sheila had owned the Mojo since she had done time in Louisiana. Originally from Savannah, Georgia, Sheila and her then boyfriend, Tommy Chester, had decided to stay briefly in Baton Rouge on their way west. Her stay lasted longer than she had anticipated when she got busted with five pounds of marijuana. Tommy, a small time street dealer, had slipped out the bathroom window when the local sheriff raided their motel room. Tommy abandoned her and was never caught. After a two hour trial, the jury had found her guilty. The zealous judge, who mistook the sword of justice for the sword of Gideon, sentenced her to five years in a maximum security work farm. Less than a week after she arrived, several other inmates had held her down in the shower and repeatedly raped her with the handle of a plumber’s helper. The warden listened with disinterest when she reported the incident. The result of her talk with the warden was a severe beating by the other inmates. Then it was the guards’ turn. Over the long hot summer and into the humid autumn months, several of the guards raped and sodomized her at their leisure.
An old Haitian woman named Ezili Guédé Dahomey had taken pity on Sheila. Ezili was serving a life sentence. She had immigrated to the United States and married a Creole man named Ducant. They had lived together in a small shack on the outskirts of the Lafayette swamp land in northern Louisiana. Ducant liked to beat Elizi.
Long before Lorena Bobbet struck fear in, among other things, the hearts of the men of America, Elizi had chopped off her abusive husband’s legs, penis and testicles with an axe. She fed the appendages to the snapping turtles and alligators in the swamp, which was her backyard. She did so as her husband watched from the porch and bled to death. Her sentence was meted out from fear of what she might do to the judge and the all-male jury who had found her guilty should she ever walk the streets again.
In Haiti, Elizi, had been a Hunsi, the assistant to a powerful Voodoo Hungan or priestess. She continued to practice the religion — based upon a mix of Catholicism and African rituals – while in prison.
Elizi fashioned a small pouch from leather scraps. She filled the pouch with bird feathers, rodent and chicken bones, two shiny pebbles, and the dried heart of a rat. She sealed the pouch tight with a leather strap. As a final touch she fastened the foot of chicken to the top of the pouch with a wire.
Elizi awakened Sheila one night and took her to the storage room of the dormitory. Sheila sat with Elizi all night while she quietly recited incantations over a small oil lamp, the floating wick supported by two bone splinters forming a cross. As the dawn approached, Elizi subjected the pouch to the magic. Elizi gave Sheila the pouch, which she called a Gad. Elizi told Sheila the Gad would protect her from harm and if called upon and would smite down her enemies.
“Is this a Mojo?” Shiela asked.
“Ah, dats whats you white folks calls it.” Elizi’s voice was thick with Caribbean wisdom. “It is a Gad. Don’ you foget dat. Ever.”
After that, the other inmates and guards stayed away from Sheila. It was probably their healthy apprehension of Elizi that made them leave Sheila alone. Whatever the reason, Sheila knew the attacks stopped after Elizi had given her the Gad.
Sheila had served three years of the five year sentence before she was paroled. During that time, Elizi taught her how to protect herself. She also taught her how to swing an axe, scythe and machete while they were on work details clearing brush in the surrounding area. She came to prison a sweet Georgia Peach and left three years later a dangerously disturbed woman who feared neither person nor thing, particularly death. Death was not to be feared, it was to be embraced and received freely.
Upon Sheila’s release from prison, Elizi had arranged for Sheila to receive six brass coins. The coins had a five sided star or pentacle on one side; on the other was a cockerel, comb up, talons extended. Elizi told Sheila to leave a coin with her enemies to keep their spirit from following and harming her. Use them wisely, Elizi had told her, save them for those whose evil is far reaching. Sheila spent her last night in prison with her head in Elizi’s lap as the old woman held her and stroked her hair. She sang a soft, mysterious song until Sheila fell asleep.
After her release, Sheila worked her way west through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and finally into California. She always wore the Gad around her neck as a talisman; protecting her from the corrupt forces of her world.
Sheila met Tyrone Brown in the high desert town of Ridgecrest, California. Tyrone had also been recently released from prison. He had served his time at the California State Penitentiary at Folsom. He had been paroled after serving eleven years of a twenty-five year to life sentence for two counts of second degree murder. He had been a gang member of the notorious Crips in south central Los Angeles. During a particularly bloody turf war, Tyrone had tossed a molotov cocktail through the apartment window of the member of a rival gang. Tyrone had never been very bright. On this evening, he had misread the address of the intended victim. The subsequent burning death of a 60-year-old grandmother and her 2-year-old grandson created such a public outcry that the District Attorney had originally sought the death penalty. The evaluation of the court appointed psychiatrist, however, put Tyrone at substantially lower than average intelligence. During a more liberal and humanistic era, the District Attorney had only sought second degree murder. The conviction was handily obtained. The judge sentenced Tyrone to the maximum time allowed under the law.
Unfortunately for the public, prison overcrowding and the arrival of a new crop of dangerous young men resulted in Tyrone’s parole. He had been out for three months and had never seen a parole officer. The system was so overburdened the parole officer in charge of Tyrone’s case had not even had time to enter him into the system. As a result, if Tyrone was stopped and questioned, his name would not show up on any law enforcement computer check as a parolee.
On the night Sheila met Tyrone, she had been trying to hitch a ride at the truck stop outside of Ridgecrest. She had seen Tyrone sitting at a small concrete table eating a hamburger and drinking a soda. She could tell he had been in prison by the way he hunched over his food as if to protect it from being stolen. Tyrone was alone when the Nissan 4X4 pick-up with five young white young men pulled into the lot. At first the group went to the window of the drive-in to order, then one of the group noticed Tyrone. One of the men walked over to Tyrone, picked up the paper cup of soda and poured it over Tyrone’s head. Without thinking, Sheila had started across the parking lot, unnoticed by the group.
“You ain’t much of man, nigger,” she heard the young man say.
She had silently picked up a metal trash can and shouted, “Hey!”
The young man turned around in time for his face to catch the full force of the swinging trash can swung into his face. The blow knocked him backwards onto the ground, where Sheila continued to pummel him with the can. The young man’s four companions rushed forward to his aid, shouting obscenities at Sheila. That’s when Tyrone stood up. At 6-feet, 2-inches, he was taller than most and his broad chest made him look huge. He was calm, but his scarred face and pale eyes enhanced his menacing appearance.
“That’s enough,” he said to the men, who had stopped their headlong rush and fallen silent. Sheila was still beating on the man with the dented trash can. He had curled up in a ball to protect himself. Tyrone could see that Sheila intended to kill the man. He gently, but firmly took hold of her shoulders. She turned, her face contorted with rage, ready to beat on her next attacker. When she saw it was the black man, she stopped.
“I think he understands,” said Tyrone quietly. Sheila looked at the man as he rolled over on his hands and knees, crawling rapidly back to his friends. “I think y’all should go on about your business,” said Tyrone. The young men gathered up their companion, whose face was well bloodied.
“The fuckin’ bitch broke my nose,” said Sheila’s victim, as he wiped the blood from his face. He spit and out came blood and a tooth. “She broke my fuckin’ nose,” he repeated. Two of the men helped him into the bed of the pick-up as the other two got into the cab. As they drove off one of the men yelled, “Nigger Fucker!” Sheila and Tyrone watched silently.
“I don’t think you need that anymore,” said Tyrone. Sheila looked down at the trash can which she still held in her right hand. She dropped it and it hit the ground with a dull “clunk.”
“You didn’t need to help me, you coulda got hurt,” said Tyrone.
Sheila shrugged, and turned away, walking back to the road in order to resume her efforts in procuring a ride. Tyrone wiped the soda pop off his shaven head with a paper napkin and then joined her at the side of the road.
“Thanks,” he said.
Sheila shrugged, and looked into the darkness down the highway. Tyrone stood next to her in silence. An hour later, an old Econoline van pulled to a stop next to her. The side door opened and group of young retro hippies asked if the two needed a ride. Sheila jumped in. She turned and saw Tyrone still standing at the side of the road. “You coming or not?” she asked.
Tyrone smiled and got in the van. They sat down on the floor of the van as the group continued south. Her energy spent, Sheila quickly fell asleep leaning against Tyrone. Well aware of her aptitude for violence, Tyrone hesitantly put his arm around her shoulder. Sheila responded by nuzzling closer. She slept that way for the remainder of their trip to Oceanside.
Now, as Tyrone maneuvered his way through the light rain, Sheila sat in the passenger seat chewing her thumb nail, staring out the window of the Dodge Caravan. She rocked back and forth, quietly humming the song Elizi had sung to her their last night together.
“What d’ya think Leonard’s gonna say?” asked Tyrone.
“I guess we’ll find out when we tell him,” said Sheila, annoyed to be disturbed.
“Should we go to the club tonight?” asked Tyrone.
“That’s where he said he would be. Just drive, OK?” snapped Sheila.
Tyrone bit his lip; he was never really sure how to act around Sheila when she got this way. He did know it was best to do as she said. Tyrone continued the drive to their budget motel on Pacific Coast Highway. The rain had changed to a heavy mist.
“Stupid pigs,” hissed Leonard Jefferson, as he walked in the rain back to his Volvo. Rather than return directly to his one bedroom cottage on Cable Street, he had parked three blocks away and walked. Nor did he take a direct route to the cottage. He had walked up and down the surrounding blocks, looking for anything out of the ordinary. His paranoia had paid off. Not more than a block away, he saw the unmarked police car parked with a direct line of sight to his cottage. Coming up from behind, he walked past. Inside the car were two men wearing sport coats, one with binoculars in his lap.
Leonard’s residence was located in Ocean Beach. The seaside town was one of the oldest communities of San Diego. During the ‘60s, Ocean Beach had become the Haight Ashbury Annex South and became a home to an eclectic blend of lifestyles. Many of the residents were still stuck in that era, and while the community was not anti-police, it was certainly not pro-police either. Home to artists, poets, community activists and surfers, Ocean Beach also headquartered the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels. In their heyday, the Hells Angels had run most of the drug traffic in San Diego. Using expendable street dealers, they distributed their wares from various locations in O.B., as the locals referred to the town. Plainclothes officers were easily spotted and useless in stemming the flow. The only way to effectively make arrests was through the use of high profile uniform presence and deep cover narcotics officers. Even now, plainclothes officers were an unusual sight in O.B.
The two in the unmarked car were about as subtle as a couple of square dancers at hip-hop concert. Leonard Jefferson passed the car and continued walking. He turned the corner at the end of the block and made his way back to his own car. That little speed freak, Screwie, must have rolled on him. Thankfully, Screwie did not know much, but apparently it was enough to have a couple of pigs sit on his house. The inconvenience was minor, but it would mean spending at least one night in a motel. Shit, he hated loose ends. He was surprised when he got to the Moonglow and found that Sheila and Tyrone had failed to bail out Screwie. If that weird bitch had not panicked, he would have this whole mess wrapped up by. Now he had the heat at his house. He relaxed somewhat in the knowledge that if they did a search on his house, they would find nothing. He had all his cash in a storage locker and his files in another locker across town. With the exception of his cottage and two cars, everything else was under false names. Still, he would just rather avoid the cops all together.
The two cops at his house had heightened Leonard’s paranoia. When he neared his car, he walked down the opposite side of the street, looking for more unmarked police cars. While the rain had slacked off to a heavy drizzle, he was wet and cold nonetheless. He cautiously approached the Volvo and with one last look around, opened the door and climbed in to the driver’s seat. He started the car, flipped the turn signal lever and pulled away from the curb. He still did not feel safe and glanced frequently in the rear view mirror. Rather than take a direct route out of O.B. to the freeway, Leonard drove through the side streets, changing direction every couple of blocks to make sure he was not being followed. After twenty minutes of sightseeing, he pulled onto Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, O.B.’s main thoroughfare, and drove north out of the town.
Leonard drove east on Interstate-8, paralleling the San Diego River Channel. Several of the overflows pipes disgorged torrents of brown water into the channel, the result of run off from the adjacent storm drains. A few minutes later, he arrived in Mission Valley. He took the Hotel Circle off-ramp and found a budget motel with a vacancy sign. Choosing a spot at the far end of the lot near the river, he parked the Volvo. The river had already had risen several feet during the few hours of the storm. Leonard reached under the passenger seat, retrieving a thick manila envelope. He put the envelope under his shirt as he got out of the car. He opened the trunk, pulling out a light jacket, and pulling it on, he zipped it up against the chill of his wet clothes. Finally taking a large nylon equipment bag out of the trunk, he shut it and made his way to the lobby.
The desk clerk gave Leonard, who paid one hundred dollars cash in advance for the $39.99 a day room, the key to room number 314. He had asked for a room on the first or second floor, but those were occupied. He settled for the third floor. After putting his bag in the room and secreted the envelope behind the toilet, he made the trip down the hall for nourishment. The clerk told Leonard there were ice and vending machines in the stairwell at the end of each hall. As he selected a candy bar, some chips and soda from the machines, he looked out the window in the stairwell. Constructed of cinder block, the stairwell windows had no glass. They were simply an opening in the wall about three feet wide by four feet high. The wind and dampness from the valley filled the stairwell, discouraging the occasional transient from taking up overnight residence. Leonard looked down from the window and saw the river had risen to within less than ten feet from the back wall of the motel. A cinder block retaining wall was all that kept the river from undermining the motel’s foundation. The opposite side of the river had breached its banks and had flooded portions of the golf course to the north. Like many others before him, Leonard wondered who had been paid off to allow the developers to build in a flood plain. The thought was fleeting; he had other concerns.
He made his way back to his room with his dinner, depositing it on the nightstand. He took a change of dry clothes from the nylon bag. From a false bottom, he also removed a 9mm Barreta pistol. After checking to make sure it was loaded and ready for use, he placed it in the drawer of the night stand. He placed the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the outside of the door, shut it and double locked it. Stripping out of his wet clothes, he made his way to the bathroom and turned on the shower. Stepping into the hot spray, he had completed his temporary relocation and could move to the next step.
When Leonard kicked his drug habit in prison he had retained one lesson above the rest. Keep it simple. He knew he was no good at trying to accomplish more than one task at a time. Although often tedious, it was a much more effective lifestyle than juggling several situations at once. The loose ends caused by Christopher, Screwie and now, Tyrone and Sheila, had put him in a precarious position. After spotting the cops outside his cottage, he realized he would have to relocate until things cooled down. He put all his energy into this task until he felt secure in the motel room. Now that task was completed and he could move forward and plan his next move.
The hot water warmed his bones and relaxed him. Screwie was temporarily beyond his reach. For whatever reason, Screwie had probably connected him to the murders last night. He would have to reach out to Screwie in jail and silence him. Sheila and Tyrone had bungled bailing him out. Tyrone was too stupid to put much of anything together, but Sheila was a different matter. She did not talk much at all, but she was into some serious self-preservation. Sheila would not have to say much to tie him into the murders.
Leonard cursed himself for hiring Sheila and Tyrone. What had he been thinking? There was nothing subtle about either one. They stood out as a pair and Sheila’s ultra-violent tendencies were certainly distinctive. He had to admit though, the first time he saw them, they had impressed the shit out of him.
Two weeks ago Leonard had been returning from one of the labs in North County. He decided to stop at a restaurant on the main drag in Oceanside. Once named Hill Street, the main boulevard was famous for prostitution, drug dealing and the associated crimes which flourished due to the unending supply of young marines from Camp Pendleton immediately to the north. The city fathers had changed the name to Pacific Coast Highway in hopes of dissipating the infamy. As one long-time resident said, “A rose by any other name still stinks.”
The restaurant served the standard campesino-style Mexican food; tacos, burritos and tamales. Attached in a separate portion of the restaurant was a pool room with a bar. Leonard had listened to the marines in the room shouting their “Hoo-rahs” while he ate his meal. The group sounded particularly loud on that evening. His curiosity got the better of him, so he strolled in to see what the commotion was all about. At the pool table was Sheila, apparently running the game. She was surrounded by several young marines, who egged her on as she sauntered around the table. A number of Hispanics sat at the bar, obviously enjoying the spectacle. The juke box blared The Highway Men’s cover of Johnny Cash’s “Big River.”
As Sheila bent over the table, one of the Marines became a bit over-amorous and grabbed her around the waist. Nonplussed, Sheila finished, sinking the ball on a difficult bank shot. She had been smiling. The smile never left her face. Spinning around, she drove the butt of the cue into the marine’s nose. Before the rest of the marines could respond, Tyrone had emerged from the shadows of the bar. He knocked down two marines from behind. He grabbed the last one by the top of his shirt and crotch and threw him over the pool table. Sheila had casually walked to the bar and picked up her equipment bag and signaled to Tyrone to leave. As they walked from the bar, the three conscious marines regrouped to attack. With no love lost for the marines, the four Mexicans at the bar stood and blocked the marines advance as Sheila and Tyrone left the bar.
Tyrone had walked by Leonard without looking at him. Sheila, however, hesitated as she passed, looking him directly in the eye. They sized each other up, and then Sheila, deciding he was no threat, continued on. He watched from the door of the bar as the pair walked to the sidewalk. They paused for a moment, looking up and down the boulevard. Sheila began walking with Tyrone behind her.
The marines, meanwhile, were tending to their fallen comrade. He could hear them talking, and it was not about going back to the base. Leonard, not a Good Samaritan, figured he could use the couple’s talents. He decided to offer them a ride to discuss business and caught up with them two blocks away. As he pulled alongside, Sheila ignored him at first. He yelled from the car that several more marines had been enlisted from the restaurant and were ganging up to do some serious damage.
Sheila glared at him from the curb. She looked back toward the restaurant. Wordlessly, she opened the passenger door and got in Leonard’s Volvo. Tyrone stood at the curb. Sheila ordered him in. He got in the backseat and sat silently on the trip back to San Diego.
The shower had rejuvenated Leonard. He decided it was time to get rid of Sheila and Tyrone. They were not as competent as he had first expected and Sheila’s flamboyance was now a liability. He opened the bag of chips as he lay back on the bed. He pulled a small address book from his equipment bag. Searching the book, he located the number he wanted and dialed. A voice at the other end answered in Spanish.
“Bueno. Joaquin Torres está allí?” asked Leonard.
“Sí, un momento,” said the voice. Leonard waited.
“Este es Joaquin,” said another voice.
“Joaquin, este es Leonardo. Buenos noches, compadre. Yo tengo negocio muy serioso para usted esta noche,” said Leonard. He then explained the serious business he wanted Joaquin to complete that night.