By Steve Burns
Continued from Chapter 32.
Pacific Beach, like Ocean Beach and Mission Beach, is another San Diego beach community. Not quite as funky as Ocean Beach, or as limited by space as Mission Beach, Pacific Beach resembles more of a traditional community. Extending east from the Pacific Ocean to the I-5 freeway around three miles away and north from Mission Bay to Mount Soledad, Pacific Beach contains a varied cross section of residents. College students, retirees, singles and young families share the older community, which for the most part is relatively self -contained.
The main business district of Pacific Beach is located along Garnet Avenue. Crystal Pier at the west end of Garnet Avenue extends several hundred yards into the Pacific Ocean. From there the Avenue continues east to the interstate, along which motels, grocers, restaurants, a variety of bars, and other shops are located.
To the south, and running parallel to Garnet Avenue, is Grand Avenue. Unlike Garnet Avenue, Grand Avenue is primarily a residential area, containing pockets of commercial enterprise. There are three churches on Grand Avenue, all of which have daycare centers.
Scott Raines had requested communications to contact all three daycare centers to warn them of the impending danger. Sergeant Peernot was in the process of dialing the second daycare center when he was notified of a disturbance at Sonshine Daycare attached to First Emmanuel Church of Christ, two blocks from the ocean on Grand Avenue. He relayed the information as he took over the call from the dispatcher.
“Unit 21-23 Raines, we have a report of a disturbance at the Sonshine Daycare on Grand Avenue. The reporting party says a woman came into the center and attacked two of the workers and is now holding twenty to thirty toddlers hostage in one of the classrooms.”
“Unit 21-23 Raines, 10-4. Have units responding to the area remain outside the center. We will make contact. Our ETA is less than five,” said Scott Raines over the radio.
Joe looked at his watch. They had eight minutes left.
The young officer came off the freeway at the Grand Avenue exit and roared west toward the beach. He weaved in and out of traffic, blasting through intersections at speeds greater than the posted limit.
Joe looked at the young officer next to him. “Whoa, we need to get there in one piece,” as the officer swerved to avoid a trash truck emerging unexpectedly from an alley. The officer, looking straight ahead, smiled and accelerated. They arrived at the daycare center with four minutes to spare.
Outside the center two patrol units had already arrived. Two officers were administering first aid to a woman with a bloody nose. Several staffers were comforting a second woman who was holding her head. The remaining staff was trying to herd thirty to forty young children who milled about on the sidewalk.
Scott Raines began shouting orders as Joe and Shelley made their way to the entrance of the building. “Who is in charge here?”
A forty something woman with a greying ponytail stepped forward. “I am.”
“Get these kids up the street and out of the line of fire.” The woman turned to her aides and barked an order. “Betty, Eileen, you heard the officers, move it!” The staffers obeyed instantly, guiding the children, who were all holding tightly to a braided, yellow cord.
Joe and Shelley had hesitated at the door and were now trying to look through the window.
“What have we got inside?” Scott Raines asked the woman.
“I didn’t see what happened, but Carol and Elizabeth have the four year olds.” She pointed to the two injured women. “They were preparing the morning snack when this woman walked into the classroom. She attacked them both, pulled a knife and ordered them out of the room. I tried to talk to her, but she said if I didn’t leave she would start, as she put it, “hurting the children.””
Scott Raines marveled at the woman’s composure, he made a mental note to talk to her further after this was all over. “What does she look like?”
“Tall, thin, short blonde hair, she has on a black leather jacket,” she replied.
“Did you see any other weapons?” he asked.
“All I saw was the short little knife,” she answered as Joe and Shelley listened nearby.
“How many children does she have in there?” Scott Raines asked, as several more officers arrived and took up positions around the outside of the school.
“We were missing twelve children when we did a head count. She is in the classroom across the hall and to the left of the main door.”
“We’ve got less than two minutes. I’m going to make contact, Scott,” said Joe.
“Do it. Shelley, cover him. I will be right behind you.” Scott Raines turned to the agent who had arrived, the two stripes on his sleeve designating him as senior officer. “Have your officers cover the perimeter. No one is to enter the building until I call for them. Understood?”
“Ten-four,” acknowledged the agent, who immediately turned and began directing officers around the building.
Joe and Shelley slowly entered the front door and made their way down the hall, the walls adorned with Disney cartoon characters and juvenile art work. The classroom door had a large window. Joe eased up to the door and surveyed the classroom. On the opposite side of the room, a group of a frightened, confused four years olds sat in a circle in front of Sheila Masters. She sat with her back against the wall, reading from a large picture book, one arm around a little boy with dark hair wearing a Superman sweatshirt.
Joe turned back to Shelley and Scott Raines who stood behind him. “She’s in there against the far wall. I count twelve kids.”
Shelley and Scott Raines nodded acknowledgment. Joe looked at his watch.
“Time’s up. I’m going in.”
Joe slowly opened the door and entered the classroom. Sheila looked up from the book. Her expression betrayed no emotion.
“Hello, Sheila,” said Joe, calmly. He could feel the sweat on his palms.
“Lookie here, kids, its Detective Amadiana. He’s come to visit us today.” She glanced at the clock on the wall. “And on time too,” she continued with the trace of a smile. Some of the children began to cry. Sheila tightened her grip on the little boy.
“I’m here like you asked. This is between you and me. Why don’t you let the kids go?” said Joe as he cautiously walked toward the group.
“Fair enough. Everyone except this little one here.” She stood, holding the little boy tight as she took the dagger from her jacket pocket. She put the blade against his neck.
Seizing the opportunity, Joe said, “Come on, kids, let’s go outside.” The remaining children rose obediently and walked to the classroom door. Shelley opened the door and guided the children quickly from the room.
“Who’s that bitch?” Sheila shouted, suddenly angered by the appearance of Shelley.
“I don’t know her name. Just one of the teachers. Can she come in?”
Sheila was silently eyeing Shelley.
“Well, to take the little boy, of course, when you let him go,” said Joe, attempting innocence.
Sheila thought for a minute. “Okay, but she stays by the door.”
“Uh, Miss, will you please come in here?” Joe motioned to Shelley, who had remained at the open door. Shelley stepped into the room.
“That’s far enough, bitch!” shouted Sheila. Shelley stood motionless at the open door. Scott Raines was just out of sight.
“Now, why don’t we talk about letting the little boy go,” said Joe. It was going fairly smoothly so far. Maybe he could end this without further damage.
“Sure, but first I have something just for you,” said Sheila coldly.
“Yeah, I noticed,” observed Joe.
“This pig sticker?” replied Sheila gripping the dagger tightly. “Nah, something even better.” she said, reaching into her jacket pocket.
Shelley eyed Scott Raines, his revolver drawn just outside the door. She cautiously moved her hand to her revolver on her waist. She relaxed when Sheila pulled from her pocket what appeared to be a small coin.
“Here, this is for you,” said Sheila holding out the small copper coin for Joe.
“Take it, goddammit!” she shouted.
Joe closed the short distance between them. He reached out, not taking his eyes off the dagger, as Sheila dropped the coin into his extended hand. Joe gripped the coin.
“Look at it!” she demanded, pressing the tip of the dagger into the boy’s neck, drawing a trickle of blood on his neck.
“Easy,” Joe said calmly. He looked at the coin in his hand. It was similar to the one found by Pete Castillo’s body. On one side, the rooster, talons extended. On the other, the five pointed star.
“You know what that is?” asked Sheila with a smile.
“I’ve seen it before, but no, I don’t know what it is.” replied Joe looking back at the coin, taking his gaze from Sheila.
“It’s your death token.” said Sheila. With one swift movement, she swept the little boy aside and lunged at Joe. He was caught off guard as Sheila drove the dagger into his chest directly below his rib cage. He grabbed her hand in his as she drove the point up through his lungs and into his heart. Joe pushed away and fell back.
Shelley rushed the woman, who stood back and laughed. Ignoring the punch to her face as she came within striking distance, Shelley hit Sheila at a dead run, wrapping both arms around her and driving the top of her head into Sheila’s chin. The momentum sent them into the wall behind, the impact knocking the wind from Sheila. They separated as Sheila staggered from the wall.
“You miserable fucking cunt!” screamed Shelley as she drove her fist into Sheila’s mouth. As Sheila toppled to the floor, Shelley, now joined by Scott Raines, piled on top, handcuffing her. Certain Shelley had control of Sheila, Scott Raines turned his attention to Joe, who sat cross legged on the floor. He looked amazed as blood ran from the side of his mouth and the wound in his chest, his hands grasping the dagger handle protruding from his chest. Joe toppled over as Scott Raines grabbed for him.
“That wasn’t the way it was supposed to go,” burbled Joe.
Hearing the commotion, ignoring their orders to stay back, two uniformed officers appeared at the door. The first rushed forward sweeping the terrified little boy into her arms. Unsure of exactly what had transpired, she hurled herself back out of the room. The second officer, not sure of who were the cops and who were the bad guys, aimed his automatic pistol from one person to the next.
Seeing the officer’s confusion, Scott Raines shouted, “Get an ambulance! Give E a hand!” pointing at Shelley as she tussled with the restrained Sheila. He ran forward, adding his extra weight to the struggling woman on the floor.
Scott Raines looked into Joe’s eyes, his mouth moved as the blood continued to drain. Joe looked confused as his eyes moved back and forth, unfocused.
“Hang on, Joe! Hang on!” shouted Scott Raines. He could feel Joe go limp in his arms. “Somebody get a goaddamned ambulance!” he screamed, but he knew it was no use. Joe was dead.
Joe looked into Scott Raines eyes as he slipped into unconsciousness. He was vaguely aware of him saying to hold on and then he could see him no longer. The world turned grey and quiet.
He found himself standing in the pool, as he had so many times before. He somehow knew it was not the dream. He felt comfortably warm and a light breeze blew across him. He felt as if he had slept for a long time and was waking up refreshed.
In the distance, he saw a small figure waving to him. A warm bright light behind the figure illuminated the horizon. The pool appeared to end at the figure, where a grassy beach stretched into low green hills.
He began walking toward the figure. He found the water to be shallow and walked through it with ease. As he drew closer to the figure he recognized the small boy. It was Joey, waving and smiling. As Joe stepped onto the grass, Joey held out his hand and took hold of Joe’s.
“Hi, Daddy, I’ve been waiting for you,” said Joey.
“I’ve missed you so much, Joey,” said Joe, taking his son in his arms. They hugged each other tightly.
“I love you Daddy. We can be together now, always.”
“Always,” said Joe, lifting Joey into his arms. He was light, the heaviness of the past gone. Joey wrapped his arms around his father’s neck and kissed him. Joe set his son down on the soft grass, still holding his son’s hand firmly in his own. Joey looked up at his father and smiled.
“Come on, Daddy, it’s time to go,” said Joey reassuringly.
“Yes, I’m ready. It is time,” replied Joe, surprisingly content.
Hand in hand, they began to walk toward the low hills and the warm light beyond.