Zeta told Justus she’d driven up to the Santa Monica Pier many times, and she’d be glad to drive. It would only take a little more than two hours to go up I-5, connect to 405 North and then go West on I-10 to Santa Monica. First, she wanted to go over to her parent’s house for a quick visit.
When she arrived her mother was out shopping for a few groceries, and she visited with her Dad. “Oh we’re doing much better,” her Dad said. “Your mom is so glad to have Mark back alive. She has a close friend whose son came back in one of those metal caskets. Such a terrible waste of American lives.”
“So is she keeping busy enough?” Zeta asked.
“She’s still at the hospital part-time, may go back to full, but she’s given up the church.”
“Really? I never thought that would happen.”
“Well, she always had a strong predilection for the church, as did her family. First the whole priest pedophile scandal and the Bishops covering it up happened, then Briana, and with what happened to Mark, she just says she’s no longer believes in a benevolent God.”
“I’m glad you told me, Dad. I’ll stay away from the subject.”
“Personally, it’s fine with me. I never believed those miracle stories and all that purgatory and heaven and hell talk. And confession? The priests need to attend to their own business. They’ve got plenty of confessing to do for themselves and some Bishops too. Centuries to confess for. Don’t believe for one second that priest pedophilia activity isn’t still happening around the world. Now don’t get me going on that!”
“Did you go to church when you were a kid, Dad?”
I went to church a few times, but that was it. My parents never bought into it. Get kids young enough and they’ll believe anything they’re told. Frankly, I love having our Sundays free to do whatever we want. ”
“Well I must say there have been some changes here haven’t there Dad,” Zeta said.
Mrs. Conner came home, and they all visited and had some snacks. They were concerned as to how Zeta was doing after Benton’s passing and Zeta assured them she’d be ok. Zeta then told them Mark might stay at the La Jolla Shores condo, and they were pleased with the idea. “He is such a strong, resilient young man. He was born with that can do, positive attitude,” Mrs. Conners said and started to cry, feeling both pride and sorrow for her son.
“He’s going to be alright,” Zeta told them, “We were out on the pier last night, had an excellent time, and he and Carol have become quite friendly,” with the accent on friendly.
“Oh that’s wonderful,” Mrs. Conner said, “She’s an incredible young lady. I so enjoyed watching you two girls grow up together.”
Zeta hugged and kissed her parents goodbye after telling them she might be going back and forth between Sedona and La Jolla for a while, that she and her new friend Justus would be setting up an observatory in Sedona, and also a DNA lab where Carol might be doing do some research. “He sounds like a fascinating person,” Mr. Conner commented. “Yes, he’s rather unique,” Zeta replied.
She returned to the condo, freshened up, and they hit the interstate in the Escalade. “It should be interesting seeing how you use your bloodhound sensory skills,” she told Justus. “I’ll do my best. We might need to stay over a night or two, it just depends.”
In two and a half hours they turned onto Highway 1 and then onto Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica beach. “Ok, what now?” Zeta asked.
“There should be a nice sunset soon. Let’s get out, stretch our legs and walk around, then start crisscrossing the main streets in the beach community first.”
“I’ll pull up the Santa Monica Google map, and we can work the streets like a grid,” Zeta suggested.
The boardwalk was busy with beachgoers, and they could see the Pacific Park Amusement Park on the pier not far away.
“My parents would take us here in the summer to ride the carousel, the huge Ferris wheel, and the roller coaster. We loved it.”
After the big orange sphere on the cobalt blue horizon melted into the ocean, they walked hand in hand back towards the SUV. “It’s so beautiful here, it’s sad to realize a killer is stalking vulnerable young female victims in such a beautiful place. There’s so much incongruity on Earth,” she continued.
It’s the paradox beauty of an ocean, canyon, forest, park, city, or mountain. Even a lovely manicured lawn is where microbes, ants, worms, snakes, cats, and birds battle for survival. Killing fields are anywhere, everywhere. The prey and the predator are ubiquitous. The killer typically relies on the unawareness and weakness of the prey,” Justus answered.
As the light faded and dusk began they started the street grid search slowly cruising Ocean Avenue, Nelson Way, Main Street, 2nd Street, 3rd Street, 4th Street, 5th Street, 6th Street for several hours. The bloodhound was sensing but finding nothing. “Let’s take a break and go get a sandwich,” Justus said. Zeta agreed, “I’m for that. I can see why cops like to hang out at Dunkin Donuts. A stakeout can get quite boring.” “Yeah, boring until suddenly all hell breaks out,” Justus said with a furrowed brow.
They found a little place on Ocean Park Boulevard and got some fish tacos and coffee, then resumed the hunt. Covering Pico Boulevard, Bay Street, Bicknell Avenue, Grant Street, Pacific Street, and Strand Street took another two hours.
“Nothing, you’re not picking up anything Justus?”
He shook his head, “No, let’s go back closer to the beach on Appian Way by the Ocean Front Walk.” Zeta drove back to Appian Way and cruised along at a creeping speed.
“I’m getting something, stop,” Justus said. Zeta hit the brakes.
“It’s getting weaker so move on up ahead.” Zeta drove forward slowly.
“Stop here Zeta, it’s very strong, pull over and park.”
Zeta parked the car and Justus got out and walked around. Zeta joined him, and he stopped by a fourplex rental unit. They got back in the car, and Justus said, “Let’s just wait here.” Zeta complained, “I knew we should have picked up some coffee and donuts, this stake out business is sure a dull date. I understand how cops can easily get fat or into mischief.”
They tilted their seats back and waited and watched the fourplex. Another hour passed and nothing. Then a few minutes later the door of the closest unit slowly opened and a good looking male wearing designer jeans, running shoes, a tight fitting T-shirt, and a gold chain and cross stepped outside.
He began walking towards their car, and Zeta was petrified when she realized he was coming right at them. “I should have parked on the other side of the street,” Zeta chastised herself. She was parked near a street light, and when the man was even with the front of the SUV, he looked through the window right into Zeta’s eyes and flashed a charming smile.
It was as if he hadn’t even noticed Justus, but his eyes spotted Zeta with a savannah lion’s intense glance. Then he smiled at her, and she felt like helpless prey. In the street light, his hair was clearly blond, cut short and styled. He looked like he could be in a GQ Magazine ad. The vibration in Justus peaked as the man passed the car. “About six feet tall, obviously works out, from the look of his build and biceps,” Zeta speculated in a soft, halting voice.
“We’ve got to follow him, but on foot,” Justus instructed.
“Should I stay in the car? No, forget that terrible idea, I’m going with you. That guy looked at me like a zoo tiger, drooling in anticipation of his next five-pound chunk of lean red meat.”
“We’ve got to stay back but not lose him Zeta.”
“Why would a good looking guy like that need to go rape and kill women? Zeta asked herself as they walked, then quickly responded, “Well, Ted Bundy was a good looking guy too with a messed up evil brain.”
A balmy offshore Santa Ana breeze was a strong magnet attracting people to the pier. It was alive with a large happy crowd enjoying the rides, concession food, and a beautiful evening. Many were wandering around the pier enjoying their leisurely stroll.
The two sleuths kept their distance as the guy headed out on the pier. He was casually walking around, and then he spotted two teenage girls. It was apparent he started following them. They stopped at a cotton candy stand, and he walked up and said something to them. The girls were smiling and talking, and then one of them shook her head no. He said something more to them, and the other girl shook her head, and they walked away.
As they continued following him, Zeta said in a hushed tone, “Do you see what’s in his back pocket?”
“Yes,” Justus said.
“I’d say it’s a four to five-inch folding hunting knife or a very skinny wallet,” Zeta guessed.
He began his stalk again looking for the young female who’s looking for attention from a hot guy who looks like a GQ model. After walking out to the end of the amusement area, he headed back past the roller coaster. Another pair of girls in tight shorts, tied blouses, and platform heels attracted lots of guys’ eyes as they moved along eating their corn dogs. Picking up his pace he came up beside them and quickly engaged in conversation. “He’s sure got a smooth gift of gab, a real silver-tongued devil,” Zeta whispered.
Then they walked into the arcade and started playing some games. Mr. GQ was buying the game tokens, and the girls were having fun laughing as he chatted them up. “I think the brunette with the big boobs and he are hitting it off,” Zeta said. They had enough of the arcade, walked outside, and as the three talked he put his arm around the pretty brunette. The girls exchanged a few words, and the brunette gave a set of keys to the other girl. They hugged, and the brunette’s friend walked away headed off the pier.
The new couple walked a short distance, stopped, and things took a quick turn for the worse. They were arguing and finally the girl took her cell phone out of her purse and from where Justus and Zeta were they could hear her say, “Don’t leave Nicole, I’ll be right there,” and she strutted hurriedly off the pier to catch up with her friend. “Whatever caused the spat may have just saved the girl’s life,” Justus told Zeta.
Unperturbed by the turn of events the stalker walked back by the roller coaster. There was a young couple, a guy who looked to be in his early twenties, and a teenage girl with skin tight jeans on her nubile ass wearing flip flops and a T-shirt that said “Bad Boy Magnet.” They were standing by the corn dog concession having a heated argument. GQ stood back and listened as they escalated the skirmish. The guy shook her by the shoulders, and she slapped him and yelled in his face, “I should have known better, you’re just another jerk!” and the bystanders laughed.
The embarrassed jerk stormed off, and the girl began walking towards the Ferris wheel. GQ turned and followed right behind her. She bought a ticket and walked towards the ride followed by him. “Quick get us two tickets Zeta,” Justus said. The girl got in line, and the switchblade chap was right behind her. Justus got in line behind him and a couple of minutes Zeta arrived with their tickets.
Standing in line, he turned around, glanced at Justus, and then smiled at Zeta with an I remember you look that gave her the super creepy feeling again. “Here I am, way too close to this butcher and his switchblade,” she sternly told herself. It was now real clear it was a knife in his back pocket. “I wonder if the bastard washes the blood off the blade when he’s done?”
The crowd was starting to thin out, so it wasn’t a long wait to get on the ride. First, the girl got on, then the stalker with his annual pass, and then the two sleuths. The view from the top of the one hundred and thirty foot Ferris wheel was spectacular. Lights from Santa Monica, beach houses, the pier, and boats on the water sparkled like diamonds. Zeta was momentarily caught up in the nighttime beauty, forgetting her present reality. Then, “It’s time to take this guy out,” Justus told Zeta reaching into his pocket, “He’s locked onto his next victim.”
The Ferris wheel let some riders off, made several revolutions, and stopped again to pick up an elderly couple, made a few revolutions more and then stopped with the sleuths, GQ, and the prey on top. Sitting on the right side of the Ferris wheel seat Justus quickly flicked his wrist and a small meteorite fractured and cauterized the serial killer’s occipital skull. GQ instantly slumped to the side as Justus said, “Stay here,” and pulled himself up onto the Ferris wheel’s steel frame with his hands and in a flash went hand over hand to the unconscious rider’s seat. Justus landed next to him, grasped him by his belt and the nape of his neck, and tossed him out into a balmy night skydive.
While the predator was falling, Justus instantly went hand over hand on the wheel’s frame, swung up and landed back next to a stunned Zeta, just as the body kissed the concrete with a loud splat. No one immediately saw the corpse but as the wheel started turning again a woman who was walking along with her kids stumbled over it and began screaming. What Justus just did flashed back memories in Zeta’s mind of his gymnastics on the Grand Canyon Skywalk. “My god, he moves like a chimp flying through the trees.”
A crowd quickly gathered by the dead man and police sirens were coming in the distance. The ride operator was busy trying to get everyone safely off the ride as fast as possible. “Did you see anything, did you see anything?” he asked as he opened the safety bars.
On the ride, two seats ahead of the sleuths, sat a teenage girl wondering what the ruckus was all about, completely oblivious to how close she’d come to having a T carved on her lifeless body tonight. Ted Thornton lay on the concrete below, and it wouldn’t be long before his DNA would be a match to the Santa Monica murders, and the coroner’s report concluding he committed suicide.
“I never thought I’d think of a Ferris wheel as a killing field,” Zeta told Justus after the operator opened their seat bar and they started walking back to the SUV. “No one could ever accuse you of banality Mr. Marcus.”
Carol and Mark were already asleep when they returned to the condo. “I’m going to spend a few more days with my parents and Mark, and then I’ll come to Sedona.”
“Carol said she’s off work tomorrow, so I’d like to talk to her about heading up the XNA lab. I think she’s the ideal person,” Justus said.