Assault at Sunrise
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"Why are we doing this?" said Val Tyler to himself for about the tenth time since the trip started an hour ago. He and Mary Ann were on Highway 99 travelling north out of Fresno on an adventure that she had suggested. It was early Friday morning and the slow traffic in the suburban areas was clogging the freeway allowing Val plenty of time to think about the trip and why he doubted the whole thing. "Why are we doing this?"
"What?" said Mary Ann.
"It's nothing." Val lied.
She must have heard him muttering to himself about the trip. He thought it must have been her friend Jill who suggested that they try this crazy thing anyway. She was always doing weird things and then telling Mary Ann about them. Rafting in dangerous white water seemed to be her latest attempt to put some meaning into her otherwise lonely life. Ever since her divorce from Val's partner at the 3rd division of the LAPD, Jill had been a royal pain as far as Val was concerned. Mary Ann thought Jill was just looking for friends and she actually enjoyed hearing about her latest dates and other happenings. Val just knew that Jill was behind this latest caper. He had wanted to spend these three days in San Diego and maybe take in a ball game or two. Anyway, it was a bad time for Val to take an extra day off with the overload of cases he was working but, then again, there never was a good time anyway so he had agreed to this small trip. Mary Ann made all of the arrangements and "bingo" they were on their way.
"How about brunch in Lodi?" asked Val, "We've always liked the Carrows there."
"That's fine", replied Mary Ann.
When they had lived in the Bay Area they had always stopped at Carrows on the way to Lake Tahoe for skiing. Those early morning trips were pleasantly tucked away in their memories along with some other more erotic things that happened on the road to the lake. Now that they had what Val called the three M's: marriage, motherhood, and a mortgage, those memories seemed long ago and far away.
Over the pancakes and bacon, Val asked Mary Ann to explain again why they were going to spend two days at a nudist camp north of Sacramento. Their voice levels escalated and the people in the surrounding booths gave each other questioning looks over their coffee cups. Val again raised his concern about seeing so many strange women nude and what effect it would have on him. He somehow did not believe that he could control himself sufficiently in those surroundings and knew other men there would not be able to control themselves when they saw Mary Ann in the altogether. She thought that was nonsense and that adults can control themselves in any situation. Mary Ann also knew that sex and nudity aren't necessarily related. This was a typical female outlook, according to Val, and he thought he damn well knew how men would react better than any woman. Where, by the way, did this crazy idea come from anyway, it surely must have been from that goofy Jill! Well, it turned out that the suggestion did not come from Jill at all but from Ted and Susan. They had been practicing naturism for over a year and suggested that Val and Mary Ann might like to try it. Ted and Susan were Mary Ann's parents who lived in a small town in Kansas. The Carrows' customers gazed after Val and Mary Ann as they left their booth. "Have a good time in the nude", called the trucker in the next booth as he winked at his wife.
They worked out a plan while driving between Lodi and Sacramento. That afternoon Mary Ann would wear a sarong she had bought in Fiji and Val would wear some long walking shorts that he used for golfing whenever he got a chance to play. The idea was to ease into the situation and see if they would fit or not. If they were uncomfortable or did not like the looks of the other people then they would split and go to Reno driving back down Highway 395 to Los Angeles on Sunday. Mary Ann had none of the Val's concerns. She and Val were comfortable being nude around their house. The kids had a very healthy attitude about it since they often saw their Mom and Dad without clothes at home and when camping out with their tent camper. Val wasn't quite sure it was the same situation and really could not see the reasoning for going without clothes. Mary Ann told him of Susan's stories about the total relaxation and lack of stress that nudity had made possibly for her and Ted. They were in their mid- fifties and were slowly starting to look like each other as couples tend to do. Their waists were going away and they had what Val called a blocky look but they were still in good health and enjoyed doing things together. Val thought they must be experiencing marital problems and were looking for some excitement or swingers or some other such thing. Mary Ann said that wasn't the case at all and they simply had decided to try naturism and found that they really loved it.
The planning and conversation made the time pass quickly and they were at the turn to Sunrise Ranch around 2:30. The pleasant lane led to a solar powered sliding gate with a numeric keypad lock for which Mary Ann supplied the proper number sequence. The code was part of the introduction packet sent by the resort when she had made the reservations. About 100 yards beyond the gate and around a bend in the road they encountered the camp hostess, Diane, standing against a post quite nude except for a waist chain and some Birkenstocks. Diane greeted them by leaning over and peering into the car through the drivers' window allowing Val a view of her entire upper body. As she reviewed their reservation information she stood upright again, framing her body from the waist down in the drivers' window. Val looked at Mary Ann who was acting as if everything was perfectly normal. "Your cabin is number 8, just there around the curve. Look around before settling in to see if you want to change cabins. We have a couple of vacancies yet and you may like one of them better. Let me see, cabin 3 and cabin 11 are also free." Val finally got out that number 8 would work for them and put the car in gear and drove to the parking pad for number 8.
They settled into number 8 and decided to take an exploratory look around Sunrise Ranch. As per the plan, Mary Ann came out in her sarong and Val wore his shorts and a LOS ANGELES Special Olympics tee-shirt. Their first stop was the soft drink machine near the swimming pool. They had skipped lunch and were planning an early dinner so they snacked on candy and sodas as they wandered around the pool. There were three people there sunning or using the pool. They spoke to Val and Mary Ann but did not go out of their way to make conversation. There was a volleyball court next to the pool and a shuffleboard court also. Hiking trails were mapped throughout the area which appeared to be about 3 or 4 miles square. Visitors could walk the trails or they could use the mountain bikes stored in the rack between cabins 5 and 6. Val wondered about the protocol involved with bike seats. Everyone they encountered had a towel with them and Mary Ann pointed out that the towels were for sitting and that could solve the bike seat situation too. Their tour took them down to the river edge and up to the great beach on the river bend above the ranch. It was around 5:00 when they finally got back to the club house where Val noticed the number of guests had increased and there was a gathering in the common-room. It was happy hour!
Ray and Diane were hosts of the happy hour. They explained that the drinks would be added to their room bill if they desired and that there were certain rules regarding the pool, etc. Otherwise, they could have been in their neighbor's back yard in Los Angeles. Val was by nature very observant, probably because of his years on the force, and thought he recognized one of the men in the group. The slightly graying, fit man was seated at a small table with a striking woman about his own age. They were talking with Diane who had been circulating around the room and seeing to the guests' drinks.
Val went over and said, "I think we've met somewhere but can't seem to place you. Are you from the L.A. area? I'm Val Tyler with the LAPD."
"Sure, Val, we probably have met, I'm Victor Able and this is my wife, Muriel." said Victor Able, the current governor of California.
"Boy, am I embarrassed." cried Val as Mary Ann wandered up.
"Embarrassed about what? Your shorts?" asked Mary Ann with a friendly elbow to his ribs.
Red-faced, Val said, "Meet Victor and Muriel Able, Mary Ann, I can't imagine why I didn't recognize them right away."
"We were quite out of sorts the first time we tried naturism too. I thought that I would not be able to get over the male/female thing and that Muriel would be besieged by thousands of horny guys who come to these places to hit on women. Can you imagine that? I was totally wrong and we have been comfortable with ourselves here ever since." the Governor explained. "We've been coming here for 8 years now."
Mary Ann suggested that Val spring for a round of refreshments and as he went to order them he noticed the video surveillance cameras placed around the commons room and the outside walkways. The host, Ray, confirmed that the trails were also monitored. Sunrise Ranch had not had any trouble with intruders but they considered the cameras a worthwhile investment which gave the guests a feeling of safety and privacy. Val also noticed that he and Mary Ann were the only clothed people in the room. There was a young family with two children, three couples, two single women, a lone guy, and the governor and his wife. The ages ranged from around 6 years to well over 60 and the body shapes were not at all what Val had expected. No body was anywhere near perfect. None of the women would be in a man's magazine nor would any of the men make it into Playgirl. There were all shapes and sizes and no one seemed to notice the lack of clothes.
On the way back to the table with a tray of drinks, Val noticed that now he was the only clothed person in the room since Mary Ann's sarong had found its way to the back of an empty chair and she was laughing at something Muriel was saying. Val begin to feel self-conscious but still wasn't quite ready to do the "full monty", so-to-speak.
"Mary Ann was telling us about your drive up from LA. I was just starting to tell her about our experiences here and at the Sedona Resort in Arizona. We have all had the very same reservations and misconceptions about nudism that you have been experiencing. She was telling me about her parents and their club there in Kansas. I think they will be very happy with their new found freedom." Muriel exclaimed.
A second glass of California Chardonnay was just enough to loosen up Val and as the sun went down so did the walking shorts followed by the tee shirt. The group applauded politely and softly while Val took an exaggerated bow from the waist while facing each section of the room. "It's not so bad." he told Mary Ann. "Imagine that, nothing came up!" he thought to himself.
The governor and Muriel did not get to visit the "Ranch", as he called it, often but they did manage to get there for two or three days each month. Their social calendar did not allow for nude entertaining at the mansion in Sacramento and since a politician usually tried to remain fairly middle-of- the-road they did not advertise the fact that they practiced nudism. The members of their group respected their rights to privacy and basically treated them as fellow nudists, not famous people.
Dinner, dessert, and coffee all happened while Val and Mary Ann grew to be comfortable being naked around others. It was soon 9:30 and they bid their new friends good night, collected their clothes, and drifted off to number 8. Mary Ann could hardly contain her satisfaction that things went as she had expected. Although it was 11:30 in Kansas, she had to call Susan to let her know the results of the day and both Ted and Susan were glad to hear that Val was having a good time at Sunrise Ranch. Mary Ann almost told them about the Governor and Muriel but she remembered what they had talked about earlier and decided that it would be bad form to spread that information around even in Kansas.
While Mary Ann talked to Susan, Val performed his nightly routine. He brushed, and flossed his teeth, washed up and checked the load of his 9mm semiautomatic. He tucked it into the nightstand, flicked on the bedside light and picked up the travel book that he had brought along. All in all, he was a relaxed, contented guy tonight.
Val climbed the small hill at about a 9:00 minute per mile pace and saw Victor Able ahead on the path. The early morning mist was slowly lifting and the path was visible for a few hundred yards now unlike the first few minutes of his run when he could barely see 20 feet into the fog. Able was jogging along at around a 10:00 minute pace and Val soon was beside the nude Governor.
How's it going, Val?" asked Victor as they crested the top of the highest rise on the circuit.
They exchanged pleasant conversation for a bit about their running habits and found that they both liked the early morning hours with the quiet and solitude that came along with them. Val had once been a good amateur runner and had broken 40 minutes for the 10K but that seemed long ago and far away now that he was doing less running. Victor confessed to never entering a race and ran simply for the enjoyment and the exercise. He was consistent and tried to run every day at 6:00 a.m. wherever he was in the world. The running allowed him time to clear his thinking on the things to be considered that day and to solidify his positions on other current issues.
Val picked up his pace again.
"See you later, Victor." He called as he pulled away from the other man.
"How about some breakfast?" replied Victor.
"We'll meet you around 8:00"
Six miles and about 45 minutes later Val let himself into cabin 8. He expected to find Mary Ann still asleep but was surprised to see her reading the Sacramento Bee and sipping a cup of coffee. Val got himself a cup and went into the bath for a shower. Mary Ann was glad to hear that they were set up to meet Victor and Muriel for breakfast and was looking forward to learning more about their famous companions. She joked that she was having a difficult time deciding what to wear.
"I read about you in the Bee this morning, Victor. There's a story about the Department of Transportation and the light rail being constructed on the I-80 near Vacaville. Is the issue as involved as the reporter seems to think?" asked Mary Ann, as the meals were being served
"I suppose there are many sides to the situation, Mary Ann, and the state must try to walk a thin line between them. The new and old residents in the Valley don't want the agricultural land around them to be subdivided and built up. They want to be the last ones in and for the state to close the door. Some older ranchers and farmers who own the land want a chance to realize a profit and retire with the means to live in comfort. The opening of a mass transit corridor will provide access to the Bay Area job market and, at the same time, let people be able to afford the home of their dreams.", Victor said. "I know that sounds like political doublespeak but the officials of the state have to look after the interests of all of the citizens without being unfair to any of them."
"What is the problem with the light rail system? We've had our system in operation from San Diego to Los Angeles for a few years now and it seems to be working well." said Val
"It's almost like we have two states here, Val. The Southland has always been more open and welcomed commercial development while Northern California has more tradition and has attracted some very concerned people to live here. Some of the environmental organizations have strong support and, of course, we have to contend with the union presence. I have been favoring building a light rail system from Sacramento to Richmond where one could easily transfer to BART and quickly get anywhere in the Bay Area. This system would open the I-80 route to more commercial expansion at the expense of the farms and ranches. The Bee rightly sees that the state holds the keys to this project because CalTrans has control of the right-of-way now and it would be relatively inexpensive to transfer it to the light rail group. Although the project will still cost billions of dollars, we can trim the overall costs with this type of support. The Bay Area unions want assurance that they will benefit from the construction and the environmentalists want to know that the environmental impact procedures will be followed to the letter. The land owners want the project expedited so they can make plans for shopping centers and townhouse developments. The current residents want a status quo. They think the city dwellers will bring all of the woes of the city with them when they move to new homes in the corridor." Victor said. "A transfer of those rights of way could be done using an obscure executive order rule that the Bee has uncovered but they know that it would be an unpopular thing for me to do. They still did not hesitate to write it up and gave the story to Ron Ortiz, their governmental expert. Ron is fair but still plays hard ball with us sometimes. He has raised some interesting questions about the effect of the system on the Hispanic communities here in the Valley. He has been implying that the administration is stonewalling the situation for political reasons and, of course, there is some truth in that. Honestly, we want to do what is best for the area but also we know that everyone can't possibly be pleased with any decision we make about the rights of way. Now, here's our breakfast, let's eat!"
Mary Ann was impressed with the complexity of the I-80 problem and knew that it was only one of many issues that the Governor had to deal with on a daily basis. She and Val discussed the pros and cons of the situation as they returned to the cabin after a final cup of coffee. The day seemed to be falling into place with plans for a morning on the river beach followed with some early afternoon shopping in Sacramento then relaxing by the Sundown swimming pool and dinner at the resort dining room. It seemed like a perfect day was in store for them. A family from Napa had invited them to the river beach. The two kids were looking forward to dunking Val in the river and Mary Ann wanted to discuss family nudism issues with the friendly woman from the wine country. She was wishing that they had bit the bullet and bought their boys along to Sundown Ranch.
The day just flew by until it was again around 5:00 p.m. when Val and Mary Ann found themselves in the common room for a drink. They were talking with the single man who was staying in cabin 5. Dennis Cole was the most radical person they had encountered at Sundown Ranch. He seemed quite angry about many things. The environment was being destroyed, the society was going downhill, and our current leaders were simply not competent to lead themselves much less the nation. The couple quickly tired of his conservation and looked for reasons to drift away. Val thought the most boring people were those who talked constantly about their investments but they were closely followed by anyone with a burning cause or cross to bear. He found himself hoping the Sampsons from Napa would swoop in for a rescue mission but they were engrossed in a dart game with their two children and did not see Val's plight. He finally yielded to the call of nature and excused himself. Dennis Cole looked disappointed but drifted off to find other victims.
At dinner, Val and Mary Ann shared a table with Diane who offered that Dennis Cole was not really that bad and that he had been coming around Sundown Ranch for quite a few years now. He was quite harmless and seemed to be in need of friends. Diane recognized that the Tylers had settled in and seemed very much at home now. They told her that naturism was almost second nature now and that they were actually seeing people differently than they had before. They were listening to what the others had to say and actually were interested in knowing about the lives of their fellow nudists. They found that many of the guests had been practicing nudism for many years and had raised their families in the nudist lifestyle. Family groups often visited the resort and one extended family could fill the entire camp with its members.
Val was late for his early morning run but the fog was still hanging low along the river bank as he hit the path along the water. Unable to see more than about 20 yards ahead, Val, concentrated on the irregular surface immediately in front of him. He also slowed down a bit and wished that the fog would lift and allow the warm sunshine into the area. He was not used to running nude yet and still felt a bit of a chill that morning. He saw a shape blocking the path about 25 yards down the way. As he drew near Val recognized the form of Victor Able. Victor was prostrate across the path and his head was off the track hanging down toward the bar ditch that bordered the small road. Val sensed that he was, in fact, dead, but, as Val halted about 2 yards from Victor and circled around the body he saw the rise and fall of the Governor's chest as he labored to get his breath. The arrow had entered low in Victor's right chest and was lodged between two ribs. A frothy mixture bubbled out of his mouth each time he exhaled and Val knew the lung had been punctured.
Val looked for anyone else on the path but found that he was quite alone. He knew that he had to seek help right away and get Victor transported to some definitive care immediately. He wanted to secure the crime scene to prevent destruction of any evidence, so, after slightly moving Victor to allow him to breath easier, he backtracked down the way he had came and ran quickly back to the main camp and knocked on the door of the manager's cabin.
Diane answered the door and called Ray from the back of the cabin. Val told them what he had found and recommended that the county sheriff and the EMS be notified and that they make efforts to preserve any evidence that may exist at the scene. Diane volunteered to notify Muriel and bring her to the path where Victor had fallen.
Val returned to the scene with Ray who brought his digital camera. After the EMT's had stabilized Victor and transported him by ambulance to Sacramento, Ray photographed the surrounding area while Val examined the tracks in the soft path surface. There were many old tracks in the popular path but there were also some tracks that were less than an hour old. Val was thankful for the man-tracking class that the Border Patrol had conducted for law enforcement officers in Southern California. He knew that old tracks had rounded edges and filled-in valleys. Wind and rain altered the appearance and depth of both man and vehicle tracks. Most of the impressions in the path were old but one bicycle track was crisp and deep and it also made a violent jog to the outside of the path at the point where it had passed the body. Other disruptions in the dirt around the body indicated that Victor had fallen right there. Val was thinking that a bicycle rider could have overtaken Victor and shot him as he rode by. The arrow could have been launched from a cross-bow and the shock of the act may have caused the rider to veer sharply to the right or to lose control of the bike for a moment. The rider had regained control and rode up and over a slight rise.
The county sheriff arrived and took charge of the investigation. Val introduced himself and shared his impressions with the officer while they retraced the runner and bike tracks between some barriers Val had erected. The sheriff's men blocked the scene with sawhorses and yellow crime tapes. A public relations specialist was brought from Sacramento to handle the press releases and field the questions that were bound to come. Mary Ann and Diane made preparations to take Muriel and the Governor's belongings back to the Governor's mansion in the city.
Sheriff Roger Chavez was very interested in the bike tire impressions. He called Val over to some of the clear, undisturbed, tracks and asked about the strange pattern that was evident in the soft dirt of the track. "Look at that irregular spacing of the flaws in the tires", he said.
Val saw what he was referring to and immediately had an explanation. "The resort manager here told me yesterday that he bought some used bikes from a resort up at Tahoe and this must be one of them. What we are seeing is a track of a winter snow tire with the studs removed." Val explained. "I used to use short sheet metal screws on my bike when I worked as a ski lift operator." he added. "It should be a cinch to find the bike if it is still on the property."
The bike rack had all eight slots filled but there were two bikes with ex-winter tires. Ray suggested that they check the sign-up list for bike use to see if anyone had taken a bike out that morning. Although Val could not imagine a murderer actually checking out a bike they went along to check the list. Ray found that no bikes had been signed out and remembered a standing agreement with Dennis Cole. It seemed that Cole did not ever have to sign for equipment rental. They decided to find Dennis and question him about his actions earlier.
Cole was in cabin 7 and they found him sitting on the bed looking down and out. "Mr. Cole did you ride a bike this morning on the trail where the Governor was shot?" asked Sheriff Chavez. Cole looked like he had just lost his best friend when he answered, "Yeah, I always ride that track around 6:00 a.m." The Sheriff looked surprised but asked if they could look through Cole's place and search his belongings. They found a .38 snub nosed revolver in a holster in the top drawer of the dresser. Cole produced a permit for the weapon and asked them to sit down.
"I'm always on the track because I'm supposed to be guarding Governor Able. I am a California State Highway Officer assigned to protect him and Muriel. We have always chosen to keep my role under cover and that's why I always act like a whacko radical when we are here. Ray will remember that I'm always present when Victor is staying here. This morning, as usual, I was sweeping the track in front of Victor but the fog was pretty thick and I could only see a few feet to each side of the track. I returned to the compound and waited for him to finish his run but just as I was about to backtrack I saw Val come into the area and notify Ray. I thought it would be better if I stayed in my role until the shock was over and we could take a second look at the situation." Dennis explained.
Val believed Dennis and suggested to the Sheriff that they return to the scene to see if they had missed anything. The Sheriff suggested that Val might want to jump into some clothes first.
Mary Ann was packing up and planning to travel to Sacramento with Diane. She wanted to pick Val up on her return trip later in the day for their drive back to Los Angeles. Val welcomed the opportunity to stay around and help the Sheriff with his investigation of the assault. The resort had been closed for the day while the crime scene was gone over carefully for additional evidence.
The team from the city was very good at their job and Val did not see any reason to offer any suggestions or ideas. He wandered down to the river bank noticing that the bike path came close the water's edge where Victor had been attacked. Val saw an impression in the bank's muddy surface that looked like a canoe or kayak had been beached there. The impression was still deep and sharp but no tracks were evident around the area implying that the passenger in the boat did not get out onto the bank. As he analyzed the angle up toward the track he became convinced that it was an easy 20 yard shot at a slow moving target that could have been done by even a beginning marksman.
Dennis Cole came up as Val was preparing to go for the Sheriff and Val explained the findings to him. Dennis went to notify Ray and the Sheriff while Val protected the evidence. When they returned Ray told them that the river was not restricted to the resort patrons and was frequently used by pleasure boaters and fishermen from around the area. He had experienced some problems with peepers and had installed a video camera near the easy accesses. He showed them a Sony camera mounted high in a tree about 30 feet from the beach. Ray explained that the area was the best access on the river front. The cameras were on 24 hours each day and the video feed was sent to a common recorder located in the resort headquarters. The footage was saved for about 3 days then discarded. "Let's have a look." said Sheriff Chavez.
"I know that man!" Ray cried, as the television screen showed the canoe and the zoom feature brought the occupant up close. The fog made it hard to see clearly but the canoe owner was easy to recognize with his 1950's crew cut hair and denim jacket. "He lives about 2 miles up river on a small almond ranch. I think he owns the place and has been trying to make a go of it. It's said that the state wanted to buy him out for the easements needed to place the access roads to a light rail station in the area. I've seen this fellow at the public hearings and he was always very vocal about how the valley was going to be ruined by the development. He's pretty radical."
Val and Dennis Cole returned to the resort and were relaxing when Sheriff Chavez phoned to say that they had found the farmer at home with his bow, a canoe and a confession. The sheriff was taking him to the Sacramento jail for processing and wanted to remind Val and Dennis to mail a written statement to his office.
Val finally asked Dennis about the curious driving of the bike that a.m. and Dennis said that he had been startled by a rabbit that jumped out of the bushes causing him to swerve sharply. "Things aren't always what they seem, are they, Val?" he asked. Val agreed and the conversation turned to naturism. "I was certainly expecting some different reactions than Mary Ann and I experienced." said Val, "We were mistaken about the whole thing and now I can't wait to bring the kids to our next outing."
"I take the family when I'm not on duty but have never thought that they should be around when I'm working, even if I am a naked cop!" Dennis laughed.
Val heard the beep of his car horn and realized that Mary Ann was back. He grabbed his travel bag and told Dennis good-bye. As he went to the gate Val found himself humming. He had not hummed for over ten years and then only when he had felt extremely happy!!
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