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The times, they are a-changin' . . . The Orange County, California, that the Becker brothers knew as boys is no more -- unrecognizably altered since the afternoon in 1954 when Nick, Clay, David, and Andy rumbled with the lowlife Vonns, while five-year-old Janelle Vonn watched from the sidelines. The new decade has brought about the end of the orange groves and the birth of suburban sprawl. It is the era of Johnson, hippies, John Birchers, and LSD. Clay becomes a casualty of a far-off jungle war. Nick becomes a cop, Andy a reporter, David a minister. And the decapitated corpse of teenage beauty queen Janelle Vonn is discovered in an abandoned warehouse. A hideous crime has touched the Beckers in ways that none of them could have anticipated, setting three brothers on a dangerous collision course that will change their family -- and their world -- forever. And no one will emerge from the wreckage unscathed.
Here and Now
I drove past the old SunBlesst packinghouse today. Nothing left of it.Not one stick. Now there's a bedroom store, a pet emporium, and a supermarket.Big and new. Moms and dads and kids everywhere. Prettypeople, especially the moms. Young, with time to dream, wake up, anddream again.
I still have a piece of the flooring I tore off the SunBlesst packinghouseback in sixty-eight. When I was young. When I thought thatwhat had happened there shouldn't ever happen anywhere. When Ithought it was up to me to put things right.
I'm made of that place -- of the old wood and the rusted conveyorsand the pigeons in the eaves and the sunlight slanting through thecracks. Of Janelle Vonn. Of everything that went down, there in October,1968. Even made of the wind that blew that month, dry and hot offthe desert, huffing across Orange County to the sea.
I have a piece of the picket fence from the grassy knoll at DealeyPlaza, too. And a piece of rock that came not far from where Mercury 1lifted off. And one of Charlie Manson's guitar picks.
But those are different stories.
Later I met my brother Andy at the Fisherman's Restaurant down inSan Clemente. Late August. The day was bright as a brushfire, noclouds, sun flashing off the waves and tabletops. Andy looked at me likesomeone had hit him in the stomach.
"It's about Janelle," he said.
Janelle Vonn in the SunBlesst orange packinghouse in Tustin.
Thirty-six years ago, two brothers who didn't look much alike, staringdown at her and across at each other while the pigeons cooed andthe wind blew through the old slats.
A different world then, different world now.
Same brothers. Andy stayed thin and wiry. Tough as a boiled owl.Me, I've filled out some, though I can still shiver the heavy bag in thesheriff 's gym.
San Clemente, and you have to think Nixon. The western WhiteHouse, right up the road. I picture him walking down the beach withthe Secret Service guys ahead and behind. Too many secrets and nobodybut the seagulls to tell them to. Andy's newspaper ran a cartoon ofhim once, after he'd been chased out of office, and the cartoon showedhim walking the beach with a metal detector, looking for coins.Thought thatwas a funny one. I kind of liked Dick Nixon. Grewup justover the hill from us. He was tight with my old man and his Bircherfriends for awhile, used to come to the house back in the fiftieswhen hewas vice president and in the early sixties when he'd lost for governor.They'd sit around, drink scotch, make plans. Nixon had a way of makingyou feel important. It's an old pol's trick, I know. I even knewit then.In fifty-six I graduated from the L.A. Sheriff 's Academy and Dick Nixonsent me a note. The vice president. Nice handwriting. It's still in my collectionof things.
But that's a different story, too.
"You don't look so good, Andy," I said.
Brothers and we still don't look much alike. An old cop and an old re-porter. There used to be four of us Becker boys. Raised some hell. Justthree now.
I looked at Andy and I could see something different in his face.
"What gives?" I asked.
Listen to me, Nick. Everything we thought about Janelle Vonn waswrong."
Excerpted from California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.