DEATH HAD A YELLOW THUMB
The locals pronounced the name San PEEdrow, a clash between the Hispanic name and the polyglot residents of the clanging harbor. In the morning, between Sixth and Ninth streets, in Old town, Italian butchers slipped into clean morning aprons, steam rose as Chinese buffet tables were fired up to prepare lunch, a busboy steadied a sign that said "Mile Long Buffet." Greek coffee in thimble sized porcelain cups was served in Croatian restaurants.
Peridot always waited until school opened to walk on Cabrillo beach because in the summer it was full of kids, gather in knots, shrieking and playing, and this way he didn't have to wade through them peeing in the water. He descended the long curving sidewalk of Stephen White Drive, superstitiously avoiding stepping on the four foot long brick rectangles set in the concrete sidewalk. he walked on the beach every day because he was trying to keep down the damn weight. At 52, he was beginning to look like he had a bubble over his belly, and his frequent diets provided no help. Cabrillo Beach was one mile long. Two miles if he walked up and back.
It was hard to imagine such emptiness in San Pedro. In the early morning the beach was overcast and misty, and the sky was the exact color of the water, so there was no horizon line because the gray sky and the silver sea melded together. It was a morning of no wind and the gray water was interrupted only by splotches of purple feather boa kelp which glided on the soft waves toward the large rocks piled at the north end of the beach, then tangled with hermit crabs and mussels. The quiet was broken by the two note blast of the Angel's
Gate lighthouse fog horn every 30 seconds, a sound so familiar to residents that they ignored it. The distant sound of the nailguns from the condos going in on the other side of the channel at the South end of the beach had not yet started for the day.
The shark had come close to the beach in pursuit of popsmelt. It was a beautiful six foot long leopard shark, bigger than most of the sharks that would come this close to the shallow water, dark gray with black mottling. It lived most of the year on sandy bottoms around the bays and coastlines of California.
The leopard shark was extremely vulnerable to the sevengill shark, its fiercest predator. Seven gills had no problem finding and trapping leopard sharks in shallow waters, sometimes chasing them so aggressively that both predator and prey ended up flapping on Cabrillo beach.
But it wasn't a sevengill that killed this leopard shark when it moved temporarily into shallow tidal areas in August and September to mate.
The shark's carcass drifted parallel with the beach for a while and then was carried into shore on a swift current that doglegged at the mudflats near Avalon Ave. Peridot always walked on the hard sand at the edge of the water where the current came to the shore because it was easier to walk on than the powdery sand inland.
And you never knew what kind of treasures would be around the hollow in the sand at waterline, luminous shells or gelatinous lumps of jellyfish sometimes, as if the ocean made its deliveries only at night. This area was declared a State marine Life Refuge in l969, a surf swept rocky seashore. The water in the channel was deep and cold, scooping the sand as it retreated, so that it was treacherous to stand there. Today he saw green seaweed on the beach which looked like inflated Italian peppers attached to a striated leaf. Pweridot like to stamp on the pepper parts so they would go pop.
Which is what he was doing when a sudden wave surprised him and soaked his sneakers. Doing a buck and wing with dirty words for music, Peridot hopped back inland, past the concrete tables under the Eucalyptus grove, past the concrete art deco statue of the explorer Cabrillo, heading for home, stamping his wet feet up the long arc of sidewalk from the Federal Breakwater to Pacific Avenue. So he didn't see the shark.
The beach was piled with sand from the winds of the Santa Ana, otherwise somebody else might have found the shark. As it was, a French tourist saw the shark. He had rolled up the legs of his blue jeans and was darting through the waves stamping footprints on the sand. The rear third of the shark he saw as missing, making it look like it had two gaping mouths, only one of which displayed white serrated teeth against its pink maw. A few gulls wheeled and fought over the delicacies of the shark, the brains and the eyes.
This particular shark had been tagged with a special shark tracking device, a seven inch microphone shaped tag designed to collect data on shark habitat and movements for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but the device got knocked off when the shark was killed. The tag was supposed to start transmitting data as soon as it popped off, but it stopped when it hit shore. The gadget included information on returning it to the Aquarium, but it was picked up and put in the trunk of a car by a man who thought it might be some kind of valuable piece of electronics, thus the Aquarium lost it and lost two months of valuable raw data.
The tourist stared at the shark, then ran back, pointing to it, talking rapidly to his friend. Together they stood looking at the shark and gesticulating.
"Someone has blown up the great fish," said the first French tourist.
"Absurd, said the other, shaking his head.
They walked toward the showers lining the restored Cabrillo bathhouse, shaking sand off their feet. The red tile roofed 1932 structure was the last of the bathhouses built in southern California, at the end of the old Red Car streetcar line that ran from Los Angeles. They showered off the sand.
Should they tell anyone about the shark, one asked the other.
"Eh," said the first tourist, "Southern California--"
They both hesitated, nodded sagely. One knew, after all, about Southern California. One had read articles. in such a place, what could one expect?