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LEDAN TRIED TO RECONSTRUCT the scene in his mind. The way I
figure it—when it happened, the sun had begun to make its descent into
the Pacific Ocean. The girl in the white dress had stood in the middle of
the railroad tracks that ran parallel to the beach. She'd just stood there
waiting for the four o'clock train from L.A. to run her down—must have
seen its headlight coming around the turn a mile up the tracks towards
L.A. long before the train engine had reached her.

When reality struck
home—she couldn't move—terrified—still stood motionless, wondering if
it was going to hurt—or if she'd die instantly—or be thrown into a ditch to
thrash in terrible pain—blood oozing from her body while she heard the
joyful cries of children playing on the San Marquese sand—must have
heard the deafening screams of the train's whistle—wanted to change her
mind—too late—couldn't force herself to jump out of harm's way—
stood—sickened—listening to the serge of the giant engine coming on—
louder and louder—felt the railroad tie shaking under her feet as the locomotive's
giant, silver surface rushed toward her—
Now, the train stood still, panting on its tracks like a giant caterpillar. Police
cars were parked here and there around it, red and blue lights flashing.
Alex Ledan was a redheaded Irishman. His face looked like it'd been
melted, allowed to run a little then allowed to set up that way. The tops of
his ruddy cheeks billowed out below tiny, deeply sunken, shrewd, green
eyes. Laugh lines ran away from the corners of his mouth like networks

of miniscule highways. His chin was a mass of puffy red whiskers, graying
up the sides to the temples and beyond. Thirty-two, tall and handsome,
energetic and well dressed, he was an athletic private detective on
holiday at the beach.
He walked over, kneeled down near what was left of the teenage
girl lying next to the train that had hit her, saw her bloodstained white
gown, hefted her cold, young hand in his ruddy thin one. Damn her luck,
he thought.
The silver locomotive continued to idle impatiently at the end of
the long row of silver passenger train cars. The massive side of the train
car in front of him reflected the golden light of the dying sun—onto him—
onto the dead girl—and onto Deputy Sheriff Hanson, an overbearing,
paunchy, sandy-haired, blue-eyed Swede in his early forties, who Ledan
knew from previous investigations.
Ledan stood up. "The train really messed the poor kid up."
Hanson didn't look at Ledan. "All you private dicks are alike—all
Ledan looked hard at Hanson's face. "For a deputy sheriff—I find
your attitude very negative."
A man rushed up to them. He was short, pudgy, obviously
shaken, wearing a well-kept railroad hat and gray overhauls. "I'm Will
Masters—the train engineer."
I'm private detective Ledan and this is Deputy Sheriff Hanson.
"This is obviously a bad time for you—but would you mind answering
some questions?" Ledan asked.
The engineer looked Ledan in the eyes. "Anything. Anything at
                                                                  Ledan looked
down at the girl's body. "Why did the train hit the
"I don't know," the engineer said, fearfully daubing his eyes with
his red handkerchief. "I could see maybe a mile ahead. I blew the whistle
before the crossin' back down there." He turned, pointed back down
the tracks from where the train had come. "I didn't see 'er. She just wasn't
there—I swear she wasn't—and then all of a sudden—she was!"
Ledan crouched down, took another look at the girl's lifeless body.
"She hasn't been tied up." He spoke loudly so his voice would carry
above the sound of the pounding ocean water.
"Maybe she was on drugs," Hanson suggested.
Ledan stood up. "The medical examiner can tell if she was. What
I don't understand—is why she didn't get out of the way—that train whistle
could wake the dead. Why did she stay on the tracks?"
"Maybe she was stone deaf," Hanson suggested.
Ledan turned to the engineer. "That's all the questions I have for
now. We know where to reach you if we need to talk to you again."
The engineer was so glad to be getting back to his job, he bowed,
said, "Anytime—anytime—," hurried towards the pulsating engine.
Ledan began walking alongside the tracks, parallel to the beautiful ocean
beach, looking for evidence of foul play, didn't think the girl had committed
suicide, couldn't understand why the engineer couldn't see her in time to
stop the train.
He saw a group of surfers in black wet suits grasping for wave
tops in the crushing surf, a hundred yards off the white, sandy beach
where seagulls were dipping their hungry bills, smelled the exhilarating
ocean air.
His eyes left the water, moved up the sand to some picnic tables
and palm trees. The wind had wrapped something translucent around a
table leg. It flickered as it flapped in the light breeze and orange sunlight.
He walked up to it, touched it. It's a sheet of very thin plastic—shiny—like
metal, he thought. It fascinated him. He'd never seen anything like it before.
He unfolded it. It's about eight feet long by four wide, he thought.
Then he saw the cross on the plastic. It was a Christian cross that ran
the full length and width of the plastic. It had been spray-painted on.
Then he saw the blood on it.
Just then the loud roar of a speedboat caught his attention. He
turned, looked towards the water just in time to see a man leaning against
the windshield of a fast-moving boat—aiming a rifle in Ledan's direction.
Ledan dove onto the sand.
A hail of bullets from the man's rifle made little spouts of sand leap
up as they peppered the beach toward him—they all missed him. He got
his thirty-eight free of its shoulder holster, began systematically returning
fire, heard people on the beach screaming, felt a sigh of relief when he
saw the boat turn back out towards the open sea.
He shook his fist at the shooter, who still occasionally glanced in
Ledan's direction to see if he'd hit him.
Too damn close, Ledan thought, looked first up at the wooden
bench a bullet had splintered near his head then out towards the boat.
We'll meet again—soon. You mad bastard.
Ledan got to his feet. He'd have the police lab crew recover the
plastic sheet and analyze it. The blood on it will probably be the girl's, he
thought. Then, Ledan realized that the plastic sheet was gone. He
searched the beach, finally saw it. The light wind was slowly tumbling it
far down the beach. That's the only damned clue I have, he thought as
he ran after it.
The police could not determine where Loretta Marlow, the victim in the
white gown, lived.
Three evenings after her death, Ledan followed up a police scanner
report, soon found himself kneeling on a secluded San Marquese
street—near another lifeless teenage girl. Blood had reddened her white
Ledan sized up the female driver of the pale green sedan who'd
hit the girl, studied the driver's face. Blonde female—twenty-one-ish—a
little tall for her age—thin, he thought.
The color of the blonde female driver's face alternated between
blue and red as the lights from the parked patrol cars lit it up. She was
sobbing into her lace handkerchief.
She began to explain. "All of a sudden—I heard a terrible
scream—she hit my car—flew over the side of it into the ditch! I didn't
see her! I swear! She really wasn't there—then she was!"
Hanson began cuffing her wrists. "I'm taking you downtown!"
Ledan raised his hand like a kid in school. "Wait—! I need to talk
to her—"
"No—!" Hanson said sternly, opened the squad car door. "Talk in
Ledan watched Hanson read her her rights, put her in a police car,
drive off.
Ledan was convinced that the similarity in the deaths of two girls in white
dresses, neither seen by the drivers of the vehicles that hit them, were no
accidents. He needed proof, began looking for plastic, soon found another
plastic sheet. Like the previous one, it had a cross and blood on it.
Somehow white gowns and fast vehicles plus shiny plastic sheets
equal death, he mused. Why? He'd try to find out.
Suddenly, he heard the crack-crack of a distant rifle. He hit the dirt—too
late—felt a stabbing pain shooting through his left arm, grabbed his arm
instinctively, forced himself to get off a couple of thirty-eight shots in the
direction the rifle fire had come from.
He half-rolled—half-slid into a ditch alongside the road, crawled
between two shrubs, saw a man with a rifle running across a lawn about
fifty yards away—fired at the man—missed. The man vanished.
Ledan's arm was bleeding badly. He needed a medic, grabbed
his cell and called an ambulance. While he waited, he thought about the
situation. Where the hell did I put that plastic sheet? How can a damned
plastic sheet kill somebody? I'll find it, take it to a chemist. Maybe there's
something in the plastic—poison or something.
The redheaded chemistry professor at the university played a tough game
of water polo—and, Ledan knew she was a damned good chemist. He
felt sure she'd been right when she'd told him that mirrors could be made
from the metallic-colored plastic sheets and maybe he should be looking
for a magician.
Mirrors? That was a serious clue, gave him even more resolve to
try to find the serial killer.
It was late in the afternoon when Ledan finished going through the police
files looking for files of local magicians. He found three, Michael Watamorris,
Tiberius Jackson, and K. Lesade Zimm.
Ledan decided he'd start with Zimm, who did both magic and hypnosis—
and had a child molestation record.
A police officer told Ledan, Zimm was doing a nightly magician
show at the Pink Panther Lounge on Alhambra. Where the hell's the Pink
Panther Lounge on Alhambra? Ledan wondered. He could ask somebody—
or look it up in a phone book. He looked it up.
The Pink Panther was almost empty when Ledan arrived. Three men
were playing cards at a table away from the stage. A scantily-dressed
lady was doing her nails near the footlights. A pianist was tickling the
keys of a Hurley replica.
Ledan recognized Zimm from a police photo.
Zimm was on the small stage performing a magic trick to the accompaniment
of the piano.
Ledan wanted to have a chat with him, but obviously couldn't at
the moment, so Ledan sat down at a table, ordered a White Russian from
the waitress.
A teenage girl with a painted, broad, red clown mouth, wearing a
white gown and a flower in her black hair was also on stage. Zimm
swung his black cape in a wide arch around his head then in front of
her—like a bullfighter—then stopped it in front of her. When he swirled
the cape away—poof—the girl had disappeared!
That brought Ledan straight up in his chair. The magician had
gained Ledan's complete attention. Visions were tearing through Ledan's
mind. A white gown—fast vehicle—dim light—equals disappearing—
dead girl, he thought, sprang to his feet. "Loretta Marlow! Mary Tonstedder!"
Ledan shouted, naming the two dead girls found in bloody white
Zimm—startled, glanced at Ledan—dropped his cape, ran backstage.
The stage curtain was quickly lowered to the floor.
Ledan vaulted onto the stage, spread the curtains open with his
hands and bolted after Zimm—into near-darkness. Ledan didn't see
Zimm in time. Zimm fired a small pistol at him. The bullet missed Ledan
only by inches. Ledan got off two quick shots with his thirty-eight. There
was a deadly silence—then Ledan heard Zimm's body hit the backstage
Ledan cautiously walked up to Zimm, found him on his back, holding
his bleeding stomach. Ledan disarmed him, raised the backdrop,
grabbed the stage curtains—jerked them open. "Somebody—call an
ambulance—!" he yelled.
With his usual bad timing, Deputy Sheriff Hanson and four uniformed
men, pistols drawn, burst through the lounge door, ran between
tables to the stage. "Looks like we're just in time!" Hanson said.
Ledan saw the mirror-like plastic sheet on the stage floor that had
made it appear as if the girl had disappeared, held it up, flipped it around
and showed the black cross on it to Zimm.
"Why the cross?" Ledan asked Zimm. His question reached deaf
ears—Zimm was dead.
The clown-faced girl in the white dress had run and hid during the
shootout. She reappeared, came back on stage. "Is that dickhead
dead?" she asked.
"Zimm's dead," Ledan confirmed.
She took the plastic from Ledan's hand.
Ledan holstered his thirty-eight. "What's the plastic for?" he asked
the girl.
"Crazy crap! He gave us a suck job about how it was supposed to
protect us," she said, holding it up. "It didn't protect Loretta or Mary!"
"How was it supposed to protect you?" Ledan asked.
"He made us put on these stupid gowns and carry this plastic crap
with the cross on it in front of us."
"Then what?" Ledan asked.
"Then he said over and over again, 'You're feelin' sleepy. You can
do anything and no harm will come to you. Jesus will protect you, because
you are doing good. You're holding up His cross before you."
"Why did he want Loretta and Mary to die?"
"They were sick of his crap. They were going to rat to the cops."
"Tell the cops what?" Hanson broke in.
"The cock made us whore for money—we're runaways."
Now Ledan understood what the mirror-like plastic sheets had
done. They'd reflected the surroundings, made each girl disappear—right
in front of a fast-moving vehicle—instant death. Zimm had hypnotized
them—exploited them—and probably killed two of them. There's the possibility
the girls had knowingly used the trick as a way to commit suicide.
They're just as dead either way, Ledan thought.
He sat down on the edge of the stage then slid himself off onto the
floor, walked through the lounge, pushed out through the lounge door.
The ocean air smelled great. I'll get some sleep, now, he thought.
Hanson had followed him out. "Where the hell do you think you're
Ledan didn't turn around. "To sleep. I'm on vacation, remember?"
"Not 'til we write up the report."
Ledan laughed, turned around, went back inside.
The End

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