Madman on the Loose, I Could Die Today
On a sunny bucolic vacation day, The Bam, bam bambambam of an automatic weapon splintered the birdsong and rustle of the breeze through the treetops. “Wait! Were those real gunshots? Was it someone target practicing? Should I be worried?” we sat on the deck in the sunshine, pondering. “It is a bit countryish with huge lots in this little seaside enclave of vacation and retiree homes. People could target practice here, I guess. And yet…”
In the twenty years we had been coming to that cabin for a women’s retreat week, we had never heard anything like this. After all, it is Cleone, a tiny community where the grocery store, post office, and gas pump are rolled into one, where the one restaurant (with consistently awesome Mexican food) opens whenever the owners feel inclined to cook or do business, where the community’s one claim to fame is MacKerricher State Park, a CA north coast refuge for sea otters, birds, tide pool creatures, plus a great place for whale watching on the spectacular headlands. Cleone is a bedroom community of Mendocino and Fort Bragg. We have always loved its reclusive air, a great place to get away, kick back, from the intensity of the Bay Area, where the population consists mostly of dog walkers, birders, cliffs-meet-the-sea nature-lovers.
“So what were those gunshots?” Not hearing more, two of us decided to go for a walk out on the headlands. However, when we got about 25 feet down the road, we saw two sheriffs with guns out, peering into the huge row of brambles and pine trees that separated our street from the one behind. “Um, maybe we’ll head back to the cabin. That doesn’t look good.”
As soon as we got back and ushered our other friend off the back deck that faced the bramble patch, we heard Bam, bam, bambambam, again. Next came the shouts, “Clear! Look to the north.”
“Oh s__t! We are directly north of the gunshot sounds!” A 911 call to find out what was going on, had us sheltering in place with the knowledge that the sheriffs were trying to locate two suspects on the loose. Just “knowing the suspects were in the brambles and could come out shooting at any time” was a surreal NCIS moment.
One of my friends said, “I know it is bad when they send up choppers to look for people, so we are probably okay, because none are in the air.” Two seconds later, whomp, whomp whomps shook the windows of the cabin…for the next five hours, many times hovering directly over the cabin’s backyard. “Good times!”
We were at the point of fear where something inside the body changes. Each of us tried to think strategically and find items in the room to protect ourselves, should we live through gunfire and actually encounter gunmen: cans of tuna to throw at the perps, fireplace poker to brandish in their direction, wine bottles to crack over their heads. Yes, we were gee-whizzes in a crisis!
A quick text from my husband admonished us to stay away from the windows. Hard to do in a cabin filled with bay windows. When the numbness of too much adrenaline set in, one of my friends pulled out a deck a cards, said to sit down at the dinette table (in front of a bay window, of course)…she was going to teach us a really fun game. I pulled out a bottle of wine from the previous day’s wine tasting in the Anderson Valley and three glasses, and said, “If I’m going down, I am going down happy.” The other friend found the salty snacks, then the chocolate, and said, “Well, we need something to go with the wine.” By the end of the five hours, three bottles of excellent wine had been drunk and every piece of junk food we could lay our hands on had been eaten. I can’t tell you the name of the card game we played at least 20 or 30 times, but it was fun in a crazy, I-am-going-to-enjoy-my-potential-last-moments haze.
Epilogue, there was only one gunman. During one of the volleys of gunfire, he killed a well respected sheriff in the community. During another volley, the actual gunman was shot, but able to crawl away, into the brambles, where he died. All of this took place one street over from our cabin. Part of me is still not “over” this senseless, horrifying event. The fact that two people were killed less than 250 yards from us is unfathomable.
On a brighter note- My recommendations when visiting the Mendocino Coast Area
Do stop and visit the wineries of the Anderson Valley. Their terroir and weather is allowing them to produce some amazing Pinot Noirs. This trip we discovered Drew Winery and their phenomenal 2010 Pinot. Hard to find now, because it sold out so quickly.
The Little River Inn is a great place to stay (just south of Mendocino) with vast panoramic ocean views and a good restaurant.
Try Wild Fish Restaurant near the Little River Inn for scrumptious fresh fish and a staff knowledgeable on adapting their menu for gluten intolerant Celiacs, like me. Make reservations, because there are only eight tables. Go just before sunset and catch the color splash over the ocean as the sun sets.