The following is an actual and true event.
Safety In Shadows
The banging of the hickory stick was the only sound to be heard, emphasizing the stillness of a night cloaked in fog. The hardwood ponk ponk dissipated into the damp air. He beat the sledgehammer handle against the rock wall with irregular rhythm.
Even now, I remember that night all too well. It was early summer, 1976, Palos Verdes, California. My best friend, Greg, and I sat on the wall. It was close to midnight. He had come over to my house to spend the night, and we were enjoying the rush of having snuck out past our curfew. I was thirteen and Greg, fourteen. In our quest for adventure, we ended up sitting on a high, stone wall that was about a mile from my house. Even so, we were making the most of our juvenile elation, proud we had escaped detection; and, despite our boredom, going home was not an option.
I could smell the brine of the South Bay. I yawned and a breeze gave me a chill. The salty air, the late hour, and the fog-enshrouded streetlights all created an ideal atmosphere for our adventuresome state of mind. The spooky ambiance created an intoxicating elixir for our teenage imaginations.
A car emerged from the fog just up the hill from where we sat.
Like viewing a slow-motion movie, we watched a dark-colored Datsun B-210 approach from our left, passing in front of us, and turn onto a nearby street to our right. Greg looked at me and shrugged. A minute or so later, the car reappeared from the street it had turned onto, and crept back up the street in front of us.
“I don’t like the looks of that car,” Greg said.
We both kept our eyes on the tail of the Datsun. The red lights faded up the hill into the fog.
“Me neither,” I said. “Here, give me the club.”
We both seemed to hold our breath as Greg handed me the sledge handle, our eyes in the direction the car had vanished. We relaxed; relieved the suspicious car melted away into the heavy mist.
I had just looked in the other direction, when the sound of a revving engine, pulled my head around with a frantic jerk. Glaring headlights reappearing from the haze. The car moved into the lane next to the sidewalk, and accelerated down the hill towards us.
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed.
“Let’s jam!” Greg yelled. We moved like we’d each been stung.
Our legs swung us around, and we jumped off the backside of the wall, tumbling down an ice plant-covered hill into someone’s back yard. Our pursuer’s tires screeched to a halt as we hid behind some shrubs. My pulse pounded in my ears while I lay motionless, obscured by the foliage. I held my breath so as to listen for the chaser getting closer. A few long minutes later, a vehicle door slammed and the car sped away.
“Sounds like he’s gone,” Greg whispered. He rose up, cocked his head, and listened before deciding it was safe to get up. He motioned to me.
“Come on! Let’s move!”
Greg led the way as we cut through the homeowner’s side yard into whose we’d tumbled; and came out on the street the guy had first turned. We stayed in the shadows for what must have been fifteen or twenty minutes. We scanned every direction, straining our ears for any sounds of oncoming cars, but we neither saw nor heard any signs of the mystery car. Greg ventured to the middle of the street where we first saw the Datsun. All was quiet.
“Guess he was just trying to give us a scare,” I said feeling relieved, even a little exhilarated. I twirled the club with mock martial arts finesse. Cocky. I was almost to Greg’s side when he turned to me. His eyes were wide with fear. He motioned his eyes over his left shoulder, hissing.
“Behind me! That pervert’s waiting for us!”
Fear swept away my exhilaration as I glanced past him to a small side street, and saw the silhouette of a man standing next to a parked car.
Greg spun me around, and led a sprint to the shadows from which we had emerged only moments before. I glanced back. The silhouette was gone. A car engine screamed to a start. Shrieking tires pursued like demons intent on consuming us.
Along the street where the driver had very first turned, the city had been digging trenches to install new gas lines; I jumped into one of these ditches. Greg had just found cover in the low boughs of a tree when, within seconds, the Datsun careened by; the revved engine fading into the ever-present fog. For a moment, we were glued to our respective positions. When I was confident the car was long gone, I climbed out of my grave-like hole, darting over and into the same tree where Greg was better hidden.
“What do we do?” I asked Greg, as I found refuge on branch adjacent to where he was sitting.
“Hell if I know,” he said. “But we can’t stay here all night.”
After another fifteen or so minutes, we heard an approaching engine downshifting, descending the very hill we needed to ascend. My mouth was dry. The sound of my heart beating in my ears seemed loud enough to give away our position. The car now hesitated at the corner a few yards from us.
Through the branches, we saw the Datsun had been equipped with a police-type searchlight, with which this hell bent motorist flooded the yards. He sat idling for several minutes, as if he were an animal trying to sniff out our location. Eventually, after what was, for us, an agonizing duration, he turned and raced away down another side street.
“We better haul ass to your house before he comes back!” Greg said.
“Come on!” I said, dropping to the sidewalk. I still clutched the sledge handle as we ran, side-by-side, up the only street that could lead us to my home. On periodic occasion, sound or headlights to evidence an approaching vehicle prompted an immediate dive or tumble into a patch of ivy or shrubs. These well-founded flits of panic only served to impede our progress to get back to my house. After awhile, given our hurried pace, we had to slow down to catch our breath. We were nearing the top of the hill, walking in the street, close to the gutter line.
About one hundred feet from the summit, a beaming light blinded us, backed by squealing tires. Like a halfback running a play, Greg ran around behind me and up the sidewalk in the direction of the on-coming lunatic. The maniac veered the Datsun into the driveway, slamming on his brakes in an attempt to hit Greg. Greg, who had always been agile and light on his feet, spun around, never breaking stride as he sprinted up the sidewalk, and disappeared into someone’s side yard. I would later find out the stalker’s fender had clipped Greg’s ribs, leaving a large and rather nasty bruise.
So Greg had managed to slip past our night terrorist. I, however, was trapped.
I couldn’t run up the sidewalk, as the pervert had it blocked and I didn’t want to pass behind him for fear he’d back into me. Holding the sledge handle in both hands, I thought for a fleeting moment of running over and smashing out the creep’s windshield. Instead, I took my chance and ran far around the backside of the Datsun. The car didn’t budge until I had cleared the rear end of the vehicle; but I soon heard the racing engine behind me as I B-lined for the sidewalk.
I could almost feel the heat of the searchlight on my back, my shadow dancing before, me as I dashed up the concrete walkway. For some strange reason, I found myself laughing as I ran. The scream of the Datsun engine and the wailing tires were like hells minions at my heels. I darted into the side yard of the nearest house, and moved toward the back. I wondered where Greg was, but didn’t dare call out to him. I heard the sound of the chaser’s car fade away, and so I moved back to the front, where I had entered the yard. I tried to move with stealth, but I stumbled into some metal trashcans, making a loud crash that caused dogs to bark. I moved into the driveway of the residence.
A woman’s voice called out from a darkened bedroom.
“Who’s out there?”
I stood in the woman’s driveway and explained our predicament. She offered to call the police, but I declined, telling her I lived a few blocks away. Within seconds of my having told her this, I heard a car coming back up the hill. I dove into a hedge by the woman’s driveway. I peered out as the Datsun drove by at school zone speed. In the streetlight, the car appeared either dark blue or green, but I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t make out our night stalker’s face due to the streetlight reflecting off his closed window. He had his search beam off. After he had passed, I leapt out of the hedge.
“See what I mean? That guy has been after us for over an hour!”
Again, the woman in the darkened house asked if I didn’t want her to call the police. I declined and told her I thought I could make it home. I moved to stand in the street and whistled for Greg, but I heard no response. Thoughts of him dead in the pervert’s trunk flashed across my scared, young imagination. I spent several minutes whistling and banging the hardwood club on the street for Greg to hear. He never responded.
With some reluctance, I started to jog, but then I sprinted down the long hill that led to my street. Whenever I heard a car or saw lights coming my way I would dive into ivy patches that were then common to the streets of Palos Verdes. Once I got home, I stood in the shadows by my driveway waiting for Greg. Minutes later, our phone rang. I ran to answer before anyone woke up.
“Charles!” Greg’s voice was good to hear.
“Where are you?” I whispered. “I thought the pervert got you!”
“Some man helped me. I told him what happened and he’s going to give me a ride to your house. I’ll see you in a couple of minutes.”
“Okay. Hurry! Bye.” I went back outside to wait for Greg. A few minutes later, a car pulled up. Greg got out, and the car drove away.
“I didn’t see where you went after that pervert almost ran you over,” I said.
“’Almost’? That bastard hit me! I think he mighta broke a rib!” Greg winced, holding his side. He lifted his shirt to show me, but it was impossible to see much of anything under a dim streetlight.
“You were only one yard over from me,” Greg continued. “I called to you, but I guess you didn’t hear me.”
“No,” I said, “I was too scared to call out. Man, I wonder what that guy’s trip was.”
“Hell if I know,” Greg said, shaking his head.
“Wait ‘til everybody hears about this,” I said.
We stood in my driveway for a few more minutes, marveling on the singularity of the event. We determined the whole encounter lasted almost two hours.
When we did tell our tale to family members or friends, most scoffed at us, saying we had made it up. Only after much insistence did anyone believe us, and even then we were accused of some wrongdoing to instigate the chase.
It’s been nearly four decades since that night. Greg and I have remained in contact over the years. In all of our reminiscing, one of the most prominent memories—no, mysteries—that has continued to perplex and nag at our curiosity has been that strange and dangerous night when some seemingly crazed madman stalked and terrorized a couple of teenaged kids on the dark and foggy streets of Palos Verdes, California.