Suntec Building Rises Over Newport
Newport Beach, CA — Ground was broken for the construction of the highly anticipated Suntec West Coast Operations building this past Monday. Since May, the ambitious Suntec CEO Dr. Richter has faced criticism from Newport business organizations claiming that he has disregarded their concerns and employed heavy-handed tactics in his efforts to secure appropriate licenses for the construction of his building. Dr. Richter was present for the laying of the cornerstone and had this to say about the future of the project: “I’m fully committed to the Newport Beach area and its residents. I guarantee that Suntec’s presence here will be beneficial for the local economy, the local people, and the local businesses. Through Suntec, we can make Newport Beach an even better place.” Dr. Richter took no further questions. The Richter Family moved to the Newport Beach area this summer so that Dr. Richter might better oversee the construction project.
* * *
Rusty stood 674 feet above Newport. Or 702 with the jib fully extended. The crane had been erected three months ago for the construction of the Suntec building and it was far and above the tallest structure in the city. Its dark red frame cut a bloody line on the Newport Beach skyline and with the sun behind it, every beach-goers’ eye was drawn to its stark shape.
Robb arrived long before sunset. It was still bright and hot and late afternoon when security cameras watched his dark green convertible pull into the Charter House parking lot. The tape showed him sitting in the car for half an hour between 3:30 and 4:00 PM. When he got out he was carrying a hiking pack and wearing a headlamp, his short brown hair was tucked under a black University of California cap and he walked lightly in heavy hiking boots. He made his way across Hoag Drive and down Redlands Ave to the construction site. He glanced to his left and to his right and then examined the security fence that surrounded Rusty.This is easy. Easier than that lock on the marina gate last week. Putting down his pack, he removed a slender file and jimmied the lock on the fence; shouldered his pack and walked in. Moving towards the crane, he turned when he heard the crunch of gravel and a girl’s shout.
It was Blair. “Nice backpack, tool! Bet you got a tent in there all ready to go Robert.” She rushed past him, standing up on the pedals of her blue beach bike as she flew towards the base of the crane. She bent her head and pedaled harder, faster as she increased speed. Robb held his breath as she held onto the bike to the very last second. And past it. And sprung off the bike with surprising force just as it crashed into a leg of the frame. She landed on her feet laughing and with a smile. Her blonde hair was pulled back from her face and she wore yesterday’s tank top and cut offs. Robb shivered for her in the cold — he still wore his fleece jackets and khakis from New England winters. Blair ran back to him and planted a kiss on his cheek, “Morning, partner! Ready for a little vertical hike? Where’s Jay?”
“Dunno. Lazy bum’s probably still in bed.”
“Call him, then.”
“That’s what I’m doing.” Robb listened to Jay’s phone ring, ring, and ring.
“Hello? Huh? Who’s this?” Jay’s muffled voice was slow and tired.
“Robb, you ass. We’re at Rusty, where are you?”
“Rusty? Oh, Rusty. Like the crane. Yeah, yeah, I forgot we were doing that tonight. Guess I’ll be over in a sec, man.”
Robb put the phone back in his bag and sat down against the fence and looked up at the crane. Blair dropped down beside him. Robb was silent; his eyes followed the lower pillars of the mast of the crane upwards to the climbing frame. The pillars were smooth steel, dotted with fat bolts and swollen soldered joints. All painted a bloody rusty red by which the crane garnered its name. The frame extended upwards six hundred feet to the rotating unit and then to the crane’s operating cabin.
From this angle Robb could just make out the Suntec logo emblazoned on the side of the cabin and along the horizontal jib. He’d seen it before. He’d grown up with it. His father owned it. Dr. Robert Richter Sr. had built Suntec from the ground up and now he was expanding his operations to Newport Beach, here in California. Looking up at the massive height of the crane, Robb shook his head and felt small. He’ll never stop, he thought to himself. There will always be something bigger and better for him. Long ago Dr. Richter’s influence had expanded beyond his business and into his son’s life: his schoolwork, his friends, his wrestling and his dreams were all swayed by his father’s opinion. Dr. Richter had switched him from lacrosse to wrestling because that’s what he did in high school. He had judged his peers, picked his courses, wrote his papers and bullied his teachers for Robb’s whole life. But Robb couldn’t argue with success. That was Dr. Richter’s currency: success. It was the metric by which he judged everything he touched, his business, his son, himself. His complete involvement in Robb’s life had seen only success thus far: Robb had made summa cum laude at Exter, had captained both the wrestling and the track teams, had spearheaded service efforts throughout his community, had played the college application game and come out with an Ivy League acceptance. Robert still resented his father’s making the final decision in his enrollment in Dartmouth. So it was nothing new when Robb had transferred colleges when the business moved, or more accurately, Dr. Richter had sent in the Dartmouth transfer forms for him.
But Robb didn’t mind UC of Irvine; he loved it here, it had changed his mind and Blair had changed his life. Falling in with Blair and Jay was like putting on rose-tinted sunglasses. They were a troupe of trouble-makers who weren’t content to wait for life’s little, or big, surprises. They made their own fun. He had met them one night at a bonfire after they came off the water wet from surfing. He was a college student trying hard to hide his Yankee upbringing amid Newport locals and they were high school friends who had chosen real life over college and who knew more of his classmates than he did. Robb fell in love with their energy and their enthusiasm: their passion taught Robert what it was like to be outside a classroom, outside a gym, a quad, a library. He was learning a different, more personal kind of success.
His thoughts were interrupted by the rumble of a car engine missing its muffler. As he stood up he saw the lights of Jay’s jeep wobble into view and shut off directly outside the open gate. Before Robb could tell him to park elsewhere Jay was out of the car and sauntering towards them.
“Heya lovebirds. Forgot we were doin’ this thing today. But I’m here, you’re here, let’s get it on.” He pulled a flask from his back pocket and gulped, grimaced, and replaced it. He shook his long blonde hair from his face and tucked it into a frayed headband. Bending down, he tied his sneakers tightly and looking up at Blair, he winked.
* * *
The climb was tougher than Blair had anticipated. When they had planned this from the porch of Spanky’s Bar, the angle of the steel frame had seemed more slanted and gentle. But this was damn near vertical and she loved it. Each finger of both hands gripped the cold metal hard and her toes curled around the sharp ridges of the bolts as she thrust upwards with her legs and heaved downwards with her arms. One handhold, one foot, one push at a time and she labored upwards against the gravity that always threatened to pull her down. As a kid Blair had always been climbing. With sheer determination and hours of work she had climbed above students smarter and more talented than her in high school. She tackled everyone and anyone on the soccer field and her digital video company had grossed more than one of her mother’s annual paychecks. But she grew bored. Soccer became pushing a ball across a field and her business was changing CDs in a machine and there was no end in sight and no goal to finally score. She applied to colleges knowing that they would be more of the same and she received acceptances and rejections without enthusiasm. She began to look elsewhere for her thrills and found them in Jay. His father had passed a few months before and she had noticed him at the funeral as the only family member with dry eyes. He was ready for anything and she wanted to do everything. They had become fast friends in the last few years of high school and dated. But Jay was too indifferent and Blair too constrained by the idea of a formal relationship for anything to last long. They stuck together, though, after high school and into their twenties — always together and always searching for something new. Looking behind her towards the ground she saw Robb, and further back, Jay.
Jay breathed deeply and licked his lips of the salty air. Two hundred feet above the ocean, and he could still taste it. Most people in Newport couldn’t. His mother couldn’t. She didn’t bother to open the windows anymore when the sun rose in the east over the low Beverly Hills and she didn’t bother to go out to the beach and push her toes into the sand when the sand was warm and hot from the sun. She stayed inside and watched her television and her reality shows and stopped caring about the real world and the real people in it. Her husband didn’t taste the salt either; he was dead of lung cancer.
One hundred feet more and Jay could see Dad’s cemetery. They’d been regular inconsistent attendants of the same Balboa Point Church since he could remember. From three hundred feet he could see the white spire and the rectory and the tiny grass lot where people parked on Sundays and Christmases and Easters. He was above it all now: far above Balboa Point and Dad’s grave and Mom’s TV and his lifetime of Newport Beach. The wind blew in from the beach and he shivered in his jeans and reached back for his liquor. Climbing and drinking was easy for him. His big hands wrapped around the steel frame of the pillar and his sneakers stuck securely to the red metal as he leaned out over the lights below him; his arm lazily outstretched and his fingers curled around the warm silver flask that he brought from his pocket to his mouth. He took a sip. And another. Coughed and took another. The body-warmed whiskey reminded him of nights in the jeep at the beach and of train surfing at midnight with Blair and of sitting stoned through classes in high school.
It hadn’t always been like that. When his dad was around, things had been different. He had carried their concerns for them and left them with only happiness. They had a different house in a different part of town. Jay went to a different school and he played sports instead of playing around Newport. His dad made his mom happy and she made the family a real family: cooking dinners and planning vacations, she had helped Jay with schoolwork and had worked hard to raise his younger brothers right. And then his father joined the ranks of cancered smokers. It had changed then and Jay gave up his smoking for drinking. He met Blair and he found his own kind of happiness away from his mom and his brothers and away from his dad’s memory. Away and above Newport.
* * *
The three friends hiked on and moved up further from the city. It was 6:00 PM and Blair stopped. She couldn’t go further. She had reached the base of the rotating unit — the broad cylindrical piece upon which the operating cabin of the crane rested and rotated. It was much wider than the tower which they had just climbed and its lip stretched out far beyond her grasp. The portal which led to the cabin from the underside of the rotating unit was locked and barred, inaccessible even to Robb’s lock picking. Legs wrapped around one of the steel frames and arms extended as she leaned back, Blair looked away at the ocean.
“We’ve got twenty minutes to get up there,” she stated.
“Or not get up there,” came Robb’s equally monotone reply.
“Looks pretty hairy to me, too,” Jay commented lazily. “Got any wings for gettin’ yourself five feet out and around this block of concrete above our heads?”
“Nope. But you do, Jay. You’re what, six-two? six-three? You could make that easy.”
Jay rubbed his eyes. He sat comfortably in the apex between two metal rods beneath the rotator, his strong long legs stretched out before him and his back resting against a wider steel support. He looked across the concrete ceiling above him and shook his head. “Don’t think so Bee. Not this time. That’s a serious gap and I dunno what the handholds look like on the other side of this thing. Could be none. Then I’d just be clutching at flat concrete six hundred feet in the air. Babe, I love a little risk, but this is too much.”
Blair had stopped paying attention to him before he finished. Her eyes were again on the western horizon. “We’ve probably got fifteen minutes before the sun sets over there,” she nodded her head towards the Pacific. “And I’m sure as hell not gonna watch the sunset from down here. Not after all this.”
“Blair, don’t be an idiot. No way you or Jay could make it out to the edge there. It’s way too far for a jump and you’d just overshoot. What difference is the view from another fifty feet? This is gorgeous right here. You really want something more?” Robb’s voice was quiet and urgent. He had known Blair for a year and he knew when she was serious. He had seen her green eyes like this before when she had jumped from the hotel balcony to the pool forty feet below last winter break. And when she had paddled into ten foot waves at the Wedge in the middle of the night on her surfboard. She was hungry for more and she had to taste this. He knew it and he was scared.
“Give me your rope, Robert.”
“I don’t have a rope.”
“Give it to me Robb. I know you do.”
Robb sighed. Slowly, slowly he took off his pack and wedged it between bars in front of him. He carefully unzipped the bottom zipper and removed a small coil of thick rope. He handed it across to Blair.
Blair knotted one end of the rope and let the other uncoil until she had a few feet of play. Methodically, she swung the unknotted end back and forth until it gained enough momentum to touch the base of the concrete rotator. She aimed it towards one of the handholds closest to the edge of the lip. The rope fell short. She uncoiled more of the rope this time and repeated the slow swinging back and forth, back and forth as the rope gathered speed. Finally, she flicked it towards the iron handle inserted in the bottom of the unit. Her aim was true and the rope followed its inevitable course towards the handle and then through it. Gently, she fed more of the rope through until she could lean out and grab the other free end. She pulled it towards her and tied it to itself, making a loop of rope around the iron handle. She grabbed it and pulled hard, testing its weight. Robb and Jay watched her in silence.
Blair didn’t see them. She only saw the huge stretch of concrete ceiling in front of her. Everywhere in her life it confronted her. Huge blank spaces that cried to be filled, needed to be traversed, ached to be conquered and tamed. Her hunger was insatiable and the space was infinite: it was a match that provided her endless battles. She could never fill those spaces. School had done it for a while. But she had grown bored of the same tame mental tasks framed in barely different ways. She wanted something that had real and immediate consequence, something that hurt if you failed. Something that made you feel something. And so she had rejected her college acceptances. She had eschewed them in pursuit of a real challenge and real life. This is real, she told herself. This has consequences. This forces me to give it everything I’ve got or be nothing at all.
She tugged the rope one more time, hard. Content with the tightness of the knot, Blair leaned back against the metal frame and bent her legs. With her eyes towards the Pacific, she exploded towards the outer lip of the rotator. The slack of the rope snapped taut and pulled her arms straight as the rest of her body continued to move outwards towards the ocean.
* * *
Robb wiped sweat from his brow and watched the scene unfold in slow motion. He saw the rope extend and he saw Blair’s momentum carry her out as she defied gravity and harnessed the momentum born of her legs. As the rope snapped straight and long to its full length a shock ran through Blair’s body and her wallet flew out of her pocket. It continued her trajectory through the early morning air towards the Pacific, falling away and down, down towards Newport and the city and the Suntec construction site below them.
But Blair held on and reached upwards. In a moment of perfect timing and flawless coordination she released her grip on the rope and reached out with her right hand over the lip of concrete. Her hand found purchase and she pulled. The rest of her body followed and she dropped the rope from her left hand and grabbed the lip with both hands now. In one fluid motion she heaved herself upwards and over the edge of the rotator and onto the top. Jay and Robb saw only her bare feet and the darkening western sky.
“This makes me wanna believe in God,” drawled Jay as he sat in the operator’s cabin atop the rotator and looked out towards the Pacific sunset. Pulling out his flask, he drank until it was empty.
Robb and Blair sat side by side with their legs dangling over the edge of the jib. Robb lay on his back looking at the blue sky above him slowly growing darker. He watched as first one star appeared and then another. He remembered laying like this on the first night they had begun dating. Their first night together.
Today, Blair had outshone him. She had proven that he hadn’t changed at all here in California. For a year she had been teaching him how to test the limits of life and to taste the exquisite sweetness of coming so close to the edge: a different kind of success. For a year she had shown him that everything he had learned in school and on the field and in books couldn’t compare to the vigor and intensity of life lived at its fullest. And still he couldn’t buy it. Still he couldn’t take the leap. The leap that she took in everything she did — bending her legs and exploding into life like a cannonball. He had made progress, but it was moderate progress, baby steps that couldn’t cause any real harm or give real satisfaction. He had never stepped outside his comfort zone. Had never taken a step without Dr. Richter’s guidance; never known an individual act. Even in climbing this crane he had known that he would succeed, be safe. And yet, when the one dangerous element confronted him and the only unsafe challenge stared him in the face, he blinked and turned away. He turned away and let Blair stare it down.
A warm feeling moved through every part of Jay as he leaned back in the operator’s chair above the city below. He couldn’t feel the cold night sea breeze because he only had eyes for the enormous setting sun in front of him. Looking down past Hoag Hospital and south towards the Bay Club and even further he could see the tiny pinprick of light that was his house. He thought of his mother going to sleep in her bed, her eyes tired from the day’s television; of his brothers getting up groggy-eyed and grouchy for a long walk to school the next morning and he thought of all of their futures: his mom’s, his brothers’, his own. Their past was nothing special, he thought, but the future, the future could be anything; the future could be something good. Looking out across the beach and over the ocean, Jay suddenly wanted to be a part of that future. He wanted to show this sunset to his brothers. He wanted to tear his mom from the TV and show her what it was to live life again. He wanted to visit his dad’s grave and see Balboa Point Church again. The wind picked up now. Jay’s warm feeling was replaced with the bitter chill of an autumn wind foretelling winter. He shivered and looked towards Robb and Blair.
* * *
The three friends spent most of the night in the operator’s cabin, recovering from their climb and resting for their descent. But before sunrise Blair was getting ready to descend. She had accomplished her goal, defeated her foe and was preparing to move on to the next one. She led them down to the door of the operator’s cabin and unlocked it from the top. Jay jumped down first, confidently resuming his easy grip on the metal frame and began moving downwards. Blair was next to follow and Robb directly behind her. They left the door open behind them.
Jay was going down in leaps and bounds. He would slide down a portion of scaffold with his hands wrapped around it lightly like a fireman’s pole until his white sneakers would come to rest on a metal divot or a bulky screw. Then he would haul himself past it hand over hand and repeat the maneuver. His tall skinny frame and lanky arms belied a sinewy strength that he displayed with every plunge. Blair watched him and did her best to imitate his technique. But her hands were smaller and her feet thinner and she held the metal too tightly. The palms of her hands quickly grew bloody from the fast friction of the rust-colored metal but she didn’t stop. It was a race and she was a racer.
Robb was racing after them for different reasons. The sun was rising quickly now and the buildings around them didn’t provide much cover from its increasing light. As more and more of the orb crested over the eastern hills, the three figures became more visible silhouettes shimmying down the side of the crane. It wouldn’t be long until someone noticed them.
But there was excitement in the chase and the three friends yelled and laughed at each other as first one pulled ahead, and then the other. Returning to the city was much easier than leaving it and they succumbed to gravity, letting it pull them downwards with ever increasing speed. It was a dangerous game they played, still two hundred feet above the cool asphalt of the street and the rocky gravel of the construction site. Each pushed the other further and they fed off a shared energy of having accomplished something, of having beaten a foe together and surmounted an obstacle.
Robb saw them first, tearing down Neptune Avenue. There were two cars headed towards the crane and another already parked below them with a police officer outside, looking up. Jay was twenty feet ahead and descending fast. He didn’t see the cop below him until he jumped and then he saw him in midair. He hit the gravel hard and rolled onto his side, holding his leg. The policeman left his car and broke into a run towards him. Robb and Blair still had feet to go and could only watch as the officer approached Jay while they still monkeyed down the frame as quickly as they could. The policeman reached a hand out towards Jay to help him but Jay kicked it away with his good leg. The cop backed away and pulled out his walkie-talkie. He craned his neck and looked up at Robb and Blair sliding down the last part of the mast of the crane.
Before they could reach the bottom, Jay tackled the officer; he threw the whole weight of his body behind his shoulder and into the man’s chest and he toppled him like a tree. The cop hit the ground hard, was winded and gasped. Jay lay on top of him, keeping him pinned and clutching his injured ankle.
Before Robb jumped he looked over the fence and saw the last two cop cars pull up to the gate. He swore and leaped after Blair who had already hit the ground running towards Jay. In a second Blair was at his side pulling and yanking at his arms to help him stand. But Jay couldn’t. Robb could see that his ankle was clearly broken and twisted. Jay couldn’t put any weight on it. If he were to go anywhere it’d have to be on a stretcher. Or in a police cruiser.
“Blair, let go of me. It’s fucked. My ankle’s fucked. You guys have gotta go now. I can’t run, but you all have to bolt.” Jay was serious for the first time that morning.
“We’ll carry you Jay. We’ll carry you between us. We can make it to your car and get outta here.” Blair continued to pull futilely at Jay’s shoulders, but he wouldn’t budge. Robb could see the flashing blue lights through the gaps in the fence and through the gate they had come in. He could see three police officers rounding Jay’s jeep and coming towards them. He didn’t want to get caught. He couldn’t get caught. Not here, on his own father’s construction site. He’d kill him.
Blair saw the cops now, too. She looked at Jay and she looked at Robb. Jay spoke, “It’s a misdemeanor, Blair. It’s nothing. I’ve been charged with worse. Now get the hell out of here. Now!”
Robb was already running. He made for the back of the construction lot where the fence was lower and they had piled debris from the foundation. Leaping over jagged concrete blocks and chunks of piping he sprinted towards the perimeter. Blair was right behind him. Her bare feet didn’t feel the rough scrapes of the nails or the pinch of the sharp gravel. Blood covered her hands from sliding down Rusty and she had red prints all over her shirt where she had wiped it. Robb stopped at the edge of the fence and threw his backpack over. He looked back and saw Blair bounding towards him. He motioned her onwards. Behind her he could see a big cop bearing down on them. The other two were with Jay. One was yanking him up and twisting his arms into handcuffs while the third was looking directly at Robb from across the construction site and shouting a report into his walkie-talkie.
Blair leaped over the fence and landed nimbly on the sidewalk. Robb was seconds after her. He grabbed his pack and tore down Redlands Ave and towards Hoag Drive. Blair was right behind him.
“Where are we going?” she panted.
“Charter House. Jag’s there.”
The two of them ran side by side down the sidewalk, Robb’s strides were short and quick with military precision and a straight back that made Blair’s long leaps look even longer. With each foot on the sidewalk Blair left drops of blood that quickly dried to a rusty red.
* * *
The squad car arrived just as the dark green convertible screeched out of the Charter House lot. Damn, thought Robb. Damn. This is not how it was supposed to go. This cannot be happening. He looked at Blair sitting in the seat next to him. Her head was turned and she was looking behind them at the flashing lights that were closing in. She was grinning and her white teeth shone in the dawn light.
“Should we run?” Robb asked the back of her head. “If we don’t, it’ll probably just be a misdemeanor, like Jay said. We could just turn ourselves in now. Probably still get tagged with ‘evading arrest’ though. What do you think, Bee?”
For a moment Blair didn’t show any sign that she had heard him. The smile stayed on her face and her eyes stayed glued to the lights that flashed blue and red and white. Then she turned around and looked at Robb, her green eyes sparkling like they had before she leaped.
Robb laughed and Blair didn’t say a word. He laughed at his question and at his fear, he laughed at misdemeanors and ‘evading arrests’, he laughed at their predicament and at the boys in blue and then he put the car in gear and he put his foot to the floor of the Jaguar. The small car leaped forward and threw both bodies back against the seats. Blair gasped with delight. Robert stopped laughing and checked the rearview. This was his kind of challenge. The leap was his to make.
Tustin Avenue to North Newport. Through the light and onto North 55 at eighty-five miles an hour. Merge 405. Alicica Parkway exit onto Via Lomas. Down Riverside and up San Miguel Plaza: Laguna Hills. He lived here and he knew these roads. The squad car still followed but he would lose him. Had to. All of his attention was on the road now. He felt the engine of the car hum down the straight-aways and strain around curves as he braked and then gassed the machine. Blair was beside him and she was in love. The chase thrilled her and she rode with her head out the window and the wind whipped her hair around every curve and down every hill and she was in love with the speed of the car. She loved the lights behind her and the road ahead and she yelled into the wind only to have it rip her voice away and back behind her towards the chasing car that Robert couldn’t lose.
The squad car was relentless. It hounded the small green convertible with patience and cool skill. Robb couldn’t see the driver behind the dark glass but he was sharp and practiced and waiting for Robb to make a mistake. The officer let Robb take the risks and he only followed the path that the green car blazed on the road. Followed and followed and followed so that Robb couldn’t escape his sight. He could move across the country and he could climb six hundred feet into the air and he could drive 100 miles an hour but he couldn’t escape.
After fifteen minutes Robb began to panic. He was driving in circles and the roads were getting more and more crowded with early morning traffic. He headed west and hit the Pacific Coast Highway; once again he pushed the pedal to the floor. He didn’t know what else to do. He didn’t know how to escape this car. He didn’t know anything but speed and quickness and escape. Headed south with the ocean on his right, he and Blair swerved in and out of traffic, to and from lanes while the blue sirens followed them forever.
“I can’t do it Blair. I can’t lose him. We have to give in. He’s gonna get us as soon as I run out of gas.” Robb looked to his right to Blair and to the Pacific. Her profile stood stark against the blue horizon. He couldn’t tear his eyes away. She pulled her head in from the wind and there were tears in her eyes.
“What?” she asked, green eyes smiling through the tears.
It was then that the Jaguar met the guardrail and passed through it and over it. The small car carried its momentum outwards towards the Pacific and the rising sun. It leaped over the small cliff and plunged into the blue waters of the ocean. It sank under the gently rolling waves as a small green speck drifting further and further downwards until it was finally and forever lost from the officer’s sight.
* * *
NBPD POLICE LOG
Newport Beach, CA — The deaths of Robert James Richter, Jr. (22) and Elizabeth Blair Worthington (24) occurred early Thursday morning as a result of an automotive accident that followed an extended pursuit by Newport PD Deputy Jacob Collins. The two were reported by police as trespassing on Suntec Co. property adjacent to Redlands Avenue. Jason Barnes Marx (25) was apprehended at the scene. Released on $2,500 bail, Marx is being charged with Assault and Battery of an Officer (iiv.354) and Trespassing (xxi.12). Hearing date to be decided.