Episode Six: A Gold Tooth and A Patch of Hair
By Michael Swartz
Mar 1, 2003 - 4:31:00 PM
Note: Sunset Diaries may be inappropriate for those under 17.
Welcome back to episode six of "Sunset Diaries", the story of Joe Ralph, a 35 year old ex-con living in the San Fernando Valley.
In 1997 Joe was convicted of manslaughter and served two years in prison. Released in 2000 Joe vowed to spend the rest of his life helping people and trying to redeem himself. The stories unfold via emails and the journal that Joe calls "Sunset Diaries."
Episode five ended on Monday, September 24, 2001, 13 days after 9/11.
Previously, in episode five: Joe refused to help Congressman Steve Gibson keep his affair with Josie, a young staffer, secret. Gibson tried pressuring Joe into helping him by covertly getting Joe evicted from his home, thrown off his web site and made the subject of a criminal investigation. But Joe refused to help Steve and told Josie nothing.
Joe's bike was lost during a near death experience with some killer bees, while he was saving the life of a prominent plastic surgeon named Dr. Merle Simmons of Dallas. Ice, Joe's pal from prison, an armed robber whom Joe helped to straighten out, was making progress on finding out who scammed Laura Guttierez out of $80,000.
Despite all the hardships Joe felt sure he was on the right path, and he was prepared to continue to live up to the pledge he'd made coming out of prison, even if it ended up costing him everything.
Episode six takes place on Monday October 1, 2001. Here are a few of the emails Joe received and sent between Tuesday 9.25.01 and Sunday 9.30.01 and Joe's "Sunset Diaries" journal entry for 10.1.01:
From: Ice Man
Sent: Tuesday, September 25, 2001 12:13 PM
Subject: Amazing News
Hey Skinny- sorry about your bike, but maybe it was good meeting the plastic surgeon lady.
Hey, I've got more amazing news on the Laura deal. Tony from the FBI confirmed that it definitely was Tim Bronson aka Sigmund Grave who scammed Laura. Believe that? One in a million lucky find, but it only gets stranger. Turns out Sig used to run cons with our pal Brady from Folsom and Brady was real happy to drop a dime on Sig on account of his getting burned by him a few years back. My man Carl the bounty hunter agreed to help me catch the slug and we think Sigs holed up with his wife Juanita in a rented house in the Hollywood Hills. So Im comin to LA on Monday dog! First Carl and I are going to stake out the place and make sure hes our guy. If all goes ok were planning on grabbing up Sig and Juanita on Tuesday 10/2.
Skinny i'm trying to keep expenses down to help Laura recover as much money as possible and I was hoping Carl and I could crash at your crib and you know compared to some of your roomies at Folsom me and Carl are a couple of sunday school teachers. Plus you owe your crappy life to me you scrawny shit. Let me know soon ok? Also will you please stop fucking around with that Steve asshole or at least tell me whats going on so maybe I can help. What is it with you man? Your in way over your head with him, and if your not careful after he's through with you the only thing youll be left with is a gold tooth and a patch of hair. Listen to old Ice. Peace out. Ice
From: Joe Ralph
Sent: Tuesday, September 25, 2001 12:45 PM
Subject: Mi Casa Is Su Casa
Will you please stop with the guilt trip Ice, I've already got one mother. Sure you and Carl can stay at my place, it'll be a little cramped and I hope hope to hell Carl is house broken.
That's great news about finding Sig and Juanita, I hope there's some cash left for Laura. Let me know if I can be of any help. Actually it will be good to see your big ugly face again. Regards, JR
From: Det. Hubbard, LAPD
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Wednesday, September 26, 2001 8:17 AM
Subject: Stalker Threat Assessment
Joe, per Tony Abrusca of the FBI I'm looking into your concerns that you're being stalked. Unfortunately at this point there isn't enough information to go on. We're tracing his internet address and running your description through the computer, but it takes time and we're obviously busy with all the 9/11 follow-up.
My advice to you is trust your instincts and lay low while we continue to investigate. Tony is a good pal and any friend of his is a friend of mine, despite your past, so rest assured I'll do everything I can to protect you and hopefully find the bad guy. But you need to be smart. Call or email if you think of anything else, otherwise I'll be in touch. Rob
From: Letticia White
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Thursday, September 27, 2001 11:34 AM
Subject: <No Subject>
I received your e-mail and frankly it's just so many words. I want to believe you and my family wants to believe you but only time will tell if you're being truthful. Joe this has dredged up a lot of horrific memories and raw feelings and I don't know what else to tell you. Maybe it's best if we don't communicate for the time being... Letty
From: Fred Duvall
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Thursday, September 27, 2001 9:53 PM
Subject: Good Luck
It was nice meeting you on Tuesday Joe, you seem like a decent guy and thanks for hearing me out about Steve. I could sense you were uneasy about using the information I gave you but believe me Steve will crush you unless he gets what he wants from you. It makes no never mind to me if you use the info or don't but I couldn't stand by and watch him destroy another innocent person and not say something. So I've told you and now it's up to you. One last thing, I heard Steve on the phone today and if I were you I'd be prepared next Tuesday, something's going down involving you. Good luck. Fred
From: Scott Morita
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 28, 2001 7:13 AM
Subject: Hey It's Scooter - Wake Up!
Joe--change of plans buddy! I heard that El Caribe isn't open for lunch so let's switch our plans and meet at The Fortune House, a great hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant on Balboa in Van Nuys. And Joe be prepared for the shock of your life with what I'm going to tell you! I'm counting on you Joe and can't wait to see you Tuesday at noon. Be there!
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 28, 2001 10:37 AM
Subject: Last Chance
How do you like your new life Joe? Did I not tell you it would be brutal? Did I not warn you? And Joe, this is only a small taste of what I have planned for you, if you don't behave.
Your naivet is so sweet and so deadly my boy. Wake up Joe, get your head out of the clouds, things will only get worse until you perform the one simple task I ask of you. And then all will be good again, and you can continue your Good Samaritan activities.
Joe, she's a friend of your and she'll listen to you. Remember I can be as generous as I can be vengeful. The choice is yours and time is running out. Tick, tick, tick, tick...
From: Steve Snyder
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 28, 2001 5:16 PM
Subject: Checking In
Ever hear the saying "don't do the crime unless you can do the time?" Being on parole is part of the "time" and as long as you do what you're told, we're cool. Don't waste your time complaining to me about what's fair and unfair, I've got 40 parolees and they all have problems. By the way, just to show you I'm not your enemy, I heard that you may be the focus of another criminal investigation and the FBI might be coming to seize your computer. You didn't hear that from me, but it appears you are still one very big fat target for one powerful and pissed off person. Just thought you'd like to know.
I'm reviewing your situation regarding the pornography charge and how that might affect you as well as your list of new places to live. I'm busy so be patient and I'll be in touch. Stay out of trouble Joe and you just might get through all of this. Snyder.
From: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 28, 2001 5:20 PM
Subject: You're A Good Man!
Many, many thanks for letting me keep my site going through Harrystories.com - because of you I can still communicate with my friends and clients around the world, not to mention make a little money. But I've got to warn you Harry, my enemies are powerful and you could catch some flak. If you're still willing, I'll be forever grateful. If not there's no hard feelings.
From: Melody Park
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 28, 2001 11:58 PM
Subject: crying for you
joe honey what happened last night shouldnt have, we were not smart. Im so sorry if Im saying this wrong but you know that its truthfull. ive got to much to think about with poor Domino and there are so many things you don't know and i never can explain to you or make you to understand. its best for us not do it again or see each other again. honey i love you so much and i know you love me to but we just cant be to gether. honey please stop calling and writing. mel :(
From: Josie Earnhardt
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Saturday, September 29, 2001 11:09 AM
Subject: Good News!!!
Dear Joey - You made quite the fantastic impression on Brett -- she absolutely loved you and said she'd love having you rent her guest house! Brett told me to tell you she needs an answer by Tuesday. Will your parole guy tell you by then? Fingers crossed, we'll be neighbors!!! :)
Oh Joey the contract from the gossip rag came and I have until Tuesday to sign it or walk away. If I sign it I'm scheduled for an interview that night. This is for real and there's no turning back if I sign. Joey, should I do this? Is ten grand enough to maybe turn me into a Donna Rice or Jennifer Flowers clone forever? Will I regret this? I trust and value your judgment and you're the only one who knows the whole story. Oh Joey I wish you were around to talk this over. I'd love to hurt that bastard and I could always use the money for school, but are those good enough reasons? Help!
Joey you always seem to know what's best for me, you're such a great, great pal! Anyway sweetie I hate dumping this on you when you're going through so much of your own stuff. You know what? I think we're both pretty great people and we'll both end up ok! Please call or write when you get a minute.
From: Trudy Ralph
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Saturday, September 29, 2001 1:45 PM
Subject: <No Subject>
Dear Son, Dad's headstone turned out just fine. We had a small but lovely service and you were missed. Kent, Dennis and Traci were there and Traci was a dear helping Kris with all the details. I'm not feeling too well and I wasn't able to help much.
Joseph, I don't have any energy to fight with you. Please stop insisting that I blame you for daddy's death or that I'm still "mad" at you. I'm deeply disappointed that you didn't listen to me and your real friends about where your life was headed. And it's true that because of the expense of your trial I can now barely afford the house payment and all my medications and Kris had to drop out of college. Those are the facts dear, the results of the choices you made.
I know you're trying to turn your life around and I respect you for that, but the past can't be erased and in the end we all have to deal with the mess that was left behind.
And Joseph you should know me better - the money is not my main concern with you, it's your mortal soul. Please stay out of any more trouble. Mom.
From: International Cycles
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Saturday, September 29, 2001 1:48 PM
Subject: C'mon Down!
Hey killer, your brand new excellent road bike the red beauty Klein Quantum III just arrived and it's really something! C'mon in dude, she's all ready for ya. By the way, I spoke to Merle, your sugar momma last week and she insisted we upgrade all the components to top of the line, so we did! Dude, great score with Ms. Moneybags! See ya later. Wilson
From: Judge Bart Sirica
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Saturday, September 29, 2001 4:48 PM
Subject: Info Request
I was contacted a few days ago about an investigation into allegations that you are involved in some lurid and possibly illegal pornography. Prior to this I was following your progress with a great deal of pride and I was thrilled to see you seem to turn a corner and begin making a positive contribution to society.
I was impressed that during your trial and sentencing you never made excuses, you owned up to your mistakes and you set off to redeem yourself. I think I know you Joe and I'll be very surprised if these allegations prove true. However, if they do I will be forced to act accordingly and you know what that means. Until we resolve the above, I will be happy to continue to try and assist you in your various endeavors.
Re the 60's radical that you mentioned, yes I am familiar with him. (Of course this will remain confidential.) He and his group operated out of Kansas City, MO in the late 60's and apparently there was an explosion that they were responsible for that ended up killing one young woman and blinding a man. Three out of the four people were caught, tried and convicted, and they're all still in jail. If the fourth person is ever caught he is likely facing life in jail, if not the death penalty.
Do I believe in redemption? Joe, I've seen a lot in my 35 years on the bench, sitting in judgment of thousands of people and yes I think people can turn their lives around and redeem themselves, I didn't feel redemption was possible then I'm in the wrong profession. And of course, I'm an optimist.
I hope this is helpful to you and I look forward to a quick and positive resolution of your investigation.
From: Joe Ralph
To: Dr. Merle Simmons
Sent: Saturday, September 29, 2001 6:15 PM
I just picked up my new bike and it's perfect. I can't thank you enough for your incredible generosity. I would have been happy with any of the Klein road bikes, much less the top of the line. You really shouldn't have spent so much, but again thank you.
I'd love to meet with you Tuesday to discuss my web site and other plans, but I'm busy for lunch, how about breakfast? I know a great out of the way place in the San Fernando Valley, if that's convenient.
Where will you be staying? Please let me know and I'll look forward to seeing you Tuesday. Best, Joe Ralph
From: Joe Ralph
To: Josie Earnhardt
Sent: Saturday, September 29, 2001 6:17 PM
Sorry I've been hard to reach and thanks for the update on the house. I sent Snyder my paperwork and I'm waiting for his reply. He's kind of touchy right now, so I can't push him -- if it comes by Tuesday great, if not I'll call Brett and pass. I'll keep you posted and thanks for all your great help.
Josie, I don't know what to say about going public, as you know, I'm not exactly unbiased given my history with Steve. Like every decision there are pros and cons and you know what they are. I guess you should trust your instincts.
I wish I could be more help but I've kind of got a full plate myself. Just know that I'll support you, whatever you decide. Let's try and talk later and maybe meet for a coffee soon. Best, JR
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Saturday, September 29, 2001 8:56 PM
Subject: A Stranger In A Strange Land
I'm writing you from yet another nameless and faceless town, yet another place where I'm a stranger just passing through. I got your e-mail and thanks for your thoughts, I took them to heart and I'm thinking about everything you said. I feel I can trust you Joe and I think you can empathize with my situation. Anyway, I don't have anyone else to turn to...
My life is an endless journey of minimum wage jobs, shitty motel rooms and no one to talk to or share my life. I'm like a hamster in a cage going around and around in a maze. I'm always looking over my shoulder and waiting to be found. It's a prison of my own making and I'm bone weary Joe. I can't stay in one place too long or people start asking questions and getting suspicious, so I just keep moving and moving and moving. I want so much to go back 30 years and undo what happened and get a chance to live my life.
I believed in my cause and I thought I was helping humanity. It all turned out so damn wrong.
Sorry for being so depressing, but it's late and I'm tired and alone and sick of my life. Please write back and thanks again for your time. Kirk.
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Sunday, September 30, 2001 6:09 AM
Subject: SAY YOUR PRAYERS
ITS TO MUCH FOR ME TO TAKE SEEIN YOU RUN AORUND FREE AFTER WHAT YOU DID SO CAUSED SO MUCH PAIN. I CANT TAKE IT NO MORE AND ALLS I CAN TELL YOU IS YOUR A DEAD MAN FOR SURE. I JUST CANT TAKE NO MORE FUCKIN PAIN AND JOE YOU GOT TO PAY FOR YOUR DAMN SINS. WE ALL GOT TO PAY FOR OUR SINS. ITS NOT FAIR YOU LIVE AND GOOD PEOPLE DIE. SO YOU GOT TO PAY THE ULTIMATE PENALTY. JOE YOUR GOING TO DIE.
Sunset Diaries for 10.1.01:
I'm writing this from The Encino Hospital Emergency Room at around 4:00 a.m. on Monday 10.1.01 (a palindrome date). There was a shooting and I'm a little rattled but ok physically.
For the last week or so it's been hot and steamy, day and night. Summer's last blast. The unrelenting heat just adds to the edginess and tension everyone feels - it's only three weeks since 9/11. People still walk around in a state of semi-shock and fear, and I know my problems pale in comparison. I mean they are deploying federal troops at LAX and it seems like life as we knew it has changed forever.
Tomorrow brings a full moon, something I normally look forward to, but not this one because I have so much at stake and it looks like it might be my "High Noon," the day things get resolved, good and bad. I'm not particularly superstitious, but there is something magical and mischievous about full moon days and nights, there's just no denying it. Let me go back to how this began...
I decided to stay off line and off the phone on Sunday, I needed time to figure out what to do. Ice and Carl arrived and settled in. It was good to see Ice and I felt a little better knowing he was around to help with everything.
I could easily tell Josie to not go ahead with the story about Steve and save my ass, and it might actually be the best thing for her to do. But if she ever found out I did it at the behest of Steve, she'd never speak to me again. And I don't want Steve to think I'll do anything for him. It may cost me a trip back to the joint, but at least I won't have compromised myself, there's been enough of that for me. Ugh! There's no right or wrong, it's all insane. I feel like a pilot who has lost perspective between the ground and the sky.
So what do I do? I decide to take a ride, because as long as I can ride I'll be ok, right? Ice and Carl took off to stake out Sig and Juanita and I took my beautiful new road bike out and introduced her to the streets and trails that I love. She was a beauty and a beast and we chewed up the miles effortlessly.
It was another hot and sticky Sunday night, especially in the Valley as I rode from Ventura and Whitsett to Sepulveda. I took Sepulveda south and finally found a little relief as I crossed through the tunnel and felt the cool, fresh air blowing in from the ocean. Ahhh.
I took Skirball to Mulholland and Mulholland over to Runyon Canyon, where I stopped at the benches at around 9:00 pm and watched the almost full moon rise majestically in the east. I was all alone and the weather was perfect, around 70 degrees with a slight breeze. The view wasn't all that good as the great city below was obscured by misty clouds and haze. Still it was peaceful and I started feeling better. After a while I headed home, east on Mulholland to Cahuenga, then west on Ventura. It was around 9:30 pm and at the last minute I decided to stop for a coffee at the Starbuck's at Vineland.
I got a tall coffee from my hockey playing buddy and I parked my bike and settled in to a chair by the window facing the parking lot. I drank my coffee, people watched and scribbled a little in my journal. There was a nice ebb and flow of people and I felt relaxed for the first time in a long time. The calm was shattered in an instant.
"BOOM!" An ear splitting explosion followed by glass flying and people screaming and ducking for cover. When the slo-mo returned to real time I felt intense pain in my eyes as all around me had turned into a scene of chaos. A woman was down, bleeding from her knee and the screeching tires of a van could be heard over the din of yelling and shrieking and crying.
I put my hands over my eyes as the pain got more intense. A group of people attended to the woman who'd been shot, a man ripped off his shirt to create a makeshift tourniquet, and several people with cell phones called 911. The cops and ambulances were there in a few minutes and I got to hospital around 10:15 pm. They washed out my eyes to get rid of the shards of glass and bandaged my cuts. I'm still waiting to see the doctor so I can be released and go home. Ice and Carl got here around midnight.
Rob Hubbard, Tony's buddy and the cop who is looking into my stalker came by a few minutes ago. He's pretty sure the shot was meant for me and that the shooter was my stalker. Unfortunately he got away and no one got a license plate number. He was described as a white male in his fifties with wisps of grey hair, driving an old green van. Rob said they were doing everything possible to catch him. Meanwhile the lunatic is still on the loose.
The young woman who was shot was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time and it will cost her dearly. The nurse told me that she was a dancer and was just accepted to Julliard's dance program. As of now, around 4:30 am, she is still in surgery. It looks like she'll survive, but her dancing career is likely over. Yet another innocent person goes down because of me. It seems no matter what I do or how much I try to redeem myself and do the right thing, innocent people around me suffer. I don't understand.
I tried calling Mel, but she didn't pick up. I showed up at her place late last Thursday night and maybe because we both felt so vulnerable we ended up having sex. It was amazing sex, primal and passionate. But as soon as it was
over I could see Mel was uncomfortable so I got dressed and split. I've been calling her ever since, but she's not answering. Mel is keeping something from me and says she doesn't want to see me anymore. I'm trying to obey, but I'm still so drawn to her.
For the last few weeks I've been listening a lot to Lou Reed's great album "New York" and particularly the song "Bus Load of Faith." "You need a bus load of faith to survive, a bus load of faith to survive..." Tomorrow comes the full moon, my high noon and I'll need a bus load of faith to survive.
Stay connected to Canyonnewspaper.com to read future installments of "Sunset Diaries," as more stories from the road unfold...
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