Leaving Lake Riverside, Chapter 2: The Land Scam

This is the next chapter of my book, entitled Leaving Lake Riverside. To read the previous chapter, CLICK THIS LINK. For the next chapter, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

The Land Scam

From time-to-time, Britt worked for a man named Tom Marcial, who owned a string of horses. They would haul these horses to various venues, where people in attendance could ride them, for shits and grins.

Tom knew a man whose last name was Beaumont, and Beaumont was a scam artist. He was setting up a shady land banking scheme and wanted someone to help him portray a sense of the Old West. He thought this could lure investors to a tract of desert land that he was conspiring to hype up and sell at inflated prices.

Tom was a natural at this because he always tried to pass himself off as an old cowboy. He was only around 40 years old, but to hear him talk, you’d swear he once rode the range with Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickock. Tom signed a contract with Beaumont’s flaky business, Beaumont & Associates, and hired Britt to work for him at this job.

Around this same time, Britt and my mother married after only about a month of fooling around in the sack. Britt was a Mormon, so he got a bishop to marry them in a little office room at the Mormon church in Oceanside. The wedding was very small, with just a few witnesses, Britt, my mother, and three of her five kids attending. I remember we all barely fit into that small office. It was no kind of ceremony, just a few words spoken and some papers being signed.

And now there was work to do, so no time for a honeymoon. Well shit, they’d already had their honeymoon anyway.

Britt and Tom had to set up a riding stable at the real estate tract. And this site was located in a very remote area about 50 miles northeast of Oceanside. It was near the foot of the San Jacinto mountains, and in the shadow of a massif known as Cahuilla Mountain.

Cahuilla Mountain, with Lake Riverside in the foreground.

The riding stable was meant to provide diversionary entertainment for children of potential customers, while their parents got on with other, more lucrative-seeming business. The business of being scammed. And Tom and Britt would be accessories to this scam, literally helping to take the marks for a ride. Or rather, the marks’ kids.

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Leaving Lake Riverside, Chapter 1: The Jockey

This is the first chapter of my book, entitled Leaving Lake Riverside. For the next chapter, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

The Jockey

These were hard times, so there’s no way I could have known that the favorite summer of my childhood was galloping straight at me.

It was April, 1970. My mother was broke and we were facing almost certain eviction by a landlord hell-bent on dumping us out on the street. He’d given us three days’ notice to get out, even though 30 was the law. On one occasion he pulled up into our driveway, jumped out of his car shouting all kinds of mean things, such as “Get out!” and entered our house to try to physically remove us.

He was a big Samoan man. Oceanside, California was home to a lot of Samoans back then, and probably still is. He was daunting but I stood up to him, with my scrawny 11-year-old body that weighed 80 lbs soaking wet. When he’d lug one of our possessions out of our house and set it down on the porch, I’d pick it up and lug it right back in.

You learn to be scrappy when you’re poor. Or maybe I just felt outraged that this guy was invading our house. Which was actually his house.

Nonetheless, the handwriting was on the wall. We’d have to get the hell out soon and be homeless unless something changed quickly. And then one early-spring day, when the morning sun had burned through the gray marine layer, and my skin warmed, and birds filled my ears with cheery tunes, something did change. My mother brought a man home.

His name was Britt Layton. Britt was a short guy who had once made a living as a jockey. He’d enjoyed a fair amount of success in the world of thoroughbred racing, back in the 1940s, ’50s and 60’s. He even played an uncredited bit part as a jockey in the 1950 movie, Riding High, starring Bing Crosby, Coleen Gray, and Charles Bickford.

But by the time I met him, he was 51 years old and washed up. Or you might say, washed down. Down a gutter flowing with alcohol.

Some years earlier, according to Britt, he was in a race in Canada. He was riding high on the back of a galloping thoroughbred when suddenly a horse at the front of the pack collapsed into the dirt. Horseflesh and humanity collided in a chain-reaction, and jockeys flew through the air like pinballs.

In the ruck of thoroughbreds that went down, Britt’s was one of the casualties. And Britt was messed up, also. He was lucky to survive this accident, but how lucky, really? He’d been mangled badly, and would never completely recover. This would be Britt’s last race. He was finished, his career as a jockey kaput.

It was a career he loved, and giving it up wouldn’t be easy.

Britt had always been a hard drinker, but after the accident he was hardly ever not drinking. This ex-jockey only rode bottles now, and just like a clumsy thoroughbred, they left him crumpled in the dirt. He transmogrified into a falling down, sleep-in-the-gutter stewbum.

His drink of choice was vodka. Straight-out-of-the-bottle vodka. He plunged into it and floated along powerful rivers of the crystal liquid. And in this maelstrom of firewater, he swirled downward, downward, downward, until he was finally swallowed up by a rehab facility.

That’s where my mother met him. She worked as a nurse at that facility, and assisted at resuscitating him from his near-drowning. And by the time she brought him home to meet her kids, he was as sober as a cup of coffee, and as dry as an empty liquor bottle.

At least he came off dry, at first. He tried to be stern with me. But even at 11 years old, I could see through all that. I concluded that overall, Britt was a nice guy with a good heart. He was nothing like my previous stepfather, Clancy, whom my mother had divorced about a year before.

That guy possessed the heart of a jackal, a Pecksniffian instinct for nitpicking, and a talent for terrorizing his stepchildren. Also, the perverted bastard had molested my three sisters. But the Clancy nightmare was over, and Britt was opening up a brand new world of possibilities to a kid foreign to humane treatment.

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Leaving Lake Riverside, Introduction

This is the introduction to my book, entitled Leaving Lake Riverside. For the first chapter, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

Introduction

Many years ago, when I was 11 years old, I worked for a bunch of con-artists. And not just me, but my family, also. We were involved in a big, sophisticated land fraud scheme, where we aided and abetted a crew of slick-tongued confidence men, who swindled real estate investors out of millions of dollars.

As Dickens would say, it was the best of times; it was the worst of times. I enjoyed this fantastic episode in my childhood, but it did not end pretty.

These sordid events happened over 50 years ago, and this is a memoir of that time. They’re the best recollections I can come up with, from the remembered perspectives of my youth.

I’ve racked my brain and tried my darndest to recall every detail with as much accuracy as possible, but memory fades with the passage of time. So some of the details may be a little off. Let’s just say the details are based on truth, and keep faith with the general occurrences and gist of this history, even when they may stray a bit from exact accuracy.

Memory for detail may be very fallible, but memory for general concepts, the general feel of things, and general activities, is much more reliable. I can assert with insuperable confidence that the general color, mood, and events depicted in this memoir are spot-on.

I haven’t just relied upon my own raw memory, while crafting this tale. I’ve also interviewed family members, to gain their best recollections. I’ve found a plethora of information on the internet, that has helped to shape my descriptions of people, places, and events. And I’ve also revisited the scene of the crime, which I found helpful at jogging and guiding my memory.

The end result is this confessional. It’s a memoir over 27,000 words and 40 chapters long. I’ll be posting it over the next few months, one chapter at a time, with Chapter 1 appearing in just a few days. So come on back, and we’ll get started down this primrose path I once journeyed with my family.


PS: Let me add this word of thanks to Carolyn Shelton, at Nuggets of Gold, for reading and critiquing the manuscript of this book. I found her insight and feedback to be invaluable.

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