By Marcus L. Rowland
Ponch has been riding patrol for a couple of days when he hears the rumour for the first time. It's another week before someone gives it a name; Sunnydale, the place where the CHP doesn't go. He finds it on the map, with difficulty, checks patrol routes, and realises that the rumours are true. The whole incorporated area around the city, nearly a thousand square miles in all, isn't on any route. The closest route takes a long detour off the Interstate, through back roads to avoid the place. He asks around, discreetly, finds that none of the other probationers know any more; it's a thing, something the experienced officers never talk about. No other town he can find is bypassed in quite this way, usually the routes come much closer and stick to the Interstate.
About the first thing that happens after his probation ends is that he's taken into a back office and given the "official" version. According to the Captain, the state budget has never authorised funds to extend the patrol routes closer to Sunnydale; back in the earliest days the whole town, plus a couple of dozen areas that are mostly desert, were specifically excluded for one reason or another. When it was time to update the budget there was a political argument that left Sunndale out, and things have never been put right. The Sunnydale PD has funding to compensate, and handle things for themselves. It's a matter of "stiff-necked pride" that they never call in the CHP, and won't even let officers enter their area in close pursuit.
Ponch checks. It's more or less true, but for some reason it's never discussed in the state legislature. It's as though the politicians want to forget the place.
It's about this time that he hears the unofficial version. Sunnydale is run by the Mob, and they keep things nice and quiet. Any crook causing trouble ends up buried in the desert. The Sunnydale cops are on the take, totally in the Mob's pocket, and won't rock the boat by co-operating with the CHP. If you go into Sunnydale you're on your own. Period.
There's a stolen car hitting 130 towards Sunnydale, a bunch of punks who took out a rival Los Angeles gang in a drive-by shooting. Ponch and Jon are slowly losing ground, Ponch calls for backup. The Captain tells them to break off pursuit and head back; the Sunnydale PD has been notified, it's their problem now. Ponch argues, but ten minutes later they hit a SPD roadblock. They say they're inspecting fruit trucks for dangerous insects; they've been there an hour and haven't seen the car. Ponch isn't buying it, there hasn't been a side road since they lost the punks, but when he tries to complain the Sunnydale cops draw their weapons. The message is clear, get out and stay out. He reports it to Internal Affairs, after the investigation he's docked a week's pay for disobeying orders.
A week later an ambulance drops four dead perps at the mortuary. Seems they spun off the road, ended up upside down in a flooded gulley. All of them seem to have neck injuries and multiple fractures, the Sunnydale coroner's report suggest that they weren't wearing seat belts. The Los Angeles coroner's report is inconclusive, unofficially Ponch hears that he thinks they were beaten to death. Another punk believed to have been in the car is never found.
It's a regular routine, though none of the cops really talk about it. If you're dealing with real scum, rapists and child molesters, and don't think you have enough evidence to convict, let them "escape" towards Sunnydale and tip off the local cops. About one in ten is caught and handed back to the CHP, most turn up dead, some just disappear. No muss, no fuss.
It's still going on when Ponch takes a leave of absence to look after his dying wife. Afterwards he quits the force to concentrate on his art and bring up his son.
Ponch returns to LA for a few days, ends up working a case with Jon. In the late night bullshit sessions one name is never mentioned. Eventually Ponch asks. Fifteen years, and nothing's changed; Sunnydale is the CHP's garbage disposal.
Ponch has never been in Sunnydale as a cop. He goes in finally as a civilian, taking some paintings to the local gallery. Everyone he meets seems a little on edge, somehow, but nobody seems to want to talk about it, and though there's no obvious cause the place gives him the creeps. He doesn't stay long. A few weeks later there's a call; the owner of the gallery has died, the work that hasn't sold is being shipped back to him by the administrators of the estate. She'd seemed a nice woman; he sends flowers, addressed to her family care of the gallery, and hopes that they're in time for the funeral. A few days later someone called 'B. Summers' sends a thank-you card.
Ponch is painting when he hears the news on the radio. Something strange has happened to Sunnydale, the whole damn town has fallen into caves. He switches on the TV, watches the helicopter view. There's nothing left, just a gigantic crater gouged out of the edge of the coast, rapidly filling with water. It's as dramatic as all hell.
A year to the day after the disaster, Ponch is painting at the edge of the crater, trying to remember the way it looked on TV the day the city fell. There's a small crowd at the end of the old road, setting up a memorial, every now and again someone wanders over to see what he's painting.
"That's not right," says the latest woman. Ponch looks at her, a short blonde with a deep tan. "The whole town was gone before the water started rolling in, you've got waves taking out some of the buildings."
"It's artistic license."
"It's wrong." She walks away again, rejoins the crowd. By the time he thinks to ask her why she's so sure, she's gone.