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The Dawn Patrol

Don Winslow

  Praise for Don Winslow’s

  The Dawn Patrol

  “The action revs up to a pulsating pace.… A rousing thriller with a sense of morality.”

  —The Oregonian

  “A great book.… Winslow fills his prose with a staccato, manic energy, stitching words into paragraphs like an expert surfer riding the waves. The Dawn Patrol is that smooth and seemingly effortless, a book that deserves to be a bestseller if ever there was one.”

  —The Providence Journal

  “Entertaining.… Finds seamy secrets lurk even in idyllic places.”

  —Pittsburgh Tribune Review

  “I’m hoping this changes things for Don Winslow, that this is a huge success, and that he is hereafter mentioned in the same breath as modern giants such as Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos, because this new book is one of the best private-eye novels I’ve read in years.”

  —Cameron Hughes, January Magazine

  “Winslow peels back the layers, showing the corrupt soul of a city paying the price for paradise.”

  —Crimespree Magazine

  “A high-octane tale [and] a stellar meditation on one of California’s favorite pastimes: surfing. Winslow’s measured pitch-perfect sentences bring to life the aching dreams and disappointments, both causal and devastating, that befall Boone and his close-knit circle of wave-riding friends.”


  “A powerful, elbow-in-the-throat book.… Pounds its story forward like a relentless surf.”

  —The Plain Dealer

  “Don Winslow is like a wave-riding Elmore Leonard.”


  “The perfect summer hybrid novel.… Can’t make it to the beach? No worries. Don Winslow brings the beach right to you.”

  —Dayton Daily News

  “A tasty combo plate of laid-back surfing, Southern California weirdness and motley ethnic groups—plus passionate love songs to the monster ocean waves and bitchin’ fish tacos.”

  —The Seattle Times


  The Dawn Patrol

  Don Winslow is a former private investigator and consultant. He lives in California.


  The Winter of Frankie Machine

  The Power of the Dog

  California Fire and Life

  The Death and Life of Bobby Z

  While Drowning in the Desert

  A Long Walk up the Water Slide

  Way Down on the High Lonely

  The Trail to Buddha’s Mirror

  A Cool Breeze on the Underground


  Copyright © 2008 by Don Winslow

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 2008.

  Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage Crime/Black Lizard and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:

  Winslow, Don.

  The dawn patrol / by Don Winslow. —1st ed.

  p. cm.

  1. Surfers—Fiction. 2. Private Investigators—Fiction. 3. California—Fiction.

  I. Title.

  PS3573.I5326D38 2008



  eISBN: 978-0-307-79379-9


  wave (n): a disturbance that travels through a medium from one location to another location.

  Let me take you down, cos I’m going to, Strawberry Fields.…




  About the Author

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapter 58

  Chapter 59

  Chapter 60

  Chapter 61

  Chapter 62

  Chapter 63

  Chapter 64

  Chapter 65

  Chapter 66

  Chapter 67

  Chapter 68

  Chapter 69

  Chapter 70

  Chapter 71

  Chapter 72

  Chapter 73

  Chapter 74

  Chapter 75

  Chapter 76

  Chapter 77

  Chapter 78

  Chapter 79

  Chapter 80

  Chapter 81

  Chapter 82

  Chapter 83

  Chapter 84

  Chapter 85

  Chapter 86

  Chapter 87

  Chapter 88

  Chapter 89

  Chapter 90

  Chapter 91

  Chapter 92

  Chapter 93

  Chapter 94

  Chapter 95

  Chapter 96

  Chapter 97

  Chapter 98

  Chapter 99

  Chapter 100

  Chapter 101

  Chapter 102

  Chapter 103

  Chapter 104

  Chapter 105

  Chapter 106

  Chapter 107

  Chapter 108

  Chapter 109

  Chapter 110

  Chapter 111

  Chapter 112

  Chapter 113

  Chapter 114

  Chapter 115

  Chapter 116

  Chapter 117

  Chapter 118

  Chapter 119

  Chapter 120

  Chapter 121

  Chapter 122

  Chapter 123

  Chapter 124

  Chapter 125

  Chapter 126

  Chapter 127

  Chapter 128

  Chapter 129

  Chapter 130

  Chapter 131

  Chapter 132

  Chapter 133

  Chapter 134

  Chapter 135

  Chapter 136

  Chapter 137

  Chapter 138

  Chapter 139

  Chapter 140

  Chapter 141

  Chapter 142

  Chapter 143

  Chapter 144

  Chapter 145

  Chapter 146

  Chapter 147

  Chapter 148

  Chapter 149

  Chapter 150

  Chapter 151

  Chapter 152

  Chapter 153

  Chapter 154

  Chapter 155


  The marine layer wraps a soft silver blanket over the coast.

  The sun is just coming over the hills to the east, and Pacific Beach is still asleep.

  The ocean is a color that is not quite blue, not quite green, not quite black, but something somewhere between all three.

  Out on the line, Boone Daniels straddles his old longboard like a cowboy on his pony.

  He’s on The Dawn Patrol.


  The girls look like ghosts.

  Coming out of the early-morning mist, their silver forms emerge from a thin line of trees as the girls pad through the wet grass that edges the field. The dampness muffles their footsteps, so they approach silently, and the mist that wraps around their legs makes them look as if they’re floating.

  Like spirits who died as children.

  There are eight of them and they are children; the oldest is fourteen, the youngest ten. They walk toward the waiting men in unconscious lockstep.

  The men bend over the mist like giants over clouds, peering down into their universe. But the men aren’t giants; they’re workers, and their universe is the seemingly endless strawberry field that they do not rule, but that rules them. They’re glad for the cool mist—it will burn off soon enough and leave them to the sun’s indifferent mercy.

  The men are stoop laborers, bent at the waist for hours at a time, tending to the plants. They’ve made the dangerous odyssey up from Mexico to work in these fields, to send money back to their families south of the border.

  They live in primitive camps of corrugated tin shacks, jerry-rigged tents, and lean-tos hidden deep in the narrow canyons above the fields. There are no women in the camps, and the men are lonely. Now they look up to sneak guilty glances at the wraithlike girls coming out of the mist. Glances of need, even though many of these men are fathers, with daughters the ages of these girls.

  Between the edge of the field and the banks of the river stands a thick bed of reeds, into which the men have hacked little dugouts, almost caves. Now some of the men go into the reeds and pray that the dawn will not come too soon or burn too brightly and expose their shame to the eyes of God.


  It’s dawn at the Crest Motel, too.

  Sunrise isn’t a sight that a lot of the residents see, unless it’s from the other side—unless they’re just going to bed instead of just getting up.

  Only two people are awake now, and neither of them is the desk clerk, who’s catching forty in the office, his butt settled into the chair, his feet propped on the counter. Doesn’t matter. Even if he were awake, he couldn’t see the little balcony of room 342, where the woman is going over the railing.

  Her nightgown flutters above her.

  An inadequate parachute.

  She misses the pool by a couple of feet and her body lands on the concrete with a dull thump.

  Not loud enough to wake anyone up.

  The guy who tossed her looks down just long enough to make sure she’s dead. He sees her neck at the funny angle, like a broken doll. Watches her blood, black in the faint light, spread toward the pool.

  Water seeking water.


  “Epic macking crunchy.”

  That’s how Hang Twelve describes the imminent big swell to Boone Daniels, who actually understands what Hang Twelve is saying, because Boone speaks fluent Surfbonics. Indeed, off to Boone’s right, just to the south, waves are smacking the pilings beneath Crystal Pier. The ocean feels heavy, swollen, pregnant with promise.

  The Dawn Patrol—Boone, Hang Twelve, Dave the Love God, Johnny Banzai, High Tide, and Sunny Day—sits out there on the line, talking while they wait for the next set to come in. They all wear black winter wet suits that cover them from their wrists to their ankles, because the early-morning water is cold, especially now that it’s stirred up by the approaching storm.

  This morning’s interstitial conversation revolves around the big swell, a once-every-twenty-years burgeoning of the surf now rolling toward the San Diego coast like an out-of-control freight train. It’s due in two days, and with it the gray winter sky, some rain, and the biggest waves that any of The Dawn Patrol have seen in their adult lives.

  It’s going to be, as Hang Twelve puts it, “epic macking crunchy.”

  Which, roughly translated from Surfbonics, is a term of approbation.

  It’s going to be good, Boone knows. They might even see twenty-foot peaks coming in every thirty seconds or so. Double overheads, tubes like tunnels, real thunder crushers that could easily take you over the falls and dump you into the washing machine.

  Only the best surfers need apply.

  Boone qualifies.

  While it’s an exaggeration to say that Boone could surf before he could walk, it’s the dead flat truth that he could surf before he could run. Boone is the ultimate “locie”—he was conceived on the beach, born half a mile away, and raised three blocks from where the surf breaks at high tide. His dad surfed; his mom surfed—hence the conceptual session on the sand. In fact, his mom surfed well into the sixth month of her pregnancy, so maybe it isn’t an exaggeration to say that Boone could surf before he could walk.

  So Boone’s been a waterman all his life, and then some.

  The ocean is his backyard, his haven, his playground, his refuge, his church. He goes into the ocean to get well, to get clean, to remind himself that life is a ride. Boone believes that a wave is God’s tangible message that all the great things in life are free. Boone gets free every day, usually two or three times a day, but always, always, out on The Dawn Patrol.

  Boone Daniels lives to surf.

  He doesn’t want to talk about the big swell right now, because talking about it might jinx it, cause the swell to lie down and die into the deep recesses of the north Pacific. So even though Hang Twelve is looking at him with his usual expression of unabashed hero worship, Boone changes the subject to an old standard out on the Pacific Beach Dawn Patrol line.

  The List of Things That Are Good.

  They started the List of Things That Are Good about fifteen years ago, back when they were in high school, when Boone and Dave’s social studies teacher challenged them to “get their priorities straight.”

  The list is flexible—items are added or deleted; the rankings change—but the current List of Things That Are Good would read as follows, if, that is, it were written down, which it isn’t:

  Double overheads.

  Reef break.

  The tube.

  Girls who will sit on the beach and watch you ride double overheads, reef break, and the tube. (Inspiring Sunny’s remark that “Girls watch—women ride.”)

  Free stuff.


  Anything made by O’Neill.

  All-female outrigger canoe teams.

  Fish tacos.

  Big Wednesday.

  “I propose,” Boone says to the line at large, “moving fish tacos over all-female outrigger canoe teams.”

  “From ninth to eighth?” Johnny Banzai asks, his broad, generally serious face breaking into a smile. Johnny Banzai’s real name isn’t Banzai, of course. It’s Kodani, but if you’re a Japanese-American and a seriously radical, nose-first, balls-out, hard-charging surfer, you’re just going to get glossed either “Kamikaze” or “Banzai,” you just are. But as Boone and Dave the Love
God decided that Johnny is just too rational to be suicidal, they decided on Banzai.

  When Johnny Banzai isn’t banzaiing, he’s a homicide detective with the San Diego Police Department, and Boone knows that he welcomes the opportunity to argue about things that aren’t grim. So he’s on it. “Basically flip-flopping them?” Johnny Banzai asks. “Based on what?”

  “Deep thought and careful consideration,” Boone replies.

  Hang Twelve is shocked. The young soul surfer stares at Boone with a look of hurt innocence, his wet goatee dropping to the black neoprene of his winter wet suit, his light brown dreadlocks falling on his shoulder as he cocks his head. “But, Boone—all-female outrigger canoe teams?”

  Hang Twelve loves the women of the all-female outrigger canoe teams. Whenever they paddle by, he just sits on his board and stares.

  “Listen,” Boone says, “most of those women play for the other team.”

  “What other team?” Hang Twelve asks.

  “He’s so young,” Johnny observes, and as usual, his observation is accurate. Hang Twelve is a dozen years younger than the rest of The Dawn Patrol. They tolerate him because he’s such an enthusiastic surfer and sort of Boone’s puppy; plus, he gives them the locals’ discount at the surf shop he works at.

  “What other team?” Hang Twelve asks urgently.

  Sunny Day leans over her board and whispers to him.

  Sunny looks just like her name. Her blond hair glows like sunshine. A force of nature—tall, long-legged—Sunny is exactly what Brian Wilson meant when he wrote that he wished they all could be California girls.

  Except that Brian’s dream girl usually sat on the beach, whereas Sunny surfs. She’s the best surfer on The Dawn Patrol, better than Boone, and the coming big swell could lift her from waitress to full-time professional surfer. One good photo of Sunny shredding a big wave could get her a sponsorship from one of the major surf-clothing companies, and then there’ll be no stopping her. Now she takes it upon herself to explain to Hang Twelve that most of the females on the all-female outrigger canoe teams are rigged out for females.

  Hang Twelve lets out a devastated groan.

  “You just ripped a boy’s dreams,” Boone tells Sunny.

  “Not necessarily,” Dave the Love God says with a smug smile.