I realized just how different Bob Elwell was, as I sat out at the end of the pier considering the coming dive. The simplicity of his plan, versus the overwhelming complexity of my own, amazed me. I’d given my plan only about a fifty percent chance of succeeding since Mardian had never bothered to give me any idea of what the package in the trunk consisted of. Was it something that wouldn’t be destroyed by moderate application of high explosives? Rifle barrels potentially used in the Kennedy assassination had come to my mind several times, although I knew in my heart of hearts that such thinking was idiotic. But then, my life, since coming home and getting out of the several hospitals could easily be summed up using that one word.
Gularte walked in the door, followed seconds later by Bob. There was nobody else in the place except for Shawna, and being one of the Dwarfs, I had no doubt about her loyalties or her ability to remain silent. Even so, I didn’t want anyone, even her, to know what we were about to do. The stakes were simply too high. As long as the Porsche sat on the bottom of the harbor undiscovered, then the mystery of who might have had something to do with putting it there was on the bottom with it. A revelation of its location, not to mention anyone diving on the wreck and having to have had prior knowledge of its whereabouts would be potentially disastrous for all of us concerned.
We made our plans to meet at my place, get prepared, and then head on down to the harbor, timing it so full dark was right around the corner for the dive. We split up, with me spending another twenty minutes, or so, talking to Shawna and enjoying free refills before I walked back to the headquarters building to cross the tracks, got into my car, and drove home.
Gularte and Bob Elwell showed up at my apartment at the appointed time, about half an hour before full dark. I waited for them with the garage door gaping open, the Volks still across Cabrillo loaded with the re-breathers, explosives, and the rest of the stuff the armory had provided, except for the large industrial underwater lights, wetsuits, goggles, and fins. Bob laid out his plan but with one rather large modifier.
“You’ve got the wetsuits, but in thinking about it, although those would make us less visible in the night, they would also lend a whole lot of suspicion about what we might be doing diving in the harbor at such a time. If we don’t wear them, we’ll be colder but look a whole lot less threatening or guilty if someone should sight us.” Bob finished and waited, looking back and forth at both Gularte and me.
“What about the temperature?” I asked while Gularte remained silent. He wasn’t going into the water, after all.
“You run on the beach almost every morning,” Bob replied. “When you’re back, you usually dive into the surf on the south side of the pier to cool down and wash off. There’s no difference in water temperature when you do that like you did yesterday, then what we’ll be dealing with. In fact, the quieter water of the harbor is likely to be a few degrees warmer.”
He had a point, I realized. “You see me every day? You’re not on duty every day.”
“I run on the beach at about the same time you do, except I run south and you run north,” Bob said as if lecturing a grade school class. “We end up in pretty much the same place on many occasions. Since I run from the headquarters building and you take off from the base of the pier, you never see me. We should really run together if we can decide which way to go.”
“He’s right,” Gularte finally piped in. “I stand by at the water’s edge in my suit and bring my surfboard, just for effect.”
I looked over at Bob, who once again I’d underestimated. His plan was better than mine. ‘No fins, either?” I asked.
“Nope, it’s twenty feet down, or a bit more,” Bob replied. “The only concern I have at all is about the light. We’ll take one of those heavy-duty things,” he said, pointing at one of the lights, “but let’s see if it works first.”
Bob walked over and turned one of the heavy-duty lights, each the size of a kitchen waste basket, and pressed one of the two rubber buttons on its side. The garage lit up, the dimming evening light suddenly displaced by what seemed like the light of a tiny, brilliant piece of the sun.
“This one will do, but we have to realize that in the night underwater the photons emitted will encounter lots of small pieces of debris and flotsam. Those reflections will dull the clarity of what we’re seeing substantially, like an underwater fog.”
I was almost shocked by the amount of knowledge Bob was revealing.
“What night diving have you done?” I asked, my imagination conjuring up undersea wrecks of ships or boats.
“Abalone,” Bob said, his voice lowered. “Becoming illegal everywhere, as they’re being fished out. They forage only at night. During the day they blend right in with the bottom, like octopus, but at night they float off the bottom like wavering black plates with frilly white edges.”
“If they’re being fished out then why do you go after them?” Gularte asked.
I shook my head.
“We’re not here to go into that,” I replied before Bob could. “Bob has a lot of experience underwater and particularly at night, and that’s what we need for this mission.”
“Hmm,” Gularte murmured. “’The Last Farewell’ is maybe a more appropriate name for this mission than I thought.”
“Last Farewell, like the song?” Bob, replied, with a mystifying tone to his voice.
“Good grief, you guys,” I said to Gularte, with a bit of resignation, “’Yellow Submarine’, the name you wanted will do.”
“That song’s about a submarine, not a Porsche,” Bob added.
“Can we get back to this?” I asked. “’The Last Farewell’ isn’t about a real guy or ship returning to England, or dying in the process, and there’s no real yellow submarine in the Beatles number, so can we move on?”
Gularte’s 1970 Ford F100 was our choice of vehicles. Bob’s 1950 Chevy pickup always had electrical problems due to its six-volt system, or so Bob complained. The last thing we needed was to be stuck without transportation after the mission was either called off or completed, which brought up my last point.
“No tools or any of that, maybe just a knife if you’ve got one of those underwater things Bob. If pulling the lever inside the Porsche doesn’t open the frunk then we surface and go back down tomorrow night with some mechanical way to force the latch. We go with goggles the light and nothing else,” I finished, moving to pick up the twenty-or-so-pound light.
“What about identification,” Gularte said, stopping both Bob and I in our tracks. “What if we get encountered and have to prove who we are or get taken in.”
“Good God,” I replied, sighing to myself. Another vital detail was overlooked.
“You have a lifeguard I.D?” I asked Bob.
“Yeah,” I have it in the truck,” he replied.
“Okay, Gularte can hold our I.D.’s just in case.”
I went back upstairs to let my wife know I’d be gone to do some investigative work after hours on the Dwarf case I’d been updating her about. I didn’t feel bad about the deception simply because it might not turn out to be a deception at all. I had no idea what was in the package but had come to a decision about its contents. Whatever it was, I would know. Mardian trusted me to get the package and to make sure whatever was in it never saw the light of day to harm anyone in the current White House administration. He hadn’t ordered me not to open the package, although I also thought he’d likely be happier if whatever it was had been blown to smithereens.
Bozo was doing his ‘statue thing’ on the living room coffee table when I walked in. Not even his eyes moved, both staring straight into the empty cold fireplace across the room, as I approached. Mrs. Beasley lay next to him on her back, the metal ring at the end of the chain dangling over the edge of the table from her side, polished by wear to a shiny reflective silver. I stopped and looked toward the dining area but couldn’t see into the kitchen, the area of the house where my wife spends most of her time. Where Bozo was present, along with Mrs. Beasley, I knew Julie could not be far behind. I was tempted to lean over and pull the doll’s string, and then wait for the thing to announce that I was, indeed, an honorable man, but I made no move. Bozo was a swamp pussy, and a few of our guests, cat people one and all, had paid a price for not thinking that invading his personal space was punishable by anything less than a life-long scar to mark the occasion.
Julie came walking around the corner from the kitchen area. She was a toddler but didn’t walk like one, instead her unsteady stride almost made to look like it was that way on purpose. She sat down next to the cat and then looked up at me expectantly. I looked down at Mrs. Beasley, located just on the opposite side of Bozo from where Julie had seated herself, and noted Bozo’s slight change of head movement. He looked into my eyes. I met his gaze and then looked back at the doll, trying to decide whether I should go for it or not. Bozo glanced down at the doll and then quickly returned his unblinking penetrating gaze to look into my own eyes. There was absolutely no expression I could read from looking at his muzzle but somehow, I knew there was a message there.
“Try it,” Bozo seemed to say.
“Not on your life,” I whispered to him, with a smile on my face.
The cat would not have run when first faced with fire, if he’d been down in the valley, I thought, knowing the thought was ridiculous but pleased with myself for thinking it. The cat, the doll, and my daughter approved of me, and whether that was some sort of truth in ‘life on this planet’ reality or not didn’t matter, because it was a truth in my reality.
I told the fib to my wife, let her know I’d be back for dinner, and went upstairs. I chose a dark U.S. Navy sweatshirt a Navy officer had given me at the compound for some reason I couldn’t fathom, but the sweatshirt was of high quality, and the Navy was close enough to the Corps that I didn’t mind.
Bozo, Mrs. Beasley, and Julie were gone from their positions on the coffee table when I got downstairs. I headed down to the street where Gularte and Elwell waited in his truck. The cab proved so large that the bench seat held all three of us with plenty of room to spare. I noticed that Bob was wearing some nearly invisible surgeon’s gloves and some kind of rubber slippers or short boots on his feet.
“Your attire?” I said, turning to face him, having the center seat of the truck. “I don’t think we’ll be leaving many prints under the water.”
“Pawing around in the dark down there, it’s so easy to get cut, and the boots make sure that if I have to stand on anything I don’t have to be too careful about what that anything might be.”
Better UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) kind of sense, I realized. In spite of my being basically raised surfing in Hawaii and then being a bit of a high school swimming star, I was out of my element in performing the mission I’d assigned all three of us to.
“You’re there for the light and to stand by in case something goes wrong,” Bob instructed. “I’m here to get in the vehicle as best I can, operate the lever, release the hood, and then get around to the front of the Porsche and retrieve the package. I’m presuming, of course, that nobody had done some sort of trip-wire booby trap kind of a thing.”
“I don’t think so,” I replied, wondering why I hadn’t thought about that.
Mardian wouldn’t send me into such a circumstance just to get rid of me, I knew, or at least believed. It was illogical but many illogical things happen in the universe. It was another factor to consider and worry about. Mardian would also not likely have risked his son opening the frunk and becoming the victim of such a potentially deadly device. Still, I was a bit concerned.
I’d noticed that Gularte was in uniform when I climbed into the truck.
“Uniform?” I asked.
“Delay,” Gularte replied. “If there’s trouble, I’m a Peace Officer of the State of California, not just a San Clemente cop. We might just need to brush back any interested party aside, at least until you two clear the water and we get good and gone from there.”
The drive was over in minutes, as Gularte drove his truck straight to the entrance of Dana Point Harbor on the Pacific Coast Highway. There was almost no traffic at all.
Gularte stopped the truck suddenly. There were half a dozen sawhorses blocking the construction road running in and out of the harbor. There was an attendant sitting near the left-most sawhorse. The man got up and walked towards us. The light was going fast so I didn’t recognize the man until he was standing next to Gularte’s open window. It was Butch.
“Holy cow,” Gularte breathed out.
I was shocked. I immediately thought about the reservations I’d had when talking to Shawna back at the pier-end restaurant. If Butch was guarding the entrance, which had to be blocked for only one reason, then the secrecy of our mission was obviously out in the open. I waited, however, hoping that there was some other bizarre reason for Butch himself, the construction project manager, to be standing guard into the night like he was.
“Nobody said when you’d be coming,” Butch said, with a smile on his face as he peered into the truck. “I thought I’d be here most of the night, so this is a relief. Richard is waiting for you on his yacht.”
I leaned across Gularte’s lap and looked into Butch’s smiling eyes. He was having a good time being part of our mission, which was another bad sign as the results of the mission could be very serious.
“Open the harbor road back up once we’re inside,” I said. “It looks a little suspicious having it closed for no good reason, or maybe having someone go up top and peer down from the cliff to see what’s special that might cause such an action.”
I pulled back. Gularte put the truck in gear and eased through the opening created when Butch moved a sawhorse out of the way. I commented to both men with me about Butch’s obvious enjoyment of being part of our operation. I wanted to scratch the whole thing because of the legal ramifications if it was ever proven that Gularte and I had put the Porsche where it was in the first place. The linkage between that alleged action and our presence at the ramp where the car was located under twenty feet of water would be damning all in of itself. How could we explain to any authority about our knowing where the vehicle was?
“Well, I guess your friends have a lot more bugs planted around than we thought,” Gularte whispered. There was no other way to rationally explain how so many people knew where the car was, what our mission was, and the timing of it.
“That the guy’s laughing and enjoying himself is a good thing though,” Bob said. “That would seem to imply that Little Mardian is a real prick to everyone at the harbor and also tend to imply that the submergence was an accident rather than anyone sinking the thing on purpose. What I’d be interested in is what Butch didn’t ask.”
“What?” I replied, turning my head to give Bob my full attention.
“He didn’t ask why we’re diving down there in the middle of the night.”
“You’re right,” I concluded, still feeling dismal about the whole thing. “There’s no way Butch would be out guarding the entrance if he hadn’t gotten some kind of explanation, which leads us directly to Richard.”
Gularte parked the truck not far from the ramp, which was only a short walk to where Cobb and Richard slipped their boats. There was no need to make the trip, however, as Richard came out from behind a tall piece of construction equipment located just beyond the western edge of the ramp to stand waiting, his hands on his hips, cowboy hat cocked back on his head, looking for all the world like the Marlboro man but without the cigarette.
“Evening, gentlemen?” he said, congenially, letting his hands fall to his sides. “You need me to do anything other than stand by?”
I shook my head, wanting to ask him what the hell he was doing there and how he’d come to know about the mission, but I said nothing.
Gularte walked to Richard’s side.
“I was the lookout, but I guess there are two lookouts now.”
“Three,” a voice said from behind the three of us, as Butch walked past us to stand at the water’s lightly lapping edge.
“Old home week,” I whispered, more to myself than to anyone there.
I glanced over to where Cobb’s yacht sat in its slip. There were lights visible around the curtains she kept over the portholes. I wondered why she hadn’t joined the group.
“Let’s get this done,” Bob said, reaching into the truck to withdraw the light and both pairs of goggles.
I looked at the assembled group. I’d planned to take my brand-new sweatshirt off but I was damned if I’d do that and display my scar collection in front of them. My wife had done a Saran Wrap job mid-torso. I’d told her that some heavy lifting might be involved with my work. I didn’t want that rather controversial ‘bandaging’ seen either. I’d just have to go home soaked to the bone. I wondered how long it would take if I could leave it alone, for the raw red and inch-wide streak running up and down my belly and chest would finally heal enough to become a real scar.
“Since you are all here with some degree of knowledge, that degree I’m not fully aware of by the way, we’re going down to retrieve something that was left inside the car. This may be just a preliminary dive if the package is locked away somewhere we can’t open without tools.” I stopped talking to make sure everyone was paying full attention before I went on.
“The package is governmental top secret, for all intents and purposes, so if we get it neither I, nor any of you, are opening it. It gets delivered straightaway to the compound unopened and then we’re done with it and this whole damn thing.”
“What about the Porsche, if it’s really down there,” Richard said. “Everyone thinks it’s stolen, including the police. Do we reveal anything about its current whereabouts when you’re done?”
“We find it later, if it’s there and if you’re done with it,” Butch said, looking down at the dark water in front of him. “I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be going down there like you guys. At the right time, I’ll just have one of the big sailboats here launched and run its keel slightly into it, or not, and claim we did.”
My respect for Butch went up another notch. The whole collection of people who had somehow joined or fallen in with me surprised me. I hadn’t expected to trust almost anyone when I got out of the hospital but here I was, trusting just about everyone I encountered.
“Okay, Bob, let’s get down there,” I said, placing the goggles on my head and adjusting them to fit over my eyes.
I didn’t bother to defog the lens with spit simply because the water was about the same temperature as the air and the intensity of the light should make everything very visible below. I grabbed the light and hugged it close to me, making sure to hold it so the rubber on and off switches were right where I could find them when I reached the bottom.
Bob and I eased down the ramp together. I noticed that he’d thought to have a big knife strapped to his right calf, just in case.
The water was colder than I thought. The ramp went down farther than I expected so there was no ‘jump off’ part to deal with. I took several very deep breaths and then breathed out each fully, oxygenating my blood. Bob was doing the same. After almost a minute of this, he gave me the SCUBA sign with his fingers to proceed, which landlubbers called the okay sign. We were no longer landlubbers. I didn’t have to dive down. The light was heavy enough to simply allow me to drop to the bottom. The place Bob had chosen to descend was well away from the direction the Porsche had taken on its fateful last trip.
When I landed lightly on the bottom, I felt the smooth ground it was made of with relief. I was in my bare feet, unlike my diver-experienced friend. I turned on the light and lit up our world.
The Porsche’s bright yellow paint job illuminated the exact position it had ended up in. Bob had mentioned earlier that one fear we might have was how objects that acted one way up in the atmosphere we all lived and breathed in could act entirely differently when submerged. The Navy crewmen had searched for weeks for an advanced fighter that fell off the bow of a carrier, unaware until they brought in an aerodynamics expert, that the plane had gone into the water, righted itself, and then glided for a few miles until it hit bottom. Not so for the Porsche. It was sitting flat, sideways to me, looking just like it had when it was up on the ramp.
Bob appeared before me, coming from behind. He swam up and then slipped himself right into the passenger seat, pulling himself down using the windshield and the Targa bar running back and forth across the occupants opening like it was put there for that purpose. Bob leaned down to his left and worked with whatever lever he had to pull. I’d never gotten into the new Targa at the dealership to see the frunk switch for myself.
Bob pulled up out of the driver’s seat and moved to the front of the vehicle. He tried to work the hood with his fingers along the line of the opening as I shined the bright light on its surface, but he had no luck. He quickly removed his knife from its holder on his lower leg and jammed the tip into the crack between the hood and the fender. The hood opened about six inches. Bob grabbed the edges and pulled it all the way open before making for the surface. I was surprised for a second or two but then realized that Bob felt that his work was done. Wisely, he wanted nothing to do with the package, which, by moving and shining the light down, I could see was a faded reddish canvas bag, a bit smaller than a regular pillow cover. The bag was closed at its top by having its heavy rope, stitched into a narrow pocket all around the only opening, pulled tight and knotted once.
I grabbed the bag’s rope with my right hand and lifted it, knowing I had to get to the surface quickly as I was totally out of air. The light had to go. I dropped it next to the Porsche and used the vehicle’s body to push myself off and surge upward.
When I reached the surface, I moved up the ramp until I could lie down and recover myself a bit. I left the package to hang behind me, not bringing it to the surface with me, other than the part of the rope I still held in my hand.
“Bob,” I gasped out, only now becoming aware that my intensity had been so great on the bottom that I had quite literally forgotten that I was near to using up every atom of oxygen held in my lungs. “Dive down and get the light,” I ordered.
Bob plunged in headfirst.
“The rest of you, aside from Gularte, need to get the hell out of here, I said, still not raising myself from the water or revealing the package.
“I don’t want to have you able to recall anything about what this is or might be. Thanks for all the help and, believe me, we’ll talk later.”
“Ah, there’s only Richard and me,” Butch replied, the grin returning to his lips.
I liked the man. It was almost impossible not to, but I didn’t reply, instead just lying on the ramp and waiting for both of them to depart.
Bob surfaced, having spent a few seconds on the bottom in finding the right switch to turn the blazing thing off.
“Let’s get back to your garage and see what we got?” Bob said, moving toward the truck to load the light into its bed.
Butch had headed back toward where he’d been on duty guarding the entrance to the harbor and Richard walked toward where his boat was floating in its slip.
A set of headlights appeared from the direction Butch had taken. .
“Who the hell is that?” Gularte whispered.
“Doesn’t matter, whoever it is it’s called trouble,” I replied, wanting to strip off my sweatshirt but now not likely to until we were out of there, praying that we were going anywhere under our own control.