We stood outside in the rain and wind, Butch and I staring at the replaced aluminum doors on the side of his Airstream. It was as if they had never been gone. Butch walked forward the few feet to the two steps leading up. He opened the screen door, and then the main door, neither of which were locked, which surprised me. Had the doors been locked when Herberich and Steed pulled them off? I had no idea. With the doors both open, Butch turned to look back at me. I hadn’t moved.

“You coming in or are you going to simply stand there and get soaked?” he asked.

“You’ve got to invite me in,” I replied, with no expression on my face or in my voice.

“What the hell?” Butch said, his forehead wrinkling deeply. “What are you, some new more innocent looking form of Count Dracula? You’re formally invited to come in and suck my blood, if that’s your real intent.”

I moved slowly forward, glad to be getting out of the cold rain and seemingly even colder wind. I checked my coat pocket to make sure that the Philips cassette recorder was still there. It was a bit big and bulky but could easily be written off as a concealed weapon, which in some cases was less dangerous than carrying a recorder. I’d asked for the invitation because I wanted my interview with Butch to be playable for Mardian. I was dealing with dangerous people, I had come to understand, and I wanted to make certain that my conduct wasn’t something that was going to cause me significant problems, or worse. I had to smile as I stepped inside, however, at Butch’s interpretation of my request. There was some truth to it.

Butch pulled off his light work coat and tossed it on the couch. I sat down in the guest chair in front of his messy desk, files, papers and little boxes stuck everywhere seemingly without any organization at all.

“Take off your coat and get comfortable,” Butch said, tossing himself into his cheap executive office chair and spinning back and forth a bit before settling in with his elbows on the surface of the covered desktop, not unlike the pose Ehrlichman usually assumed at the compound.

“I’m good,” I replied, “fine quality Sears and Roebuck wool will be drying in mere minutes.”

“So, you don’t want to fully reveal the bulging hand cannon, or whatever it is?”

I wasn’t carrying a weapon. I’d already assumed Butch wasn’t violent, except in presentation. Most men who acted tough or potentially violent used the act to make sure no violence occurred, and it was pretty effective within the culture I was working to get used to again. Fortunately, the recorder was totally silent, although it would stop after only thirty minutes before having to be opened and having the cassette flipped over. The guy I’d bought the thing from at an electronics store in Newport Beach wanted to sell me a newer model by a different company that automatically reversed and then taped for another half hour without the operator having to do anything. Mine cost almost two hundred dollars and the better one almost four hundred. I was burning through my reserve cash fund and didn’t want to spend the additional money. My thoughts when I bought the device had been to use it to record Haldeman and Mardian, but after getting it and getting to know both men better I’d come to realize that being caught with it might be extremely dangerous, and, if not that, then the end of my career with the Western White House, police department, et al.

I didn’t answer Butch’s question, instead just looking across the desk and waiting.

“What do you really do?” Buch asked, surprising me once again. “Other than create nearly sophomoric, but vaguely threatening games to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. You have to have something else going on in your life.”

I looked at the man some more, trying to evaluate why he was asking the question and what answer I might possibly be able to give which would be believable if not true.

“Let’s see,” Butch went on when I didn’t respond. “You are in your early twenties, but look younger, you’re a college graduate, doing something with the police and those clowns at the Romantic Castle, and what else? That can’t be all. What are you really good at?”

I’d intended to ask the questions, and I didn’t have many, but Butch’s expressed curiosity built my own sense of curiosity. Who was the man and how was it that his exterior presentation was so different from the now obvious intelligent and sensitive creature disguised inside of him?

“I’m good at chess,” I replied, deciding that the truth wasn’t likely to hurt me in the circumstance. “I’m good at artillery and sales too,” I finished, figuring that that would give the man enough to consider.

“Artillery?” Butch repeated, his voice going low, nearly inaudible. “You’re one of those Vietnam Veterans running around all over out here, aren’t you?”

“No,” I shot back, almost too quickly. “I’m not one of them. I was in the A Shau Valley, that’s true, and then I got to come home, that’s true too, but it doesn’t matter here.” I breathed out slowly, realizing that emotion was about to overcome me. “I need to ask you a few questions,” I said, changing the subject.

“What do you sell?” Butch asked, ignoring my statement.

“Life insurance,” I replied, not thinking, just blurting out whatever came to my mind while growing ever more uncomfortable with what the man was revealing himself to be. The man was nobody’s fool, and therefore my entire plan to influence him without violence might end in some other unsatisfactory way.

“Now that’s funny,” Butch said, laughing out loud. “Basically, you have a way of threatening a person’s life in the most insidious of ways. What then? They buy life insurance from you with you as the designated beneficiary. That’s sublime, to say the least.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked, not wanting to deal with anything the man was saying but appreciating just how quickly he put things together in his mind.

“What do you want me to do is a fair question right back at you.”

“Leave the Mardian kid alone,” I replied, having been well prepared for the question and also having given it a lot of thought because Mardian had only assigned me to fix the problem without having gone into any detail at all. “Let him build the restaurant. Leave his contractors and workers alone, in fact, give them a priority. The people I work for will not let you suffer from doing what I ask.”

“Artillery,” Butch mused, more to himself than me. “Ballistics…the field of mechanics concerned with the launching, flight behavior and impact effects of projectiles, especially ranged weapon munitions.”

I was stunned. I couldn’t have defined the discipline that well and I was deeply steeped in its use and training. All I could do was stare into the man’s dark brown eyes as a great smile came across his features.

“Fort Sill,” he said, “Army, before your time.”

I breathed in and out deeply. Was anyone I had to deal with in any way normal or close to it?
“My brother was Army,” I got out, trying to accommodate the man’s presentation while thinking of some way to get his assent to my plan and then get the hell out of Dana Point. The Dwarfs were about to assemble a little later in the day and that meeting was about as predicatble as the one I was in.

“The way you said that tells me that he didn’t come home in one piece,” Butch replied, staring straight into my eyes without blinking.

“He came home,” I replied, gaining control of myself. “We buried him at Arlington in 69.”

Butch looked down at the surface of his desk for almost a full minute. I realized that my reply had taken him by the same kind of surprise I’d felt when he’d told me just a tiny bit about his own military background.

“Okay,” he said, finally. “I’m going to do exactly what you want. My position in delaying that project wasn’t really tenable anyway. At some point the real big wigs at that house on the point would take the time and trouble to call the investors and I’d no doubt be looking for another job.”

“Thank you,” I replied, real sincerity coming out in my tone.

“But…” Butch added but didn’t go on.

“But, what?” I was forced to ask, some of my trepidation returning.

“I want to see you again, and not just to buy a life insurance policy. I should have had that kind of thing years ago. I’ve got a great wife and two kids, not that we can afford to live in Dana Point or even on the coast here.”

“You want a policy?” I asked, my surprise as real as the sincerity had been only a minute or less before.

I thought of Tom Thorkelson’s ‘saving money’ presentation that I still held, word for word, in my memory banks. I was selling a lot of life insurance but I wasn’t really a salesman at all. I was a manipulator who encouraged men to buy policies so that I wouldn’t cause harm to them, bore them to death, or threaten them. Tom Thorkelson was about as clueless as my new district manager Chuck Bartok. My sales methods would also have to remain my very own, as not only were they not truly ethical they weren’t really believable either.

“Yes, you’ll definitely have to see me again to do the paperwork,” I concluded, ready to get up and get back to the staff car where my fake Staff Sergeant waited to drive me back to the compound, while Richard, the fake reserve beach patrol officer probably waited to take out Butch if that had become necessary.

“I meant I wanted to spend some time talking to you,” Butch said. “You’re different. I work in construction and with financial people. I don’t have anyone or anything in my life like you, whatever the hell you are.”

I remained silent. The man in front of me was continuing to surprise me in ways that I could never have predicted. I thought again of the song Great Pretender: “Oh-oh, yes, I’m the great pretender, pretending that I’m doing well. My need is such, I pretend too much, I’m lonely, but no one can tell…”

The Sergeant and Richard were pretenders who knew what they were pretending to be, and also who they really were. I was pretending while not really knowing what I was pretending to be nor having any idea who I really was.

“From the halls of Montezuma,” Butch said with a slight laugh after. “To the shores of Dana Point,” he went on. “You accomplished the mission. I always liked that song, and the uniform too but they wouldn’t make me an officer. That was it. How much is this insurance going to cost me.”

“Nothing for the first year’s premium, but it’s up to you to pay the second year, and so on.

“Can’t stay in business like that,” Butch said with a frown.

“I’ll just tell Mardian that you were expensive. The doors to this Airstream were damaged. I had to wine and dine you at an expensive restaurant. He’ll pay the fifteen hundred, or so, I just know it.”

“That’s one of the things that I want to talk about,” Butch replied.

“Premium too high?” I asked back, not surprised.

“No, the fact that you say stuff like that, in the way that you do, and I believe you even though I know it’s all made up. Amazing talent. But, be careful, the kid’s dad is a hoodlum and hoodlums don’t like being lied too very lightly. Tell him that you had to pay the premium on my new life insurance policy. If he doesn’t get the humor of that, and it’s the truth, then what the hell, as least you and I will.”

The ride back to the compound was quick, the Pacific Coast Highway clear of traffic, as the pounding storm waves bounced their spray, and sometimes more, right out across the surface of the roadway. The heavy Lincoln took the water’s assault without complaint or hesitation.

Once in the parking lot, I got out of the vehicle to consider. I didn’t know if Mardian was inside or not. I’d had no ability to communicate with him until I got to where there was a land line.

What I really needed to do was to get home, change into something more comfortable and less susceptible to weather. Once there I could counsel with my wife before heading off to the meeting with the Dwarfs, or whomever might show up because of the storm’s effects. I decided to blow off making any attempt to deal with the Western White House at all. The fifteen hundred could wait and so could reporting in. If I’d failed then that might not have been the case, I knew full well, but I could hopefully ride a bit on my understanding that I’d come through on a mission that was fraught with all kinds of snake pits, shoals and potentially worse threats.

My wife was mute while I gave here the entire rendition of what had gone down. When I was finished, Ju on the living room floor with Mrs. Beasley by irritating Bozo the cat, although Bozo didn’t retreat or do much of anything other than look frustrated and uncomfortable at her intrusions toward him.

“How much of the fifteen hundred do we get?” was her only question.

“If he renews the policies for two years, then all of it, eventually,” I answered, surprised by where her mind had immediately gone. “If no renewal than about eight hundred.”

“We can live with that,” she concluded. “But they’re a long way from done with you…with us. Your solution might not have seemed to be the one they wanted but you’d be totally wrong in thinking that. Violence brings attention and the media. You solved the problem, or so it seems, quietly and for peanuts. They’ve got to love that. Mardian owes you and maybe more of them than that.”

The way she said the word ‘them’ was the same way one might say the word garbage or worse.

I dressed in a light aloha shirt and Op shorts. Flip flops would do for the effects of the rain, unless I had to run somewhere, which didn’t seem likely.

I called Gularte. I was interested in his take on the Dana Point mission and also about filling him in on how it was going. If there was going to be some kind of fallout or additional trouble with Butch, or the situation itself, I didn’t want to trust Richard. Gularte was a ‘known,’ no matter what his problems, while Richard was now, and likely to be on into the future, a complete unknown. I also didn’t want to park the Volks either out on the end of that swaying pier or at the lifeguard headquarters. Everyone was kind of getting to know me in that little German ‘people’s car’ and I didn’t really want to be found for a while. I’d report to the compound when I was ready the next day.

Gularte picked me up and remained totally silent while I ran down everything that had happened out of his sight or hearing.

“You trust too much,” he finally concluded, after I was done. “You don’t know this Butch person at all. You can’t even be certain he was in the Army, an officer or attended artillery school at Fort Sill.”

“He’s a civilian, doing a civilian’s job and long out of the military, if he was ever in it,” I answered.

“Still, he could make you look bad.”

I laughed out loud, as he worked his truck out toward the end of the pier. “Like that’s a big worry, how I might look to them.”

Through the darkening rain it became evident that another car was already parked near the side of the restaurant. It was a black Mercury Marauder.

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Gularte whispered, stopping his truck and turning off the ignition. He got out and headed for the restaurant door, trying to shield his rather thick but handsome black hair.

I exited the truck and walked over to the driver’s side of Gate’s car.

The window went part of the way down.

“You are working yourself into a hole you’ll never get out of and I’m happy to see that since you don’t seem to give one damn about the police department or the city you are supposed to be serving,” Gates said, cigar smoke blowing through the window opening. “One day these creeps you’re associating with will do you in and I’ll be there to say a prayer over your body.”

“Yes, sir,” not being able to think of any intelligent reply but feeling a sense of relief that the hateful man was at least revealing openly how he felt about me.

“You had uniformed and sworn officer of this department working at your orders in Dana Point, which is out of our area of operations, and don’t give me that ‘peace officer of the State of California’ bunk either. I want a written report of what they were doing and how much time they spent doing it. I want that on my desk by tomorrow afternoon or your butt belongs to me.”

The window went up and the Marauder’s engine roared into life.

I walked to the door, wet but not caring, my flipflops squishing at every step. It seemed that no matter what I did to accommodate the things I was involved with I was making some powerful people really angry.

The Dwarfs were all assembled. I didn’t know how they all did it. There had to be plans broken, schedules interrupted and seemingly better things for some of them to do, but no, they all showed up on time every time.

“What do we know at this point?” I asked, standing before them, coffee steaming in front of all who drank the beverage. Shawna was a jewel, never saying much but listening and being vitally interested in all that was said.

“Who profited from Kennedy getting dead?” Hoodoo asked, the glasses he wore more as an investigative prop than for their ability to make him see better, resting down near the tip of his nose. He looked more like Ebenezer Scrooge than a vital working detective.

“LBJ became president that day,” Pat Bowman replied, nodding her head, as if that was about the only motivational explanation possible.

“That doesn’t explain Bobby’s passing,” Herberich said.

“Why are we here discussing this subject at all?” I asked, wanting to give some meaning to why the group was going to all the trouble it was to meet and talk at all.

The door opened as I completed the sentence. Shawna had put out the closed sign but not locked the door, I realized. We all turned to see who was coming into the supposedly closed restaurant.

I leaned back and breathed in as I recognized the figure.

“Ah, I guess the place isn’t really closed, after all,” Bob Mardian said. He wore a light dripping overcoat, as the storm still blew outside, its fury moving the pier more than usual, the sound of the surf amplified by the size of the storm-driven waves.

“I need a word,” Mardian said to me, the smile on his face pasted there, like he was acting out a role in a stage play.

“You’re from the compound,” Bob Elwell, our only Dwarf from the lifeguard force, said directly, although there was no question or surprise in his tone.

“Yes, I’m with the president,” Mardian replied, moving his head slightly to indicate that I needed to step outside into the rain with him.

“We’re meeting because of the president,” Bob went on, as if there was some secret script, he was either privy too or making up as he went along.

“There’s little question about that,” Mardian replied, then turning and exiting through the door, leaving it open to the elements behind him.

I walked to the door and followed him out, closing it behind me, but not before hearing Elwell make one last comment.

“Wow, did you hear that?” Bob asked to the hushed gathering of Dwarfs.

“They know and they don’t care.”

I wanted to turn and answer Bob with “they know and do care,” but I had to see to Mardian, if nothing else other than to get him out of there. The mix of compound people and the locals was inherently not a healthy one, or so I felt deep down inside my troubled mind.

The staff car was there, the flags gone from its fenders but the Staff Sergeant, out of his Marine uniform, was behind the wheel.

Mardian uncharacteristically opened the rear passenger door for me. I got in, slid over and he followed. When the door slammed, he opened up on me.

“You returned from your little mission and didn’t bother to report in.”

“Yes, sir,” I answered. “I wanted to be sure that Butch at the harbor would follow through and not simply have performed some sort of one-act play for me.”

I was lying and hoping Mardian, being the long-time pro wouldn’t pick up on that observable fact. I looked at the rain covered windows inside the vehicle after I spoke. The car’s interior lights weren’t on so neither Mardian nor the Staff Sergeant were that visible as the light from the storm tossed outside was so bad. I was certain that Butch was aboard but hadn’t wanted to report in until I was ready.

There was no chance that I could fail to respond to Mardian under the conditions, however. The mission was a lot more important to him than I’d considered at first.

“I need fifteen hundred dollars to pay the premium on Butch’s new life insurance policy,” I said, reporting in but changing the foundational nature of that reporting.

“That’s it?” Mardian exclaimed. “Fifteen hundred bucks and the guy sells out. And you sell him a life insurance police and make a handsome commission on the sale. I underestimated you. You have this innocent ‘little boy lost’ presentation but you are nothing like that at all.”

“I need cash,” I said, hoping to avoid any more comments about myself or my negative or positive characteristics, as they didn’t seem to fit or matter when dealing with such a hard man and such an unlikely, and hopefully ‘one time’ situation.

“Tomorrow, the cash will be delivered, not that you haven’t gotten enough of that already. Pick it up at Cobb’s boat slip. Now get out and keep your mouth shut. Your little mix of ‘The Seven Dwarfs’ can stay on point with what they’re on point talking about but not this or any of the rest of it. Got me?” He didn’t wait for my reply. “Now, get the hell out. If this doesn’t work out, then you fix things the other way.”

I stepped out into the driving rain, the rocking pier end and walked back toward the closed door of the restaurant, shaking off the discomfort I’d been under while trapped in the back seat of the staff car with such a man. The air and rain felt like it was working to cleanse me so I waited almost a full minute to let it do its work. When I walked back inside Shawna immediately greeted me with a couple of thick cotton dish towels. I rubbed my face and hands as dry as I could get them before returning to my place before the group.

I could tell that the group had been talking in my absence with, as unlikely as it seemed, the calm, amiable and totally credible Bob Elwell taking over in my absence.

“What it tells us commander,” Bob said, getting to his feet, “is that Nixon has a problem and he’s worried as hell about it. He should just keep to himself in that residence and stay out of trouble, but he can’t do that because of LBJ and the history, the template.”

“Mardian confirmed something we were all thinking,” Hoodoo said. “If Nixon is the driving force allowing or pushing our own underground investigation then Bob has the only credible answer.”

“What answer?” I asked, not liking where the group’s new found conclusion was going.

“Nixon’s afraid of what happened to JFK and his brother,” Bob replied. He knows how brutal and murderous some of those people in Washington are. We all kind of know that now.”

“So, what’s the answer, Bob, and stop beating around the bush?” I demanded.

“Nixon’s got to get rid of Spiro Agnew, his vice president and then not appoint another. And it’s not like we don’t know what you’ve been doing in Dana Point. The lifeguard coverage area includes all of that and the shoreline even further north.

“That has nothing to do with any of this,” I intoned, following Mardian’s instructions to the letter. I looked around as I said the words, wondering if the restaurant wasn’t totally bugged by the players at the compound. Mardian had known I was where I was and also what the Dwarfs were talking about.

“That’s not true,” Hoodoo replied.

The group went silent, as I considered what to say next. By continuing was I not exposing the unknowing people in front of me to more risk. They didn’t know just how dangerous the people I was playing with could be. They were ‘new guys’ to combat, and although we weren’t in the A Shau Valley, we were, or were potentially about to be, in combat.

My misgivings about the Dwarf’s failure to understand the danger were swept completely away by Bob’s next comment.

“Dana Point, and what’s happening there is your preparatory thing. The real mission is all about how to take out the Vice President of the United States before he does Nixon in, the way Nixon sees it.

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