My wife told me that I had to let the incident between Gates and me go, or I might potentially ruin everything. My argument against that was simply one of trying to live in a state of helplessness. Following Vietnam, I was being made to feel like an important man by the department, the Western White House and even Tom Thorkelson and Chuck Bartok with the insurance business, but my importance was tied neatly to a sense of impotence and helplessness when it came to controlling either the sourcing or the true direction of any of the things, I was involved in. I didn’t, and couldn’t, tell her that Gates’ little arm-wrestling bit of deliberately applied violence wasn’t something I could tolerate down in the very core of my being. I had run or hidden three times in combat. I learned that running in combat might keep me alive for the short term, but the long term was another matter entirely. On top of that, or at the very foundations of that, the definition of living had totally changed inside my very being by the time I was carried out of the valley.

I couldn’t continue my work with the police department without somehow resolving the relationship that had formed between Gates and me. I couldn’t run as I had no place to run to. I couldn’t avoid him. I had to go right at him, yet I couldn’t seem to be able to think of a plan that might accomplish what I was trying to accomplish that had any chance of a happy ending, for he or me.

My sleep was an unsettled tossing and turning experience to the point where my wife had to retreat into the spare bedroom and stay on the couch located there. In the morning I got up early, before the sun came up, and got dressed as quietly as I could. My left hand was bruised but not too deeply. I could still button my shirt and tie my own shoelaces. My center incision had cracked open during the Gates altercation, but the small leaking was gone. I bandaged the scab that had formed overnight. I’d have to be gentle in handling myself simply to avoid having the disability noticed. I wore my compound costume with my blue sport coat. The lined wool material provided extra protection. There was no pain, but the result could be that I’d forget and bump into something by accident.

I slipped out of the apartment, checking both my wife and daughter’s rooms. Both were sleeping quietly. I drove to Galloways restaurant on Del Mar, knowing that they lived in a small unit tucked into the back of the business. Living that way was against the city’s building code but nobody ever checked or complained, at least not that I knew.

The door was open, as it always was. I sat at my usual front window table and worked on coming up with a plan. There was no question in my mind that I was going to have to confront Gates about his conduct and then ‘change’ him, as June Cobb might say, into something either more malleable or more inert. I couldn’t post him out on patrol and call in an artillery strike or any of the other night and day dreams that the arm-wrestling incident had conjured up and I was having trouble getting rid of them. Lorraine appeared from behind me, somehow producing a vapor-shrouded cup of hot coffee even though the hour was well before the opening time.

“I sold another policy,” I announced proudly, causing Lorraine to square her shoulders back and stare at me, the pot balanced in her right hand, extended out like she was going to pour it on me. Without thought my torso turned almost by itself to only allow my right side to be exposed.

“One of mine?” she asked, her expression almost a bit more than hopeful.

“You need it to be?” I asked back, my eyebrows going up.

“We’re behind on the rent and the owner is not a nice man,” she whispered, glancing behind her to see if her husband Tom might be close by and listening.

“How much?” I replied, keeping my own voice down.

“How much what?” She asked.

“How much are you behind?” I whispered back to her.

“About a thousand.”

A thousand dollars would sadly diminish the amount of cash I’d hidden away in my shoebox or eat up entirely the coming two year’s commission on the policies I was about to write on Butch and his family.

I needed the coffee shop restaurant to be exactly what and where it was located in my life. I needed Lorraine to help me with the insurance side of things, as well. Mike Manning was also involved; in that he was the real reason I’d come to the restaurant so early. That I couldn’t sleep was just a part of it. I needed Mike’s kind of combat advice. He’d been through the humiliation mill that combat really was, and I wanted his counsel about what to do with or to Gates.

“I’ll be right back,” I said, standing up.

“Where are you going?” Lorraine asked, totally surprised.

I walked around her still position, standing there like her shoes were glued to the floor. There was no point in saying anything. My mind was already on my wife before I made it to the car. If she was up what would she have to say about what I was about to do. Giving a thousand in cash, almost half what a new car costs, wouldn’t be easy to explain, if I told her the truth, and I was so trying to not lie to her. I flipped the Volks around and headed down Del Mar Avenue, the thoughts I was thinking more about Tom and Lorraine than my wife. A thousand behind on the rent, rent that could not be more than three or four hundred dollars a month, was a different thing than being late or a bit behind on the payments. It was nearly full dawn by the time I pulled into our driveway.

My wife was up, and coffee was brewing. Neither Mrs. Beasley nor the electric scooter were making any noises, so I presumed Julie was still asleep.

“You’re back,” Mary said, coming around the corner from the kitchen. “Where’d you go and what was bothering you last night?”

“I’m going to talk to Gates today, I hope,” I replied. “Tom and Lorraine at the restaurant are behind on the rent so I need to advance her a couple of hundred against the help she’s giving me selling the insurance.”

I turned toward the stairs and went up, taking three at a time. I did not need my wife watching me get the money, although knowing her as I did, it wasn’t unlikely she’d know exactly how much I pulled out within minutes of my leaving again.

I counted out ten brand new hundred-dollar bills from the shoeshine box. I had twenty-four left for whatever else came along, which still seemed like a lot, although it certainly wasn’t if I kept burning through it the way I was.

My wife waited at the bottom of the stairs, and I knew she’d not followed me up on purpose, thereby giving her agreement to what I was going to do.

“Don’t hurt him,” she said. I understood right then that she had bigger fish to fry than the money going out to the Galloways. “It’ll hurt you more to do that then it will ever hurt him.”

I nodded, but didn’t stop, heading right out through the front door. I made it to the car, but she was right behind me, standing in front of it at its right front fender.

“Talk to your new friend, Mike Manning, before you do anything,” she said, as I started the Volks and drove back down the street, wondering how it was that she could pinpoint so exactly what I was doing at the Galloways and that I also had come to the conclusion that Mike’s advice might help me.

Was she that smart, I wondered, or did she simply know me that well?

There was still nobody on Del Mar when I parked in front of Galloways.

As soon as I shut off the ignition Lorraine was outside the door and almost fully leaning into the open window.

“You went to get the money, didn’t you?” she said, but not really as a question. “How in the world would someone like you come up with money like that?”

I pulled the folded stack of hundreds from my right front pocket and held it low, by the bottom of the steering wheel. Lorraine immediately reached down and grabbed the pack, scrunching it up in her left hand.

“New hundred-dollar bills, probably all serialized one after another,” she whispered, pulling herself a few feet from the car. “There’s only one place at this hour you’d come up with money like that.”

I sat watching Lorraine’s mind work, her brow furrowed deeply, bringing her right hand up to shield it as the rising sun reflected strongly off the many huge windows built into the stores up and down the street.

“I can’t give these to Tom,” she said, the frown still on her face. “He’ll never buy any of what’s just happened. I’m not sure I do. What might you want for this favor?” she asked.

“Some insurance deals, I would hope,” I replied, being totally straight with the smart expressive businesswoman.

“All men are not alike,” she said, a smile creasing her lips, her forehead furrows disappearing instantly. She then turned and went inside the restaurant, leaving me to think about what her last sentence might possibly have meant.

I looked down at my cheap Seiko watch to check the time. It was just past six-thirty, which meant the drug store on the corner would be open and it would likely already heve its supply of L.A. Times newspapers. I was reminded of the expensive and high-quality Rolex watches so many of the officers in the hospital had been able to buy through the international PX system. I didn’t want a Rolex, nor could I have afforded one while in the hospital. I wanted the American Omega Speed Master Professional, like the astronauts took to the moon. The Times didn’t have home delivery in the San Clemente area, so I always had to get it from the drug store, anyway. The place was open and the Times waiting for me to purchase.

When I got back to the restaurant Mike Manning was having coffee at my table, my own cup steaming again. Lorraine had watched for my return, I realized.

I sat with Mike or tried to. Lorraine approached as I was about to pick up my cup and asked to talk to me. I followed her out the door.

“My husband wanted to know where the money was from so, I told him,” she said.

I waited for whatever might come next with a bit of trepidation.

“I told him that we’d sold a really big policy to Mike Manning, who has a whole lot more money than anyone thinks.”

I looked through the window and smiled, as Mike sat sipping his coffee and waiting for my return. Mike was himself, I knew, barely paying his own rent, and some of that was only being paid with my considerable help. I knew the lie could be very quickly and explosively revealed, but Tom being silent and withdrawn might also never bring the issue to Mike’s attention.

“Tom’s making Mike a special breakfast for helping us out,” Lorraine concluded, before saying, “No, life’s not fair at all.”

I sat with Mike, making small talk about how bad the tourist season really was, the traffic increasing on Del Mar, so shop owners had no place to park and more.

Tom personally delivered the special breakfast and set it before Mike like it was some sort of meal a king or queen might eat. Eggs, hash browns, toast, sausage links, bacon and other unrecognizable stuff covered the plate.

“Thanks for being one of our best customers,” Tom said, before disappearing back into the kitchen.

“Wonder what qualifications are necessary for that title?” Mike absently asked, staring down upon the plate piled high with about two pounds of food.

“I’ve got a problem,” I said, hoping Mike would not offer me some of his breakfast. Eating was about the last thing on my mind.

“Spit it out,” Mike said, filling his mouth with bits and pieces gathered from all the assortment before him.

I told Mike the story about how Gates had set up the arm-wrestling competition and then the wounds I was still suffering from.

“No wonder you’re not hungry,” Mike replied, still filling his mouth with one forkful after another, like he wasn’t eating at all in the Borgward Isabella by the side of the highway in Capistrano Beach.

“What should we do?” Mike asked, making me feel warm inside. He’s said ‘we’ and not you.

“That’s why I was waiting to talk to you,” I replied.

“You realize he’s acting the way he is because you are the man, he thinks he is, or should be, or should have been allowed to be?” Mike asked.

“You read Max Brand?” I asked back, amazement in my tone.

Max Brand was a popular novelist of a long series of cowboy paperbacks. I’d read every one of them while working aboard an iron ore carrier during my college years.

“Who?” Mike asked, his always moving fork finally coming to stop in midair.

“Max Brand, Evan Evans, wrote that line in a western ten years ago,” I replied.

“So,” Mike said, delaying for a few seconds before going back to consuming his monster breakfast special, “What did the guy do who used those words in the book?”

“Eventually, he shot him,” I replied.

“Don’t suppose we want to go down that road,” Mike said, “but you’ve been looking at that phony gold Japanese watch there, time after time, so to speak.”

“Yeah,” I replied, not getting what Mike was trying to say.

“Who are you waiting for, or what?”

“Gates is the watch commander on the eight to five shift,” I finally said, “He’s never late and never calls in sick. I’m going to talk to him about the incident.”

“What are you going to say?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, being completely honest. I couldn’t not talk to the man, but I wasn’t sure I could talk to the man.

Gates presumed himself, and proven himself in non-combat life, to be a predator of his fellow humans, of which he presumed me to be one. That I was a predator of unimaginable magnitude, disguised as a young creature of prey appearance, was incomprehensible to a man in his position and with his long experience in life.

“Sit before him and don’t say anything,” Mike said. “Make him state what it was that caused him to act like that.”

“What if he doesn’t say anything at all?” I asked.

“Time is on your side,” Mike replied. “You are a premier world-class predator, who doesn’t want to be a predator at all, so allow your resistance to killing and violence pervade the scene. When people like you talk the kind of talk that only people like you can do, then there’s an effect. Your silence is merely the waiting for you to talk, which he will know, and not want to hear what you might say. Remain silent. He will eventually fill the void. He’ll have to, even though you, who are not built like that, will never really understand.”

I looked at my Seiko once more. It was eight in the morning. The squad bay would be filled with the guys ready to go out on patrol. Gates would take no more than twenty minutes to clue the new shift in on what had happened in the shifts before, as well as other more local junk.

Thanks, was all I could think to say. I got up to leave, knowing that there would be no bill for either my coffee nor the exaggerated super breakfast Manning had mostly consumed.

“You know where I am if things go south,” Mike said, standing to shake my hand.

“I don’t have any idea where ‘south’ is,” I replied, laughing.

“That’s why you came here this morning,” Mike replied, gripping my hand firmly.

“You’re a war hero and I’m not, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time and trouble to listen to my advice. If our positions were reversed I’m not at all certain that I’d be what you are proving to be with me. I don’t think you are the man I believe I am, like I said, but I do believe we are both rather exceptional men cast out over a sea of trials and troubles that most American’s have no clue about. You make me feel like a U.S. Marine again and I owe you for that, even if it means we have to do something serious about Gates together.”

I walked out of the restaurant without further comment. I was a thousand dollars poorer but sitting in a pretty solid position when it came to friends, even if it was unlikely, I could bring those friends into action. The drive to the police station took only a few minutes. There was no traffic and no harsh weather to worry about. The parking lot at the department was all but empty, only the eight to four officers inside getting briefed. Bobby would be manning the radio, but the Chief and Pat Bowman wouldn’t show up until nine, the normal starting hours for the department personnel who were not sworn field officers.

Gates’ office was empty, as were all the others, as I walked the halls. They all had to be in the conference room for the pre-shift briefing, I knew. Rather than reveal my presence, I decided to wait in Gates’ office. I noted the range-derived shooting target behind his chair, framed and mounted to the wall. It showed a shooting target, competition, not one of those strangely human shaped combat things, with ten holes in it. The holes in the paper were large, probably made by .45 caliber bullets. All ten were in the 10-score center, but only three were in the smaller “X” circle made for direct entry. The 10 score for each round was still the same but the “X” derivative was vital for considering a real master shooter over one who’s just very good. If Gates was the shooter who’d shot the target, he’d had a very good day, depending upon the distance to that target and the time allowed for firing. Competition pistol shooting was an extremely analytical pursuit.

I checked my watch just as Gates walked in though his wide-open door.

“You,” he said, closing the door behind him.

“Yes, sir,” I replied, but not rising to my feet as would have normally been the case for greeting a superior officer. I was dead set on not killing the man or hurting him, at least not too badly.

The door closed with a quiet ‘snick,’ as if Gates didn’t want anyone else to notice that we were now in private.

“You got hurt in the war,” the big broad and very muscular man said, taking his seat behind his desk.

“Purple Heart, and all of that,” I replied, wondering why he’d brought my war injuries up but believing that the man was probably heading toward filing to disqualify me from police service based upon my injuries and potential of disability.

“Had to dig pretty deep to find all of that,” Gates said, opening his center desk drawer and taking out a thick file. “Your medical records from Camp Pendleton, although not from all the other hospitals and clinics you’ve probably been to since coming back from the Nam.”

The medical records were bad news, I knew. I’d had a lot of treatment, on and off, between the time I’d left Oak Knoll Hospital in Oakland, and finally at the local Camp Pendleton Hospital. When I’d joined the compound players at the Western White House and then the San Clemente Police department, nobody had asked me medical questions. My application had been informal, and I’d had to sign nothing.

“You’re listed as an active-duty Marine Officer, which isn’t really possible,” Gates said, “and you’re apparently a charmed ‘Beach Boy’ character to Pat Nixon, of all people on earth. What am I supposed to do with you?” Gates picked up the file and slammed it down on his desk.

“Here’s the deal,” he said, his voice being loud enough to penetrate the cheap wooden panel door to the office. “This is all going away, all of it,” he exclaimed, once more opening the center drawer to his desk.

“You’re the real deal,” he said, pulling a Camel cigarette hard pack from his front shirt pocket. He lit the cigarette, using a stainless Zippo lighter.

“My dad’s lighter, from World War II,” he said, puffing out a great cloud of smoke.

“I didn’t get to go,” Gates said. “He did, like you, and he came back, like you, all screwed up.” At that point he stopped talking but continued to take deep inhalations from the cigarette.

After a full three minutes I couldn’t take the suspense anymore.

“What do you want from me?” I asked, feeling a deep and almost tiring sense of relief that I wouldn’t have to either kill or badly disable the man in front of me.

“I want to apologize,” the man said, between mighty puffs on the Camel. “I was wrong, about the situation and about you. You got hurt in the war and then I hurt you some more by not realizing that. I’m a Marine, like you, for Christ’s sake and my conduct, with respect to you, was unacceptable, so I’m sitting here asking you to forgive me.”

I didn’t know what to say so I remained silent.

“Well?” he asked, the cigarette between his lips and with his hands outstretched.

“I forgive you,” I said, nodding my head, trying not to let him know that he’d been in any danger from me.

“What are you doing today, since you’re not scheduled for Beach Patrol, which of course is your very own schedule.”

“You won’t say a word to the department about my medical situation?” I asked, voicing the most important part of what the man had been all about in pursuing me to whatever end.

“I’m a Marine, retired but through and through, like you,” he replied, finally killing the cigarette in a worn and stained clamshell holder, piled high with butts.

“I’m headed over to Dana Point to see the construction manager there because, after some negotiation, he’s buying a life insurance policy from me,” I answered, almost being completely truthful.

Gates had no need to know about Cobb or any of the Mardian restaurant stuff, in my opinion.

“Oh, the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Police thing,” Gates said, a smile coming to his face. “I suppose I have to buy one of those to stay alive like the rest of the guys you’ve forced into submission.”

“Yes, sir,” I replied, not knowing what else to say.

“You can’t exactly sell someone a life insurance police and then kill him, now, can you?” Gates said, laughing out loud. “Who’s supposed to be my beneficiary, since nobody on this planet likes me at all.”

“I like you, from the first day,” I said.

“What, you had a brutal bad father?” he replied, “maybe went to military school and got a bit abused or bullied. What the hell happened to you to make you into Junior and all of that?”

I realized that Gates’ file contained a lot more than medical data about me.

“I like you because you’re honest about your feelings and you really are a great American patriot.”

Gates laughed out loud. “You are a great stand-up comedian; I’ll give you that. Go up to Dana Point and scare that clown to death. I’m not afraid of you and I’ve never been afraid of you.”

I nodded at the man, knowingly. That he had to tell me he wasn’t afraid of me, twice, was a ‘tell’ that Gates was unaware of. Men who didn’t experience fear in my presence had no need to mention that word.

<<<<<<< The Beginning |