Gularte, Richard and I gathered in the cabin of Richard’s luxury yacht. The interior was so well done in teak, stainless-steel and glass that it felt more like some exotic penthouse rather than the interior cabin of a medium-sized boat. Once again, I wondered where all the money had to have come from and why it’d been spent for no obvious reason on a man evidently connected to some kind of intelligence work.
“I heard Butch’s retort as you walked away,” Richard said putting a Coors beer in front of Gularte and a coke in front of me.
Our table seemed to be made of some Hawaiian wood, like Koa, but I couldn’t be sure. The fact that Richard didn’t bother with coasters or napkins or any of that also revealed just how careless he was about protecting his floating investment, at least to me. The Coors bottle was open, but I had to pull on the tab at the top of the Coke can, to get my drink open. I didn’t want a drink but hadn’t wanted to say no to the offer. Gularte didn’t touch his beer, which meant to me that Gularte was still fully operational.
“Yes,” I replied to Richard.
“What now?” Richard said, taking one of the two post mounted chairs on the other side of the table.
Everything inside the cabin, I noted in looking around, was made like it wouldn’t move a bit if the boat was flipped upside down.
“Modification,” I said, taking a sip of the overly fizzy coke. I preferred un carbonated drinks but seldom complained when they were not served.
“I don’t understand,” Richard replied, taking a pull from his own Coors.
“When I was in the A Shau Valley I thought one way for a bit, until one man and the situation modified the way I thought about life forever,” I said, taking another swig of the Coke, matching Richard’s own imbibing.
I was a Pepsi guy. Take a can of Pepsi, shake it, let the carbonation settle out and what was left was my kind of soda. In Hawaii, it’d been Green Rivers. Iced, but not carbonated at the drug store soda counter on Monserrat down from Diamond Head. Cold green sweetness and delight, but there was even less chance of getting a Green River in California than Richard’s Coors beer.
“How do you modify someone’s belief or confidence or lack of fear?” Richard asked, like he hadn’t heard or understood me at all.
“The Claymore,” Gularte said suddenly, the word seeming to come out of nowhere.
“Claymore?” Richard asked, as my own eyebrows went up.
“Yeah,” Gularte replied, telling the story when we were parked in the Bronco at the Beach and spotted a dummy Claymore atop a nearby rock, looking like it could have been detonated remotely and very likely killing us and destroying the Bronco.
“Who in hell would do such a thing?” Richard asked, the Coors bottle in his hand stopping in mid-air just down from his mouth.
“Not my point,” Gularte shot back, with a bitter little laugh. “When we drive by that rock now, I feel the fear I felt that night.”
“Modification, okay, I get it,” Richard said, finally. “So, what are you going to do?”
“Modify Butch’s belief system about us and the situation,” I replied, not wanting to say any more to someone I simply could not come to trust fully.
“How?” Richard asked, pushing the point beyond where I wanted it to go.
“Who knows, it’s what he does,” Gularte said, pushing his Coors slightly toward the center of the table, hinting he had the same reservations I had about Richard.
I inhaled deeply, smelling a slight but strangely sweet aroma, not unpleasant but out of place.
“Kissinger,” Richard said, surprising the hell out of me. I moved my head back slightly in a startled reaction.
“The man is into heavy duty English after shave or cologne,” Richard said with a smile, taking another sip of his beer. “Why not German or how about nothing at all?”
I looked straight into Richard’s eyes. I wanted to use the man as a tool. A useful instrument. A tool not to be informed or used for any purpose apart from what needed to be done. But every time I tried to dismiss the man’s thoughts; they came right back to.
Richard was telling me that he had been with Kissinger in the cabin and knew that I’d seen the big bluff German in those brief seconds when the cabin’s hatch had been open. Richard was trusting me; despite my refusal to go into any detail about what I intended to do in order to ‘modify’ Butch. I sat still, trying to evaluate the ‘olive branch’ he’d thrown out, if that was what it was.
In truth, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I couldn’t leave things where I’d left them and expect positive results. The men I was working with insisted on a decision. I just knew it. It didn’t matter what was trying to accomplish for Mardian was personal or not. I wasn’t nearly at a high enough level to question anything much less the motivations and intentions of such a powerful group.
“I’ll get back to you later today,” I said, standing to leave, not wanting to say anything about anything else until I could think freely and on my own for a bit.
“Shall I expect a visit later?” Richard asked, almost as if he was the perfect tool, I was constantly trying to believe he was or could be.
“Yes,” I answered walking toward the cabin door.
“Let me show you what I’ve got here to help before you go,” Richard said, sweeping back a long curtain that I thought was covering a bulkhead, but it wasn’t.
Behind the curtain was a long low table with electronic equipment assembled along its entire length. In the center was a large monitor with split screens.
“This is how I can help. I’ve got the entire area in view with the mast top camera system.
I could see quickly that Richard’s mast-top surveillance camera was state of the art, no doubt given to him by the same surveillance guys at the compound who were somehow able to see everything up and down the beach and around the whole Western White House estate. When Richard demonstrated the system to Gularte and me, we were shocked by the quality of the live image over an eighth of a mile away toward Butch’s silver Airstream trailer. We were astonished that the camera on top of the mast could turn three hundred and sixty degrees and then magnify the scene in front of it thirty times. The stack of small video cassettes nearby could hold a hundred and twenty hours of material. The whole thing was operated by a joystick and two dials for focus and night vision capability, infrared or starlight. I was extremely impressed.
I moved the joystick after Richard nodded at me, clearly at my amazement. I aimed the camera first out to sea and then back to Butch’s domicile. The sky out to sea was growing cloudy, just as had been predicted on the evening news the night before. I zoomed the camera down so that Butch’s bright aluminum door filled the television screen. There was a screen door mounted on the outside of the door itself. Both appeared to be attached to the side of the Airstream with large leaf-type hinges held together with overly large pins.
I turned the camera back out to sea again to see the weather front coming in.
“What are you thinking?” Richard asked, facing Gularte first and then me.
“He’s thinking,” Gularte replied. “I’m waiting.”
I would have smiled but it wasn’t a smiling moment. “The sky must have been red this morning,” I said, looking back at the screen.
“What?” Richard asked, his voice beginning to sound exasperated.
“Red sky at morning, sailor take warning,” I went on, my voice gentle, my mind lost in imaginative thought.
“That’s it?” Richard asked. “That’s no plan at all, if this macho clown is going to hold out.”
“He’s not a macho clown,” I replied, still half lost in thought. “He’s just inexperienced with parts of the real world. He’s inside his made-up world where he’s the Master of It, which he kind of is.”
“So, what’s the plan?” Richard could not help but ask.
“We open the door to the real world and walk him through it gently.” I replied.
I suddenly stood up.
“This afternoon, about three, when the storm starts to hit, I want you here Richard, watching that Airstream. I want you to call Bobby Scruggs when Butch can no longer see you in or around that Airstream. We’ll act after you hear from me.”
“What are we going to need?” Richard asked, not put off that he was about to spend almost the entire day watching Butch work in his harbor construction site.
“We’ll bring our own stuff,” I replied, as I went up and out of the cabin, crossed the spacious cockpit and jumped over to the jetty.
Gularte and I walked toward the car.
“We need to get the Bronco in uniform,” I instructed Gularte. “We’re going to need some heavy nylon straps, a small hammer, a punch and maybe a few quarter inch dowels. I’ve got to get to the compound and meet with Bill, the Staff Sergeant there, get into uniform, and then meet you back here at two, or so.”
Gularte looked at me strangely. “What are we really doing?”
“A mission,” I replied, without much expression, the details of the mission assembling in my mind.
“I’ve heard about some of your past missions,” Gularte said, standing by the passenger door and lighting a Marlboro taken from its special box.
“What’s this one called, “the end of times?” he laughed, before taking a long pull on the cigarette.
“Riders in the Storm,” I replied, like I hadn’t even heard his own offering.
“Later,” I said to Richard.
I drove Gularte home, to get changed and to load the Bronco with the straps and tools.
“Meet me at Richard’s boat and leave the Bronco somewhere nearby but hard to spot.”
I took off for home, to change into compound attire in order to meet the Staff Sergeant and bring him into what I was planning, I needed to know if he would cooperate.
After I parked in the driveway I walked up the steps. Before I opened the front door, I looked up at the second story.
Bozo the ‘swamp pussy’ cat, as one of the neighbors had named him upon seeing his scars and missing fur, sat on the upstairs patio that stuck out over the front door. He stared back at me through the thin iron railings at me. The double glass door behind him was closed, but I knew neither my wife nor my daughter would have left him locked out on that patio. The cat was more than a swamp pussy, as I was coming to realize. He’d somehow gotten himself up to the patio and through the spindly railing, a good twelve to fifteen feet above the walkway below. I stared into his eyes. thinking he was challenging me to figure out the mystery of how he got up there. He stopped staring back at me, stood up, walked to the glass doors and sat there, as though he knew I understood he was waiting for me to enter the apartment, and let him in.
Once inside the apartment I was immediately greeted by my daughter carrying Mrs. Beasley. She didn’t pull the iron ring dangling from Mrs. Beasley’s side, however.
“Where is Bozo the cat?” she asked.
I sighed, before giving her and her doll a hug. I knew I was being manipulated by more people than I could count, but didn’t mind being manipulated by my daughter, my wife and the cat. I let Bozo in upstairs, wondering how I’d gotten so old without ever encountering a cat close up and personal.
After I opened the glass door, Bozo came in, walked across the bedroom and headed for the stairs.
“You’re welcome,” I whispered, closing the door.
I sat on the end of the bed, thinking. The cat, I had begun to realize, was a lot like me. I didn’t think in direct truly understandable ways to other humans and neither did Bozo. That part, where I could transmit my thoughts directly, was no longer part of my makeup and probably never had been a part of Bozo’s.
I changed into my Western White House costume, went down to the Volks and headed for the compound. As it turned out, I didn’t have to go inside, or even park. As I pulled through the gate, the sergeant was there, walked to my window.
With the Volks idling I quickly informed the sergeant about what I needed for later and how I would get hold of him for his part in the plan. The man smiled broadly, without saying anything. I knew he was all in.
“Hell yes, L.T., about time I got to do something of merit around here.
I turned around and headed back to the apartment to change costumes. I wanted to have the color of authority on my side When I encountered Butch the next time, hopefully before the day was out.
Once home, I went into our garage and I pulled out the portable 8-Track player and cartridges I’d originally bought with compound money to install in the Volks, since I would need those for the Bronco later on, as the radio gave poor reception with San Clemente being 60 miles from both San Diego and Los Angeles
I put the deck and cartridge into the Volks and then stopped to think. There was no real rush, I realized. Everything was coming together all on its own. Richard was standing by. Gularte was no doubt following instructions. And the Bronco was available.
It was time to visit Paul, while I had the chance. Lucy’s Peanuts sign ran through my mind every time I thought of him.
“Psychiatry 5 cents.”
I backed out of the driveway and drove the back streets of San Clemente toward Dana Point.
As I pulled the Volks to the side of the decrepit Straight Ahead building I noticed that Paul’s ‘Lucy’ sign, offering his exceedingly low price for therapy, was no longer plastered near the main entrance. I could afford his price but not the ‘real’ price that a top-notch therapist would go for. I got out of the car, making sure it was parked enough to the building so it could not easily be seen anyone driving by on the Pacific Coast Highway. Red hadn’t been the best choice of a color, but then, I hadn’t been worried about not being noticed when I’d traded the GTO for it. The side entrance was locked because of the drug rehab nature of the place. So, I went around to the front door, went inside and down the hall. Just before I got to Paul’s ‘meeting place’ (as he described it), the sound of lyrics being sung came at me.
Tuesday afternoon had been one of my favorite songs since coming home. It was one I’d never heard in the Nam or in the hospitals, only afterward. “I’m looking at myself reflections of my mind, it’s just the kind of day to leave myself behind, so gently swaying through the fairyland of love, if you’ll just come with me, you’ll see the beauty of…Tuesday afternoon…”
I walked through the door just before the second sentence of the refrain drifted right over me. It wasn’t really Tuesday afternoon, but it was close enough.
Paul sat behind his makeshift desk. He looked up and then motioned to the single empty chair. I sat down and waited.
“Your redeeming act for the day,” he said, still not looking up from some document in front of him. I was a bit taken aback by his question, had been so off the cuff and matter of fact in our previous session.
“Yes,” I answered, to which he didn’t reply, so I went on. “Today’s redeeming act is in process though.”
“In process,” Paul repeated, finally looking up. “Can you give me a bit more detail?”
“Well, ah, okay,” I replied, uncomfortably. “I’m giving a man an opportunity to stay alive.”
Paul stared at me with a frown.
“I’ve never heard that one before,” he finally said.
“You’ve probably not gotten many clients like me since put up the sign that used to be out there.”
“They made me take it down,” Paul replied. “They don’t understand my sense of humor at all.”
I thought about his comment for a few seconds. I now understood that my visit with him wasn’t something he’d expected. Paul was toying with whomever operated the rehab center, and that I could well understand and accept.
We talked about my family, the insurance business and even a bit about the Western White House stuff, although Paul let me know immediately, when I mentioned the Dwarfs and the Kennedy Assassination, he had no interest in those topics,
“I’m having trouble pulling back from my past of violence,” I finally said to get back to an area that was truly bothering me and affecting my thoughts about everything else.
“I presumed that from your answer to my question when you sat down.”
I smiled, but mostly to myself. What I really liked about the unlikely pony-tailed psychologist was his intensity and sensitivity. He seemed to miss nothing.
“You can’t just get over it or past it,” Paul said, running both hands through his thick brown hair. “You have to adapt, which, in this culture, means that you have to apply whatever it is you feel you have to apply without anybody at all knowing you are or having applied it.”
“One of the reasons I came to you is that I’m uncomfortable not sharing everything with my wife She’s been my greatest supporter and best counselor.”
“Understood,” Paul answered instantly, leaning forward on his elbows, and staring into my own eyes. “Do you want her to live worrying about you or what you’re doing all the time, day and night?”
“No,” I replied.
“No, what?” he answered.
I understood but didn’t want to understand, so I said nothing.
“You might lose her, given your circumstances, which are not something she can probably live with. You must learn to compartmentalize and contain some of those difficult things you feel.”
When he finished, he simply remained still, waiting for some response.
“How do I do that?” I asked, knowing he was quite right. I was expecting way too much from my wife, which meant I had to share less with her.
“That’s what we’re going to talk about in the future,” Paul concluded. “Treatment isn’t a one-shot deal. It’s all about conditioning after acceptance, which follows discovery. The discovery part is where we are now, and that’s a hell of a lot farther along than most of the cases I’ve ever dealt with.”
I wouldn’t be seeing this brilliant but strange man until the following Tuesday afternoon. “I’m looking at myself, reflections of my mind…” I couldn’t get the lyrics out of my mind. Their meaning was unclear to me. They simply haunted me.
I drove back to the police department headquarters. Scruggs was on duty, but neither Pat, the Chief or any other high-ranking officers seemed to be around.
“I need to talk to Gularte on the radio,” I told Bobby.
“Can’t do it, only the dispatcher can use channel one, but Gates’ Marauder is out there with the keys in. You can call him on channel two, which is also confidential, knowing how you two are.”
I frowned and headed outside. Scruggs was a piece of work, always seeing mysteries.
I turned on the ignition of the Mercury Road Beast but didn’t start it.
Gularte answered my call right away.
“Where and when?” Gularte asked, cutting right to the chase.
I knew he had the equipment I’d asked for. The man was fully the equal of the Gunny who’d saved my life so many times back in the Valley.
“Now,” I replied. “Head over to Richard’s yacht and get on the surveillance gear. We need to know whether the man’ or anyone else is at the trailer.”
“What’s the plan?” Gularte asked.
“I already told you,” I replied.
“Not the name of the damned thing, I mean what the hell are we doing with all this?”
“Okay, okay, I’ll head home, get into uniform and then meet you at the yacht in half an hour.”
“What are you doing?” a deep voice said, from just outside the Marauder’s open driver’s door.
“Forty-six-six-seventy-three out,” I said into the microphone before quickly hanging it back on the dashboard.
“I’m using your radio because I can’t talk to one of my reserves since I’m not a dispatcher,” I answered, standing before Gates, naturally having assumed a position of attention.
“One of your reserves?” Gates yelled. “What a load of poppycock is that? The beach patrol isn’t on duty. The Bronco, however, is missing. That means that someone’s in the Bronco doing something you don’t want me or command to know. You are using personnel and police equipment for your own personal purposes which is a write up all on its own, not to mention what you and one of your supposed reserves are up to. Just who in hell do you think you’re working for?”
I breathed in and out deeply, knowing I was in pretty deep crap. I had no decent explanation for anything. It’d never occurred to me that I would be put on the carpet for what I was trying to do.
“I work for the President of the United States, sir,” I finally said.
“Jesus Christ,” Gates said, bringing his right hand up to massage his forehead. “Go ahead, continue whatever the hell you are doing, but leave my car out of it.”