The uniform shop in Santa Ana was located on the main drive passing through the center of the rather over-populated and kind of ragged city. San Clemente was much smaller, tighter and kept its streets, sidewalks and plant life in much better shape. Of course, San Clemente had a huge tourist population to help pay the bills every summer, and most of the winter too. I pulled up in front of the concrete front facing of the shop. It was called Keystone. There were no display windows and only a single double door with a welcome sign cut in half to fit across both doors. Next to the doors was what seemed like a doorbell, and another much smaller sign that read: “push button for entry.” I pushed the button without trying the doors.
A buzzer sounded, and I realized the sound was coming from the door. An electric lock, which seemed strange. How did the store get customers without advertising or being fully open during business hours? I pulled on the door closest to the button and opened it.
A man stood directly in front of me, about twice my size, or maybe more. At 5’8” I wasn’t that big, although many who knew or encountered me thought I was bigger. I looked into the man’s eyes. He spoke before I could say a word.
“This store sells regulation police equipment, but not to the regular public. You a cop?” He went on after only the smallest of delays, not giving me a chance to say anything.
“No, I didn’t think so,” he said, with a twisted smile, moving slightly to close the door.
I was surprised. I pushed back on the closing door.
“I’m from the Western White House,” I said, dropping my voice, as the man was creating an uncomfortable feeling about to come over me. “I work for the President of the United States and if you don’t let me in to get these supplies then you will see plenty of police in only a few minutes.”
“Yeah, you’re a cop all right,” the big man replied, smiling for real this time, and allowing me to push my way in.
I wasn’t a cop because I hadn’t been to the academy, graduated and then been certified to be in service by the San Clemente department, and accepted by the State of California as a Peace Officer. How I could still be a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, the outfit that paid me, running some sort of beach patrol operation for the Western White House, and also be a cop when I wasn’t doing the other stuff continued to mystify me. I was nobody and everybody at the same time. At least I wasn’t under the command of Lightning Bolt…but could well be again if I allowed my buried emotions to rise up out of their black depths, as they almost had in facing the big man at the door.
“You said the magic words,” the big man said, walking to a counter and through a swinging gate.
I didn’t reply, not really caring about what the man was saying. I was stunned by the near shrine-like quantity of the weaponry on display around me. More, by far, than the Marine Armory at Camp Pendleton.
“Here it is, right up on top where it belongs,” the man said, pulling out a few sheets of paper from a thick file. “The only unlimited requisition forms our company gets from anybody it does business with, and these folks pay at speeds approaching that of light. Your wish is my command, sir,” he said as he handed one sheet to me across the counter.
I looked at the man, his expression and comportment having gone through such rapid transformation that I was surprised again. He’d changed from presenting himself as an offensive lout to being a squared away gunnery or first sergeant in the Corps, and he’d done it in only a few seconds.
“The name’s Jake,” he said, sticking out a hand bigger than my head.
I shook his hand, not giving him any name. Until I knew more about what I was doing, and his participation in that, the name ‘sir’ suited me well. He’d come perilously close to meeting Junior, and I never wanted anyone on the planet to meet that creature again, which also meant I had to get better in my judgment of such things and the people back home, especially civilians. They’d never been to the real world and they utterly lacked survival tools, equipment, training, or violent experience.
I looked at the gibberish typed for filling in on the requisition form and then looked back at Jake. I needed help. I’d never requisitioned anything in my life. I put the form on the counter and decided the truth was the best avenue to proceed down. I started talking, telling Jake about my situation and the stuff they’d said I’d need, right down to the .44 Magnum with special ammunition. My speech lasted for about five minutes. To Jake’s credit, he’d started taking notes at the very beginning.
“God, I sometimes really love this business,” he said, with a laugh in the tone of his words. “Nothing going on at all and then some angel comes down, creates this small person, has him walk into my store and let me do what I do best, and at a considerable profit. You need an open requisition because there’s stuff you don’t know yet that you’ll need. I’ll have to take a few measurements for the uniforms. Probably two in long sleeve shirts and long pants, and the sets of summer shorts. I won’t need to measure for those, just get your sizes.”
“The magnum you want I have right on hand,” Jake said. “I have some tungsten penetrators hot loaded out to 70,000 cupric units, tungsten being as dense as the uranium you requested. The government gets its supply of depleted uranium from nuclear power plants but we can’t get it here in California. So, if you want to go with uranium you have to find a special armorer and then get him a government supply of depleted uranium. Also, the 77,000 cupric hot-load would leave no safety margin at all, sort of like taking a submarine down to crush depth to see if it really crushes. So, we don’t sell that either."
I thought about what Jake said as he used a tape measure to check my inseam and then went to work gathering the stuff I’d told him I’d need from drawers, displays, and counters all over the shop. When he was about done I decided that one subject needed to be covered.
“Would you mind not mentioning the .44 to anyone?” I asked, afraid that just by ordering such a destructive device might be taken by almost anyone in directions that would be bad for both me and the people I was working for and all the people I might be working for.
“That classified information, or something?” Jake replied.
“Not that I know,” I replied, “but I’m really thinking about what might happen if administration officials decided to withdraw their ‘bottomless requisition business’ and place it with another of the three uniform and equipment shops located in this general area of the county.”
“Oh,” Jake said, after a few seconds. He brought up a blue box from under the counter he stood at. “Here is the magnum and two boxes of the ammo,” he said, not mentioning anything further about keeping his mouth shut regarding the special nature of my earlier request.
Jake opened the box and showed me the compact but very powerful weapon. It sat nestled in a form that was made of some soft red cloth material. It glistened in its deep ‘blued’ blackness under the fluorescent lights. In a way, it was truly a deadly work of art and presentation.
I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to go to a special armorer about the .44 Magnum, and I sure as hell wasn’t going back to San Clemente to requisition depleted uranium from the San Onofre nuclear power plant located not more than a mile from the Cotton estate. Why the president’s geographic location, even though he was there only some of the time, so close to such a potentially precarious source of enormous power was a mystery to me, and one that was bothersome and nagging. If I thought such a juxtaposition of placements was risky, then why was no one else even mildly concerned enough to reconsider?
“How long for the trousers?” I asked, thinking and worrying about the immediacy of attending the Rio Hondo Police Academy.
I couldn’t show up there wearing shorts. I’d been through Marine OCS and then the Basic School. Uniforms meant a lot, and I had a feeling that the police academy would not have the ability or desire to dress out candidates as they walked in the door, as the Marine Corps automatically did.
Jake loaded the boxes into the back of the Volks, promising to have the trousers ready in two days. As it was Wednesday, that meant I could possibly be ready to attend the academy by the following week, not that I truly believed that any academy class could have its beginning date at such a convenient date.
I drove home and dropped off all the stuff Jake had loaded. The Magnum I placed inside and under a stack of sweaters on the upper shelf in the back of the master bedroom closet. I’d deal with it the next day when I’d hopefully have some time. I hurried out, trying to avoid going through the stuff and having to answer intelligent but discomforting questions I knew my wife would have. There was a downside to being married to a beautiful but brilliant woman. There were some things I just could not or did not want to discuss. I knew that kind of thinking was as ridiculous as the ‘need to know’ requirement for access to classified information in the military, but sometimes there simply wasn’t the time to go through it all.
Parking in the rear parking lot at the police department was easier than parking on the base. All the spaces were marked and more than half of them were assigned to the chief, lieutenants, sergeants, and even detectives, with seriously printed signs located at the heads of those spaces. I parked as far in the back as I could, having no rank at all when it came to the department. I didn’t want to work on the requisition request I was going to try to give to Ehrlichman at the estate. I also didn’t want to work on writing up that form at home. I had no typewriter there and I had no office or anything else at the Estate. The police department seemed the only place I might be able to sit down, and either use the necessary equipment (I wasn’t turning in a hand-written request to anyone on Nixon’s staff) or find someone capable of transcribing it on such equipment for me.
I walked in through the rear entrance but saw no one. I headed for Pat’s office, the nice woman I’d met just outside the chief’s office. When I knocked and went through the door to her office, nobody answered. I opened the door a crack and saw Pat wasn’t at her desk. The door through to the chief’s office was open, however. We saw each other at the same time.
“Come in,” he yelled across the space, waving me toward the open door to his office.
I walked the distance, preparing to ask the chief himself for the space and equipment I’d need for the report, but never got a chance to say a word.
“Let’s go,” he said, getting up from his desk, getting his hat from a peg on the wall, and then walking around his desk and past me to the door.
I could do nothing but follow him out and see what was going on.
The chief went through the back entrance to the facility and walked quickly and directly to where the Bronco sat. I noted that the vehicle had no license plates.
“Maybe we should put the stickers on the doors,” I said, as the chief stopped, turned, and held out a set of keys to me.
“The stickers?” the chief asked, surprise in his voice. “You got stickers already? How’s that possible?”
I walked quickly to where my Volkswagen sat, a good distance away. I’d left the stickers in my back seat, knowing I’d soon be back at the department.
I headed back to where the chief still stood and handed him the two rolled-up sheets of plastic in exchange for the keys.
“That uniform place had a machine in the back. It took Jake about ten minutes to produce the stickers for fifty bucks apiece,” I said, as the chief unrolled the rubber-banded sheets.
“Wow,” the chief breathed out, crouching down by the driver’s door and beginning to pull the backing from the large multi-colored decal.
“Press it down the left edge before you pull the backing,” I warned having put on decals about the same size on Marine trucks, while in training. “I put the stuff, all the stuff on a federal government requisition,” I went on, answering his first question.
The decals went on fairly easily, the vehicle having been washed by someone very recently.
“Will there be trouble about the money?” the chief asked as I unlocked my door, got in, and then leaned over to unlock his. I noted that the Bronco was a two-door vehicle. I hadn’t paid much attention to either the Broncos or the competing Chevy Blazers out on the road. Maybe all they made were inconvenient two-door models. I was surprised, as I started the engine, that the chief was asking me such a question. I knew almost nothing about the operations of the White House, the police department, or even about being a rookie cop if I was to become one.
“I’ll write up the request when we get back to the building, with your permission, sir. Where are we going?”
“Down to Del Mar and then the beach at the lifeguard headquarters,” the chief replied. “I want to see how this thing performs. Our current beach patrol operation for the city uses the lifeguard Jeeps. One lifeguard and one officer, but it’s been problematic for some time. This is our chance to have our own beach patrol with two officers, rotating reserve officers, in one unit…this one.”
I drove slowly on the streets down toward the beach. The giant oversize tires made highway speeds on flat surfaces limited to about forty miles per hour, I quickly came to understand. Anything over that created nearly uncontrollable shaking and shuddering. I thought about the chief’s comments for a few seconds before asking my next question.
“Why am I driving you? I asked, “you could have taken this thing down there yourself.”
“Not our vehicle, at least not yet, and we don’t have permission to be anywhere near the Nixon estate area,” the chief replied.
I suddenly realized that the chief was cleverly seeking to extend the police perimeter of operations for his department while also making the patrol an extended structure with much more power than the current ‘blended’ situation and limited geographic travel allowed for.
“This thing has no license plates,” I said, realizing we were illegally driving on California streets without registration or anything else. The vehicle wasn’t a postal truck. Those things didn’t have plates either but didn’t need them because the postal service enjoyed special immunity granted on every street, road, and highway across the whole United States.
“You have a license,” the chief answered, but his tone wasn’t truly supportive.
“Yeah, as a Marine officer, a regular citizen driver, and even as a United States Courier, but not for this vehicle,” I replied, shaking my head.
“What’s a United States Courier?” the chief asked, after a slight delay, and then went on, “you have I.D. for that one?”
“I have no idea what a courier really is,” I answered, as we pulled through the open space in the railroad fences to cross the railroad tracks. The tracks ran up and down the entire stretch along the sand, from the nuclear plant down south all the way to the northern end of San Clemente. I realized, from his I.D. question, that he wanted to see the sand stretch that ran along the water in front of the Western White House, more than likely to take in the entirety of his new domain of extended power. Prior to the president deciding to purchase the Cotton Estate, the beach had been the property of the city, but the feds had shut a long stretch of the sand down because of security concerns.
I played with the Bronco, discovering that the thing was more powerful than I’d first thought. The huge billowy tires dug into the sand, no matter how deep or filled with small hills and valleys, and with the chassis of the Bronco down it was entirely stable. The vehicle ran well on the wet sand, even when I took it out into the wash of incoming waves. The chief held on tightly to the ‘sissy bar’ mounted over the passenger window and the dash bar in front of him, but he said nothing.
I guided the Bronco onto the dry Cotton’s Beach sand, pulled up directly in front of the estate, and turned off the ignition.
“We’ve arrived, sir,” I said, keeping the enthusiasm out of my voice as best I could. I loved driving the machine and I knew I’d love it even more if I could take it well beyond the speeds and difficulty we’d just experienced. I knew, as well, that I couldn’t drive that way with the chief in the vehicle. He was obviously a little bit queasy from the rather tame ride he’d just had.
“Where’s security?” the chief asked.
“Everywhere,” I replied. “We’re under total surveillance. Radar, seismic, infrared, and more. They just don’t come out unless they perceive a threat. In fact, I think that’s why they want a beach patrol. They don’t have equipment on or along the beach for fear of intimidating the citizenry or giving any warning to those who might take advantage. The idea of the beach patrol being a San Clemente Police operation should sit well with them.”
“Okay, I’ve seen enough,” the chief said, getting back inside the Bronco, “is there a way up through the Estate so we can drive back on the regular roads?”
“Just a second, sir,” I responded, leaning inside the driver’s door and pulling a red “T” bar kind of lever. The hood popped open a few inches, with a deep click.
I moved around to look into the engine bay. I wasn’t at all surprised to see that the air cleaners were not stock, which sat atop two carburetors. The engine was obviously a V8, although I didn’t think it had come from the factory with two big carburetors feeding it gas and air. No wonder it had so much power, even if it was so quiet. I slammed the hood down, went back to the driver’s door, and dropped to my knees. I stuck my head under the chassis and wasn’t surprised again. The Bronco had dual exhausts, each pipe running the length of the vehicle with three mufflers each.
“What are you doing?” the chief asked, obviously anxious to get off the beach and back to the comfort of driving on his city streets or maybe sitting in his comfortable administration building office.
“Seeing what she’s made of,” I replied, getting in and heading the Bronco up toward the north side of the river running under Trestles Bridge. The vehicle bounced right across the high tracks and steep berms on each side, almost like they weren’t even there. As I’d assumed, from staring down inside the windowed main room of the mansion, there was a dirt road paralleling the river on the estate side.
I eased the Bronco up the badly maintained road, finally reaching the top, which came out almost right on the grounds of the Coast Guard Station parking lot. From there it was simply a matter of staying off the freeway and driving the chief back to the police station. We drove in silence until nearly there.
“That financial request you’re submitting,” the chief began.
I waited, while he lit a cigarette after turning down his window.
“You might think about running that by Lieutenant Ehlow before submitting it, as he’s the official police contact with them, but I can’t order you, at least not yet.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, having no intention of showing the lieutenant anything. I was submitting to someone in an attempt to get approval from my real boss who I firmly believed would never approve it. I wanted to work for the chief, as he was a truly intelligent, experienced, and nice man, and I hoped that would happen one day, but I had to work with what I had, in order to keep from being sent back to Pendleton and Lightning Bolt’s not so loving arms.
Once back at the department, the chief told me that I should keep the keys, at least until the ownership and registration of the Bronco were established.
“Drive it as much as you want to get used to it since that might improve your driving. The municipal lot down near Pico has fuel, ask Pat for the code to get in.”
With that, he walked away. I knew I was dismissed. Everything that was happening to me, I realized was mixed. I had another car to drive, as well as the Volks, but it was labeled a police vehicle, yet owned by the U.S. government, and insured by whom? I was getting a whole set of new uniforms but I wasn’t qualified to wear them. I had a new weapon but using it was about as hazardous as using a hand-held nuclear weapon. I followed the chief but stopped at Pat’s desk.
She was there.
“Hi Pat,” I began, “I need the code to the city lot for fuel, and I need a typewriter to fill out a requisition plan that I have to submit to the Western White House for equipment.”
Pat smiled, and then wrote a few numbers on a card, before handing it to me.
“You want to write the report or transcribe it to me?’ she asked.
I continued to be very happy that I’d chosen to spend two years of my high school education taking typing instead of shop, and because of that I could type over a hundred words a minute, but in looking at Pat I knew she wanted to help and I didn’t feel right in turning her offer down.
“Oh, transcribing it would be so much better,” I said. “I can’t thank you enough.”
Pat turned to orient herself with the typewriter mounted on a table behind her.
“Ah, Pat,” I said, hesitantly. “Do we have somewhere we could do this that’s not quite so public?”
“Oh, we need secrecy,” she replied, turning back, a bit of a smile on her face. “Come on, we’ll work in the report writing office.”
We worked in the office she took me to for an hour. Pat was a faster typist than I, she proved in moments. She also knew what a requisition was, how to list the items I was claiming to need, instead of already having purchased. I added an addendum about how the beach patrol had to be amalgamated with the local police department for security, manpower, and management purposes. The Bronco would have to be somehow gifted to the department, as well, and I needed extra compensation of ten thousand dollars a year to accomplish the mission. I had her list the .44 Magnum but didn’t mention either the tungsten or the uranium ammunition. I did mention money for an armorer since, at some point, Haldeman would see the report, or request, or requisition I was submitting. Pat knew the proper title and address for Ehrlichman, and that was a big help, as men in his position didn’t take kindly to not being addressed formally and properly.
I got directions from Bobby Scruggs on how to find the police firing range, surprised to discover it was pretty close to the southern edge of a civilian housing project. Before heading there, I had to stop at the Estate and drop off the report. I drove the Volks because I knew the guards knew it, and I didn’t need any controversy. I thought about the good, bad, or dumb luck about getting into Rio Hondo, as the next class started the following Monday. I’d get two weeks of the course, half the length of the usual one-month exercise. Pat was impressed that I was allowed to instantly enter without having to take any of the normally required physical, mental, or medical tests. I wasn’t so sure about the last one. I was being discharged for being unsatisfactory for continued Marine service, and in truth, although running daily, I wasn’t back to my former Marine training shape.
The visit to the Estate went smoothly and quickly. Ehrlichman’s secretary accepted the report I handed her. Neither Haldeman, nor Ehrlichman, were anywhere to be seen. I didn’t ask where they were. I was relieved. I also presumed the president was not at the estate, since security had been so rapid and so casual.
There was nobody at the shooting range, no gate, and no fence. I simply walked up to the long firing table, took the .44 out of its box, loaded the special (but normal-looking cartridges), and set the revolver down. I’d brought my dad’s shooting box, so I went back to get that from the car, and then set it up on the bench-like table. The side of the box levered open to allow the J. Unertl spotting scope to automatically point downrange. The drawer under the hinged side was filled with patches, cleaning gear, and folded-up targets. I pulled some targets out and unfolded one. I wasn’t really interested in target shooting, although it wouldn’t hurt to check out the sights and see how the little compact monster handled the placing of shots, considering the shooter, in this case, me, had never fired such a powerful hand-held weapon. I put in a pair of earplugs and then covered my ears with a set of muffs for good measure.
I reeled in the thin cable-run target holder. The maximum presumed range of the target, as I reeled one back out as far as the device would let me, was marked off in white letters printed badly on a staked wooden sign in the distance. The letters and numbers indicated that the distance was 25 yards.
The Smith and Wesson weighed close to 44 ounces loaded, according to the specifications in its little accompanying book. With the higher density (twice that of lead) tungsten rod ammo, four pounds was probably a good guess. That was about half a pound less than my fully loaded .45 Colt. I hefted the weapon for feel, using a two-handed grip. It felt okay. I extended my arms out and forward, keeping my elbows slightly bent and relaxed, in order to better absorb and accommodate the recoil. I breathed in and out deeply twice, then held the second breath and squeezed gently on the trigger while lining up the front and rear sights.
I wasn’t ready for the revolver to go off. The explosion was huge, the fireball slightly blinding me. The weapon came backward, bending my elbows to the point where the short barrel of the thing pointed directly upward in front of my half-blinded eyes. My hands and arms automatically returned the Magnum back to the battery, once again pointing downrange, I recovered myself quickly, not to put another round downrange but to put the weapon down on the bench. My ears rang, even through the protection provided by muffs and plugs. I was not normally recoil sensitive, as many people are. But the Magnum was different and it made me different in my feelings about it.
Stepping back a few seconds, I looked around the area, especially over toward the housing development nearby. The display had seemed to me, at such close range, as something that might be easily noticed by anyone nearby. I reeled the target in. The bullet had gone through the bottom of the bull. Not a bad first shot using factory-adjusted sights plus not knowing what distance. But the revolver was not a pleasant weapon to use. I had no desire to fire it again. It was sighted in enough, since hitting any part of the bullseye at 25 yards was a pretty decent shot. With my ears ringing, spots before my eyes, and the emotional charge the weapon induced, I knew I’d have little chance of being as accurate on any second firing.
There would be no second firing today, and hopefully not for some time to come. As a duty weapon, the thing would be in so many ways unsatisfactory I couldn’t believe anybody had ordered that I purchase it. There would be no earplugs or muffs when working as a regular police officer. And if it was fired at night then the person firing it would be blind, deaf, and maybe not far from being dumb. Would it be possible for someone in the system to allow me to carry my .45, which also made much more sense if worn with civilian attire? Possibly, I could have Jake put another standard .38 or .357 on the bottomless requisition form for use out on the street.
Why this particular .44 Magnum had been specifically required for me to have, I didn’t know, and the nature of it, and its possible use, was so unknown and seemingly mysterious to me I didn’t really want to ask anyone about it. I was sure that sometime in the near future, that mystery would be solved.
I cleaned the weapon, discarded the instructions and box into a nearby trash can, took a few minutes to unload the weapon, run a swab and brush through the barrel. I did the same to the cylinder chambers and then placed it inside my dad’s shooting box, wrapped in an old oily cloth. It would be returned to its place in the closet back at home when my wife was shopping or doing something away from the apartment. As long as I had the Bronco, she’d have her own car, at least for a bit. First, while I was home with the Bronco, and then when I was away at the academy. I knew she’d be thrilled to have a car, but not thrilled at all with my attending another military-style academy. Absolutely all of her good attitude would drain away if I mentioned the Magnum or any details about it. Until I knew more, I wouldn’t say more.