I lay in bed, my body wanting to fall into a restful and restorative sleep, but my mind was having none of that. In closing my eyes, I wasn’t taken back into combat, which happened only rarely and never when I was so tired. No, it was Gularte’s words about a possible threat to myself and my family because of my possession of the tapes. Tapes I could only guess what was recorded on them and hear those small containers of audio information if the tape material could be retrieved. My wife was right, I didn’t own a tape recorder. Our family television/stereo had only a 21-inch screen and a Phillips record player.
I could do nothing about anyone coming for the tapes. I’d played with one idea after another. If I stored the tapes somewhere ‘safe’ then that somewhere could be forced out of me with a mere verbal threat to harm my wife or daughter. There would be laying no booby traps or any of that, as I was home and I wasn’t going to allow myself to be drawn back into a combat that I’d be living with forever, or at least adding to what I might have to live with forever. From there I went to thinking about what might be on the tapes. The one tape I’d read the notation from had to be about the three dead Marines but there was no way to tell who would be talking without the tape being brought back and also then figuring out who any speakers might be. It was the other reels, the ones I hadn’t stopped to examine closely that almost drew me from the bed. I knew if I got up, however, my wife would awake. She was not built like a character from popular movies or television. No matter how gently I might slide from the bed she would wake up, and she’d done it many times to prove her capability. She had seen the bag and the tapes, so she was way ahead of anyone else, but then I thought back to my consideration of just how much danger was I inflicting on anyone, including her, by having her know more.
I decided to work at slowing my breathing like Mary had helped teach me, and then waiting for what seemed an interminable time for sleep to come. The tapes would be there in the morning. The single notation over the carved San Clemente notation had been simply a series of numbers and letters: RQ-300S. Was that the identifier of a kind of tape or the machine that might allow me to hear what could be saved from cleaning the recording material sitting in the cooking pan, soaking away in supposedly ‘leeching’ distilled water? I couldn’t call Bartok about the notation, as I’d already lied to him about what I had and how the tapes had been damaged. Reading the code to him, a man so knowledgeable might reveal way more than I was ready for, not to mention the fact that I’d lied to him. Chuck was a straight arrow and I much admired him for the strange role we played in one another’s lives but being straight he wasn’t going to comfortably take my admission or his discovery of such a lie, especially when there was no way I was ready to reveal any more to him or anybody else.
I breathed in and out slowly, my eyes closed and trying to think of nothing, knowing Mary’s plan wouldn’t work for me, and then I woke up. I blinked my eyes, lying on my back. I’d apparently never moved in the night. Mary was already up and nowhere to be seen. Only Bozo sat near the very edge of the bottom of the bed, his big, battered face first looking at me and then down past the end of the bed at something on the floor.
I sat up just as Julie popped up and threw her arms in the air.
“We came to get you, Jimmer. It’s time to get up and come downstairs.” With that she was gone, Bozo taking off after her toward the top of the stairs.
I looked at Mary’s side of the bed and shook my head. I did not have the woman’s sensitive talent. She got up all the time and I never realized she was gone until fully waking up. I’d never slept with another woman, so I had no idea whether all women had the waking talent sensitivity. The subject had never come up in any of my sociology or anthropology courses at St. Norbert College. My eyes were drawn to the closet door as I stood beside the bed. I looked for my robe happy that the closet door was closed and seemed to have remained undisturbed.
“I’m coming, I’m coming”, I whispered to nobody since Julie and the cat had gone down the stairs at high speed.
The cat went frontwards and Julie backward, in her style, almost on her belly. Her use of Jimmer for my name, instead of Dad or my given name, made both Mary and I smile every time she used it.
I had a pan full of tapes in the closet, a car hopefully still filled with a load of high explosives, and very expensive rebreathing units. I put my robe on over my upper and lower pajamas. Before Viet Nam, I’d always gone to bed naked, since I was a little kid. I’d been a bedwetter for too long and my dad’s punishment for what he saw as deliberate insubordination or insolence or whatever had grown too tough to take back then. Sleeping naked on a bed where the floor was made of hardwood without a rug, and the mattress edge a good foot off the floor, allowed me to sleep on the wood and then clean up whatever mess there was in the morning with no one knowing. Either my parents had caught on to my ‘trick’ or simply known and ignored it I never knew and wasn’t going to ask.
I needed to get moving, get dressed, have coffee, and figure out where I was going to set aside the hours it would take to dry and clean the tapes. There was a stereo store in Laguna Beach, only half an hour up the Pacific Coast Highway. I could take the tape code to them and then ask a few innocent questions and maybe even buy a recorder. I needed Gularte and Bob simply because we were thrown together, and I hadn’t talked to Bob about his position in the whole thing, as it was and might become.
I found the Fisher Shop of High Fidelity, located in a shopping center in Corona Del Mar, not more than twenty-five miles up the coast and right off of the PCH. Far enough away not to be identified with much of anyone from San Clemente but close enough to make the trip in half an hour. All I had was the code from the sticker on the reel: RQ-300S because I was unwilling to bring either the sticker or the reel with me. I made the trip in twenty minutes, there being little traffic during morning hours on a Monday. There was only one man in the shop when I walked in.
“How are you doing?” he asked, with a big salesman’s smile.
“Fine,” I replied looking at the vast collection of stereo equipment stacked on shelves covering every wall in the place.
In the very center of the store were standing racks of matching pieces of stereo equipment, all looking expensive and of high quality. I was impressed. My combined Phillips television and stereo rig could not compare to what I was looking at, in the least.
“Have any ideas what you might be looking for?” the man asked.
“RQ-300S,” I replied, hoping the information would be enough for me to gain some information.
“Matsushita, otherwise known as National Panasonic, from Japan,” the man said smiling. “Big deal over there but not that big a deal over here. Small quality little rig but the speaker size really limits fidelity a bit.”
So, the numbers and letters did indicate the machine itself and were not an identifier for the reels. I was relieved.
“You got one?” I asked.
“Fisher has a much better rig, only a bit larger and you can play at different speeds depending on which tapes you may be using. The best quality, although you have to have the higher quality tape, is fifteen inches per second. The lowest quality of the Fisher is at three and one-quarter inches per second, which is pretty much for human conversation instead of high-fidelity music. That is the lowest setting on the Fisher but the only one available on the National.”
“How much is the National?” I asked, wondering if I needed a place that had cheaper equipment, as the place I’d selected ‘breathed’ with money. But then nearby Newport Beach and Balboa Island were very upscale compared to sleepy San Clemente.
“Twenty-three bucks for the National, if I have one back there,” the man said, making no move to go to the back and bring one out. “If you want the auxiliary pack then it’s four bucks more. The Fisher’s seventy-five but a helluva bargain for what you would be getting.”
“Can you bring one out?” I asked, glad the man had explained so much.
I wanted the same kind of recorder the tapes were recorded on, although I couldn’t be certain that that was the case. In the initial handling and cleaning of the tapes I’d also gotten the distinct feeling that the hotshot electronics geniuses at the compound, working with no budget limits would not have been messing around with something as basic as the National appeared to be. Someone had made amateur recordings. The good side was that those were likely totally valid and not edited in any way. The bad news was that the quality of play, especially after the submergence in seawater at twenty feet, or so, for a few days, might not allow me to understand anything that was recorded. What I really wanted was to have a sound lab or the expertise of the salesman in front of me to use the very best equipment and warehouse of knowledge he would have to truly do justice to the reels I’d recovered. But there was not going to be any chance of that.
The salesman disappeared for a few minutes, finally reappearing with two boxes. One small cardboard box under his left arm that had a cheesy blue and red circle with a picture of the recorder in the middle of it, and then a much larger box that was obviously a shipping box as it was unmarked.
“The only National I have is an open box with the auxiliary speaker and microphone on the side, so if you want that I’ll price the whole thing at twenty bucks, but you really should look at the Fisher, as you give every appearance of being of quality.”
“Nah, don’t bother to open the Fisher box,” I said, “I’ll take the National.”
“Well, the only part you’re getting that’s better than the Fisher is the microphone” the salesman replied. “For quality and sensitivity, it can’t be beaten for recording human voices.”
I wondered if I was giving off some kind of mental waves at his response. I wasn’t looking to record anyone’s voice. I was trying to hear voices already on tape. I didn’t like the mental leap the man’s mind had made, not far from the mark, however. I’d been going to tell him a fictional story about what I wanted to do with the machine but then thought better of it. I didn’t want to be remembered if that was at all possible.
I paid with a twenty from the small, folded stack I’d stuck in my pocket for the acquisition, never figuring that I’d not only find out about what the code on the reel sticker meant but also be able to buy the same kind of machine the tapes were likely recorded on.
I headed back down the PCH with my new acquisition sitting in the passenger seat. I was due at Paul’s for a visit but there was no way I was going to tell him about the machine, or what my intent on using it was all about. The package situation was beyond classified, as far as I was concerned. I did slightly smile in thinking about the fact that Paul had been the one to sort of suggest the starting action of the whole thing.
My appointment with Paul was uneventful, other than his continuing the pursuit of interviewing my wife for reasons I couldn’t fathom. That Mary had no interest in doing so, after I’d broached his request to her, didn’t keep the item up near the top of my rather dramatically stacked agenda. Mary was self-determined, very self-determined, and she’d either acquiesce over time or not. I really didn’t care, although talking to her after such a meeting might help me understand why Paul wanted it in the first place. Toward the end of the hour, Paul changed the direction of our discussion, which had been, for the most part, all about trying to accommodate my strange, broken, and intermittent semi-civilian interactions with people who had no combat, violent or guilt-ridden experiences to make them more like me, or to at least understand me.
“You have a very special mindset that most men not only don’t have but will never have,” Paul suddenly said, the comment seeming to come out of nowhere.
I waited, watching the man’s flat plain expression for a clue as to what might be coming, following such a strange, seemingly out-of-nowhere, comment.
“You have a significant intellect, more life experience than would seem to be possible for the time you’ve been on the planet, an ability to remember almost everything in detail that does and would surprise any professional in my field of study, and yet you are a man of action. Those two areas, when coming together in the same package, spell a potential for great glowing success or possibly even greater disastrous failure.”
I waited again, as there’d been no question and I was having trouble trying to figure out whether his comment out of nowhere was some sort of strange direct compliment or possibly a vaguer kind of indictment.
“You have nothing to say to that?” Paul asked, staring deeply into my eyes for the first time since we’d started the appointment.
“Why do you want to see my wife?” I asked, changing the subject almost entirely, but not really from my own perspective.
Paul was trying to get at something and I didn’t think I would like what it was when he finally arrived to reveal whatever it was.
Paul sighed and leaned forward, falling into what I now thought of as the Ehrlichman position; elbows on the desk before him, hands clasped together, fingers interlaced like in the old ‘hand church’ design from my childhood, and then his chin settled on their intertwined surface.
“You don’t talk about your feelings with me, almost never. Maybe that one time when you were discussing how to respond to young Mardian. I’m your therapist, but it seems that you don’t talk about your feelings to anyone other than your wife, and she seems to get it all…maybe more than she can handle.”
“Young Mardian,” I replied, after a few seconds.
“What about him?” Paul asked.
“You referred to him as ‘young’ Mardian,” I said, my voice lower and tone softer. “I’ve mentioned him three times in the course of our meetings, and I’ve always called him “Little Mardian.”
“And that means exactly what?” Paul replied.
“Young is a preferential word when used like you just used it,” I said, knowing my facial expression had gone flatter and less friendly, but not knowing how to change that… “It’s a forgiving word. The word little, when used in the form of descriptive address I’ve used in the past, is a bit insulting and meant to diminish the man.”
“I don’t understand what you’re getting at,” Paul said, pulling back in his chair, and dropping his hands to the two armrests.
“I’m getting at the rather obvious fact that you’re seeing Young Mardian as a patient, friend, or whatever.”
“From that one word?” Paul replied, a look of slight shock on his face. “You conclude that from my use of the one word to describe him?”
“That reply leaves a question floating in the air between us,” I said, staring hard at the man whom I’d come to trust.
“I don’t, and can’t, reveal my treatment of other patients and I think you know that. I’d never reveal your presence here, or our relationship, or what we discuss when we’re together.”
“His Porsche disappeared,” I replied, “His father, whom he supposedly hates, is in real trouble, his restaurant is a long way from complete, and God knows what else. Thanks for the answer to my unasked question, not that I understand at all what you’re doing with the discipline you work at. You’ve been a big help to me, and I can’t thank you enough. My wife will see you or not, that’s up to her, and don’t underestimate her based on her short stature or good looks.”
“Does this mean you’re dropping out of our sessions?” Paul asked, after a few seconds.
“I find it peculiar or very coincidental that you’d end up counseling Little Mardian, particularly following our discussions here about him…that is unless your experience with him is because he’s being treated for other problems at this facility you’re somehow attached to. If he is, then it might also explain some of his overly aggressive and arrogant behavior. To answer your question, no I’m not leaving unless you want me to although I’m not sure it’s in your best interest to continue.”
“So far,” Paul replied, frowning while seeming to form his words of reply very carefully, “you’re a window into a world I’ve had no view of before and I don’t want to quit looking into it.”
I walked to the door, wondering if his seemingly naked truthfulness was something I appreciated or found to be a little cold-heartedly selfish. He wasn’t telling me anything about his new relationship, if it was a new relationship, with Little Mardian which meant he probably wasn’t telling him about me.
Gularte and I had talked about a place to clean the tapes, which we’d narrowed down to only one location, his living room coffee table. Nobody, other than those who already knew or guessed, knew what the tapes were or that they might hold vitally sensitive information. Nobody else could be brought in on the secret, for their own safety, as well as our own. I’d waited for Mary and Jules to head for the beach before I gently covered the pan with the tapes still soaking in the distilled water, following the expert instructions Chuck had given me. Once at Gularte’s place I set the pan on his table and removed the tapes, one by one. I set them aside. In looking at them, the drying part, for which I’d gathered a pile of 4X4 antiseptic bandage pads, purloined from my wife’s seemingly unlimited supply of them to take care of patching holes that might appear in parts of my torso, the job didn’t appear too intimidating, until I began.
The first spool or reel unwound to form a much larger pile on Gularte’s kitchen table than I would have ever believed. There were going to be some significant piles of tapes drying away all around the room.
I’d purchased one roll of Scott’s paper towels. The first part of the drying operation took half an hour, and then I had to pile the ‘dried’ tape onto a double layer of paper towels to let them fully dry without laboriously rewinding them back onto the reels. I realized I was in for a full afternoon of work, as I glanced at the other sopping reels of tape.
The first spool I hand-dried was the Marines tape, its engraved title burned into the plastic on one side of the reel. I wrote an inscription on the paper towels that the tape was resting on in a pile, just to avoid confusion.
The second reel I went to work unspooling and drying was inscribed: “Onassis Nixon 71.” I carefully dried while my mind raced. Onassis was the current married name of Jackie Kennedy, the assassinated president’s wife. What had she been doing talking, and being taped talking, to Richard Nixon? I was almost certain the tapes were those made at the Western White House and not those being bandied about all over the television as having been made in the D.C. White House proper. Had Jackie returned to the White House in D.C., something I’d never heard about, or had she been transported all the way to San Clemente, or both? Many people of stature had come and gone through the compound that I had only heard scuttlebutt and rumors about. Sinatra, John Wayne, and so many more, on top of the notable’s I’d seen and been around.
I sat back, with the second piled-high paper towel-based collection of drying tape. Nixon was afraid of being assassinated. Nixon likely believed that LBJ had done Jack in. What other subject would have caused Jackie and Nixon to meet, surreptitiously in San Clemente and have a conversation? Nixon would have known any conversation in Washington was taped, but were the tapes I had in my possession those he’d ordered made or were they the product of other forces at work thousands of miles from where the others were made?”
Two hours later, I was done. I hadn’t bothered to read the other inscriptions or write them down. That could wait. Now all that mattered was waiting a period of time to make sure everything was dry and then get the tapes back on the reels. Each reel sat with its own pile next to it which was identification enough with no one else there to possibly confuse things.
I pulled the cheap recorder out of its tattered box. I had no intention of trying to listen to any of the tapes at Gularte’s place, however. I would need more security and an assurance of complete privacy. Although the machine itself looked new the box was not, and the fact that the machine held two reels, each half-filled with tape, on the spools seemed to indicate the thing wasn’t new either. No wonder the clerk or salesman had settled for a twenty, including the ‘auxiliary’ equipment that consisted of a microphone I wouldn’t need, an extra plug of some sort, and an instruction manual. A manual for what, I wondered, holding the slim booklet in my hand while looking down at the top of the machine. The controls were all self-evident. Forward, stop, reverse, record, a fast forward or reverse lever, and volume control.
It was going to take some time in the open air for the piles of tapes to fully dry out. At that point, I’d have to rewind them back onto their reels, plug the tape recorder in, and find out what I had. That was the part I was dreading, although also terribly curious about. So far, I’d avoided looking at the other titles burned into the plastic of the reels. The lettering was difficult to make out but heat-carved deep enough to understand the letters were there in tiny English print. I wanted to know but I also didn’t want to know. The sun shone in through Gularte’s single large living room window that gave him a view of the wooden fence blocking his place from the house next door.
The problem was security now, however, and I didn’t want to underrate the need for that. What was on the tapes, however decipherable or not, just from my reading of the two reels I’d examined closely, was not just troubling to consider, it was potentially explosive, even to the point of violence. Whoever had recorded the tapes knew of their existence, although not necessarily what exactly was on them. It was quite possible, I knew, to tape without listening to what was being recorded, depending upon how advanced the electronics one might be using, and the capability of the compound personnel who likely had no budget restrictions or lack of knowledge about accumulating the latest equipment. It was my assumption from the single tag on the one tape that the machine I had in front of me was the same as the one that had been used to make the recordings…if there was anything recorded and if, assuming they were recorded, then the material was retrievable following the submergence in seawater for quite a period of time at the bottom of the harbor.
Mardian knew about the tapes, although even that conclusion was more conjecture on my part rather than by any admission by him. Nevertheless, I had to assume that a few people knew about their existence, although it was likely now that only three knew about the successful recovery and my attempt to preserve them. After talking to Bob Elwell, I needed to get hold of Butch. The Porsche didn’t need to be surfaced just yet, at least not until I could come up with some sort of solution to the fact that the frunk when eventually opened, would be empty.
I couldn’t leave the mass of drying tapes to go see Bob or for any other reason, not until they were dried, rewound, and then placed in a truly secure location. Gularte’s front door had a lock but I had no key to get back in, and there was no certainty at all that he might return unexpectedly with friends while I was gone or worse yet, have a friend drop by who possessed a key.
Before I could pick up Gularte’s phone to call Bob Elwell and get together with him, he appeared outside the front door. No knock. No nothing, other than Bob’s voice asking if anybody was home. I knew he wasn’t really asking a real question so much as merely letting Jim know he was there. The front door opened and he stepped inside.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, closing the door behind him, “and where’s Gularte?”
Both Bob and Steve Bro had adopted the same form of extraordinarily penetrating informality. When I was growing up, there would have been no chance that that would happen in any home I lived in, as doors were always locked, but my wife, and obviously Gularte, had no such internal security or privacy rules built into them.
“It’s a compliment to us,” my wife said when I confronted her one day about how such privacy violations might be better considered.
“Privacy for whom?” she’d asked, before turning to Julie, Bozo, and Mrs. Beasley, all sitting on the couch seeming to pay attention to what was being said between the two of us.
“You have any privacy concerns?” she’d asked, looking at the three of them.
I’d simply shook my head and walked away, wondering about my intelligent wife who talked to three such entities like there was any chance at all that the expression of real intellect might be there and a response from any forthcoming.
“See, they don’t have any problem with it,” she said to my departing back.
“The package?” Bob asked, sitting down next to me on Gularte’s broken-down couch. We stared at the heaped-up piles of tapes together.
“Yeah,” I replied, “soaked them in distilled water, as instructed, and now they’re drying out. I’ll have to re-spool them and then use the recorder to try to listen and see if anything can be made out after them being soaked for so long in salt water.”
I spoke briefly to Bob about the material in front of us and then asked the question I knew I had to.
“You want to know what’s on them?”
“Not really,” Bob replied with one of his good-natured laughs.
I picked up one of the empty reels and held it up toward the sun shining through Gularte’s picture window. I read the ‘Marine’ notation and then set it down. I picked up another that read “Hank Russia,” and set it back down. Hank had to be Kissinger. Hank was what close associates called him although I had no idea what Russia might have to do with anything dealing with him. He was Secretary of State, however, so the tape might deal with almost anything.
“Don’t bother,” Bob said, getting up to pace back and forth across the room but not so fast as to create a draft and disturb the piles of tapes.
“That’s like Dwarfs’ stuff,” he said, “although I don’t think you’re going to play that stuff for them. I really don’t care or want to know, personally.”
He was right about the Dwarfs, whom I’d all but forgotten. What kind of information would I owe them, especially when dealing with the dead Marines issue?
I picked up another reel and looked at the notation. It read: “Full pardon alternative.”
I held my breath for a bit after reading the small letters burned into the plastic and into my mind. The President of the United States was considering resigning and then being pardoned by his successor. There was no Vice President, and I couldn’t remember who the Speaker of the House was, the next person in succession if there was no president. But the shock to my system didn’t come from concluding that from reading only a few words on the reel. The shock was from considering what the word ‘alternative’ might mean. All I could think of was an image of a mushroom cloud.