Earlier in the day the weather had been so very Southern California that I hadn’t noticed it, as I ran around arranging everything I would need for the mission. However, when I was ‘installing’ the Bronco, once again, in between the giant beach cleaning machines at the lifeguard headquarters, I noticed that the wind was rising, and pretty dramatically. There was no precipitation, however, and the wind coming in out of the southwest meant that it swept in, then up and over the mountains, stringing along the entire southern California coast. It was no threat to me or the mission, not that I could see.
When Gularte and I headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway, however, the fact that we were riding in a flat-bottomed little car weighing in at little more than 1600 lbs. made the trip itself something of an adventure. The rising wind beat across the top of the ocean waves to strike the vertical face of the cliffs that lined the eastern side of the PCH. The trapped wind roiled about invisibly, of course, and then played hell when it tried to lift the front of the Volks off the surface of the road if we moved at more than forty miles per hour.
“Good thing you’re going under the water and not on top of it,” Gularte laughed while holding the ‘sissy bar’ mounted up near the right side of his head over the door with one hand while gripping the handhold on the dash with his left hand. I only had the steering wheel and my seat belt to depend on as we bounced around a bit as we made our way to Dana Point Harbor.
It was a relief to get off the road by pulling into the entrance to the Marina. I slowly approached the ramp from the east and stopped. There was nobody there or around that I could see, although it would be full dark in a matter of minutes. The sky had grown overcast so there would be no moonlight to speak of or see by, but then the mission was very simple.
I parked the car and reached back for the equipment I would need, noting to myself that there was still a full pound of C-4 in the passenger footwell behind where Gularte sat. Given that the detonators and supplementary charges were in a special container in a bag in the other footwell didn’t give me much comfort. I had to get rid of that stuff as quickly as I could get around to it. That the armory didn’t want it back wasn’t nearly so surprising as the armory denying it had ever issued it in the first place.
I handed the big unwieldy but highly effective underwater light to Gularte, grabbed the goggles, adjusted them to slip over my head, and dangle from the rubber strap that would hold them to my head when I climbed into the water.
The tapes were another matter. I’d left them on the seat and they hadn’t moved about with the bobbing and weaving of the Volks navigating through the wind. There was no bag or cover for them. I carefully set them into the web of my left hand and they fit snuggly there. I was glad that a bigger set of reels hadn’t been used, but then I knew nothing of the size of tape-recording reels or any of that. I had to deal with what I had. I got out of the car, glad that this dive would be only a second-long affair. I didn’t take my sweatshirt off as I wouldn’t be doing any swimming. Gularte stood over the west end of the ramp where the Porsche had gone so silently and easily into the harbor and straight to the bottom. I knew that, if the Volkswagen was sent down the ramp it would take a long time to sink, but the Porsche wasn‘t built that way.
I walked the short distance to where Gularte stood, irritating the bottoms of both feet because the freshly laid and little worn serrated surface of the ramp was sharp and very pointed in some places.
I adjusted my goggles to cover my eyes comfortably; grabbed the light from Gularte’s outstretched hand, and walked down to the water’s edge. I looked at the water and was put off a bit. It was swirling about and surging, the water pushing up and down the angle of the ramp several feet every few seconds. I looked back up at Gularte but couldn’t see him well enough through the lenses and in the darkening night to make out any expression he might have about the situation.
The light weighed about ten pounds, I guessed. I wouldn’t need fins or any assistance, even from my tied-up hands as the light could simply take me gently straight to the bottom. I eased into the cold water, not shivering but feeling like I should be. I took some huge breaths to overcharge my system with oxygen, then submerged to my shoulders, while kicking off a bit from the edge of the ramp and letting the light do its job, making sure I had a solid grip on the tapes I carried in my left hand. It was dark, and the water was moving. I suddenly felt a chill, not from the water temperature, but from fear. The conditions were nothing like the first dive and I hadn’t been alone that time, but everything else had been so similar that it was eerie, even the weather, although there was at least no rain.
The light pulled me down as I expected. I knew the fear I felt would also sap my air supply much faster than if I was relaxed, but I couldn’t help that. I had no time for Relaxation techniques. After what felt like ten seconds but could have been a few more or less, I flipped the light switch to ‘on,’ glad that the switch was integrated into the handhold on the cylinder’s top.
The world around me exploded, but not with a cascade of penetrating light in order to guide me on my short journey. I was suddenly inside what gave every appearance of being a big incandescent lightbulb. Instantly, I knew that the water was filled with sediment to the point where the light couldn’t penetrate it, so it simply diffused.
I lost my orientation and felt dizzy. The light was going to be no help to me I realized as I recovered from my panic, but was unable to tell up from down inside the white cloud the light created inside the water. I switched the light off, and let its weight pull me down. I oriented again. Down was the direction I was headed and therefore up was the other way. I was slowly headed for the bottom but probably not exactly where I wanted to be because of the swirling currents which were strong enough to let me know they were not only there, but much more powerful than I was in my situation.
My feet hit bottom and I bounced a bit, more from the effects of the current than anything else. I didn’t know where the Porsche was in the total darkness and I was running out of air. I could resurface, I knew, but then would not be able to swim anywhere with the tapes clutched in one hand and the ten-pound light in the other, which I could not let sink to the bottom and remain there like a beacon for any future investigator, in the other. I took a few seconds to think, before releasing the tapes. Even if I was only marginally close to the car the tapes would be strewn by their fall around the area, as if they’d been forced out of the frunk by the strong, or even not so strong, currents. I could swim with the light, even though it would partially disable me, but not to the point where I couldn’t make it to the nearby shore.
I released the tapes and let them fall, hoping against hope that the tapes were wound to the reels tight enough, plus the clear plastic of the reels was sufficiently dense enough to allow them to sink and therefore not rise to the surface. The first mistake of the second mission had already been committed. I should have checked for buoyancy before ever committing to the mission, as it would have been a problem if it existed, that could have been solved easily, but certainly not now in the situation I was in.
I frog-kicked to the surface with no way to check to see what had happened to the fake tapes rewound inside the real reels, only to discover that the wind, as my head and upper body rose up, was now whipping across the water. I breathed in and out several times before orienting myself. I’d stayed down longer than I’d thought, my fear and disorientation holding off the normal lung pain caused by my enforced near-self-induced asphyxiation. I was facing blackness, so I swirled my body around. I saw the very dim string of lights that hung over the ramp, glowing in the night for whatever reason. The light wasn’t strong enough to see Gularte standing nearby but he had to be. I noticed that I wasn’t exactly over the Porsche, which didn’t come as much of a disappointment. I already knew I wasn’t because when I landed on the harbor bottom I hadn’t landed on the body of the vehicle itself.
I paddled in, dragging the light below me, fighting to keep it from pulling me down again. I was almost totally exhausted. Once at the edge of the ramp I hauled the light up and shoved it onto the serrated concrete; pulled my goggles off and eased myself out of the water. I knew the second mistake of the mission was not bringing Bob Elwell to partner with me. I’d heard that single-person lone diving was an invitation to disaster, and I’d almost proven it.
“How’d it go?” Gularte said, his voice penetrating the darkness and my own strange sphere of remote consciousness. I breathed in and out some more before getting ready to answer him.
“We’ve got company,” he said before I could fully get myself together and reply.
“Not again,” I breathed out, picturing the image of an angry Haldeman sitting inside his limo yelling at everyone within earshot.
I staggered to my feet and looked to see where the car was, but there was no vehicle nearby, at least no distinctive Lincoln from the compound.
“Where?” I asked, as Gularte grabbed the light and goggles and made it toward the Volks, which sat nearby, rocking slightly in the swirling wind.
“He walked in,” Gularte said over his shoulder, heading for the car, “by Butch’s place.”
I had no towel and wasn’t going to move to the Volks to get one. Sopping wet I made my way toward Butch’s, the place only visible because he had a single small light bulb lit near the closed door. I didn’t see the man until I was almost there. I shook the water off of me as best as I could and rubbed my hair and face to be dry as much as possible using the gusting and still heavy wind for the possible confrontation. But there was no confrontation.
“Evening sir,” the staff sergeant from the compound said, dressed in casual civilian attire for the first time, “not the best night for a dip in the ocean, or so I’d assume anyway, sir.”
“Staff Sergeant,” I replied, ignoring the man’s accurate but out-of-place humor.
“The rest of this I don’t care about, never happened,” the staff sergeant said, waving his arm out toward the area Gularte and I’d come out of.
I waited, not liking the sound of the rather obvious fact that I needed his secrecy about anything. I waited, expecting the worst.
“I’m looking for Mrs. Hunt,” the sergeant said.
He hadn’t asked a question, so I simply rubbed my hair some more and waited, my mind racing, however. Helen was the money person between Washington and the Western White House, and therefore she was a vital player in almost everything, or so I thought. I had all kinds of questions that I wanted to ask the man but decided not to. I waited some more.
“Where is she?” the staff sergeant finally asked.
I was surprised. The fiber and seriousness of the staff sergeant’s tone were disturbing. It was like he had become the commanding officer and I his servant. I didn’t know where Helen Hunt was but assumed that if she wasn’t in D.C. and not at the compound or residence she was staying on either Cobb’s or Richard’s yacht. Cobb would be my first guess, but I wasn’t going to guess unless I knew more.
“Who’s looking for her?” I asked, “And don’t bother telling me it’s you.”
“She’s got some loose ends to tie up with some powerful private business people, so they asked me to find you since you might know her location.”
Private businessmen. I pondered the statement for a bit until it came to me. “There are only two private businessmen who ever come to the residence,” I said, “and those would be Abplanalp or Rebozo, so which one is it?”
“More businessmen come to the compound than you likely know since you’re seldom there, sir,” the staff sergeant replied.
“Thanks for that, and I presume that you’re seldom here,” I quickly replied, “but the question remains.”
I waited, my irritation growing over the fact that whenever I was doing something at the marina, no matter what the hour, someone knew and was watching. The staff sergeant was just another example of the extent of the compound’s surveillance, which extended a long way out from the Western White House.
“Don’t play this game, sir, not this night,” he replied, his tone lightening up as he figured out that I wasn’t going to be either stupid or forthcoming unless there was a good reason.
“Well, staff sergeant?” I asked, growing impatient with the exchange, as well as being forced to be in such an exposed position following the mixed success of the dive.
The compound wasn’t likely the only interested party in knowing what I was doing, and maybe not the potentially most dangerous.
“It would seem,” the staff sergeant started out before pausing as if to choose his words most carefully, “that Mr. Rebozo and Mrs. Hunt had some financial dealings that he wasn’t done discussing before she departed.”
The name Rebozo sent a shiver through me. The mafia guy. Everyone said the same thing about him, and nobody could understand not only why he was Nixon’s friend but why he was even allowed in or near the residence. Mrs. Nixon was rumored to want nothing to do with the man so he was never invited to formal events where he might encounter her in a receiving line. If Rebozo was looking for someone like Helen Hunt, who obviously didn’t want to be found, then there was an element of danger there that I felt at my core more than thought about. I knew it was an A Shau thing. I sensed an ambush but had to know more about whatever it was in order to decide if after knowing, any action was to be taken.
“No idea,” I replied to his statement, going back to the original question.
I turned to walk away.
“This may be one of those life-or-death things,” the staff sergeant said to my departing back.
I stopped and turned.
“Like that would be a stranger to me?” I asked but didn’t bother to wait for his response.
Was what he said a clue, I wondered. Was Rebozo looking to cause harm to the woman? Why else would such a man be involved?
Gularte and I got in the Volks and headed back to the lifeguard headquarters. With the mission over, and the letdown that was following all I wanted to do was go home and listen to a tape as I sat somewhere by myself. The secrets that were being kept and the knowing of them that might keep me and my family alive, were on those tapes, or so I was convinced.
We got to the headquarters where Bob Elwell had the duty and stood guard over the Bronco. I discussed my problem with Bob while I changed back into my uniform.
“Let me take the shift?” Bob suddenly asked. “I didn’t get to go on the dive, but I can do this much. You know the guards used to run a beach patrol here years back and it was all staffed by them alone. Before my time, but I always liked the idea.”
I thought about what the loyal and very capable man said. It was against all policy, but then the policy of the beach patrol was unwritten. The department manual had nothing to say about the beach patrol except that the officers assigned to it were all sworn California Peace Officers, which Bob was obviously not. If Bob went out and something happened it would be hell to pay. I started laughing out loud as I thought about the size of the violation Bob and I were contemplating.
I’d just dived on the Porsche after sinking it in the harbor in the first place. I’d substituted materials that were beyond any classification above Top Secret, and I was about to go home and listen to what I’d stolen.
“You’re on,” I replied, since my only out had been to call Richard and I didn’t want to do that.
There were enough questionable characters in play right now, and besides, I just knew he had a whole lot to do with the surveillance I was experiencing the effects of.
I talked to Gularte and let him know what I wanted to do. As usual, Gularte was all in.
“I’ll show him the ropes, and, if someone is drowning, I don’t have to get wet or risk myself.”
“Risk yourself?” I asked, and we both started laughing. We’d both been risking ourselves since we first met, as I’d drawn him into all the stuff going on at the Western White House and around it.
I got home to find Mary watching television and Julie already in bed. I went up to the master bedroom, changed clothes, and hauled out the tapes and the strange little, almost toy-like, tape deck. I got down on the floor and threaded the first tape, the one I’d hand-labeled “Jackie Kennedy/Richard Nixon,” and worked it through its first few inches before turning the simple switch on.
I listened intently, as the tape played, and knew immediately that I was going to need earphones. The little tape deck allowed for a microphone or an external speaker and the inadequate little instruction manual I’d been ‘lucky’ enough to get with it said that the speaker indication jack ‘might’ also allow headphones. There was nobody upstairs, except Julie asleep in the next bedroom, for my first attempt at listening to a tape, except for Bozo and he wasn’t much of a talker. I went downstairs and pulled out the headphones I’d bought when I got the console television and stereo. My wife ignored me, not even asking what I wanted the headphones for since there was no stereo upstairs. I’d never plugged them into the console machine simply because nobody ever seemed to mind when I played any of our record collection.
The headphone plug matched the speaker output jack. I plugged it in, adjusted the earphones, and turned on the machine again. I picked up a woman’s voice, scratchy with lots of ‘snow’ but distinct enough to be understood.
“Thank you for seeing me, Richard,” the woman’s voice said.
A chill went through me. The tape I’d chosen, hoping it would be the least revealing of the lot, was the Jackie Kennedy/Richard Nixon tape. It was Jackie’s voice; I just knew it.
“Please don’t call me that,” a male voice replied, and there was no failure on my part to identify that voice, at least not here in this place.
“There’s no one else here, Richard,” the smooth elegant voice replied.
There was a short silence, as the tape merely hissed away. I wondered if I was missing something because of saltwater damage to the iron oxide.
“Why have you come?” Nixon finally asked, ignoring her continued use of his first name, which ran in all opposition to protocol.
“You were there,” the voice whispered as I strained to hear, my head so close to the machine that it was nearly touching. “You were in Dallas. You were there when they killed Jack.”
Another silence ensued. I waited impatiently but didn’t move from my position. Nixon was in Dallas at the time of the assassination. The news, if it was true, astounded me. I’d never heard a word about such a possibility.
“Yes, they did kill him,” Nixon replied. “I was in Dallas, but my plane left while your own was flying in.”
“And you don’t find that at all coincidental, to say the least?” Jackie asked, although her expression didn’t make it sound like she was looking for an answer.
“Yes, I was there for a Pepsi thing with Joan Crawford.”
“It begins to make less and less sense, Richard,” Jackie replied. “They killed my husband and they’re going to kill you unless you quit. You have a family. Quit. It’s not worth it.”
“But why have you come?” Nixon asked.
I knelt, facing the tape deck I’d set on the floor. I was stunned, as only more ‘snow’ and unbroken hissing passed to my headphones. There was nothing else even barely intelligible on the tape. Obviously, the tape was a tape of another tape that was probably a lot longer. Who were the ‘they’ she was talking about and whom he seemed to understand? My assumption of the President’s fear of his own vice president, if indeed LBJ had been responsible for Kennedy’s assassination, was going right out the window. I turned the machine off when the tape was played out and the reel that held what had passed over the head simply pattered away going around and around, like my thinking. The little machine had no automatic shut off and neither did I.
I unplugged the headphone wire and headed downstairs to replace them in the console storage drawer, again with no seeming notice from Mary. I went into the downstairs bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror. I knew that if my wife had bothered to look at me she’d have wanted to know why my face was white as a sheet. I’d not pulled myself out of harm’s way in the least but merely sunk myself in a little bit deeper.
I went back upstairs, replaced the tapes in my shoebox, put the recorder on the closet floor, and again stuffed it into its strange box. My first entry into playing the tapes had proven to be both a success and a failure. I looked over at Bozo, sitting on the side table, assuming his usual and quite successful imitation of a porcelain cat statute, only blinking once in a while to prove he was really alive at all.
“The tapes are real and, so far, the voices recoverable,” I told the stoic cat. “But do I want to go any further? For the first time, I have some strange feelings about the President. Is he really afraid of being assassinated like Kennedy or is he afraid that he will be caught having been a part of the whole thing? LBJ was a Democrat. Nixon a Republican. The scales of justice would have the balance bar tipping toward an opponent wanting the leader out rather than a fellow traveler in the same party.”
Bozo didn’t answer any of my questions.
“Do I continue with this, since it’s not likely I’ll ever be able to tell anybody anything without getting myself killed or in prison for life, or do I just dump this mess back into the ocean where I so accidentally submerged it in the first place?”
I didn’t bother looking at Bozo for an answer to that one either. The only fact I’d discovered, and it had to be a fact, as there was almost no way in hell that Jackie Kennedy had gone to the trouble of visiting the President to lie to him and have him confirm it.
What might be discussable was Nixon’s presence in Dallas at the time of the assassination, or his having already left only moments before. I could bring that up to the Dwarfs but to what satisfaction and how was I to answer the question that no doubt would be asked: “How did you find this out?”
Mary wasn’t likely to be much interested in Nixon’s whereabouts at the time of the assassination. Julie was the only one strangely transfixed whenever there was anything on the television about him. The ten-year anniversary of Kennedy’s death had been all over the TV, in the news, and with special shows being done, almost none of them about any investigation into his death. Most of the shows were pageantry related to when he was in office. Julie, Mrs. Beasley, and Bozo never missed any of them, but my wife wasn’t so taken.
I called Pat Bowman at home from the phone next to our bed in order to organize a meeting of the Dwarfs. I needed counsel on what I’d learned from the tape, particularly from Hoodoo, our police detective. He’d be able to find out if Nixon really was in Dallas at the time of the assassination. I also wanted to share Bebe Rebozo’s interest in Helen Hunt and how strangely I’d been approached.
I went downstairs but my wife was fully taken up with whatever show she was watching. I sat down beside her on the couch but no words were exchanged for a full ten minutes.
“You listened to the first tape,” she finally whispered, without looking at me. “Was there anything on it?”
I knew I should have known all along. The apartment was large but not to her. She knew every inch of it and what always happened inside it. I’d been about as secretive as a bear going through a garbage can located near the back door.
I didn’t answer because I wasn’t ready for the question, although I knew I should have been.
“Which tape?” she asked, not giving up.
I sighed, there would be no stopping her, I knew and I was nearing total exhaustion.
“Jackie,” I said, knowing I didn’t have to go any farther. My hiding place in the shoebox was about as secretive as my ability to listen to the tapes without her figuring it out.
“So, was Nixon involved?” she said, her eyes glued to the television.
I was shocked again. She didn’t need a tape. She somehow just kind of knew things that I didn’t and couldn’t fathom how she did.
“Next tape has to be the Marines, where this all began since you hear what’s on them with your silly little children’s recorder.”
I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to listen to that tape, not in my current condition, but I knew she’d never let me sleep unless I did. I was also afraid of what might be on it and how much was I placing on my wife just by confirming her suppositions even though I was giving her almost nothing.
I sighed and went back upstairs. I sat on the end of our bed, looking at the closet door. Bozo remained where he was as if he knew all along that I’d be back for round two. The mission and the first tape had almost knocked me out and I had no time to recover. I got up and moved to the closet door, opened it, and stared up at the secret shoebox hiding place.