I couldn’t sleep, but that was nothing new since the Nam. The doctors at the VA said that nobody could stay awake for days and nights on end but my time in the valley and then the nights and days after coming home had disproven that, not that my word about such things was to be believed. The two doctors I’d spoken to, one too old to be a doctor anymore in my opinion, and one too young to be the same thing, simply offered up the only explanation they could come up with for the fact that I could easily (well, it was much easier physically than socially) go two nights in a row without sleep and then function on the third day as if I’d had all the sleep in the world. They decided I was hallucinating the experience, just as I doubt had in the valley when I’d gone many days and nights without sleep. They were both surprised when I wasn’t angry about their conclusion since I’d already figured out it didn’t matter. There was nothing to be done for my condition that wouldn’t make the problem worse or life around the ‘fix’ worse than it already was. I thought their conclusion was funny but not because of the conclusion. My laughing was over the fact that I had offered my truth to two men who were dumb and inexperienced enough to come up with such a conclusion, and then presented it to someone like me whom they ought to have been more careful to communicate with that way.

I sat down in the living room after creeping there from our bed upstairs. There was no intent on my part to remove myself from the bedroom so my wife wouldn’t notice. I was married to a woman who caught every nuance of movement involved in such action. There was no movement in that bed that she wasn’t aware of, although she didn’t always comment. It was spooky in a way.

Bozo followed, also having sensed my departure. He normally slept under our bed, and his position there caused my wife to say that he liked me more than her because he slept directly under me and not her. Why she believed that was anything other than another oddity of a completely odd cat I didn’t know, and it wasn’t worth pursuing. He took his place silently on a cushion thrown up on the fireplace hearth extension running out from the fire pit. He laid himself down but didn’t rest his head, instead keeping it slightly up in order to stare over at me.

I sat on the couch, having thrown my tattered blue robe on, and slipped into a pair of slippers my daughter thought were funny because I, unwilling to part with the wonderfully comfortable things and buy new ones, had sewn up by hand with an old nautical kit of wax, needles, and thick powerful thread.

“Jimmer’s shoes look like his tummy,” she’d once said, which had made me laugh out loud. Only a little kid could pick up on such a comparison. My surgical scars from the surgeries to save my life had no sutures left in them, but the small little scars from their former placement left a design around the incisions that looked a lot like the sutures themselves had looked so much earlier when the incisions were fresh.

Even though it wasn’t keeping me from sleep, I was struggling with my need to listen to the tape titled ‘After the three dead Marines’. The Marines who started my investigation led to my being a whole lot more important player with the Western White House than I could ever have imagined. And yet, that key part of everything I’d been involved with had reached a dead end.

The Jackie Kennedy tape had thrown me. There was nothing but everything in it. Nothing concrete about the assassination but the revelation about Nixon having been there, denying it, and Jackie’s tone said a lot. But there was nothing definitive, such as why she was visiting a sitting President of the United States while refusing to use his required title. In reflection, it was obvious that neither of them had any liking for the other.

The Kennedy tape had changed me and I didn’t like what I was feeling. I didn’t want to be the repository of secret information that I could take nowhere, not even to my wife, without risking everything I had, or we might have, including our lives. Mardian’s one-page pad method of communicating hadn’t made sense at the time, especially, as he feared, that he was headed for a stretch in prison. What might a prisoner do, write out a bunch of numbers on a sheet of paper and send that through the mail? Like prison guards don’t read all incoming and outgoing mail? The guards might not understand any encrypted message but they’d certainly know that such a message was being attempted to be sent, and no doubt prevent the mail from going through, especially if was sent by somebody with high political connections.

What if I found out about the Marines and what had really happened since I already was fully convinced that they hadn’t drowned while swimming off of Trestles Beach? What could I do with the information, other than sit on it for the rest of my life, because revealing the source was now becoming something that might involve my own incarceration or worse? And then there was the now obvious fact the tapes were mere vignettes of original much longer tapes, those tapes probably recorded on professional tape decks that used the much higher quality equipment and tape material of giant reel size. I was changed by the Jackie tape, so how much change might I expect in my life and thought process by listening to the rest of the tapes, which, if the first one was any indication, were almost undamaged by being submerged at the bottom of the harbor for a couple of days.

I spent a good part of the day tossing and turning the idea of simply storing the tapes for future consideration or listening to them one at a time just to assure myself that the audio had really been recovered.  Of course, I could do that just by trying a bit of each one.  Finally, I decided that I would simply have to ‘go at it’ and listen.  The Marines tape drew me toward it like a powerful magnet.  I wanted until late in the day, while Julie and Mary were downstairs.  I assembled the machine, selected the tape, and spooled it through.  The deck was on the bed and I was kneeling before it, as if in supplication.  I breathed in deeply and pushed the play button down after adjusting the earphones onto my head.  It was time I’d decided, hoping that I was right, as the hissing and faint sputter of sound came into my ears.

“Mr. Horton, may I call you Jack?” a voice asked.
“Of course,” the man named Mr. Horton replied.
“Would you begin by telling us about the incident?”
“The incident was a non-nuclear mechanical failure that led to the cooling water leak that was released into the ocean, where it was dispersed without notice or note anywhere. There was no damage to the environment whatsoever and the faulty piping was replaced immediately from internally stored components. Only purified fresh water is circulated inside the facility unless salt water has to be pumped in should some core melt-down occur.”
“I wasn’t referring to that incident, although I would imagine that a few surfers and or local species of sea life might disagree with your conclusion over time Jack, not to mention members of the White House staff located only a few hundred yards away,” the voice stated.
“That wasn’t under my watch, Horton continued, as if he hadn’t heard. “That was under Quintan, and he’s since retired.”

The tape went silent for almost half a minute, only the regular background hissing playing into the earphones, which I clutched tightly to my head with both hands.

“Oh, you mean that other thing,” Jack finally replied.
“Yes, Jack, that other thing,” the voice repeated.

There was another long silence.

“The outer door to the containment storage area was left open,” Horton said but didn’t go on.
“Yes?” the voice said, its tone one of fake patience and sincerity.
“They smoke cigarettes, and it’s not safe to do that inside the facility, so they go out to stand looking at the surf hitting the rocks below,” Horton answered, sounding as if he wanted to be anywhere but where he was.

“Yes?” the voice asked again.
“The door to the outside has a complex lock with interrogatable memory, so it can’t be unlocked without a report being made with code, time, and date. So, they were leaving the door unlocked.”

There was no discussion, or questions asked, about who ‘they’ were.

I paused the tape by pressing the off button, as there was no pause indicator on the cheap machine. I was almost afraid to stop it in fear of it not starting again or the voices not being clear enough to hear what was being said.

I’d never heard of an interrogatable lock before, but it made a strange sort of sense, particularly at the level of applied technology that had to be present in a nuclear generation facility.

I took a few deep breaths. I had to continue. I pressed the right-facing arrow button down, located at the left edge of the recorder, causing the reels to begin moving again and continuing the conversation.

“The Marines,” the voice stated, flatly, not expressing the word as a question.
“We believe,” Horton said, clearing his throat once, “because it was storming, windy, and raining heavily the Marines, who were nearby for unknown reasons, entered the containment area through the unlocked door without anyone knowing to seek shelter, not really knowing what they were entering or knowing that their entry was taking place at a very critical moment. We also believe that they closed the outer door behind them in such a way that it automatically locked, and when they discovered that they were locked into the small sealed space, they panicked.”
“And then?” the voice asked when Horton didn’t go on further.
“There are several waterproof switches set into the wall of the containment area,” Horton went on, his tone turning into an analytical near-droning presentation. “One of the switches signals an emergency overheating of the core from an active employee witnessing evidence of such an event. We believe one of the Marines threw some switches in order to unlock the outer door and allow for their escape or exit and one of them was that particular switch, a switch they tell me that’s never been activated from that position before.”
“What happens when that switch is thrown?” the voice asked.
“I’m not a physicist. I’m CEO of a power company and a lawyer by education, but I do know, from my association with the operators of the plant that if molten core debris were to melt through the reactor pressure vessel and relocate to the dry-well floor, the procedures for the plant operators is to flood the containment storage area to help prepare to cool such core, and therefore minimize to the containment facility itself.”

I turned the tape off again, stunned by what I was listening to. Without the tape continuing I’d already concluded that the three luckless Marines, taking shelter from a storm had died inside a nuclear facility. The idea of their murder, which I hadn’t really questioned once discovering so much in the way of cover-up operations was now appearing to be an unlikely conclusion.

The more I sat thinking about it the more convinced I became. The government pen clues, the bodies being moved so carefully, if in error against the flow of the current, and even the seemingly untimely arrival of Cobb having her yacht beached were quickly becoming pieces of a puzzle that I would never been able to believe or even comprehend without listening to the tape. The Marines tape was no Jackie recording, that one has left a bigger mystery than it revealed.

I was on duty at four with Richard and Pat Bowman had arranged for the Dwarfs to meet at the end of the pier at six. Something about Horton’s physicist-oriented response to the voice stuck in the back of my mind. The facility only circulated purified fresh water, but I set the thought aside for further consideration.

I pushed the right arrow button and held on the earphones once more.

“What happened when the switch was thrown?” the voice asked, the one of almost eternal patience, except this time the word ‘was’ appeared in the sentence instead of the word ‘is.’ The man wanted the history, not the procedure, or so he gave every evidence of indicating.
“The inner, larger, and much thicker main containment door unlocks and automatically opens, so the worker inside the outer containment chamber can witness the nature of the emergency visually at the core.”
“I presume that no one ever thought that unknowing civilians, or enlisted Marines, might unwittingly go through that door and see something that was unseeable?” the voice asked.
“That’s correct,” Horton replied, his voice suddenly sounding raspy and quieter than before.
“Unseeable?” I said, stopping the tape and removing the earphones. What could that word possibly mean?

My wife called from downstairs.

“I’ll be down in a moment,” I yelled back, putting the earphones back in place on my head and pushing the forward button on the face of the machine.

“They saw it, or the event, or whatever it was, and panicked, running back through the main door and slamming it behind them,” Horton said, before stopping to breathe in and out slowly but audibly.

I waited for what might come next, unable to disengage.

“Do you know what they saw?” the voice asked, after almost a full minute, the delay which seemed like it was deliberate to allow Horton to get control of himself again.
“No,” Horton whispered, his tone more of a hiss than a real whisper.

I shut the machine off, pulled the earphones from my head, and packaged everything back into the tape machine’s box. I ran it to the closet, placed it, and then carefully closed the door.

Once downstairs I tried to give the appearance that everything was just fine, that my life hadn’t suddenly channeled its existence into one word: unseeable. What could that simple word, probably not even a proper word, possibly mean?

My wife wasn’t fooled. She hadn’t come upstairs on purpose, I knew. She also knew I had to be listening to one of the tapes but she said nothing. I knew her silence wouldn’t last but I wasn’t ready for her kind of intensely intrusive grilling just yet. I begged off simply spending time with her, Julie, Bozo, and Mrs. Beasley, got into uniform, and headed off in the Volks to meet Richard at the station.

I rode with Richard in the Bronco from the station to the yard for a top off of the gas tank and to check the air in the tires, which had to be set at only ten pounds for operating in any kind of soft sand condition. After a full five minutes of silence, running at ten miles per hour on the back streets of San Clemente to get from the yard to the railroad crossing I broached the question that had been on my mind for weeks.

“Richard, I got you this job that you wanted so badly, and I’ve said nothing about some of the anomalies during your service, and outside of it. I owe you for the boat trip to chase down Cobb’s yacht, but you also owe me. Who else are you reporting to other than me or the police department in any capacity? And don’t tell me no one, as your surveillance capabilities built into your yacht were not provided or installed by any civilian agency or company I’ve ever heard of.”

I wheeled the Bronco into the parking lot located just above where the gates to cross the tracks were placed. I turned off the ignition and waited.

“I’m not at liberty to deal with such a question,” Richard finally said. “I do owe you, but I don’t owe you that.”

“What you just said was an answer by itself I think,” I said, with neither of us looking at one another, both simply sitting and staring at the gates where there was no train approaching or passing and no pedestrians circulated by or around at all.

“None of this mattered much when you came aboard with the Beach Patrol, but then, you came aboard for a reason far from what you indicated back then. You’re right, you don’t owe me when it comes to what you are doing, as it certainly hasn’t affected your work or your assistance to me, but things are changing pretty rapidly and this whole Nixon affair is becoming a whole lot like a game of musical chairs. Do you have one?”

“That’s a pretty funny comparison to make,” Richard replied, “but not one I want to comment on.”

“You don’t know about Nixon being in Dallas for the assassination I’ll bet,” I replied, thinking about what I could tell the man to pry him loose from whomever was running him. “You probably have no idea what happened to the Marines, either, and I’m not here to inform you but times are changing and a lot of this stuff affecting both of us can go critical at any time, and that’s just going to become more likely with every day that goes by. Keep your own counsel and I’ll keep mine, although where I have Gularte and Elwell you have the Staff Sergeant, Cobb, and the rest of those guys at the compound.”

“Understood,” Richard said, still looking straight out through the flat windshield.

“One thing though,” I went on, turning the ignition key and lighting up the 302 V8 under the hood. “Rebozo is looking for Helen Hunt, and I know she’s staying on Cobb’s yacht. Why that mafioso doesn’t know that, well, is beyond me, but apparently, he doesn’t. Maybe our snoopy guys at the compound like her more than him, which would come as no surprise. I’m telling you because you’re near Cobb’s boat and you are connected. Hunt may be in real trouble for reasons I know nothing of, but you may, in this multi-act play we are all participating in.”

“Understood, sir,” Richard replied, unexpectedly adding the ‘sir,’ which wasn’t used much in police work when dealing with superior officers, of which I wasn’t one.

We rode in silence, through the gates and onto the base of the pier. The winds were still up, causing the entire structure to constantly move back and forth, once more reminding me that I was driving a ton-and-a-half vehicle over a high wooden planked surface held up by wooden poles that had been driven down into wet sand forty, or so, years ago. I parked the Bronco in its usual protected space under the eve and to the southern side of the restaurant structure. There were no other vehicles but then I hadn’t expected any. Only Hoodoo, of the Dwarfs and a real detective had the use of a city police vehicle, and even he would be hard put to explain how the car might be lost if the pier came down or suffered damage while it was out there.
I’d thought of visiting Cobb, who for some unknown reason, was still around although her yacht was in perfect shape to depart to wherever she had some real personal residence on land…if she possessed such a place.

My visit, at this critical time following my being informed that a mafia chieftain was personally interested in finding her, might reveal Helen’s presence on the boat, if she was really there. I thought about all the things I didn’t know about which was almost everything. My lack of experience was a subtle unconscious thing most of the time. My larger memory capacity, rapid recall, and seemingly wise decision-making didn’t change the fact that I was an effing new guy in so many situations, and I’d observed close up and personal how well FNGs survived in tough life-or-death situations. Helen Hunt was in a life-or-death situation, I just knew, but what was I to do about it other than dig myself a potentially fatal hole by doing things that might not apply to anything other than my own exposure?

We didn’t speak again, instead removing ourselves from the Bronco and going inside the restaurant, past the closed sign once more hanging from the door.

The Dwarfs were assembled, just as at earlier meetings. I, as Snow White, was conceded the chair at the head of the row of tables Shawna had strung together for the occasion. I stood up, although it wasn’t necessary.

“There are a few things that have happened since we got together last time,” I began, thinking about the few things I’d intended to bring up but really only having the Nixon presence in Dallas, allegedly still there while the event was going down, to report on.

I looked at all the interested and attentive faces in front of me, now understanding that I’d called the Dwarfs together in order to feel better about myself and my conduct, neither subject discussable before or by the group. I needed to feel better about myself and visiting Paul, and then giving him nothing to go on, would be fruitless. I gave the Dwarfs the information about Nixon but not the source from where I’d gotten it. The fact that I had the tapes and that they were interpretable had to remain a deep secret to the world, at least the world as I knew it.

There was a hushed silence, broken only by the wind, the swaying of the pier’s end and Shawna running around refilling coffee cups.

“Wow!” Pat Bowman said aloud as if expressing what everyone at the table felt.

I waited for questions, although I really had nothing else to add, but Hoodoo had other things on his mind.

“What about the Marines?” he asked. “We can’t just let that go, as it seems everyone else is.”

Even though I wasn’t ready for the nearly instant change-up he’d thrown I did have information. I thought for a few seconds about how to respond, without giving away anything to do with the tapes.

“When I went through lifeguard training out in Hawaii, I learned something about drowning,” I began, carefully. “If a person drowns in salt water it’s because the high concentration of salt cannot pass through the little lung sacs that allow for the conversion of water to oxygen and carbon dioxide. Freshwater, on the other hand, has the ability to ‘fool’ those sacs wherein the water passes through in the blood. A person drowning in saltwater dies because the lungs are filled and that prevents any air from getting into the blood. A person drowning in fresh water dies because the water dilutes the blood and therefore cannot pass oxygen to the brain.”

I stopped talking, wondering if my rather analytical presentation was being understood by the Dwarfs in front of me. I saw no looks indicating any incomprehension.

“So, what exactly are you getting at?” Hoodoo asked, leaning his head forward at an angle to stare at me over his reading glasses.

“What does the autopsy say about the drowning?” I asked back, trying to get the detective to come to his own conclusion.

“I read it, but I don’t have it here,” Hoodoo replied, his forehead wrinkled up in question. “I don’t think it went into that kind of detail though.”

I stared at the detective, showing no expression on my face.

“Jesus Christ,” Hoodoo finally whispered, shaking his head slowly. “They drowned in fresh water, didn’t they? That’s what you are alleging here.”

He didn’t phrase either sentence as a question.

All of a sudden, everyone started talking at once.

“There’s no fresh water around where they were found,” Bob Elwell said.

“There’s the stream that runs up and down next to the compound and the Western White House estate,” Herberich countered.

“Not exactly a river, at least not at the time when the bodies were found,” Gularte added. “In fact, there is and was almost no water running there at all.”

“I’m going for a blood test result, although I didn’t see a toxicology attachment to the autopsy report,” Hoodoo noted. “There had to be one. Let’s assume for discussion, however, that they drowned in fresh water. What are you withholding here Snow White?”

“We have to investigate and think this through,” I replied. “I can’t reveal the source of that supposition, and until we get the blood test results, which I’m almost certain will show a high content of water in the victim’s blood, we don’t really have anything further to go on.”

“Like hell,” Hoodoo whispered. “That nuclear facility has a huge desalination plant attached to it. You don’t get fresher water than what comes out of there.”

“Let’s wait on that,” I said trying to head off where the discussion was going. “What about Nixon’s presence in Dallas?” I followed, trying to change the direction of the conversation.

The talk went on and on about Nixon’s potential role in the assassination, if there’d been any. I called the meeting to a close after an hour and set another meeting for earlier in the week ahead, using the excuse of Hoodoo having blood test results by then.

Richard and I climbed into the Bronco and drove off of the pier, my relief in getting off the swaying thing palpable but there was also no relief from what I’d learned from the tape, which was a bit of nothing but quite possibly everything.

Richard and I made small talk through the next four hours until our shift was over. We’d not encountered a single person while running up and down the full length of the beaches, but then the coming night and the weather conditions easily explained that.

All I could think about was getting home and listening to the rest of the tape, and hoping that the word ‘unseeable’ wasn’t something quite as terrible as I imagined. What could possibly panic three Marines to such an extent? I had to know the answer.

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