The single word “unseeable” ate at my foundations. Instinctively, I knew that word had nothing to do with nuclear power or any of what went on at the plant. The word didn’t refer, by definition, to something being unable to be seen because it was too secret to be allowed to be viewed or discuss with anyone about being viewed. No, the word itself meant invisible. I’d only heard the word used once before in regular, or any other, conversation. A professor at the University of New York, where I graduated before entering the Corps, referred to a light that had passed low and at phenomenal speed one weekend night. He mentioned to the class, when a student brought it up, that whatever the passing light appeared to be it was unseeable.
“But I saw it myself,” the young female student said.
“This is a sociology class,” the professor said, his voice seemingly old and tired, although he was anything but that. “We can study every facet of human group behavior and go quite beyond that in sociology but your freedom, when it comes to UFO or alien stuff, if it exists, is severely limited. It’s not limited by the administration at this institution. It’s limited by social circumstances. If I were to start teaching about that subject, then I’d quickly have a bevy of students but likely no job. Whatever that was or wasn’t shall remain unseeable.”
Whatever those Marines had seen had led directly to their deaths, by either panic-induced accident or deliberate execution.
I had to listen to the rest of the tape, although I didn’t want to. How was I going to contain myself to hold the kind of stuff inside that was coming out of those audible little reels? By listening to the tapes and then telling no one what was on them to protect myself, I was sealing a part of myself inside. The only approval I was likely to ever receive would be my own. If I was to tell more, beyond what had already been revealed to Gularte, my wife and incidentally, to Bob Elwell, what credibility I had would very quickly slip away unless I produced the tapes, and I was coming to believe that if I did that then my very life would likely slip away.
What could those Marines have seen and what was going on inside that huge concrete and steel ‘golf ball’ of a facility that might involve, at the very least, covering up the accidental death of the Marines, or, and this was a thought I didn’t want to have, their execution. I had no idea about whether the door complex between containment areas and their opening, closing, locking, or whatever was truly an automatic function or might just be command enabled from the control center, a center I’d never been inside nor was I ever likely to be inside.
I thought about what I’d given the Dwarfs, wondering why I’d been so forthcoming. I needed the group and the others I’d met to balance myself in the new culture I’d come to find back home when I’d gotten out of the hospital, at least that was Paul’s interpretation of why I was placing so much trust and importance in people I had little experience with over time.
After the meeting, to which there was no real conclusion, with all the Dwarfs talking excitedly about the new discoveries, I filed out to finish the beach patrol tour with Richard. There was nobody on the recent storm-tossed beaches as we traveled up and down the coast in silence, at least for a while. Small talk broke that silence but after an hour of talking about mostly nonsense Richard broke the ice and opened up a discussion about the data I’d provided to the Dwarfs.
“I was unaware of the Nixon connection to the assassination,” Richard said, out of the blue, after bringing up some kind of chatter about the salinity of the spindrift that blew off the very top of moving ocean waves.
“Nixon was there, although he claims to have departed just after the Kennedys arrived,” I replied, ignoring the ‘connection’ subject Richard interjected in his statement.
Since the statement hadn’t been a question, I might have failed to respond at all but being alone in a slowly moving and sand-articulating vehicle in the dark with only one other person in the car wasn’t going to allow for such failures to respond. Working shifts with any of the other officers brought those officers, and myself, closer together, whether any of us really wanted to be closer or not.
“He claims?” Richard asked, turning his head to look at me when he said the two words, slightly delaying the time between their delivery.
“Apparently, from what I could find out, which isn’t much, although he was a former vice president, not entitled to either a Secret Service detail or the ability to fly on governmental aircraft he was aboard such a plane. Governmental aircraft, I’ve been told, if flying short distances under visual rules, don’t have to file flight plans before they fly.”
“I didn’t know that” Richard responded, after a few seconds of delay. Having come to know the man, however slightly, and his odd connections, I was surprised that he seemed surprised unless he was lying, which I also knew he was damned good at.
“So, what do you think really was the case?” he asked, finally.
There was no way I was going to let Richard know that I not only possessed the tapes but that I’d been able to access what was on them, at least two of them anyway. I could not tell him the truth, that Jackie Kennedy’s voiced suspicion that Nixon was lying about his departure date or time had been enough for me. The woman had lost her husband, her position in life, and her children’s father. Her palpable anger came right through the recording which made me all the more curious as to why she was visiting Nixon in the first place and what she wanted from the man. It was becoming obvious to everyone that Nixon was on his way out as president, one way or the other, and any threat of assassination involvement in the Kennedy mess wasn’t going to change, add, or take away from that very likely coming event. I had nowhere to go, however, in finding out more, unless whoever made the original tapes came forward, and that was unlikely. The way the tape snippets I possessed were being preserved and moved indicated that whoever made the tapes, and Bob Mardian was my main suspect, knew damn well just how damning whatever was on them might come to be for anyone and everyone involved.
“It’s hard to believe he was there at all, given the size of coincidence that would have had to occur to allow that, unless he was somehow, even marginally, involved. No Pepsi Cola advertising thing could change that.”
I drove the Bronco slowly, in the soft sand up near the big rocks protecting the railroad tracks, my mind almost one hundred percent occupied in thinking about the revelation I’d just heard. I hadn’t mentioned any Pepsi connection to anyone and I was nearly certain that there were very few and limited sources that might have that information if it was true. I glanced to my right, taking a quick look at the side of Richard’s face, as he stared straight ahead through the windshield.
I drove on, racking my brain to recall Nixon’s exact words when he spoke to Jackie. Nixon’s excuse for being in Dallas was the “Pepsi” thing, using the exact word ‘thing’ that Richard had just repeated. There were only three possible places Richard might have gotten his information from, and none of the three of them were from me. Either he’d also somehow heard that part of the original tape, since I only possessed a copy of the original, he’d heard the information from the copied reel I possessed, or he was close enough to whoever made the tapes to get the material in conversation.
“If the Marines were drowned in fresh water, then that means they died inside the nuclear facility and their bodies and possessions were part of a detailed but fumbled attempt to cover that fact,” I replied, now fully understanding that I wasn’t talking to some minor player in whatever was going on in and around the Western White House.
Richard wasn’t some sort of low-down servant like I was. He simply knew too much, and he was willing to let me know he knew too much, which brought me to questions I didn’t want to ask him. Why was he telling me? What did he want, since revealing himself to me involved a lot of risk to him?
I waited for some answer as we drove on toward Trestles Beach in the darkness through bad but not terrible weather. I would have canceled the remainder of our shift on the beaches, because of the weather and lack of anyone on the beaches, but I wasn’t about to do anything to interrupt our totally unexpected conversation.
“There was that” Richard replied, responding smoothly to my change of subject attempt.
“What was that?” I asked straight out.
“What was what?” Richard answered but said no more.
I waited. I was dealing with a functionary of the highest order, I’d decided, so the man knew a whole lot more than he was ever likely to tell me, but I had to ask that one question that I couldn’t comfortably back away from. I turned the Bronco around and headed back toward the base of the pier. There was no point in continuing the beach patrol session and Richard wasn’t going to be more forthcoming, I knew.
“You don’t want to know,” Richard finally said, with a sigh in his voice, as if saying the words was a limited release of some huge frustration.
“You didn’t want to know either, I presume,” I said, wondering why I was bothering to continue at all. I was in very deep, and I knew it. Just how much deeper did I want or need to go?
“No, but then you guessed that, I presume,” Richard replied.
We rode toward the railroad gates in silence. Whatever had happened that afternoon at San Onofre had been of such stunning import that three Marines had been panicked from seeing it, had lost their lives because of it, had been the cause of a ridiculously incompetent coverup, and become the subject of an internal White House inquest or investigation that was vital enough for someone to have recorded it.
When we’d finished the patrol, fueled up at the yard, and parked the Bronco back at the station, Richard and I headed for our cars nearby. I was getting inside the Volks when he turned and walked back toward me. I stood back up, standing with the door open, and waited. He motioned me to come toward him, stopping twenty feet from where I was. I closed the door on the Volks and went to where he stood.
“All of this, everything you’ve been looking into, has been done for the good of everyone, or the maximum number of people,” Richard said, his voice little more than a whisper. “No one was intended to get hurt, much less killed, and no one needs to get hurt or killed from this point onward. There’s no corruption in any of this and Kennedy’s assassination has nothing to do with any of it. You’re doing fine. Don’t get yourself hurt here over nothing.”
“Ah, okay,” was all I could think to answer.
“The television program called Lost in Space. You’ve seen it?” he asked, seeming to head completely away from the subject he’d been discussing.
“Yes,” I replied, having seen the sort of foolish but funny science fiction sitcom.
“Danger Will Robinson, Danger,” he whispered, before turning and heading off to his car.
I went over to the Volks and got in, watching as Richard’s gorgeous Mercedes drove past me toward the driveway out of the lot. I breathed in and out deeply several times, wishing I had one of Gunny’s cigarettes to take a few puffs of before coughing my guts out. Was there to me no relief at all from the pressure cooker I’d somehow slipped myself into? I twisted the ignition key to the first stop but didn’t go further and start the car, instead turning the knob and playing whatever might come out of the radio.
“In the year 7510, If God’s a-comin’, he oughta make it by then, Maybe he’ll look around Himself and say, Guess it’s time for the Judgment day” came blaring out. “In the Year 2525” was the name of the song, although I couldn’t remember who recorded it, I did remember, vividly however, that it’d come out almost exactly at the time that my brother’s death was announced to me in May of 1969.
I drove home, to find Mary already asleep in our bed, with Julie down hours before. Bozo wasn’t sleeping, however, and was right there, sitting on the steps to the second story when I walked by him. He had his entrance and exit to the apartment through a hole in the screen that he’d made in the downstairs bedroom nobody ever used. When he used it was something of a mystery because he always seemed to be around when I was. I stopped on my way up to stare down into his eyes, wondering why the old, battered cat never gave way when I approached. He sat like he was waiting for me to challenge him, which I never did. His eyes projected a seemingly expressionless gaze but I didn’t interpret it that way. It was like he was counting on me to do the right thing for him and everyone in his pride.
I went into the bedroom to change out of my uniform and get the tape deck, which still held the Marine tape, with a half-filled blank one on spindles on top of it. I knew my wife was awake, but she didn’t move and said nothing. I’d left the room in the dark, working mostly by feel, wanting to bother her as little as possible, although I knew full well she’d never sleep through any of my exits from the bedroom or my returns to it. I took the deck downstairs, Bozo having disappeared to somewhere else in the structure. He was there, I knew, but I didn’t know where, and there was no point in looking for him. Listening to the tape was a solitary experience.
I set the deck up on the dining room table Mary and I’d bought from the Sears Catalogue, soon after we’d moved into the first apartment in our lives that had enough size to possess such an area. My wife had used a reddish mixture of paints to create an aged effect that worked great, except Jules had scratched the initials J.S. into one corner of the top. My questions as to how a toddler so young could have come up with the letters to scratch in, much less do the scratching, had gone unanswered.
I plugged in the deck and got ready.
“Danger Will Robinson, Danger,” I intoned, under my breath, as Bozo leaped up on the table to sit between me and my daughter’s initials. ‘How fitting’ I would have said, but there was no one to say it to.
Putting the earphones on once again, I clutched them with my hands to give a better seal to the thin foam cushions that surround the cups.
“What command structure was in place to fill the outer containment chamber with water?” the voice asked.
“How all that works is conjectural by me,” Horton replied, taking a few seconds to consider. “All of that stuff, how the operations of the plant really work in detail is classified, anyway.”
“We’re all cleared for top secret, Mr. Horton, as I’m sure you realize,” the voice said, sounding bored and not a little frustrated.
“It’s not about that,” Horton replied. “It’s about having a need to know and being able to prove that.”
“Proceed, please, Mr. Horton, with just answering the questions as best you can.”
“I believe, and that’s all it is,” Horton replied, “that every action that might be taken in that area of the plant would be, even if ‘automatic,’ command interruptible and interrogatable.”
I stopped the tape. There was that word again. Interrogatable. Why would any machine have the capability to be interrogated? It just didn’t seem to make any sense, but it certainly did to everyone I was listening to. I pushed the button again.
“Tell us about what went on inside the main containment chamber at any time from the beginning to the end, when the chamber was emptied and bodies removed,” the voice said, not phrasing the words as a question, and the man’s tone growing deeper and potentially more threatening.
“I already told you that I don’t know,” Horton replied, the tone of his voice rising in response to the same threat I felt in listening.
“Alright, aside from classified data and what you actually observed,” the voice began, this time with a much gentler tone, “tell us what you believe about it.”
There was a long silence, as the tape hissed away and I listened ever more intently, in order not to miss anything at all. Whatever the ‘unseeable’ was I badly wanted to know.
“I believe that there was something in there of new technology that was being demonstrated or shown by someone or something that was, well, too frightening to have a normal person see and not be terrified to their very core like the Marines were. Although those men were only enlisted Marines they were still hardened, compared to regular unselected and untrained civilians. They would seemingly have been able to handle more than a regular person but they could not, as evidenced by their alleged behavior. This is all theoretical however as I know nothing of the facts. I don’t know what was in their minds, nor what the officials and or workers on the scene might have been thinking or even doing. I’m only the CEO of the overseeing company, not the project itself.”
“We understand your frustration and appreciate your opinion,” the voice responded, “and this concludes our questioning. One other thing though.”
The voice stopped, while a discussion went on that wasn’t understandable at all no matter how I pressed on the earphones to try to hear it.
“One of our people has proposed a question that I’d like you to answer, aside from this investigation,” the voice said, the tone of the man’s voice being almost supplicating instead of flat analytical, or domineering.
The tape hissed, while both the voice, the people obviously with the man behind it, and I, waited. Seconds went by.
“Go ahead,” Horton replied, sounding like he was near the end of his rope.
“Would it be better to tell you what was there or not tell you what was there, to secure with certainty that none of what happened, that you know about, think or believe, ever again gets discussed in your life?”
I stopped the tape to consider. The question was shocking beyond my experience. The threat alone of the asking was so evident and intense, yet delivered in the form of a simple question asking for assistance in coming to a satisfactory conclusion.
“Who in hell asks questions like that?” I quietly inquired of Bozo, who’d taken to laying on the table, his paws extended toward me like he was a miniature cat version of the Sphinx.
The question made me feel fear course through me and I wasn’t there or being asked it. I stopped to think about myself. I wasn’t feeling fear for Horton, that, and his fate was already a part of history, as I didn’t have any dating on the tapes to allow me to know exactly when they had been made. I was afraid for myself. I could very well be asked the same question at some point in the future, I just knew. Which answer might include a death sentence, was the question I asked myself. If Horton chose to know, which I wanted him to choose because the tape might contain the real answer to the mystery, would that not put him in possession of information that might cause the unknown group of powerful people obviously behind the voice to have him taken out? If Horton chose not to know, then could the group decide that his not wanting to know mean that he already knew but was not revealing that or that he didn’t know but would likely figure it all out over time. Again, a similar but less abruptly delivered, yet unspoken, threat?
I pushed the button once more, moving the button hand back to my earphone to not miss a word.
“I choose not to know,” Horton responded, sending disappointment coursing through me.
“This interview is then concluded,” the voice said, as the tape went back to hissing.
I listened for minutes more, until the tape was done, the dangling end from the inscribed wheel going round and round endlessly.
I rewound the tape, pulled it from the machine, and headed upstairs, Bozo jumping down from the table and running through the kitchen as if in a real hurry to get somewhere, but I didn’t get far. As I crossed the living room toward the light switch and the bottom of the stairs, there was a light knocking at the front door, only feet from where I stood. I leaned down to my right and opened the top of the stereo. I gently placed the deck and the tape I’d removed and then reclosed the top, glad that there was enough room to cover it all.
I stood at the door, hoping it was a drunken lifeguard or cop looking for a place to sleep it off, before I unlocked and opened it.
The porch light wasn’t lit and I didn’t hit the switch because I didn’t need to. Richard stood at my door, still in uniform.
“I’m afraid we have to go in,” he said, an uncomfortable look on his face.
“Go in where?” I asked, in complete surprise.
“You know,” he replied, waiting.
“Who in hell is there at this hour?” I asked.
“They are, a small group of interested men.”
“I’ve got to get dressed and tell my wife,” I said, knowing I had no choice in the matter. I’d revealed nothing in much consequence, either to the Dwarfs or to Richard in the Bronco on patrol. He’d done most of the talking.
I went upstairs, noting that Bozo was nowhere to be seen.
“Danger, Will Robinson.”