As soon as Bob was done talking the meeting turned into bedlam.

“What kind of conclusion is that to come to?” Hoodoo asked into the maelstrom of everyone talking at the same time. “You have no basis in fact for any of your conclusions leading to that. We don’t know that LBJ had anything to do with the assassination of Kennedy, much less his brother. The Secret Service, probably without a doubt, and even maybe the intelligence agencies that would have the opportunity to have the Service aboard. But we’ve got only a bunch of conjecture.”

“We have three dead Marines,” I said, as things quieted. “There is only one likely conclusion to that mystery. “Those three either did something or failed to do something they were required to do…and their failure could not be recorded anywhere.”

“Once again,” Hoodoo said, this time in a calmer tone. “We are speculating, which is part of any investigative process but we’re also talking about the people running the entire United States Government, now and back then.”

“Nixon’s in deep trouble,” Pat replied, changing slightly the dead-end direction Hoodoo seemed to be pursuing. “There’s no question about that. What’s happening in Washington will cascade right out to this seemingly lonely outpost of minor political activity.”

“He’s the one who’s interested in who really killed Kennedy,” Gularte said, “there seems to be general agreement about that or we wouldn’t be here, and being here are allowed to remain here, meeting again and again over a subject that anyone would think would somehow be stopped.”

“Being in trouble, as almost all of us believe,” Richard said, speaking for the first time. “He’s worried that his current weakness will put him exactly where Kennedy was when he was taken out.”

“Apparently, without evidence we have any real knowledge of,” Hoodoo said, his voice soft but still commanding, “Kennedy was going straight into the U.S. Mints printing the country’s money again, and thereby diminishing the need and power of the Federal Reserve, not to mention wanting to visit Area 51 to see for himself if there was anything to the UFO reports generated out of that base.”

“Maybe,” Richard replied. “Kissinger’s a Jew, in fact he was basically rescued from the holocaust, but Nixon hates Jews…and it’s also Jews that mostly control the Federal Reserve.”

“Yes,” but Kissinger’s Nixon biggest ally,” Pat added, making me wonder what else she might know.

“Kissinger makes derogatory jokes about Jews all the time, but why is his name even mentioned here?” I asked, in wonderment.

“It would take somebody of tremendous power and intellect, and someone close to the president, to pull off his early departure,” Richard replied, his voice cold and flat, like he was somehow involved and giving the Dwarfs special knowledge.

“How did we ever get here in this small town?” Steed asked, out of nowhere.

“What do you mean?” Pat asked him back.

“We’re talking about actually investigating the leaders of our country here in San Clemente, as well as the assassination of a former president. How is that possible?”

I felt that the Dwarfs were running out of wiggle room when it came to the group having a justified reason to meet. Some of the material we were covering was simply beyond the ability to work with reasonably without vastly more resources than any of us could possibly assemble. My own personal feeling was one of a low level but ever-growing fear that the part of the Western White House leadership I was now regularly dealing with held an expectation that I was some sort of potential hit man. I knew that Mardian had left the door completely open to the use of violence in handling the Butch situation, and that situation wasn’t completely closed yet either. Bob’s comment hit me harder than I was willing to let on. I hadn’t considered Nixon’s interest in the Kennedy assassinations as being something that was causal or real, much less logically grounded in such a specific way. It was difficult to conceive of someone as powerful as a president being afraid of anything. And where was the Agnew proposition likely to go, and would I somehow be snaked into helping to get rid of the man?

“That’s it,” I finally said, “let’s meet again on Monday or Tuesday night. Pat will call you.”

“What were you up to in Dana Point?” Hoodoo asked.

I looked at the Dwarfs as I paused. Half the group had been involved, but obviously, and for good reason, the San Clemente police force had been left out of the loop, which also reminded me that I was going to have to sit through a tough session with Gates real soon.

“Next week that situation will come to closure, and I’ll be happy to talk about it then.”

Everyone got up at once, which surprised me. I held no real or even imagined leadership role with the Dwarfs but, as had happened in the A Shau over time, the participants in my little outfit seemed to accept me as their leader.

Hoodoo walked toward me and commented in passing, “Watch yourself with Gates, he’s on the hunt.”

I nodded at the taciturn but significantly intelligent detective. Gates was on the hunt, and I knew it was my position on the force that was being hunted. Would the Chief intervene if Gates made a move to fire me? I was pretty sure he would but was by no means certain.

I headed home, walking with Steed, Elwell and Herberich, as Gularte drove the Bronco very slowly behind us along the entire length of the pier.

We talked of nothing along the way, as if the Dwarf’s meetings were nothing to be considered of real consequence.

I drove the Volks to the station, having made my decision to confront Gates at my own time and place of choosing. The Marauder was in its proper reserved slot. Pat was not back yet so the only person I saw at all was Bobby Scruggs, toying with his dispatcher’s radio. I said hello but he just nodded and said, “He’s in his office.”

I breathed in deeply and headed down the long hall. Gates’ door was open, so I walked in without knocking.

“Sit,” he ordered, and then began clearing the top of his desk. “We’re going to settle something right here and right now.”

I sat in the only chair, placed close and in the center of the desk area.

Gates pulled his hefty powerful body in toward the desk, extending his left arm forward and then bending it at the elbow while extending his hand upward.

“Let’s have a go at it hot shot,” he said, with a nasty smile on his face.

“Arm wrestle?” I asked, in disbelief.

“That’s right, tough guy with all the medals,” he replied. “Let’s see what you got, but I’ll leave your right hand intact in case you have to shoot someone.”

I looked at the man across the desk. A man of very powerful build and a man who had no personal reason to dislike me, but obviously did so, intensely.
I knew there was no way I was going to beat him. His hand alone was almost twice the size of mine. But there was no choice in the matter, and we both knew that.

I gripped his big hand with my own.

“Okay, whenever you’re ready,” he said, his smile getting even bigger and nastier than before.”

I put every bit of strength I had in pushing into his hand, barely keeping my left elbow on the surface of the table.

Gates’ hand slammed my own almost instantly onto the surface of the table. I was hurt but not badly so, as I pulled my slightly damaged hand back to hug it into my chest. The hand didn’t hurt much but my left side did. I squeezed my elbow inward to ease that pain. In the heat of the moment I’d forgotten about my wounds, all healed over but still sensitive to the touch, or to the effects of arm wrestling, as I was discovering.

“That all?” I asked, wanting to get out of his office and back home as fast as I could. “You won.”

I stood up as the man sat back in his own chair, a pleased smile having replaced the nasty one across his face.

His face suddenly turned serious. “You have blood on your shirt,” he said, pointing at the center of my chest.

I looked down. A quarter-sized spot of dark blood, slowly growing, was forming on the front of my shirt where it covered my main abdominal incision, which had been scarred over only a few months before.

I backed through the door of his office, pulling my elbow in to cover and put pressure on the wound.

“I’ve got to get home,” I said.

The wound didn’t hurt, my hand did, but I also knew I had to get some four-by-fours to cover the opening before worse might happen. I had hundreds of the bandages stored at home, as well as the kind of adhesive tape that would stick but not tear my skin when I had to pull it off to change bandages.

I turned, once back in the hall, and rushed through the building to my car. The drive home was short but problematic as I didn’t want to take the pressure off the wound or use my hurting left hand. I drove with my right hand, having to shift very quickly with the same hand. I made it through both stop lights on green between the station and my apartment, wondering what kind of lie to tell my wife because the truth was simply too stupid to relate. I also wondered what I’d tell Gates when I saw him again. I didn’t want the department to know that I was quite as fragile as I really was. The department didn’t tolerate much fragility in its officers, and with good reason.

My wife was her usual wonderful self, having my wound stripped, cleaned and bandaged in what seemed like minutes. Her expression while she worked told me that she also didn’t believe one word of my explanation for either the re-opened wound or the injury to my hand. I crawled into bed and called it a day, with Julie playing on the floor next to the bed, making believe she played there all the time, when she really never did. Bozo sat nearby, his statuesque body upright, making him look like a really well-formed work of animal art. He never sat there either I thought, just before relieving sleep overcame me.

Gularte was at my door the following morning. His gentle knock belied the potentially violent internal wrestling he was constantly involved in fighting back.

I answered the door in my robe and furry slippers, my wife was awake but not up, while Julie, long awake and up, rode her agonizingly annoying electric cycle along the walls of the entire downstairs.

“I’ll put on the coffee,” I said, leading Jim in toward the kitchen. One of Bart Abrate’s brilliant, good taste in leather bar stool seats drew Gularte in like it was made to look like some sinuously beautiful woman.

I worked getting the top off of the Maxwell House coffee can, pouring water from the tap into the pot, and then scooping five large spoonsful of grounds into the percolator cup set atop the long stem. My hurt hand wasn’t helping but Gularte was too involved in his own stuff to notice.

“I finally got it,” Gularte said, “so, I just had to get over here and let you know.”

“Know what,” I asked, plugging the pot’s cord into a wall socket.

“The song you played in the Bronco while we were taking Butch out to Trestles Beach,” Gularte replied, his voice excited but clear.

“Yes, Rider’s in the Storm,” I said, mystified by Gularte’s obvious excitement about having gotten something that maybe I’d missed.

“I looked that song up,” Gularte went on, “it’s a song by the group called the Doors.”

“True,” I confirmed.

“The doors!” Gularte exclaimed, a great smile appearing across his facial features.

I waited, not changing my expression at all. The coffee pot began to gurgle as the first small amounts of water boiled up through the stem and into the glass knob that served as the very top of the small but brilliantly designed machine.

“The doors, the Airstream doors were taken and then put back,” You chose that song because of the group’s name, not the lyrics I was trying to make sense of.”

“Yes,” I finally replied, adding nothing more.

The percolator began to burble more and more often, until the sounds dominating the kitchen, even over and above the constant but changing whine of Julie’s obnoxious electric cycle.

“I know how you think now,” Gularte concluded, obviously proud of himself for coming to the conclusion he had. “That’s why you’re alive and everybody else from over there with you is dead.”

I made a stop at the Dana Point Marina. I wanted to check and make sure that everything was going smoothly with Butch, and also to visit Cobb who was supposed to hve the $1500 for the insurance premium.

I parked the Volks not far from where Richard’s yacht was, which was also only a few slips from where Cobb’s boat was tied up. Richard’s comments at the Dwarf’s meeting had disturbed me, and Cobb’s presence at the scene bothered me even more. The woman had had something to do with the Kennedy assassination. I just felt it at my core, and now here she was again, right at the scene of another potential nightmare. I walked over to her yacht.

The cabin door was closed and all the little portholes on the starboard side were covered from the inside.

I leaped the short distance onto the flat deck and stepped down into the cockpit, walked across it and knocked.

The door opened instantly, as if she’d been standing and waiting for my knock. I was taken a bit aback, not just by her promptness in answering but also by the fact that she was dressed to the nines. Most sailors don’t wear cocktail dresses and heels inside their own boats, not unless there’s that kind of social event about to take place aboard. But there was nobody around at all. I wasn’t even sure that Richard was in his yacht.

“Hello,” I said, very hesitantly.

“Come on in,” she replied. “I’ve been expecting you, or maybe that Staff Sergeant instead.” She stepped to a port side counter and poured herself a glass of red wine.

“You want one?” she asked, but stepped toward me before I could answer.

“You probably don’t drink,” she went on, not waiting for an answer, her voice welcoming and warm in spite of her attire and out of place presence.

“You had something to do with the Kennedy nightmare and now you’re here, which seems terribly coincidental,” I said, knowing I was risking everything on one play.

“Who are you? Charon? The dragoman welcoming departing souls crossing the river Styx?” she replied, stunning me.

I knew something of the Greek mythology, but not that much. Another brilliant student I’d hung around with during my St. Norbert college days had used the Charon character in his poems. When I explained that I didn’t understand the poems he taught me the mythical foundations they were based on. The poems were beyond me but the lesson in mythology had stuck. I wondered how many glasses of wine the woman had consumed before I arrived, or, if not completely under alcoholic influence, why she might think I’d understand a word of what she was saying.

“You’re here because of Spiro Agnew, aren’t you?” I asked, again risking everything, as far as getting any information out of her was concerned.

“The man gets to live, but he’s been playing with fire, so he’s got to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

I felt like a student again, in her presence. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, the ‘To be or not to be,’ section her quote was taken from. The woman was treating me as if she knew I understood every word she was saying, but how could she make that assumption.

“What do you really do?” I asked the woman, hoping the answer would not be a long one. Being in her presence was vaguely discomforting, although I had no real good reason for feeling that way.

“The boat crashing on your beach, it being from Mexico filled with diesel fuel drums and my association with some members of the current government probably gives me away anyway,” she said, before taking a sip of her wine. “I’m a changer,” she said, taking another sip and smiling in a strange ‘knowing’ way before placing the empty glass back on the counter.

“Like you, I think, although at least I know it.”

I thought immediately of my conversation with Mardian at Nixon’s poolside. He’d said almost the same thing using different words. Why I was being included by both powerful people I had no idea.

“I’ve got to go,” I said to the strangely attractive but kind of scary woman.

“To visit your new friend, I presume,” she replied. “Try not to hurt him. He only thinks he’s tough, not like you. See, you are changing him.”

“Thanks,” I replied, for no good reason I could think of.

“Money’s on the counter there,” Cobb said, pointing with one of her sharp-pointed red fingernails.

I didn’t bother to open the envelope, instead folding it and placing the seemingly too light package in my front pocket.   I exited through the cabin door, and then hopped up from the cockpit to the deck before leaping across the short open expanse between the boat and pier.

My hand hurt and my center-line incision, as well, but in looking down I couldn’t see any blood. My wife had gone back to using the Saran Wrap to make sure nothing got through the four-by-fours to give me away.

Butch was inside his trailer, as I expected, since he usually tried to quit the project around four in the afternoon. Of course, since his Airstream was right inside the construction project, the workers, supervisors and more, constantly came to his door whether he was supposedly working or not.

“You’re back,” he said, opening the door wide.

I handed him the folded envelope, as I stepped through the opening, which he quickly took, glancing quickly over his shoulder. I looked past him to see a young man sitting at what Butch called his business office desk.

“Little Mardian, right here to make your acquaintance,” Butch said, closing the door behind him.

“Hello,” I replied with a smile, holding out my right hand.

“I didn’t ask for and don’t need your help,” Little Mardian said, not holding out his own hand or getting to his feet. “You got sent by my father. I don’t need his help either.”

“I don’t know what help you’re talking about,” I replied, glancing back at Butch, who stood nearby with a slightly guilty look on his face.

“I thought he’d be happy to have some help,” Butch said.

“Just get the hell out,” Mardian yelled at me.

I backed up a few feet, dropping my right hand to my side. I was in no shape for any kind of physical confrontation I knew, but the kid just seemed to be asking for it, what with his white sweater thrown over his back with the arms folded across his chest. He was the picture of a complete spoiled brat coming out of some Ivy League school back east. I hated the look and his phony tough independent kid act even more.

“It’s Butch’s trailer, so it’ll have to be Butch who invites me to leave,” I replied, my voice soft, wondering if I couldn’t make an exception and take the kid on in spite of my wounds.

“You see?” Butch said, his voice almost too soft to hear.

“Yes, I get it now,” I replied, my eyes never leaving the kid’s eyes.

No wonder Butch had worked to deny the Mardian in front of me any kind of help or assistance in getting his restaurant built. But he was Mardian’s son and I also knew that the man was at least as dangerous as Cobb and I wanted no more enemies or threats in my life just then.
I turned and walked to the door. Over my shoulder I said my last words to Little Mardian.

“We’ll meet one day again,” I said.

“Not too likely,” he replied with a snort, unaware that I’d used a saying common to police officers in the department, when they wanted to say something innocent but held a real threat in secret reserve.

I knew I’d meet the kid again and the next meeting would be entirely different. The only thing I wanted to do was schedule that meeting for as soon as possible.


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