There was nobody at the Galloway restaurant when I showed up, half an hour before it was supposed to open. There were certain advantages and disadvantages I presumed in owning or running a restaurant and living in attached quarters. Lorraine was indefatigable, and Tom wasn’t far behind her. I’d asked Gularte to show up but I had no idea what time he got up in the morning. The rescue out beyond Trestles had taken it out of me much more so than I would have ever thought. There was little question if I wanted to think about it, which I didn’t, that my daily workouts, as diminished as they might be, had helped save my life, but the price was still being paid. I’d slept, but fitfully, my wife waking me up constantly to see if I was still breathing, or at least so I accused her.
Gularte walked through the door. I looked behind him to make sure Mike Manning wasn’t with him. There were things I needed to talk to Gularte about that I didn’t want anyone else to hear or overhear.
Gularte pulled out a chair and sat down.
“The SCUBA equipment idea won’t work,” he said.
Lorraine eased around him as he finished and deposited a mug of black coffee in front of him.
“You guys are going diving?” she asked, making me frown.
“Not really, just thinking about it, “I replied, mildly irritated by Gularte’s potentially revealing comment, even if Lorraine and Tom had proven pretty trustworthy and dependable.
Lorraine headed toward the back of the counter. When she was out of range I whispered to Gularte, “Would you be more careful, and keep your voice down.”
“We’re not SCUBA qualified, either one of us,” Gularte said, sipping from his coffee cup, a cup I knew he wouldn’t offer to pay for, even though the Galloways kept the cost of a cup down to forty cents.
“I’ve done a bit of diving on the reefs out in Hawaii,” I offered, knowing my argument for proceeding with a dive was weak but having no other avenue for accessing the trunk of the Porsche.
“A work dive at night?” Gularte asked, “A work dive without bright lights, probably one atmosphere down, and the divers without so much as a key to that frunk, as you call it?”
“You’ve got a point,” I conceded, drinking from my own cup and wondering where to go from where we were. I’d made a number of nearly terminal mistakes on the ‘Yellow Submarine’ mission, as Gularte referred to it.
“Butch,” I suddenly said aloud, making sure Lorraine was nowhere nearby.
The woman was almost literally a sponge for any information, which worked great for helping me in my insurance sales but otherwise was something to be very carefully and consistently aware of.
“I apologize,” Gularte said, his voice barely more than a whisper, his gaze directed out toward Del Mar Avenue, which had no traffic at the early hour and only our cars parked at the curb.
I waited, not knowing what Gularte was apologizing for but not wanting to break his obviously serious train of thought and expression.
“For yesterday,” Gularte went on. “I’m not that good in the water. I took one look at that roiled mess of sea state and knew I’d be useless out there. But what I really apologize for was not even making the attempt.”
“No apology necessary,” I replied, with a small laugh. “It was automatic on my part and I’m pretty experienced in handling rough or even wild surf.”
“So I noticed,” Gularte said, starting to loosen up a bit and relax. “How do you feel?”
“I’m okay,” I lied.
My wife had bandaged me up once more, the prolonged exposure to the storm-tossed sea water and the tremendous effort of just surviving out in it having re-opened my center incision a few inches. It hadn’t bled, however, and I was thankful for that. The Saran wrap kept the bandages in place but was a bit uncomfortable as it was trapped in heat and perspiration. The SCUBA idea had been a bit hare-brained, I realized, in more ways than those mentioned by Gularte. I was in no physical shape to do any kind of underwater dive, particularly one to be made at night with little light and no key to the vehicle.
“What about Butch?” Gularte asked.
“We’ve got to have the Porsche raised and then get private access to it before insurance investigators, the police, or anyone else,” I replied. “Butch has the equipment and I think we can trust him, at least to a certain extent.”
“But not with whatever might be in that thing,” Gularte said, needlessly stating the obvious. I wasn’t at all certain that even Gularte and I wanted to know what was in that frunk.
“How in hell do we explain why we know the car’s down there?”
“Richard,” I replied, figuring out how to plan the new mission as I sat and thought about it. “We need a big sailing yacht to launch and encounter the wreck, which would allow Butch to use equipment to see what was down there and then pull the Porsche up.”
“Great,” Gularte said, with a smile and a renewed sense of enthusiasm. “Another mission, I love it, but what’s the name this time?”
I was once again struck by just how important mission names, particularly those identified with powerful and popular song lyrics, really were. I didn’t truly understand it but the Marines down in the A Shau had driven its importance deeply inside me. I thought for a few seconds, thinking about our situation and what likely had to be done to extricate us, or at least me, from it.
“The Last Farewell,” I said, looking out the window onto the dead street displayed before us.
“Whittaker,” I think that guy is called,” Gularte mused, more to himself than to me. “But that’s a song about dying but then maybe being saved at the end.”
“Like the Porsche, you mean?” I quoted the lyrics of the song just before its ending: “And should I return home safe again to England I shall watch the English mist roll through the dale…”
“So, we just have to change England to Germany?” Gularte replied like his conclusion displayed some sort of brilliance or wisdom.
“Very funny,” I replied.
In the valley I’d come out of none of the Marines down there ever voiced humor about the mission names or the lyrics they were derived from. But I wasn’t in that valley anymore, I reminded myself, staring out the window. There was nobody outside, dawn was in full evidence at the horizon with dimmed light that would shine brightly, and burning white at midday was instead a soft spreading glow that made the expectations of greater warmth and visibility something well worth waiting for.
“So, we have to bring Butch in and Richard too, who hopefully can get hold of the kind of sailboat we need, from someone who might risk damaging the keel of that expensive thing to accomplish what? I mean in their view. Obviously, Cobb knows. That will be five of us.”
“True,” I replied, wondering where he was going with his logic.
“We’re going to prison,” he finally said, not looking over at me. “Five people can’t or won’t keep a secret, especially if only two of them are at risk.”
“True,” I said after a few seconds of thought. “I mean about the five people keeping a secret. That means we both have to get the Porsche raised and grab whatever’s inside the frunk. We can likely include Butch throwing in with us. My job alone is to make sure about Richard and Cobb.”
“How are you going to do that?” Gularte asked.
“Simple, really,” I said, my mind already racing into that part of The Last Farewell. “They just have to be made to understand that they are at as much risk, or preferably more than we are.”
Gularte finished his coffee and put the cup down softly and quietly on the ceramic saucer.
“Sometimes Junior, you scare me,” he said, rising to his feet. “What do we do now?”
“We’ve got to have a visit with Butch, and then the other two,” I replied, “and we’ve got to do it right away.”
“That Cobb woman and Richard, both, they are scary too,” Gularte said, actually reaching into his Gurkha shorts pocket for some change.
He pulled his hand out empty. I wanted to smile but didn’t. It was forty cents plus a buck tip, not worth making anything out of. Gularte’s worth was way beyond that.
“The point is that we are not scary,” I replied. “And that’s a good thing.
They think they are predators and so they exude a bit of malice and threat. We are real predators and don’t give any of that away. Advantage in.”
“That’s what I mean,” Gularte murmured.
“What’s what you mean” I asked, getting a bit frustrated.
“How do you think that way?”
“What way?” I asked back, mystified. When Gularte made no effort to explain himself, I went on, “I’ll see you at your place in an hour. It’s too early for anyone to be up yet so we can only make sure we know what we’re doing.”
The door had opened to the restaurant as I’d been finishing.
“What are you doing?” Mike Manning asked, walking in and by Gularte.
Gularte stepped past him with a brief nod and then went through the door.
“How’s it going, Jimmy?” Mike said, taking Gularte’s empty chair.
Lorraine cleared Gularte’s cup and saucer quickly, replacing it with a fresh one for Mike. I hated the name Jimmy but didn’t complain. I’d hated Junior at first too but come to accommodate that down in the valley. Beach Ball and Beach Boy were merely bothersome nicknames and it counted for something that Mrs. Nixon at least recognized my existence on the planet and on the edge of her world with the Beach Boy thing. I frowned but didn’t make any comment. It was too early to get hold of either Butch or Richard so Mike’s arrival would at least burn up some time.
“So, what is it that you’re doing with him,” Mike said, taking a too-large swig of his hot coffee and almost spitting it onto his saucer. When he recovered himself, he went on. “Gularte was a good Marine, but back in the real world he’s a bit rough around the edges if you get my drift.”
I got his drift, and the accuracy of his opinion, but Gularte, being rough around the edges was exactly who I needed in my life if I was going to pull myself through the variety of situations, I’d somehow plunged into neck-deep. There was no way that I was going to share the current mission with him, however. The Last Farewell could not only be the mission’s name but actually describe my departure from normal human company or freedom. Gularte had proven himself in ‘combat’ so to speak, even accepting more responsibility than needed for not diving into the rough surf and very likely losing his life to help me. I totally understood and accepted that not just in my new reality of life (I wanted living people in it, not any more dead people), but also in my A Shau driven understanding of just how flawed we all are. Mike had also demonstrated that under real combat circumstances, but his own acceptance of that, I knew, would be a long time in coming, if ever. I’d found the tool of redemption, thanks to a hippy therapist, and Young’s survival was a part of that. The rescue was uplifting in so many ways, as it helped reinforce the fact that the times I’d run or hidden under fire, were exceptions to the fact of what my core was really made of. A patched-up core but a decent one.“
“What’s that strangely ugly cat doing?” Mike suddenly said, changing the subject entirely.
I looked out the window toward where Mike was pointing.
Bozo sat on the curb, facing us, and staring directly back at me through the big glass window.
“What the hell?” I whispered. The cat was a good three blocks from our apartment and had to have come across city streets and traffic, even though it was a bit early for much in the way of vehicular danger to be present. It was uncommon. I explained to Mike what Bozo was in my life, and then, before I could finish, the cat was gone, he turned and rushed down the sidewalk almost too fast for me to follow.
“That’s weird,” Mike remarked. “I’ve never seen a cat on this street, not since I’ve been here, and it turns out to be your cat, even weirder, and I’ve never seen a cat as strange-looking as that one. Only you.”
I sat thinking. What was in that strange cat’s mind, not only to appear in front of Galloways but to do so and then stare through the window at me? There was one explanation that made sense, but it was too far out to even mention to Mike. I pulled out a couple of dollar bills from my wallet and tossed them on the table.
“I’ve got to go,” was all I said, moving quickly toward the door but not rushing enough to attract Lorraine or Mike’s attention.
There was no way I was going to try to explain that this ‘swamp pussy,’ as my neighbor called Bozo, had come to get me. It was just too bizarre for almost anyone to consider, and even a bit hard for me to internalize.
I drove the Volks back to the apartment. Coming down Cabrillo I knew immediately that there might be a problem. A compound Lincoln staff car, one of the ‘real’ limo versions, was sitting across the street from my driveway. I pulled in, shut the Volks down, and then climbed the stairs to get inside. Mary was waiting for me, and I realized immediately why Bozo had gone to the trouble he obviously had, although how he could possibly have known that I was inside Galloways would probably be a mystery for the rest of my life. My wife was emotionally upset, which meant that Julie, sitting on the couch clutching Mrs. Beasley, was upset with her.
“What’s going on?” I asked, taking a deep breath. Mary was pretty hard to upset so my expectation of what was causing it wasn’t good.
“They came to the door, two of them, and they said you’d be gone for a few days,” she said, her voice flat and unemotional, as she got control of herself.
“They made me pack a suitcase for you and then took it out to that car. They’ve never acted like that before, just telling me what to do.”
“I understand, but let’s find out what’s going on first,” I replied as calmly as I could. I was as uncomfortable as my wife but additionally, I couldn’t afford to be gone for days at all, not at the critical juncture involving the ‘missing’ Porsche.
“What did you pack?” I asked, wondering what she’d have thrown together in such short order under extreme duress.
“Some shirts, sox, and stuff,” she replied, making no effort to go into detail.
Somehow I knew I’d probably not find my Dopp kit inside the suitcase, and certainly not my Colt 45. It was rumored that metal detectors were required for boarding aircraft in New Orleans and that this practice would spread, but so far nothing had come of it, at least not in traveling aboard Huges Air West out of either National in D.C. or at the Orange County International Airport I would be flying from. At the stage things had reached in my participation with the Western White House and the mess that was rapidly developing with the president, I wasn’t about to travel anywhere without the .45, or maybe even the .44 Magnum.
“I’ll be back,” I said and went out through the door.
When I got outside I went down the stairs and directly approached the driver’s door of the waiting limo.
The window went down.
“I’m taking my personal vehicle, as I’m presuming we’re headed for the compound,” I said, hoping they’d allow that and not wait for an answer.
Nothing was said to my back as I crossed Cabrillo and got into the Volks, glad I’d left the keys in the ignition. I didn’t bother to follow the limo, instead pulling out and heading to South Ola Vista, thinking about the fact that I was upset enough about what might be waiting inside my apartment that I’d completely forgotten about the car keys.
I beat the guys in the limo to the gate, parked, and went inside, nodding to the Marines who’d saluted me on the way in. I might be nobody, I thought, but I was somebody to the Marine Corps, which was enough. The Corps was apparently giving me a big decoration, which was a lot more than I was getting from the members of the Western White House.
I walked inside without any opposition from the Secret Service located just inside the big double doors. I made it all the way past the door leading over to the residence, and breathed a sigh of relief, until coming to the end of the hall and standing to look at Haldeman’s and Ehrlichman’s desks. Nobody was at them. I turned my head to the left. The men were sitting where I’d met with them twice before. Neither meeting had gone that well, and here I was again, although there was a third man, sitting next to Haldeman on the couch. Haldeman and Ehrlichman were deep in conversation, although I didn’t fail to catch Haldeman’s raised pinky on his right hand as he sipped what I presumed was coffee. Mardian stood up and headed straight for me, while the agent who’d accompanied me literally backed his way into the hall again before turning to disappear.
“What?” Mardian said, his voice low, nearly a hiss.
“You want what’s in the Porsche sooner or later, because if I get sent off on some errand boy kind of delivery thing I won’t be back soon enough,” I got out, and when he didn’t respond, I went on, “And I don’t think that package, whatever it is, you probably don’t need to have somebody else, probably a civilian or a member of local law enforcement, find, open and handle.”
“You found it,” Mardian breathed out.
“Indeed,” I replied, noting that neither Haldeman nor Ehrlichman appeared to notice Mardian and I conversing intensively only a few feet away. “However, I don’t have full possession yet. I’m going to need a bit of a budget and at least the two days I’ve been told I’ll be gone.”
I stopped talking and waited, looking out through the distant picture windows running north and south all across the ocean-facing side of the huge long room. The storm surf I’d almost died in only days earlier was still making the beach an uninhabited sandy wasteland, but the raw beauty of it was captivating. I wondered while Mardian got his thoughts together, whether I’d be as excited as I usually was to get back out and body surf in it. I also noted, with some satisfaction, given the few seconds of reverie, that it was evident Mardian, and that also likely meant everyone else in the White House retinue, were unaware that Gularte and I had drowned the Porsche. That only left Cobb and Richard. I smiled to myself. Cobb had been fishing, and I’d almost bitten. There’d been nobody present to witness the sinking, which meant that both Gularte and I had to go to our graves with the truth or pay a price that was so unacceptable that it didn’t deserve any consideration. I worked to hide the relief from my facial expression.
“Forget the ‘errand’ as you call it. I’ll let Cobb know that she’s got to fund your effort. I want the package. I don’t give a tinker’s damn about the Porsche itself.”
“What do you want me to do with it when I finally have it in my possession?” I asked.
A second wave of relief washed over me as I knew for certain that I would be going home instead of off on another strange adventure, one my wife and daughter, much less that battered, weathered but very cogent and feeling cat, needed to be frightened about while I was away. I had no plan if the people I was dealing with, or who were dealing with me, decided that I was getting on a plane. The power that emanated from every individual I faced at the compound, or over at the residence, was overwhelming and directly evident.
“You don’t want to know what’s there, and you can really trust me about that,” Mardian replied, looking over toward Haldeman, as if not wanting to fill him in on the new plan. Whatever was in that Porsche had the full attention of the country’s leadership, possibly aside from the president himself.
How the conversation seemed to shift from recovering the package to my possibly finding out what was inside it was strange to me, but I said nothing and did what I did best with such powerful people. I waited in silence.
“Wait here,” Mardian said, walking over to where Haldeman and Ehrlichman sat.
He leaned forward and whispered. I couldn’t make out what was said but had a good idea it was about me and the recovery of the package. Mardian straightened up but didn’t retreat, only turning his head to glance at me briefly, his expression one of surprise. A pang of fear went through me. What did these men have up their sleeves now, I wondered, once again looking out upon the ocean waves for a sense of calm and well-being, no matter how storm-tossed those waters were.
Mardian came back to where I stood.
“Come with me,” was all he said before walking into the hall, headed either for the door to the residence or the double doors at the end.
No Secret Service agents did anything but stand in place, their backs to the hallway walls. As was their habit, they also avoided all eye contact.
Mardian walked to the doors, one of which was opened before us. Once outside the man looked around briefly before heading for my parked Volkswagen.
“Unlocked?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” I replied, in surprise, the fact that the Volkswagen’s windows were down obviously indicated it was unlocked seeming to have escaped the man who normally seemed very sensitive to everything around him.
Mardian climbed into the passenger seat.
“These things were built for pygmies,” he commented, struggling to get his large, long body inside the vehicle.
“Where’s the Porsche?” he asked, and I instantly knew there was no point in lying to him, not if I was going to have any credibility left.
“At the bottom of the ramp in Dana Point Harbor,” I said, truthfully, trying to allow no expression in my voice to seep through, although the amount of fear I was feeling couldn’t be reduced, only accommodated.
“That was brilliant,” he replied, turning his head to look out the front window at the front gate where the Marines milled about making believe we weren’t there in front of them.
I tried to figure out what the man was talking about. He was serious. Very serious. Like I’d figured some things out that I had no clue about and then acted upon my knowledge and feelings. Once again, I said nothing.
After a few seconds, Mardian began to speak again, this time his tone one of analytical instruction.
“Nobody can hear this,” he finally said, turning his head to face me, his expression deadly serious, his eyes unblinking. “You’re still active duty, or as active duty as special operations can make you, in the Marines. I’ll call General Dwyer’s Chief of Staff and let him know you need to make a withdrawal from the base armory located near the shooting range. We don’t want that package back and nobody else can ever find it. You can’t do a dive down to get it and you can’t raise the vehicle in the populated environment of that harbor under intense construction. You’re artillery and you were an outstanding student at Fort Sill, not to mention a genius at implementing that training over in the ridiculously deadly valley.”
Mardian stopped talking and waited, reaching into the breast pocket of his suit coat to take out a cigar. “Does this German piece of crap have a lighter?”
“On the dash to your left just under that center black knob, which is for the ashtray,” I replied, pointing.
Mardian lit his cigar, the smoke from which would be hard to explain to my wife, as her father smoked cigars and she hated the aroma. He puffed but still said nothing. I finally realized that, for some reason, he was waiting for me to talk.
“Blow it in place,” I said, finally, “but with a slow-burning explosive so the effects in one atmosphere of water pressure won’t really reach the surface in a dramatic way. I’ll need about a quarter-pound block or stick of TNT, as Tetral, Composition B, and C-4 are too fast. Not much TNT is held in armories anymore so I might have to go to a civilian supplier. I’ll also need a detonation cord, fuse cord, and an igniter.”
“You appear to be what you are described to be,” Mardian answered, blowing a huge puff of smoke right into the windshield in front of him.
“The armory will have or find whatever you need, of that I’m certain. Figure out an excuse to write down when you withdraw it. Cobb is still hanging around in her yacht, waiting for results on this so get whatever funds you need from her when you see her.”
I wondered what I was ‘described to be’ to Mardian and others in the White House gang, but I left that subject alone.
“How much money should I ask her for?” I said, wondering just how much cash this diminutive penetrating female kept with her at all times, “and is the package in the frunk as I expect?”
“The package is locked in the trunk and use your own judgment for funding, but be aware that none of the money stuff escapes the attention of those
paying close attention to such things.”
With that, Mardian extricated himself from the Volks and walked back toward the compound doors without saying anything or looking back.
I sat in the parking lot thinking. The dive was back on, not like the original plan for recovery I’d conceived, but for one of placement. The explosive device would have to be set under the car below the frunk, in order to use the vehicle’s heavy body as a shield from allowing a thrusting shaft of water to be sent to the surface. TNT exploded at a speed of right around seven thousand feet per second which was still pretty high, but keeping the amount down, and the device would have a directed charge shape. It was doable, but how to place and then detonate it was still going to be a real problem, not to mention a follow-up dive to make sure the mission was accomplished.
I drove out of the lot and headed to Gularte’s place. His love of such missions, hopefully, hadn’t cooled. Bob Elwell was a SCUBA-qualified diver and his presence might be needed, but Bob wasn’t yet fully cleared for the kind of lifetime confidence such a mission would certainly require. No, I had to go to Richard and hope he was qualified, and if he was, which wouldn’t surprise me in the least, then secure his cooperation. I didn’t personally trust him but if he was a ‘player’ in the complex game we were all playing, like the Staff Sergeant, then his ability to keep such a secret would have to be accommodated if never fully trusted to remain secure.
I walked into Gularte’s nightmare idea of a bachelor pad, with a pool table set in the center of its tiny living room. Two chairs, a couch, a television, and one small table made up the furnishings he lived in when he wasn’t using the bathroom or sleeping. He didn’t cook at all.
I stepped inside and started right out, as he stared, half-dressed and surprised at my early arrival.
“We’re going to the base, so you’ll have to get into costume,” I said, remembering that I had to call my wife and let her know I’d be wearing my Marine uniform once again. Gularte could go as a cop.
“Just what I was going to tell you,” Gularte said. “The guys in 2/13, the unit Young is in, are having you for lunch today. They are celebrating your rescue of one of their Marines so we can’t miss it.”
“Having me for lunch doesn’t sound all that appealing,” I replied, holding back about the coming mission and our need to acquire the necessary demolition devices to make it all possible. Not that the party wouldn’t be a good reason for going to the base in the first place, although I couldn’t imagine that anyone might be watching or really caring about what we might be doing, at least not until the mission was over.