Gularte was there when I arrived. Ideas about how to do what I now felt compelled to do circulated around my brain, my tiredness from having not slept well at National Airport or being able to settle down once I got back as if I had never been there. Gularte and I were both on the schedule for beach patrol that night, which I could change but he recommended against it once he listened to my half-baked plan. The beach patrol would be great cover, as long as no one encountered the hidden Bronco or called us on the radio while we were ‘away’ doing what I intended to do. A few things had to break right, to make it work, however.
“Where the hell were you?” Gularte asked, catching me off guard.
“Something on the side,” I murmured, weakly, not wanting to engage on the subject, but knowing I had to be better prepared than I was if someone else might ask about the missing time or my presence in it.
“You, with that stone fox of a wife? I doubt it,” Gularte replied, with a laugh.
“Not that kind of thing,” I adamantly came back.
“Then what kind of a thing?” Gularte went on, not wanting to let it go.
“Can we discuss that later?” I replied, raising my voice and frowning. “If you want to help me then we’re going to need some stuff.”
“Hell, not to mention time and some luck,” he replied, his tone letting me know that I was off the hook about the D.C. visit, at least until a later time.
That I hadn’t heard from anyone at the compound, other than One Word’s two-word acknowledgement in the staff car, didn’t surprise me, although at any time I expected to hear the words ‘see the man.’ Mainly, I wanted time to go by, making it less likely that I’d be asked to pay them back for the money I’d given my wife, which for sure I was never going to see again, other than on the dinner table, on her, or in her part of our closet.
Paul had presumed that I would be responding to Little Mardian’s treatment of me, and he’d been right. My wife, given much less to work with, presumed something but not enough to grill me on. As far as she was concerned, I was going out on beach patrol with Gularte, a man she liked but didn’t approve of. Why she didn’t approve of him we never discussed, but I presumed it to be that he was over the top when it came to flirting with women, almost any woman.
It was late morning, and I had a trip to make. The preparations for the night mission weren’t extensive but did call for certain items to be collected. I drove to Santa Ana and visited the police equipment shop, wondering how a place like that could possibly make it, selling only to police or military outfits. When I walked in, I had to smile. As in the past, unless the customers were all under deep cover working cases, they all looked like bad guys, except for me. The ‘bad guys’ acted and gave me, the obvious straight guy, the kind of looks usually only reserved to police personnel. I told the new guy at the counter that I needed two black tactical outfits and gave him approximate sizes, wondering why I never saw the old pros who had once commanded and controlled the space with such professional confidence. The outfits would have special pocket holders for our badges, although we intended to show no one such identifiers. I then headed back to San Clemente, having paid cash and giving out no identification, as none had been asked for. I stopped at the department to pick up the Doors 8-track tape and detach my player from under the dash of the Bronco and then replace it in the Volks with the small tool kit I kept in that tiny glovebox. The unit would never be used again, in all likelihood, if it remained in the Bronco. Gularte was right where I’d left him, so we sat together and detailed out my plan.
Gularte wanted to know what the 8-track tape was for and commented upon the Porsche descending into the depths with Little Mardian inside it and the Doors song I’d used earlier with Butch playing into the night.
“That’s not going to happen, any of it,” I said. “Come back from Police Story or whatever other cop show you are watching. We will work in complete darkness and in absolute silence from beginning to end. My worst fear is Richard’s camera system he keeps at the top of his mast.”
“That camera is too small for night vision and the lights at the harbor are way too dim to allow for regular light to give us away, not at the distance the ramp is from his slip, anyway,” Gularte replied.
I was surprised by Gularte’s knowledge.
“Just how big do you think the camera ought to be to have night vision. I’d used Starlight Scopes in Vietnam, which were huge and heavy, but I knew technology had come a long way during the intervening years.
“The ones they use from the compound are still three times the size of Richard’s and there’s little doubt they have the most hot shot stuff around.”
I’d examined the cameras from a distance at the compound and around the residence but getting close enough to gauge their true size and therefore potential had always been beyond me. How did Gularte have that knowledge? Was I wrong not to list him when I’d given some names to Paul? And here I was, trusting him with both of our futures.
Men like us, who’d been through what we’d been through, the last thing we wanted was inaction, although most of what returning to the real world offered was exactly that, and little more. Selling a sizeable life insurance policy was a big deal to my manager, Chuck Bartok, and he understood why I had such a hard time making believe it was a big thing to me too.
“Here,” I said, sitting down in one of his ridiculous giant pillow chairs and handing over a small pistol cartridge.
“What’s that?” he asked, rolling the round between the fingers of his right hand. “Looks like some sort of modified factory load to me.”
“You’re carrying a .357 Magnum, against regulations, and that’s no factory load. I loaded it myself with the setup I got from my dad for reloading. The round is a shot shell. Birdshot to sportsmen.”
“What’s that for?” He asked, his surprise real.
“Load it into the first counterclockwise rotating chamber of your Smith and Wesson. You can change it back after the mission. With that you’ll be sure to get a hit if you need to. At ten yards the dispersion is a cloud nearly ten feet in diameter.”
“You think that badly of my shooting, just because you’re such a hot shot they made you range officer. Is there any position in this damned department you don’t or might not hold?”
“You’re a decent shot, stupid. I just don’t want anybody dead tonight,” I replied, “we’re on friendly turf so we don’t kill people for minor offenses.”
“What about your duty instrument of death?” Gularte asked, and how did you get it since they’re about half as much as you paid for the Volks?”
“It’s a .44 Magnum and it’s as against department policy as your own, and yes, the first round is also loaded with birdshot.”
“What makes you load your own rounds, anyway” Gularte asked, his tone one of seeming frustrated disgust.
“Trust,” I replied.
Gularte just looked at me, his facial expression one of question.
“I don’t trust,” I finally said. “Ever count a factory load? You know they are loaded with individual grains of powder, nitrocellulose, to be exact. The grains are weighed not counted. If you want true regularity in shooting, then you take the ‘powder’ out of the cartridge and count it before putting the exact number back in. You can also put more in, as the brass jacket is never full, which allows you to load all the way up to the cupric pressure maximum of the chamber.”
“Where did you get all that stuff from?”
“Artillery school, my dad and the A Shau Valley,” I replied, as Gularte pulled his .357 from its holster laying across the end of his divan.
“So, do you really trust anybody or anything?” Gularte asked, replacing his revolver in its holster once more.
“Not really,” I answered truthfully, wondering about the coincidence of my conversation with Paul on the same issue, and my not mentioning Gularte’s name among the trusted.
I tried to tamp down my paranoia. Some things were coincidental, and to believe otherwise was a cesspit I didn’t want go back to.
“This is all real,” Gularte said, sitting across from me, as he waved his hands around.
I didn’t want a therapy session with Gularte, particularly since I needed him to do exactly what I ordered him to do on the mission, a mission not truly explainable to anybody, including him, but very vital to me.
“It’s not all real, if any of it is,” I replied, unable to stop myself.
It was a question Paul had come close to asking but hadn’t gone that far.
“People died in my arms who didn’t have to, shouldn’t have in that war. I didn’t die and I should have, many times over. We never see the other side of the moon because it spins at exactly the same speed as the earth. Really? The oceans are seventy percent of the planet more than two miles deep, but they never dissolve or eat away the small amount of land we survive on.”
Gularte stared at me, then slowly shook his head.
“I think there are all kinds of explanations for things in physics, although I never studied it,” he murmured, looking at the door, like it was time to go.
I got up to go. “I’m studying physics now, at home.”
“What a shock,” Gularte said, “no doubt to become a professor one day.”
“Not at all,” I replied. “I’m searching for trust in the universe, or at least something about it that I can find to be true. I guessed your uniform size so please try that outfit on, as we want to be what we are, officers of the law not in our proper area of operations but still that if encountered.”
“The only thing about that is what I consider the weakest point of the plan,” Gularte said, pulling his tactical outfit from its twin boxes. “What if we get a call or run into something weird out there and we’re not there to take that call or respond to anything else.”
“It’s our best cover as an alibi should things go a bit south, although it won’t matter if we’re caught out there on site,” I replied, “and you knew that when you said earlier that you thought it was a great part of the plan.”
“Well, after some thought, I guess it’s not the weakest part of the plan. That would probably be shooting someone,” Gularte added.
“We’re not shooting anyone,” I said, a touch of anger in my voice. “But we’re not going out without flank security in place.”
“Okay, Junior, you’re in command and your track record is pretty good, except for the part where we may take a bullet or two…or three.”
I walked out the door, as always, not quite certain what Gularte was being serious about and what was being said to appeal to his arcane sense of humor. Beach Patrol started at four p.m. for the evening shift and darkness wouldn’t fall until around eight. The other wild card factor was in Little Mardian’s hands. Was he going to be entertaining out on his boat in the harbor overnight or not. We had no control over that whatever. The worst-case scenario though would be our showing up and the Porsche was gone, or maybe something interrupting us and Gularte’s own war-related mental monsters arising from the depths.
I drove down to the lifeguard headquarters where I hoped to find Bob Elwell. Like many of the guards, Bob hung around the building a lot of the time, even when off duty. The volleyball courts were populated by many beautiful men and women and Bob was a terrific player. I’d parked in the upper lot where civilians parked as I didn’t have a clicker to get through the gates. My sticker in the back window, which indicated that I was a dues paying member of the California Peace Officers Association, plus the fact that my Volks was so recognizable, would save me from a ticket, if my luck was running, so I didn’t feed the meter.
I was in luck. Bob wasn’t on the two volleyball courts, but his car was parked near the tracks behind the building. I found him inside the only empty work bay sanding away on a surfboard stretched across two wooden sawhorses. I interrupted his work, as the sound of the sander overpowered everything.
“Surfboard?” I asked, inferring, without saying it that he was doing some personal work on city time and in a city facility, both of which were no nos.
“Surf life-saving tool,” Bob replied, turning off the sander. “Most of the guys don’t use them because they’re too expensive and people tend to steal them when you’re out on a rescue without it. The red buoys are great for a quick in an out, but if somebody’s caught in a powerful rip the rescue’s going to be long distance with the swimmer probably unable to hold onto a buoy.”
I was surprised. The things I didn’t know about ocean lifesaving were pretty extensive, I realized.
“I need a place to hide the Bronco for a few hours tonight,” I said, going straight at him. I trusted Bob simply because of a feel about him, not because he’d ever performed to earn such a thing.
“Hide the Bronco…” he said, taking off his protective glasses and then peeling off his gloves There was no relief from the heavy dust, so Bob moved to the wall and opened the giant garage door. Fresh air breezed in, at first stirring up everything to the point where I briefly covered my eyes, and then the dust was gone, swooped away by a strong gust of wind.
“Hide the Bronco…” Bob mused again, looking into my eyes directly for the first time. I’d made up a bunch of covering stories, knowing I’d have some explaining to do and excuses to make. The truth could not be part of either of those.
“Follow me,” Bob said suddenly, a big smile creasing across his face.
He walked into the next garage, around a big machine and then into the last garage, which held a similar but different machine.
“Beach cleaner and beach comber,” Bob said, pointing first at the 2nd garage machine and then the 3rd.
“How long?” he asked.
“How long what?” I asked, momentarily confused by his complete or seeming lack of interest in why I needed to hide a city police vehicle at all.
“How long do I have to hide it?” he replied, before going on. “The beach maintenance crew comes in every morning about six and then works part of the day until about eleven, when most of the people come to swim, sun and so on. Nobody at all will be here, except the duty guard at night so if the hours you need are between eleven a.m., which has already gone by, and tomorrow morning, then you’ve got the perfect place.”
“Who’s the watchman tonight?” I asked, hoping against hope.
“Me, that’s why I’m here now, killing time. I figure that if I work all night then I can finish this work of art by tomorrow and get ready to layer on the dope.”
I looked at the two giant sand machines, trying to estimate the distance between them and then the distance from their rear edges to the doors and walls.
“I’ll move them enough so you have clearance, by then,” Bob said, “that thing can’t be more than twelve feet wide so I can make it fourteen if we use the 3rd garage.”
I kept waiting for the inevitable question, but it never came. It was so perfect, and the solution had come out of nowhere. I’d thought of leaving the vehicle in a parking lot or in some bushes but none of those options seemed doable at all. San Clemente was simply too populated, with people up and down at all hours of the day and night.
Gularte and I could change into tactical, take a regular vehicle from the lot after parking the Bronco, then return and change back into regular police uniforms right in the garage. It took a few seconds to conclude that Bob Elwell was providing the key to the entire enterprise.
“Will you tell me one day?” Bob asked, immediately increasing his intellectual quotient in my opinion.
I knew he knew that he shouldn’t ask before the mission went operational. I also now knew that if Bob never knew, if we never told him a thing, that he would accommodate that. I’d been perfectly right to trust him, and that in and of itself was a relief.
“One day, very likely,” I said, telling him as much of the truth as I had a hold of.
We walked out into the first garage and Bob never said another word, merely putting on his work gear and going at it again, sanding on the surface of his special surfboard.
There was nothing more to be done. Either all was ready, and the mission would go smoothly or there would be problems. I went home to my wife, daughter and Bozo. The cat seemed to hang around when I was around, otherwise out through a hole in the downstairs living room screen. Somehow, he’d made the crease in the screen in one corner that flipped right back into place when he was through. I’d decided to overlook the violation and absorb whatever minor insect infestation might occur, but somehow Bozo seemed to be able to handle them too.
Julie was on the couch, watching the floor model television and stereo, called an RCA Colortrak. She was animated for her entire Electric Company show, especially when her favorite star, Bill Cosby, was on. “That special man,” she called him, leaving me thankful that no recording of that was available on Mrs. Beasley’s inner tape machine. The television was the most popular thing I’d purchased with the compound money although its cost had come in at just under five hundred dollars. The television was Julie’s machine, but the stereo was the province of my wife. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Beethoven’s Ninth played through the apartment almost endlessly when the television wasn’t on.
My wife was in the kitchen, where she spent so much of her time when not at the beach with Julie. Bozo came upstairs with me and took his place on one of the side tables next to our bed. He sat in his statue pose; a recent event having proven to a cat-loving friend of ours that he was no statue. I’d tried to warn her as she moved to touch the ‘statue,’ but not in time. The statue struck, gashing her arm with a three-inch-long streak. He instantly resumed his former pose, and I understood from knowing him that he was simply waiting for more. We got the woman washed up and bandaged before she left, never having, as of yet, to return. Bozo was a predator but with a strange sense of who was in his pride and who was not. I looked over at him as I prepared my uniform for the special evening shift. He stared, just sitting there.
“Alright, Mr. tough cat, what do you recommend,” I said, making sure my boots were properly shined and my cash was still in the box supposedly hidden on the top shelf of my closet.
Bozo laid down, curling himself around to fit on the small top of the table. He didn’t stop staring at me.
“So, you recommend standing down,” I concluded, sitting down on the end of the bed. “The world’s leading predator and you recommend standing down.”
My wife was the expert on cats, so self-described, and she could and would interpret every move he made, since he didn’t speak in any way that was understandable by any human being.
“I can’t stand down, any more than you could at the party with our friend,” I idiotically explained to him, slightly, but not completely, embarrassed to be talking to a cat and pouring out some of my deepest secrets.
“There are simply some things you can’t tell anybody,” I went on, “but then, you’re a cat, you’re nobody, like me.”
I got as much ready as possible before going downstairs for a snack. I had no appetite, and I knew why. Going into combat, or merely approaching something like it, all appetite disappears. The balance of eating to gain energy is not even close to the risk of having food in one’s bowels if struck by a bullet or some other penetrating object. It’s like the body knows that although I’d only experienced it and never studied it. The explanation wasn’t my own. It’d been the Gunny’s when I couldn’t eat when there was impending action, which was nearly all the time.
I went downstairs and Bozo followed, taking up his place next to bouncing Julie, all three watching the idiotic Electric show, if one was to count Mrs. Beasley as watching anything. I got a bottle of Gatorade from the fridge and made believe I was chewing on some sliced Krakus Polish ham. It was said to be imported from Poland, but it was so good I had my doubts.
My wife and I talked briefly but about almost nothing at all, and then it was time to go.
“Difficult night?” she asked, after I was dressed and about to depart.
“Not really,” I replied, doing what I thought was a good job of lying.
“Difficult night,” she repeated, this time not sounding the short phrase without a question mark at its end.
I left, knowing I was only fooling her about what the details of the difficult night might be, not the fact that it was going to be a difficult night. She hadn’t commented about the fact that I was leaving about an hour early either. I knew she was ready for whatever news might be coming her way later and I didn’t want that news to be bad.
I drove to the station. I needed a staff car, but not really. I needed something as dark as it could be, which let out the black and white’s the department used for regular squad duty. When I got to the lot, I explored the collection that was left. There was nothing that was all black. I drove around, checking my watch. The shop closed at three, except for gasoline fill ups. There would be no help there. The two detective vehicles that were black were nowhere to be seen. There was only one car that might fit the bill. It was a bit ostentatious if you knew cars, although most civilians didn’t. But the car that was nearly perfect and sitting there was Lieutenant Gates’ Marauder. That meant he was the watch commander for the evening shift. I looked at my Seiko.
He’d be starting the shift briefing in about ten minutes. I had little time. The beach patrol was exempt from shift briefings so he wouldn’t be expecting me.
I walked into the station, down the hall leading to his office, and took a deep breath before entering.
I stepped inside and stood before his desk, ignoring the single chair. Located precisely at its very center.
“Speak, little one,” he said, his tone coming through like he’d just consumed a tablespoon of honey, his head not moving up from reading whatever he was reading to note my physical presence.
“I need your car for a bit,” I said, wondering to myself why I was there, and why I’d risked anything, as it now seemed like a lesser risk to drive a black and white.
“Your wish is…of course, my command,” Gates continued, his pause between is and of taking a good five seconds.
With his left hand he reached down and took the Marauder’s keys from somewhere and shoved then across the mostly clear surface of the desk.
“I’ll be…” I began, but he cut me off.
“I don’t want to know what you, and your strange assortment of whatever they are, are up to now, not that I’d get a straight story, anyway. I want it back before this shift ends and I want it back washed, waxed and polished.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, grabbing the keys.
“Here,” he said, pulling a can from out of his desk and shoving that across, this time looking up with a smile.
I saw that it was a can of Blue Coral, the hardest wax to apply and then polish off ever made. The shine from it was like that of a mirror, however.
I took the can. It was a fair trade, although Gularte wouldn’t be happy as we would have to spend at least two hours cleaning the vehicle, and then putting on the wax, waiting for it to dry and then laboriously polishing it off.
Gates held up his right hand and waggled his fingers, “Go little one, and cross my doorstep no more.”
I drove my Volks to pick up Gularte a bit early. I drove easily and gently, which was uncommon for me, but the mission was underway and that called for a change in habit patterns. My AMT Hardballer backup was strapped to my left ankle, so it wouldn’t rub against the interior of any vehicle I might be driving. It too was loaded with the first round being birdshot, just in case. I knew Gularte didn’t carry a backup, as he didn’t believe in them. His ‘do the job right the first time’ indicating he’d not served down in the valley.
Once back at the station we climbed into the Bronco. Before we could exit the parking lot Lieutenant Gates stepped out of the back of the building, taking out a cigarette.
He lit the cigarette as we sat nearby in the idling Bronco, wondering whether to leave or stay. Gates took a puff and then looked first at his Marauder then back at our Bronco. He made no move though, before turning and walking back into the building.
“What was that?” Gularte asked, “they allow smoking in there and he’s supposed to be in the briefing, so what was all that?”
“He’s thinking about us and what we might be up to, since I gave something away simply by borrowing his car.”
“Just what we need, which leads me to my next question. Why’d you borrow his car?”
“He’s a cop, and a good one,” I replied. “He’s doing what good cops do. Now, the toughest four hours are ahead of us, as we have to wait for darkness to go operational.”