Gularte and I worked back and forth across our interconnected plots of sand, rolling over the state beach area without stopping, as the state guards didn’t much appreciate the beach patrol’s existence much less the mostly reserve officers that manned it.

“It’s a turf thing,” Gularte commented, after I said a few uncomplimentary words about the state guard force. “The Highway Patrol gets bored when there’s nobody on the freeway coming through town on week nights so they enter San Clemente and patrol the bars and stuff in order to have something to do and justify their existence.”

“True,” I replied, fully aware of occasionally running into the ‘Chippies,’ as all local police called CHP officers, behind their backs.

“We resent the poaching on our turf, for no good reason anyone can ever explain.”

“Anthropoid ape thing, likely,” I said, thinking seriously about the issue for the first time. “San Clemente is ours and the freeway is theirs.”

“Yeah, but we work the freeway all the time,” Gularte replied.

“And they probably don’t like that either.” I shook my head, the conversation starting to become as inane as the passing of the four hours until there was sufficient darkness to initiate the mission.

“Let’s kill some time with Shawna at the end of the pier, as there sure as hell is nothing going on out along the surf line.”

Actually, even though it would have made the four hours pass quicker to have people and work to do, or at least observe, I knew it was a benefit that the beaches were empty. The presence of the Bronco wouldn’t be as easily missed and the likelihood of getting calls of any kind would be reduced to close to zero.

Gularte eased the Bronco along in first gear low register, the vehicle moving at about three miles per hour, the unsteady nature of the pier’s all wood construction always unsettling when riding upon it in a two-ton potential coffin if the pier went down. There was a lifeguard Jeep parked at the end, near the restaurant but off to one side.

“Bob Elwell has the duty tonight,” I informed Gularte.

“Yeah, you told me that already, but who’s the other guy and how long is he staying?”

There were only two customers visible through the large ‘picture’ window as we drove up. Gularte left the Bronco idling in neutral and turned on the loudspeaker mounted on the hood so we could hear radio transmissions from inside, as the portable I wore on my chest could not be on when close to the main radio as interference would degrade any transmission. When on the mission Gularte and I would be more than the required fifty yards from that radio. We had no frequency adjustment or other portable to be able to hear anything that might come from the compound, however.
We walked through the door. Shawna came at us holding two coffee mugs, no doubt having noticed our approach and arrival.

Gularte and I sat at the bar, across the room from where Bob Elwell sat at a table.

“He’s with Steve Bro,” Shawna whispered, “and he’s on some sort of anti-police jag, or something.”

I really didn’t care much about Steve’s potential verbal delivery, but I was concerned about how long he’d hang out with Elwell. Steve was an unknown quantity. Brilliant, talented, athletic and tough but possessed of an acidic personality that took some accommodating depending upon his mood. I normally liked that fact about him. Sometimes it was like being in a sword fight with words being the weapons.

Bob waved for us to come to their table. Gularte and I both obliged. We were of different service delivery but ‘brothers in arms,’ so to speak.

“We were just talking about you guys,” Steve started right in.

Gularte and I didn’t say anything, both of us sipping our coffee and waiting for what had to be coming.

“Swimming tests,” Bro said, “you guys don’t even have to take a swimming test to be running all over the beaches. What if somebody needs to be rescued right where you are and it might be a long time before a real lifeguard can get there?”

“Your point being?” Gularte asked, his voice soft and gentle, a presentation that was supposed to make any listener feel comfortable but for another combat veteran listening it was anything but that.

“Can either of you even swim?” Bro asked.

“All my life,” I quickly replied, wanting to avoid any unpleasantness prior to accomplishing the mission. Gularte was primed and ready for action. I didn’t need that action to start with Bro in the restaurant. “Four years of high school swim team, one- and three-meter diver as well as being considered pretty good at the breast stroke.”

“Really?” Bro asked, his tone indicating that he hadn’t believed a word I said. “What was your best time in the breaststroke?”

“When I was a senior, I went to state and did the hundred in fifty-nine point seven seconds, but only placed third. It was a school record, however.”

Bro cogitated over his coffee for a few seconds, before turning to Gularte.

“What about you?” he asked.

Gularte smiled a wide toothy smile. “I am hidalgo Spanish, and therefore we have servants who do that sort of thing in the water.”

“Hidalgo?” Bro asked, a frown crossing his brow.

“’Gentleman’, in Spanish,” I answered, but then went right on in order to change the difficult direction the conversation was headed in. “You guys both going to be on duty tonight?”

“Nah,” I’ve stuck here until midnight but Bro’s going to see The Godfather with some of the other guys.”

Both guards got up to leave. I offered to get their coffee bill, knowing that there was no way Shawna would charge Gularte or I. Bob smiled and nodded before they went out the door.

“Hildago, my ass,” Bro whispered as he passed behind Gularte’s back.

Once they were gone I eased down into my chair. “Blow it off,” I said to Gularte, seeing the flat expression that had formed on his face at hearing Bro’s words.

“Mission orientation,” I said. “We let nothing stand in the way of that, not our pride, money, equipment, or other individuals. The devil’s in the details and we can’t be thinking of anything else.”

“That’s the guy who put the Claymore up, I’ll bet,” he said, ignoring me.

“Shut up and listen or this night is over,” I commanded, my voice terse and low.

“Alright,” Gularte said, his tone going submissive and controlled. “You’re the company commander Junior and I guess that’s for a damned good reason.”

“The Marauder,” I said, going right into the details of the mission I’d mentioned, but feeling a little strange because Gularte’s anger toward Bro was the same as I had toward the insulting conduct Little Mardian had committed, yet I was willing to do nothing to correct Bro’ss conduct.

“We drive up, get it, and then bring it back to the headquarters building,” Gularte said, back in the game we were playing that wasn’t a game at all.

Without further conversation I decided to get the car right then. I needed Gularte’s full attention as well as his combat senses to help guide and protect what we were doing.

The car was there when we got to the department lot and there seemed nobody around, except for Sergeant Chastney, who shouldn’t have been there at all since he’d be the watch commander for the midnight to eight shift.

“You two planning on spending the night at the racetrack with that thing,” he said, surprising me, as I’d not seen him standing by the nearby bushes at the back door of the facility.

“Just some servicing for Lieutenant Gates,” I replied, getting into the driver’s seat and turning over the ignition key.

The Marauder burst into its low growling start, and then idled roughly. Chastney walked around the car, as Gularte entered through the passenger door.

“I know it was you,” Chastney said, leaning down before I could fully close the door.

I smelled his cigarette breath and caught his tone of dislike toward me. The man was a good watch commander and a cop in general, but he was a lot like Gates when it came to having a somewhat broken personality, not to mention his odd dislike of my very existence.

“Me?” I asked, in actual surprise.

“The Porsche thing,” Chastney said, I know it was you.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about sergeant,” I said, closing my door and putting the Marauder in drive. Chastney stepped back, tossing his cigarette back toward the bushes he’d been standing behind.

“What the hell was that?” Gularte asked when the I pulled the Marauder across the parking lot so he could drive it back. “How can he know about something that hasn’t happened yet?”

“It’s the wheel, the damned wheel in his office,” I said, pulling up next to the Bronco. “The damned coincidence I’d never considered until this moment.”

“What wheel?” Gularte asked, but then quickly followed, “that wheel, the one with the ashtray. That was you?”

“I’m not admitting anything,” I said.

“Oh, we’re going on a mission that could involve violence, felonies and potential death and you’re not trusting me about the Porsche wheel thing?”

“Okay,” I gave in. Gularte had an excellent point. “It was me, and my training officer. Chastney doesn’t like him either.”

“How could I have not known?” Gularte asked, shaking his head. “It had to be you. Nobody else but you would do something that bizarre.”

Gularte got out and I drove to the headquarters building. The Marauder had clickers for the gates, so I didn’t have to wait for the slow-moving monster tire Bronco to lurch across to join me. Bob was waiting at the headquarters like he knew we were coming. The giant garage door on the left, where he’d been working on the surfboard earlier opened. The bay was empty. I pulled the big Mercury inside and the door closed.

“Thanks, Bob,” I said to Bob, as I walked toward the small door cut into the face of the big door.

“Sorry about Bro, his mom is having some medical issues.”

“It’s okay,” Gularte has ‘hidalgo’ skin as thick as a lizard’s,” I lied.

“We’ll see you in an hour, or so.”

I went through the door and climbed into the Bronco with Gularte.

“Let’s head out to Trestles and stay out of sight and trouble for the next hour and then we come back and cross the line of departure.”

“The line of departure,” Gularte breathed out as we drove away. “Where do officers come up with great lines like that?”

“West Point,” I replied, reflexively.

“You went to West Point?” Gularte asked, in awe.

“Of course not,” I replied. “I had no pedigree. My dad was enlisted Coast Guard, only recently making it to a warrant officer post. The Point and Naval Academy are like Harvard and Princeton, only places where the royalty of America can enter and thrive.”

After a pause, Gularte went on, “you regret that you didn’t or couldn’t go?” he asked, starting to exasperate me.

“I sent seven body bags of Pointers up out of the A Shau,” I replied, tired of the subject and wanting to get into the mission.

“You sorry about that?” Gularte said, seemingly unable to stop himself.

“I liked them all,” I replied. “I liked them all, but they were tadpoles who never had the time to grow into frogs.”

Gularte went silent. I knew he didn’t understand. Life experience trumps education each and every time, but it’s only education in the American culture that sometimes allows one to get to the position to acquire life experience. Combat is, however, an exception. It allows the acquisition of death experience not life.

We finally made it to Trestles, the evening coming on, and where there was no activity whatever because of the approaching darkness. Surfing was not a sport to be conducted in darkness and the wind-blown sand wasn’t pleasant enough for picnic goers or a private place for love interests to be continued or concluded. The sharp rays of a polished gold sunset sparkled across the blowing whiteness of the small caps atop the incoming waves. I breathed deeply, preparing for the mission, as if my life was once again on the line, but without the deep inner feeling of terror wrapped around my very core. I stared out across the endless scene of breaking waves and upset waters. I wasn’t living in paradise, but I was very close to living in that kind of environment. I knew it was important that I realized that.

When I’d been in high school in Hawaii, about to come back to the mainland for college, I’d seen my Diamond Head mountain-top experience and view of Waikiki as anything but gazing across the fields, sands, city and sea of paradise. I’d been wrong then and I wasn’t about to repeat the error of such thinking I’d made back then. San Clemente was a gift to me of recovery, conversion and integration back into a society that had become as different to me as that of some anthropologic throwaway tribe in deepest Africa or South America. America was like a ‘cargo cult’ society, but it was unaware of that, and it was, by no means, my mission to have the society understand that.

Gularte and I sat for nearly an hour, almost all of it in silence, as both of us shared the time but not the daytime nightmares of our pasts. We both somehow knew that the public had no clue and we ourselves needed no clues to discuss what had happened.

Twenty minutes before the ‘kickoff hour’ set for sundown, took place, Gularte and I were back, waiting outside the third door at the lifeguard headquarters. The door rose and we drove inside, there being sufficient space to put the Bronco without it touching either of the big machines towering over it.

The Marauder awaited outside, with Bob Elwell operating the controls, and despite having raised the door and then lowering it, nowhere to be seen or heard.

Gularte and I got into the Marauder and went out through the protective railroad gates. The evening was fast coming upon us, and I knew almost full dark would visit as we arrived at the target area in Dana Point Harbor.

The Porsche was there, parked near the top of the boat entry and exit ramp, its front facing down that ramp. The detachable roof was detached, which gave me a feeling of great relief. I had only considered the fact that Little Mardian might have put the roof on in order to leave the car overnight. Breaking into a locked and probably well-sealed German car hadn’t been something I’d been prepared for or might have done. The concrete was serrated with long horizontal furrows in order to give trailering vehicles more traction on the wet parts during launch or retrieval. The very calm water in the harbor ebbed and flowed only marginally along the lower edge of the ramp. The sports car was safe from the water because the ramp was a full six or seven times the car’s length down to it. San Clemente and Dana Point high tides usually were never above five feet (except for very occasional King tides that could run up to seven feet). The tide tables were carefully checked by the guards and beach patrol before going on shifts.

I eased the Marauder into a part of the construction site where the ramp extended down, turning the lights out as I went. There was barely enough light to see anything by, however, so I kept the vehicle down to about five miles per hour. I was reluctant to return the Marauder to Gates with any damage to it whatsoever.

I’d kept the portable radio, clipped to my upper left shoulder, in case Bobby Scruggs gave us a call while we weren’t anywhere near our area of operations. Once away from the Bronco, I turned it on. In fact, although as peace officers of the state of California, we had police powers anywhere in the state, it was uncommon for officers to work out of their specific areas of operation. Going to court, if a suspect fought a charge, was a bit difficult if that court wasn’t part of local area normality. The courts didn’t like it and neither did any police chief I’d ever heard discussing the subject.

There’d been no call from Bobby Scruggs, however, or I’d have heard it and invented some excuse as to why we weren’t where we were supposed to be.

The call had come from Bob Elwell. He’d traveled all the way up to the station headquarters to make the call, and the import of it was potentially very damaging. Bobby knew nothing, and that was obvious. What had happened hadn’t happened over the radio. According to Bob Elwell, two men showed up in an unmarked Lincoln, parked it up on the civilian lot, and then approached the headquarters as if they were civilians. The ‘civilians,’ however, had been wearing dark glasses at night, and expensive rain coats, although there was no rain. They’d indicated that the beach patrol vehicle had remained stationary at the lifeguard headquarters building for too long a period of time, whatever that time period was, which was not apparently discussed with Bob.

I listened to Bob on the radio, trying to tell me about the situation but trying to do so without admitting anything. He’d told the two men that the ‘low oil’ light had come on in the Bronco and that Gularte and I had used a personal vehicle to get to Scalzo’s 24 Hour Auto Parts place in Dana Point to buy some oil so we could continue our patrol. Scalzo’s place existed, but there was no oil light on the dash of the Bronco to indicate that the engine might be running low.

I looked at Gularte.

“They have a bug attached somewhere on the Bronco,” he said, matter-of-factly, and with no emotional reaction in his tone. “Why they have a bug and why our being stationary in the lifeguard headquarters might initiate a response, any response, is more than surprising.”

I knew, even before Elwell stopped talking, that Gularte and I had a major problem on our hands. Not one that was immediately critical but would become very critical over time. The compound had planted a bug in the Bronco. There simply was no other way that the compound personnel could have known that the Bronco had sat unmoving for quite a period of time at the lifeguard headquarters building. They not only knew how long the Bronco had been still but also knew where it was in that still position. The problem wasn’t something that couldn’t be overcome with excuses, as Bob had helped to provide.

The real problem was time stamping. At some point, when the incident of Little Mardian’s missing Porsche turned up, the timing of Gularte and my being ‘lost in time’ would likely be noticed and not overlooked. Would Mardian senior see that report, if there was a report? Would he be able to put together the disappearance of the Porsche with our being missing for a period of time from the Bronco? There was little question that Little Mardian had no care or feeling toward his father, but his father obviously didn’t feel that way or the Wind and Sea restaurant wouldn’t be coming into reality, and I wouldn’t have been sent out to fix the mess the kid had gotten himself into with Butch.

Wearing the black tactical gear that we’d switched into at the lifeguard headquarters building, Gularte and I prepared ourselves. We clipped our polished brass police badges to our chest just in case we ran into any kind of security or enforcement.

The Porsche was exactly as we’d seen it before. I walked to the passenger door, pulled the Doors tape from inside my tactical shirt and leaned inside. There was a tape in the machine already. I ejected it and shoved the Doors tape into the slot.

“How can we play it without the key?” Gularte asked.

“We’re not here to play it, and besides, someone might hear, and then what?” I looked around as I said the words, but the place was nearly dark and fully silent, except for the lapping of the harbor water against the angled ramp.

“I don’t get the point then,” Gularte whispered.

“You’re not supposed to,” I replied. “The emergency brake is on your side,” I went on, moving the shift lever to make sure the transmission wasn’t in gear.

The gear was centered, and I could tell it wasn’t engaged to one of the gears. “Release the brake and step back.”

Gularte leaned into his side of the vehicle, and I heard a clicking sound before the Porsche started moving. Gularte pulled his torso out of the car and stepped back. Silently and with no fanfare at all the Porsche eased down the ramp, it’s nose dipping into the water not stopping the vehicle’s progress whatever. Smoothly and silently the car continued down the slope until it was fully underwater.

“God, just like that, it’s gone, never to be seen again,” Gularte said, his tone one of amazement.

It was almost as if the heavy little sports car, weighted down by its ‘anchoring’ engine in its rear end had been made for just such a trip to the harbor bottom.

“We’re out of here,” I said, as there was nothing else to be seen where we were and any more time on site would just increase the probability that we’d be seen or identified in some way or other.

We both walked back to the Marauder and climbed in. I drove the Mercury as silently as it would go, easing over the potholes caused by heavy work vehicles crossing back and forth over the thin gravel surface.

Once clear of the construction I headed toward Pacific Coast Highway. The Marauder was capable of well over a hundred miles per hour, but I kept it at just above the fifty-five mile an hour speed limit so as to attract no neighboring police interest, although the car itself demanded such attention if it was seen, even sitting still, in the daylight.

“That seemed too easy,” Gularte said, taking off his trademark black leather gloves, “and you didn’t wear any gloves yourself.”

“Like there will be prints taken from the Porsche when it’s finally pulled from the bottom?” I asked, not expecting or receiving an answer.

Fingerprints were a whole lot more delicate than most people thought and I was certain none would survive much time in the ocean water. I’d only touched the eight track cassettes and the eject button on the machine.

Bob was waiting at the headquarters building when we got there. Gularte and I both changed into our normal beach patrol uniforms, replacing our badges and then put the tactical stuff in the back seat of the Bronco.

When we were outside standing next to both the Bronco and the Marauder Bob asked his only question. He’d made no comment since our return.

“What am I supposed to tell anybody if asked?”

“We parked the Bronco, went for the oil, came back and went back on patrol,” I answered.

“Got it,” Bob replied.

I drove the Marauder back up to the headquarters building while Gularte followed in the Bronco. In only minutes, and no more than half an hour since plunging Little Mardian’s Porsche to the bottom, we were back on patrol crossing the sand toward “T” Street.

“What might happen and how did you do that in such a cool way,” Gularte asked, “as my heart’s still beating like a drum?”

“I don’t expect there’ll be anything coming out of the Western White House,” I replied, “like they could care what we were doing, and I don’t expect Mardian is much filled in about anything locally or that doesn’t pertain to his own area of chores and ‘adjustments,’ as Cobb would say.”

“Why the tape?” Gularte asked, after a few minutes of silence had gone by.

“The tape’s a test,” I whispered, after a sigh, not wanting to tell Gularte that part but he’d risked for me and I owed him.

“Test for Little Mardian?” he asked.

“No, for Butch,” I said.

We made it to the state beach before stopping at the sound of the compound Motorola being keyed.

“See the man at ten hundred hours tomorrow. Charlie Oscar Sierra.”

“Ten Four,” Gularte said, being first to grab the handset from the dash.

“What’s the ‘Charlie’ thing?”

“Chief of Staff,” I answered, butterflies beginning to form in my stomach.

“I’ll be taking that call, not you. You’ll be going after finding the bug they put somewhere in or on this vehicle.”

We drove on, me again acting like I was unaffected, but that was far from the truth. No delayed formal visit request from Haldeman was anything to take lightly. I was in trouble, although I thought it simply could not be for what we’d done less than an hour before.

<<<<<< The Beginning |

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