The three of us sat on the bench, our backs to Cobb’s smaller, but expensive yacht, and facing Richard’s larger and much more expensive yacht. It was readily apparent that the two boats were so closely slipped near one another out of deliberation rather than ignorance or the luck of the draw. Both smoked while, except for a very few exceptions when down in the Valley with the Gunny, I did not. The smoke wafted over me, as the usual northeastern breeze roiled gently around us. Nobody said anything for several uncomfortable moments. The question asked of me moments before resounded through my mind, bouncing from place to place but finding no purchase anywhere.
Tom Thorkelson had driven into me the sales technique of using silence as a power tool. The first person to speak in almost any sales situation, following either introductions or a presentation, was usually the one who would give in or surrender and buy the product being sold. Waiting for the silence to end had to be made, or allowed to be made, more difficult for the other person than the presenter, although such silences are always hard for both parties. This technique, I discovered as I dealt with all manner of other ‘sales’ situations, was extremely effective in all of them. Chuck Bartok was also a master of Tom’s application of the Xerox sales process. Except he’d added the Marine Corps variant to the technique, which I found brilliant and also most useful.
“If you can’t baffle them with your bullshit,” he’d instructed, “then you’ve got to dazzle them with your footwork.”
I waited, thinking about Tom’s and Chuck’s teachings as both Cobb and Richard were both sitting, not giving anything away but obviously waiting me out. They likely believed that I knew something they needed to know. I didn’t need anything from them except the envelope of hundreds, and that was already securely folded up inside my pocket. I also knew I was an amateur playing with professionals, and brilliant experienced professionals at that. I wanted to say something, but there was no way I was going to.
So, I waited, inhaling the smoke from Cobb’s cigarette smoke, enjoying the aroma, as I did when taking in the smoke from my wife’s Newport Menthols. I watched the bobbing boats in their slips nearby, the seagulls ever present, pecking around and looking for scraps, but never coming closer than twenty to thirty feet of us.
“I was able to gain the benefit of a rumor back at the compound,” Cobb said, tossing her still lit cigarette into the harbor water behind her.
“Yes?” I replied, but not going on.
“I heard that the missing Mardian Porsche needs to be found and you are assigned to find it.”
I remained silent, flabbergasted by her sources and their willingness to tell her stuff that was spoken of, not at the compound per se but just outside the president’s personal residence at poolside. I wasn’t going to confirm any information that had been retrieved in such a way so I stayed quiet, continuing to stare over toward Richard’s boat, which bobbed slowly up and down and a bit back and forth, as if it was struggling against its restraints.
“Have you thought it through?” she asked, finally turning her head to look at me.
I met her gaze and read what I could of her expression but all I could catch was sincerity. I knew I was way out of her league in whatever game was being played, but I still felt her raw curiosity and a small bit of concern, maybe about me and my place in everything.
“What?” I replied, not knowing of anything to think through.
The Porsche was at the bottom of the harbor, but nobody except Gularte and I knew that. The police and everyone else, including both Mardians, seemed convinced the car was stolen. Little Mardian was probably happy the car was gone since he was moving way up to a Ferrari.
“Why would he want the car at all?” Cobb asked.
“What do you mean, of course he’d want to know,” I replied, surprised.
“Why?” she shot right back. “Such a car would mean nothing to him, his son or anybody else running in that league.”
I nearly bit my tongue in stopping myself from responding. Instead, I tried to think. What could explain the course of her conversation with me. She wasn’t given to small talk and she’d stepped out to reveal that the conversations held at the residence poolside were obviously listened to or recorded. Why would she bother? No matter where my mind took me I could find nothing.
Cobb must have read my mind, or maybe my open expression of puzzlement.
“This whole line of thought, this mind experiment, if you will, can end right here if you answer one question for me,” she said, taking out another cigarette and slowly lighting it.
I waited again, as Cobb was becoming the only person I was dealing with who asked questions without using a question mark or verbal expressiveness to make it seem like the statements were questions.
She smoked her cigarette once again, Richard beside us, sitting still and straight, like a cigar store Indian. I thought about the Porsche, and the strange direction in pursuing the car’s loss which was almost like a fixation. Even Bob Mardian had only been vaguely passing in discussing the situation, almost offhandedly putting the recovery of the vehicle in my hands. All of a sudden something occurred to me.
“What was in the Porsche?” I whispered, my voice almost inaudible, my very low tone one of wonder.
“That question,” Cobb replied, “did you search the vehicle before whatever you did to it was completed?”
I reviewed the mission in my mind, remembering every detail. Neither Gularte nor I had entered the vehicle for search purposes. I’d leaned in to replace the eight-track tape on the passenger side and Gularte had leaned in to pull the handle releasing the hand brake
“Did you open the Frunk?” Cobb asked, before I could answer her first question.
“What’s a frunk?” I asked back.
“You’re not exactly a Porsche expert or enthusiast I would guess,” Cobb said, laughing between puffs. “A Frunk is what a trunk is called on a 911 because its located in the front of the car, not the back.”
“No,” I said, fully understanding that my reply was a likely needless confirmation of what the woman already knew.
“So, what are you going to do?” Cobb asked.
She went no further about what might possibly be in the Porsche trunk that was attracting so much of her, and evidently, Bob Mardian’s interest. There was no talk of Little Mardian being interested in anything except his new Ferrari, so he probably had nothing to do with whatever had to be inside the Porsche.
I had to get to Gularte. We were due on beach patrol, and I needed to talk to him badly about everything. I was also afraid to engage Cobb further. The woman was extremely well informed and very uncomfortably penetrating in her pursuit of whatever it was she was after. I was becoming afraid that she was after me, a woman who had something to do with the assassination of a president of the United States.
I stood up. “I’ve got to go on patrol but tomorrow we can meet again and I might have more for you,” I said, hoping the woman would be satisfied.
“Richard and I will stand by,” she said, a great, almost evil smile, playing across her lips, “won’t we Richard?”
Richard nodded, not looking at me. “I’ll be here if you need me,” he said, and then looked up at me with the wide-eyed penetrating look of a caged tiger I’d seen at some zoo from many years before.
I walked to my Volks, my mind racing, regretting the Porsche incident and wondering just how I was going to extricate myself from the mess I was in. The one time pad encryption books and instructions also bothered me. I felt a tinge of fear, adding to what the meeting with Cobb had generated. Why, in God’s name, would someone as powerful as Mardian want to be able to communicate in total secrecy?
“Something I don’t want to know,” I said to myself, as I headed home to change and then get to the station.
Mary wasn’t home and so, of course, neither was Julie. Even Bozo had deserted the place in their absence. My wife had laid out my uniform, as usual, everything perfect. The woman was amazing. I felt regret for adding more stuff to both of our lives that I just couldn’t tell her about.
I drove to the department parking lot where Gularte sat waiting in the Bronco. I was late but I knew he’d say nothing about it. His service as a Marine NCO must have been exemplary, I surmised, as he always seemed to take care of his commanding officer.
I filled Gularte in on what had transpired with Cobb.
“How can she know we took the Porsche?” Gularte asked, pounding the steering wheel. “Why does she think we know where it is?” he went on, “and what the hell could be in the trunk, or frunk, or whatever?”
“A frunk we didn’t even think to search,” I replied, adding that mistake to all the others I’d committed on the mission.
Gularte pulled the Bronco to a stop at Trestles beach. I gazed out to sea, a sea that was still seeing the effects of an earlier storm. The sun shone brightly, Gularte wearing aviator sunglasses as usual, on cloudy days, in the rain and always when the sun was bright overhead or being born or dying on the distant horizon. The Bronco was facing the water, but well back from the reach of the advancing walls of whitewater that descended and played out from the large surf beating down on the sandy bottom not far offshore. Unlike my childhood in Hawaii, there were no reefs off the shores of San Clemente, or any of the Southern California beaches. Further out, well beyond the break, long kelp strands, thicker than ship hawsers, rose up to form ‘beds’ of plant life about as challenging as any reef system, but those never appeared further in toward the sandy shore.
“Why do you wear those things all the time,” I asked Gularte, anxiety and bit of fear making me feel irritable.
There was nothing going on to displace my thoughts about Cobb’s strange need for information. The only activity anywhere up and down the beach was on the Camp Pendleton part of the beach stretching south for twenty-some-odd miles until encountering the growing town of Oceanside.
Gularte looked himself up and down, before turning his face toward me.
“What things?” he asked, in a tone that I knew was innocent. He didn’t know what I was talking about, or he was so good at acting that he was making me feel that way.
“The glasses,” I replied, shaking my head and looking toward the Marine Corps beach. A complete Marine unit was down on the sand, obviously having some sort of party. Such events were not uncommon on that part of the beach, just beyond the San Onofre nuclear plant, because there were very few places where any access could be comfortably and safely made down from the long line of high cliffs that extended south and rose hundreds of feet into the air. When the ocean water was colder, almost too cold to swim or surf without a wetsuit during winter months or after a storm blew through, the nuclear plant cooling water discharges also allowed for the water to be considerably warmer than normal throughout the general area, an area that included Trestles Beach.
“They make me look cool,” Gularte answered in truth, which surprised me.
“Hell, you’re the coolest looking cop I’ve ever seen, and that’s without the glasses,” I replied, rewarding his truth with my own.
I looked down the beach, smiling to myself. Herberech was smarter, Turner more clever, Rodriguez actually better looking and Steed classier, but there was little question that Gularte was the coolest. That his presentation was mostly affected didn’t seem to take away from that fact.
The party was going great down beach. The smoke from several barbecues sent thin blowing tendrils of dark streaks back toward the cliff face. I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before, however. There was someone swimming in the surfline. One lone swimmer.
“Hand me the Leicas,” I said to Gularte.
With the wildly expensive lenses up to my eyes I surveyed the down beach scene at fifty times magnification. I stared at the water around the swimmer, better able to see it than the small figure bobbing up and over the great waves.
“What do you think the surf’s running?” I asked, more to myself than Gularte.
“Ten feet, with sets coming at maybe twelve to fourteen,” Gularte replied, his eye for wave sizes honed by his own time on a board at Trestles.
“Current’s running south,” I reflected, “Which is uncommon.”
“Yeah, that’s true, but so what?” Gularte asked.
“The river’s running a bit high too,” I added, sweeping the glasses from the river’s entrance to the sea and then down toward where the swimmer was.
“So…” Gularte said, spacing the word out to form a question.
“Fresh water, like the river, is lighter than salt water which is more dense, and then there’s the added warmth of the nuclear plant’s discharge water,” I relied.
“How in hell do you know stuff like that and why does it matter?” Gularte asked, his tone more one of irritation than question.
“Thermocline makes it matter here,” I said, “Let’s get across the tracks, up to the Coast Guard station and then onto the road past the plant,” I said.
“Why?” Gularte asked, making no move to put the Bronco in gear and turn the vehicle around.
“It wasn’t a request, it was an order,” I said back, “and right now.”
“Jesus Christ,” Gularte answered, throwing the Bronco into first gear, and making the specialized machine jump up from the loose sand and bounce. “I hate that Junior or lieutenant tone.”
I put the glasses down on the floor and turned to check out the rear area of the Bronco. There was nothing. No lifesaving gear at all, not even a lifebuoy, much less one of the very effective surf tubes the guards all carried with them wherever they went.
I grabbed the Motorola microphone from the dash and transmitted my call number. Bobby answered instantly.
“See if you can roll a guard jeep to the Marine beach just south of the San Onofre plant to back us up,” I said.
“That’s out of your area, Chastney’s not going to be happy,” Bobby sent back.
“We’re enroute right now by surface streets,” I said. “Don’t make me declare a code three over this, not yet anyway. It’s a swimmer, likely in trouble,” I finished.
I was taking a chance, I knew, by bringing the lifeguards into the situation, which might not be a situation at all. The swimmer hadn’t looked in real trouble, but the fact that he was out there alone bothered me, and that none of the Marines on the beach were taking notice of him out there at all. Chastney being the watch commander just made the whole thing potentially steeped in bad luck. If the swimmer was fine, then I’d be called on the carpet for going out of area as well as involving the lifeguards in the same thing, but that was only if the lifeguards responded. That factor was an unknown, I knew. It would depend upon what guard or guards were on duty since the weather had driven most everyone from every beach.
“Roll us code two,” I instructed Gularte, once we got to the top of the path-like passage up along the southern side of the compound and headed south.
I wasn’t going to ask to roll code three until I knew more. The asphalt road passed right by the plant only half a mile away before it ended at the security fence guarding Camp Pendleton Marine Base. However, turning toward the ocean along that fence allowed a vehicle like the Bronco to ride over the rocks and dunes and plunge right down to an unsecured opening to the railroad tracks and the sand.
Once across the tracks and finding a cut between the giant rocks guarding the tracks from high tide surf, I made Gularte stop the vehicle, facing the water. I pulled up the Leicas. The kid was still out there, as I spotted him immediately, trying to resurface each time a breaking wave struck him and pushed him back down. He was caught outside an inshore hole, no doubt dug by the very conditions I’d discussed with Gularte earlier. I quickly dropped the glasses and began stripping off my uniform.
“Drive toward the water, I’m going in,” I said, dropping my leather Sam Brown belt with cuffs, magnum and more, and then went to work on my boots.
“You’re going into that mess?” Gularte asked, easing the vehicle forward until the front tires were being hit by spent waves, but waves only a few inches high.
I opened the door, taking my shirt and trousers off until I stood in only my Jockey shorts, already beginning to shiver in the remnants of the storm’s cold winds coming in from across the water, filled with a spray of foam and water.
“You’re going out there?” Gularte said, his right index finger extended to point at my chest, his voice rising in volume against the continuous beating sound of the nearby sea. “Look at yourself, you’re still wearing bandages from that Gates thing. I should go.”
“BSA Lifeguard from the Boy Scouts, which you don’t have,” I replied, noting that Gularte was making no attempt to get rid of his own uniform.
I looked down the beach. Some of the Marines had taken notice of our presence and their fellow Marine now obviously in trouble. I had little time, I knew. If the Marine went under than the water was so stirred up with sand and foam then I’d never be able to find and pull him up in time.
I turned and ran at the surf, plunging as far out as I could before diving under the first incoming and breaking wave. It wasn’t as large as the more distant ones because I was still inside the sand bar that’d been formed by the swirling mix of fresh, warm and salty water. Up for air and then down again, using the breaststroke, my best, to be able to see exactly what was in front of me each time I came up.
Finally, I reached the sand bar just as the Marine came tumbling ‘over the falls’ once more. I didn’t see his face go by but knew he had to be near the end, as his struggling was diminishing rapidly, but I did see the green “T” shirt he was wearing, and I thanked God. All my lifesaving training with the scouts had been done in flat placid pool water environments. There was simply no way that an under-the-chin or across-chest carry was going to work in the nightmare of the roiling surf machine both of us were inside.
I got to him and flipped him as far up and around as I could. Another ten foot or larger swell heaped up to break. I grabbed the back of the Marine’s shirt up near his neck and pulled him down to the bottom with me. The wave passed, not without beating both of us hard down on the bottom. We surfaced, and I watched the Marine, with eyes slammed shut, gasp, before I dragged us down again. Each time we went down, which seemed like forever, I frog-kicked toward the outside. Finally, we broke free, the waves coming toward us only as large passing swells.
I struggled to recover myself while holding fiercely to the back of the Marine’s shirt. He was breathing. My bandages were gone from my wound, I knew. The Saran wrap hadn’t been able to handle the beating the waves had given us. I prepared for what had to come next. Our only hope would be to wait for a very large set and take the biggest wave. That wave, when it broke, with us riding atop it, would likely smash us over the sand bar and on into the inshore side, and thereby to relative safety until we could struggle onto the shore. I rode up on the first swell of what seemed to be the set I was waiting for. At the peak of the swell I turned and stared back at the shore, and what I saw changed everything.
Steve Bro and Bob Elwell were both running toward the water, their lifesaving tubes dragging along behind them on ropes.
I treaded water up and over the next swells with the Marine at my side, close enough to control but not so close as to allow any panic he might fall into when he came fully functional and awake again. His listless behavior was helping to save both of our lives. I knew the professionals were coming. The kind of lifesaving event I was involved with would be as nothing to them. Both were powerful, even championship, swimmers, young and tough as nails when it came to behaving in almost any ocean condition.
In short order the two lifeguards appeared, both having surfaced after a large swell passed over them. Bro swam to me and gently disengaged the Marine, instructing him to grab hold of the floating rescue tube. The Marine grabbed the spongy floating thing with both hands. Bob Elwell pushed his tube toward me and I took hold myself. Both men, without any comment began to swim pulling the Marine and me behind them. Neither used the breaststroke I’d used in coming out, instead powerfully using the Australian Crawl. We headed south I noted, not back in toward the shore. I realized that both guards had no doubt surveyed the scene upon their arrival and figured out that there was a point where the sandbar failed to extend itself. We moved for only a few moments, but I knew we were actually moving hundreds of yards, the breaking surf loud to my left and white-capped crests from the tops of the swells slapping my face on the right.
We finally turned toward the shore, and I wondered how Bob and Steve would get us through the break, but I quickly saw that there was no real plan. Both men simply swam right over the top of a breaking swell, and I was pitched forward to be pressed down once more by the crushing force of the water. Hands grabbed me and I was pulled toward the shore, the breaking waves now helping to push me in that direction, as well as Bob’s strong hands.
Once onshore I was able to crawl up to the drier sand, now surrounded by all the Marines from the party. Steve Bro dragged the Marine up to lay on his back beside me. We both lay there, trying to recover ourselves, staring up at Bob and Steve, as well as the other Marines.
One Marine, wearing only a green “T” shirt and red Marine shorts, leaned down.
“Those are bullet holes, I believe,” he said, pointing at the different ‘round star’ scars that laced across the front of my torso, each about the size of a coke bottle cap, and looking like the serrated caps too.
“And you’re bleeding from that center wound,” the older Marine commented, almost to himself. “Who the hell are you, anyway?” he finally asked.
“He works for the beach patrol now,” Bob mentioned, nodding down at me, as I deeply breathed in and out, but happy to be alive. I’d come close, I knew. I’d over-estimated my capability, since my being raised in Hawaii had so inured me to almost all fear of the sea or its large breaking waves. I wasn’t the surfer kid anymore, and never would likely be again. The price the A Shau was charging me was continuing but only apparent after a new charge was made.
“Looks and acts like a Marine, if you ask me,” the older Marine said. “I’m First Sergeant Galant, in charge of this party. You sure he isn’t a Marine?”
I stared up but said nothing.
“I think he’s still a lieutenant in the Corps,” Bob said. “He got shot over in the war and I think he’s only on loan to the police department, not that he should be making rescues under these conditions, or maybe under any conditions.”
“I’ll need his name, as the Corps doesn’t overlook things like what he did here. Not one of us on the beach could have done what he did, with your help, of course.”
Gularte appeared above me.
“You ready to go, lieutenant?” he asked, reaching down for me to grip his hand.
I grabbed his hand and let him pull me up, embarrassed to be standing erect wearing only my Jockey shorts, which were a poor replacement for a real swimming suit.
I stopped and turned my head back to look at Sergeant Galant.
“What’s his name?” I whispered.
“Lance Corporal Larry Young, he’s a good kid and a good Marine,” He replied.
Gularte guided me through the surrounding Marines, who parted silently before him. He opened the passenger door of the Bronco and pulled up on the lever that allowed the seat to be canted forward and allow entry into the back.
I crawled into the back seat, shoving my uniform and Sam Brown gear onto the floor and then laying down as best I could on the bench seat.
“Home,” I said. “Just take me home. I’ll make some calls so you can finish the shift with one of the other guys.”
Gularte drove south on the sand, faster than he could have driven on the hard surface roads. The Bronco was a smooth rolling and mildly tossing machine up on top of the soft sand. The run up through the train crossing gates was quick but barely noticed by me. I needed to shower, lay in a bed and sleep or pass out, or whatever.
“I’ve got to get cleaned up and rest,” I said, from down in the back seat. “We’ve got to meet and talk right away as soon as I can get up. And we’re going to need SCUBA gear and a tow truck.”
Gularte turned his head halfway around, a deep frown wrinkling his normally smooth forehead.
“There’s no way we’re pulling that Porsche out of the drink in secret,” he said, forcefully. “We didn’t even sink it in secret, obviously, and that could mean prison time for both of us.”
“Or worse,” I murmured, thinking of Cobb, the president’s scandal, the one time pad and more.
Once the Bronco was in the apartment’s driveway, I shakily accepted Gularte’s help in getting out and heading up the stairs. I made no effort to get my stuff, knowing Gularte would bring it all to my wife. At the front door I stopped. I pushed the doorbell button and leaned into the corner where the door was hinged.
My wife answered, took one look at me and said, “oh my God!” She helped me inside. “What in hell happened to you and where are your clothes?”
“Nothing, really,” I murmured easing toward the bottom of the stairs that went up to our bedroom and the master bath.
I heard Gularte come in behind me and start talking to my wife. I began to crawl up the stairs, one by one. I looked up and saw Julie standing there, looking down, Bozo sitting at her side and Mrs. Beasley between them. I smiled in spite of my condition. I was home.
I moved past the three of them in silence, trying to smile but not having any success at that. I picked up the phone and dialed Richard’s number. He answered on the first ring, as if sitting by the phone waiting. I didn’t tell him anything about what had happened, instead asking him to suit up and relieve me for the rest of the beach patrol shift.
All he said was “Aye aye, captain,” whatever that meant.
I peeled off the sandy underwear, shaking my head about wandering all over the place almost naked. Once standing under a hot shower, alone in the glass stall, I tried to put everything together. I realized that it made sense, all of it, but there also seemed little room for me to make all the parts I had some, but not total control over, work together to allow me and my family to survive, much less thrive. Money had been our greatest critical worry, or the lack of it, only months before, but now the need for money was in a position so far in the distance I wasn’t even aware of it as something to be concerned about. I had bigger problems. The Porsche, and what was in it, was possibly a life-or-death kind of problem.
Gularte and I had to get to it, if not to raise it, then to find out what was in the Frunk. I toweled off and went to bed, wondering how I was ever going to sleep…and then I was gone.