The quiet stillness in the restaurant was broken only by the regular ‘at sea’ noise coming in through the thin wooden walls and cheap sheet glass serving as spume covered windows. I took command of the group, as going any further, with respect to Richard’s loyalties, background or conduct wasn’t going to be productive at all in trying to solve the mystery or mysteries with which the Dwarfs had become engaged and entwined with.
“The search of the yacht revealed only another one of these,” I produced the pen and held it out before placing it on the table in front of me.
“There’s some question as to whether that pen was left there on purpose or not. If it was left on purpose, then what message might it be intended to convey?”
“The boat was otherwise so sanitized that nothing else, whatever, was revealed.”, I continued.
I looked out at the eager eyes of my fellow Dwarfs and smiled internally but showed no expression. Some detective work was fun, even if one’s place was merely to follow along and offer commentary.
“We’ve got some things to try to bring together, as this pursuit of ours gets more complicated by the minute.” I said the words using an analytical detective-style voice, leading into my next vital point, as I knew there would be no questions at this juncture.
“Hoodoo, what do you have as a collection of what we’ve so far gotten in the way of information?” I asked, knowing by the prior thoroughness of the man that he would have something interesting to report.
Hoodoo opened the file in front of him.
“I don’t know everything I need to know yet because I’m certain that there are things you’ve either been unable or unwilling to tell me…or the rest of us.”
I was surprised, as I hadn’t been expecting an attack or to be put on the spot about my own work in the group. Hoodoo didn’t pull his eyes up from reading what was in front of him so I didn’t make any reply.
“Who killed the Marines, since it’s obvious that they were taken out, the bodies moved, and the whole thing quietly covered up? There was a U.S. government pen found on the tracks leading back to where the boys would have to travel to get to the spot on the beach where they were found, unless they were carried there and the men who carried them left or dropped the pen.”
“Yes, I found that pen,” Herberich said, cutting in. “It could have been dropped by anyone, or even someone riding along on a passing train.”
Hoodoo looked up at the rookie cop across the table from him.
“Sometimes all we get are parts of a mosaic, not the full body of the ‘artwork’ we attempt to recreate,” Hoodoo replied, looking back down at his file.
“The second identical pen was found on the yacht and sits here in front of us all. That takes these two bits of fact into the category of a clue. Where was the yacht sailed from, who’s the woman who supposedly, but not provably owns it and how did the thing motor in at full speed right under the noses of all the services surrounding the Western White House location?”
“How is all this fitting together?” Pat asked, as Hoodoo’s list seemed be a collection of non-connected Incidents, all the incidents interesting and potentially vital but not hooked together in any logical way.
“It’s not,” Hoodoo shot back, still not raising his eyes, “that’s why we have murder books. We put all the details up on a board and then stand back to see what we can make of it. Stuff stands out that way…and other stuff then percolates out from our minds because of it.”
“We have murder books at the department?” Pat asked back, her tone one of wonder.
“Well, no, we don’t have any murders, at least not yet” Hoodoo replied, finally raising his eyes to look into Pat’s.
“Where did you get the idea of having murder books from?” Pat went on, not letting up on Hoodoo at all.
“Columbo,” Hoodoo replied, his voice little more than a whisper.
“The television shows?” Gularte asked, his mouth curving into a great smile.
“Whatever can be made to work is what we want to use,” I interjected, trying to cushion the blows Hoodoo was beginning to take.
“And there’s another simple fact,” Hoodoo said, angrily.
Hoodoo’s anger at being made fun of was coming out in my direction, I realized.
“Are we looking into the death of the three Marines, the reason we all came together, or are we investigating the assassination of a former president?” I asked the group.
“One or the other,” Hoodoo said, his voice returning to normal. “Either that or both, as there really does seem to be some sort of linkage. What haven’t you told us that might help us determine that?”
I rocked back a little. Once again Hoodoo had taken me by surprise, not in attacking this time but in putting me, most properly, on a spot I didn’t want to be on.
There was no way I could tell the group about Brezhnev coming or my part in being appointed to accompany the security contingent to Disneyland. I couldn’t tell them about being conferred top secret clearance, no doubt only because of that visit, the escorting, and the penalties I might suffer if I revealed top secret information that got out into the general public. But the Brezhnev visit wasn’t the reason I’d been taken to El Toro. That was about the White House Chief of Protocol being called upon to tell me to back off of Viola Cobb, with a witness to verify that I’d been told, and with no likely recording of the event other than that.
There were secrets that I simply had to keep, although it might have helped the Dwarfs come to better understand what was really going on or down if they all knew.
“I was issued a special and very powerful revolver when I was first involved with the compound,” I said, deciding to give the group something they might get their teeth into, other than me.
“What the hell?” Gularte asked, surprise in his voice.
I looked across the table at him and I could tell right away that he felt my lack of sharing that information with him was a violation of our friendship.
“I was also, without it being said directly, prepared to be instructed about where it might be used.” I was stretching the conversation I’d had with Mardian, but also expressing how I’d felt at the time.
“Interesting,” Hoodoo said, scribbling notes on a piece of paper in his folder, “but what bearing might that have to us in considering all this stuff?
“Your murder book, or books,” I replied. “I was not called upon to use that specialized weapon and the need for my possession of it was later minimized.”
“What are you getting at?” Hoodoo asked, looking up from his work.
“There’s another body out there somewhere,” I replied. “For whatever reason, the leaders at the compound think that I might perform some sort of terminal action at their command, but the situation changed, and the problem was resolved by either someone else or something else.”
“Why would anyone think you would do such a thing?” Bob Elwell said, his voice one of almost complete surprise and innocence. “We’re talking about killing someone here, I think.”
“I don’t necessarily have the background that you might think I have,” I replied truthfully. “I would not perform in that role, however, but they don’t know that from whatever they’ve learned about me and my past.”
“That doesn’t help us explain why the Marines were killed,” Shawna said, speaking for the first time.
“I heard from somewhere that the toxicology reports are in,” I replied looking down at Hoodoo, and hoping that he didn’t pick up on the fact that I was changing the subject away from an area that was potentially risky and uncomfortable for me.
“Right…somewhere,” Hoodoo replied, shuffling through his papers.
“I believe the results might shed some light on that part of our mystery,” I went on, waiting for Hoodoo to get his act together to present the results I knew he had.
“These are confidential,” he said, holding the single sheet up and waving it at the assembled members of the Dwarfs. There was a big red printed word saying “CONFIDENTIAL” at the top of the paper, causing almost all the Dwarfs to laugh.
For a minute I thought that the detective wouldn’t share the results with the group, but he didn’t do that, instead beginning to read from the document. Numbers flowed forth from his rapid reading, none of them meaning anything to me or quite obviously the other Dwarfs.
“What is it?” I asked, when Hoodoo finally ran down.
“Heroin,” Hoodoo concluded, putting the sheet of results back in his folder.
“Were they injected with heroin to kill them, or make them docile enough to not resist being drowned?” Steed asked, speaking for the first time.
“They died of drowning, that’s true,” Hoodoo said, but the marks on their arms and feet indicated long and hard usage of the substance.”
“Drugs,” Pat whispered into the following silence. “It was drugs all the time. They were killed because they were supplying drugs to someone important who couldn’t afford to be outed. They could get drugs in Mexico and, as Marines with identification, get onto the base in Oceanside, drive through Camp Pendleton avoiding the border patrol checkpoint at Pulgas on the freeway, and deliver by coming into San Clemente using the Margarete gate.”
“Which brings to mind, where would they have been delivering to?” Hoodoo asked.
“That’s not a fair question,” Pat replied. “There’s no way we can ever figure out who was getting the drugs, no matter how easily Marines at the base might have been able to deliver them.”
I stood before the group of Dwarfs, having to come to care about them more than I thought I was capable, but sometimes they seemed like children. That the drugs were flowing into the compound was more than obvious. That something had happened to upset the members of the compound potentially affected was rather obvious, although the details of that would likely never be known.
“We need to proceed with our looking into what we know and that which we can find out about what happened to Kennedy,” I said, not relieved to be directed away from the Marine investigation but relieved that whoever was capable of killing the Marines, and had done so, might not be as likely to come after the Dwarfs or their families.
When the meeting was over, I motioned to Richard to come out of the restaurant and walk with me. The three of us, Gularte, Richard and I, were scheduled to be on the patrol for the late afternoon and night hours, but I wanted a word or two in private with the strange, but comforting man. Before I could say a word, Richard let me know that he had to leave and could not make the patrol that night. Even though rookie trainees were not customarily allowed that kind of excuse or absence, I allowed it. We both stood at the railing at the very end of the pier, watching the hypnotic movement of the ten-to-twelve-foot swells headed the quarter mile, or so, toward the beach.
“When I was in the Nam, where you apparently and fortunately never did a tour Richard, I had a translator who lied to me. He not only gave information to the enemy, but he gave false information to us that caused us to kill certain members of the indigenous population because we believed him. I don’t know who you are, but I have a good idea about what you are. You’re one of me, one of us, those that travel the extent of the world working for whomever will hire us as we learn, many times regretfully, about what life is really like beyond the borders of this country. You can and will lie to me, as I so harshly learned with my interpreter, so I must not expect truth from you on all occasions. I can live and work with that, given the other unspoken advantages to knowing you, but the question I put to you is, “can you live with me knowing and understanding that?”
I stopped talking in order to wait for an answer and also attempt to gauge just how much of the deadly serious message I’d given Richard might be registering inside the façade of outward expression.
Richard said nothing, his face expressionless.
“You’ve been taken in by a band of humans who are kind of special. Do you see that? I asked, letting the silence between us wear on.
“The question I pose to you right now is, do you want what this whole social setting seems to be offering you?”
“I appreciate and like everyone here and I want to be a police officer like you took such great pains to make me. What is it that you really want from me about all of this?” he finally asked, after almost a full minute of silence.
I sighed and frowned at the same time. “I don’t want the truth. We don’t want the truth. We want the direction of your heart. Where is it that you want to place your trust, your care, your family? We’re looking into something we have no idea about where it’s headed, if it’s headed anywhere.”
“I appreciate and like every one of the Dwarfs, and I’m tickled that you have made me the eighth, but, like you, I have miles to go before I sleep, as Frost so aptly wrote.”
“Was it you?” I asked, staring straight into the man’s eyes.
“I ride for the brand,” Richard replied, neither his eyes nor my eyes blinking at all.
“I was the backup?” I asked, knowing there’d be no verbal answer.
“Your run has just begun,” Richard replied. “Play the cards you’re dealt, and you’ll be okay.”
“Do you speak in anything but quotes and platitudes?” I asked, irritated that the man seemed to be made of polished steel. Nothing stuck to him and he brushed aside any challenge with the greatest of ease.
“There’s no reason we can’t be friends,” Richard said, his engaging smile fully engaged.
“I suppose not,” I replied. “What am I supposed to do with the big Magnum I was issued?”
“That was a surprise to me, as I don’t get filled in on all that much, particularly since I’m on my way out. San Clemente and Dana Point are the last stops for me, the way I see it. The Magnum, at your age, might have some usage on into your future. Big guns are better than small weapons, although the best of all is no weapons at all.”
I rode with Gularte back to the base of the pier. Richard had chosen to hitch a ride with Bob Elwell in the lifeguard Jeep. Before Gularte and I could start the patrol, I needed to report in to the watch commander about how the shift would be covered by only Gularte and me, and not the training class it was intended to be.
I called in by telephone at the headquarters building, instead of doing so on the radio. The short, clipped nature of communicating using radio codes and the broken English used was something I tried at every opportunity to avoid, not to mention that so many might be able to listen in.
Richard pulled out from the headquarters in his Mercedes. The man was an enigma, but I was saddled with him. What he really was, or would turn out to be, was beyond my ability to predict. I liked him. I knew I was intended to like him and wasn’t quite comfortable with that part of it. It was simply the way it was, however, and likely to remain.
Gularte and I idled along, making about two miles per hour in the deep dry sand conditions. The Bronco was as happy as a non-sentient machine could be imagined to be.
“So, what was that all about?” Gularte asked.
“What was all what about?” I replied, knowing he was referring either to the beginning pull together of information flowing into the Dwarfs, or more specifically to the death of the three Marines.”
“Richard,” Gularte replied, unexpectedly.
“He’s certainly qualified,” I said, my voice sheepish in trying to avoid talking about anything I couldn’t really talk about.
Of all the men I’d met and associated with since coming home, however, Gularte felt the most genuine and might even qualify as a best friend. It’s just that I couldn’t tell him everything and I kind of felt he knew when I didn’t. It was better if I could avoid talking about any of it when we were alone.
Gularte stopped the Bronco about a hundred meters short of the compound area. There was nobody out on the sand although it wasn’t full dark yet. It was likely to be a boring night unless something shocking, as that yacht coming in had been, occurred, which wasn’t at all likely.
“Lethal, he’s lethal,” Gularte said, without following up with any other word.
I thought for a few seconds before replying.
“In what way?” I asked, not having gotten that feeling at any time being in Richard’s presence.
“You were lethal once, and me too, but you’re not anymore…maybe only if provoked, but Richard’s still off the reservation, outside the wire. I get clues I can’t quite come to a conclusion about from his casual movements and comments. Watching him is like watching a panther pacing at the zoo.”
I thought about Richard and then turned over and around in my mind what Gularte said. Wasn’t the ultimate predator a creature who gave off no warning at all, only radiant good will until such time that terminal action was committed?
I looked at Gularte’s profile, but then my eyes focused beyond the side of his face and onto the nearby rocks. I froze in place, not even blinking my eyes.
“Don’t move at all,” I whispered to Gularte, my tone deep and commanding.
“What?” Gularte responded but did as he was ordered.
“On the rock, outside your window, set atop it is a device you may recognize, if we get the chance,” I instructed.
“Got it,” Gularte said. “General Quarters?”
“Yeah,” I shot back. “Turn your head very slowly and look at the top of that rock.”
Gularte’s head swiveled, ever so slowly. “Claymore,” he breathed out.”
I studied the Claymore without talking. The two pounds of instant death sat atop its spindly spider legs, balanced perfectly. The words protruding from its curved plastic surface barely readably in the low light, but there was no question for me about what they said, “Front Toward Enemy.”
Gularte and I were that enemy.
“What’s your call here, Junior?” Gularte squeezed out of his own near paralyzed vocal cords.
My mind seemed stuck on the device itself. Several hundred three-millimeter balls would be fired out toward the Bronco, and Gularte and me, if the device was detonated. Glass and sheet-metal would be no protection at all.
“We used these in the Nam, sir, but I never had much to do with them, although they scared the hell out of both the North Vietnamese Army and our own Marines. What do we do?”
“Turn out the lights, slowly and then the ignition,” I said, gently removing my Mag Light from the ring in my Sam Brown leather belt. The engine died and the lights shut down. Gularte and I sat for a couple of minutes in silence, both of us staring at the device with our full attention.
“It is command operated,” I said, “as I recall anyway. A wire runs out from it to about thirty meters and, at that point, there’s a double safety push detonator at the end of the that wire, otherwise it can be trip-wired or set to blow from some other seismic-connected device.”
I turned on my flashlight. The high-power beam was blinding until I aimed it at the Claymore. I ran the powerful beam back and forth across the device several times and then turned it off.
“What’s our next move?” Gularte asked.
“No wires,” I replied, slowly opening the passenger door of the Bronco.
“And that means what?” Gularte replied, sounding nervous.
“No wire, no detonator or anything else,” I said, walking around the front of the Bronco and stepping up to the huge rock the Claymore was mounted atop.
I gripped the Claymore in both hands, the first time I’d touched one since being in the A Shau Valley. It felt comfortable in my hands as I stepped back, but there was something wrong.
“Nothing in it,” I said to Gularte, putting the device on the sand, but still being very careful with it.
“Somebody emptied the contents of C-4 explosives, and the steel balls, leaving only this husk.” I picked the husk up and tossed it carelessly into the back seat, before getting back into my own passenger seat.
“What now?” Gularte asked.
“Lights, cameras, action and off we go,” I said, with a smile.
Gularte started the Bronco, turned on the lights and then eased the vehicle forward, heading toward the beach area that ran out from the front side of the compound.
“What in hell are you smiling about?” Gularte asked, glancing over at me.
“Feels good to be alive, does it not?” I replied.
“Man, you are one crazy lieutenant,” Gularte said. “I need a bathroom. I need a break. I need a drink. Hell, I need not to be on this beach for a while, that’s for damn sure. Why would anybody do something like that?”
“You have to really think about it,” I replied. “When I was in the A Shau Valley or trying to get down to it across the hump and swales of Ganoi Island in Vietnam, we fought an outfit called the 26th Sapper Regiment. We fought and killed each other in that heavy jungle for three nights. Each night, near dawn, the Sappers would go out into the battlefield of the night before and gather their dead and wounded. We Marines would do the same. We walked among one another, those morning-after warriors’ dead, wounded and those of us still in once piece. We didn’t look at one another or meet each other’s gaze. The last night we fought we did so without our heavy packs and gear, in order to move faster and surprise them. We fought to a standstill that night. In the morning, after both sides retrieved the dead and wounded, we went back up the hill to recover the stuff we’d left behind. However, the sappers had found our things. They touched nothing, but they left an officer’s helmet on a stake and a big explosive booby trap next to it. There was no fuse on the booby trap. They were thanking us for being what we were, and what they were. What you just witnessed is a bit the same thing. We’ve been warned. No. We’ve been thanked and acknowledged with honor.”
“But how did anyone know we’d see the Claymore, that you and I’d be the ones out here in the night?” Gularte asked.
“There are only two members of the growing reserve beach patrol command who would have recognized that device when coming upon it. There was supposed to be a third reserve on the patrol, but he couldn’t make it. Can you figure it out?”
“The Dwarfs are through, and we’ve been put out to pasture in a pretty threatening way?” Gularte asked.
I laughed out loud for the first time. “No, the dead Marines are supposed to be history now, and that’s the part we are being thanked for. Is there a warning there too? Possibly, but remember, these people know who they’re dealing with.”
“Is this why you’re an officer and I’m an NCO?” Gularte asked, his tone indicating a near total frustration.
I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing.
“Does this mean our looking into the weird stuff about Kennedy’s death, and this Cobb creature, the yachts, the Stoner weapons system, and the Secret Service is over, or what?”
“Not a chance,” I replied. “Whatever happened there in both instances wasn’t what really happened there, and we’ll keep looking into that until the sun sets on Valhalla. Somebody killed the president of the United States and we few Dwarfs have an obligation to look into it since almost nobody else is.”
“Can I keep that empty Claymore husk for myself?” Gularte asked.
“Only if you can explain to me why you should have it,” I said, not really caring about the thing but interested in what Gularte might say in reply.
“They think I’m a warrior and that’s a sign of respect. You said so yourself.”
“What about me?” I asked, almost laughing, as I didn’t really care at all what happened to the thing.
“They already know you’re a warrior.so you don’t need it.”
“Take it,” I said, sighing deeply and shaking my head as I walked away.