The ride on the freeway down toward and then through San Clemente was made in silence. I said nothing and neither of the women did either. I refused to look over at the Staff Sergeant as I felt that if I made the slightest wrong move the whole scene of which I had been forced to become a part might shatter like a very thin piece of glass.
Once the limo reached the Chistianitos overpass the Staff Sergeant deftly steered the vehicle toward Presidio, which once he turned south it would lead directly into the eastern corner of the compound where the Marine guard gate was located.
“Take this thing to the hotel parking lot for a few minutes,” Mrs. Hunt said, her voice barely audible.
“Yes, ma’am,” the Staff Sergeant replied, acting like everything was just as it was supposed to be.
The hotel was where the gathering would be in very short order, what with my visit from the Chief of Protocol, and now a detour to the place where the disguised birthday ball was going to be held, I wondered about linkage. I was the beach patrol. I was supposedly along to give the Staff Sergeant company, as well as the passengers, but nobody, including me, had been in a talkative mood since departing from El Toro. Why was I there? Why had the sergeant included me in such a seemingly innocent yet sly way?
The Staff Sergeant stopped the car right in front of the portico that extended out over a part of the parking lot, offering visitors and guests a good measure of protection against the elements, not that there were any elements other than sunshine and easy dry heat to deal with.
“Get out and go inside,” Mrs. Hunt instructed, obviously talking to the Staff Sergeant.
I didn’t move. I wanted to go with him in the worst way but felt deep in my core that the woman would say ‘not you,’ or something like that. I was there, accompanying all three of them on purpose. I took in a deep breath and tried not to sigh out loud as the Staff Sergeant exited the Lincoln and stepped through the front door of the hotel. There was nobody around at all, I realized, but then the hotel hadn’t been making it at all before the Nixon’s decided to take over the neighborhood. Now, the hotel would fill up beyond capacity for a few days and then be empty for a week or more. Since the Russians were coming, the hotel would do quite well I was certain, depending upon how long they were staying. There was no chance that any of the staff or security could stay in the compound, and certainly not the residence. They all drank copious amounts of raw alcohol and Pat Nixon was not a fan of drinking or drinkers, much less the kind of people who drank in amounts that seemed to be beyond the realm of possibly surviving.
“Let’s have a little talk,” June Cobb said, speaking her first words to me ever.
I slowly turned my head and twisted my upper body so I could face both of the women. Their gazes were penetrating, and they seemed to be surrounded by an aura of intellect. No wonder the Staff Sergeant was afraid to be alone with them, I thought, feeling as, or more, intimidated than he must have. I waited, since I hadn’t been asked a question.
“You know us,” Mrs. Hunt said, strangely pointing first at her own upper chest and then that of the woman next to her.
“Actually,” I don’t,” I replied, wondering what kind of a test I was experiencing while not wanting to be tested at all.
“We know you,” Mrs. Hunt went on. I was mildly pleased by the fact that she didn’t feel it necessary to point at me when saying the words.
Again, I made no reply.
“You rescued my yacht,” June Cobb said, and then went through it to make sure nobody found anything, so I want to thank you.”
I was astounded, not that she knew I’d been aboard for both events but that fact that I’d had much of anything to do with either. I was just there. Bob rescued her yacht, with Richard’s help while I was simply there. Out on San Clemente Island there was nothing except a government pen to be found.
“And I paid you cash for your services,” Mrs. Hunt said, nodding very seriously before smiling openly.
That didn’t make me feel good either, as I’d hoped nobody would know about the money or even what I did.
“I’m the commander of the beach patrol and that’s it,” I finally said, not having any idea of where these women were going or why they’d wanted to talk to me.
“Did you come in from Mexico?” I asked, blurting the question out simply because I wanted to say something, anything, that might make sense out of the strange meeting.
At least with the Ambassador I’d been given an assignment along with the mystery of why I was being entrusted to do anything at all with foreign dignitaries. I spoke no Russian. My college degree in ethnology hadn’t included any study about the Russian culture or the linguistics involved.
“No, I came in from Cuba,” June replied, delivering the words as if she assumed I would already know that.
“Cuba?” I said, in a bit of shock. “There’s only the Panama Canal to get your yacht from Cuba to here,” I pointed out, trying to place the enormity of such a trip in my mind.
“The yacht was transported by train to Mexico, and I flew,” June said, this time letting me know that I was being a bit of an idiot. “I wasn’t on the boat, that was somebody else, and it shouldn’t have happened that way.”
I didn’t care about the yacht or even who might have been on it.
“Why are you talking to me?” I finally got out. “I’m nobody and you both are connected in ways that I can’t even imagine.
“You need to know some things,” Mrs. Hunt said.
“Why do I need to know anything?” I came back, shaking my head.
“You need to know for posterity,” Cobb added with no delay at all, as if the two of them had practiced before meeting me.
“There’s nobody else. One day soon all this is going to pass into history and nobody’s going to remember things they never knew in the first place,” Mrs. Hunt said.
There was a silence in the car, and although both women looked at me expectantly, like I had some reply, I really had nothing. I didn’t understand either of them, but I was coming to realize that there was more to be afraid of in what I was doing just poking around on my own than I’d fully realized. I was associating with people who were, for all intents and purposes, in control of running the world, not just around me and San Clemente, but literally the world.
I knew I had to say something.
“Alright, thank you for trusting me,” I began. “I’m getting the idea that what I’m looking into isn’t for publication but that I’m still to pursue looking into it. What’s happening in Washington is going to affect everything from the news shows I’m watching, and soon. Is any of this about that?”
“Those are separate issues, although you’re right,” Mrs. Hunt replied. “June is with the other side of this and not involved, but I’ve got to do as much avoidance work as I can.”
I wanted to ask both of them why they were telling me what they were telling me but couldn’t think of any way to do that. I sensed they were both in some sort of trouble, a lot more trouble than I conceived of me being in, but what kind of trouble?
“The separate issues,” I began, faltering slightly, before going on. “What’s your issue Ms. Cobb?”
Cobb stared into my eyes without blinking. I then realized that Dorothy Hunt was not a high threat person but Ms. Cobb certainly was. I felt like I was watching her mind work toward a decision.
“Kennedy,” she replied, finally, the coldness of her stare not warming whatsoever. “The president is right to be committed to solving that and I’m here now because of that.”
“Were you involved,” I asked, in great surprise, and then immediate regret, as her expression became even more threatening.
“I live in regret,” was all she said, before turning to look out her window toward the hotel entrance.
“Were the three Marines somehow because of that?” I continued on, wanting to stop, get back to the compound and rejoin regular humanity, but I couldn’t.
“What three Marines?” Mrs. Hunt asked.
“Yes,” Cobb followed up, her words seeming to run touching the last word in Mrs. Hunt’s sentence.
Both women looked at one another.
“Damn it,” Mrs. Hunt said.
“All of that,” replied Cobb, neither of them speaking to me.
“What do you want from me?” I asked, getting back to something I was fast coming to understand in working with the people in any way affiliated with the Western White House.
Government people always wanted things done or to know things and there was almost no denying them. I wanted out of the car and out of their presence. I needed to hear what they wanted and then I might be let go.
“For you to know,” Cobb said, turning her head to once again face my own.
My torso hurt from my position in the car and the pressures it placed on my wounds. The Marine Corps “T” shirt would have been a better choice of attire, as it was red, and I knew I had to be bleeding or starting to bleed again soon. My wife used cold milk to soak my shirts in, and that seemed to get rid of the blood stains after a good hot wash, and my jacket would hide most of anything that came through until I could get home.
“Will I see you again?” I asked, not having understood her answer or Mrs. Hunt’s silence but knowing I probably never might. I asked the question because I was in fear that one or both of them would attend either the gathering or the coming meeting with Mr. Brezhnev and his security team.
“I’ll be aboard my yacht, which I thank you for bringing back to me in such good condition. Call Richard and I’ll receive you over the next few days. You may bring Pat Bowman and officer Gularte with you if you so choose.”
I was stunned and remained silent. How could the woman have any clue as to what condition the yacht was in or how it got to be returned? Even worse, I understood that Pat Bowman, that wonderful woman, was somehow connected to the Western White House and the ‘friendly’ mole. But Gularte? Where did his name come from? The only connector to everything was Richard, and Richard was not giving her true renditions of almost anything that had happened. I felt a shiver. I was being made to be some sort of hero when, in fact, I wasn’t. That had also happened following my service in country. Nothing good had so far come from being that fake hero and my misgivings were beginning to rise to the level of real fear in once more becoming something I was not. Being. Hero was to be a target but denying any of things that were described as others as heroic behavior didn’t help, it just made things worse. A hero who denied being a hero was considered to be more valid and a bigger hero than before. There was no sense to it but I was living it so I shut up.
“Are we done here?” Mrs. Hunt asked, looking at Cobb, not me.
I twisted back around in my seat and spear of pain when through me that was not tolerable, and I groaned aloud, trying to hold it back but unsuccessful in doing so.
“Your wounds?” Cobb asked, from over my shoulder.
I couldn’t get a word out to reply, afraid that I’d lose it or pass out. I knew the pain would pass in a few minutes if I didn’t move just as I recognized the fact that the woman, or women, behind me knew a whole lot more about me and my background than I would ever have guessed without hearing Cobb’s comment.
“I’ll get the driver,” Mrs. Hunt said, getting out of the Lincoln and heading through the door into the hotel lobby.
It only took seconds for her to find the waiting sergeant and return.
Once back in the Lincoln we headed for the compound, only minutes away.
“Drop us at the compound and then you might consider getting him home or to the ER on the other end of town,” June Cobb instructed.
“Yes, ma’am,” the Staff Sergeant said, glancing over at me.
I remained straight and erect in my posture, holding myself all together, feeling the warmth of blood running gently down the center of my body. I gauged the volume and knew I could make it home if I didn’t move.
The Lincoln moved slowly but deliberately toward the compound, the sergeant looking at me occasionally. Our arrival was without incident. The two women got out, Mrs. Hunt saying that she’d enjoyed putting a face to my name, and Cobb indicating that she’d see me again soon.
“Home,” I got out, without groaning or crying.
“What in hell did they do to you?”
“Just home,” I repeated, having no interest in talking further, my full attention on simply surviving and enduring the pain until it passed.
The rest of the day was spent with my wife taking care of me, going back to having four by fours taped up and down the front of my body and having her keep asking me how I’d gotten in such bad condition.
The night was fitful, but Julie came into the bed after midnight, tucked herself carefully between us, along with Mrs. Beasley, and everything suddenly got better. The next day was going to be a big day, the day of the gathering, and I had to be up for that, or my wife would never forgive me.
Anxiety and nervousness were the order of the later morning hours, and it ate its way through me as well as through my wife. I could not shake the meeting I’d had with Cobb and Hunt from my mind, as I’d come to tune in late at night to the network news on all three major stations. E. Howard Hunt was up to his elbows in the developing scandal being called Watergate. Dorothy Hunt was never mentioned but there were rumors at the compound that she was the democratic party’s ‘paymaster,’ although nobody ever went into detail about what that title really meant. It meant that she’d paid me with funds from the party and not the government, as I’d always assumed, and the thought of that money being attributed to something of a contact with Watergate bothered me. The gathering was scheduled to be at two in the afternoon, so I wanted to leave at one to be sure to park properly, get inside early as instructed and also be available to security for whatever they might want from me, although the beach was a good quarter mile and down a vertical cliff from the location of the hotel.
We arrived at the hotel a half hour early, as I’d been instructed. Only security was around, with Secret Service, U.S. Marshals and some of the local cops I knew milling around or talking in small groups with cigarettes burning everywhere.
My wife and I waited in the foyer, where chairs were placed against both walls. Ten minutes before the affair was supposed to get underway, a young woman I’d never seen before came to stand in front of us. She held out her hand to my wife, a big smile on her face.
“Come with me,” she said, the tone of her voice so welcoming that it would never have occurred to either my wife or I to not follow her lead.
The doors to the hotel’s conference room swung open from the inside, as if on command, and we stepped through. To our right was a receiving line. Haldeman and Ehrlichman were both standing near the end of it, with Pat Nixon and the President at the very end. A dozen people I’d seen before but never really come to know formed most of the line. The young lady ushered us to the head of the line and both of us began smiling and shaking hands as we made our way down the line from one person to another. Pat Nixon was the only one who said my name, as we had no name tags. I’d seen the name tags of the formally invited set on a table right next to where the conference room double doors opened but we had nothing.
“Beach Boy’s wife,” Pat Nixon smiled warmly, in shaking my wife’s hand before my own. I shook her hand in turn, before stepping in front of the president.
Nixon didn’t smile, simply and weakly shaking hands.
My wife and I headed to the back of the room, to one of the stand up and tall, little tables where filled wine glasses dotted the top. White wine and red were the choices with no indication of what the wine was or its make or origin.
My wife stood at the back of one table, selecting a red.
“Beach Boy’s wife?” she whispered. “I presume you’re going to tell me at some point that that name’s some sort of name of great respect.”
A young couple came through the line and headed to the only occupied table we were standing at.
“Hi,” the woman said, her expression friendly.
I shook hands with the man I presumed was her husband. I didn’t even get a chance to read either of their name tags. The woman was wearing one of those long dresses with a big bow located at the center front of the thing just under her rather large breasts.
“Oh, hello,” my wife said, almost toasting the woman’s arrival with her wine glass. “When are you due?” she went on.
It was like time stopped as a short silence descended. I somehow knew what the woman was going to reply before she said the words.
“I’m not pregnant.”
My wife’s face turned to stone as she slowly put her wine glass on the table. I looked around me, but there was nothing to be done or any help anywhere.
My wife started physically backing up until she reached the wall. I went along, wondering what she was doing. The wall had one of those push bar openers running horizontally across its center. My wife pushed her back into it and stepped through the opening as the door gaped open. I followed her, looking up and down the empty alley just outside, as the door closed behind me with a loud click.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Why did I say that?’ my wife replied, the stress in her tone one I’d never heard before.
I grabbed the door handle and tried to turn it.
“Come on,” I said, as I tried to take her arm and guide her. “We’ll have to walk around and go in the front.”
“I’m never going back inside there, not now, not ever,” she replied. “We’re going home. Go get the car, right now.”
I did as I was told, wondering how the classiest woman I’d ever met and just about the most intelligent, could ever have made such a monumental mistake.
We drove in silence.
Once I got my wife settled back in at home there was no point in staying there. Her level of distress wasn’t something that any counseling from me was going to lessen or mitigate. Only time would help, and maybe the company of Julie since, even at her very young age, Julie had a capability to dismiss those things she encountered in life that didn’t matter to her. My argument that the gathering, and all the people we really didn’t have relationships within the Nixon administration, had no meaning in our lives so why be distressed about one possibly embarrassing moment in time with them went nowhere during our short drive back to the apartment.
The afternoon lay ahead of me, and I had a lot on my mind. My unimportant position with the Western White House coupled with my seemingly very important meaning to some of them was difficult to accommodate. I was a second lieutenant, the lowest officer of the low, but once more I was, as in the valley, commanding nearly half a battalion, or so I felt. I wanted to take a run on the beach, but I didn’t want to come back home and take the time to get cleaned up and then change in order to make the beach patrol shift at six p.m. with Richard.
I wasn’t looking forward to the shift, as being around the talented, financed and obviously successful man wasn’t comfortable. I had to be alert and ‘on’ all the time, totally unlike the times I spent combing the beaches with Gularte, or even Herberich or Steed. My wife’s faux paux at the gathering was going to have reverberations for some time in my household and there was nothing I could do about it except practice avoidance.
I laid out my uniform across our bed, threw on my OP shorts, Marine Corps “T” shirt and New Balance running shoes.
“I’m never going to another one of your parties again,” my wife said, as I eased as quietly down the stairs as I could, having hoped to get through the front door before she encountered me.
“Okay,” I replied, giving her a supporting smile.
“Who were those people?” she asked, placing herself between the bottom of the stairs where I stood and the front door.
“What people?” I replied, knowing full well that she meant the couple she’d made the vital mistake with.
She turned and headed for the kitchen, her departing expression one of complete disgust.
The only place I could think to go, once I got through the front door, was Galloways. A nexus of peace and quiet in my life of wildly different disorders, all seemingly centered on me. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be less important and sought after, or at least have some understanding about why such attention was being paid to me without me understanding the reason why.
The afternoon crowd was gone by the time I got to restaurant. I left the Volks at home because I wanted the walk out in the fresh air. The mild wind blowing in off the ocean from only a few blocks away was refreshing as well as a reminder that the whole beach extending miles in each direction was under my control and it didn’t give a damn about my importance or lack thereof.
There was nobody at the restaurant except Tom and Lorraine. The dinner trade hadn’t started pouring in. Tom’s informal, simple but inexpensive and tasty dinners were becoming a legend around the small town. How he could turn a paddy of ground beef, served on white bread with gravy into a Salisbury Steak delight was beyond me. Chief Murray had Galloways provide meals when prisoners were in San Clemente’s holding cells awaiting transport up to county. The Chief swore that some of the town drunk regulars deliberately got arrested to enjoy eating the Salisbury Steak from Galloways.
I went inside to sit at my usual table. I wasn’t there for more than a minute before Lorraine came out with a cup of coffee and a comment.
“Your new friends are coming,” she said, as Mike Manning and Jim Gularte approached from the sidewalk, both talking to one another in a very animated way.
I wanted to hold my head in both hands. The mysteries and seeming coincidences were coming too fast. My body was still sore so I sat straight up however, and I was wearing my red shirt so not telltale rivulets of blood would embarrass me.
“You can do it,” I whispered to myself, talking a sip of coffee and waiting.