Gularte and Manning walked into the restaurant, both laughing as they crossed the short distance to my table. I didn’t smile when they took the available chairs on both sides of me. Lorraine appeared with ‘bad tea’ for Manning and a cup of coffee for Gularte. Neither of them had spoken to her or asked for anything. The tea cannister Lorraine had acquired from somewhere, seeming to indicate that it might hold a good chunk of real quality tea leaves was actually filled with a couple of Lipton tea bags she’d emptied into it.
“I presume I’m paying the bill?” I asked, radiating a certain discontent through my tone and demeanor. In reality, I was hiding the fact that I was more afraid than discontented. I was afraid I had dug myself, with help, into a hole that had either no way out or would cause me, my wife and Julie great harm in getting out of or even trying to get out of.
“I’m broke,” Manning said, surprising me.
“What about your biggest sale ever?” I blurted out, a little perturbed.
“Spent it all on more supplies, since you bought all my green apple shampoo.”
“You actually bought green apple shampoo?” Gularte said, the smile he’d kept from laughing on his way-in with Manning, never having left his face.
“And I’m a local cop, a reserve officer, which means I work basically for free, and then there’s my new insurance premium, thanks to you, coming out on the third of next month from a checking account that currently has less than five dollars in it.”
“I saved that,” Manning said.
I looked over at him in question.
“Your premium for the second month,” he went on.
Manning held up his cup of tea and yelled back toward the kitchen, “Now this is what I’m talking about. Great imported tea.”
I had enough cash to pay whatever the bill was, as well as the cash I needed to cover Lorraine’s finder’s fee, covering a ‘finding’ she’d never made, so I didn’t push sharing the bill.
“Cobb,” I said, into the silence.
“That woman,” Gularte replied, taking a drink of his coffee and holding onto it for a bit. I knew he was thinking fast and hard, not having been prepared for the odd comment that was really a question.
“June,” I think,” Gularte mused to himself for a bit.
“I was running on the beach, in my time off, and she waved me over out near the estate. What was I going to do? She’s an attractive, although older, woman.”
“And?” I said, my voice low and serious.
“She wanted to know if I was a friend of yours,” Gularte replied, a cagey note of caution in his tone.
“So, you were running on the beach, and wearing what?” I asked, pointedly.
“My Marine Corps running shorts and that was it,” Gularte answered.
“How in hell would she know to ask you about me if she had no idea what you were or did? She’s only been here for a day and a night.”
“I don’t know,” Gularte said, and I could tell he was being as truthful as he could be under the interrogating circumstance.
“Surveillance,” I whispered out, more to myself than the men with me. “She looked at some video, but why would she do that?”
Gularte’s innocence and lack of understanding what was going on meant that I wasn’t taking him anywhere near that yacht. June Cobb was a player of the highest order and Gularte was a war-damaged child. Pat, at the Police department, was communicating with someone at the compound but she hadn’t mentioned who, only that she was. I wasn’t taking her to the yacht either. I was going to go by myself, all I had to do was decide which firearm or firearms I was going to wear to the event. June hadn’t mentioned that she’d be alone, or others might be around the marina to look after her interests…which brought my thinking back to Richard. Richard was a professional I knew. I just didn’t know what his specialty, or specialties, were. He wasn’t a combat vet, that much I was almost certain of. Gularte was, as was Lieutenant Gates and Manning. Richard might be capable of killing but he’d likely never encountered anyone who would shoot him simply out of suspicion or to disable his capabilities or intent. I liked Richard but I’d shoot him in a heartbeat if it became necessary. I shook my head.
“What are you thinking oh great beach patrol commander?” Gularte asked.
His question brought me back to the world I was in, and I veered away from thinking about the disposal of human beings no matter how much they might need to be disposed of. I didn’t want to add any more to my consistent dream. Many times, I would awaken, thankfully not screaming but in silence. I could see this curving road, going back and forth down a hillside in front of me. Along the road were Vietnamese squatting at many points as the road swerved down toward my position. The people, all of them stared at me. That was all. I looked back at them, one by one, never recognizing any of them from my time over there. I dreaded a time when the men I was responsible for being dead might show up along the sides of that road. I couldn’t afford to add anyone to that procession if I could possibly help it. The one shrink I’d talked to about the dream thought that I might only relieve myself of it by being institutionalized on medication, but that wasn’t going to happen.
I was going to see June Cobb and I was going alone. I would try my best to go unarmed. I was home, in the USA, and I needed to start thinking like a regular citizen or I’d never make the adjustment. I wasn’t adjusted yet and I knew it. My wife knew it. Even Julie knew it. She would drag her doll to the side of my bed on those rare mornings when I slept in. I’d wake, somehow uncomfortable, and she’d be standing inches away next to the side of the bed, her Mrs. Beasley doll dangling down from one hand, and she’d be staring silently at me, waiting patiently for me to wake up. It was a bit like the dream, but I knew Julie was the greatest supporter I had on the planet, save my wife, and that made it okay.
“I’m thinking about paying the bill and getting out of here,” I replied.
My thoughts turned to my coming visit aboard Cobb’s boat, if she was there when I arrived. The armed part of my visit was easily solved. I’d simply wear my police uniform, which meant I’d have my .44 Magnum, not that I really expected to need it. It would simply give me a feeling of more security. I would have asked Gularte to accompany me, to watch my back, as we’d discussed, but I didn’t want to do that until I knew more about his potential relationship with a dangerous, and potentially lethal, woman.
“Claymore,” I whispered.
“Claymore?” Manning repeated, questioningly, the teacup in his hand returning to the ceramic saucer with a very sharp click.
“Tell him,” I instructed Gularte.
Gularte went through an accurate rendition of what had occurred down at the beach.
“My God,” that’s not funny at all,” Mike said, staring out the window, his mind no doubt going back to his time over there. “That’s a threat if ever I heard of one. A silent deadly and untraceable threat. Just what the hell are you into. You work for the Western White House, you’re a cop, you’re an insurance agent, what the hell else are you.”
“I got the husk,” Gularte said with a big smile. Someday it’ll be worth a lot to a collector, or I can pull that trick on somebody I don’t like.”
“That’s just dumb,” Manning said. “Just how many guys like the three of us would even know what the hell one of those was for? A lot of men were over there but not that many played with Claymores.”
I noted that Mike didn’t say it was dumb to play a trick like that on anybody simply because of the potential terror it could generate, instead simply mentioning the rather obvious fact that most of the public would never recognize the device if it was placed somewhere.
I got up from the small table, reaching into my pocket for some cash.
Lorraine instantly appeared.
“You coming in later?” she asked, the words coming out like the lyrics of a song.
I pulled out a single ten-dollar bill, but she stopped me.
“If you come in later, I’ll just take it out of the tab,” she said, winking her right eye slyly.
She wanted her finder’s fee, I realized. I wondered how the restaurant was doing, since weekdays in San Clemente were not the best days for a lot of people to be walking around up and down Del Mar Avenue. Money had been good for me once I tied up with the Western White House, Tom Thorkelson and Chuck Bartok.
I had money in the bank and I was paying the bills and then some, plus my secret stash in my shoeshine box in the closet.
“I’ll be back before the day’s out,” I said to Lorraine, pushing the ten back into my pocket. “I’ll see you guys later. When do you close the shop for the day Mike?”
“Five on weekdays, eight weekends.”
“See you for dinner at six at my place on Cabrillo, for the paperwork,” I said, heading for the door before he could answer. Lorraine had gently reminded me that the insurance work needed to be done as the rest of my life seemed to consume most all of my time.
I went home to my wife and daughter, both of whom were there and in good spirits. The string on Mrs. Beasley had broken near its entry point into the side of the doll, however, and Julie was pretty upset about that. My wife wanted me to repair the thing but I really didn’t want to do it as that ever repeating artificial voice could drive anyone crazy after a while.
I told my wife where I was going in uniform so early in the day. I simply omitted the mention of June Cobb, instead changing the meeting to one between Richard and me over a training issue. I lied about the fact that I’d be home in plenty of time to work on Mrs. Beasley before the dinner with Manning.
I drove the short distance to Dana Point in the Volks, not wanting to use the Bronco for personal transport, especially since Dana Point couldn’t really be reached, at least the harbor, by using the beaches to get there. Limiting the Bronco to twenty miles per hour on city streets wasn’t something I found attractive either.
Before parking I drove all the newly opened streets that had been built to surround all the jetties, piers and support structures. I was looking for anything out of place, or any police or military presence. I found nothing. I parked a good distance from where I was heading, knowing that as much as I did that for security, I was also exposing myself for longer in a uniform that was immediately visible and recognizable.
I moved with the slight modulation of the harbor waves, working my way around the slot where the Cobb yacht was docked. I examined, with my Leica binoculars that I’d paid too much money for, but could not pass up, the areas surrounding the yacht’s pier slot. Nothing. If there was backup or security involved, then they were such professionals that I was unable to spot them with my rudimentary equipment.
The yacht was solitary and seemingly unattended, as far as I could ascertain, so I walked the quarter mile from where I’d parked toward the slip.
Richard’s expensive boat was only a few slips away, although it took up the entirety of the water of its slip, unlike Cobb’s much smaller yacht. Whether Richard was onboard or not was beyond my limited ability to know without stopping by, which I had no plans to do.
There was no gangplank connecting the yacht’s hull to the pier, but it was only a short three-foot hop to get aboard. The railing was separated at the center, so I walked quietly down toward the stern. The area was as I remembered it from the wild and crazy rescue Bob Elwell, and I had made only days before. The hatch leading into the compartment below decks was open and showed almost no evidence that the entire cabin door and frame had been replaced. I wondered where the Navy or whoever could acquire the necessary wooden pieces or fabricate them in such short order. There was no question that Ms. Cobb was someone of special importance but certainly not because of any fame or office that I’d so far heard about.
The hatch was open. I approached, and then leaned down to look inside.
“Enter,” Cobb said, from somewhere deep inside.
“It’s just me,” I replied, feeling foolish.
“Who else would it be?” Cobb said back, coming into the main cabin from somewhere forward.
“I mean,” I got out tentatively, “I didn’t bring the others.”
I was a bit taken aback by Cobb’s appearance. Unlike Mrs. Hunt the day before, Cobb was rather striking in appearance, in almost every way. She wore gray deck shoes with white trousers and a matching white blouse, both making the bright blue belt she wore stand out. Her makeup was perfect as was her shoulder length hair. I was a bit uncomfortable being within the enclosed space with nobody else around anywhere.
“I didn’t expect you would,” Cobb replied.
“Sit,” she directed, sitting down herself on one of the long cushions that lined the port side of the hull. She pointed across the space.
Her commands gave me the feeling of being in the Marine Corps again. No extra words, just orders, acceptance of orders and little else.
“You have questions,” Cobb said, taking out a pack of Camel cigarettes and lighting one. She didn’t offer one to me. There was no question mark to her words. Another, sort of, order. I waited until she seemed ready, the yellow camel seeming to jump out at me a bit as it rested atop her crossed legs.
“What did you mean by posterity?” I asked, the meaning of the word plain to me but not its usage in why I might get to know more about something as deep and arcane as the Kennedy assassination than almost anyone on the planet…which was only true if what I’d found out so far was true.
“You should already have surmised that,” Cobb replied, blowing a puff of Camel smoke at me.
“What I’m supposedly learning is stuff that’s never going to come out through the media,” I began, trying to ‘surmise’ what I could. “In fact, there was no real investigation of the murder.”
“Murders,” Cobb said, blowing more smoke across the cabin, the yellow camel on her cigarette pack seeming to almost jump out at me, or draw me closer, as it shown brilliantly atop the pure white of her crossed thigh.
“Murders?” I repeated, feeling stupid again. Did she mean the Marines, I wondered?
“Bobby,” she said.
I knew she meant Bobby Kennedy but that realization only caused me to become a bit more nervous. Wasn’t one assassination enough?
“Bobby was killed by Sirhan,” I quoted, from all I could remember and come to believe.
“No,” Cobb said.
“I understand,” I shot back, trying not to shake my head or rub a hand through my hair. I didn’t understand. I understood about the assassination and even Bobby’s death, but I could not fathom my placement in any of it.
“What is it that you really want? I’m nobody, just come home beaten to hell from that war, and now trying to raise my young daughter and live with my wife. All I’ve been looking into, and that’s sure got a lot of strange attention, no offense, just makes me feel like I might be putting myself in danger by knowing, or thinking I know more.”
Cobb smiled, bringing her cigarette down to dangle from her right hand.
“The assassination is being talked about, rumored about and has created more rumors than the death of Jesus Christ. Your knowledge, so far, has more truth to it than any of the theories you might hear, but the continuing and growing existence of that interest in both deaths is protection all in of itself. Nobody’s going to believe a nobody like you about any of it no matter to whom you might shout the information out. Your unimportance is the real value you have and the only interest I have in talking to you at all.”
I swallowed. I’d never in my life been so formally told that my lack of importance as a human being was possibly my greatest feature. I felt like asking for one of her cigarettes, my few smoked, or choked over with the Gunny in the A Shau coming to mind. I stared across the short distance between us in silence. She hadn’t asked a question so I didn’t have an answer. I only had one question of my own remaining.
“Are you going to tell me?” I asked.
“Tell you what?” she replied.
“You should already have surmised that,” I said, not smiling in giving her own words right back to her.
“You play chess?” she asked, smiling at the near insult I’d just delivered.
“Are you going to tell me?” I asked her again, ignoring her comment, which I knew had nothing to do with the game. “That’s the only remaining question I have for you.”
“Not here,” Cobb said, “This boat was in possession of those whom I may not know and anything could be planted in here.”
“Like the pen I found, the second pen?”
“Yes,” she said, coming to her feet.
“Why Gularte?” I asked, unable to stop myself.
The woman was giving me information and offering more, but she was also stepping into my life in a very personal way. I was making friends with real people, like Gularte and Pat Bowman, and that was helping me try to adjust to a world I now knew I had little understanding of. I didn’t want my developing life screwed with by people who held powerful positions and could easily make me a pariah.
“I thought you were through with questions,” she replied, stepping to the open cabin door and waving me out.
I got up and walked toward the open hatch but stopped right at her side, so close I could smell the faint aroma of Youth Dew perfume, the exact same kind of expensive Estee Lauder stuff my wife wore.
“Gularte,” I whispered, “Why Gularte?”
“Because I do my homework and I needed to know about you,” she said, nodding her head toward the open cabin door.
“Where and when?” I asked, climbing the steps to the deck.
“I’ll find you before I leave, or Richard will,” she said, closing the hatch before I could say anything else.
I moved back to the break in the railing chain and hopped to the pier. I stared over at Richard’s big yacht.
I headed over, almost against my will. I wasn’t afraid of the man, but I didn’t like the covert nature of his presence in my life, my reserve force or anywhere else. I hadn’t prospected him for a life insurance policy so I could use that as my excuse for visiting, although my wearing of the uniform would be out of place, I knew.
Richard’s yacht had a gangplank, although the chain between railings was attached together with a clasp. I opened it, laid the chain lightly down and stepped down into the lower cockpit. Compared with Cobb’s yacht, the hatch leading down into the yacht’s interior was much bigger and thicker. I noted that the door had a little lens buried in the wood near its top, like one might find in a hotel room.
I knocked on the door without trying the lever-style handle. I would prospect for insurance if he was in but what I really wanted to do was think of some questions that might reveal what he was really doing without him knowing I wanted that information. My mind whirled as I waited for any response from the other side of the door.
It opened almost silently, Richard standing just back from it. When he saw who it was, obviously having failed to look through the small glass lens, he moved immediately forward to fill up the entire space the door was set into.
“Commander,” he breathed out, moving forward, forcing me to back up a few steps. He closed the door behind him.
In the instant after the door was opened, I’d glanced over his left shoulder to see a fast-disappearing man moving toward the bow of the yacht. I knew that man’s corpulent body, strange kinky hair and gait.
“What can I do for you?” Richard asked, a big smile gleaming across his facial features.
The man in his cabin was Henry Kissinger.