Richard and I spent an uncomfortable moment staring at one another. He probably wanted to ask me if I’d recognized his famous guest, but he didn’t. I wanted to ask where the U.S. Marshals that provide security and protection for the United States Secretary of State wherever he might be located, but I didn’t ask my question either.
“How about you call me and we’ll get together for a bit,” I said, trying not to give anything away.
“Yeah, that would be great,” he replied. “I’m living on the boat right now so I have a land line, and I know you’ve got the number. Anywhere any time,” he went on nervously, probably also wondering why I was in full police uniform. “I hear they’re coming next week.”
I was shocked. I knew Richard had to be talking about the coming of the Russian delegation but how would he have the ability to get such information. Then I remembered who was down in his cabin. I had to get together with Richard right away I knew. Whatever he was up to might not be good for my future in any of my endeavors, and the question of who Richard really was came back to the very top of my list of unsolved mysteries.
Kissinger had spoken to me three times since I’d been working the beach and reporting in to the compound. Once had been to have me taken off any detail where I was to be his driver to and from El Toro after he found out I was fluent in German. The second was in humor down at the beach while I was parked in the Bronco. He’d walked over and informed me, using his deep German accent, that my speaking to the president when I was walking with him at the edge of the surf and then answering out loud for the president who was completely ignoring me, was one of the funniest things he’d ever heard. The last time was when I was at attention in front of Haldeman being chewed out for something I’d forgotten. He walked right up and told me to leave in German. Kissinger and I were not on the best of terms, although, once again, I didn’t rise to a level of important enough significance to truly be noticed by him or have any place in his life at all.
“Tomorrow, let’s get the Dwarfs together in the early evening, since you’re on the schedule with Gularte.”
I turned, stepped up out of the cockpit and hopped off the yacht, never turning to say goodbye or any of that. Whatever game Richard was playing was at a level above what I used to call my pay grade when I had a pay grade, but I had no choice but to play it with him.
I drove the short distance from my home to Straight Ahead, the troublesome drug rehab facility built into an old delapidated structure up on the bluff overlooking the harbor. Why the community permitted it to be there, since the real estate in Dana Point was screaming upward, was beyond my understanding or even desire to know. I parked my Volks outside, glad that it was only one of a number of other Volkswagens in the lot. Going to a shrink, I was almost sure, would cost me at least my job with the Western White House and the police department, and possibly even Mass Mutual, my growing lucrative sales connection. I noted that the place was just as awful on the inside as the outside, with peeling white paint everywhere. The first door on my right, painted an awful brown color had a sign hanging on the door, held there by a small nail driven half-way into the solid wood.
‘psychiatric help 5 cents,’ it read, which made me smile. The sign over Lucy’s little booth in the Peanuts comic strip read the same. I knocked on the door.
“Enter,” I heard a male’s voice instruct through the old door, the use of the single word taking my thoughts directly back to June Cobb.
I opened the door and stepped inside, closing it behind me. Behind the desk sat a man a few years younger than me, wearing an Aloha shirt with Hibiscus flowers all over it in big red blotches, set against a faded white background. I was struck by the man’s appearance. Although clean shaven he sported a long brown ponytail and his left ear was pierced by a small gold earring.
“Sit,” he ordered, extending one hand toward the only other chair in the room, placed directly in front of him. He went back to dealing with some paperwork without looking up again. After a few minutes I could not help but say something.
“What, no couch?” I asked, hoping that some humor might break the strange silence.
The man looked up.
“The name’s Paul, Paul Mantel, nice to meet you. You’re not here for drugs or alcohol, you just don’t have the look. Next time you don’t have to dress for the occasion.”
I blushed slightly and I wasn’t sure why. I’d worn my Western White House attire, with coat and tie and highly polished shoes. I was about as out of place as I could be but only realized it when he said what he said.
“Not a bill collector, which is good,” Paul said, smiling.
I looked into his deep brown eyes, staring back at me unblinking. I looked straight into high intellect and felt it. He’d caught my blush and ignored it and used the collector comment to help break the ice.
“I was shot three times in Vietnam,” I started out, not understanding at all why I began with that statement but could not stop. “I work now for the Western White House, commander of the police reserves in San Clemente, sell life insurance on the side for Mass Mutual, but can’t go to the VA or anybody else because I’ll lose everything. I have a wonderful wife and daughter but there’s stuff I can’t tell them.” I stopped, finally breathing in, and then waiting for I knew not what.
Paul put his elbows on the desk in front of him, and then rested his chin on the tops of his crossed hands, not unlike the position that Ehrlichman often took at his desk in the compound.
“It took a lot of thought and trouble for you to walk through my door, which means you are, indeed, in a lot trouble. Why me?”
“Psychiatric help 5 cents,” I replied, not smiling or laughing at the humor.
“My cheap rate’s pasted to that sign out front,” Paul replied, “not that it’s brought anybody else in. I’m tired of talking to kids who take drugs because it’s all in life that make them feel good for even a short time and I can’t give them the things they’d need to get enjoyment out of anything else in their lives.”
I stared at the strangely intelligent young man, wondering if I was there to give him therapy or get it from him.
“You’ve got fifty minutes left, so tell me your story.”
There was nothing standard about the man or his approach to therapy, I realized, but then I’d not walked in looking for a standard approach, if there really was that sort of thing in clinical psychology.
I told him something of what I’d been through in Vietnam, leaving much of the really terrible stuff out, and then I spent some time discussing my work for the Western White House, my wife and daughter and the mess I felt I was living without any relief. Paul held up his hand before I was done.
“That’s forty-five minutes,” he said. I hadn’t failed to notice that he’d never moved or changed expression as he’d sat back in his chair.
I stopped talking, not realizing just how fast the minutes had flown by, or why I was bothering to be in front of the man in the first place. I had five minutes left. I stuck my hand into my right front pocket to pull out the two twenties I’d brought for the purpose.
“You’re talking about the past, and that’s why you’re here, but it’s the present I’m concerned about for you. You did things over there you feel guilty about, things you haven’t told me. You’re still involved with things you don’t want to do but must. It’s your sense of guilt that I want to work with. You don’t feel good about yourself so let’s talk about the present and the future.”
I sat in silent shock as he finished, looking at me like he expected some sort of response.
“Redemption,” he said, turning his chair to stare out the window, which only gave him a view of the busted asphalt parking lot and plenty of passing traffic on Pacific Coast Highway that ran back and forth in front of the place non-stop about twenty yards away.
“Redemption?” I asked, not being able to figure out anything else to say.
“You’re going to do one good act every day, and the next morning, when you look at yourself in the mirror shaving, reflect on that good act of the day before, and then whisper to that image, ‘I’m a good person.’
“What’s my good act for today supposed to be?” I replied to his strange therapeutic solution to my problems in life.
“My forty dollars,” he replied, turning again to face me, his chair squeezing slightly.
We both stared at each other without expression. And then we laughed at the same time.
“The day’s not over,” Paul said, holding out his hand for the money while I fished in my pocket. “You’ll find something.”
“That’s it?” I said, watching him carefully smooth out the two bills on his desktop before carefully placing them in the middle drawer.
“Next Tuesday, and Thursday, if you have the money. Whatever’s going on inside your brain, and we haven’t touched the tip of that fiery spear, is going to take a while. Two visits a week for quite some time to come, or unless I get fired from here for looking as frightfully frustrated as I am with all of this.” He waived his arm around to take in the Straight Ahead facility beyond the walls of his wreck of an office.
I got up out of my chair, feeling a bit dazed and uncertain. I hadn’t been expecting any kind of directives about how to conduct myself in the future. On television psychologists listened, nodded and almost never gave advice, much less instructions about how to modify conduct.
I looked at all the walls in the office but there was nothing on any of them.
“If you’re looking for a sheepskin or certificate you won’t find it. Kings University in London, and you’ve never heard of it. Different, like me. Went there to stay out of the war, which is where you should have gone but didn’t have the family, the mindset or the money at the time.” He looked at his watch. “You’re twenty seconds over your time so get out. See you next Tuesday if you raise the money and can handle the kind of truth you just got delivered to you. I like you, although I have no idea why, so I hope you make it back, or at least, go to work on the redemption.”
“Thank you, doctor,” I said going to the closed door.
“I’m not a psychiatrist, I don’t prescribe ridiculous medications, so I’m not considered a real doctor. I’m a psychologist, so call me Paul.”
I walked out of Paul’s office without saying anything else, carefully closing it behind me.
Once outside of the delapidated building I went to my Volks and sat in the driver’s seat. I could just make out Paul, an angled view of his back to my view through the scummy window. I peered intently through my own mess of a windshield. I watched him take the money out of the center desk drawer and smooth both notes on the desk in front of him. I leaned back in my seat, turned the ignition key to on but not start. The radio came on, tuned to KRLA in Los Angeles. The broadcast was in the middle of a song I recognized from having heard it only recently at Galloway’s restaurant: “All the burning bridges that have fallen after me, all the lonely feelings and the burning memories, everyone I left behind each time I closed the door, burning bridges lost forevermore.”
I knew it was all wrong to try to apply musical lyrics to my own life but I couldn’t help it, any more than I’d been able to help it back in the A Shau Valley. The bridge over the Bong Song, all the Marines I’d left behind, although they were still with me. I was trying to build new bridges, back home, I knew. No matter what, the only person on the planet who seemed to understand me at all, aside from my magical wife, was Paul. I’d be there on Tuesday and Thursday no matter what, and, if I had to, I’d use every bit of the money I’d been paid off to use for that purpose. Paul was a long way from perfect but perfect I didn’t need, just someone who might be able to help. Would living a life of redemption work for me? Had I already, at such a young age, burned all my bridges? I didn’t think so, and I felt like Paul didn’t think so either.
I started the Volks and headed back into San Clemente. I avoided the Pacific Coast Highway, instead veering onto the connector to Interstate 5 and heading at top speed toward Avenida Presidio, which would let me off only two blocks from the police department headquarters. My ‘redeeming’ act of the day wouldn’t be spent talking to my wife. It would be with Pat Bowman, whom I’d mostly ignored after her revelation about being the ‘mole’ inside the Dwarfs. I stopped short of the station, however, making the decision not to go in without having my uniform on. It would seem vaguely suspicious, and the Chief was a very bright, although also very laid-back man. I headed back to Cabrillo and ended up in my own driveway.
My wife wasn’t home. I knew she’d either be at the Coronet shopping for something or more likely enjoying the afternoon sun at the beach. She and Julie loved the beach right south of the base of the pier, and I loved that they loved that instead of the more popular “T” Street beach a quarter mile further south. The lifeguard tower at the base of the pier was supported by direct surveillance from Tower Zero which raised up a good fifty feet not more than a hundred yards from the pier’s concrete base. There was safety in numbers and high surf coming into San Clemente could be problematic, many times without much warning of its approach.
I quickly changed into my uniform, noting how clean and pressed it was. My wife was amazing at such things. I drove up to the headquarters and entered through the rear parking lot door. The chief’s car was in his reserved space, so I crept quietly through the door opening and approached Pat’s open door. I knew the Chief’s door would most probably also be open, as it was a part of his policy to be available for everyone at all times.
I stuck my head around the corner. Pat instantly noticed my presence and smiled, slyly. I didn’t have to motion to her at all, I knew, as I retreated to the parking lot and waited by the door.
In seconds she was beside me.
“I have something to say,” I began, stalling for a few seconds, only starting to figure out what I really wanted to say.
“Ah, I owe you an apology,” I said. “You had no obligation to tell me anything before, and the Dwarfs aren’t a real organization, so what happened shouldn’t have disturbed me, or especially, you. I’m going to bring you in on everything I know, including Cobb, Hunt and even Kissinger.”
“My God,” Pat said, no longer smiling. “You move fast. I’ve never heard of Cobb, Mrs. Hunt’s husband is involved in the Watergate thing but I’ve never even met Mr. Kissinger. Why are you telling me this now, since you seemed to have lost your trust in me.”
“I never lost my trust in you as a person,” I replied, meaning every word of what I said. “I’m telling you because of redemption, not of you but of me.”
“I don’t understand,” Pat said, frowning and shaking her head.
“You don’t have to yet. I don’t have time right now and this is the wrong place. Our next Dwarf’s meeting, just after.”
“Okay,” Pat replied, not disappointing me at all. She didn’t delve or demand an explanation on the spot, which gave me a deep feeling of trust.
“Beach Patrol goes at four p.m. so let’s plan it for six at the usual place. I’ll call everyone and let Shawna know we’re coming.”
I was surprised by the immediacy of her putting the Dwarfs together but wasn’t going to argue or evidence anything but enthusiasm. She wanted to know, I understood, as I would in her place.
Since I was in uniform anyway, I decided to take the Bronco down to the beach and drive around for a bit. Since I wouldn’t really be on patrol I didn’t need to schedule or call in a partner.
“I’m going to hit the beach and drive around for a bit,” I told her, as she turned to re-enter the facility.
I didn’t need to go inside for the Bronco keys, as I had the local locksmith make copies for twenty dollars, an exorbitant price but worth it if he told no one, which I kind of thought he might not. Tony ran a shady locksmith/pawn broker and resale shop on El Camino Real. The place looked like a dump from the inside and outside, but it served to allow the police department to keep an eye on the real crooks but ignore the little ones. I was a little one, simply because the department policy on keys was that there would be no copies for any departmental keys without the Chief’s permission. Since the department didn’t own the Bronco, I thought I could stretch the meaning of the rule by having a foundation of truth, however, weak, to allow for it.
I drove slowly down to the beach crossing, went through the gates (I’d also reproduced the gate transmitters, but then there was no rule I’d been able to find about reproducing electronic devices of their design) and moved toward the base of the pier. Once there I drove out toward Guard Tower Zero but stopped short of it.
Bob Elwell skipped down the steps to join me at the bottom, probably bored so senseless at watching swimmers in flat waters that he’d seen me coming from all the way up the street, well before I got to the crossing.
Bob stuck his big hand through the window opening and I took it, both of us smiling.
“They’re about fifty yards from Tower One just south,” he said. “If you want to encounter them then Julie’s playing in the tiny waves at the edge of the surf line. If you want to avoid, then the path by the tracks has almost no one on it at all.”
I got out, uncomfortably, like he’d read my mind. I just wanted some time alone but among people. I had to think about Paul and what he’d said. I had to think about Pat Bowman and what I might do with or without her in my life and also in the strange fluid and always changing investigation. So far as I could conclude, the Dwarfs were the only thrown together semi-law enforcement organization still looking into the Kennedy investigation since the Jim Garrison thing had died down, and that new investigation was being conducted right under the very noses, and with the tips of some of those noses sticking in, of the most powerful leaders of the world.
“Thanks, Bob,” I said, knowing that by taking the path by the railroad tracks would tell Bob more than I needed him to know. But I had to be alone. There were things I couldn’t tell my wife, not about what happened down in the A Shau, nor about what was going on in the Dwarf investigation. I trusted her completely, but I also feared for her and Julie. And then there was the new person named Paul. What could I really tell him without putting him in danger or letting information out that might hurt me, or even the president?
I moved the Bronco slowly but steadily. The paint job was almost identical to the color of the sand, and therefore, with three mufflers on each of the dual exhaust pipes, it was almost undetectable until very close by. I finally stopped, in my trip toward the compound, not only realizing that I was like a moth heading for the flame, but I was sitting right near the place where the Marine’s effects had been found. It was a place of reverence to me, although almost nobody else knew it was there. No one was present, as it was a weekday. I let the Bronco idle while I stepped outside to lean against the warm body of the vehicle and think.
I got nowhere because I was given no time.
“See the man,” came from the White House Motorola speaker.
I wasn’t inside the Bronco to respond and not wearing one of the shoulder radios that sat back at the department on battery chargers and that almost nobody used, for reasons I couldn’t figure out. When truly on duty I always wore one, but I wasn’t on duty. I shook my head. That didn’t make any sense either. Dressed out and in the Bronco, I could be called into service at any moment or confronted in many different ways. I decided to wear a shoulder mount in the future at all times if in uniform or doing police work in civilian attire.
I crawled into the Bronco and reached for the radio, but there was no sound coming from the speaker. That meant that the connection was broken. The caller had given his command and somehow knew I was there to receive it and would have no reason to fail to respond.
I stared toward the distant compound. Their surveillance was much better than advertised or admitted to. They knew the Bronco was where it was and that I was inside it, or outside only seconds earlier.
I’d been dreading the call but at the bottom of my being I’d been prepared for it to come. See the man could mean anyone. Haldeman. Ehrlichman. Mardian. Maybe someone else, and that was the innocuously delivered message that I feared the most.
The Bronco eased along, as I steered out on top of the dry sand. The sand was rough and furrowed, not manicured daily by Lester and his team located at the San Clemente Lifeguard Headquarters. Lester combed the beaches every day, a half mile up and a half mile down from the base of the pier. On top of that, he plowed washed out sand back in every time high surf pulled it out.
I’d noted just how hard the team worked to Elwell one day.
“They get to keep all the change, rings, watches or whatever they comb up every day,” Bob told me. “They’re making a fortune and nobody really knows, but since they say they’re making nothing nobody bothers to check.”
“You mean the Chief of Lifeguards doesn’t even know what’s going on inside his own building?” I asked, in amazement.
“The Chief?” Bob asked. “He lives in a four-bedroom house right up there on the edge of the cliff.” Bob had pointed at a nice place set a bit back from the very edge of the cliff located just before “T” Street.
“That didn’t answer my question,” I replied, but Bob said nothing. We walked along a little further.
“Damn it,” I whispered, stopping in my tracks. “Those places cost hundreds of thousands. How does the Chief and his family afford a place like that?”
Bob didn’t reply, but by then he didn’t have to.
I brought the Bronco up and over the tracks as I came to cut that ran up into the forest that flanked the south side of the compound wall. The path up to the parking lot behind the facility was no challenge, as I’d driven it plenty of times before. The overhanging branches would have been a problem as they hid a lot of the road’s surface, but I was an old hand. I knew the road.
I wasn’t wearing my proper attire so I hoped my meeting wasn’t with Haldeman, but that fear was removed immediately as Henry Kissinger stepped toward me as soon as I was inside the big door, held open by a Secret Service Agent.
“Sir,” was all I could blurt out.
“Come,” he said, walking past me into the parking lot.
The Staff Sergeant appeared from somewhere and one of the Lincolns moved slowly and stopped ahead of Mr. Kissinger. I trailed after, not knowing what to think.
The Staff Sergeant opened the back door on the driver’s side and Mr. Kissinger stepped in.
Once the door was closed, the sergeant turned to face me.
“Drive him to El Toro, and then bring the car back,” the sergeant said, speaking slowly so I would be sure to understand, and he’d be able to figure out that I understood. “You’re not driving him nor are you driving back, for the record. You’re to remain in the Bronco awaiting instructions.”
At that, he opened the driver’s door and motioned me to get inside.
I understood, but didn’t understand. I’d been let go as Kissinger’s driver because he’d found out, through my stupid mistake, that I spoke German.
I was not being reinstated, I understood, but why the fiction about me not being a driver on this run and the Bronco sitting there with me supposedly inside it?
I pulled the already running Lincoln forward and through the gate. Nobody saluted. I wasn’t really in the car. It was like being the person in charge but in charge during a dream.
The Lincoln was quiet, as I kept the speed way down. Kissinger didn’t speak until we were on the Freeway.
“Es ist nicht sicher,” his full Germanic-accented voice transmitted, reverberating inside the quiet Lincoln’s confines.
My mind sped up. He’d used the formal Es and not das to say the word “it.”
The word “sicher,” meant safe. It was not safe. Whatever the man had to say was something that worried him. I couldn’t imagine the compound installing listening devices inside its own limos but at this point, and in listening to the Watergate fiasco unfolding in Washington, nothing was beyond belief.
I didn’t reply, as the Secretary of State hadn’t asked a question. A difficult full minute went by before he spoke again.
“Du hast mich nicht gesehen.”
You have not seen me, I translated. After only a few seconds I understood the mixed tense usage of the German word ‘hast.’ The message was “you did not see me.” He was referring to his appearance aboard Richard’s yacht, I knew.
I had to answer, I understood. This trip wasn’t about transport. Kissinger felt as safe as possible inside the limo. Quite possibly, there was no plane waiting at the base. There was no one with us. The U.S. Marshals provided personal security for the Secretary of State. Why were they absent? I didn’t have to think long about that one. To be where I was without that protection was dangerous for me, probably not physically, but politically. People would talk and ask questions about the trip and me. I thought as fast as I could before inhaling deeply and talking.
“I’ve seen you four times in my life. The first time was in driving you back from El Toro, the second was also a trip down from El Toro when I spoke German and you had me discharged from that detail. The third was down at the beach when you were entertained by my creation of a dialogue with the president when I walked by you while accompanying him. The fourth time was today, right now.
I said the words in English, afraid that my German simply wasn’t good enough or well-practiced enough for him to understand.
There was no answer from the back seat. We drove for another twenty minutes, finally approaching the gate to El Toro Marine Base.
“Those are the only times,” Kissinger finally said, also in English.
“Yes,” I answered, looking into the man’s eyes through the rear view mirror.
We drove through the open gate. There wasn’t another vehicle in sight as we passed through, again without any salutes, until we were inside the base. Suddenly two staff cars pulled onto the narrow road, one in front of us and one behind.
“Stop ahead and I will change vehicles,” Kissinger said.
The only thing ahead was the empty tarmac so I drove there, the car in front of me acting like it knew exactly where we were going. Maybe the car was bugged, I thought to myself.
I stopped of my own choosing on the tarmac. There was no plane in sight, as I had predicted.
“I will help you,” Kissinger said from the back seat, before opening the door.
“Help me?” I couldn’t keep from asking. “I need help?”
“Not now, but at some time ahead you most certainly will.” Kissinger replied.
“Auf Wiedersehen und Danke,” he said, exiting the car and slamming the door behind him.
“Goodbye and thank you,” I translated to myself.
I drove the freeway back toward the compound, my mind whirling but concentrated on only one single thing. If the United States Secretary of State thought I was going to need help, even if he might be there to provide it, I was in some kind of trouble indeed.