I didn’t have an answer for the Staff Sergeant, but then I didn’t think he was expecting one.  His response might have indicated that he was ready to be a part of whatever action he thought was going to go down but I didn’t know him and if there was to be something physical than I knew I had to have known and trusted entities, not somebody like the Staff Sergeant who didn’t seem to be only a Staff Sergeant.

“Take me to the beach,” I instructed, knowing I was leaving the Volks at the compound, but I had other plans at the moment.  I wasn’t ready to go home.

I had to have time to think and going to Del Mar and sitting at Galloway’s wasn’t going to work, not with the traffic running through that place and the insurance business I was running out of the restaurant on the side.  I wasn’t dressed out for beach patrol but I knew the Bronco was being used by Rick Steed in training another new reserve candidate named Tom Turner.  Turner was an odd duck who always answered his phone with the word “yellow,” instead of hello.

Once at the railroad track gates, I crossed to the headquarters building, having dismissed the sergeant without comment.  I called Scruggs and had him radio Steed to pick me up at the base of the pier.  Walking there and finding a bench to sit on, I contemplated. Was it all worth it?  Was being allowed to be called back into that physical world something I could either accommodate or live with? I thought long and hard, knowing that nobody else could make that decision for me.  The Bronco pulled up too soon, or so much time had gone by that I hadn’t really noticed.

Steed and Rodriquez were entertaining as we headed out toward Trestles Beach.  I wanted to make my decision right where the nexus of my worries were centered, why I didn’t know.  It just felt right.

Time alone at the beach wasn’t going to happen I saw, as we got closer.  There were preparations going on for another of Kissinger’s famous beach parties.  Steed pulled the Bronco up to the rocks just on the other side of where the big tent was set up in the rather limited space between the tracks and where the small cliff began to lead up to the edge of the presidential residence poolside.

I stepped out of the vehicle, saying nothing to my two reserve officers.  I climbed over the rocks and crossed the tracks.  Kissinger was there.  He’d indicated that I could go to him for help.  If I decided not to be the man the White House staff obviously thought I was, maybe he could bail. me out without some kind of great cost or damage to me.

Linda Ronstadt stood on the sand in her bare feet, with Henry Kissinger not far behind her looking like a prowling predator of her heart.  He didn’t observe, I could tell, either my presence or much else around him, except for her.  Jerry Brown, the young governor of California stood not far away, a glass of coke on ice in his right hand.

“Please, if you would, sing a song for us,” Henry Kissinger asked, surprising me.  The depth of his sincerity was nothing like his normal presentation.

Linda Ronstadt said nothing, turning to face the breaking waves hitting the beach not fifty feet away.

I looked around.  There were no other supporting entertainers and there was no equipment that I could see in the area in or around the simple party tent that had been erected earlier to allow for certain guests to be allowed on the Casa Romantica beach.

Linda smiled shyly at the much taller and more substantial Kissinger, not looking at him but staring instead out over the surf line.

“You and I travel to the beat of a different drum…oh… can’t you tell by the way I run, every time you make eyes at me,” came magically from what seemed like her very core of being.  I was struck, as Kissinger was, as I looked over into his eyes.  The words were delivered in such a tonal quality and volume that the effect was stunning and totally attractive.  I stared, and he stared, while Jerry Brown simply stared with a knowing smile pasted across his facial features.

Linda sang the rest of the lyrics of the song with nobody moving among the beach party attendees, including me.  That the woman’s talent was so profound and delivered with a depth of emotion I’d never experienced before astounded me. Since it was performed without any musical accompanying assistance supporting her, was beyond astounding.

“Goodbye, I’ll be leavin,’ I see no sense in this cryin’ and grievin,’
we’ll both live a lot longer if you live without me…” she finished.

Nobody applauded.  It was that kind of hushed experience.  I did wonder if she’d chosen that particular hit song for its lyrics that might be directed at either her ‘date,’ Jerry Brown, Henry Kissinger, or both.

I stood, transfixed, next to the Bronco, which I’d had Steed turn off out of respect for the pre- party-goers, and also wanting to avoid notice or criticism.  None of the important people either operationally connected to the Western White House or visited much-liked or respected security personnel.

I wasn’t transfixed by Linda Ronstadt’s presence or performance, both of which were pretty world-class and astounding, instead, I was taken back to the A Shau Valley, and my penchant in that place, in deep deathly combat, to use rock and roll song lyrics to support my plans to respond to enemy attacks,  while surrounded or in impossibly indefensible positions.  I’d never used Stone Poney’s song, which had come out in 1967, I knew, as something to motivate my Marines to believe in me and what I was planning in our defense.  I knew it wasn’t because I hadn’t heard it coming from the idiotically tiny transistor radios the Marines carried. No, it was because the lyrics, linked with the penetrating melody, were simply too painful.  The song made me love Linda Ronstadt but the lyrics of the song drove a stake deep into my heart.  I could not escape, back in the valley, or now in ‘real’ life, the simple fact that my wonderful wife and terrific daughter might indeed be better lived for a lot longer without me.  The song lyrics and the composition were not something I could either ignore or internalize.  I just had to feel and that feeling was both wonderful and horrible, at the same time.

I walked sought to the path leading up along the northern side of the creek running down from near the compound parking lion.  My car was where I’d left it.  I sat for a few minutes to get my mind right about what might be just ahead in my future.  The Staff Sergeant hadn’t returned int he staff car but the Marines at the gate recognized me and raised the bar before rreturning to positions of attention and saluting.

When I got home, I walked into the apartment to see the new animal sitting by the fireplace, looking more like the statue of a cat than a cat at all.  It was a large beast, brown and white with a black scarred muzzle. It ignored my entry into the living room, instead gazing at Julie who was riding her whining electric cycle around the edges of both the living and dining rooms.  The cat seemed to be bothered by nothing.  The living room side window was now constantly left open for the creature to come and go.

Bozo the cat, however inappropriately, we called him that, worked his way into being an integrated member of our household, never knowing he was named after a world-famous clown. That was because he didn’t act like a cat.  He acted like a bad-tempered, ill-mannered fur-covered mass of pure muscle who thought independently of most human expressed wants and needs fully evident around him.  He survived with us because his bad manners did not extend to family members, particularly Julie, who spoke to him in a disagreeable manner just for the fun of having something other than Mrs. Beasley to order around in her small world.

My place in his outdoor and indoor world was that of the alpha male, and it took no time for me to comprehend that.  Bozo wasn’t afraid of me so much as respected my position in his pride.  I, on the other hand, found Bozo to be more of a kindred spirit than anyone, with the possible exception of Gularte, whom I’d met since coming home.  Bozo was a combat veteran of the indigenous arroyo or valley wars. Arroyos that existed so overgrown with vegetation and trees that only the smallest of animals could travel through them from the upper reaches of the cliffside parts of San Clemente down to the open beaches and on into the sea.

My wife figured out why Bozo didn’t eat in any normal way from his new aluminum bowl.  Instead of simply diving in with his muzzle, he used his right paw to dig into the wet cat food, curve his paw and pull the food into his mouth.

“The scars on his muzzle,” she said, pointing over at the statuesque creature.

“He’s been fed as a feral cat by people who opened cans and left them out.  Eating from the cans directly caused the razor-sharp edges of the metal to cut him.”

I sat and watched the cat and my daughter for a while until Mike Manning called and asked me to pick him and Gularte up at Gularte’s place to go out somewhere.  I hadn’t had friends who called to do such things since before the war so I was all in.  I’d never heard of the Sandpiper but that was okay.

As it turned out, and Mike explained in the car, the Sandpiper was a bar in Laguna Beach famous for having veterans stop in from time to time to indulge in bouts of alcoholic debauchery and then, many times, to travel around the corner of Pacific Coast Highway it was set into in order to harass the gay population of another equally successful bar inhabited and visited by mostly local gay customers.  I was encouraged to visit the Sandpiper on a Wednesday night when the place would supposedly be only lightly attended, as I had a phobia about going to bars in the evening.  In such environments, I felt threatened upon occasion and then became threatening myself, without indicating that part to anyone around me.  It was better for me to stay out of such places, I knew.

Gularte, Manning, and I were jammed into the Volks and running at high speed toward Laguna Beach when we were encountered by a rolling band of Harley drivers.  They came toward the PCH from a connecting street in Emerald Bay, which is where the trouble began.  I was driving when the bikers ran the stop sign and started filing in before my vehicle, forcing me to stop where no traffic control device demanded that I do so.  I stopped until about ten of the bikes had made their turns without stopping or even slowing.  I put the Volks into first and accelerated right into a slight break in the continuing odyssey of roaring machines.  That made the bikers mad.  The rest of our trip to the Sandpiper, a run of about six miles was made inside a mass of the bikes, taking up both lanes and veering toward our vehicle menacingly.

“Do you suppose they’re armed?” Gularte asked, the tone of his voice soft and calm.

 “Not that kind of situation,” I replied, wanting to avoid even the chance of armed combat.  I had my Western White House special Colt under the rubber mat under my feet although I was careful not to fully step on the slab-sided weapon.

I said nothing about being armed or even thinking in those terms.  “We’ll be at the bar in a few minutes and then we’ll just forget about them.”

Minutes later my prediction was proven to be in error.  I pulled to the side of the road, while all the bikers, one after another, turned and pulled their heavy machines up onto the sidewalk right in front of the Sandpiper.

I turned the ignition key off and pulled it out.

“Well, what do you guys want to do?”

“We either go in the bar, like we planned or we beat it and live to fight another day?” Gularte asked, making Mike and I laugh together.

 We all got out of the Volks and prepared to cross PCH, waiting for a break in the light but fast-moving traffic.

 When we entered the double doors of the bar it was like going through the double swinging doors of an old western movie saloon.

The bikers were all bellied up to the bar, as we walked in.  I counted about twenty of them, all looking rough, overweight, and almost unwashed, but they wore no gang colors.  If they’d been wearing Hell’s Angels vests or any of that I’d have left immediately, but I decided to join Mike and Gularte at an available table near the corner of the place, not far from the stage where a tall lanky man was standing and playing some Cat Stevens tune about a hardheaded woman.  He was good but his amplifier was set pretty low against the noise being generated by the bikers.  The waitress, a tall willowy young woman immediately came to our table, carrying three tankards of beer.  She didn’t ask what we wanted or tell us what kind of beer she’d just served.

“Tom over there says these guys don’t like you guys, so the beers are on the house.  Just drink it and move on along.”

 “We’re not likable,” Manning agreed, holding up his tankard and drinking almost half of it down.

 I drank nothing, watching the bikers jostling at the bar intently.  Three of them broke free, carrying their own tankards and approaching our table.

“You Pilgrims learn to drive using Cracker Jack licenses,” one of them said.

“Monty Python evacuation and escape driving course in Monterey,” Manning replied.

 The three big bikers began to bristle with malice, two of them setting their own tankards down on our table.

 Suddenly, the singer with the guitar spoke into his microphone, which he turned way up, overpowering all other sounds in the big room.

“I could use some cash,” he said, “so, I’m taking requests.  Two bucks and I can sing just about any song ever released.”  He walked to the end of the stage and stopped not far but above where the three of us sat, and the bikers stood looming nearby.  It was as if the strange-looking singer knew trouble was brewing and somehow wanted to help.

I stood up and walked past the three bikers to the edge of the stage.  I pulled out a ten-dollar bill from my front pocket. I whispered as the singer bend down to get the payment.

He stood back up and smiled.  “I know that one, by golly, I sure do.”

“What’d you request, something by the Pansy Division?” one of the bikers asked, his facial expression sneering and voice threatening while he moved to close the short distance between us.  He was a good six inches taller than my five foot nine and likely outweighed me by a hundred pounds.

The guitar player strummed a few chords and then began singing. “Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee…”

All of the bikers at the bar suddenly turned as one to stand and listen to the singer performing the work.  When the song was over, the three men, almost now touching the outer edge of our table, turned back from paying attention to the entertainer and stared down at us.  The seemingly most offensive one who’d made the gay reference spoke first.

“So, where were you?” he said, his expression no longer threatening, all three of them obviously curious.

 “The A Shau,” I replied, quietly.  “Hue, Phu Bai,” Gularte followed with Mike intoning “Highway One.”

“Marines,” the biker said.

 “Yeah,” I replied, “and you?”

“Most of the club is Marines,” the guy said, setting his beer down on the top of our table. “but I was Special Forces sitting on Nui Ba Den in Tay Ninh province.

We partied with the motorcycle gang for a couple of hours before departing the bar as new-found friends, although the guys were all down from Long Beach and we’d likely never see them again.  When the entertainer finished his set and went to get his stuff together to leave, I walked over and slipped him a twenty dollar bill, and then thanked him for helping us get through a difficult situation.

“Why did they like “Puff the Magic Dragon”, I don’t understand,” he said, pocketing the ‘Jackson.’

 “It’s a military bar,” I replied.  Puff the Magic Dragon was the name given to a cargo plane that had several rotary cannons lining one side.  When it fired down into the jungle in Vietnam, the bullets covered one square foot for every bullet and the beaten zone where they hit was about a football field wide and a mile long.  The streaks of tracers looked like fire being breathed down from a passing dragon’s mouth.  Hence the popularity with those who served and either saw, heard, or felt the effects.”

 On the way back to San Clemente, even inebriated as we were, we kept mostly silent in the Volks.

 “I thought those bikers were going to be real trouble,” Gularte said, just as we got to Gularte’s place to drop him off.

 Mike had moved out of his car to take up residence with Nancy, his girlfriend, who lived in an apartment only a block over from my place.

Mike added, “You didn’t seem to have any hesitation about going in anyway.”

“That’s why I don’t like to go to those places,” I replied, not wanting to discuss the matter further.

I didn’t want a return to combat at all but found it was much harder to simply walk away from the risk of it than I ever would have imagined.  My second appointment with Paul, my pseudo “Lucy from Peanuts” shrink was on the next day.  I wondered what therapy he’d provide when I told him about the incident.  There was no need to bring my wife in on the brief drinking adventure as nothing had happened and there was no action to be taken.

The next morning the call I’d been dreading didn’t come as a call at all.  Gularte stopped by our apartment and beat on the front door, much more gently than I’d have believed.

Bob Elwell, his lifeguard pal Bro, and Mike Manning didn’t bother to knock anymore.  They simply opened the door and yelled into the interior that they were there before heading straight for the refrigerator for a soft drink.  I didn’t drink beer and only had hard stuff around for occasional parties which were becoming more occasional the more people I was coming to know.

“Gularte,” I said in surprise, opening the door wide so he could walk in.

“Got a minute or two?” he replied, looking around.  My wife and Julie were upstairs doing something with Bozo, the old but new to us cat.

I stepped outside, having a strong feeling that Gularte wasn’t visiting me for personal reasons or something about the Beach Patrol.  That left only one potential connection.  Pat Bowman had scheduled a meeting of the Dwarfs for the following evening, so it probably wasn’t that.  Gularte followed.  The upstairs patio was just above the front door so I walked down the stairs, turned, and then leaned against the garage door.  I said nothing, knowing Gularte would start the conversation.

Gularte took out a cigarette, one of his Marlboros packed inside a very neat and sharp-edged box.  The one with a brilliantly red top.  He lit the cigarette, stalling to either build emotion or because he was a bit disturbed.

“A guy named Butch runs the harbor at Dana Point,” he said, between long puffs.

I thought of Richard and then of Cobb, both with their boats in stalls near one another.  Dana Point Harbor was being slowly but surely linked to me, like the unfolding drama of my totally amateur Kennedy assassination investigation.  Linked like the welded steel links in a chain making me feel strong but also a bit trapped.  I waited for more, knowing it was coming but not exactly what it would be.

“Butch appears to have a problem with the guy developing the long jetty that sticks out into the center of the harbor,” Gularte went on.

I looked at him, my mind coming alive.  The Polaroid photos I’d taken suddenly reappeared in my mind.  That jetty.  There was something special about that strip of land protruding into the harbor even in the construction’s earliest days.

“Yes?” I finally asked, not filling Gularte in with my familiarity with whatever was going on but wondering why he’d become the messenger boy.  How’d he come upon Mike Manning a few days before?

“Butch needs to be convinced to allow the project to proceed,” Gularte answered.

“What are the details of the problem?” I asked, now fully understanding that Gularte was also in communication with someone at the compound.

“Richard knows more details,” Gularte replied.  “I’m only to back your play.  Richard will handle surveillance, intelligence, and communications.  His yacht has a lot of electronic stuff aboard.”

“When?” I asked, not bothering to ask how in hell I was supposed to convince this Butch, a person I’d never met to do anything at my request.  Once again, unless Richard had more to add, I was on my own in figuring out how to solve a problem that appeared to have no solution I could think of.

“This afternoon, a time of your choosing.  Richard will be waiting on us.”

“Great,” I replied.  “I presume Richard’s phone is on his boat.  I’ve talked to him that way but didn’t presume to ask if the yacht is his only place of residence.”

“Hell, I guess he does, although I just don’t know that much.  I got five hundred dollars, which is more than I make in two months on the reserves, so I’m not asking any questions.”

“Five hundred?” I asked, in surprise.  “Just to give me a message?” I went on, trying to take it all in but having trouble.”

“No, five hundred to back your play.”

“I see,” I said, not proceeding with asking Gularte just what ‘my play’ might entail.  “If Richard’s there then let’s go now, I mean if there’s really anything to be done.”

“Oh, you’ll get it done,” Gularte said, tossing his cigarette butt into the street with a laugh. They say that’s what you do.”

 “I’m going to change into my compound costume,” I said, turning to go back into the apartment. “You’re fine in whatever that worn-out get-up is supposed to resemble.  I’ll meet you at the boat in half an hour.”

“Roger that, L.T.” Gularte replied, walking toward where his car was parked across the street.

I realized that there was no point in calling Richard.  The mission, or whatever it was, was set in stone already, and not by me.  I was being manipulated once again by forces I didn’t know the identity of.

As expected, Richard was aboard his yacht when we drove to a spot as near to his docking slot as possible.  Richard spotted us somehow from inside his cabin, coming up and out of the cockpit and jumping across the slight distance to the jetty’s edge.

“What’s the plan?” Richard asked, before even saying hello.

“Where is he?” I asked, having no plan, other than approaching the man and having a discussion about what was going on, or not going on.

“He’s inside the mobile home right over there near where the problematic project is planned to be built.”

 I looked across the short distance of construction equipment ground.  There was no work going on, at least not in that part of the harbor.

 “Do you have some idea why the man isn’t allowing the project to proceed?” I asked, wanting to ask a million more questions but knowing I’d likely get no answers about why three of us were there on behalf of members of the Western White House but only one was admitted to be.

 “It seems that Butch has taken a distinct disliking to the young man who’s trying to build the Wind and Sea.”

 I thought for a moment.  It was Bob Mardian who’d commissioned the photos, but Bob was quite a few years beyond being likely referred to as a young man.

“That young man would be who?” I asked, knowing I was revealing a lot about what I didn’t know but probably should have or at least been expected to know.

“Bob Mardian’s son,” Richard replied, scratching his head, his facial expression one of surprise.

 “Yes,” I said, not knowing what else to say.  I whispered inaudibly to myself, however, the words “Jesus Christ.”

 “Let’s go,” I said and started to walk toward the mobile home.

 “Equipment?” Richard asked, not moving to follow me.

 “None necessary, but you remain right here, in case some becomes necessary as this develops,” I replied.

I walked, not having to say a word to Gularte who walked with me to my right and slightly ahead.  Gularte was leading this ‘fire team’ and was acting out that role.

Gularte knocked on the closed door of the mobile home.  We both waited. Gularte and I waited, with him finally glancing over at me when nobody answered the knocks.  I shook my head and we waited some more.

The door finally opened.

An aging but stout older man stood in the open doorway, a ‘wife beater’ white “T” shirt and ratty shorts his only attire.

“Who the hell are you?” he asked, aggressively.  I noted that his bullet-shaped head was shaven but not his day or two old facial beard.

“I’m here to discuss the building of the Wind and Sea,” I replied, glancing over in the direction of where it was to be built.

“There’s no building,” the man said, his face indicating deep latent anger.  “I’m not allowing anything to happen to that place for that spawn of whatever powers are backing him.”

 I waited but so did Butch.  Seconds passed as I thought about the situation.

 “Actually, I lied,” I said with a long sigh at the end of the sentence.

 “You lied?” he asked, his expression changing to surprise.  “I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before.”

 I waited, without speaking.

 “Okay, I give, what did you lie about?” he finally asked.

 “I’m here to talk about you and uncomfortably,” I finally said into the silence.

 “Uncomfortably?” he exclaimed.  “Is that even a word?”

 “That I’m here at all should begin to register in your mind as something different,” I said, pausing before going on, “I don’t get to do this kind of work very often but here I am.”

 “You talk funny,” Butch said, but I could see a certain look in his eyes which told me he’d started to question what was going on before him.

“I’ve been told that,” I said, smiling without warmth or humor.

“So, what now?” he asked.

 “See that man over by his expensive yacht?” I asked, pointing to where Richard still remained by the stern of his boat.  “See the other yacht, the one with the strange woman aboard in the other slip?  We’re all in this together.”

“I don’t get it?” Butch asked, “What has this got to do with me or the Mardian kid or anything else?”

“Nothing, really.  That word that’s not a word, I’m here to let you know about it in more detail but not until you have time to think about it.  Uncomfortably.  That’s the word that’s not a word.  Do you have a wife and kids?  I don’t know.  I hope I never know.  We are all in this together now, like a family, you, Richard, Gularte here, Cobb from the other boat, and me.  I just came to introduce us all and will take my leave until another time in all of our near futures.”

I motioned for Gularte to head back to Richard’s yacht.

“You certain?” Gularte asked, before moving.

 “Certain of what?” Butch asked as if the question had been put to him.

“We have time,” I replied, motioning again.

“We might meet again,” I said, turning to face Butch, my voice dropping to a nearly inaudible level, as Gularte turned and walked back toward where Richard stood waiting.  “At our next meeting, if that should occur, you won’t have to answer the door at all.”

I walked away.

“Is that some kind of a threat?” Butch yelled at my back.

I walked on, not turning, wondering what kind of ‘equipment’ Richard had aboard his yacht that might be needed on any second visit.