Little Mardian stared over the top lip of his coffee cup, drawn most of the way up to take a sip. My tone and the “you’re not in Kansas anymore,” comment stopped his hand movement as well as widened his eyes.

I was surprised that he was reacting at all, since the movie Wizard of Oz, although much watched wasn’t often quoted from, or misquoted in this case. When he finally spoke, he confirmed a developing suspicion that he was smarter than I’d originally thought.

“The last time we met personally, wasn’t much of a success,” he said, putting his cup down slowly, with the unblinking stare of his eyes never leaving my own.

I waited, refusing to be the first to blink, as the inner rage I felt for his violation of my personal home space roiled and seethed deep down inside me.

“My Porsche,” he finally said, looking down at his cooling cup. His hand had fallen away but not to a threatening place or in a threatening manner. “One set of unfortunate comments and my Porsche was drowned like a wounded rabbit or a dying squirrel caught in the wrong place and time. I know it was you. Nobody has ever said anything about it but I know it was you.”

He waited while I thought about his revelation and worked to cool my own anger. I knew logically that he had every right to be disturbed by the drowning of his Porsche over a seemingly slight insult but not to an extent that I was willing to forgive or forget the violation of my home or potential threat to my family.

“My home for a Porsche?” I asked, saying no more.

The foppish man sighed deeply and then shook his head gently. I wondered if his flowing blond hair was dyed, along with his tightly trimmed and out-of-place pencil mustache that was dissonantly the color of deep brown shoe polish half-shined. His entire portrayal was an abomination to everything I thought of myself being or might want to be or associate with. But here he was, an impediment to me in some strange fashion, possessing knowledge that he wasn’t supposed to have…and then taking that to action. Was his whole physical and psychological expression one of deception to give him a predatory advantage?

“I am working with restaurant personnel in development. They’re basically idiots for any other kind of work. I’m sorry they showed up at your place. I can’t gather people to do my bidding like you, whatever the hell it is that you really are that so impresses my dad. They were supposed to watch and only go in if there was some opportunity to assure that the object was there. A project that failed in every respect.”

His words stopped all my thinking about him personally or anything else. His ‘idiots’ had searched the garage because there was nobody inside, and they’d stumbled upon the heater, to them, maybe its mere existence where no heat was likely to be needed, made them check it out. That rather evident fact also made it likely that they weren’t complete idiots. They bailed when the whole thing had come tumbling down. The artifact, inside its damaged container, hadn’t been revealed to them because they’d fled before they got a chance to check it out closer.

I needed to admit nothing. Little Mardian knew about the artifact, and probably that his dad had told him I had it, but he couldn’t be certain that I did. The fact that they hadn’t found it, however, also made it difficult to ask any questions so I sat silent, once again waiting while slowly drinking my coffee.

“Look, whatever Dad says that thing is, and where it came from, it’s valuable, maybe even in the hundreds of thousands,” Mardian said, gently stirring at his coffee with a spoon, although it had no sugar or cream in it that I could tell.

I looked over my shoulder at the Caprice sitting outside, making the blue Ferrari look like something a bit larger than a kid’s toy, and smiled to myself. The artifact was sitting inside a trunk not thirty feet from where Little Mardian sat and he had no clue.

Again, I kept quiet, not wanting to give absolutely anything away. However, my revulsion at the idea of selling such a thing to the highest bidder was hard to hide. The object belonged to science first and America second and I wasn’t about to let it out of my hands unless the hands assuming possession were fully credentialed and trustworthy. Maybe, I pondered, while Mardian ran on about the potential for confidential buyers, he might have guessed my disgust but I didn’t know. My great relief that they not only hadn’t gotten the artifact out of my garage or even prove it was there, was fully buffered by the growing fear I felt if Little Mardian started telling potential purchasers about it and where it might be found. The move to Albuquerque was looking better and better every second that passed.

The fake blond movie actor man at my table must have felt the emotional vibrations building invisibly inside me as he changed the subject completely.

“Ever driven a Ferrari?” he asked, out of nowhere.

“Never been inside one,” I instantly replied, happy to be talking about anything besides the object. “This is as close as I’ve ever been to one except when I parked next to yours and walked in here.”

“Let’s go,” Mardian said, putting a five-dollar bill on the table next to his cup and getting up.

“Go where?” I asked, more than surprised but not moving.

“A man should drive a Ferrari once in his life and this is your time.”

I looked up at the man, a man who I was nothing at all like and couldn’t find much at all to approve of. I was born to a Coast Guard enlisted family too poor to purchase winter jackets so my dad had absconded with wool Navy jackets and purchased a few bucks worth of Navy blue dye. Mom cut the blankets with the three of us laying on our backs on the floor on top of them. After a bit of sewing, some buttons, and off we went in our matching blue winter coats. Mardian was driving a Ferrari, after a Porsche, either of which cost more than my parent’s current home after all these years. That I was driving two almost new cars was a first in the family and then only because of strange payoffs from the Western White House crew for doing things, holding weird stuff, and keeping my mouth shut. The divide between us was so great that it would have been impossible to be friends even if I liked the man, which I did not. Only a few spare moments before I was daydreaming about putting him down into the vacant space left at the bottom of Dana Point Harbor when they pulled the yellow Porsche up.

Little Mardian walked out the door to the Ferrari, opened the passenger door, and got in. I still hadn’t moved. My shocked surprise was wearing off as I got up. I didn’t want to accept anything from the man but remembered the old expression about keeping your friends close but your enemies closer

I walked outside and looked over the hood to take the whole car in. It was stunning in design and how it was formed to give more of the appearance of a rolling piece of art rather than a car. I opened the door and got in, noticing right away that there was to be no ‘bank vault’ kind of Mercedes effect like Richard’s car gave off. The outside of the Ferrari was gorgeous, but the inside was as spartan as could be. I noted the rather cheap-looking and feeling cloth seat as I slid in. I didn’t even look over at Mardian I was so taken by just being in the Ferrari.

I checked the dashboard.

“Where’s the speedometer?” I asked, looking all over the dash.

“There isn’t one,” Mardian said, with a laugh as he leaned over to insert the overly long and thin key into the ignition which was located close to where the simple but solid-looking steering column stuck out. “It’s built primarily for racing so you gauge your speed when you want to by calculating speed in gears from the rpm shown.”

I shook my head, not in amazement but in puzzlement, as to the time and trouble such calculations might be during regular driving.

“The rpm redlines at 7500,” I said. “What’s that in miles per hour?”

“Depends on the gear, of course,” Mardian replied, sighing after he did so. “In fourth gear, that means, right at a hundred and ninety miles per hour, you’ll see about 6500 rpm on that tachometer.”

There was no way I was going to take the Ferrari up to that high a speed, which was much faster than I’d ever traveled in any vehicle before, at least on land.

“How come there are six slots on the shifter plate with that dog-leg reverse since it’s a four-speed?” I asked, heading south on El Camino for the freeway onramp at Christianitas Gate, running through the gears but only taking the tach up to two thousand before shifting. The transmission felt smooth but solid in every respect, totally unlike the Volks where the shifter seemed to splay all over the place between gear changes. The clutch was tight but also smooth as butter. The steering was too big, there was no speedometer, no radio, no air conditioning the inside looked more like it was designed and built in by some sailmaking shop than by a super expensive automobile manufacturer. But I loved the thing. I felt alive inside it and in command of life itself as it passed by under the wheels.

“Don’t know,” Mardian said, lighting a cigarette, “I’m not a racer, I just like to drive fast. Hell, the cigarette lighter won’t come out either,” he murmured as he inhaled to ignite the tube with a small gold lighter.

I glanced over at the man, There was nothing about him that wasn’t for show, and in-your-face a garish show at that. I hit the empty freeway, the three lanes each way freshly built to hold ten times the traffic. I saw the tach was on four thousand, while the engine hummed in an almost alluring fashion, like it was whispering for me to put the accelerator down and let it howl.

“Four thousand, how fast is that?” I asked Little Mardian.

“Around a hundred and twenty,” he replied.

I eased back on the pedal. I was still a full-blown peace officer in the state of California and the last thing I needed in my transition was to be encountered by some highway patrolman who wanted to earn his stripes by stripping me of mine.

The illegal U-turn right where the U.S. Border Patrol had its checkpoint came up fast, even as I was slowing. Gingerly, I pulled the Ferrari slightly down across the depressed gravel, the rear tailpipes dragging a bit, and then, since the coast was clear of traffic, ran first gear right up to the redline. Doing zero to about sixty in the sports car felt exactly like I’d experienced after Mickey Thompson finished rebuilding my GTO for the track.

As I hit 2nd gear, I saw red lights in the sideview mirror. There was no rearview mirror in the center of the windshield like a regular car would have.

“I’ll be damned, we’ve got company I said, jerking my right thumb rearward before shifting into second and taking that gear up to the redline.

The Ferrari had to be doing a hundred and fifty by the Calafia offramp came rushing at us. I hit the brakes hard and found that they were as reactive as the accelerator. The nose of the car dived a bit, and then we slowed so quickly that my chest was thrown against the big flat wheel. I pulled off the freeway, went back into second gear and, not stopping or slowing at the offramp since I had a clear view of the fact that there was no cross traffic, turned east and accelerated up the hill until the rear entrance to the police department headquarters building came at us. Braking hard and turning right I drove the Ferrari into the lot, pulled up into the slot usually occupied by the Maurader which was not there for whatever reason, stopped, and turned off the ignition.

“What are we doing?” Mardian asked, having dropped his cigarette to the floor, but making no effort to recover the burning thing. “I can’t believe it, we’re running from the police, in my car, Jesus Christ!”

“No, we were running from the Border Patrol, which is a United States federal agency, not state, county, or local. They have no jurisdiction unless whatever they’re pursuing has to do with illegal aliens. They won’t come in here and I have no idea what they had in mind or were doing. Probably entertaining themselves, like us. Wait here. I have to go inside and find out from Pat Bowman my schedule for getting the California Medal of Valor.”

“What medal and who’s Pat Bowman?” Mardian yelled as I went through the back door as he was getting out to find his cigarette.

Pat was fortunately in and the Chief just as fortunately out. I’d kept the Ferrari key because I needed a ride back down to Galloways where I’d left the Caprice, the Caprice with the artifact in it left unguarded, once more.

Pat told me that there was no schedule, not some formal written thing, anyway. I had to be there, at the Aviation High School at two fifteen, and that was it. Nobody from the city or department was going so I wouldn’t have to drive anyone and Lieutenant Gates allowed me to use his Marauder. I took no more time with Pat, not waiting for her to ask a question that I knew had to be coming about the next meeting of the Dwarfs.

I went back out to the Ferrari. Mardian, as I expected, hadn’t moved. Most people, like him, never experienced much of a touch of danger and the reaction was usually a lot like my early reactions had been in the A Shau Valley. Run or freeze in place. I climbed in and started the Ferrari, realizing I’d probably never get close enough to another one to hear the wonderful growl of its twelve-cylinder engine and the muffled burbling of its perfectly tuned exhaust.

The trip back down to the Caprice, still sitting all by itself on Del Mar, was made in silence. When we arrived next to the Chevy, parking in the same slot we’d departed from earlier, I shut the ignition off and handed him the key.

“What is it you want from me?” I asked, wanting to be done with the strange difficult man, but no longer seeing him as an enemy.

His father had, or apparently, removed himself from my life, at least for the foreseeable future and I wanted the same result from his son.

“I guess I never really believed the story about that thing Dad talked about so I’m just letting it go, as long as my people didn’t offend you so much that my Ferrari ends up in the harbor.”

I wanted to laugh, but I knew he was being serious so I simply sat there, my mind already working out a plan to place the artifact in a more secure area.

“What do you want from me? I asked again and then waited while Mardian took a few more puffs from his newly lit cigarette.

“There’s no ashtray, either,” he said as if that had anything to do with the question I’d asked him. “I don’t really want anything, I guess, except maybe to be able to call you if I need something, like something really bad. Dad did that with you I know. I’ve got a restaurant to finish building but other stuff needs to be done, occasionally. Can I call you?”

“Hence the drive in the Ferrari?” I asked, trying not to give him a knowing smirk.

“Yes, well, sort of. A Ferrari olive branch.”

The man wasn’t impossible to like, I realized. He was simply so spoiled rotten that he probably couldn’t comprehend what it was like not to be the way he was.

“Alright,” I replied, more to get rid of him than anything else.

“What’s your number?” he asked like he had a pen and paper on him and was ready to write.

“You’re not going to remember it so just ask Richard or Butch. They know how to reach me.”

I got out of the Ferrari, the door slamming, and the whole car seeming to shiver a little bit. It made me feel foolish noting that or imagining it. The car was going to miss me.

“Ridiculous,” I whispered to myself as I walked around it to get into the Caprice. A car I was going to drive very slowly and carefully until I could get the box out of the trunk and to somewhere safe.

I went home, and drove into the open garage into the stall on the other side of where the box had lain. It took a few minutes to open the trunk and haul the box out. It was a tight squeeze as I closed the garage door. With the inertia effect the thing produced or evidenced I had to be very careful not to let my hands or arms get between the box and any hard substance, like the car itself or the garage door.

I knew the idiots probably wouldn’t be back. Mardian was a fop and a showman, but he wasn’t stupid and he’d acted like he really did need someone who could handle the kind of special problem that it appeared all-powerful people occasionally had. I worked the box across the floor until I had it back next to the heater cover. I eased it inside, then turned the mess of a destroyed and damaged heater to face the wall next to the ladder. What good was a broken gas heater, and one that looked so tattered and battered? Temporarily, until I thought of something better, it would have to do.
I went into the house to assume my duties with the kids.

The next day I was ready, decked out in full uniform although leaving off the commander badge from my right breast pocket flap. I didn’t know where they might pin the medal and wanted to leave plenty of space available. It took only minutes for me to get up to the department, check with Pat Bowman to make sure no Border Patrol agents had come in to complain, and then take the keys to the Marauder and hit the road. The car was still wonderful, but nothing would ever likely compare to the Ferrari.

Redondo Beach was sixty-one miles from San Clemente. Taking Highway 5 and then shifting over to the 405 made the trip one of less than an hour in the early afternoon hour I was driving. Mary was in Chicago for her grandmother’s funeral while Bob Elwell was babysitting Julie and baby Michael. Shawna had been too busy and my wife wasn’t certain that she would be as good as Bro and Elwell although she’d given no reason for that decision. That Bro and Elwell were doing nothing else for the day wasn’t uncommon unless they were on duty for the Wednesday morning and afternoon. I planned to show up in uniform, and get the medal awarded and pinned on before racing back. There were only seven recipients so the actual awards should take no time at all.

The place I was going was called the Aviation High School. I’d been shocked when Pat told me. A high school? Evelle Younger, the state attorney general was to be there to award the state’s highest medal for valor and he was doing it at a high school.

I made the trip in the allotted time, arriving at a huge building not far from the infamous Redondo surfing beach. I parked and walked a good distance. There were a lot of cars in almost all of the slots. I entered and was immediately stopped by Redondo police officers stationed right inside the door. Despite my badge and uniform, I had to produce identification. I did, although their actions and attitude surprised me. I wanted to tell them I was there to get a medal pinned to my chest, not shoot anybody, but I kept my mouth shut.

Once I got inside I understood immediately why the security was so tight and why they’d been so careful. The first person I saw up on stage was Governor Jerry Brown, with Linda Ronstadt next to him. I walked toward the stage, moving slowly down the side of the huge, cavernous hall. I fully understood then why the high school was the logical place to give out awards, as it held almost a thousand people. I knew I wasn’t ready for such a crowd, nor a presentation I hadn’t been at all prepared for in advance.

A woman approached me and guided me to the front row, where six other officers from different departments sat. I took the only open seat.

“The governor’s not supposed to be here,” the man next to me said, his patch indicating he was from Seal Beach.

I waited for what was coming. While I waited, I tried to relax and look around. The governor’s appearance had been a surprise, but looking down the row to see Paul, Richard, and Butch, along with Lieutenant Gates, the very same Gates who had allowed me to drive his car and come to the event in some other vehicle. Despite that shock, Paul’s presence affected me the most. How had he known, as I hadn’t informed him of the award? The linkage. There was so much linkage among the people I’d been dealing with that I was nearly flabbergasted, and they were making no effort to hide it.

The governor stepped off the stage and walked slowly from the side stairs to stand before the officers going to receive the same medals. He said something I didn’t catch as I was still in shock over the size of the event, the huge hall, and the people I knew who were there. The governor passed by in front of me, leaning down as he went.

“This is the first time I’m awarding one of these to someone I know,” he said with a big smile and then headed for the other end to mount the steps there.

I looked over at Paul, who stared back. Neither of us smiled. Whatever was going on, whatever the linkage between these men was all about I didn’t know.

I had to find out before heading to New Mexico or terrible things I couldn’t even imagine might follow.

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