I’d met Matt aboard the C-130 on the way back from Albuquerque. We’d not truly bonded in any way except after sizing me up he uncharacteristically and very surprisingly threw himself in with me for whatever adventure he might be a part of.

My being armed and speaking menacing words about the potential future of the flight crew, which he wasn’t one as loadmaster, had somehow touched something inside the man and drew him to me. What he’d said that reached inside me was simple. He’d asked to be a part of whatever I might have in mind and that he’d be a part of it at his own expense.

Ostensibly, I was trusting him with quite possibly the most valuable thing I’d ever possessed on the earth, but in doing so I fully realized that I couldn’t do that without hands-on participation in being a part of the moving process and, until I talked to Herbert, I had no funding. Tony had mentioned that the Agency American Express card was for mission use only, and I wasn’t on a mission or even creating one, which I wasn’t entitled to do anyway.

What it costs to prepare, ship, and then transport a cargo container from San Clemente to the 4416 address in Albuquerque could not be cheap and there would be plenty of moving expenses along the way. Herbert had mentioned nothing about how those expenses were to be covered.

I left Richard after getting him to promise to help me with the move, although I didn’t go into detail about what I might need. I was unsure about who might be available to ride the train with the artifact once that was arranged, or if anyone would be allowed to ride aboard a freight train who wasn’t crew.

There was so much I didn’t know.

Taking the Volks out of the parking lot and getting out of the harbor complex and up the hill to Straight Ahead only took seconds.

Paul was no doubt inside the building as Richard had indicated only a few moments before. How he knew that was unclear, just as it remained unclear about all of his communications with Herbert, which had to be fairly detailed. I pulled the car directly into the parking right near the front door because it didn’t seem to matter anymore if anyone spotted me going in and out of a drug rehabilitation center. Nothing in my rapidly evaporating social life, and just as rapidly evaporating work life, would be affected in much of any way if such gossip did get out. I wasn’t certain Paul was in his office, as Straight Ahead was a pretty dilapidated but cavernous structure. His car was out by mine in the parking lot, however, and there weren’t too many other places nearby to visit on foot. I walked in through the front door of the building for only the second time since I’d been seeing him.

He was in his office and behind his desk as I expected.

“Ah,” he sighed, and then smiled, holding out his right hand. “You haven’t exactly been keeping me apprised of your recent life events.”

“Herbert,” I replied, ignoring the rest before I sat down. “He’s from the Agency,” I continued, watching his eyebrows go up and realizing I may have made a mistake in admitting that.

My natural instincts and assumptions when it came to being connected to the Agency seemed to be all wrong all the time. I didn’t need training nearly as much as I needed some sort of rule book.

“I assumed something like that,” Paul replied, making a steeple out of his fingers extended in front of him, leaning forward with his elbows down flat on the surface of the desk.

I was used to him taking up that position. Richard, and whomever else Richard might be counseling with, was wrong about Paul. I knew deep inside that not only was Paul relaxed with our meeting but he wasn’t threatened, nor was there any possibility that he might be threatening to me. The thought of showing up armed to our meeting I’d discounted even as the potential for his being armed was mentioned by Richard. Paul wasn’t a player and since he wasn’t that also meant he was no threat to somebody like me as long as I remained the alert creature I’d come to be.

“I’m leaving all this behind and moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico,” I began.

Paul brought both hands up and smiled again. “Yes, your big friend mentioned something about that. Getting your insurance agency, a home, and likely some foreign travel along with all that must make you feel pretty good.”

I was more than surprised. I’d assumed that Herbert’s interview with Paul was to get information from him and not the other way around. I knew nothing about getting my own insurance agency and had yet to discuss anything about what kind of, or the extent of travel I might be led to believe I could expect. The CIA was continuing to amaze me in that it didn’t seem to operate within the structure of any organized governmental agency I’d ever thought of much less learned about or experienced.

“I’m moving to Montecito myself,” Paul said. “It’s up above L.A., and my girlfriend’s parents live there. The rates I can charge will be much higher than what you’ve been paying.”

We both laughed at that. I decided not to fill in Paul about any more of my concerns and worries. We were done and it was obvious that this was our last meeting. He’d helped me through the worst of difficult times in places I couldn’t go with my wife or anybody else. I lived now, and would likely live the rest of my life performing some form or other of a daily redemption and it was all effective for me and all because of the man sitting in front of me. Just because the demons of the night had receded, with Paul’s help, that didn’t mean they couldn’t return, and that concerned me.

“One thing before we part,” Paul said,

“That would be?” I asked since there was a delay in his saying anything more.

“The trauma that reshaped your entire existence on this planet is an attractant and you have to be aware of that and fight it when and where you can.”

“Meaning?” I replied, not understanding what he was getting at.

“The pursuit you are in now, this new thing chosen for you, including where you will live, and almost everything you are going to be involved in has additional trauma written all through it. Logically, it would seem that a man who’s been through what you’ve been through would be assumed to be one who would avoid additional trauma, but that’s not how it really works. What you’re about to go into, and I don’t know a lot about it and probably never will, is just another test of that theory.”

I stood up to leave, uncomfortable with our parting words but also realizing just how much I was going to miss the wisdom the man seemed to emanate every time we were together.

“I don’t know what else to say, other than thanks,” I said, holding out my right hand.

The man had done almost as much to save my life as the Gunny and there was about as much chance that I could have him continue in my life as there had been with him.

Paul got up, took my hand, and then guided me to the door.

“Your ship of life is run by a captain, and that is you like it always has been. I’ve simply served as a marginally effective executive officer. It’s not nearly as important that you always act like the captain but never forget to be the captain.”

I nodded and turned away to head for the outside door. Once again the man had reached inside and affected me deeply, although I knew it would take me some time to fully appreciate and internalize what he’d said.

When I got home my wife met me at the door. The department had called and I was to report in immediately. I didn’t bother to get into uniform, however, deciding that such a message demanded an immediate response.

“Why don’t you call them back?” Mary asked, shaking her head.

“What’s the point, that man doesn’t share anything with anyone, much less Pat Bowman whom he dislikes about as much as me.”

I drove straight to the station, thinking about what Paul’s last words might mean. How could someone be the ‘captain of the ship’ and not act like the ‘captain of the ship’?

The Marauder wasn’t in its spot, so I parked in the open, off-limits, slot. My relationship with the department was going so badly that I didn’t care anymore about my violations of parking rules.

“The Chief wants to see me?” I asked of Pat, as I stood leaning through the open door to her outer office, the door to the chief’s closed as opposed to how it had been when Murray had still been there.

The scene was so changed in its feel and repressed emotions that it resembled the squad bay I’d sat alone in while wearing the Medal of Valor ribbon. The medal was gone and so was the ribbon, but part of my life had been trashed with those things and now it felt like there was some payoff just up ahead, like the signpost on the road in Rod Serling’s seminal Twilight Zone series.

“Knock three times and then go in,” Pat said, but there was no smile in her facial expression, unlike the smiles that had graced her features so many times in years past that the smile lines around the edges of her mouth seemed to be ironed in.

I went to the door, not mouthing the, “on the ceiling if you want me,” part of the lyrics to finish the Tony Orlando song quote. The old light-heartedness of the place had dried up and blown away with the insidious takeover of the new chief.

I walked inside the office, feeling some degree of trepidation, as the man was such a complete unknown. The only constant that could be expected from the man, in uniform or not, was that he was about as real as a three-dollar bill unless he was on about how great he was.

“Take a seat,” he said, pointing at one of the straight-back chairs.

Even sitting comfortably behind his desk inside his own small office with the door closed he was wearing his giant ‘all hat and no cows’ hat.

“You didn’t say a word about me at the awards ceremony,” he began, with a rueful smile, almost like he was regretful.

He didn’t fool me, however, I felt an undercurrent of rage, although I wasn’t sure what was giving me that feeling. I automatically rotated my torso slightly, so my center incision was no longer facing him. I felt myself doing it but made no move to adjust back.

“You also said something I remember when I talked at that general meeting about police pursuits, and I didn’t appreciate that.”

I wracked my brain. I recalled his speech. I’d said nothing when he’d spoken, or after than I had at the awards ceremony. Then it hit me. After the man left I talked to the sergeants and Gates about what was covered in the meeting. Our new chief said he wanted to get rid of all police pursuits, as they were too laden with liability potential. He’d stated that the department manual was being changed to reflect that but then hadn’t stopped. Laughing, he’d continued to state that the department was made up of such dedicated and tough cops, however, that he knew they would continue with pursuits anyway and how he’d back them if things went wrong.

I’d been shocked. I blurted out my take on what had happened. “The Chief just shifted all liability for a crash or a suspect getting hurt or killed, or even one of us, from the department to us individually. If something happens now in pursuit or because of it then nobody’s going to ‘back’ us, most of all, not him, the guy who thought this brilliant plan up.”

“I presume you’re talking about my opinion of the new no-pursuit policy?” I asked,

There was no point in denying what I’d said. Either I was being fired or I wasn’t. If I wasn’t I could just face the music and take whatever punishment he thought my transgression deserved.

“You’ve created the need for something good here,” he said, surprising me. “None of these officers, you included, have ever been psychologically evaluated and that’s got to change. All California Peace Officers are currently being evaluated by professionals to make sure they are the best suited for what we do. I’m sending you up to Santa Ana to a psychologist tomorrow. You’ll be our first officer to go up there and you can report back and make everyone else realize they have nothing to fear. Nobody’s going to be fired for whatever they say or whatever the psychologist reports.”

I was no longer surprised. The fact that he’d mentioned being fired and how that was off the table meant it was very definitely on the table. I had a decision to make, I knew, but I wasn’t going to make it in front of him. I didn’t need a negative psychological profile built around me. I was the department hero, and I could see how the chief’s mind had worked that around to his advantage. Sending me up to Santa Ana would not be seen by anybody as an attack on either me or them. I sat thinking since he wasn’t asking me to answer any questions, although I knew he would if I didn’t say something soon.

While I sat deep in thought he went on about my conduct back at the academy and even my ‘secret’ work for the Western White House, none of which I’d reported back to the department about. He was being forgiving of that, or saying so, I realized as I tried to pay attention.

I’d misjudged the man. His hat, facial appearance, attire, and presentation…it was all a costume and disguise. The man was not some doddering fool dressed like a court jester, no, he was brilliant, and he was evil as hell. Lex Luther had nothing on the man, and I wasn’t Superman. My career as a police officer was over but, barring advice from my wife after I filled her in on the coming test and the conclusions I’d finally put together, I would take the test, pass it, and move on. I didn’t want to leave because I refused it and I knew that would be the cowboy’s next move. He didn’t care about my medal or my previous military prowess like I’d felt from both Lieutenant Gates and then the other officers at the squad bay meeting. No, he cared about the ability he saw in me to see him and through him. I realized he was better at seeing that than I was at hiding it, by far. I could investigate, analyze, conclude, and present but I, unlike my wife, and the man in front of me, could not ‘feel’ my way to a correct conclusion based on almost nothing at all.

“Pat has the time for you to be up there and the address,” the Chief said, waving his hand in dismissal. Don’t be offended that she’s a young woman as her credentials are rock solid.”

“I’ll be there, sir,” I said, getting out of my chair and through the still-open door as fast as I could without giving any hint that I was doing so.

Pat sat rock solid behind her desk, before getting up and closing the chief’s door, as I’d forgotten about his closed-door policy in my shock.

“Thank you,” she whispered, leaning toward me like she was going to hug me. I stepped a little back not wanting to engage but loving the woman anyway.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you’re choosing to go,” she replied.

“I want to keep my job,” I said, straight-faced.

“Which job, you only have half a dozen?” she replied, smiling for the first time. “I want you to go so you can help the rest of the guys here get ready so they won’t be fired for saying something stupid, which all of them are fully capable of doing, and you know it. You went home without working yesterday. Nobody knows why, but I do. Don’t let on to a single soul about that, especially to whoever that woman is you’ve got to get in front of in Santa Ana.”

I went home and told my wife about the coming profile to be done by little more than a teenager, and also my suspicions about why it was being done at all.

I didn’t share the brutal emotional hit I’d taken about the medal, just as I had not with Paul. I could handle that hit but never in my life fall into the hero/turd trap again if I could help it.

I worked that afternoon with Gularte on beach patrol, as it would be his last beach duty before he became a regular full-time street cop. Beach patrol was a step below that, a large step. Whether reserve or part-time, duty on the beach patrol was considered more punishment than anything else, despite the bright and light nature of most of the duty. People on the beach, during daylight hours, were, by and large, much more expressively happy than people confronted or met on the streets.

I needed Gularte for the move and for additional help handling Matt for the train trip. Gularte knew what was in the box while Matt could only guess. The last thing I needed was somebody guessing that the container was filled with gold bullion or something of huge cash value. There was risk in moving the artifact and I needed to minimize that as well as bring another straight arrow into the bargain so that Matt would know he had company for the transport.

Using the phone at the lifeguard headquarters I called Herbert about the date and the money only to find out that travel transport and moving were not to be covered using the Amex card. Different companies would pay the different bills and none of the work could be paid for in advance unless I was willing to part with the cash I had and wait for reimbursement that might take more than a month. I got off the phone shaking my head and then filling Gularte in. Neither of us could imagine that a railroad was going to move a big metal container and then bill me later for the charges. I wasn’t a company and didn’t have any attachment to one.

I’d told Herbert that I needed more cash but all he said was that my new insurance company, Bankers Life of Iowa, would be sending an advance for me to take over their old office in Albuquerque. That was the first I knew that there was an existing office at all. Did it have agents and clerical staff? Herbert had no idea and, yet, I had no contact with that company to discuss anything. Why would they send me a check if they hadn’t even met me? I hadn’t filled in Gularte about the new insurance connection, and I couldn’t see the need.

We finished the shift together and only then did I realize how much I’d miss him. I knew he was disturbed that I was leaving as well, but neither of us went into the coming move in much more detail, other than him bringing up the fact that the Dwarfs would all volunteer to help with the move at the San Clemente end.

The next morning, I got up and dressed for the appointment in Santa Ana, one hour away on the interstate. I dressed in my Western White House costume, wearing the same Sears and Roebuck suit I was awarded the medal in only days before.

Galloways was there and therefore open, at least to the small selection of just after-dawn wanderers who stopped by supposedly for an early cup of coffee but for some sort of encouragement to start the day. My suit was wool so I left the coat folded on the passenger seat of the Volks. Mary was home so there was no way I was going to get the Caprice. There’d been no talk of what to wear so both my wife and I decided that civilian attire was best, so as not to put any element of threat in the meeting. Mike wasn’t there but he’d stopped by my home and talked to Mary about the insurance I was making him buy. Lorraine told me that his routine had only made her laugh. Mike loved Mary so I knew he was even more putty in her hands than in Lorraine’s. I slipped her five new hundred-dollar bills since nobody else was near my table. Mike was a laydown, and I wondered how I’d sell anything in New Mexico without her or the people I knew so well in San Clemente.

“You don’t owe me anything,” she whispered in my ear but didn’t put the bills back onto the table. “I’m supposed to owe you. Aren’t you keeping track of any of this?”

“You owe me nothing,” I whispered back, knowing I would soon be leaving her and wondering how she was going to get by without having someone around who had to do one work of redemption every day.

I left Galloways and drove directly to the address in Santa Ana. The building where the woman was officed was of high quality like Tom Thorkelson’s insurance operation in the Union Bank Building at Newport Center. It breathed money. I knew there was likely not one professional inside its brick walls that had the ability of Paul, but then, I wasn’t there for therapy.

I went through the big double glass doors, the kind with magnetic locks near the top and bottom corners. The clerk behind the counter directed me to the 13th floor,  where she said there would be another clinician. I rode the elevator with a slight smile. I liked the word clinician instead of front desk clerk. I reflected on the fact that most buildings in America were built without a 13th floor. Superstition quietly lay at the very foundations of so much of how societies truly operated without much of anything being said. I got some comfort from the fact that Tom Thorkelson, a man I revered, had his offices on the 13th floor of his building.

The clinician got up and guided me to a closed door nearby.

“She’s just inside,” she said and then turned to go back to sitting behind her counter.

I turned the wonderfully made metal doorknob and pushed the very heavy walnut door open and stepped through…into a different world.