When I got to the station and parked in the lot, I first noticed that Lieutenant Gate’s Marauder was parked in its special spot near the back door.

The second thing I noticed, as I walked into the facility, was that Pat Bowman wasn’t at her desk. Gates was there when he was scheduled for the four to midnight shift and Pat not there, when she was always there, were not good indicators for the coming meeting, which I deftly avoided, presuming Gates and the Chief were in his office, by heading into the locker-room where there was a phone attached to one wall. The phone never got used and nobody could explain why it was there but it came in handy on this day. I checked the locker room out to make sure nobody was lurking around and then picked up the receiver and dialed my home number, hoping Mary had returned.

“Strauss house, how can I help you?” she answered on the second ring.

“Very funny,” I said, finding her response to answering the phone just that, as she hated it when I used my old family training to answer the telephone in the same way. The telephones of my childhood were treated as very special, expensive, and almost gifted communication devices. Any call took precedence over whatever else might be going on in the home and person-to-person calls were treated as if coming from royalty.

“I’ve got to go in with Gates and the Chief following my visit to the shrink,” I informed her.

“You’re quitting the police force,” she replied, completely ignoring what I’d said.

“I’m calling,” I said in frustration, “to see how to proceed if the meeting’s a bad one, which it probably has to be.”

“If you, their only official hero ever, are being fired then there’d be a slip in your slot or delivered here at our home. That coward you people all call the chief has no spine so he’d never fire you in person. He wants something. The meeting isn’t likely an attack, it’s a sales presentation, like your phony insurance sales presentations.”

“Tom Thorkelson and Chuck Bartok would be offended if I told them that,” I said, my feelings slightly hurt.

I thought of myself as a most excellent insurance sales performance agent.

“They’re real insurance agents. You, on the other hand, are an insurance assassin.”

I almost laughed out loud. Mary’s comments were almost worthy of a television show script but painful to hear in any event. I changed the subject.

“I was calling for advice about what to do,” I said, “I want to stay on for the month Dr. Marcy gave me in order to sell more and make money for your trip expenses.”

“You just want to wear that uniform as many more times as you can. I’m as tired as can be getting that thing ready all the time. My advice is to give it to him.”

“Give what to him?’ I asked, feeling stupid.

“Whatever it is he wants,” she answered. “He’ll no doubt expect you to want something in return so give him something.”

“What do I want in return?” I asked, feeling even dumber than before.

“Oh, how about the 30 days, and maybe to keep your gun or some other bit of nonsense? You’ll have to ask for something or he’ll think you won’t keep your word.”

“My word?” I asked.

“Whatever he wants involves you going along with it now and then in the future. Hell, maybe he wants the medal you threw away, I don’t know, since all men seem to want that sort of stuff until they get it.”

I agreed and hung up. I couldn’t avoid the meeting any longer. Once again I pondered Mary’s ability to understand stuff that I didn’t, even though she generally knew less about whatever it was than I did.

I remembered once when we were newly married, I awakened next to her from a deep sleep dream. I jerked from a laying position up to sitting fully erect.

“What is it?” Mary asked, in surprise.

“I dreamed you’re smarter than I am,” I blurted out.

If there was one phrase in our marital communications that I could take back then that would be it, as she replayed that sequence of early morning events to everyone who would listen to it, as well as to me regularly.

I walked over to the only thing adorning any of the cinderblock walls of the locker room. It was a full-length mirror. I checked myself out, my eyes falling to the .45 in its holster on my right hip. Gunslingers in Westerns looked cool, with their holster angled down along one thigh and a leather thong holding the bottom of it to minimize movement or dangling. The thick secure Sam Brown belt didn’t allow for such things, however. I looked like a television western side kick I realized, then thinking about what my wife said. It was time for me to go. She was right once again, at least about that part, the part she hadn’t mentioned but we both knew was there. Police Story was a continuing series on television with a new show out every week. I tried to watch them all unless I was working a shift. One of the most decorated officers suddenly resigned near the end of a recent show. When asked why he was leaving he’d said, simply: “Because it’s time.” I hadn’t understood why the line had been left unanswered or further questioned but I suddenly did. Nobody would understand, not in the circumstances. The screenwriter or adviser to the show must have been an officer I realized.

I hung up the phone and walked slowly toward the hall, but not before I turned on the tape deck to record whatever went on in the Chief’s office. I couldn’t save the career I didn’t want to save but I might be able to make Chief Brown’s fairly miserable. The duty hero, still in the gush of public adulation over getting the medal, other than my fellow officers, with the right kind of tape might just have a real story for Fred Sweggles and the San Clemente Sun Post, before leaving town.

For the first time since Brown had been Chief and I’d walked by his office, the door was open. Both men had to be waiting, and I was a bit late, not that it mattered.

I stepped through the door, noting that Gates was in a straight back chair to my left while the Chief sat behind his desk, his signature cowboy hat resting in front of him. I sat in the only other chair in the small office, placing me right next to Gates.

“The prodigal son returns,” ‘Brown murmured, seeming to brace himself by playing both hands on the arms of his swivel chair.

“Chief,” I said, turning to look over at Gates to at least give him a nod, but he kept his full attention on the Chief.

“How was the shrink?” Brown asked, turning his head to look out the open window when he finished stating his question.

“As you expected,” I replied, hoping my tape recorder was getting everything. I felt like the detective I never was making some sort of drug deal.

I unconsciously moved my right hand from the handle of the Colt toward the left pocket of my shirt where the Olympus rested, before catching myself and letting it drift down to rest on my thigh. There was no threat in the room. Bringing the .45 had made me feel better but it was anything but called for.

“So what are we to do, Lieutenant?” Brown said, still avoiding looking directly at me.

“How about thirty days and that’s it?” Gates replied, finally looking over at me before nodding his head slightly. I could tell that he wanted me to simply go along with whatever had been pre-planned.

“And then?” Brown asked both men making believe I wasn’t there at all.

“He gets to keep his revolver as a gift from the department, Sam Brown stuff too, but not the badge. That gets surrendered today. Calpers retirement will kick in but that’ll all be handled by personnel and him.”

I realized how uncomfortable both men were. I wasn’t being asked to resign at all, which meant they were in full possession of the results of my psychological exam from Doctor Marcy, and were assuming my agreement, which also likely was the opinion given to them by her. I smiled, ruefully. Gates was gruff but straight and okay, like just about every other NCO I’d run into while on ‘real’ active duty, even though we’d had our troubles, while Marcy was a class act and Chief Brown was an intelligent manipulating buffoon.

“You want to lay out what I need from all this?” Brown asked Gates.

Gates turned to look at me, real concern showing through his normally very rigid facial expression.

“You give up your badge now and the commander tag, but you get to stay on the rolls until the 3oth day, for pay and also reputation purposes. You tell everyone, including the media, if asked, that you’re leaving to pursue your career in the insurance business…or whatever you might want to say. We’ll back that up and there’ll be only glowing reports about your service.”

I nodded but then asked the only question I had, reacting to only one comment Gate’s made.

“Why the reserve commander title tag?” I asked, moving both hands to unpin the metal badge from the shirt material covering my chest on the right.
I placed the tag on the front edge of the Chief’s desk, and then unpinned my badge and did the same with it. I sat back in my chair, feeling funny without the badges on my chest. For no reason I could think of it felt vaguely humiliating, which was likely part of Brown’s plan.

“He wants your promise, as well,” Gates said, looking away, like this part of the deal wasn’t something he’d come up with or agreed upon.

“What’s the promise, other than I’ll go along with everything you’ve said so far?

“The Chief, as part of his legacy, is going to absorb the beach patrol as his operation,” Gates got out, before sighing and taking in a deep breath.

The Chief smiled broadly.

“The Chief’s already in charge of the beach patrol and everything else the department has,” I replied, surprised again.

“Ah, no, not that part,” Brown replied.

I shook my head, mystified. “What part are you talking about?” I asked, my eyes drawn only to the two badges sitting on the edge of the desk in front of me.

I felt more regret than I thought I would, as well as a certain sense of shame I knew wasn’t called for or my fault at all. I’d never done anything to dishonor the uniform, although I also knew that hadn’t always been true down in the A Shau Valley to my Marine uniform. I thought of one of Paul’s so brilliant comments that I’d come to depend on, “If you have to dishonor yourself to save someone’s life then you save that life and work to redefine the definition of dishonor.

“The Chief’s going to be the person responsible for starting the beach patrol and then building it up to what it’s become today,” Gates said, his voice so low I almost didn’t catch it. I knew the tape machine wasn’t high enough in quality to record it either.

“Could you say that a bit louder, as I didn’t quite hear that?” I said, watching Gate’s eyes seem to snap into my own.

I knew instantly that he either knew or suspected I was taping the interview, but he didn’t give me away. Instead, he repeated the words slowly and loudly. When he was done, and before he looked over at the Chief he smiled a very small quick smile.

“Okay by me,” I replied, not caring one way or another about who was given credit for the beach patrol, and also knowing that it didn’t really matter what I might say about it. Being the department hero didn’t trump being the Chief and there was no sense in pushing things.

“Have you thought about the lifeguards?” I asked, after a few minutes, while both men conferred about how to proceed with the announcement of my passing and the beach patrol becoming the fair-haired child of the Chief.

“What?” the Chief and Gates both replied, at once.

“I didn’t start the beach patrol and neither did the former chief,” I informed them.

“God, he’s right,” Gates said, talking to the Chief.

“What can we do?” Brown asked Gates back.

The lieutenant looked over at me and then made it clear he was waiting for me to respond.

“I’ll get down there,” I said, with a sigh. “Don’t say anything about the beach patrol until I’ve fixed things. It won’t be easy, as all the guards’ surf lifesaving association has that patrol in their history now.”

“How did it start?” the Chief said, as I sat before him thinking about the tape machine in my pocket. The tape was becoming as problematic as the ones that had come into my possession from the Western White House. It was beginning to contain stuff that I was never going to be able to talk about without fully implicating myself.

“It was started a few years before I came along,” recited from what I’d learned. “The stretch of beach patrolled by the guards in their jeeps was quite small back then, not like now. They wanted a police officer along because it had become illegal to have alcohol on the beach and they didn’t want to deal with that or the high fines for dogs on the beach wherein beachgoers sometimes became violent. A police officer would ride along to handle stuff like that.  Finally, the guards were funded with enough money to have towers on the sand everywhere they were guarding and the patrol became unnecessary for them. That’s just about when I came along with the former chief and created the beach patrol we know today.”

“Can you make all that go away?” Chief Brown asked me directly.

“I can sure as hell try, although I’m not sure why I should. What’s in it for me, or them, or anybody else?” I said the words petulantly, I knew and regretted the loss of control immediately.

Gates reached over to the front of the desk and grabbed my badge and the commander bar.

“Here, keep the badge and commander title for the thirty days, but it’s unofficial. Officially, you’re still quitting today.”

I took the badge and bar back, wondering about such a strange arrangement. It was an awful lot like my officer position with the Marine Corps. I was one but wasn’t one in so many ways either.

“No patrols and no wearing of the uniform unless instructed by myself or the Chief here,” Gates said as if he’d given me a great gift.

“What about those guys?” I asked. “Elwell and Bro are the two major issues. The Chief of the Life Guards and his executive officer don’t matter when it comes to the association, but they both do.”

“Make whatever deal you have to,” Brown said. “We’ll try to accommodate them somehow.”

I went home and went to work. I got Gularte to help me back the six-by into the RV garage at the house, although the very nose of the thing had to stick out partway into the driveway. We spent almost a whole day working the front of the truck’s bed just right to secure the aluminum box the artifact was encased inside.

I wanted it secure so that the object couldn’t get any of its outrageously and geometrically increasing inertia into play. I envisioned a fast-moving train taking a sharp curve and the whole thing coming off the tracks, although I knew that was unlikely. A train’s mass and inertia were many degrees above that of a car or a spacecraft. As long as the artifact was truly secure there should be no problem. The idea of transferring the object to a shipping container wasn’t going to be necessary so I’d have to let Matt know. I knew there were things he didn’t know.

Size was one of them, and very likely the non-linear inertia things were probably another. There was plenty I didn’t know about what he did or didn’t know himself.

On the second day, I went down to the pier to have a cup of coffee with Shawna and get any gossip before heading to the headquarters where both Bob and Steve were to be starting their shifts for the day. Shawna had been informed of my resignation and was upset but there wasn’t much I could tell her or any of the Dwarfs until I was ready to implement my plan. I walked back to the headquarters, as I no longer had any authority to drive on the pier, the lifeguard grounds, or even a clicker to operate the railroad track gates.

Bob and Steve were there. I asked to speak to them in private, so we went out to one of the jeeps and sat in the sun. I filled them in on the Chief’s request, which sounded even more ridiculous in repetition than it had in the original inside the office.

“I don’t believe it,” Bro said when I was done making the request.

I said nothing, as Bro had always been a tough nut, like his father, a dentist who refused to give up his ancient foot-pedal drill when the modern ones caused so much less pain and sped the process of dentistry immensely.

I pulled out the recorder and prepared for exactly the kind of response I expected from the man. I pushed the button and the tape started right at the point when the strange request was made. The speakers were easy to identify.

“Good God,” Steve whispered, more in awe than in surprise. “You tape everyone? You taping us right now?”

“Ah, you’re listening to the only machine I own,” I lied, glancing over at Bob, who remained mercifully quiet. “What do you guys want?”

“Want, what do I want?” Bro mused. It took him no time at all to think.

“I want my van brought back to the original. It’s a wreck. You guys, using the city mechanics for no charge, take care of that and we’ve got a deal…well, except for Bob here.”

I looked at Bob.

“You’re leaving and you’re leaving the insurance thing behind,” Bob said, more as a statement than as a question.

I waited.

“I want to be an agent like you, I don’t want to be a lifeguard anymore. I want you to hire me and then train me with what time you’ve got left.”

I was shocked. I knew there was Tom Thorkelson to consider. Tom was the General Agent. Mass Mutual paid the commissions but the agents in the entire area all worked for Tom. But Tom was also a player in the business. I would have to make it so that Bob was an asset because he didn’t have the background to qualify to get through the hiring process.

“Done,” I said, holding out my hand to first one man and then the other.

I thought about Bob as I drove home. I thought about my current clientele, most of whom I liked. I couldn’t service their policies from a thousand miles away, particularly since I had no idea what the CIA was going to demand in time. If I could swing the hiring of Bob with Tom, then the sweetener would be that I’d turn all my policyholders over to Bob. He’d have an immediate income and a whole flock of clients to try to get him referrals.
I went to bed that night knowing I’d lived up to my deed of doing something for my redemption that day. I could look at myself in the mirror the following day and know I was okay.

I woke up to the sound of the telephone ringing. I grabbed the phone by feel, as it was fully dark inside our bedroom. I looked at my watch, as I said hello, and then wondered, before I heard the reply, why anyone was calling me at three in the morning. I was no longer a cop, or working for the Western White House. For all intents and purposes, I was merely a life insurance agent.

“Have you heard?” a female voice said, that voice very subdued, as if it was only spoken in a break between fits of crying.

“Heard what?” I replied, waiting through a long silence.

“About Rick,” the voice said.

“Yes,” I replied, as Rick Steed was going full time so his last shift on the beach patrol would have ended earlier that evening. He’d replaced me, after I left, in all my future scheduled shifts.

The phone went dead, so I hung it up.

“What was that?” Mary said, getting out of bed and moving to the nearby wall. The lights came on while I sat in the bed trying to get my bearings. I told her about what the voice said and my reply.

“There’s no choir practice you’ve ever been a part of that goes to three in the morning,” Mary reasoned. “Who was she?”

“I don’t know, she didn’t say,” I replied, getting up and putting on my robe.

“It had to be his wife,” my wife reasoned. “Have you heard?” she said to herself, sitting at the end of the bed.

“Heard what?” I asked. “There’s nothing else to go on, although I do think it was his wife now.”

“I’ll make the coffee,” Mary said, getting up and leaving the room to head for the kitchen.
I followed Bozo, joining me from under the bed. We both walked into the kitchen, Bozo as curious as I was.

Mary worked on making the coffee and boiling water to pour into our French Press. She turned on the coffee grinder after feeding in a good measure of Lion coffee from Hawaii into its top-mounted reservoir.

“You want to tell me,” I said, settling onto one of the three high bar chairs we’d wedged into the kitchen after leaving the real bar we’d had in our former apartment.

“A wife calls you in the middle of the night to ask you whether you have heard the news about her husband,” Mary intoned as if reading flatly from a script.

“Yeah, we’ve been through that part together,” I replied, in total frustration.

Mary poured the boiling coffee into the glass tube of the French Press, then pushed down on the plunger slowly. Still, she said nothing until hot coffee filled both of our cups. She went to the refrigerator to get the milk. I couldn’t take it anymore.

“You want to stop, damn it, and tell me,” I ordered, my voice hissing in anger.

“She poured milk into both of our cups, before putting it on the counter and looking into my eyes.

“Something happened to her husband and she’s calling you for only one of two reasons,” Mary said, as if guiding a toddler through some sort of kindergarten routing.

“Those would be?” I asked, trying to settle down. I didn’t want my coffee, all I wanted was to go back to bed.

“Possibly, she hasn’t heard about your resignation.”

“Not likely,” I replied. “I think everyone’s heard about that shot sent around the department.”

“The second?” I finally asked, trying to keep angry insistence out of my tone.

“She’s calling about your other career,” Mary finally got out, taking a careful sip from her cup.

I stared at her, the word ‘commander’ emblazoned red across its white ceramic surface.

“My other career?” I asked, knowing I was sounding stupid but not wanting to go where she was trying to point me.

“Does Rick have a life insurance policy with you?” Mary asked, her voice so soft I almost couldn’t make out her words.

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