The din coming from the interior of the party house was deafening. I moved inside, stepping to the left in order to keep my right hand free, and also allow Gularte to be a second target instead of both of us potentially being taken as one. There were about a dozen women moving about in the mist and one who was dancing nearby yelled out…

“Hey, it’s the San Clemente cops,” after which she began to laugh even louder than the music.

Pretty soon the place consisted of a cheering mass of moving bodies in the mist until, suddenly, the music stopped. Out of the mist a young bare-chested male walked through the semi-dazed throng until he stood before me.

“What in hell do you want, pig?” he asked.

The place fell into a nearly still silence following his words, although the strange mist remained circulating unabated.

“The music’s too loud,” I said, ignoring his directed insult. “It’s better now, however, so we’ll take our leave,” I went on, backing up a few steps and preparing to exit back through the open door I’d come in.

“Screw you,” the near naked, but tough looking youth replied. “We’ll do whatever we damned well please. Get the hell out of our house. I paid the rent and that’s it. You’re trespassing.”

I stopped moving backward and looked directly into the boy’s eyes.

“Well, okay,” I said, with a slight smile. “Do you mind coming outside for a few seconds so we can report in and let the station know nothing needs to be done here?”

“What do you need me for, pig?” he asked, looking around at his gathered friends to either show off, elicit some support or maybe more, as almost all of the other party members remained indistinct within the moving mist.

“It’ll just be a few seconds and then you can go back to partying,” I said, allowing a bit of begging weakness to flavor my tone.

“Sure,” the boy said, laughing. “Anything more from you two, however, and I’ll kick both your asses.”

“Indeed,” I replied, still smiling, “and thank you for the warning.”

I backed through the door; Gularte having preceded me a few seconds earlier.

“The Bronco,” I whispered to him as I walked by his side.

Gularte looked down at me with a funny expression, but headed straight out to where the Bronco sat idling. The boy followed, while Gularte moved off a little to his rear and side. The boy’s feet made a slapping sound on the concrete walk to the car, another of his tactical mistakes I thought. If you’re going to get into any kind of violent confrontation, do it with heavy clothing on and solid shoes or boots. Clothing and footwear could substantially lessen crippling injuries early in any physical contest.

I also noted Gularte’s moves, He was doing everything right, and effortlessly and silently right at that. He was, and I knew would be, a great partner on into the future. The only training he needed was analytical, the most boring and difficult part of our work, other than the times when there simply was nothing to do but look out into the surf or cover ground on the sand inside the Bronco.

When I reached the passenger side of the vehicle I leaned in the window and grabbed the microphone, not paying attention to what microphone it was. It didn’t matter.

“46673, I have a situation,” I said, “please roll an ambulance to,” I stopped and looked at the kid who’d walked up behind me.

“What’s the address of this place?” I asked, holding the microphone out to transmit again.

“What’s the ambulance for?” he said, not answering my questions.

I turned to face him. “You’ll be fighting Officer Gularte here, not me,”

I began, gesturing toward the looming, silent and faintly glowering Gularte only a few feet away. Gularte massaged his gloved hand with the bare one. The movement was innocent but strangely and suggestively violent at the same time.

“What?” the kid asked, surprised but still with a macho edge to his tone.

I pointed at the upper right side of my chest with the microphone.

“I’m the commander, like this nametag says. I’m not allowed to get into physical conflicts, and besides, Officer Gularte’s much better at it, as he does it all the time.”

The kid shook his head, as if befuddled a bit. “The ambulance,” he murmured, the tough certainty of his words beginning to fall away

“Last week, Gularte and I were in this same kind of damned obnoxious situation with some other beach punk, like you,” I said, shaking my head.

“You got that ambulance coming, Bobby?” I asked loudly into the microphone, holding it closely to my lips.

“Anyway,” I went on to the boy standing only a few feet away, having moved another few feet to be further from the now obviously menacing Gularte, “we didn’t’ call an ambulance last time and Gularte beat the kid so bad he almost died. I should have called it in. I got written up for not caring for the public properly and I’m not going to make that mistake with you.”

The boy looked over at where Gularte, the mist coming out of the party house front door and windows framing him, and making him appear as if he was some sort of evil menacing wraith.

“No ambulance,” the boy said, his voice small, its volume down to nearly that of a hushed whisper. He snapped a look back at the still gaping front door of the rental, but none of his friends had come to witness what might be happening outside.

“You sure?” I asked, “Gularte’s ready to go, aren’t you Jim?”

Gularte said nothing, his dark black eyes staring into the boy’s eyes, not mine. It was as if I wasn’t even there.

“Really, you won’t need an ambulance,” the kid got out. “I’ll just go back in and leave the music off, unless you want me to have everyone leave.”

“Nah, enjoy your party,” I said, “I’ll take care of cancelling the medical aid.”

“Thanks,” the changed kid said. “Can I go back inside now?”

“Yep,” I replied, leaning into the car to replace the handset back onto the dash, happy that the kid hadn’t noticed that there’d been no reply from the radio speaker while we were talking.

When I turned around the kid was gone. I motioned with my head for Gularte to get into the vehicle as I made my own entrance on my side.

The Bronco cruised at a very slow speed back to the railroad gates. I pushed the button on the remote and the gates on both sides of the tracks did their usual noisy and slow retreat.
Gularte drove up onto the pier a ways out on the wooden slatted base, or floor atop the many pylons, before stopping.

“You really were an officer over there in that valley, weren’t you.” Gularte said, not framing the question as a question at all.

I couldn’t think of any rational answer. Either I was who Gularte thought I was, although it wasn’t something provable, or I wasn’t. What did it matter? I did turn slightly to face him and smiled a genuine smile. He’d performed his part in our little play magnificently.

“There was no call, was there?” he asked.

I shook my head gently.

“And you’ve never had to call an ambulance because you were in a violent situation with somebody like that kid either, have you?”

“Shauna Murphy,” I replied, ignoring the question, primarily because I didn’t really understand it, instead turning to look out toward the end of the pier where the lights were dimly shining back at us through the windows of the restaurant.

“Shauna serves us free coffee, and that we can have,” I said, “her dad’s the chief of the fire department in San Juan Capistrano and she’s also the best baby sitter for Julie we’ve ever had. I tip her plenty. Free coffee from her is okay, she’s one of us.”

Gularte eased the Bronco forward, and we idled our way to the end of the pier. There were no other customers which suited me fine. I wanted to know more about my enigmatic, Hollywood-looking, but totally combat capable, partner.

I sipped my coffee, wondering about Mr. Wilson and whatever after effects might come about from my visit. Would Wilson complain, act out when Haldeman’s family, or whomever, showed up? His file didn’t show a previous criminal or violent history, but he was one weird individual and I knew he would not fade quickly from my memory.

“What else will the night bring, Lieutenant?” Gularte asked, sipping his coffee and looking around at the rather rustic and cramped interior of the small restaurant.

There was no good answer to his question although I wondered if he was even aware he’d addressed me by my former Marine Corps rank.

“Come on,” I replied, finishing my coffee, standing up and nodding toward where Shauna made believe she was wiping down tables that didn’t need wiping down. When she worked after dark, I always kept her in mind until after the place closed at midnight. She was very young and very good looking for her age. San Clemente wasn’t normally a violent town but young women all by themselves in the night always made me uncomfortable anyway. There was no need to inform Gularte that we’d be swinging back to sit at the base of the pier around closing time to make sure Shauna got to her car without difficulty.

Gularte guided the Bronco slowly and steadily off the pier and onto the sand, heading south toward the compound, without having to be told anything. I said nothing about life insurance as Gularte just didn’t seem to be the type. I already had my ‘quota’ for the week, and I didn’t want to take any more heat by becoming the insurance guy nobody wanted to talk to.

Tom Thorkelson, following our meeting in Newport Beach, had promoted Chuck Bartok to be the agency’s district manager for the San Clemente area. The two agents assigned to Chuck were myself and Ava Nawy, the beautiful but totally glacial woman I’d encountered during the training. Chuck’s call earlier in the day started out great, about how Tom was so impressed with my early performance that he thought more of Chuck than he had before…whatever that really meant, but then the conversation shifted to Chuck’s other agent and how Chuck felt that my help might be required to get her ‘off the ground’ because she was afraid of rejection. I’d almost laughed out loud into the mouthpiece of the phone over that comment.

“Afraid of rejection,” I whispered to myself in the Bronco’s passenger seat, “the woman’s picture’s right there in Webster’s dictionary if you look up the word rejection.” There was also not one shred of fear evident in the woman’s communications.

“Rejection?” Gularte asked, his hearing obviously not artillery damaged like my own.

I didn’t answer again, thinking of how odd that great beauty could sometimes also hold great contempt and arrogance.

We moved slowly toward the compound on the wet sand, Gularte steering the vehicle to artfully keep just enough distance between the wheels and the lapping surf. I was about to tell him the story of my experience with Ava and what the future might hold if I had to encounter her on any kind of regular basis. I was married to a beautiful wonderful woman. I didn’t need or want another beautiful woman in my life who was the opposite of wonderful, at least in my short experience with her. I already had Lieutenant Gates on the P.D., Wilson the local property owner, and quite possibly Haldeman, as enemies. I didn’t need any more.

“Forty six six seventy three,” projected out from one of the handsets attached to the dash. Bobby’s scratchy voice penetrated right through the sound of the surf, and the light wind blowing through the Bronco’s open windows.

Gularte grabbed the handset and repeated my call sign into it, which was the only acknowledgement ever made in responding to radio calls.

“Expedite to the compound sand for an interdiction,” Bobby ordered.

“Ten-four,” Gularte replied, hanging the handset back up.

“What’s an interdiction?” he asked, automatically turning the Bronco and increasing speed to bounce up and over the sand berm running to our left. Once up onto the soft sand he stopped the vehicle. “and who uses the word ‘expedite’ for anything, anyway?”

“Interdiction means that we have someone on the beach who’s been detected by the Marshal’s sensory system and have to encounter them,” I answered. “and Bobby, as you will come to understand, loves making high drama out of nothing at all.” We’re authorized to approach Code Two, with the ambers on because of his use of the expedite word. There’s the ten codes we both memorized and then there’s Bobby’s codes.”

“Code two?” Gularte replied, his tone one of surprise. “There’s not a soul to see your lights out here.”

“Just ease us on down the beach, no lights,” I said. “The Marshal’s don’t notify us unless it’s something worth notifying us about, so something’s going on that might just need our attention.”

“You kind of sound like Bobby,” Gularte said, with a snort, accelerating the Bronco up to its prime speed in moving across the top of the dry sand. At really slow speeds, the giant tires tended to bog and jerk a bit, but at thirty miles an hour, or so, everything was smooth as silk.

The trip only took a few minutes, Gularte slowing us only once to ford the small stream that winnowed its way through the sand to the ocean, but at a depth that was never quite predictable.

“Lights,” I ordered, as the switch was on the other side of the steering wheel from where I sat.

The beach came alive in front of us. Gularte stopped the Bronco without being ordered to.
A small group of what appeared to be zombies stood huddled down in front of us just above the wet sand line, some of the figures seated, as if they’d been waiting for our arrival.

“Jesus Christ,” Gularte whispered, “what the hell is this?”

“Welcome to your new world of the night,” I replied, opening my door to get out.

“You’re going out there?” Gularte asked, making no move to open his own door, instead leaning slightly toward me to access the vertically-mounted pump shotgun set protruding upward between us just in front of the seat cushion.

“The only threat that’s likely to be out here is from us,” I replied, my normal, near paranoid sense of impending danger not present at all. “Turn out the lights.”

With the surf beating, the sand blowing, the moonless night and all of it, the place was feeling like my old ‘friends’ from the jungle were all present to give me whatever advantages I might need, no matter what the situation. I existed warmly comfortable in most circumstance and environments I now knew most other humans found to be fearful and uncomfortable, not that terror couldn’t again overcome me at any moment, as well. I knew down to my foundations that this kind of attitude toward life wasn’t natural, but I also knew there were advantages to accepting them and applying them in such an approach toward encountering it.

“Dismount and let’s see what we’ve got,” I said, my thin smile not evident to Gularte in the near stygian darkness that followed the extinguishing of the bright lights.

Gularte spoke Spanish, a fact I hadn’t thought about at all when he was first accepted into small cadre of the reserve beach patrol staff, but became apparent as soon as we approached the huddled group made up completely of what appeared to be young, tattered and destitute Mexicans.

“What you want me to tell them?” Gularte asked, after introducing himself to the group, and rightly assuming that Spanish wasn’t one of my languages.

“How many are there?” I asked, beginning to count. I noted very quickly that there were fourteen, and thankfully, none of them were women with small children or infants.

“Catorce,” Gularte replied, which I figured was fourteen in English.

“I’ll turn the unit around,” I said, “you get them ready to climb aboard for the trip.”

“What trip?” Gularte replied, his head shake of surprise apparent even in the darkness.

I didn’t answer, instead getting into the driver’s seat of the Bronco and working it around until it was pointed north, toward the San Clemente pier and beyond.

Once in position, with all the forward facing lights once again on, I got out and went back to the group.

“Have them climb aboard, up onto the carrier on top, and then onto the bumpers or even on the hood,” I instructed. “It doesn’t matter, but this will beat the hell out of my record.”

“Record for what, and this is crazy, against any sane policy and probably illegal,” Gularte said, before turning back to the assembled mass of refugee humanity. “Where are we taking them, and how’s the Bronco supposed to handle about fourteen hundred pounds of weight on top of it?”

“Catorce,” I replied, getting back into the driver’s seat and grabbing the microphone. “Don’t lose your sense of humor out here…we’re not in the Nam anymore, but just like over there, we’ll make it work over here.”

“Forty Six Six Seventy Three,” I said into the microphone, holding the transmit button down.

“Roger,” Bobby replied, not using the required radio language everyone in the department was supposed to use. “Let me know when the task is complete and all associates are out of our area of operations.”

The illegal aliens began crawling all over the outside of the vehicle, as Gularte worked to get them up top and then distributed onto other parts of the Bronco.

“Record my ass,” he said, opening the passenger door, “and I heard that area-of-operations thing too. Is everyone in on this kind of thing except me?”

“Christ, Gularte, this is your first training run, what do you expect?” I answered, trying to see between the bodies sitting out in front of me on the hood.

“We glide them from one side of the border of San Clemente to the other, and the record before this run was nine, that’s all.”

I eased the vehicle forward, engaging the clutch as gingerly as I could. There was little danger of the Bronco turning over, as the sand was as flat as a pool table, except for where the stream made its way to the ocean about half-way to the pier. I’d have to pay attention to that, as we’d have no choice but to unload and reload to cross that small, but unpredictable, chasm through the sand.

The rest of the trip, the unloading and reloading and even washing down the Bronco at the life guard headquarters with a high power hose left still connected but unattended went smoothly. Gularte remained unhappy about what he saw as the illegal transfer and endorsement of aliens crossing the U.S. border to be ‘burdened’ on the shoulders of other American communities further north along the coast.
I decided we’d call it a night at one in the morning, figuring that six or seven hours of fitful sleep would be enough for either Gularte or myself, given the normal functioning of sleep-deprived combat vets I knew, and how we survived so many long and lonely nights.

Gularte stopped the Bronco just short of the base of the San Clemente pier on our way back toward the double gates over the tracks. The beach shack strung out perpendicularly, extending north and south along the beach side of the tracks was all lit up.

Carl, the troublesome, garrulous and irritating owner was obviously ‘cleaning house’ as garbage objects were being tossed out from the open-shutter holes that acted like serving slots for the many beach-goers who bought Carl’s only products; burgers, hot dogs, bagged potato chips and cokes.

A radio, its volume obviously turned all the way up, as the lower notes in the music warbled away, when pushed beyond the speaker’s capability.

I reached across the dash, turned the ignition of the Bronco off and pulled out the keys. The engine died, although the headlights stayed on.

The song playing was about little Jimmie Brown, something oddly called The Three Bells. I was back in the valley, but not. The song melodiously played on, its words punching themselves into me like soft wooden stakes, slowly trying to kill the vampirish cloying monster named Junior who resided and was trying to raise himself up from the darkest lower layer of my soul.

Gularte said nothing, simply sitting and waiting, as I stared through the windshield, the Bronco keys still extended forward in my left hand. I waited, without knowing I was waiting. The lyrics reached a certain point of delivery by the gently crooning group: “From the village hidden deep in the valley, one rainy morning dark and gray, a soul winged its way to heaven…Jimmy Brown had passed away.”

I opened my eyes, having closed them, unexplainably, near the end of the song. The announcer indicated that the station was KRLA a.m. out of L.A., as I considered the import and impact of the song upon me. I’d last heard the lyrics aired back over in the Nam, and at the time had been unable to use any of the words in the song to name one of our unit’s combat missions. That was the import, I knew, just as I also knew that the impact was all about little Jimmie Brown, and how he was seemingly such a description of me, although I was alive, or thought I was alive. I shook my shoulders ever so minutely, as I leaned forward to push the ignition key back into the slot on the dash of the Bronco.

Gularte turned the key, once my fingers were off it, and the modified 302 V8 lit up

“Coming to you from the Armed Forces Radio Network,” Gularte murmured, easing the Bronco away from the stand, and heading it in the direction of the lifeguard headquarters.

I brought myself back to the present, realizing that Gularte’s comment could not have been more apropos.

“Take us to the barn,” I replied, “you don’t need anymore training. You’re ready to be inflicted upon the public as you are. Whatever you don’t have you’ll pick up. Tomorrow I’m being given special dispensation to take out a real street patrol car for the four to midnight shift. If you want to accompany me, well, that would be appreciated, but I can’t order you or even put you down for the four bucks an hour we get for beach stuff. But we both might learn something together.”

I didn’t mention that I’d never worked the street, either in the company of a training officer or a veteran of any kind.

“I’m in,” Gularte said, with a laugh. “I wasn’t sure I’d ever get out there into the real police work. Briefing is three-thirty I believe.”

“Yeah,” I replied, relieved. Gates would be the watch commander since sergeant Chasney, the normal briefing officer for the four to mid, was on ‘special duty,’ and therefore Gates was the who’d be leading the briefing and running the shift. Whether he allowed Gularte and I to go out together was going to be anybody’s guess.

I got up early the next day, made coffee, brought Julie down from her bedroom to play and left my wife to get some additional sleep. When I stepped out to get the morning paper, the San Clemente Sun Post, I realized right away that my wife would not be getting much extra shut eye. Sam sat in the limo across the street, just like the time before. Nobody had called or any of that. Just the presence of the very evident government vehicle with dutifully uniformed driver, parked across the street like it was just another resident’s or guest’s automobile.

I’d left the Wilson background file in the Volkswagen, parked in our driveway. It hadn’t been marked confidential or with any other classification indications, but then it’d come from the police department and not the government itself.

After awakening my wife, I dressed in my compound attire, gave Julie a pat on the head (which she hated but tolerated from me), and went down to the Volks to get the Wilson file. The Volks wasn’t locked and the file was laying on the passenger seat right where I’d injudiciously left it.

“Where we going?’ I asked, climbing into the back seat on his side. I hated sitting in the other seat behind the front passenger seat because anybody looking into the interior might think I was somebody whom I most definitely was not.

Sam pulled away from the curb, moved the heavy smooth vehicle to the stop sign at South Ola Vista, turned south and then turned again at the next corner, which was Del Mar. He drove straight down the street. I watched where we were going rather than reviewing the file. It took only minutes, with no morning traffic to reach the area of the road that ran back and forth at the base of the pier. Sam parked illegally, the long limo stretching from one side of a yellow painted curb space to the other.

I opened my door, as he was already out of the car almost before the limo’s engine stopped spinning.

“Where we headed?” I asked, my curiosity really piqued by the overly familiar but strange place we arrived at.

“The joint out at the end for breakfast,” Sam replied, preparing to cross the sidewalk and head down the stairs that led to a tunnel crossing under the train tracks.

I stopped. “No, we’re not,” I said, my tone definitive and certain. “That place is a full quarter mile out on the end of the pier and then a quarter mile back. We’ll go to the shack, if breakfast is on your mind, although I can’t for the life of me figure out why anyone at the compound, including you know who, would send you to pick me up for that purpose alone.”

If Shauna was out at the end of the pier getting ready for the day I wasn’t about to introduce here to anybody from the compound. She was a truly neat and good soul, and they were, almost without fail, not built of the same stuff if they had anything to do with the Western White House.

“Beach shack isn’t open at this hour,” Sam said, sweeping his blue limo driver cap from his head and squinting back toward where the sun would soon rise up over the hill upon which San Clemente was ninety percent built.

“Carl’s there, no question, probably slept there,” I replied, stepping past Sam to amble down the concrete stairs.

Sam followed. “Oh really, like this guy Carl, who’s place isn’t even open, is going to open up for us, make coffee and feed us breakfast? Why don’t I think that’s likely?”

I sighed, as I skipped down the stairs and stepped into the darkish tunnel leading under the tracks.

“Carl’s got no permits, no license, especially to serve wine, beer and his own secret brew. He’s got no ownership of the falling down building which is built too close to the tracks to be legal. I’m a cop, and therefore part of the ‘big beer brotherhood.’” I said, climbing the stairs to the top on the beach side. I walked to the shack and beat on one of the heavy weather-worn and terribly beaten shutters on the front of the shack.

“You drink beer?” Sam replied, making me laugh out loud.

“No, actually, I don’t. The phrase is a euphemism.”

“Oh, I know what that is,” Sam said, moving to stand next to me, basically revealing without his intent that he didn’t have a clue about what a euphemism was.

Carl opened a nearly concealed door right beyond the corner of the building.

“What you want, Beach Boy?” he asked, but his tone was a gravelly pleasant sort of thing and I wasn’t offended. I did wonder about how so many people found out about stuff like the nickname, and such.

“Two bacon and eggs, over easy, with coffee black and white toast,” I said, with a smile.

“It’ll take a few,” Carl instantly responded. “Go to one of those tables by the swings and wait.” The door slammed shut.

“What about sausage instead of bacon, and how do you know what eggs I might want?” Sam said.

“You’re my client now, so I’ve got the commission to blow on you.”

I moved to one of the small picnic tables and sat down, the vista of the breaking waves, sweeping surge up toward near the feet of the table and the shadows cast by the rising sun behind me, making it seem like I was living on a movie set, although better, as it was so viscerally real. The last thing I needed was questions about the insurance, commissions or any of that. I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned money at all. Sam was a compound authority of unknown rank, a seemingly good guy and one of my first clients on top of that. There’d be no charge for the breakfast, nor for anything else we might want. Carl was anything but dumb.

“What is it?” I asked, changing the subject.

“What’s what?” Sam replied, genuine surprise in his tone.

“Since we’re not headed for the compound, that means nobody there needs or wants to see me in person. That also means that someone sent you to tell me whatever bit of unimportance that needs to be told to me.”

“Your mind is a strange place,” Sam said, grimacing.

Before Sam could answer in more detail, Carl was out the door with a slam, and headed our way across the front of the building, plates balanced on his outstretched arms, and a cup of steaming coffee in each hand.

Carl said nothing when he got to us, just laying everything down, spilling both cups of coffee slightly, but dropping two sets of silverware wrapped in napkins. Those packs came out of his pocket. He turned and tramped back to the shack and disappeared, the door slamming once again.

“He had these in his pants pocket,” Sam said, gingerly unwrapping the napkins to sop up the spilled coffee under and around his cup.

“How did you know that I like my eggs over easy?” he finally asked, when I had no answer about the pocket question.

I bit into one of the buttered toast pieces and sipped out of my cup. There was no point in coming up with Sam’s second question either. I’d merely ordered what I wanted for myself and let the rest work out, but he didn’t have to know that.

“How many times do I have to ask?” I said, between bites and sips.

“You’re going on street duty with the force this afternoon from four to midnight,” Sam replied.

I waited, but there was nothing more.

“Well?” I said, coming to understand that neither the Chief nor Gates had anything to do with my new, unexpected and untrained assignment to street work.

“Why?” I asked, slightly hurt but not really surprised. The Western White House was tied into almost everything I did, or did not do, like a thread wound through a complexly threaded braid of hair.

“Tomorrow is Haldeman moving day,” Sam said, his tone matter-of-fact.

You stop by all the time while you’re driving around, to make sure everything is okay there, and besides, Wilson has to come by to get his big television out sometime during that period of time.”

I’d seen the television in question. It was one of those huge thick and very heavy things I could only dream about ever having, measuring a full 32 inches diagonally, next to my own puny 14 inch floor model at home.

“If there’s to be any kind of trouble, and I don’t see how there can be,” I said, finishing my bacon and eggs, “then it would likely come after midnight and before dawn.”

“That’s why your sergeant will be staying over in the place tonight,” Sam replied, like sergeants normally stayed in private homes waiting for trouble all the time.

At least the mystery of Chasney’s disappearance was resolved. Gularte and I would have the four to mid, both seasoned combat veterans, while Chasney, a former barber, now police sergeant, would have the risk detail…if there was to be a risk. I figured either Haldeman was more paranoid than either Gularte or I, or he was in possession of information we didn’t have, and he either didn’t think we needed to know or could know. There was something about Wilson, the house, Sam and all of it that was simply too weird to be any kind of normal, even to my rather admittedly not normal self.

Sam dropped me at home when breakfast was over. I took the Wilson file into the apartment, pulled the stapled papers apart and went about studying the man who, as unlikely as he seemed in real life, was some sort of key player in what becoming a developing mystery with respect to Haldeman’s supposed home away from home, with his family included. Nothing seemed to fit. Wilson was as clean as a whistle, at least on paper. I turned to my wife, Julie crawling into my lap, the papers describing Wilson, the sort of non-man, spilling onto the dining room table.

“What about your shift later today,” my wife asked.

“What about it?’ I countered, Julie poking me sternly with one outstretched finger to redirect my attention to her.

“He’s not coming for that television alone, from what you tell me,” she said.

“So?” I stuttered out, Julie’s finger finding the side of my mouth.

“No moving company, I’ll bet, not if this strange thing is anything like you’re describing.”

“Okay, so what does that mean?” I asked, totally mystified.

“Who shows up?” she replied. “If you’re getting nothing from this Wilson then pay close attention to who he’s with.”

I spent the day laying out my insurance sales plan with prospects. Gularte was at the top, but there was something uncomfortable about approaching him. He had no wife, no kids, sort of like Metzger and his brother, but different. There was nothing ‘regular’ about him, and that put me off. It took me a good part of the day to figure out that I couldn’t approach him because how bad I’d feel if he said no.

I dressed out for the briefing, hopped into the Volks and got to the station early. I didn’t go inside. Reserve officers, and what I was, were not entitled to a locker so we brought what we needed and took it home, as well.

I’d remembered to carry two twelve gauge shot shells in my right front pants pocket for the duty twelve gauge pump Remington that sat locked vertically in the center of the squad car’s front seat, pressing up against the dash next to the radio handset. There was only one handset in the regular cars. Only the Bronco had the extra compound handset.

I waited in the Volks for Gularte’s baby blue Ford Ranger pickup. He’d come home from the Nam, gotten out of the hospital and Marine Corps like me, but then spent every dime he had on the Pickup with a 390 cubic inch engine. The rear end was so light that any pressure on the gas pedal caused the rear tires to scream and smoke, which Gularte loved to make happen every chance he could. He hadn’t thought it funny when I’d bet him that even the horridly acting Bronco, when run on the street, could take the 390 Ranger in any real drag race.

Lieutenant Gates ran the briefing. It was a no-nonsense recitation of what had happened on the streets prior to the shift, including suspects that were still being pursued. There were three squad cars assigned to the shift, plus Gate’s own, although it was rumored that he never went out to backup anyone if there was trouble.

He totally ignored Gularte’s presence, which surprised me. The man was an authoritarian of the highest order and as mean-spirited a cop as I’d ever encountered, but he neither said anything nor looked at either Gularte or me during the briefing. He did mention that my time would mostly be spent patrolling the south west side of the town, which was odd, since there were only two more cars assigned. I said nothing, and asked nothing.

When we got to the car, I checked it out, and then got in and handed my two shot shells to Gularte.

“Unlock the Remington, and leave it that way,” I instructed. “Unload the weapon, then reload, inserting the shot shells I handed you in first.”

Gularte dutifully unlocked and removed the shotgun, before examining the shot shells.

“Birdshot?” he said, in surprise. “We’re loading birdshot to go after criminals?”

“In case we somehow get it wrong,” I said, starting the 440 cubic inch engine of the special police-pursuit Dodge. “I load my service revolver the same way. The first round is birdshot, the second is hollow point, and the third’s a tungsten penetrator driven at maximum cupric pressure.”

“So, the birdshot’s in case we make a mistake?” Gularte restated, getting into the passenger seat, replacing the reloaded shotgun and closing his door.

“Partially,” I replied. “You remember how it was. Me too. The first shot’s also one that’s not likely to miss since either or both of us might just be a bit strung out to be back in combat. Additional shots can be added for the effect desired.”

“One way to put it,” Gularte replied.

We headed into the town for the first time as full blown police officers, dual four barrel carbs hissing through the air cleaner and the throbbing giant pistons making the squad car shake a little and vibrate even more.

I remembered what Gularte’d said before we went into the party house, but didn’t repeat his words out loud, although I thought them: ‘ready on the right…’

<<<<<< The Beginning | Next Chapter >>>>>>