Tom Turner was the next reserve officer to be ‘trained’ by me. We rode together peaceably until right after dark when Bobby Scruggs called to tell us about a report of a strange couple doing strange things on the northern edge of “T” Street Bridge beach. The call wasn’t uncommon, as people saw and reported weird stuff happening on the beach all the time. It was Tom’s handling of the radio traffic that set things off.

“Yellow,” Tom said into the handset he’d grabbed from the dash.

“Yellow?” Scruggs replied, after a few seconds, then silence.

“Ah, Tom,” I said, immediately sighing frustration readily apparent in the tone of my voice, “You’ve got to use the call numbers, yours or mine, I don’t care, but ‘yellow’ isn’t going to get it.

“Just a habit of mine,” Tom said.

Bobby gave us the call information, ignoring Tom’s inappropriate response.

“Roll toward ‘T’ Street,” I replied, unnecessarily, as it was only a quarter mile south of where the Bronco sat idling in the sand. Then it came to me, “You forgot your own number, and mine, as well, didn’t you?”

“That’s how I answer the phone at home,” Turner replied, covering the fact that I knew he’d somehow forgotten his own call sign number. I couldn’t fathom how that was in any way possible but decided to let it go.

“Yellow?” I murmured to change the subject. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Yello, without the ‘w,’ like, you know,” Turned replied, his tone one of faint surprise and a little hurt.

“What about the silent “Y” part of the thing?” I said, silently sighing to myself about the idiocy it seemed I sometimes was presented with by my fellow officers.

“I don’t think you understand,” Turner commented, after a silent minute or two, as the Bronco cruised south at its slowest speed in low gear.

I’d decided while riding with Gularte, that the ‘training’ I might provide all had to do with enforcement rules and regulations, territorial boundaries and the city’s nebulous and sort of foggy relationship with the Western White House compound. The quality and basic training of the reserve officers was quite enough for doing the regular work of a police officer once having come through the rigorous selection and academy training.

“We’re peace officers in the State of California so we don’t really have boundaries, per se, except for the state lines,” I began, in my lecture to Turner about what and where we might apply our services up and down the beach area.

“Per se,” Turner murmured to himself.

I stopped talking and looked out over the ocean, which was covered with little white dashes at the tops of incoming waves. White caps. A wind was building, which could be problematic for beach patrolling. Blowing sand meant closing up the vehicle, which didn’t have air conditioning. If the wind was a hot wind, sometimes coming all the way around the globe from the Sahara Desert in Africa. Being cooped up in the Bronco with closed windows and the Santa Ana winds blowing outside wasn’t the way I wanted to spend the day in training with Tom Turner, a man I was quickly coming to find a bit irritating.

“Santa Ana winds are beginning to howl,” Tom said, as if reading my mind.

“Hot desert air from the Sahara,” he went on, reading more of my thoughts.

“The Sahara winds blow cold high up in the atmosphere over there,” I intoned, knowing I was sounding like some sort of lecturing college professor, but not caring. “The cold air blows across the ocean onto this continental body, after which it races toward the Rocky Mountains where it hits those mountains head on, and the air of the cold desert wind is compressed and shot downward through the mountain passes. That compressed wind become heated during that compression and that wind coming down and through is what we know as the Santa Ana winds.”

“Wow,” Turner said, when I was done.

“Are you going to take me onto the tracks?’ he inquired, out of nowhere at all.

“What?” I replied, in stupefaction, trying to tie together my lecture on the Santa Ana winds with anything at all the boy was talking about.

“They said you were the smartest cop on the force,” Turner said, sitting behind the wheel of the Bronco, the vehicle having come to a complete stop while I was describing the effects of the Santa Ana wind phenomenon. “They also said you could make this thing roll atop the railroad track rails. Is that true?”

I wondered who ‘they’ was but decided to let it go.

“It’s possible because the distance between our oversize tire centers is exactly the same distance as the railroad tracks are apart, and deflated enough to sink down and provide stability, but unless it’s some sort of emergency it’s probably better to stay off the tracks. The trains move at sixty-miles-per-hour through here and we don’t have any idea about their schedules.”

We rode in silence for a while. I reflected on the fact that, whether we liked it or not, thought so or not, we lived and worked in a small town, and everyone knew almost everything about the conduct of the people around them. My railroad track adventures had not gone unnoticed, and I should have assumed that they wouldn’t, although the cover of complete night had fooled me into thinking they would.

Turner eased the Bronco up onto the sloped bridge abutment, drove slowly toward the Zero lifeguard tower and stopped.

“Okay,” he said, the tone of his voice immediately identifiable as one of frustration, “In the academy they taught us that we had to have give and get the full trust of our partners or work with somebody else. You’re the reserve commander, whatever that entails, but if you’re not going to trust me then I want to work with somebody else, and here’s the trains schedule nobody’s thought to get.” He tossed a folded chunk of paper into my lap, put both hands on the wheel and stared out toward the end of the pier.

I opened the paper and concentrated on the schedule of trains running up along the coast from San Diego and down to it on the tracks along the eastern bank of our beach. There were four trains a day, every weekday, and two trains, one in the morning and one of the early evening on weekends. I realized that, even running up and down on the sand in our Bronco, that policing the train information was kind of vital to understanding our area of operations. I was also surprised that I’d never thought to get the schedule myself, as it had to be posted all over the place.

Working the shift through with Turner was instructive. The man missed nothing, as I sort of entertained myself by watching body surfers or the people gathering around towels and blankets on the parts of the sand closest to the entrances and exits from the beach itself. Beach sand volleyball went on endlessly, at the main city court by the lifeguard headquarters and then also at non-specific parts of the beach seemingly haphazardly chosen by family participants. There was no drinking on the beaches allowed anywhere but it wasn’t an ordinance that we much bothered to enforce unless fighting or other disturbance accompanied it.

Tom was a stickler for enforcing everything he’d been taught to enforce at the academy but took easily to a more relaxed presence, or at least that’s the way he portrayed himself while on patrol.
I wondered whether each new patrolman was going to be as different as the first two I’d begun to work with. There was nothing normal about either Tom Turner nor Gularte, and there was nothing at all similar in anything they did or the way in which they expressed their thoughts and beliefs.

As the shift came to an end the subject of driving the Bronco on the railroad tracks was on my mind, although Turner had never said another word. The part about trust he’d brought up bothered me, however. He was right about that part. I knew I was simply afraid. Afraid of being sacked for such a flagrantly dangerous violation of federal, state and even local laws, and fired not only from the local police department that I didn’t really work for, but also the Western White House which made me feel like I didn’t really work for the personnel out there either.

At some point, on another night patrol, I was going to have to take Turner out on the tracks and risk it all. I knew there was no way that anyone could have seen my last excursion on those tracks, except for potentially one source. That source was almost beyond suspicion, however. The members of the security Marshal’s force operating the surveillance radar and cameras from the compound. They would know, having night vision, as well as capabilities probably well beyond what I knew of. But how was it that such information could reach outside the tightly sealed secrecy compacts held by everyone who worked in and around the compound?

The next day’s four-to-midnight shift came at me in a hurry. I needed to make a sale to keep my insurance career going and Monday morning’s meeting of the following week was ever on my mind. I had no prospects and sitting at Tom and Lorraine’s coffee shop on Del Mar didn’t help, not until Lorraine came to serve me another refill of coffee anyway.

“What are you doing?” she asked, in her pleasant but ever nosey and prattling tone of voice.
I told her my problem, running on for longer than I intended.

“So, you need people to talk to, and those probably need to be men who have jobs or businesses, I’ll bet,” she said, holding the Bunn coffee pot out, a bit too close to my shoulder for comfort.

I didn’t flinch or back off, however. I was rather surprised that the neat and efficient woman would stop to truly consider my problem, and then give it some thought. I waited.

“What about Tom, that new guy opening the sandwich shop down the street a few doors?” Lorraine finally said.

“I don’t know him,” I replied, rather despondently.

“I know him,” she replied quickly. “He’s coming in for lunch again today I’m sure, at least until he’s got his own place off the ground.”

“So?” I said, my forehead furrowed in question, wondering where she was going with her comments.

“So, I get an appointment for you since you seem to lack the ability to think this through on your own,” Lorraine replied, pouring more coffee into my cup.

“If you tell him I’m in the life insurance business he’ll never give me the appointment,” I said, shaking my head. I had enough experience to know that almost nobody wanted to talk to a life insurance agent straight away or sit through what they considered a terribly boring appointment.

“I’m not going to tell him,” Lorraine replied. “I’ll tell him you want to help put all those chairs and tables together to get him started, since he’s slaving away all on his own, since his wife’s too pregnant to help.”

I thought for a moment, as Lorraine left to return the coffee pot and serve the few other customers sitting around me.

I had the time. Maybe, if I worked with the man for a while, if he wanted help, then he’d give me the appointment. I’d lose nothing and not even be turned down for an appointment if he said no.

“Ten bucks,” Lorraine said, her voice coming from over my shoulder, as she approached once more.

“Coffee’s fifty cents,” I replied.

“If he gives you the appointment,” she replied.

“For the appointment?” I said, almost in shock. “What about the sale, where I’d actually have the money to pay you?”

“That’s fifty bucks more.”

I slumped forward in my chair, as she departed once more.

Fifty dollars. If Tom bought a policy for twenty-five dollars a month, then my commission, payable up front, or in my case against my ‘advance’ for the first year would be close to two hundred dollars. Sixty of it would go to Lorraine. Was it worth it? I’d be out the ten bucks, no matter what.

Lorraine returned, an avaricious look in her eye, but she simply stood and waited next to my table.

“Alright, you’re on,” I said, wondering if I was doing something common to salesmen in my situation, or whether this was some kind of new ground invented by a not entirely normal coffee shop owner.

“Come by later, when you’re on duty,” Lorraine laughed and then departed back behind her counter.

Only when I was walking down to where my car was parked did I think about what she’d said in reply. How could she know that I was on street duty later in the afternoon, since the Bronco was unsuited to traveling up and down Del Mar except in an emergency? I wasn’t used to living in a small town, I realized, and the tiny vagaries of unseen and unheard communications that went on around me were beginning to irritate me.

The squad meeting was eventful, not because Lieutenant Gates, in his mean-spirited bluster was anything different than what I’d expected, but because Gularte and I were assigned to the ‘felony car’ for the shift. That squad car was the only one that would be out with two officers in it. The other two cars would have full-time, ‘real,’ officers operating them. The meeting was over quickly, as there were no existent ongoing investigations or potential crimes to be discussed.

“You two get the felony car,” Gates said, his lips screwing up into an acidic smile. “Try to stay out of trouble in that thing.”

“What thing,” I whispered to Stockdale, one of the seasoned regulars going on duty, as we made our way to the lockers to get the rest of our stuff.

“You’ll see,” he laughed. “That thing’s an overpowered monster. Usually, Gates drives it as his duty vehicle, but he’s got the gout and can’t drive today. That’s also why he’s been so testy these last few days. Oh, it’s parked in the shift commander’s parking spot in back. You won’t be able to miss it.”
Gularte and I got our stuff and headed for the back lot. The other two officers were taking over cars left out front as the earlier day shift came in for relief.

The car was there, and it was everything Stockdale’s laconic description had provided, and more. I walked around it before opening the driver’s door. Gularte wasn’t doing the driving, I decided, instantly. The car was a Mercury Marauder with the inscription ‘police interceptor’ right under the Marauder letter on the left side of the trunk. I looked out over the hood. There was an air scoop mounted on the hood. It was no common air scoop from any factory. It was, quite obviously, a painter’s roller pan flipped upside down, cut out on one end and then welded to the hood.

“Jesus,” Gularte said, getting into the passenger seat. “What is this thing? It doesn’t even have four doors. How are we supposed to transport anybody if we have to?”

“Felony car,” I replied. “I guess we’re not supposed to transport anybody. Hell, I don’t know. The car has the gout, as far as I’m concerned. I read about the Marauder but didn’t know we had one. Motor Trend wrote about it being really fast, but this thing isn’t stock. God knows what the mechanics have done to it at Gate’s instruction, and why he’s letting us drive his ‘baby’ is anybody’s guess too.”

I turned the ignition key and the giant engine thrummed into life, seeming to stop for a second or two before thumping along for a bit, then repeating it’s slow-bouncing cardiac beating. I pulled three twelve-gauge shells from my right front pocket.

“Reload the shotgun with these,” I instructed Gularte, handing him the birdshot rounds. “Just in case. Don’t want to kill anyone during our first night out.”

There was almost no way to pull away from a stop without chirping the tires, although the three speed automatic made it easier than it would have been if the Marauder was a stick shift. Motor Trend’s article had indicated that the monster engine, the 429, could only be ordered with the three speed, for unknown or unpublished reasons.

“Let’s hit the freeway and see what it’ll do,” Gularte said, belting himself in.

His request seemed perfectly logical, given that we had to know the limits of the machinery we were assigned and there was little traffic running between San Diego and L.A. in late afternoon on a weekend.

The big Mercury cruised wonderfully well at speed until I reached mid-way up the onramp. I floored the accelerator and the car changed from a highway cruiser to a dragster. We rocketed into the right lane of the highway, and both sat pinned to our seats as the big vehicle moved past a hundred and right up to the speedometer’s maximum of 120. The needle stopped but the car didn’t. There was no tachometer, so I backed off the accelerator when it sounded that the roaring whine of the engine was topped out. By that time, we’d blown right by the Border Patrol checkpoint set up on the opposite side of the freeway. We’d covered a little over two miles in less than a minute, I realized.

“Wow,” Gularte said, slamming his left hand down on the top of the monster’s metal dashboard. “Now this thing is it.”

I wasn’t sure what Gularte meant, as I turned across a break in the median to cruise back toward the checkpoint. Two patrolmen in their strangely distinctive uniforms stood watching the approaching traffic to see who might look suspicious. They merely waved at us as we went through.

Tooling around town, once we got back was much less interesting. The big car took the corners okay but its two and half tons weren’t really designed for such constant sharp-turning and regular work. Night came on.

“Forty-six, six seventy-three,” scratched forth from the Marauder’s Motorola single speaker. Unlike the Bronco, there was no speaker or radio dedicated solely to contact with the Western White House Compound.

“10-4,” I murmured, before repeating my own call number back, as procedure required.

“Some cycles at north end limit,” Bobby said, “you know, at the Arco station at PCH. No one can break away. Would you mind drifting by and making sure the situation is okay?” Bobby framed the question using his most wheedling tone, making me want to ask specifically what the situation was, but I didn’t.

“Ten-four,” I responded, again.

Nobody was out driving the streets that we’d encountered, so I didn’t have to use Code Two, which was rear flashing amber lights only.

I took three gentle corners moving north on El Camino, then pushed the Marauder’s accelerator to the floor as we hit PCH. It was a two mile straight shot to the currently closed gas station.
A little over a minute later I braked the machine down hard from its likely
maximum of somewhere around a hundred and thirty-five, even though the speedometer on the dash only went up to a hundred-and-twenty, then crawled into the station and moved in toward the barely lit pumps. Four Harleys filled with chrome sparkled brightly back from the light thrown forward by my headlights.

Automatically I pushed the radio transmit button.

“Ten six,” I said to Bobby, letting the man know we were at the scene.
I leaned over to where Gularte sat taking in the scene before us, his seat belt snapping back from being unclicked. I turned the small key that locked the Remington Twelve Gauge pump solidly to its steel dash-mounted security clamp.

Four ragged but rugged bikers were gathered around one of their bikes.

Gularte and I exited the Marauder at the same time, leaving both big heavy doors gaping open.

“You boys having a problem?” I inquired quietly when I was a few yards away. Four nearly identical Harley Davidson motorcycles sat leaning on their stands, lined up near the locked pumps, and four men gathered in front of the lead bike.

“We ain’t boys,” the largest of the men replied, as he turned to face us. The man was huge, I realized, surprised more by his instantly nasty attitude than his size. Not many people, so far in my police experience, except for a few druggies and drunks, confronted police officers with such anger and directed ferocity.

“I simply asked a question,” I said, breathing in and out deeply, as I tried to be civil again, turning my body ever so slightly, however, in order to expose less of my torso to the men in front of me.

“Not your problem,” the big man stated, this time quite loudly, before smiling broadly. “I see you got them Vietnam veteran haircuts, and all.”

I glanced over at Gularte, standing off to my right side and back a few paces, his position perfect to work in tandem and in support of my taking the point. Gularte’s hair wasn’t as short as my own but was still short compared to that of most other men. I wanted to grow my hair simply to avoid being identified as a Vietnam vet but remained afraid that Haldeman at the compound might take offense to a longer style, since his own was even shorter than mine. The Harley guys were the first ones to actually verbalize just how quickly and accurately my hair length might reveal so much about me. I felt a coldness seep into my mind from somewhere way down deep, as I tried to take in what was in front of me.

I pointed at the lighted intersection nearby, without turning to follow where I was pointing. My eyes never left the men in front of me.

“That signal’s on the Capistrano Beach property,” I said, my voice soft and as non-threatening as I could make it. “If you get on your bikes and move north on the highway you’ll be out of our area.”

The lead biker looked at where I was pointing and then smiled broadly before turning back to face me.

“We’re staying right where we are, it’s public property,” the biker said, “and you can forget about our licenses and registrations unless you got a whole lot more cops on duty than I think you do.”

I was surprised. Cops can always call in tons of other cops, even during nighttime. What the guy’s macho talk was all about I had no idea, other than to impress his friends, none of whom had moved or said anything.

“It’s private property,” I corrected. I followed with, “Gularte, bring me Bertha,” knowing Gularte would full well know the nickname given to all shotguns mounted in the patrol cars.

“We’re not leaving until we feel like it,” the biker said, taking out a small canvas bag, digging into it and beginning to hand form a cigarette.

Gularte backed off, but was back in seconds, holding out the Remington as if it was a baton made of balsa wood.

The Harley guy stopped forming his cigarette, almost getting the paper to his lips to seal it before freezing.

“Man, what do you need that for?” he asked, a note of wonder in his tone.

I held the pump in both hands before me at my waist, wishing there was no round already in the chamber so I could dramatically use the pump action to put one in. The sound of a pump shotgun shell being jacked into a chamber was like none other on earth and it wasn’t recognizable as anything else than what it was. Instead, I pressed the button disengaging the safety.

“While you can still hear, I want you to listen,” I said, with a smile I felt radiating out from deep inside me. “Get on your bikes and leave our area of operation. Think of yourselves down in the A Shau Valley, with the monsoon rain, with the stygian night, with an enemy just waiting. Think of yourselves in my valley, because you’re right. We are fresh back, but we aren’t really back at all. You can leave that valley of no return, an option we never had, if you so choose.”’

“Man, you’re crazy,” the biker breathed out, still frozen in place.

I brought the muzzle of the twelve gauge up, aimed it roughly over the pumps, just over the biker’s heads but toward a place in the wet night sky free from the back building, jammed the wooden stock deep into my right shoulder and squeezed the trigger.

The Remington kicked back, and my hearing immediately went out and then quickly began to come back. The men in front of me did not fare so well, all four bent over, holding their ears. The shock wave of the explosion and shot going right over their heads having a dramatic physical effect, much more so than Gularte or me, standing behind the direction of fire.

I waited for the mewling and muffled yelling to stop, and for the bikers to get a semblance of their hearing back.
“Get on your bikes and get out of our town,” I said, loudly and distinctly, my own ears still ringing, before jacking another round into the Remington’s chamber.

“We’re going, we’re going,” yelled the lead biker, the other three already on their bikes and getting them started.

“You’re nuts,” yelled the lead biker, as he started his own bike and followed the others out of the station as they headed north on Pacific Coast Highway.

I stood waiting; the Remington held close in across my chest.

“What are we doing?” Gularte asked, walking up to my right side.

“Waiting for the range,” I replied.

“The range?” Gularte said as I raised the Remington at a higher angle, pointing out toward the fast-disappearing bikers.

“Hold your ears,” I ordered.

Gularte complied. I fired two more rounds after the bikers.

“What the hell,” Gularte said, dropping his hands.

“Birdshot from a standard barrel 12 gauge is effective out to about forty meters,” I replied, “But it doesn’t fall to earth until just short of a hundred. I was waiting for them to get about a hundred meters out, so they’d get the full effect of the shots without being badly wounded by the shot.”

Gularte stared off into the distance, the biker’s bikes still in hearing range but out of visual.
“Remind me not to piss you off, lieutenant,” he said, as I handed the Remington back over to him.

“I’ve got more shot shells at home and a Hoppes swab for the barrel,” I told him, heading back for the Marauder’s open door.

When we got inside the car, slammed the doors and got ready to depart the radio squawked again. It was Scruggs.

“This is a small town,” Bobby said, almost like he was teaching a class, his voice flat but intent.

“Sounds like there was some gunfire down in the general area your stopped at. Everything okay?”

“Just some bikers stopped to take a breather,” I sent back, holding the button down, “no shots fired that we heard here. The bikers moved on. If one of them calls to complain it’ll be because they might feel we treated them too bruskly.”

I let go of the button and waited.

“What’s bruskly mean?” Bobby asked.

Gularte and I started to laugh.

“I’ll be 10-7 at home for about twenty,” I transmitted, before signing off. As long as we weren’t out of service for more than twenty minutes, and available during those twenty minutes for any emergency, the department didn’t seem to care.

Once we were back in service, the shotgun was cleaned, oiled, and reloaded Gularte and I hit the street to fight crime in our wildly unspecialized police monster cruiser. We both knew there’d be no crime. The bikers parking at a gas station and looking like low-life suspicious characters was about all San Clemente ever saw in criminal activity. The old sleepy Spanish town had become, as it grew on the border with the Marine base, a modern sleepy town that looked sort of Spanish (with its red tile roof required ordinances) but wherein almost nothing of consequence ever happened. The whole town thought that would change with the coming of the Western White House but that hadn’t happened. Police equipment like the Marauder we were given to patrol in was about as necessary as a mouse being given a fifty-caliber machine gun to go after cheese. There was no enemy.

The next call over the radio came at midnight. Gularte and I had run up and down the San Clemente stretch of the freeway that ran through its center (all with overpasses that allowed anyone to exit the freeway or get on but not many actually did), until we were bored. Without a proper speedometer there was no point in seeing how fast the modified Marauder would go, and there were no speeders using the freeway after dark to bother running down.

“Forty-six-six-seventy-three,” Bobby transmitted.

Gularte responded.

“You have an intruder at Calafia Beach, which is just outside the claimed territory and perimeter of the Western White House compound, over.”

“Intruder?” Gularte said back, whispering to me as an aside “What’s he using formal radio talk for?”

“And what’s the Western White House perimeter, never heard of that?” he finished after pushing the transmit button again.

“I don’t know,” I replied to the question. “Better get on down to Califia Beach though. It closed at nine, like the rest of them, but somebody must have seen something since the parking lot hole that beach’s in can’t be seen from the road or any houses nearby.”

Bobby didn’t come back on the radio for a few more minutes, only transmitting again as our Marauder made it to the head of the two-lane road leading down to the parking lot just across the railroad tracks from the parking lot and restroom complex located there.

“Forty-six-six-seventy-three stand by for the six-actual,” he sent.

I looked over at Gularte in surprise. I hadn’t heard the use of the six-actual phrase since I’d been in the valley. Gularte shrugged and shook his head.

“This is Gates,” the captain said without any introduction or preamble. “Pull up short of what you find down there and report back. Do not encounter until so ordered after talking to me first. Tell me you understand what I’m saying.”

“Ten-four,” Gularte said, holding the Motorola handset away from his lips like there was something wrong with it.

“Don’t ten-four me,” Gates shot back. “Tell me you got my message and understand what the hell I’m talking about.”

“Your message was received and understood,” Gularte said, replacing the handset. He stared out of the front windshield of the rough idling Marauder.

“Something’s shaking down there, and I don’t like it,” he said, finally. “If it’s so damned important then why the hell isn’t Gates getting his butt down here. The station is like two miles up the hill.”

“Let’s go,” I said, having no more data than Gularte had. We were cops and the beach was closed, and somebody was using the closed beach. With any luck at all it would be skinny dippers and at least there might be some attractive naked people running around in the dark. The thought made him smile and the car burbled down the hill.

The parking lot was empty but there was a single car sitting under the lone light mounted just above the center of the restroom structure.

It was impossible to see into the car. The Marauder had a powerful spotlight. I reached my left hand up to touch the handle, but then thought better of it. The car in front of us was obviously one of the black limos I’d ridden in and driven myself. Did we really want to know who was inside? 

“Call Gates,” I said. “I don’t like this at all. Our first night on the streets might be our last if this thing, whatever it is, goes south.”

“Forty-six-six-seventy-three, give me the six-actual,” Gularte transmitted, unable to keep from laughing as his finger released the transmit button. “Six-actual my ass.”

“Captain Gates had to leave for personal reasons,” Bobby said, no longer using the formal radio address. “Officer Stockdale is standing in as watch commander.”

“That chicken shit,” Gularte murmured, but laughed again.

“Gates found out who’s in that car,” I said, more to myself than to Gularte.

There’s no Secret Service swarming everywhere, no U.S. Marshals or anybody else in security, so it’s not the president, vice president or any of their family members.

“Who’s that leave?” Gularte asked.

“More trouble than Gates wanted to deal with,” I replied.

“What do you have, Commander,” Stockdale said. He’d been one of my training officers and he was outstanding at that and also as a man. I could hear the humor in his voice at the use of my phony title.

“Commander,” Gularte whispered. “You weren’t a real lieutenant in the Nam but you were a commander. What you are here really is anybody’s guess…or so they say.”

“We’ve got a single vehicle, black in color, Lincoln in make, limo in model and there appears to be people inside it, but we’re not certain,” Gularte transmitted, and then stopped to wait for a reply, still holding the microphone.

Neither Gularte nor I were the least bit concerned about any threat emanating from the situation.

Just then an arm came out of the passenger side of the car and heaved an object toward us. While we sat frozen in place the object hit the Marauder’s windshield dead center and splashed liquid all over the glass and hood. The aroma of beer entered and then nearly overpowered the air gently blowing through the vehicle from one side to the other.

“Get the hell out of here,” a voice yelled, as the arm disappeared back inside the car, just as I heard a low giggle come out from the same window. The window was immediately rolled up.

“Who’s inside the vehicle?” Stockdale asked.

Gularte held the microphone but said nothing, trying to gauge the depth of my stunned look.

“You’re not talking Beachball, and that’s not good,” Stockdale said, his voice turning serious. Report or I’ll send in the cavalry.”

The cavalry, I knew, was every officer on duty within twenty miles of San Clemente. The cavalry was only called for ‘officer down,’ or ‘shots fired’ kind of emergency calls.

I reached over and took the Motorola from Gularte’s hand.

“One of the subjects in the car threw a full beer at our windshield,” I reported, my voice flat, sounding a whole lot like Sergeant Friday in the television show Dragnet. “I believe the man who threw the beer was Mr. Haldeman, from the compound, and I believe he’s with Mr. Ehrlichman, and quite possibly a young female.

Stockdale said nothing. Nobody said anything. The car in front of us did not move and neither did our own. Gularte and I waited, hopefully for some orders that would get us out of what was certainly looking to be a real career-ending mess.

“Forty-six-six-seventy-three,” I transmitted, pressing the button and then releasing it

It took a full minute for a reply to come through.

“Officer Stockdale was called home on personal business,” Bobby said, but he told me that there was no way that Haldeman and Ehrlichman could be in that car because they’re both Christian Scientists who don’t ever drink alcohol and would surely never have anything to do with young women out in the night.”

“Surely,” I whispered, but transmitted nothing back over the radio.

“Surely,” Gularte said, more loudly, and then repeated it again, even louder.

“What do we do?” Gularte asked after half a minute, while we both thought about what might be sitting in front of us.

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