Detective Hoodoo instructed Gularte and I to depart the beach scene, as he and the ‘team’ of lifeguards would handle the situation from then on. He’d already given that order but neither Gularte nor I had moved. Instead of re-issuing the earlier command he murmured under his breath, “Beach Boy, take your Mexican clone and get the hell out of here. Reserves aren’t needed for anything but washing cars and putting out the garbage.”

There was nothing to be done for it, so we got into the Bronco and headed south on the existing plateau of mostly dry sand. I took the time during the drive to examine the weapon Gularte had given me. The Colt wasn’t a normal Colt, not of modern manufacture anyway. The feel was a little off when heft into my right hand, the length of the barrel housing seemed too long, and it was date stamped on the slide: “May 15, 1912.” In gun numbering I knew that date didn’t mean it was produced on that date. It merely meant that it was part of the model being manufactured from that time until another time, generally unknown, later on.

Gularte crossed the rails and eased the Bronco up the narrow alley-like path, tree branches scraping the right side to the point where I had to roll up the window.

“What you plan on doing with the data about those Marines?” Gularte asked, no humor in his tone. “And what did the detective mean in calling me your ‘Mexican clone?’”

I’d guessed from the former combat Marine’s total silence following our encounter with Hoodoo that a fuming rage was building inside him. Coming home from real combat, and not enough men survived to give full gravitas to the effect, did not make veteran’s go off like a skyrocket when enraged. No, the effect ,which ran right up and down my own core of values, honor and behavior, was just the opposite of that. It was silence. It was a silence of waiting. No matter how long it took for the scales of life to be re-adjusted under circumstances where there would be no playback on the initiator. Combat veterans don’t threaten. We act, even if the action was to be long delayed in coming.

Gularte stopped in the parking lot behind the compound. The big double doors leading inside were not open and waiting this time. I’d have to stand in front of the doors and wait. The guys inside would see me and then open the door from the inside. Knocking made no difference, as the mass of the doors made hearing such a knock unlikely or impossible.

“You are my Marine too, Staff Sergeant,” I said, sitting still in the passenger seat and not facing him. “Hoodoo was out of order, but then Cliff Gates, the lieutenant is the same way. They don’t like the fact that you and I are the men they want to think themselves to be. They know they aren’t, however, and that leads them to a simplistic solution to the problem. They attempt to demean, lower, put down and minimize what it is that we are. Hoodoo won’t walk away from his comment, and of that I’ll assure you. My only requirement for such ‘re-direct’ is to ask you not to do anything about it on your own. This job is all you’ve got right now and that means a lot. You get to have a real uniform, a modicum of authority and even some money. I don’t want you hurt here, at least not at this stage.”

“Yeah, but you’re the same one who was going to let Herberich shoot me in the foot. How does that fit into your want or need of me not being hurt.”

I sighed but silently to myself. Gularte had been hurt by what happened, and I understood that, and it was as I intended. I reached back over the seat and caught hold of the shotgun’s barrel. I pulled it up, over the seat back, and into my hands. I jacked the first round out of the chamber. The round fell onto the seat between us.

“Check it out,” I said, while taking a few seconds to replace the backup shotgun into my canvas sack.

Gularte grabbed the 12 gauge round and held it up close to his face, his fingers turning it around and around.

“Look at the head stamp,” I said, directing him to turn the round upside down and examine the base.

“There’s no primer,” Gularte said, his voice very soft.

“It’s a dummy round,” I said, matter-of-factly. “No lead styphnate explosive primer, so the main charge is never ignited.” I retrieved the 12 gauge round from Gularte’s open hand, reached into the back seat and tossed it inside the canvas bag.

“Why would anyone carry a dummy round as their first round?” Gularte asked. “The shot hell, as a first round, makes all the sense in the world, but a dummy round, out here when we’re on duty?”

“I’m trying to train you as a beach patrol officer, not a leader of men or any of that. It doesn’t matter. Your foot was never in danger, although it would have been pretty high humor if Herberich had made an attempt to shoot it off.”

“You don’t have many friends, do you?” Gularte asked after a moment but didn’t say the words of the question in a form that was anything other than an accurate assumption.

He raised one hand with his dad’s .45 in it, and then lowered it. “I’ll put it in my locker at the department, which I never lock. You can pick it up later.”

In some strange way I felt like he was letting me know that we were fast becoming friends. I’d accept the automatic, not tell him about the other one, and then return it when some time had passed. I opened the door and went to stand at the compound entrance, thinking about what else Gularte had said. He was right. I didn’t have any friends. Why didn’t I have any friends or seem to be able to make them? My insurance ‘clients’ were really clients who had no other choice than to buy the insurance. I knew that. I put them in that position. I knew it was wrong, in so many ways, but what was I to do? I was a good leader, if given the opportunity to lead, which didn’t always come my way. Gularte would probably never realize it but he’d never again call Herberich what he had. That benefited him and also Herberich. I’d been ready for Gularte’s question that hadn’t come, at least not yet.

“So, how come you have allowed so many people to call you by nicknames that aren’t complimentary either?”

I didn’t have a good answer, if that question was ever to be asked. Junior, my first real nickname had been given to me out of derision and insult but had come to mean something of real respect and care. Which of those explanations might be found to be acceptable at any given time? Now, I was Beach ball or Beach boy, and what did those really mean, if anything at all. Herberich’s nickname was not something that I found acceptable in any way, however, so I had reacted, maybe too strongly.

When I stood at the double doors of the compound, waiting for entrance, I could not help thinking about the phrase ‘open sesame’ from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. I didn’t try using it, instead just waiting patiently to be cleared and approved and let in. The barrier clicked electronically, and I knew enough to push on the right door. It opened and I was in. But what was it really opening into?
The Secret Service officers flanked me on both sides as I walked the seemingly long hall to where Haldeman and Ehrlichman always sat. But I didn’t get there. Once more, half way down the hall, I was ushered to the little door that led to the outside. I couldn’t believe it. I needed Haldeman’s attention in the worst way. I didn’t want to give my data about the Marines to the Secret Service. They were only concerned with the President’s personal security. His body. Some Marines way down the beach would mean nothing to them. The door was closed behind me when I went through. Everyone knew that I knew the drill. Walking the path between the buildings and then turning the corner brought me to my usual tableau.

Mardian sat, fat in his suit, smoking a cigar and obviously waiting for my arrival, although I didn’t see how that was possible. Nobody knew what I knew about what happened on the beach, or so I felt until I sat down and started to speak. I tried to detail what had happened on the beach and deliver the information about each Marine that I’d so purposely memorized. Mardian let me run on, but I quickly got the idea that he didn’t care. How was I going to get the three Marines run by an investigative agency if nobody other than Mardian saw or listened to me? I finally ran down and stopped talking, thinking that Mardian had something on his mind that he’d share and then maybe I would be able to get his attention and engage his power. The big man sat back in his chaise lounge, crossing his ankles, with his big, brown, and old-fashioned shoes shining in the late afternoon light.

“The .45 automatic, did you get it?” he asked, spitting a bit of tobacco out toward the pool water.

I was stunned. Supposedly, the instructions I’d received from Haldeman with the money had been confidential. Mardian himself wasn’t to know, or so it had seemed when I’d gotten the cash and the instructions. I didn’t want to answer, but I didn’t know how not to answer. I was nobody, with no power, and some kind of humorous, or so it seemed, sort of house mouse job. I was immediately sorry that I hadn’t totally clued in my wife. She would have understood so much more, even though it seemed that the evidence from anything or everything was non-existent. I should have had Gularte drive me home, but I’d run on my own rationality, and it wasn’t working well for me.

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

“You went out and got the unregistered Colt .45 automatic that can never be traced?” he asked, blowing more smoke.
Pat Nixon was right, I realized, not to let him in her house. I got the distinct impression that whatever Mardian and I were talking about was being recorded. It was a stilted and seemingly scripted discussion that I was totally uncomfortable with, until Mardian commented again.

“You won’t need it,” he said, slightly smiling as he said the words. “You can keep it and the money and just let it all go.”

I didn’t speak. My mind whirled. Mardian wasn’t there to listen, but to direct, which he’d done. I knew he was through with me when he put out the cigar and then dropped his feet to the concrete surface that surrounded the Nixon’s pool.

I just couldn’t let things go, so I rummaged through my mind for some question that might hold him in front of me while I got my act together.

“Are you going to Pat Nixon’s birthday ball in two weeks?” I asked, wondering instantly why I’d asked such a meaningless inane question.

“No, I’m not that high up on the pay grade list for such things,” he replied.

I was surprised, not just by the fact that I’d blurted out the question but in his response he’d all but admitted that he didn’t know that my wife and I would be attending.

“Do you like your job?” I asked, knowing I was probably going too far, from my own position of being almost nothing to anybody in the system he lived and worked in.

“You and I work for the President of the United States,’ he replied, carefully pocketing his used cigar. “You have any idea how few people on earth have the opportunity to work for the world’s most powerful leader?”

Mardian wasn’t looking at me when he spoke those words, and he didn’t follow up, although I waited for a few minutes. Finally, I got up and headed for the door that led into the compound. Neither Haldeman nor Ehrlichman were going to see me, I knew. I was done for the day at the Western White House, and that meant I wasn’t going to enter anybody into the significant data analysis system that the U.S. kept on just about everyone. Gularte and I got back to the beach, not talking about anything at all. After a while, when we got to the part of the beach where the Marine’s towels had been perfectly folded, there weren’t even any yellow evidence tapes to block access. The lifeguards were gone, as well as Hoodoo and anybody he’d involved in the search. Gularte and I worked the beach for the next four hours before calling it a night. The surf was way up and the windswept stand held no human bodies experiencing any of the wind, surf and sand, except for those of Gularte’s and mine.

When I got home, my wife was sitting on the couch watching our single color television set, which sat on the floor and that we usually stared down at. The best part of the console television was that it also contained a stereo that was pretty great, so we could enjoy records when we felt like it, which was often. I plopped down on the couch next to her, not bothering to get out of my uniform or get rid of my duty weapon. My canvas sack, with more weapons, including a shotgun with a live round in the chamber, was sitting where I’d left it by the door.

“We need to talk,” I said, my tone low and apologetic.

“Who is she?” my wife shot back, her eyes never leaving the television.

I wanted to laugh but didn’t. My wife was Irish, and jealousy was one of the real ‘glues’ that held our relationship together, as well as gobs of mutual tolerance. Sitting on the couch, looking across the living room, I began to talk. I told her everything. The total amount of money, how I’d come by it, what was spent and what was left. I told her about the secret weapon, and even shared the story about both of them and where they’d come from. The revelation of everything took a quartet of an hour Once I was done, I simply stopped talking and waited.

“You left one of those guns in the back seat with your daughter,” she finally stated.

I realized with shock that I’d forgotten about the .45 I’d purchased at the shop in Santa Ana. My wife had driven the Volks to South Coast and I hadn’t remembered get the Colt out from under the back mat.

“She found it?” I asked, quietly.

The automatic had fortunately been unloaded, which was unusual for my weapons. I kept all my guns loaded at all times. It was a policy I’d learned from some of the old pros on the shooting circuit. Loaded guns hurt people and things, while empty ones don’t. Most accidents with firearms occurred because the possessor of the weapon believed it was unloaded. Therefore, if all guns are kept loaded, there’s no question that they are ready and dangerous. I knew, however, the fact that the thing was empty wasn’t an excuse that would fly.

“No, I found it,” she replied. “Thankfully, a bottle in one of my bags sounded like a bell going off when I put it into the back seat,”

I apologized, and waited. I wouldn’t forget the .45 again, I knew, but it could wait for a bit to make its appearance in the house until emotions cooled a bit.

“Who’s this detective?” she asked, after almost a full minute of silence. “Why is Mardian giving you messages when he wasn’t even supposed to read the note Haldeman gave you? Haldeman is distancing himself by putting people in between.”

I still said nothing, waiting for her conclusion, hoping it wasn’t the same as my own.

“The .45 in the back seat was likely to be used on those three Marines”, she seemed to muse almost to herself rather than me.

“Although I’m not sure at all why anybody would bother to tell you that. Just leave the whole thing alone, the Marines were some kind of weird problem, evidently. Your detective has already been instructed to put the whole affair under the rug. The guards do rescue work so there’s no report for them to file, other than maybe three dead Marines, when or if they find them.”

“That’s what I thought too,” I agreed, unhappy with the results of both of or our conclusions.

“How could they have been so wrong?” I blurted out.

“They don’t know you at all,” my wife replied, shaking her head.

“It’s true, I’ve killed Marines,” I said, “on purpose, to end their pain, out of negligence or just not misjudging a situation, but I wouldn’t ever kill any Marines back here, not even if the president himself ordered it.”

My wife got up from the couch to go into the kitchen without saying anything further. I knew she wasn’t coming back into the living room so I got up and went out to get the store purchased Colt out of the car. We never ever discussed what happened in the A Shau Valley that had so changed me. She’d adapted and I would do anything in the world to support her adaptation. The crew at the compound knew more about my background than I thought they were capable of learning. Their possible assumption that I might undertake a termination mission without question, or even instruction, was breathtaking in what it revealed to me about what they had to know.

When Monday morning came, I dressed in my insurance meeting outfit but didn’t head into Newport Beach for Tom Thorkelson’s weekly sales meeting, instead dropping the insurance applications and checks I had at Chuck Bartok’s house located on the edge of the Shore Cliffs Country Club golf course.

“Tom will miss you at the meeting,” Chuck mused, going through my small pile of papers, “but then, you don’t attend most of the meetings anyway.”

“You heard about the three Marines that went missing on the beach, I presume,” I said, ignoring his mild jibe at my undependability in making what

I considered to be totally meaningless meetings.

“Tom is talking about making me the district manager down here,” Chuck went on, without commenting about the Marines. “Your completion of paperwork needs a lot of work. You’re supposed to fill out the applications in front of the clients, not have them sign blank forms and fill them in later from your notes.”

He waved some of my yellow legal notes in the air between us.

“So, you’ll be getting a cut of the premiums to do that job, I presume?” I asked, since he wasn’t really interested in why I was missing the meeting with Tom.

“Yeah, that’s how it works,” he laughed out, “but you’ll be getting a local office, a local phone number and secretarial help in the bargain.”

“Okay, I’m all in, but you fill in the applications for me and it’ll all work fine,” I laughed back, although there was no humor in my tone.
We both knew that I was selling a lot of insurance, compared to the others who I had any knowledge about. Chuck didn’t sell much of any insurance either. He was now the manager, however, which made weird sense. I didn’t have the time nor the interest in sitting inside some small office and doing the paperwork.

“Does that mean I won’t have to go to anymore of the meetings at the main office?”

“Looks that way,” Chuck replied, and I could tell from his expression that he was relieved.

I wondered what might happen if I objected to Chuck being appointed as manager, with his one main agent being me. I also wondered if Chuck might have been thinking the same thing.

“You going to the compound?” he asked, looking be up and down dressed as I was.

“Headed for the Chief’s office,” I said. “No bodies yet, but the whole thing kind of stinks. Hoodoo’s making like this is three drownings. I don’t buy it but nobody’s listening to me.”

“You have a lot of clients so far, most of whom are cops or work at the compound,” Chuck said back, obviously having no interest whatever about the fact that three men were probably dead in our town.

“Yes,” I replied, softer than before. Chuck had a point, however unspoken. I couldn’t just rage around like a bull in a china shop without potential lapses in premium payments. If a policy lapse in the first year then the company would pull back the commissions it’d advanced against a whole year’s premium payment. For the first time I realized that I could be financially hurt by the commission arrangement I’d signed up for unless I formed my conduct around making as certain as I could that my clients liked and supported me, which wasn’t something that formerly had been common in my life.

While Chuck went on talking about where the new office would be located, what other agents might be found to work there and the requirements for a secretary my mind went in a different direction. My approach to the chief about the potential murder of the Marines, if they were indeed dead, had to be carefully planned. The Chief also had four applications for life insurance on himself, his wife and two children, waiting for signatures and a check. I wasn’t uncontrollably driven to get involved in finding out what had happened to the Marines, but the nature of such a mystery landing in my lap, or at least what evidence there was landing at my feet, motivated me more than almost anything I’d done as a police or beach patrol officer and assorted errand boy character working for the Western White House.

“I’ll fill out the apps for you,” Chuck said, catching my full attention back.

I liked the way he made filling out the applications a favor to me. It was the premiums from the sales of policies I sold that were going to pay both of us to have this new office and to allow him to be district manager. His acquiescence was comforting in that the faster the applications hit the Newport Beach clerical staff the faster they would be credited to both Chuck’s and my accounts. If our unspoken agreement held, then I could also feel relieved to spend more time on selling insurance because it would pay more, not counting the kind of cash Haldeman had just laid out for me doing basically nothing, except maybe not talking. I left Chuck’s house feeling better, although I wasn’t sure why.

When I got to the department it was evident that the Chief was likely to be in, as his special parking slot held a yellow Toyota, his preferred personal driver. Pat smiled as I entered the door to her outer office. She pointed over her left shoulder with her right index finger at Chief Murray’s open door. I stepped through the door without knocking or saying anything.

“I’ve been expecting you,” the Chief stated, leaning back in his executive chair while pointing at one the straight backs that sat before his desk.

I was surprised, not being able to figure out why the man would think I was coming in, and so caught by surprise I blurted out the only response I could think of.

“Thank you.”

“The Marines on the beach,” the Chief said, before stopping to look at the effect of his words on me.

“Why?” I asked, completely thrown off my prepared presentation by his aggressive comment. How could he know that the incident would cause me to want to talk to him?

“Detective Hoodoo said you’d be coming,” he continued. “Three Marines missing on your beach, likely drowned, and you with your background.”

My respect for Hoodoo’s thinking ability shot right up off the chart.

“You need to stay out of it,” the Chief said, “For you own good and for that of the department. There’s no investigation going on, there’s merely a recovery effort that’s become interdepartmental among the communities with beachfront from San Clemente to Laguna Beach. The investigation, if there’s to be one will be conducted by the department where the bodies show up, if they ever do. Otherwise, it’s a drowning. A tragic drowning but that’s the way it is.”

“Another department?” I breathed out, in surprise.

“The current runs from south to north along the entire beach area, and it never changes except for the speed that it runs at,” I said. “With the water temperature being what it is right now the bodies, if they’re in the surf line, or just outside of it will then surface tomorrow or the next day in Capistrano Beach or Laguna. But what ever happened, happened right here.”

“You’re not listening to me,” the Chief said, his tone hardening. “I know what you can do and how smart you are and that you probably think you have a lot to make up for because of what happened over there in that damned war. This is not the time or place for that. Hoodoo is the detective assigned, not some specially appointed rookie fresh out of the academy.”

I got the message.

“Yes, sir,” I intoned, and got up out of my chair, my mind roiling with unanswered questions that there

was no way I could ask.

The Western White House was a dead end. The department was the same. The communities up the back, probably past Laguna would be the same.

“You’re a class act Beach Boy and I don’t want to lose you,” the Chief said, coming to his own hand and then sticking out his hand.

I’d never shaken hands with the man. He was the chief and his assessment was correct, as I was still a rookie. It was like a general officer shaking hands with a lowly private. It just wasn’t done. I shook his hand, noting his dry strong, but not too strong of a grip.

Pat nodded at me when I walked by her on my way out. The same smile she’d been wearing on my way in was still plastered across her face. I knew she could hear everything that had transpired inside the Chief’s office. I felt like she was giving me her personal approval to proceed.
The day would be spent back in uniform, training Rick Steed, the bright new reserve officer who’d so far been training himself. But I needed somebody else too.

I needed Herberich. I needed his innocent untainted high intellect and observation capability. When he’d confronted Gularte with the shotgun he’d given Gularte the idea that he might really shoot him. I picked up on his act, and it was a great one. Gularte had not. I had a strong feeling that Rick and Herberich would be great helpers. I dialed Herberich’s number when I got back home. He answered on the first ring, like he was waiting for the call.

“Herberich residence, Herberich himself speaking,” he answered, which made me smile to myself.

That was the way I’d been taught to answer a telephone when I was a kid, although time had changed such formal responses to almost nothing.

“I need ‘himself’ on the beach at about three this afternoon. I’m training Rick Steed but I have a special need of your nearly non-existent skills. If you can get away and meet us then I’ll pick you up straightaway at the appointed hour.”

“Roger that, commander,” he replied, gruffly, sounding a lot older than he really was. “I presume we are going to look into the matter.”
His observation stopped me in my tracks. I had to think for a few seconds before I fully understood what he’d said, and I decided to run with my suspicion about the content of that single sentence. He’d heard about the beach incident and guessed that I’d be looking into it personally.

“Affirmative,” I replied, and then hung up.

The recovery effort was going on far down the beach from where our patrol area was, which would mean that Hoodoo and the lifeguards would all be searching a long way from the scene where it had all started. I wanted to search that scene minutely for anything I could find. Even if the towels, identifications, boots and utilities were deliberately set on the sand for reasons I couldn’t yet understand, they were put there by human beings and human beings leave evidence of their passing almost everywhere.

I collected the two .45 automatics and took then inside, since the secret of their existence was now out in the open. They went on the top shelf of my closet, where all my guns were stored. The canvas sack I kept on the floor, as I’d be taking it out on patrol again. I closed the door and engaged the latch near its top, taking no chances Julie might access the area. I walked out onto the upstairs bedroom veranda. The small space that looked out over some of San Clemente was a place of comfort. I thought about what the Chief said with respect to the Marines. He was right.

The beach was mine and so were the Marines and I was going to treat it and them that way.

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