Sunday, April 12, 2009

San Clemente, Chapter V "Trestles"

The Costa Mesa Uniform Supply Shop was anything but merely a shop where police departments went to buy uniform essentials. It was an exercise in applied force technology. It had its own shooting range in the basement, so prospective clients could test the guns they were looking at buying. Police Officers bought lots of guns, or so Elmer, my front counter guy told me. Off duty police officers had to protect themselves from the criminals they arrested, because all of those criminals were being released back to the streets. He made releasing criminals who'd served their time sound like a high crime itself. I wanted to ask him if he thought all criminals, no matter what their crime, should be executed, but I refrained. There were other people in the store. They looked even more 'whacked out' than Elmer, with his long handle-bar mustache and single, uninterrupted, eyebrow.

I picked out a two sets of khaki uniforms. The place had the San Clemente Police Department on file. Elmer knew exactly what I needed, with the exception of shorts. Instead of long pants, I ordered the same shorts Costa Mesa Beach Officers wore. They looked neater and much cooler. For weaponry I asked for a Smith and Wesson. One of those 'wheel-guns,' Elmer termed it. He told me that my P.D. allowed, as a duty weapon, either the .45 Colt automatic, or the Smith & Wesson .38, using +P ammunition (which was more powerful). Elmer preferred the Colt. I asked for the Smith & Wesson in .44 Magnum, with a four inch barrel, so it would look like a regular duty weapon. "Can't carry that on the street," Elmer said, producing the heavy little monster-handgun. I merely shrugged. I didn't care. I was just back from the Nam, and I was not going to carry anything but the most overwhelming firepower I could find. "Anybody you know load hot rounds for it? Maybe with depleted uranium penetrators?" I said to the strange man. His eyes grew large and round, or at least as large and round as a human ferret's eyes can grow. He nodded, writing a name onto a scrap of paper, then pushing it toward me. "They ain't gonna be cheap," he replied. I shrugged again.

"That's just short of eight hundred dollars, including a couple of boxes of .44 hollowpoints, on the house, for you to go out and kill some of those bad guys." I felt his attitude across the counter. He was thinking of me as an idiotic, over-enthusiastic rookie. I knew that expression of attitude. In the Nam we called new, over-eager clowns, FNG's. Fucking New Guys. "I" Corps chewed them up and spit them into body bags like cherry pits from a full mouth load. I ignored the attitude. "The P.D. have an account?" I asked. Amy and I had thirty-eight dollars in our joint checking account, total. Elmer said nothing, just pushing the receipt over for my signature. "Gotta copy your I.D., for the records though," he said. I selected the proper I.D. from the assortment I now carried in my 'police' type wallet. I admired the way in which my new badge fit so neatly into one side of the wallet, with a little felt cover to cushion its polished brass surface. Elmer disappeared. I worried that he might be making a call, while he was back there, to Chief Murray, but he returned minutes later with no comment. I had no authority to charge anything, but I also had no money. I would worry about the particulars of finance a bit later.

I bundled everything into one bag on my own. Amy would have to do any tailoring. The Shop could custom tailor any hand weapon in the world, but they didn't sew. I kept the blue Smith & Wesson box aside from the other stuff. I liked the blue color of the box, with its silver writing, and the heavy feel of it's solid rectangular shape. I had everything but shoes. I decided, on my ride back to my coastal town, to simply wear white sox and tennis shoes.

I showed up the next morning early, at the supplemental parking lot of the P.D. The Bronco was there, as before, unmoved. There was a piece of paper under the driver side windshield wiper. I pulled it out. I was invited to visit the Headquarters of the San Clemente Life Guards by somebody named Maury. I had to check with Scruggs to find out that the headquarters building was located on the beach next to the quarter mile pier, which stuck straight out into the ocean from the center of town. Scruggs was impressed with my new uniform. Amy had worked to sew on the special patches. I would have to wait for my name tag, however, as I had had to order it. The big brass badge felt extremely heavy on my shirtfront. The ribbons, and small stuff of the Corps, had never registered that way at all. Scruggs asked to handle my sidearm but I declined. I wasn't about to start a controversy about the caliber of that weapon. I was already worried about how to handle the purchase order I had so confidently, without any authorization, signed.

I started the Bronco. It didn't 'burble' at idle, like I thought it would. Not like my old beloved GTO. With all the mufflers it made almost no sound at all. I drove to the Cotton Estate. The Bronco looked cool, its giant tires grooved for sand running. They were slightly under-inflated. Under-inflated to the point that the vehicle was almost not drivable on the asphalt streets. I didn't even think of getting on the freeway. Optimal speed for the thing seemed to be around twenty-five miles per hour. It was cool, however, as many people turned to look at it and wave. I wasn't sure what to do about people waving. Were cops supposed to wave back? I tried to look serious and glare back, but that didn't feel right either.

I looked down at my radios. The regular police radio was closer. The other one, which was identical in make, except painted bright red in color, was the direct to Secret Service Headquarters radio. The local radio twittered and cooed all the time. Short static sounds were interrupted with police chatter. San Clemente only 'streeted' three cars full time (two on graveyard shifts), yet the back and forth traffic was constant. The Secret Service radio never made any sound at all. The local cops, and Scruggs, all used ten codes. They said the number ten, before they said another number code. I didn't know why. It seemed silly to me. "Ten-seven" meant you were home. But the officers all said "Ten-seven, home," anyway. Ten-eight meant at work. Ten-four meant you understood. There were more codes. I had a book of hundreds of them. I wondered how I would learn all of them. I especially liked "Fifty-One_Fifty," which meant that a person was stark raving nuts. The whole system seemed to be fifty-one-fifty to me. The driving codes were mildly humorous, as well. Code One was driving like you always do (which is fast, for cops). Code two was really fast, with your rear amber lights flashing. Code three was with siren and all lights. You could only got to code three with permission from Scruggs. I liked code 'Two-and-a-half," best,however. It was driving code three without permission, then lying to the dispatcher about it. The city of San Clemente was so small, and cove shaped, that running code three could be heard all over town, including at the dispatcher's desk. When someone ran code two-in-a-half, everyone knew. Scruggs would go nuts trying to figure out who was breaking the code three rule. Nobody ever admitted to it, but they did it all the time.

I decided to check in at the Coast Guard Headquarters. At 0900 exactly, I walked in the door. Nobody noticed me. There was a central open office, where several men in civilian attire sat at desks. They all wore their suit coats, so I could tell they were Secret Service. I twas too hot for coats. I figured it had to be one of their rules. I asked for the head agent. That made a few of them smile. "Ben Williams. You want Special Agent in Charge Ben Williams?" I nodded. I wanted to ask why agents were all called 'special' agents, but did not. It was like the FBI. I had never heard of a regular agent. The desk agent pointed me to a door located at the corner of the building. I went over and knocked. "Enter," a voice yelled, from within. I stepped through, closing the door behind me. Ben sat at his desk. His suit coat was on too. I wondered if they took the things off at home. His office was not cool either. "What do you want?" he asked. A phone sat off the hook in front of him. I presumed he had interrupted a call for me. "Ah, just introducing myself. I'm the Beach Patrol. I was hired by Haldeman, I think, or so he said. Hell, I don't know. I just thought I should check in with someone, before starting the day." I did not mention that I didn't know what to do during that day. Ben laughed out load.

"So you didn't want to check in with H.R.?" I just looked at his large smiling face. His smile fell away. "I can't blame you for that. First class prig of a man. What'd he hire you for?" I shook my head, but said nothing. "Typical. I wonder if he even knows. He's so damned busy trying to act smart he doesn't have time to be smart. Erlichman, though, that son-of-a-bitch is smart. Watch out for him in the clinches." I just stood there astounded. I could not believe that a secret service agent would talk the way the man was talking. "Who are you?" I finally asked.

"Ben Williams, head of the entire agency of the United States Treasure Department known as the Secret Service. This is the Presidential Detail. The class act of the whole shebang." I had to smile at the man's presentation. He was a hard man not to like, I realized. I also began reflecting on the strange arrangement of power I had stepped into. Obviously, the head of the Secret Service did not care much at all what a presidential advisor might think about his comments. Who was who at La Casa Romantica, and what power they actually had, was going to be a difficult thing to figure out.

"Actually, I do know a bit about you," Ben said in follow-up, "and you don't have to check in with me, or anybody else you're likely to run into around here. Whatever you're really here for is a mystery. Somebody high up over there," he waved in the direction of the estate, "wants you around for something. That's okay with the Secret Service. It may not be okay with you. I don't know. You have a pretty damned good war record. Maybe they want you because of that." I didn't know what to say to his presentation, so I didn't reply directly. Instead, I hedged a bit. "I've got a Bronco out here with San Clemente Beach Patrol written on the side of it. I'm being paid from the White House though. I thought I'd just try to do the Beach Patrol job until somebody tells me to do something else. One thing though, H.R. told me that everyone started at 0900 around here. What did he mean? Am I supposed to report in? If I am, then to who?"

Ben stood up and stuck his right hand across the desk. "You have my approval, which you don't need. Nobody really reports in to anybody at the level those guys are operating at. I'd just go about my business and wait to hear from them. They're not bashful, those people. But good luck. I'm sure we'll see one another around here." I shook his hand, went back out to the Bronco and headed for the beach. I had a lot to learn about creating a beach patrol out of nothing at all.

It took me almost half an hour to figure out how to get to the beach. Where the bluff did not rise too high to drive down, like along the entire front of the estate, brush grew so thick it was basically impenetrable to any kind of vehicle. Finally, I drove North to the first public beach I ran into, called Calafia Beach Park, then drove over the railroad tracks and onto the sand. The Bronco came into its own on the soft sand. It rose above the sand on its huge grooved tires. The detuned V8 was not so much detuned as it was set up to provide most of its torque at low RPM. The vehicle powered over and through things with an inexorably slow gait and inertia. On the street it was one of Ralph Nader's 'Unsafe at any Speed Vehicles,' but on the sand it was home. I drove to Trestles beach. A group of surfers sat on the shore working their surfboards, drinking beer and puffing on home made cigarettes. My silent arrival in their very midst caused a universal cessation of movement. I stopped in the middle of, what appeared to be, more than a dozen frozen beach mannequins.

copyright 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

San Clemente, Chapter IV, "Beach Patrol"

Chief Murray shook my hand once again. I knew he was done with me, but I had more questions. I did not want to go home again with inadequate answers, much less no answers at all. "Where do I work?" I asked, standing at the open door. The Chief shrugged. "They don't talk much down there." He waived one hand in the general direction of the South end of town, when he said the words. "And a uniform?" I went on, but he just shook his head again. I looked at the man, who seemed so commanding and sure of himself, yet had no answers at all. "What about pay? How much does a Patrolman III earn?" But it was the same. He pointed South. I was going to have to get my information from La Casa Romantica, or whatever the hell they were calling it. I turned to leave.

"Here, you'll need these," he said, almost as an afterthought. A set of keys came at me, thrown from his left hand. I caught them before they hit the wall next to me. I examined them. They were Ford keys. Chief Murray walked over to the long narrow side window which looked out on the back parking lot of the station. He pointed at a sand colored vehicle. "You'll be using that." I followed his pointing finger. A Ford Bronco sat alone at the corner of the lot. It was a strange looking Bronco, however. It didn't have regular tires. Instead it had huge fat things at each corner. They stuck out a good six inches from the sides of the vehicle. The fenders had been rough cut to fit them. The flared parts that had been added were obviously cut from raw aluminum sheeting, then hung onto the remains of the regular fenders with little round rivets.

"She's brand spankin' new. Paid for by U.S. Government dollars. She's got duals, with three mufflers on each side. Silent as death in the sand. Got a three-oh-two V8 under the hood, and even air-conditioning. I'd give my left tit to own her myself." Murray stared at the vehicle he had so lovingly described. I looked at it. It was cool. There was no question about that. But it was also just a small truck. I wasn't in love with its appearance. I peered at the driver's side door. There was black lettering arced across it. "What's the San Clemente Beach Patrol?" I asked the Chief. "That's you," he said, grinning one of his engaging smiles, "and whoever wants to ride with you." I didn't understand what he meant by that, but I had bigger questions I had to get answered, and there was only one place I could ask them.

I went back out front where Scruggs operated the radios. I stood at the counter, as he finished some interaction with his desk microphone. "Come back here," he said, "you're an officer here. Out front is for our customers." He laughed after he said 'customers.' I presumed the word usage to be police humor. There were two doors to the back entry. I found them without help. Scruggs walked over to an ancient manual typewriter and sat down. He rolled a blank card into the machine, then typed letters onto it from a file next to him. I couldn't see what was in the file. Then he stopped. "What do you want to be?" he said, his hands poised over the keys. "Huh?" was all I could manage. "I mean, like, patrolman, beach patrol officer, reserve, special agent, or what? The Chief told me you'd know what to put in here." I looked at the little nome of a man, to see if I could detect more of his arcane sense of humor coming out, but I found none. "Ah, 'Reserve Patrolman' will be just fine. He typed. He pulled the finished card out. "I'll have the Chief sign it later. You can have it tomorrow morning." I shrugged. I walked out through the doors to the front of the building. As I exited the area before the counter I heard Scruggs yell. "Hey, welcome to the farce." I smiled back, then waved.

I drove the Volks around to the back lot. I got out, opened the Bronco with the keys Murray had given me. The Bronco was equipped with a Motorola police radio, full emergency light controls, and, ominously, a Remington twelve gauge pump shotgun. The gun was vertical, with its stock mounted down into the footwell on the passenger side. It was locked with a latch system. I looked at the lock. It took a tiny key. I checked the car key ring. There was a tiny key on the chain. I sighed. I was armed and dangerous once I got in the vehicle. But I didn't get in. I was wearing my Marine Officer Class A Green uniform. It just didn't seem right to drive the Bronco wearing it. I got back into the Volks, and headed for the South of town.

I entered the small road which led to the Cotton Estate gate. A full corporal was on duty, as opposed to the Lance Corporal of the day before. "Good Morning, Corporal, I said, easily, after rolling to a stop. I pulled out, then steadied, my new STAFF I.D. card. The Corporal took the card from my hand, then carefully read everything on it. I was impressed. "Thank you, sir," he finally said, handing the card back, then snapping off a crisp salute. I prepared to proceed, shifting the Volks into first gear, until I heard a horse whisper. The whisper said, "button your blouse before going in there, sir." I looked at the Corporal, but he stood as before, staring over the top of my car, still holding the salute. I frowned. The Marine was correct in fact, if not in etiquette. I followed his snide but wise direction and buttoned the front of my blouse up before proceeding.

"Two weeks, and a wake-up," I said to myself, as I eased down the road to park near the door that was not a real door. I knocked, as before. A Secret Service Agent, stood, as before, when the door had moved aside. He motioned with his head for me to proceed down the hall, the spring loaded wire leading up to his ear, stretching taut, then bouncing back when he had finished with the movement. My regulation leather heels made solid clicking sounds as I walked the surface of the Spanish-tiled hall. The great room was the same, except I noted two new tables set near the long row of windows, which faced toward the surf line. A man sat in each chair, facing out. Each had a hot steaming mug next to him. One was easy to identify from his hair color and cut. It was Haldeman. Neither man seemed to notice my presence. I stopped, waited, then walked next to Haldeman's table and stood there. They watched the surf. So I watched the surf. An offshore wind made the waves appear larger than they really were. The waves stood higher, and held their shape longer, because of it. White spume blew back from the edge of each wave, just before it folded over and broke. It was hypnotic to watch. A morning red sun behind the waves gave the scene a surreal 'moving scenery' kind of effect.

"This is Erlichman," H.R. said. "He handles domestic." Haldeman waved toward the man next to him, extending a small tea cup in the air. He held the cup by the lip, with thumb and index finger. I noted the full extension of his stiff little finger sticking out from the side of the cup. No Marine on earth would ever hold a cup in that manner, I knew, not, at least, where another Marine might see him.

"Lose the uniform," Erlichman said. I puzzled over the order for a moment, before responding. "Ah, what should I wear, then?" I asked, truly curious. "You can wear one of those khaki get-ups they wear around here, or go to a uniform shop and pick one out." Erlichman drank from his own tea cup when he was finished talking. I gaped. I did not know how to handle what I'd been told. I didn't even know what a uniform shop was, much less where it might be. I looked at the man, drinking his tea, and watching the surf line. He was as serious as H.R., I decided, but his long stringy black hair, seemingly unwashed and unkempt, gave him a disturbingly seedy appearance. I was uncomfortable with Haldeman, I realized suddenly, but I plainly did not like Erlichman.

"No, forget that," Erlichman suddenly said, turning to look at me. His eyes were dark and intense. I felt like he had instantly caught the distaste I felt for him. Caught it and didn't care. "You'll be Opcon to the local police here, so make yourself look like one of them. Do whatever they tell you to do when we're not telling you what to do." He stopped then, and began to laugh out loud. Haldeman joined in the laughter. I looked at both men. I didn't get the humor. I had been more comfortable with Scruggs basal humor, although I had not found it very funny either. While I waited, I remembered Amy's criticism of my poor inquisitor skills.

"What is it you want me to do?" I asked, after they had stopped laughing. Haldeman put his tea cup back onto its saucer with an audible 'clink.' He had fallen silent and contemplative again, watching the surf. I waited. "Until the Marines let you go, just show up every day," he said, then went on, "Check out the security system. Get to know and understand it. Get to know the people around here, except the Secret Service guys, they're not people. Get to know the beach. Arrest some aliens. They're all we get going by here. Look at some live sex. We get some of that too. Get familiar with all the procedures of the police agencies around here. Murray is sympatico." When he finished with the last, both he and Erlichman looked at one another, then nodded to one another. I felt dismissed, but I could not go home without having one other question answered. "Do I get paid? If I do, then how much?" There was another silence. "A thousand a month, I think," Erlichman said. "Check with somebody else. We don't get into those things." The two men began to talk to each other in low tones. I did not have to be told to leave.

A thousand a month was five hundred a month more than I made as a Marine Lieutenant. I didn't know about benefits, or anything further. But a thousand alone would guarantee me a little more access to the areas above Amy's darkened pantyhose line, and that made me smile. I walked back down the hallway with a Secret Service agent at my side. "What, exactly, is my job here?" I asked him. He shook his head. "i don't know. The Coast Guard station out back has some offices in it though. My boss is over there, and the head of the U.S. Marshalls. Check with them. I'm sure they'll want to know what you're up to." I went though the door, and out to my Volks. A lot of people seemed to be interested in what I was doing. I was interested in what I was doing. I just had no idea at all what it really was, or why.

copyright 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

San Clemente, "Chapter III, "Losing My Religion"

I left the estate through the door I had come in. The door that was really made to be part of a bank vault, rather than an an old Spanish hacienda. I drove back to the sawhorse. The Lance Corporal was there, but he didn't move the barrier. Instead he walked around to my open window. "Here is your I.D. card, sir," he said, then snapped another perfect salute at me. He moved the sawhorse. I put the new card in my front pocket, then headed the Volks toward home. I realized that I did not have to make the thirty-three mile trip, one way, to the 1st CAG anymore. My apartment was only two miles from the Cotton Estate. I might be fueling up once a month instead of twice a week. I smiled at the thought, hoping that my wife, Amy, would be happy with that part of our new situation. Amy was Irish, second generation, but Irish to the roots of her nearly black, and full, head of hair. I got home, and limped, as quickly as I could, up the stairs to our small abode. I was smiling. I had prospects.

"So, let's see if I have this straight," Amy said, her expression of the words holding out no hope for a question mark. "You now work for this blond guy, H.R. Haldeman, who, supposedly, works as an advisor to the President of the United States. That would be Richard Milhous Nixon. You have this new I.D. card, which tells us that you are "STAFF," whatever that is." She paced before him, up and down the small expanse of their living room floor, while she talked and thought. The new Military Style but not military identification card was in her right hand as she moved. I'd explained everything I knew, from my seat on our couch, but agitation had set into her before I'd finished. She had to move. It irritated me, to have her tower over me, but it would look ridiculous for both of them to pace about together, so I stayed seated.

"And Colonel Howling Jack Taylor, your commanding officer, knows nothing, and can't even ask you about any of this?" She might have paused, at that point, to get an answer, but she didn't. She paced some more. "And then there is you. You didn't bother to ask anyone what you would be doing? Where you would be doing it? Or why?" The sound of her deep sigh of disappointment would have been heard in the adjoining apartment, the walls of the one bedroom place were that thin, except it was daytime and nobody was there. Amy was the only female in the complex who was a housewife, and it was mid-day. Finally, she paused in her moving routine. She slapped the thick plastic card down onto the top of their cheap coffee table, then folded her arms facing him. Her normally smooth forehead was deeply furrowed. Her beautiful brown eyebrows were pulled together so close that the seemed to form one continuous line.

"Are you a complete and total idiot?" she asked, dead serious. Her tone was flat and level. I nodded, not being able to think of anything to say at all. I knew I should have asked questions of everyone, but I had not. I was a Marine. I knew how to take orders. And that's what I had done. I still had several weeks to serve, and although the Marine Corps and I had been going in different directions from the time I was wounded, I would serve out my time as a real Marine. And not a Marine like either of the 'Homo Vomitus' cretins I worked with at the CAG. But Amy gave me pause to think.

The Cotton Estate had only been rumored to have been sold to Nixon. There had been no confirmation, either in the local paper, or on television. Word had simply been bandied about the community, and mostly with negative connotations. San Clemente was a small Spanish town. It was mostly Democratic. It's close proximity to Camp Pendleton Marine Base was a constant source of unhappiness, if not outright distaste, for almost all of it's citizens. The livid scars of a continuing lost war were ever present, and directly attributable, to the military personnel who constantly circulated in, and around, the town.

"And what about pay?" Amy asked. "We have nothing. And what about after they dump you out of the Corps? Benefits? Transportation? Medical help for your healing?" She had begun pacing as she had started talking, firing out the short questions like shots out of a semi-auto rifle. I knew she was still upset by the medical board decision. I was going to be discharged with Zero percent disability. I was going to be determined to be too disabled to be a Marine, but not disabled enough to get any money. Amy called it a 'typical' Marine discharge, to their few friends, who were mostly Marines, or dependents of Marines. I had not thought about the discharge or the money when I had stood, looking out at the breaking surf, with the strange flat-topped man.

"Why you?" she said, "You're a mess, physically and mentally. You can't walk right and you have that thing open along your stomach," she waved her hand at me, as she paced. "Or is this a reward for your medals, I mean, except that Purple Heart one....I guess it would be maybe a punishment for getting that one, since your beloved Corps does not seem to care for injured Marines, much at all." She sat down on the couch next to me, but they didn't touch. "I don't get it," she said, at last. Taking a pack of Kent filtered cigarettes from the table, she produced a lighter and lit one of them. I watched her out of the corner of my eye. I had never smoked, but I also never commented on her habit. I liked it. It was somehow meaningful pleasant to our relationship. She handled the slender white tubes in a way that added to her, already considerable, sexuality. Her short blue skirt had ridden up to mid-thigh. She looked at me looking, then blew smoke in my direction and crossed her legs.

"I suppose they told you that you couldn't tell me anything either," she said, then flicked a small piece of tobacco from her lip with her free hand. I looked down at the dark band, which indicated the top-most part of her pantyhose. It was peaking from under the slanted edge of her skirt. "Actually, nobody said anything about you at all. They said little about anything. I'm supposed to go in tomorrow and do what they tell me, I guess. But, I'll ask about the money, and the other stuff. I can't imagine that they are doing this just to occupy me for my last couple of weeks in the Corps." I brightened with my own words. I had thought, until turning the situation over in my mind, that I would simply serve out my time in the strange old Spanish villa. The guard had called it 'Casa Pacifica.' The more I thought about it, the more it sounded like a new opportunity, however. Aside from the Lance Corporal, serving as a gate guard, there did not seem to be much for a Marine Lieutenant to do there.

Amy's anger faded, as the afternoon waned. A Manhatten before dinner helped even more. I sat up by myself until late in the evening, wondering about different details of the strange day I had just experienced. Amy had gone down early, and there had been no opportunity to enjoy anything she possessed, above the darkened pantyhose line, I had gazed upon earlier. Finally I sighed, went upstairs, and crawled into bed.

I awakened just before first light, as was my habit. I carefully displaced myself from the bed, so as not to wake Amy, as I did every day. As with every other day, I failed. I had realized early on that if I ever had an affair which ran late into the night, I would not be sneaking under the covers without my wife waking. She had detectors. Better than the sonic stuff we had used 'in country.'

"Are you awake?" she asked, unnecessarily, looking at me with one eye, her head sunk deeply into her pillow. "Yeah," I murmured in response, just like every other morning. She said no more, as I went through my morning regimen to prepare for work. Showered, shaved, shined and fully dressed, except for my tight green Class A uniform blouse, I watched the coffee perk up and down, time after time, in the top glass of our small stainless coffee pot. Amy came down, wearing a fluffy cream robe and huge, ridiculous, bathroom slippers. The phone on the wall between us rang. I looked at it, as did she. Both of us frowned. The phone never rang in the morning, especially not before seven a.m. I picked it up on the second ring, with a bad feeling.

"Marteen," a cold male voice said. It was not a question. I had not even had time to say hello. "Martin, its Martin," I said back. "Martin," the voice corrected, then paused. "Yes, sir," I added. The voice seemed like the kind of voice I should say that to.

"This is the San Clemente Police Department. Present yourself here by oh-eight-hundred hours. The Chief wants to see you." The voice disconnected before I could answer. I stood holding the phone up to my ear. Slowly, I replaced it, still lost in thought. I also reflected upon the fact that I didn't know where the San Clemente Police Department was.

"Don't tell me," Amy said, holding up her left hand, which already had a Kent lit and smoking between her fingers. She held a steaming cup of black coffee in the other. "Its them." The tone she used, when she said 'them,' left not doubt as to who she was talking about. I nodded, "well, not exactly. That was the police. They want me to come up and see the chief. I suppose we have one, don't we?" I said.

"One what?" Amy asked, blowing more smoke.

""A Chief of Police," I answered, in exasperation. I pulled out the local phone book and went to the index. I finally found the address and approximate location. The place was in almost the exact center of San Clemente. I replaced the book, then sat down to drink a cup of coffee with Amy. Talking to her was one of the most pleasurable things I did in my life. But not this morning. She was unsettled about the day before, and how this one had started. I finished the coffee, grabbed my jacket, making sure not to disturb any of the ribbons, or other things, that hung from it, then headed out to the Volks.

I drove South on El Camino Real, until I ran into the correct cross street. I drove under the freeway, and there it was. A small flat building constructed in a cut-out half way up the side of a huge bluff. I drove into the drive way on one side. The Fire Department was headquartered in the same building I noted. Half the building was taken up by hangar-sized garages, behind which, no doubt, fire trucks were parked. A short line of police cruisers were parked at an angle in front of the far half of the building. I parked next to one of them. I got out of the car, put on my coat, buttoned it, then checked in my outside rear view mirror to make sure it was correctly buttoned and positioned. It was.

I went through the glass front door. A low counter ran across the opening, just inside the door. A half door, closed, was located at one end of the counter.

"You Martin?" the man said, rising from in front of a desk mounted microphone.

"Yes, sire," I answered, as if I was reporting in at the Marine base.

"Through that door," the man pointed at the half door, "Murray's office is down the hall, the door at the end. I'm Scruggs, radio officer, at your service." The man returned to his seat. I noted that he was not old, but entirely bald, and his face was a florid red color.

"Who's Murray/" I asked him. He looked over at me, as if I was a specimen of some sort. "The door at the end of the hall," he said, pointing. He had raised his voice much higher to say those words, like he was talking to a person hard of hearing. I shook my head, then went through the half door.

I got to the last door, which was closed. I knocked, lightly. "In," a voice boomed from behind it. I stepped through quickly, closing the door behind me. I felt like I was in OCS again. Until I looked up an saw the man's face. He was no drill sargeant. His smile was too big and too genuine. He got up from his desk, then came around it with his hand extended. We shook. He had strong grip, but not one of those grips intended to dominate. I noted that he wore a cheap blue suit, instead of the khaki uniform the radioman had had on.

"Sit," the big man said, returning to his own executive chair. I sat in a small hard-back in front of his desk. "So, you're the mysterious Martin." I just looked at him, wondering why I was mysterious. I didn't know what to say, so I said what I was trained to say. "Yes, sir." He nodded. I decided to go a bit further. "Ah, Chief, why am I here?"

"Damned if I know," the Chief responded. But I can tell you this. Those guys down there are paying you the salary of a Patrolman III, as of today. You'll only be a reserve officer here, I mean, when you're not working down there for them. You have to go to Rio Hondo Police Academy the next time they run through a bunch of recruits, and you have to buy your own gun." He stopped and looked at me.

"What?" was all I could manage. "I'm going to be a police officer?" I asked, haltingly. Murray smiled one of his open welcoming smiles. No, not exactly. "You are about to become a Peace Officer of the State of California. Raise you right hand, and repeat after me." He held up his right hand, so so did I. I repeated the words he said, but instantly forgot them. He tossed a big gold badge across the desk to me. It was the size of a closed fist. I picked it up. "Now you're a Peace Officer. Welcome aboard." He held out his hand again. I took it. "Scruggs out there will make you an I.D. card. Pick it up tomorrow."

I stood in front of the big man. I was a Marine Lieutenant, with a military I.D. I was working for H.R. Halderman, with a Presidential I.D. And now I was working for the San Clemente Police Department with a Police I.D. Somehow, with all those identifications.....I had lost my own.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

San Clemente, "Chapter II, "Cottons"

The letter had stated that I was to proceed to a place called the Cotton Estate, in San Clemente, and report in there. It had included no additional instructions, other than the confidentiality clause, and it had not been signed by anyone. I reflected ruefully, for a moment, on my departure from the First Civil Affiars Group. If I had been able to control myself better, when I was with Colonel Taylor and Captain Merrill, I might have learned more. I might have been able to get a peek at the orders which had been delivered to Howling Jack. My orders had been unsigned, but it was very unlikely that the Commanding Officer of any Regimental Support Team in the United States Marine Corps would have accepted any document that was not impeccably inscribed and signed. But, that chance, to at least have the identity of whoever was behind the orders, was lost. I smiled widely, however, as I wound the Volkswagen deftly through the curves of Camp Horno, on my way back to the Pulgas gate. I repeated the words of my exit from the Civil Affairs Group, then laughed aloud. The XO had given me a last look, so twisted and intense, that it had been as if a lighted cigar had been inserted into his mouth, burning tip first. I laughed some more, with both front door windows cranked down, and the small tinny FM radio belting out: "In the Year 2525, if man is still alive, if woman can survive...."

The Calafia exit, from Northbound Interstate 5, loomed ahead. I began to slow from my Volks' top speed of eighty-eight miles per hour. I had thought to call my wife, back at our apartment, but there had been no place to call from. There was also the stipulation, in my single sheet of orders, which said "immediately." I guided the car across the overpass, and toward the ribbon of blue ocean visible near the horizon, to the West. The exit took me to El Camino, which took me to the San Luis Rey overpass. The overpass ran into Pacific Palisades. That street ran half the length of San Clemente, paralleling the beach atop, alternately, one hundred foot bluffs and dunes rolling just above flat sandy beach coves. I turned South at the "T" made by the dead-ending of the road over the interstate. I crumpled my one page of orders between the buttons of my Class A green coat, straightened the tie clip on my cream colored Marine tie, then headed for the end of the road. Expensive homes lined the area, between the cliff down to the ocean, and the road I was on. I passed first, a small grade school, then the Coast Guard station. The road abruptly ended, just beyond the station. I turned around and crept back the way I had come. Recessed back, just before you got to the Coast Guard Station, was a large white wall with a big arch in it. I had missed it. A small asphalt road rant under the arch.

I drove to the arch, which had been converted into a gate. The gate had a guard, who only stepped out after I had stopped in front of a rickety looking wooden saw-horse. The guard turned out to be a single Marine Lance Corporal in field utilities. He stood at Parade Rest, next to the driver-side window, then slowly saluted. I didn't know if he was saluting the blue Officer base-sticker on the windshield, or if he had seen the yellow bars on my shoulders. I did not salute back. My cover was on the passenger seat. Marines did not salute indoors or uncovered, unlike Army personnel.

"How can I help you, sir," the Marine said, his arms dropping to his sides. Once he had finished the short sentence, his right hand rose up and extended to the window, as if waiting for some contribution. I looked at the hand. I knew immediately that security was tighter than the saw horse gave the impression of. The hand was waiting for documents of identification and some sort of clearance for why I was there. I said nothing, working my wallet our of my back pocket. I took out my military identification card, then pulled out the single sheet of orders from inside my blouse. He took the I.D. card, but just waved at the piece of paper. "Be right back, sir," the Lance Corporal said. I waited. I looked over at the Coast Guard Station, wondering if I was somehow going to be connected to that place until I processed out of the Corps. The wait grew so lengthy that I finally turned the ignition key off, and pulled my left arm out of the hot morning sun.

The Lance Corporal came back. "Proceed down the road, and through the next gate. Park next to the wall. Someone will meet you at the door." I took my I.D. card back. "What is the Cotton Estate, anyway?" I asked, then "Do they grow cotton here?" The Corporal just looked at me. "I don't know, sir," he said, deadpan, then moved to the front of the car to pull back the saw-horse. I shrugged. I had been having a nice day-dream about sailing a Coast Guard skiff among a bevy of Southern California beach beauties, but it did not appear that that was going to be my assigned function. I drove away, as instructed. The new black tarmac weaved back and forth several times, before the vegetation cleared, and I as able to see a second wall, with a second arch. I presumed the Marine's description of a second gate was, in reality, the second arch. I stopped near a barred wooden door, set deep into the solid stone wall. I got out of the Volks to examine it. It was one of those thick old wooden things with black steel straps. There was no visible handle or port. I looked around, feeling foolish, then tapped on the door. I would have said "open sesame" at the same time, but I was intrigued by everything that had happened that morning, and a bit unsure of myself.

The door sucked silently open. A tall suited stranger filled the space left by the door. The man wore a small radio microphone in his right ear, and aviator sun glasses. The glasses were of too dark a material to allow me to see the man's eyes. I had only seen Secret Service Agents on television, but I knew instantly that I was standing in front of one of them.

"Identification?" the man said, his hand extending out, in exactly the same way the Marine's had. I noted that he did not refer to me as 'sir.' "Wait here," he said, then left with my I.D. card, just as the Marine had. "Holy shit," i breathed, very quietly. Until that moment I had not realized that, whatever I had somehow stepped into, was not to be taken lightly. The Secret Service was a serious outfit. Also, the Marine guard out front was not there for play. Real Marine guards were only used for National Security assignments. The rest of security was contracted out. The man returned, but his hands were empty.

"This way," he said, gesturing with the slight flip of his left shoulder, while closing the door with his right hand. The door clicked instead of slamming. I realized that the door only looked like an old Spanish entryway. I wondered what it was really made of. I followed the man. "What about my I.D. card?" I said to the walking man's back. We walked through several more doorways, the doors always open. Finally, we stepped through an interior arch into a great windowed room. The agent stopped, turned, then leaned close to whisper, "You'll get your I.D., and a new one, when you leave....I think." He then departed the way we had come. "He thinks?" I whispered to myself. I looked out across the Spanish tile floor of the room. It was well appointed, with expensive furniture. The floor was partially covered by large Persian rugs, the kind I had only seen in stores.

The room's windows ran side by side along the far wall, giving a complete curved panorama of the breaking waves, which were moving ceaselessly in toward a long beach of flat beautiful sand. I noticed a man. He was standing, facing the ocean, right up close to the windows. He wore an unusual cream-colored suit. A distinctive feature caught my immediate attention. The man's blond hair was cut strangely. His haircut was like a Marine cut, except it was flat on top. It was an old flat-top cut I had only seen in photos and on television, not in real life. I looked around, but there was no one else in the room. I walked to stand next to the blond, flat-topped man. He was taller than me by several inches. I looked up at his chiseled profile. He face was clean-shaven, the muscles of his jaw tight, individually distinguishable, while his nose was long and straight. His face was slightly too long, I decided, and he looked a little too much like the Marine Corps posters of the perfect Marine. Every real Marine hated those posters. I didn't know what to say, so I turned and looked out at the waves too. We stood like that for several minutes.

"You're orders are from me," he said, his eyes remaining glued to the ocean just outside the windows. I held myself rigid, next to the man. I felt that he would tell me when to say something. I listened, and stared at the sea. When the man talked it was almost impossible to discern lip movement, I noted. "You'll be working for me," the man said, his lips again not moving. I felt an impulse to giggle. Maybe the man was a ventriloquist sent to entertain the President, I thought. But I did not even smile. I finally could not contain myself anymore. "Who are you, sir?" I asked.

"I'm H.R. Halderman, advisor to the President of the United States," he said, the words rolling out one after another, as if a tape was being played at a slower speed than it was recorded, with all emotion sucked out of it. "They call me H.R., behind my don't." I nodded, wanting to ask "don't what?" but I didn't. H.R. Halderman flicked his head to the rear. Somehow I knew, from the gesture, that our strange, one-sided interview was over. I turned, heading for the arch I had come in under. "We start at 0900 in the morning around here," he said. I nodded, although I knew he couldn't see me. The Secret Service agent appeared, magically, at the arch by the time I got there. He handed me my I.D. back. "You get a new one in the morning. Don't be late. He doesn't like to start late." I nodded, putting my I.D. card away. "Start what?" I said, very quietly, so H.R. Halderman would not hear me.

"You work for H.R. now. Welcome to his world," the agent said.

copyright 2009

Saturday, April 4, 2009

San Clemente "Chapter I, " The Registered Publication"

The First Civil Affairs Group maintained an office on a small barren knoll, about a mile distant from the Headquarters of the 13th Artillery Regiment, of the First Marine Division. The area was uncleared, but comprised of such hard-crusted flooring that it gave the appearance of being set onto a great rounded concrete pad, broken up only by a few brown tendrils of struggling vegetation. I reported in to an ugly rectangular building at seven a.m. every morning. The morning sun, just mounting the Pulgas Mountain Range in the distance, reflected back a dull green hue upon the side of the building's wall. There was no Marine guard at the building door, unlike Headquarters. There was no "Mornin' Sir," or crisp salute, to start my day. I glanced back over my shoulder, to make sure that the new red Volkswagen I had purchased only a week before was properly parked. There were no real parking lines. Headquarters had asphalt parking, with bright white lines. Our cars were parked between lines scraped every day into the hard desert surface. But Marines parked inside the lines. Always. The Volks was easy to park, not like the GTO I had to trade in for it.

But the GTO had had to go. My leg would not take the torque, no matter how much patience and therapy I put into it. One of the bullets I had been hit with had broken my hip bone. Fragmented Ilia, they termed it. I'd loved that blue streak of a car, and had almost killed myself with it many times. But I was also a lieutenant, and didn't make very much money. Driving the Volks, however, had not been too terrible. It actually was a lot of fun, but not fun like the GTO had been. "Different, very different," I muttered to myself aloud, turning the last corner of my passage through the labyrinthian switch-backed corridor to arrive at my tiny walled in cubicle.

"No shit," a male voice said, from behind me. I turned before getting to my gray, rubber-covered desk, which had been produced some time right after World War I. Captain Merrill stood facing me. Captain Merrill was the Executive Officer of our small outfit. We disliked each other intensely, although very politely. It had been Captain Merrill who had 'collected' me when I had reported into Headquarters following my release from full disability status at the base hospital. I had thought, until meeting the Captain, that I would be able to serve out the short remainder of my Marine Corps tour with some light duty, along with getting ready to transition into civilian life. My entire prior year had been spent in hospitals, trying to come back from gunshot wounds in the abdomen, hip and legs. Pieces of Vietnam were still inside my body, working their way out through small festering boils, every few months. Vietnam wasn't in my mind, however. It was just that I couldn't sleep.

Captain Merrill had spotted my release forms, and immediately had me assigned to the Civil Affairs Group. We did nothing there except plan, plan and re-plan. We planned for a time when the Marine Corps might be fighting in the Palau Islands. I was in charge of planning the layout of a supply depot on the island of Babelthuap. The island had been planned for, as a depot, by the prior ten officers to hold my position.

I stared at the Captain, almost in shock. The man had appeared at my cubicle, and said a swear-word. Two things I had never known him to do. His aversion to swearing was one of the reasons he hated me so badly. When I had found out he liked to be thought of as some sort of left-over war hero from "Merrill's Mauraders," I had instantly converted the phrase into 'Merrill's Mother-Fuckers.'

"What is it, sir?" I asked, coming to a position of vague attention. I could not stomach any part of the phony Marine Officer Corps I had found back home. The one's who had avoided Vietnam like the plague, but then acted like they were God's gifts to macho warriors. Merrill had never been in combat, and his chest ribbons blared that. I had five rows of combat decorations on my own. I realized, looking at the vertical puke-tube of a human being, that I did not despise him, I hated him.

The Captain didn't answer me. He just pointed at the desk I was standing in front of. I twisted around to look, grimacing through a spike of pain. I would not show any reaction in front of Merrill, however, so I covered it with a "yes, sir." On top of my clean gray rubber desk-top was an envelope. A large eight-and-a-half by eleven brown one. The envelope was typical Marine inter-office stuff, but not the writing across the top of it. Large red letters were printed horizontally across it's entire surface. They read "SECRET." A small white note was clipped to the envelope. I moved closer, to be able look down and read it. It had only my name and rank on it. The envelope had had to be hand delivered. I realized right away why Captain Merrill was there. The Registered Publications System, which controlled all classified documents, had very specific rules for the handling of them. No classified document, designated above 'Confidential,' could be left unattended. Merrill was the assigned attendant. He had had to wait for my arrival. No wonder he was pissed off, I thought.

"Oh," gushed out of me. I could think of nothing else to say. I stared down at the unlikely envelope. My tour of duty, which would formally end with the implementation of the disability board's findings, was three weeks away. I could not walk right, eat right, sleep right, or do much else right, when it came to Marine Corps procedures and actions. I was history, and everyone, including me, knew it. Even my reports on the supply depot located at some idiotic, never to be visited, tropical isle had been scaled back. I continued to stare at the unlikely envelope. I had not secrets. I knew no secrets. I was a highly decorated, blown to smithereens low-life to the Corps. I had not even been promoted above Second Lieutenant. I had stopped wearing my ribbons to mainside. Too many higher officers had stopped me, and wanted me to prove that I really had the decorations indicated by the ribbons. They had claimed that a Second Lieutenant, who had received such decorations, would have been promoted to at least First Lieutenant by the time he got home. I did not mention to them that I thought I had figured that riddle out. Why I had not been promoted. That it was because the officers on promotions boards were just like them. But I had to wear the things to work, and so I did, which just caused Merrill to hate me more.

"Open the damned envelope!" Merrill said, behind me, quite forcefully. In the back of my mind, I smiled, to hear the human maggot swear for the second time that morning. I went around my desk, tossed my flat cover onto the moldy chair, then reached down and picked up the envelope. The flap was glued. Another unusual feature of it. I tore the edge off of it, slowly, watching the XO squirm with impatience. I slid out the single sheet of white paper it contained. I read the document. Then I read it again. "What does it say?" Merrill demanded, stepping closer. I took my eyes off the piece of paper, holding it so Merrill could not see the writing.

"I have to see the Commanding Officer." I said, flatly. I quickly replaced the sheet of paper inside the envelope. Merrill and I frowned at each other. I thought about our Commanding Officer. He was another of the more nasty creatures I had met in the Corps. Colonel Jack Taylor. He preferred other officers of his rank to call him by his self-designated nickname. Howling Jack. Howling Jack had been in both wars, WWII and Korea. He had been in Vietnam, which he continually pontificated, was not a war at all. He had been in the rear with the gear for all of his wars, I knew. Supply Officer. Which would have been okay, except he was a buff. A buff was an man who had served, but had not served in a combat position, yet acted like he had. I had had to stop going to the Commanding Officers lunch at the "O" club because of the fake war stories. My facial expressions, no matter how much I tried to control them, gave off emanations of boredom and derision. They had been noticed.

I followed Merrill out through the corridor of many unimportant cubicles. Both the C.O. and X.O. had big offices out front. They were the one's who watched the rest of us drive up and park, then wrote up reports when we drove across, or parked on, the make-believe lines. The C.O. was in. His short legs were propped up so he could rest them on the front edge of his desk. His shoes were the new face corfam things. Shine from the factory. Fake shoes. Fake Marine. I stopped in front of his desk. Merrill came up to me, and demanded the envelope. I just looked at him, putting it in my hand farthest from him.

"What have we here?" Howling Jack said, smiling his mean, scum-bag, smile. I smiled back at him, before speaking. "I have a registered document," I flashed the SECRET designation at him, "and it says that I can't tell you anything." I reached into the envelope. I took out the sheet of paper, and started quoting. "You will not discuss this document with your Commanding Officers or anyone else." I put the paper away, again. The two men stared at each other across the desk. Howling Jack brought his feet to the floor with a loud crash. I watched the X.O.'s face diffuse with blood and become dark. "Bullshit," he hissed at me, swearing for the third time that day. I almost checked my watch to get a record of it, but did not.

None of us noticed the entry into the room of a third individual, until he spoke. "Excuse me sir, but I'm from mainside. May I have a moment, sir?" I noted that the new man was a staff sergeant. He was carrying an envelope similar to mine, except there was no registered designation on it's surface, that I could see. "What the hell do you want?" Taylor screamed at the sergeant. The sergeant extended his hand, holding the envelope out. Merrill took it roughly, then handed it to Taylor. "You have to read it, sign for it, and then I have to take it back." I noted that the sergeant had not ended his presentation with the word 'sir,' which made me smile. "What the hell's going on?" Howling Jack said, opening the second envelope, then reading. He shook his head. He gave the letter to Merrill.

"It says that we can't ask him any questions at all. That we have to carry him on the rolls of our command, as if he's still here, even when he's not. It says we have to do what he tells us." Merrill's voice had gone low, near the end of his reading. Taylor grabbed the letter back, signed it, then gave it to the staff sergeant. The man took the envelope, then walked out without saying a word, a direct violation of Marine etiquette and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I smiled again.

"We have to do what he tells us?" Howling Jack said, a bit of spittle coming from his mouth, giving away his building rage. "What he tells us? This pip-squeak of broken-down little bastard?" He stood, then turned to look out the window, to his commanding view of our desert parking lot. "Just what is it that you'd like us to do, before you get out of my office, Lieutenant?" he inquired, not turning to face me. I thought for a minute, about my remaining time in the Corps. My service in Vietnam. My treatment by these two supposed Marine Officers since coming to the command. "Well," I said, slowly, "I'd like you to both go fuck yourselves."

copyright 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

"The Bering Sea"

Hello, to my small following of readers:

The chapters of the online novel, The Bering Sea, will no longer be available online. For those of you who have been following it, I thank you. You helped give me motivation and inspiration to continue writing. Writing fiction is so hard today. Life is so agonizingly complex and obligations so very pressing and extreme. Writing creatively, even something as 'true' as The Bering Sea, requires an isolation and focused intensity of thought which our social order does not want to allow. The people around me, almost one and all, ask the same question continuously: 'What is wrong?' What is wrong, is that I am not here. I am away in the novel. I am lost in the art form. I am writing or thinking, and then writing some more. I am writing and editing, then editing some more. I do not have the ability to always draw myself down. I cannot remove myself from the high adventure of the story, without losing the threads of the story. There are fourteen vital characters at play in the novel. They all have their own identities, personalities and stuff happening around them. It is a complex world I have woven. I cannot live in both worlds at the same time, so I am constantly moving from one to the other. While driving, yesterday, I was asked where I was going. I was in the novel, mentally. All I could think to say was 'that way,' as I pointed straight ahead. I had no clue as to where I was going or why I was going there.

If you are one of those forty or fifty people who want to know how the novel ends, as there are six more chapters to go plus an epilogue (this novel only ends for a moment, as the story continues on) then you will have to send me a note or email with your address in or on it. I will hard copy the remaining pages and send them to you in the mail. I will do that at my expense, because I owe you. I owe your for you continued loyalty, comments and care about my story and characters. Quite possibly, even your care of me.

Thank you. This blog will return to the political questioning and commentary I was involved with before I interrupted it with the online publishing of this novel.

I remain,

Most Sincerely,

James Strauss

P.S. My email address is: My physical address is: 507 Broad St. Lake Geneva, WI 53147