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.

No comments:

Post a Comment