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

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