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

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