Saturday, May 2, 2009

San Clemente, Chapter VI "Riding For the Brand"

The heat of the mid-day sun required that the Bronco be made to move, for some air-circulation, if the windows were to be left down. If the windows were up, then the air-conditioning had to be running, but then outside sounds could not be heard. The solution was to keep the vehicle moving with the windows down. I drove very slowly up and down the beach of my responsibility, occasionally rolling on the beaches of Northern Camp Pendleton or South, up onto San Clemente State Park territory. The movement made me feel that I was actually doing something, other than riding around in a costume of my own design, inside a Bronco of the mythical San Clemente Beach Patrol.

The weeks rolled by, one bright sunny day passing on into the next. The evenings cool and invigorating, filled with the aroma of ocean water and the liveliness of fresh moving sea air. I rode the smooth and roughened sands of San Clemente's most abandoned beaches, the surf in certain areas breathtaking on good days, and deafening on huge days. I had come to an accommodation with both the lovers and the border-crossers. Other than the surfers, those comprised ninety per cent of the people I saw. The lovers I allowed to stay, and make love, as long as they did not complain about the presence of my vehicle in any way, or the presence of me and my binoculars. The mildest look of antagonism, however, assured them of a rapid escort to the borders of my beach area. The State Park closed at ten p.m. Camp Pendleton was off-limits at all times, and my area had no limits I had heard or read of. So it was my beach, the way I saw it, and I treated all who inhabited it accordingly, using my own rules. The aliens from Mexico were another matter. They never argued. I gave them a free pass through the area every time I found them attempting to creep North. I made them crouch low, along the surf line, and run. In my analysis of the compound security system I had discovered that weak link. The low level radar did not cover the area between the high sand berm and the water's edge. If the aliens could not understand, or disobeyed and went up onto the dry sand, where they could be instantly 'painted' by the radar, then I had no choice but to detain them and call for the Border Patrol.

And I hated that. The beyond poor, totally bedraggled Mexicans, were so pitiful that they pulled at my heart strings. And my observation of the brutal manner in which the Border Patrol took them into custody, and treated them, did not motivate me to cooperate at all, in that regard.

The first three weeks of my new work were mildly exciting. I had been 'boarded out' of the United States Marine Corps with zero percent disability, but with a designation of 'totally disabled.' That allowed them to dump me, but not pay me anything. I was given forms to submit to the V.A., which I threw in the wastebasket. I had heard enough stories of horror and woe about that organization. I liked the beach work, for the most part. I liked watching people have sex, right there in front of me, at all hours of the day and night. I liked the freedom of reporting in to no one. But I did not like going home to Amy's criticism. My claim, that I was guarding the President of the United States, only made her laugh out loud.

"You went through OCS, became a Marine Officer, were wounded in Vietnam, got all those medals, and you are happy being an unknow low-life security guard on the beach. What is wrong with you?" Her words had been hard, but not as hard as her tone. Somehow, she intrinsically knew that I wasn't even a guard, which bothered me even more. The P.D. would not allow me to do regular police work in the local community until I had gone through the academy at Rio Hondo. That class would not even start for months. One of the police-lieutenant's had even taken exception to my being allowed to carry a firearm. Chief Murray had over-ruled him, but then called me into his office.

"Do me a favor, son," the big man drawled, his ever-present cigarette sticking out of the corner of his mouth, "don't shoot anybody with that thing." The smoke from his cigarette trailed upward to curve out and over the brim of his doeskin cowboy hat. His old clear eyes peered out from under the edge of the brim. The eyes traveled down to the special split clam-shell holster I carried the Smith in, on my right hip. My hand went instinctively to it, my thumb caressing the snap at the top, which held it together.

"That is a regulation .38, isn't it," the Chief asked, softly. He swept his eyes up to mine. I nodded. My eyes were steady, but my brain was not. Even though I had paid for the weapon, or would pay for it, it was anything but regulation. I had learned plenty about ballistics, in Artillery School and in Vietnam. A .38 round would barely penetrate the front windshield of a modern automobile, much less go through its doors or its trunk. The .44, even with a four inch barrel, could send a hot-loaded, depleted-uranium round completely through a telephone pole. And it was almost impossible to distinguish between the .38 and the .44, when they were in the special holsters. It was a little fatter in girth. But if you took it out, and looked down the barrel, you felt like you were looking down the barrel of a cannon.

I could tell that Murray did not believe me. Our eyes held for a few seconds. The Chief looked away. "Yeah, whatever. Don't shoot anybody, anyway, whatever the hell it is." Those words were said with an edge to his voice. I assumed, correctly, that I was being dismissed, and headed for the door. I got into the Bronco and drove back to my beach. I backed the vehicle into some big rocks, then shut it off to think. I was working swing. The P.D. divided up every twenty-four hour period into three chunks. The day shift was from eight to four. The four to midnight was called swing, and the the midnight to eight was graveyard. I liked swing. A bit of day and night. As of yet, nobody seemed to care what I did, anyway. The pay was considerably more than I had received as a lieutenant in the Corps so the bills were being paid. I could get the money back from the U.S. Government for my gun and my other stuff, or so Murray had said. I just had nowhere, and nobody, to submit a bill to. Haldeman didn't seem like the kind of man to accept bills. I wondered, in my reverie, whether there were weapons inspections held at the P.D. My forehead creased at the thought.

"Beach Boy," came out of the radio speaker, jarring me from my thoughts. My hand darted to the Motorola microphone. "Forty-six-six-seventy-three," I replied, crisply and flatly, in my best policeman voice. My code was five numbers long, which was never explained, as the entire department only fielded twenty-seven officers. "What's your problem, forty-six-six-seventy-three?" came back from Scruggs. His tone did not indicate a question, more a bored
'what the hell is this crap' attitude.

"Beach Boy," came again through the speaker. I realized that it was the Secret Service speaker. I grabbed the other microphone, without bothering to answer Scruggs. "Yes, sir," I said, pushing down on the transmit button. There were no codes or numbers with the Secret Service. When I had asked them about that they had just looked at me, then ignored me.

"See the man," a deep male voice said. I replaced the mike, slowly back into its slot. I pushed the transmit button down once, before I let go of it. I had been taught that that was radio slang for "10-4." There was no answer or click back from it. I stared the Bronco then turned to move North. The only way to get back to the compound quickly was to go up through the State Park trail, then use the city surface streets. Once I got onto the streets, I took the Bronco up to its unsafe maximum of forty miles per hour. I careened toward La Casa Romantica.

The Marine had the sawhorse pulled aside as I arrived. He merely waved. My adrenalin went up. It was the first time I had not been required to show identification. I was not even asked to stop. I parked by the phony door leading through the wall, after working my way around an odd looking Lincoln Towncar. The top of the black Lincoln was festooned with antennas of every sort. I walked to it, using my hand to shade my eyes, and peered inside. I was amazed to see no radios or other electronics visible anywhere in its interior. I went to the door in the wall, tapped and was admitted. A group of men in suits stood talking together. One wore a cowboy hat. I recognized Murray. Next to him stood H.R., with Erlichman at his side. All three were being attentive to a fourth mean I did not recognize. He was a fattish man, wearing a blue suit, his face long, drawn and serious.

"Martin," Murray stated, using only my last name. I nodded at him but said nothing. He smiled back, his usual welcoming warm smile. I relaxed a bit, but held to Parade Rest once I stopped in front of the men.

"This is Henry Kissinger," Murray said, motioning with his right shoulder toward the stately man in the blue suit. The man looked down the hall, ignoring his presence, as did both H.R. and Erlichman. The three men whispered to one another, then laughed together.

"Take that limo, the one you passed when you came in, and drive Doctor Kissinger to El Torro Marine Base. Air Force Two is waiting on the tarmac. We'll all ride along to keep you company." I looked at the Chief strangely, but Murray only smiled back, then shrugged. Everyone turned and walked back toward the faux wooden door. I got into the driver's seat of the limo. The keys were in the ignition. I adjusted the mirrors, then checked to see that everyone was getting into the back. They were, except for Murray, who slipped into the front passenger seat. He had removed his hat, but his head still touched the lower surface of the interior liner. I turned the key. The Lincoln's engine caught immediately. I checked the mirrors to make sure all the doors were closed, and then pulled out onto the access road and headed toward the checkpoint. The Marine Guard was saluting when I went through, the sawhorse gone.

Once out on Interstate Five, I looked in the rearview mirror. There was no limo partition, I noted. There was no conversation in the automobile until I drove through San Juan Capistrano.

"What is he?" a deeply accented German voice said, from the rear seat area. "How can we speak in here?" it added. There was a silence. Murray reached his hand over and patted me on the shoulder. I glanced at him, then put my eyes back on the highway.

"This is the guy Mr. Haldeman hired. From that Marine Outfit. He doesn't talk, at least not about this stuff. He's cleared. Isn't that right sir?" Murray craned around to look back at Haldeman, but the man said nothing. I looked at the German in the rear view mirror, finally recognizing him. I had seen him on television before, at the White House, but I could not remember what his job was.

"Ich spreche nichts," I said, using the German for 'I don't know.' There was a complete silence in the vehicle for several seconds, then Murray started laughing.

"Sprechen sie Deutsch?" Kissinger asked me.

I answered in German, telling him that, indeed, I did.

""I'll be damned," H.R. said, which surprised me. Haldeman and Erlichman had both been described to me as being devout Christian Scientists who did not drink, swear or smoke. "I guess we get another bonus, huh, Doctor Kissinger?" Murray said. I looked in the rearview, once more. Kissinger stared at the back of my head, his expression, however, not one of welcome or warmth, but one of deep suspicion.

1 comment:

  1. Can't wait for the whole thing....
    Brings back memories Jim, my friend