The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 25

Grand Opening!

The week of the grand opening began slowly on Sunday. Several dozen people went in and out of the Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop. People walked on the beach and out to the Gulf of Mexico.

Before Ivan removed the undergrowth it was impossible to penetrate. With a beach replacing the jungle, you could walk from the cove to the Gulf of Mexico. Ivan and I enjoyed walking it early in the morning or at sunset. It was a remarkable replacement to witness. It offered us a pastime we didn't have before.

I judged the week long celebration to be a success. People came from as far away as Palm Beach and Stuart. Many local people waited until Saturday to come to the cove. The free hot dogs, ice cream cones, and balloons were like a magnet.

There may have been as many as a hundred visitors in the afternoon Saturday. Spread out around the cove, it was never crowded. People had a good time and no one wasn't surprised by the new cove.

Everyone was happy and no one mentioned being disappointed. When you replace nothing with something, it's hard to complain. When the something offered any number of options that weren't available before, people wanted to see what the new cove was all about and I wanted to see them see it.

In the afternoon Saturday Popov stood in front of J.K.'s Jr. Kitchen dishing out ice cream cones to anyone who passed. The jovial sea captain was in rare form. He loved the new cove and seeing him so animated made my perpetual smile larger.

Popov was larger than life and he managed to get giggles or laughter out of everyone.

Balloons decorated the rear of every boat, each piling on the dock had two or three, the walkways, the stairs, and the roof of the Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop and J.K.'s Jr. Kitchen must have had a hundred balloons swaying in a pleasant Gulf breeze.

The contractor who gave Ivan such a bargain on the grader and dump trucks came to the cove on Saturday. He brought his architect and some of the first residents of the new housing development who were moved in a dozen miles up the highway.

Ivan gave them a tour of the shop and his fishing charter boat. He stood on the boat ramp as they decided to walk to the Gulf by way of the new beach. Before getting far they stopped to take off their shoes. The sand was deeper than it looked.

The dredger operator walked the beach to admire his sand. The Olsons came to see what Ivan built. Harold from the coast guard came. I recognized many more of the people who were there Saturday. The people who lived nearby waited until the last day to come to the cove. It was also the day the free food was available.

I stayed in the shop with Ivan during the afternoon. He had someone coming to see his boat and talk to Ivan about going on a charter fishing trip. The man came at two thirty and after talking about what fish he could expect to catch, Ivan took him to see the Daddy-O.

"I'll stay and lock up at three, Ivan. I'll sit outside for a while until everyone is gone and then we'll start cleaning up."

After locking the shop I put the chair on the sidewalk outside the shop window. There were still a few dozen people on the dock and between there and the parking lot.

I watched people stopping at J.K.'s Jr. Kitchen for hot dogs and Popov, standing at a cart a dozen feet away, scooped ice cream from containers I couldn't see. He wore an apron and a silly hat. He laughed loudly each time he handed someone their free ice cream cone.

It wasn't Popov who fascinated me. Behind Popov at the corner of J.K.'s Jr. Kitchen stood J.K., hidden by the shadow the large umbrella on Popov's cart provided. He was virtually invisible but I'd seen the motion over Popov's shoulder. It gave away J.K.'s position and I was left to wonder what he was doing.

From his vantage point he could see the parking lot, the people on the upper level of the new cove, the six stairs, and the dock.

My eyes stayed on J.K. No one was near the Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop. The last of the people were coming off the dock.

I watched the man Ivan took to see his boat leave. There were still people stopping for hot dogs at the carry out window of J.K.'s Jr. Popov dished up more ice cream. He laughed again. J.K. stood still, except for his head, and he was now looking at the parking lot..

Popov dominated the scene with his big laugh and free ice cream. No one looked to see what was in the shadows a few feet behind the big Russian fisherman. I couldn't stop watching J.K. I wanted to know what he was up to.

Popov was his jovial self. He dished up the favorite flavors of ice cream takers. I watched him each time someone stopped at the cart. He had been there giving out ice cream since noon. the visitors walked by him on the way to their cars.

It was free. Why not stop for an ice cream cone?

After each ice cream cone was received, I went back to watching J.K. I tried to follow his eyes with mine.

What was he looking for?

Any motion got a slight turn from J.K.'s head. With probably a dozen people still on the upper level and another dozen on the beach and the dock, there wasn't much to watch by three fifteen on a lazy May day. It was just warm enough for ice cream to sound like a good idea. It wasn't so warm I broke a sweat sitting a few feet from Popov.

I yawned and stretched. I was ready to give up the ghost when the last few stragglers came up from the beach. I'd walk down the dock to see what my men were up to. Mama and Pop came and stayed for an hour. They brought Dylan and left him for us to bring home when the grand opening ended and it wouldn't be much longer.

J.K.'s head turned to watch the parking lot again. I couldn't see the parking lot from where I was with the shop at my back. J.K. kept looking at something or someone in the parking lot.

Popov laughed.

A middle aged woman in a dress with broad navy blue stripes stopped for her parting gift of ice cream.

Popov leaned into the containers to bring out a scoop of chocolate ice cream on the cone he started to offer the woman.

As the woman reached out for the ice cream cone, my eyes left the happy sea captain, caught by a sudden motion behind him.

J.K. was on the move.

I saw the man in the brown suit pass behind the woman waiting for ice cream. He hadn't stopped, passing out of my field of vision as he walked toward the six stairs.

My eyes reset back on Popov at the instant J.K. stepped out of the shadows.

Moving toward the six stairs, and passing behind Popov, the tips of J.K.'s fingers brushed Popov's shoulder.

Hitting the top stair, J.K. started down. He had honed in on the man in the brown suit.

What was it about him J.K. noticed?

The ice cream cone tilted forward out of Popov's hand as he turned toward the stairs. The ice cream at the end of the cone splattered on the sidewalk at the woman's feet.

I looked at the woman when she squealed, jumping back away from the spilled dessert.

I looked for Popov.

He was tearing off his apron as he hit the top of the stairs. J.K. stepped off the last step, moving toward the dock. The man in the brown suit stepped onto the dock and he walking casually toward the Daddy-O.

A couple of dozen feet behind him, J.K. stepped onto the dock, walking a bit faster than the man in the brown suit.

Popov moved away from the stairs as I jumped up to fall in behind him.

I wasn't sure what was going on or what about the man in the brown suit caught J.K.'s attention.

I closed the distance between Popov and me. J.K. closed the distance between him and the man in the brown suit. As I stepped on the dock, how ridiculous we must have looked, four men in a row, three men following the first and I could be sure why, as I caught sight of the man in the brown suit.

It was then I realized he looked like he might have just stepped off a movie set; a 1940s gangster movie. He was dressed like Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade. That's what caught J.K.'s eye.

As the last of the people were working their way toward their cars, someone cranked up the sound system. Why at the moment when all hell was about to break loose.

Revving engines and singing beach boys were all I could hear.

The man in the brown suit was thirty feet ahead of me. J.K. seemed to be walking slightly faster than him and was fifteen feet behind now. Popov had closed in behind J.K. and I was looking for a way around Popov, but he was a big man and hard to get around.

J.K. picked up speed as we passed over the spot where the second half of the dock, the new section, started. All I could see was the back off Popov. Then he swerved left to let me around him. He must have heard me and now I was behind J.K. with no idea what we were doing.

J.K. obviously had a plan of some sort. I didn't have one as we moved closer to the Daddy-O.

When I saw the man in the brown suit in front of J.K., who wasn't a very big man, we were five feet behind him and J.K. walked with both purpose and with caution. He seemed satisfied to be where he was. I was sure J.K. could reach out and touch the man in the brown suit, but he didn't.

The man in the brown suit was closer to Popov's size than J.K.'s and when we caught him, I doubted the two of us could overpower him.

I'd scream a warning if the damn Beach Boys weren't so loud. No one would hear me as the revving engines came out of a speaker next to my ear. Why did they turn the music up?

For a man with an artificial leg, J.K. wasted no time. He got within an arms length of the man in the brown suit. The farther down the dock we got, the more I worried that whatever J.K. thought was going to happen, we couldn't stop. I could reach out and touch J.K. but even if I said something, he couldn't hear, and it might attract the man in the brown suit's attention to us. He hadn't looked back once, since he stepped onto the dock.

I could hear Popov puffing and I knew this train wasn't going to stop until we reached the end of the dock.

I looked for the Daddy-O but I couldn't see it at first. The two men right in front of me blocked the view. Then I saw Ivan on the starboard side of the rear deck. He was laughing and Taggart stood next to him. They were talking to someone. They had their backs turned. Then the third man stepped to the starboard side of the boat... Kramer? It looked like Kramer in that big straw hat.

My view was blocked again as the man in the brown suit moved back into my line of vision. I wanted to yell but the Beach Boys' Little Deuce Coupe was blasting out of the speakers.

No one could hear anything.

On the last third of the dock the four of us could have formed a huddle. I slowed because J.K. slowed, but he was close enough to reach out and touch the guy. Why didn't he do something?

What?

If I could get around J.K. I could shove the guy into the water.

The man in the brown suit slowed down. J.K. slowed down, I slowed down, and I could feel Popov's breath on the back of my neck.

J.K. was too small to take the guy on. I was bigger and the two of us could knock him in the water. What was J.K.'s plan. If I did something, could I be making matters worse?

I wasn't waiting to see if this guy was going to start shooting. No one would hear it. That damn music was turned all the way up.

We were running out of dock. J.K. wasn't a big man. I didn't know how he intended to stop a far bigger man from doing whatever it was he intended to do. What was the plan?

If I moved around J.K. I could blindside him with as much force as I had. Not expecting it, I might be able to knock him in the cove.

I'd need to go through J.K. to get to the man in the brown suit. We were reaching the end of the dock if not the end of the line. There was no way I could get to the guy in time to stop what was about to happen. We'd run out of room.

I sensed imminent danger.

The engine of the Daddy-O purred to life.

Great! More noise.

I could scream a warning and hope they heard.

This was the most important day of Ivan's life. I felt helpless to stop what was about to happen.

I prayed this did not end badly. I wasn't in any position to stop it. J.K. was in the right place, but he'd bounce off the big man in the brown suit.

I could push J.K. into him and knock them both into the cove and whatever dastardly deed he planned would go in the drink with him.

Everything came to a screeching halt. We were at the end of the dock.

The man in the brown suit reached inside his suit coat.

I was off J.K.'s right shoulder a half a step behind J.K. He was a half a step behind the man in the brown suit. Popov couldn't move for the three men who blocked him out of the picture.

J.K. was exactly an arm's length from the guy's back when he stopped. He didn't sense things were about to go terribly wrong. The man in the brown suit's hand began to come out of his open jacket. He was standing to the left on the dock, J.K. stopped behind the man in the brown suit's right shoulder. I stopped almost next to J.K. and slightly behind him, putting J.K. was between me and the man we had been following.

J.K. moved left. I watched the man standing as still as a statue. What was going on? We'd come to a stop and were frozen in place. The engine of the Daddy-O died away with a few burps from the exhaust pipe just below the dock.

Ivan, Taggart, and Kramer had their backs turned, looking at something on the deck. I needed to scream. Why didn't they turn around?

Things were going in slow motion. J.K. was close enough to touch the man in the brown suit. He didn't. No one did anything. What were we doing?

No one on the boat had looked back at the dock or suspected what was looming on the dock behind them. They were having a good time.

The man in the brown suit never looked back or suspected someone was close enough to touch him and we just stood there.

I couldn't breathe.

The music stopped in the middle of an engine revving.

Ivan, Taggart, and Kramer were laughing.

The man in the brown suit stood a half dozen feet behind and above the three of them and his hand had stopped moving. It was still reaching into his suit jacket for something, but that's where he stopped.

"Look out!" I screamed into what had become total silence.

Popov bumped me as the three of us stood in a huddle with the man in the brown suit.

It was at that instant, when the silence struck, I heard J.K.'s soft guttural voice in my ear. The sound sent a chill through me, even if I didn't catch the words. I heard them but their meaning escaped me.

At the end of the dock we'd possibly reached the end of the line for someone, but I wasn't sure who. The man's hand was still frozen in place. I was practically standing next to his arm.

He stood like a statue as stiff as could be.

What was he doing?

Then, as if in slow motion, I saw Ivan and Kramer in a shooting stance with guns aimed directly at the man in the brown suit's chest.

I knew J.K. was an arms length from the guy. I knew J.K. said something, but I didn't know what. As I looked to get a more complete picture of what had taken place, J.K.'s arm stretched out at its full length. In it was a very lethal looking pistol. The barrel of the pistol was pressed against the skull of the man in the brown suit.

end of the arm and the barrel was pressed against the head of the man in the brown suit. He did not move.

I did not move.

I heard J.K.'s words but they failed to register, until now.

What J.K. said was, "So much as flinch and your brains are fish food."

Both Ivan and Kramer were holding guns pointed at the interloper's chest. He wasn't about to move from under the sign advertising: Charter Fishing.

While reconciling Ivan's gun being poised and ready to fire as a necessary evil, my panic turned into relief.

My emotions were on a roller coaster ride and the ride hadn't ended yet.

My relief went right back to panic as Dylan appeared in the opening to the galley.

I resisted the urge to faint.

This wasn't happening.

Just when I was thinking it couldn't get any worse, it got worse.

With no plan in hand I was on the Daddy-O pushing my son back into the galley before he looked up from his root beer can.

I forced him to sit down at the table while he was more worried about dropping his root beer than his irrate daddy.

"Stay there," I ordered in an unmistakable tone he knew better than to disobey.

I turned around to stand in the opening with my back to Dylan.

"Do what the hell you're going to do and get it over with. There's a child in here," I said, more angry about Dylan seeing Ivan with a gun than about the threat the gunman represented.

Ivan rushed me and threw his arms around me.

"It's OK, babe. It's OK," Ivan said.

I knew what was coming and I didn't care.

"I'm not a child. What's got your panties in a twist? Will someone please tell me what's going on?" Dylan yelled from where he sat.

My displeasure had grown into a rage and this time it was me shaking. Ivan did not let go. We knew everyone within reach but Ivan held me until the shaking stopped.

"It's OK. It's over now. The trouble is over. We're OK," Ivan told me.

The guns were put away, except probably for J.K.'s, but I couldn't see his. I assumed the gun J.K. was pointing at the man was still in place when he gave his next order.

"Using your left hand, take the gun by the butt, two fingers only. Two fingers only," J.K. repeated in clear easy to understand words. "Slowly now, drop it to your left. Let me remind you, make a sudden move and you won't live long enough to regret it."

The silence was disturbing. We watched the man in the brown suit remove the gun from his waist and drop it on the dock next to his left foot. The gun bounced once, and it came to rest an inch from going into the cove.

J.K. lowered his gun into the middle of the man's back. He moved close enough to give him a hug. He used his left hand moved it inside the brown suit coat, moving around his waist and down to his pockets and then down to his crotch. He stooped to feel both legs. Stepping back a half step the gun went into the middle of the man's back again.

"He's no danger now," J.K. said in the same icy voice I hadn't recognized when he first spoke to the man in the brown suit.

All eyes were on the man in the brown suit. Ivan let go of me. He took my hand.

"It's over, Clay. The trouble is over," Ivan said with a certainty in his voice I didn't feel.

"He is being the one in trouble now," Popov said.

The jovial sea captain spoke softly. He was without humor.

The man in the brown suit surrendered to the man with the artificial leg, a stout sea captain, and a startled marine biologist. His face showed acquiescence. He waited for what came next. He showed no fear and he wasn't cooperative. I didn't see it being over.

"Who is sending you to doing the harm in Popov's cove?" Popov asked, moving up very close to the man's right ear.

The man in the brown suit didn't move, he didn't speak, or acknowledge that Popov spoke to him. Popov's face moved so close to his cheek, I thought he might kiss him.

The look on Popov's face and the growl in his voice told me there would be no kiss, although I couldn't rule out the kiss of death. I wouldn't want to cross this Popov.

Ivan moved to look up at the prisoner.

"Took the words right out of my mouth, Popov," Ivan said. "Who sent you and where do we find him?"

The demand made the man flinch. He probably didn't expect the man who he was there to shoot knew he'd been sent to do the job.

"This should be handled by professionals," Kramer said, being a professional but not leaving the back of the boat. He stood behind Ivan and looked up at the man in the brown suit.

Popov turned his head to consider Kramer.

"Who the hell sent you?" Ivan barked like a junkyard dog.

Popov turned toward the man who was looking down at the back of the Daddy-O. He didn't dare move. J.K. was still holding on to his aggressive stance.

I had no doubt the mild mannered restaurateur I'd known for nearly as long as I'd known Popov, wouldn't hesitate to undo any idea of escape the man in the brown suit might have. I'd seen the steely resolve on J.K.'s face after I understood what bone chilling words he'd said, but it was Popov's words that made what Ivan told me ring true.

"Be putting him in Popov's launch," Popov said. "We are finding the secrets this one is keeping. You'd like to be seeing Popov's trawler? huh?" Popov said, bumping the man with his chest. "You won't soon be forgetting your visit to my cove, Mr. bad man."

The man in the brown suit stood silent as Popov bumped him again, moving him closer to the edge of the dock. He was in deep and for the first time he sensed there was no way he'd slip out of this trap. He did not doubt he'd fallen into the hands of serious men.

"J.K., we are taking the quiet man to Popov's trawler. If we are not getting what we are wanting, the silent one might sleep with the sharks tonight. You want see Popov's fishing boat, huh?"

Popov bumped him to the edge of the dock.

J.K. handed Popov the gun and he jumped into the launch, reaching back for the gun and holding it on the man in the brown suit.

"Step this way. I have a nice seat for you," J.K. said, aiming the gun up at the man.

Popov's chest was against the man. He didn't want to get on board the launch, but there was nowhere else to go.

"We are getting in boat now," Popov said.

"This isn't legal," Kramer said. "You can't just take him."

"You are stopping Popov?"

Popov laughed at the idea.

"You're breaking the law," Kramer said.

"Back off," Ivan said. "You work for me. Don't forget your job."

"He's breaking the law. I can't let him do that," Kramer said.

"Try," Ivan said. "It's not as hard as it might seem.

The man wanted nothing to do with the boat boat and he found himself dangling over the stern of the boat as Popov wrapped his arms around him and he kept moving forward until there was no choice. The quiet man stopped struggling and Popov lowered him a few feet before dropping him. Landing on his feet, he pitched forward when he couldn't keep his balance. When he looked up, the barrel of J.K.'s gun was in his face. He sat facing J.K. with his back to Popov.

"You can't do that," Kramer said. "You're kidnapping him."

Popov gave out a tremendous laugh.

"I am," Popov said, still laughing loudly. "We be back with answers soon. Our friend, he will learn not to be bringing the trouble to Popov's cove."

With that Popov started the launch, turning it in a tight circle, and aimed it toward his trawler.

"Who was that guy?" Dylan asked, finally wandering out of the galley.

"A trouble maker," Ivan said. "He's in good hands. Don't you worry about it."

"What will he do?" Kramer asked. "I should have stopped him."

Ivan laughed.

"You don't stop a force of nature, Kramer. You're in Popov's cove and that's Popov justice."

"I can't believe I let him do that," Kramer said.

"Cool your tool and Popov will find out what you want to know. He's not restricted by a bureau full of rules." Ivan said. "You'll see."

"I'm not supposed to condone the breaking of laws," Kramer said. "My ass is hanging out here."

"My kid is hanging out here, watch you language," I said.

"Oh, sorry," he said.

"If I'm not mistaken, he intends to find out who sent him," Ivan said. "Once that's settled, he'll want to know where to find him."

"It's still not legal, you know," Kramer said. "Does have a certain poetic justice in it."

"That's Popov. Poetry in motion. Sometimes you need to break a few eggs if you intend to make an omelet," Ivan said.

"Is anyone going to tell me what's going on?" Dylan asked.

"No," Ivan and I said.

"And I'm not a kid either," Dylan said.

Kramer didn't have anything else to say. He'd let Popov take the culprit right out from under his nose. Making a fuss would only bring attention to his failure to take control of the prisoner. Kramer didn't have much to say about it until after Popov took the man away.

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