The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 16

Growing Hair

I watched Pharaoh walk out the front door. He walked like he owned the place. His elegant appearance marked his status.

No one glanced his way. I couldn't take my eyes off of him until he went out the door and turned left on 3rd Avenue.

"'What was that all about?'" I asked. 'He'll check out your story. He was impressed. He's the main man in Seattle. I told your story to my contact. He told me this morning that Pharaoh wanted to talk and Pharaoh talks to Berkeley. I think you're in, my friend,' Carl said." Ivan said. "'How'd you know he was impressed?" I asked. "Carl shrugged."

"It was another month before Pharaoh got back to us. In the meantime we kept busy growing our hair. The second meeting was short and sweet. 'Carl will travel south in May. You should travel with him. There will be people there who will instruct you. That's all I can tell you.' Pharaoh said," Ivan said.

"He stood up and walked away. It was the last time I saw him. I wondered about who he was and what he did for a living, besides meet people with stories at the 3rd Avenue coffee house."

"'Now I know when I'm going south,' Carl said. 'We must of done good with that hair growing deal.'"

"Hanging with Carl meant meeting soldiers who had done their time in Vietnam. These soldiers came back thinking they had to do something about that war. Most of them finished their tour of duty. They were left feeling like they had a duty to tell people at home the truth about that war," Ivan said. "While on the way home, they thought they were done with the war. Once home, they realized the war wasn't done with them and they joined the peace marchers to put peace in their lives."

"When a march ended and the talking started, it was the Vietnam vet who brought a hush over the crowd as they told their story. It was clear that no one could talk about what was going on over there better than men who hadn't been over there," Ivan said. "They were refreshingly honest about what they saw and did. They'd come home but their war didn't end there."

"Like Carl, I was most comfortable with the veterans. They saw war up close and they didn't hesitate to talk about it," Ivan said. "I'd spent the last three years talking to soldiers. They were mostly decent guys who were ordered to do bad stuff. I wondered how Americans would have reacted if the Vietnamese came to our country during our Civil War and fought on the side of the South because they weren't busy at the time?"

"We wouldn't have liked it," Dylan said.

"We'd have thrown them out of our country," I said.

"A lot of that going around," Ivan said.

The frogs croaked. The crickets chirped, and a soft breeze blew east off the Gulf of Mexico.

"Most of the vets heard about me before Carl introduced me. They'd heard the story that I was the guy who was going to get his MIA brother from Vietnam and bring him home," Ivan said. "I knew this because it wasn't unusual to hear, 'You're the guy trying to get into Vietnam.' I was the guy. No one acted like I might be dangerous, but I couldn't rule out they thought I might be crazy. I could expect questions before a first meeting ended. No one laughed and one guy said, 'I wish I had a brother like you,'" Ivan said. "That made me feel good."

"There was no telling what might happen as I accompanied Carl through the anti war underground. It was never dull. If Carl thought I was crazy, he didn't say so. He did say, 'If you are crazy, I don't mind. You're good company. Good company is hard to find when you're on the lam. Nothing as strange as a man trying to stay out of Vietnam keeping company with a guy trying to break into Vietnam.' I laughed. It did sound crazy."

"Carl had options and he asked me what I thought. He was getting a new identity and he could move around without the threat of someone discovering he was a deserter. With a new identity, longer hair, and clothes to match his hippie persona, Carl would become one more face in the crowd of hippies migrating along America's highways."

"Did he look different?" Dylan asked.

"Not to me, but I was with him every day. The first time I saw him he was as clean cut a fellow as you'll find. By the time May rolled around and we headed to Route 5, Carl's hair touched his shoulders where it had grown longest. He'd let his sideburns grow down to his jaw. He'd ditched his cowboy boots and he got a new pair of tennis shoes. He was sure he could pick up some things once we reached San Francisco to complete his transition. He didn't want to do that in Seattle, because he wanted that Carl to disappear entirely. One day he was drinking coffee in the 3rd Avenue coffee house and no one ever saw him after that," Ivan said.

"When he got his picture taken for his new identification, we first stopped at a shop for him to get a tie-dye shirt. He picked up a peace symbol on a cheap silver chain for around his neck. While we were in the local mall getting coffee, we passed a booth that offered, 'Ears pierced free with the purchase of an earring.'"

"'Don't earrings come in pairs?' I asked him. 'Yeah, I thought you'd want the other one.' 'No way,' I said. 'That's sissy stuff.' That made him laugh," Ivan said. "Carl was no sissy. Even as a hippie, he looked like a man who could take care of himself. He carried himself like a man who knew who he was, even while transitioning from a cowboy to a hippie, he didn't lose his Texas swagger."

"We'd been hanging together for over a year by then. Carl's dilemma was, 'Do I take my chances in Berkeley or go to Canada?' He decided he wouldn't leave me until I was ready to leave for Southeast Asia. I reminded him of the years in federal prison he faced should he be caught and identified as a deserter.'"

"Because Carl went to Berkeley to meet people who would furnish him with his new identity, I was with him each step of the way. By 1973 the troops were coming home. Carl deserted right before Nixon turned Vietnam over to the Vietnamese. Having over a half million troops there meant it was going to take time to draw down. Carl never mentioned it. One day I asked him, 'Carl, you know our involvement in Vietnam is coming to an end soon,' I said. 'Yep,' he said. 'Doesn't have anything to do with me. When I stood next to my daddy's grave, I knew the last person who could shame me into doing something I didn't want to do was gone. That's the day I decided I wasn't going back to that crazy Asian war. I was home to stay and daddy died to get me home. I figured it was a sign,' he said."

"I didn't know what kind of a sign it was. I didn't want him caught on my account. He calculated he owed me his loyalty after we'd been together for so long. Maybe he didn't have anyone else. I don't know," Ivan said. "It worried me. It's like that with guys you're on the road with. It was like that with Mike, the pianist. He didn't want to split up when we came to the crossroad. I worry about them."

"Pharaoh had told someone who I was and what I was doing. That meant there were people in Berkeley expecting me to arrive with Carl. That didn't mean I had access to the same people Carl did. When he met with people about his future, I wasn't invited," Ivan said. "No one would know where Carl was going but Carl and the people who got him to where he was going."

"Just being in Berkeley was like being in a place where power was wielded. It wasn't as laid back as Seattle. Seattle, a sprawling city, had a small town flavor. Berkeley, with so much going on in and around Berkeley, it felt more focused with the energy of a big city or many cities. I got the feeling things happened here just out of my line of vision. A lot of people knew a lot of stuff in Berkeley."

"It didn't take long for Carl to be involved with the machinery there. He became more serious. Someone along the way told him how serious his situation had become. He'd become a criminal and someone the FBI would like to get their hands on. Once he crossed the border into Canada, coming back would become even more dangerous if he hoped to stay out of prison. Carl told me he knew what he was doing," Ivan said.

"Carl was OK. My being with him made me OK for most folks in the circles where we circulated. It was an anti war town. The important people in the movement weren't sure how insane you had to be to want to go into a war zone to collect your brother. The first few times I met with someone who could make recommendations about my plan, they mostly listened. They watched me carefully. Once I answered their question, no one said, 'You're crazy,' but they didn't say I was sane either," Ivan said. "The fact I talked to more than one of the movers and shakers in the movement meant they'd heard me. There was no indication they might assist me. It didn't make sense that they kept asking me to meet with them if they weren't looking into ways to assist me. It was a gut feeling. No one said anything that made me believe that help was on the way."

"It was July and Carl had his new identity and he would be going to Canada. None of his options were ideal but he was on the run in the U.S. and in Canada he was a free bird, which was better than a jailbird no matter how patriotic he was or wasn't."

"We'd spent the rest of July celebrating Donald Page's birth. Cousins, Carl vanished as quickly as Donald Page appeared. A Canadian made one trip a week from Berkeley and drove to his home in Canada. It wasn't unusual for him to have two or three passengers that he put in the hands of Canada's peace movement. Carl was in no hurry to go and he was told they'd make room for him when he decided it was time to go," Ivan said.

"There was no DQ in Berkeley or the vicinity and I had begun to spend money that didn't belong to me. I kept my spending down and I kept track of how much I was spending. By the time September was almost passed, I got a message to meet a man at a familiar spot. I'd been planning a return to Seattle as my list of soldiers still had names on it. I thought that by going, Carl would then be free to go. He wasn't leaving as long as I hung around," Ivan said.

"Tom met me on the front steps of the library on campus. We did exchange much in the way of conversation. He was either following orders or he knew my mission and there was nothing to talk about.

He guided me to a nearby park. The following Tuesday a man in a captain's uniform would sit on a bench I was shown. I was to write my brother's information on a 3x5 card and I'd leave the card on the bench beside the the officer, once he told me what he wanted me to do. I was to do precisely what the officer told me. If I didn't follow his simple instructions, he would likely leave the park and me behind," Ivan said. "Tom walked me back to where we met and he said, 'Good luck.'"

"I knew no more than I knew before. I did know there was a park where I'd meet my next contact on Tuesday shortly after noon."

Ivan paused and turned up his empty soda can.

"Anyone need soda?" I said, recognizing the signal.

I went down to the kitchen to get more soda.

We looked into the night sipping soda silently for a time.

"I told Carl I'd met Tom and he took me to the park where I met the officer. Carl said, 'Tom told me we met on the steps of the library because his phones are bugged and he's sure they have microphones planted in the offices they use. The important things, meetings with people like us, are done outdoors and away from people. I don't think the feds can bug the stairs yet, but you never know.'"

"Tom wasn't a man you wanted to cross. He talked in easy to understand sentences and you knew he meant business. He didn't mention Vietnam but I could feel myself getting closer. Tom also said, 'Carl needs to leave here. He knows too much about us and he's at risk of being compromised. It's our opinion that he'll stay as long as you're here, Ivan. So, we'll give you what you want as soon as Carl has gone. To prove our sincerity in your matter, I'm setting you up to get the available information on your brother. After that, Carl needs to split before you get the information about getting into Vietnam. Call it a down payment. You help us and we'll help you.'"

"I didn't tell Carl that part of what Tom said. I told him that I was supposed to hang around the nearby park every day until the following Tuesday. I needed to panhandle to establish a presence in that vicinity," Ivan said. "Carl wanted to know if he got a cut, since we were partners."

"Panhandle?" Dylan asked.

"Ask for money," Ivan said.

"You asked strangers for money?" Dylan asked.

"It's a common practice for indigent folks to panhandle," Ivan said. "It was my cover for being in the park in case someone was watching. I wore dirty clothes and tried to look homeless. At noon on Tuesday an army officer came into the park and sat on the bench where I was to meet him."

"If someone was watching, wouldn't they notice?" Dylan asked.

"Sure they would. I was the panhandler working the park," Ivan said. "They'd figure I was hassling the military guy for money," Ivan explained. "All I was told was where he'd sit and what day and what time he'd be sitting there. On that day I sat down on the bench, leaving room between me and the army officer. I placed a three by five card with the information on Boris next to his leg. He bit into a rather nice looking sandwich, chewing carefully like he was trying to ignore me. 'I am about to reach into my pocket. I'll hand you a dollar bill," he said, looking off like I was annoying him. 'You will stand and back away thanking me. One week from today I'll return to this spot to have my lunch. You'll sit under the tree behind me. Wait for me to finish. Do not approach me and do not acknowledge me in any way. I'll leave an envelope with the information I can gather on the bench inside the daily paper, I'll leave folded over on the bench when I leave. I'll also leave half a sandwich on top of the paper. After I'm gone you come over and pick up the sandwich. Take a bite. As you're chewing, you notice the paper. Pick it up carefully so the envelope doesn't fall out. You look over the paper as you finish the sandwich. You walk away and go about your business. I do not know you. This meeting never took place. Here's the dollar. Make your exit,' and I did," Ivan said. "It was right out of James Bond."

"Was Carl there?" Dylan asked.

"As a matter of fact, he wasn't far away. He'd come down to try his luck at panhandling."

"What did he say about your meeting," Dylan asked.

"As I recall, he said, 'You ate my half of your half sandwich."

Dylan laughed.

"He said he'd be around. He made three dollars and seventy five cents in the two hours I was panhandling in the park. I told him I panhandled four dollars and a quarter. I included the buck the officer kicked in," Ivan said. "I did have my dignity to uphold."

"What did the officer bring you the following week" I asked.

"Wow, he got everything on the battle, including a topographic map that showed the official location of the battle where Boris was wounded and a note that said the unofficial site of the battle was on the Cambodian border. The wounded were flown out on the Vietnam side of the border where the American force withdrew after meeting an enemy force with overwhelming superiority," Ivan said. "It was possible the battle was fought in Cambodia. Where the lieutenant put an x on a map of Vietnam, the officer brought me a map that showed elevation, the topography present at the time, marking where the troops regrouped before going back in," Ivan said.

"He gave me a copy of Boris' official records, the report on how he was declared MIA, along with a memo from the commanding officer said a search of the area didn't turn him up and he called off the search because the area was hot and he didn't want to risk more casualties. The search the lieutenant was told would take place, never happened," Ivan said.

"Did the information help you form a strategy?" I asked.

"Yeah, my ass was in a holding pattern for months on end. There was a plan to get me into Southeast Asia but I was the last to know about it. Tom told me to hold my horses. My search wouldn't start in Vietnam. When I got to Southeast Asia, I had to establish a presence to make sure I wasn't being watched or followed. A lone unassociated American just didn't pop up in that region without someone noticing," Ivan said. "There had to be a plan and a cover story to explain my presence. This protected anyone along the line who would help me. It would be some time before final arrangements were made," Ivan said. "I knew that because they kept telling me that."

"As 1973 ticked away, I was more concerned for Cousin Carl than for myself. He needed to go to Canada but he wouldn't leave until I was on my way," Ivan said. "We talked about when he'd leave and I supported his leaving, but he didn't leave. As long as he stayed, I was in limbo. I needed a plan that would get Carl on the road to Canada."

"I'd gotten two letters from the guy I met in Nebraska. Two more of Boris' friends had come home to Montana. When he visited them, he told them about me. Both of the men wanted to talk to me. They'd schedule it so the three of them would meet me once I arrived in Montana. I told Carl I couldn't pass up the chance and it was something I needed to do alone," Ivan said.

"We said goodbye as I planned the trip to Montana. We both knew we wouldn't see each other again. Carl smiled, shook my hand, and said, 'Good luck, Ivan. I'll miss you.'"

"I was gone ten days. When I came back to Berkeley, Carl was gone. I was sure he went to Canada with the guys who took Americans across the border to safety."

"Once I was back, I met Tom on the day he usually went out on the stairs of the library for fresh air. He gave me the address for Southeast Asian Air Freight Company in Fresno. The plan was, I'd work in Fresno for however long it took. I would be flying into Cambodia and most of the men working at the airlines were Cambodian. One spoke some Vietnamese. I'd work at the airline and learn Cambodian. One day one of the two flights a week would come up short a man on the flight crew. I'd just happen to have the right paperwork to allow me to fly into Cambodia with the flight crew. Details after I got to Cambodia were vague. They'd be made more specific once a time was established for me to join the flight crew."

"Time was ticking and 1973 was moving right along."

I was exhausted.

We sat for a few minutes to let Ivan's words settle, then we walked our sleepy son home.

As I stood in the Bait Shop, after delivering Ivan's lunch, he showed me an article about the cove in Southern Living.

"We've been noticed," Ivan said.

He showed me an ad in two tourist magazines for 'Sports Fishing.' His ad was beside two ads for Deep Sea fishing on the Atlantic side of Florida.

Ivan didn't want to define the services he intended to offer too narrowly. The Gulf of Mexico offered endless opportunities for fun. If there was a storm on the horizon, Ivan would be the first one to grab a surfboard and head for the Gulf to surf where the vacationers in the cove couldn't miss him. This was how Ivan planned to sell surfing.

"Look at it this way, surfing during a storm could be the difference between being miserable and experiencing a truly amazing adventure. It won't be for everyone, but as soon as one person tries it, someone else is going to want to do it and surfing catches on. Once it does catch on, some people will watch the weather forecast for any mention of a storm coming our way, and they'll be packing the car and planning some time away from work to come here to surf.

A half day of boating on and around the Gulf of Mexico would suit some vacationers just fine. Seeing the Gulf, the endless smooth white beaches, and the inevitable sea life that appears and disappears would leave vacationers something to talk about and even a desire to go out on the boat one more time before their vacation ends.

There was no better way to build an appetite than to spend a few hours on the water. Ivan was exploring JK's Kitchen being at the center of vacationers' eating opportunities.

J.K.'s wasn't fine dining but JK's was an experience everyone should have at least once. With sand on the floor, an old jukebox pounding out good old rock and roll, the food was surprisingly delicious. Bare feet and bathing suits were fine too. You didn't need to dress for dinner at JK's.

On most days there were salty old fishermen who added a dash of salt from the sea to the dining experience. JK's Kitchen offered more than good food and everyone was neighborly.

Ivan's plan included converting the old Bait Shop into a satellite fast food stop that served JK's food to go. People wouldn't need to cross the road to get a taste of JK's. Even with little traffic on the local highway, people on the beach wanted something fast and convenient.

Like so much of it, it was still an idea Ivan was toying with. If anyone could make it work, Ivan would.

There were vacation options we hadn't thought of yet. Ivan was strategically located to meet the needs of the people who came to the cove. He didn't know what their needs were yet, but there was no hurry. He'd figure out what to provide in the years ahead.

Who'd have guessed a sleepy little hamlet with an entrance on the Gulf could be an escape from people's fast paced lives.

Diving and fishing could keep vacationers busy for days on end. Surfing was a reach if the weather stayed good.

What I knew about where I lived, it was paradise.

Who wouldn't find it appealing to vacation in paradise?

On Monday I was at the conservancy early. The door was unlocked and Jack was working at his desk when I went inside.

"Morning, Boss," Jack said. "You look like you're on a mission," Jack said.

"I'm diving on the shipwrecked freighter with a buddy of mine," I said.

"We'll hold down the fort. Randi is still reading through the files to be more aware of your work. She shows me things she thinks will interest me. Randi discovered more slides. She wants to know if you mind us taking a look at those?"

"Sure, Jack. She knows to file things back where she finds them," I said. "There are twenty-five drawers of slides. If you take them in order from the top down, you can see the difference in the earlier slides from the ones I've taken more recently. Each tray of slides fit directly into the slide projector. It's on the shelves marked visual aids."

"Once I'm more familiar with the site where the freighter is, I'll begin taking pictures. If I get a chance I will take a look-see for the ships safe. See if I can reach it without disturbing the reef."

"You going treasure hunting, Clay?"

"The coast guard says the ship's log might be in the safe. It could tell the story of that ship. I've never encountered anything as mysterious as that shipwreck," I said. "And I need to get out of here so I'm back before you guys go this afternoon. We'll have time to talk. I estimate we'll be gone five to six hours."

I walked out and Ivan's Buick was waiting at the front door. We drove to the marina and headed toward Sea Lab.

As much as Dylan loved diving, I needed to schedule dives on the two close in reefs on days he could go with us. Harold gave me the coordinates on other shipwrecks, and once I had time to check them out, I'd take Dylan to dive on the best of those reefs.

I needed to show Ivan the shipwreck that caught my imagination the first time I saw it. We'd go diving a lot more often now that I had help to hold down the fort.

An hour and fifteen minutes later, I cut Sea Lab's engines off to the starboard side of the shipwreck. We left the bridge to get into our SCUBA gear. My excitement began to build.

Going down the ladder first, and Ivan followed. Once in the water, we held hands as we drifted down. When I caught sight of the freighter, I pointed it out to Ivan. I still got chills as soon as I saw it. There was a mystery there that wouldn't be unlocked if the ship's log wasn't found. The lives of the crew and the ships captain ended here. Who were they. Had anyone waited all these years to get word on what happened to their loved one?

We went around the reef first. I wanted Ivan to see how the coral had completely covered any part of the ship above the main deck. We settled down to watch in a depression at the tip of the bow of the boat.

There was a hollow I discovered on my last dive. It was big enough to keep all but our heads out of sight.

Our presence didn't seem to alarm the sea creatures coming and going. A flood of activity took place on both sides of the ship. It was so busy it made it difficult to separate which was the dominant species on the reef. My camera would freeze the action so I could identify each species.

We stayed on the shipwreck for nearly an hour and we took our time making our way back to the surface. It was a dive I enjoyed twice as much with Ivan.

I went up the ladder first, dropping my flippers and face mask to take off my tanks. Ivan stood beside me to do the same thing. I thought it had been a good dive.

As soon as I turned toward him, he pulled me close to give me a hug. The kiss was automatic and he stepped back to talk. It was a lot more fun diving with Ivan.

"That's amazing. It's all in one piece. I thought ships broke apart when they sank," Ivan said.

"It was just big enough to be impressive but not so big that it broke up. That's how I see it," I said. "It's a remarkable reef and in deep water, I'll have a perspective I haven't had before."

"I've never seen anything like it but you know what I've seen," Ivan said. "I've only gone diving with you. I remember my first dive. It was right after Bill Payne took you on your first dive," he said. "You couldn't wait to get me underwater."

"Yeah, but it wasn't as much fun when I found out we couldn't do what I wanted to do to you underwater," I said.

Ivan laughed.

"We aren't underwater now," Ivan said, coming close enough to get his arms around me."

Our kiss lingered.

I was working, but everyone gets a lunch break.

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