The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 17

Rain & Fire

"Believe it or don't, I'm working and I need to get back to give my help some supervision. Hold that thought and we'll pick up there once Dylan is in bed tonight."

"It's a date," Ivan said, kissing me.

"And that's for taking me diving with you. On that first dive, I couldn't imagine there were spots like this, Clay."

"That seems like a lifetime ago," I said. "It's like we aren't the same people, but we are. If you know what I mean."

"A lot of water under the bridge since our first dive together. I sometimes wonder how I lived through the years I was away," Ivan said. "I didn't know if we could rediscover what we once had. I'm sure glad we did."

I didn't have anything to add, so I kissed him.

We were together and forever how long that lasted, I'd be grateful. Ivan never ceased surprising me.

Once Ivan dropped me at the conservancy, I had plenty of time to write notes on the dive with enough time left to review what I wanted Randi and Jack to do tomorrow.

When I first went on dives, I rarely noticed mutations. I was either better aware of what was in the water with me or or there were more mutations to see than there were ten years ago.

Like everything over the past twelve years, things had changed. My job was to keep up with biological changes among sea creatures in particular. I'd take my camera when I made my next dive alone. With the proper magnification I would be able to single out the fish I wanted to see close up.

I looked forward to many more dives on the freighter.

At the end of the week, we sat down for baked ham, yellow squash, broiled potatoes, and string beans seasoned with ham fat. After only one slice of peach pie, keeping my waistline in mind, the three musketeers headed for the exit.

"How about a couple of games of Goofy Golf?" Ivan said.

"Cool," Dylan said.

There was a chill in the air but Ivan kept the top down. I let Dylan ride shotgun and I sat in the backseat. There were heavy clouds with an occasional burst of moonshine during our Goofy Golf outing. The forecast was predicting rain for Saturday.

Dylan won all three games. Ivan finished a close second. I finished out of the money. Golf wasn't my game but I enjoyed watching the two more competitive members of the family do battle.

"Pizza?" Dylan asked, after the last game.

"Dylan, you just ate a ton of food. It wasn't two hours ago.," I said, knowing what came next.

"I know, but pizza really isn't food, Daddy. It just goes with whatever we do."

"Oh," I said. "Silly me. I thought pizza was food."

"Pizza it is," Ivan said. "It isn't really food and we won't get as big as a small house if we keep eating like there's no tomorrow."

I chuckled.

Ivan was putty in Dylan's hands.

Within the hour we were on Ivan's deck with a gigantic deluxe extra large pepperoni pizza, extra pepperoni of course. No doubt it was big. It may have been deluxe, gigantic, I doubt it. The Titanic, that was gigantic. I ate a piece to be sociable. Ivan and Dylan ate like they were famished, but there was pizza left by the time they called it quits. Maybe it was gigantic.

"We have time before Ledo's Pizza closes. I can go get another pizza for you guys if you're still hungry," I said cheerfully. "Maybe everything on it this time."

Ivan turned a pale shade of green. Dylan made a noise that sounded like capitulation. Pizza one, Ivan and Dylan, zero.

Harry ordered two new diagnostic instruments. He sent me the instructions on how to use them. These instruments would allow us to begin analyzing our water samples for the newest class of chemicals being introduced into the environment and especially that went into the waterways triggering a chain reaction of destruction.

Biology was making rapid advances in the ability to identify pollutants and establish their probable source.

I learned to use the first of the two instruments with Jack at my side in the conservancy lab. His wide-eyed wonder over meeting me had passed but the operation of the machine was as easy for him as it was for me.

Once we were comfortable with its operation, I told Jack to teach Randi how to use it. When Randi brought in a water sample, the two of them would analyze it together. I stressed that Jack needed to be sure Randi understood the process as well as the result.

Randi and I worked closely the first few weeks. Jack had a surprised look while I was asking him to take her under his wing.

Jack reminded me of a man who perpetually kept his jaw clenched too tight. One day he discovered by relaxing his jaw, he felt way more comfortable. So it was with Jack when it came to Randi.

Jack began to talk shop and offer his opinion more readily.

Opportunities for me to work with Jack strengthened our relationship. I assigned him some of the work he'd seen me doing. He rarely asked questions once I explained what I wanted him to do.

Hearing Jack and Randi discuss work they were doing together was reassuring. Jack did not talk down to Randi. He was obviously the one with a better grasp in their collaborations. He took his time answering her questions, making sure she understood the finer aspect of the new instrument. Jack would have made a fine teacher and Randi was an excellent student. Both of them were capable of handling most tasks at the conservancy.

The second of the instrument Harry bought went on Sea Lab. I could analyzed my water samples on the spot.

It was like going from a horse and buggy to a Corvette.

This change made dives in a variety of places necessary.

I was frequently drawn back to the sunken freighter. The sense of excitement never left me as the freighter came into view.

I began to research shipwrecks dating back to the 1930s. Even at the coast guard headquarters, the only detail about the freighter's last communication was a single sentence:

"Beatrice Anne distress call, Feb 9, 1937, 9 p.m. e.s.t., lost in storm, heavy seas, 27 nautical miles southwest of CG headquarters."

The compass readings were logged below the cryptic message.

What was the captain thinking?

Did he know the Beatrice Anne was doomed?

Had the ship begun to sink as the S.O.S. was being logged in at the coast guard headquarters? Did the man logging the distress call know the ship was going down?

What does a man think while he logs such a call?

I asked Harold how large the crew would have been on a ship that size.

"We'd need the ship's log to know how many men and who they were. That went down with the ship. Records weren't anything like they are today, Clay. I'd say a ship that size probably had ten to fifteen in the crew. Could have been as few as seven or eight or as many as the shipping company thought was appropriate for that particular ship at that particular time. Then there were people not named in any log but that the captain approved being aboard."

"Which shipping company?" I asked.

"That's a great question. By the end of WWII most shipping was controlled by the government of the country where the ship was registered. The records from that particular shipping company were lost in the mayhem of the war years. The only record of the men who were on the Beatrice Anne are on the Beatrice Anne."

"The log?" I asked. "Any chance of it being preserved?"

"Many ships of the era were equipped with a waterproof safe for valuables. Most captains kept the log in such a safe if it wasn't on the desk in the captains' quarters. To find the safe, you'd need to ask the captain or consult the company's records, Clay."

Harold told me about the log possibly being in the ship's safe before. Once again I made a mental note to look for a way into the captain's cabin. I was sure it was sealed in a reef I'd never disturb.

"You wouldn't have the captain's address?" I asked.

"Davy Jones locker, 25 fathoms deep, give or take a fathom."

"It just went down," I said.

"It just went down," Harold said. "Some things are meant to be a mystery. The loss of the Beatrice Anne falls into that category."

It was time for me to go with Popov to take water samples inside his fishing grounds. Further out in the Gulf, water temperatures concerned me. I had equipment on Popov's trawler to keep records of the water temperatures where Popov stopped to fish. I still liked to go with him a couple of times a year to see if I noticed anything unusual. To date there was no way to know what happened to the fish in the middle 1970s. Water temperatures were up by nearly two degrees from samples closer to the cove at that time. In the middle of the Gulf the water should be two degrees cooler.

Water samples could reveal some of the chemicals my new instruments were meant to uncover. Even if we identified the chemical and the amount of that chemical present in the sample, proprietary rights of the corporation meant they didn't need to divulge what chemicals were in their products.

Who came up with that law?

It was a dodge around the Clean Water Act. It allowed companies to poison the environment and not reveal what the poisons were.

Now that we had instruments that could identify some of the newer chemicals, I wanted to be sure our water samples were taken properly and logged into the records we kept. Those records would need to be unassailable, and one day, when sanity returned to the regulations, all poisons introduced to the environment would be a violation of the law.

There hadn't been a second incident that impacted the amount of fish being caught. There was nothing to compare notes with at this juncture. At that time Popov's fleet was catching half the fish as in previous years.

The water temperatures returned to normal in time and the fish had returned. Water temperatures remained at the center of my concern. There was nothing to do but wait and see.

My water samples from that first incident were old and unreliable as far as the chemicals present in those water samples at the time.

Bill Payne wasn't sure if the warmer water would make that big a difference when it came to fishing. Over fishing was his conclusion, until we had a second event of that kind.

I'd done what seemed logical to me and Bill agreed with the move I made, parking Popov's fleet for a month, during which I set up a new schedule for the fishing fleet.

I expected a bigger argument, but Popov liked the four day schedule so well he didn't go back to fishing six days a week. This supported a theory that over fishing caused the problem. Fishing fewer days a week appeared to bring the fish back but appearances can be deceiving. I kept going back to warmer water as the culprit.

The return of the fish made me a hero with Popov, but I wasn't convinced. Looking good is nice but the relationship between warmer waters and the absence of fish worried me. Nothing else stood out.

I fully expected to come to work one morning and find Popov in my office, waiting to tell me, 'The fish they are gone again, Clay.'

It hadn't happened yet and I hadn't needed to come up with another plan. I lucked out the first time. I went to the first thing that came into my mind, over fishing. There was no evidence to support that. Doing what I'd do in a case of over fishing worked. Popov was sure I was the saint of his fleet.

I hoped I didn't get to prove to Popov how fallible I was. I did have more knowledge about the conditions in Popov's fishing grounds. I would have more information to make an educated guess if Popov came to me again. I didn't have another plan but I was keeping an eye on the condition of the water where Popov did his fishing.

The technology was advancing and we had instruments that measured known chemicals that ended up in the water. What we didn't have was long term information on what those chemicals did once they got into the water and the fish. New chemicals had no track record to point to.

Biologists were becoming responsible for the study of the long term effects a new chemical had on our environment. Even when we proved a chemical was doing major damage to the water and the life in it, we were fought tooth and nail about our findings.

While we dithered over semantics in the courts, more and more chemicals were polluting our waterways.

The battle for clean water seemed to be never ending.

Dylan had shown great patience with his daddy after witnessing my meltdown in Tampa. He bugged the hell out of me to buy him SCUBA gear. I waited until he was big enough to handle the equipment. That was nearly a year ago. He loved diving.

Being underwater excited Dylan in a way nothing did, except for his father returning home. When the three of us went diving, Dylan was in seventh heaven.

I'd decided before I returned to work that putting a single reef at the center of my work was a bad idea. Studying my reef taught me a lot about marine biology and the creatures of the sea.

The threat to major waterways increased while I studied that reef. Attacks on clean water came from all directions. The worst pollution was generated by businesses using waterways as their dump sites in order to make bigger profits.

The cost of their folly would put us all in jeopardy.

Watching a reef didn't explain a fish kill in local rivers. While I kept watch on my reef an eruption of foreign species were being dumped into waterways far and wide with predictable results.

Some new species devoured native species and the ecosystem is forever altered once they do.

The Clean Water Act was law. It was written on paper. It had to be enforced by people for it to be effective. Companies, being rich, buy people who are supposed to enforce the laws and pollution runs rampant.

That's where my ability to prove who was doing the polluting put a crimp in a company's ability to buy off people. I couldn't be bought and most Gulf coast polluters knew me by name.

I was never approached with such a proposition. Because I worked for Harry's conservancy, and everyone knew Harry, they didn't see any future in trying to get me to fudge on the facts.

They knew I was Harry's boy, and what every polluter feared was hearing Harry's footsteps closing in on them. He was a powerful politician who did his best to keep them honest. It was too bad the rest of the politicians weren't as dedicated to their constituents.

A corporation protecting its profits by refusing to clean up after themselves, now hired a law firm. Having evidence that the pollution was coming from their factory, they tied up injunctions and cease and desist orders in court for years.

By the time the case is finally scheduled to be heard, corporations have a dozen new products and they are using entirely new chemicals. This makes it impossible to keep a record for long enough to prove of the damage they are doing. It is the latest gimmick in how to escape responsibility for your polluting.

They would spend millions so they didn't need to spend a dime cleaning up their mess. As depressing as it was, the best I could do was hold off what seemed inevitable for as long as I could.

Corporations had the power and those fighting for a clean environment had been left holding the bag.

The Sanibel Island Conservancy's work was negated by bad law, when there were laws.

Being true to the weatherman's prediction, it rained Saturday.

Since Ivan was already at my house for dinner, he decided to stay for breakfast. Mama fixed chipped beef gravy over biscuits with fried potatoes. It was a great breakfast for a rainy day.

At lunch Mama fixed barbeque sandwiches on her fresh baked rolls with Coleslaw on top of the thick rich barbeque. There was potato salad and dill pickle spears. It was a flavor feast for the mouth on a rainy afternoon.

We canceled plans to go diving.

"What does it matter if it's raining. We're going to be under water, Daddy," Dylan complained.

The logic of a ten year old can prove to be enlightening, but not in this case. The thunder and lightning came and went but the storm system stayed over the conservancy house. I had no interest in tempting fate by being on a high profile seagoing vessel during a violent storm. I told Dylan that we'd go diving on both Saturday and Sunday the following weekend.

I couldn't forecast next weekend's weather but it wouldn't be the weather that kept us off Sea Lab for a second weekend in a row. Life has a way of throwing you a high inside fastball when you expect a curve on the outside of the plate.

Except for running home to put the top up on the Buick, Ivan stayed at my house over the weekend. He answered Dylan's questions about the ongoing story. I was content to listen and learn from the things Dylan asked. He was surprisingly good at asking about things I wondered about.

Hearing about where Ivan went when he was away from us, was surprisingly easy. Nothing in his movements that would have worried me as much as not knowing where he was worried me. The empty spaces in my mind, concerning the years he was gone, were slowly being filled.

The screened in porch outside my bedroom was a port in a storm employed for the questions Dylan had. Our son was paying attention.

It was a bit more humid than usual and sitting out in the fresh air was better than sitting inside the stuffy house. We'd stop talking as a passing thunderstorm livened things up for a few minutes at a time. The lightning flashed across the sky over the Gulf in front of us.

In early December it remained comfortable where we lived. Even in the rain it was no more than a few degrees cooler than usual. We hadn't had much in the way of storms since the October blow from the tropical storm.

Dylan had questions about Cousin Carl. I did too but I wasn't going to give Ivan the third degree about activities that took place a long time ago and far away from me. Dylan's questions were more polite than the ones I'd have asked, but Ivan was home and starting a fight over what happened five years ago wasn't wise when we still had five more years to cover. If any more Cousin Carls popped up, I wouldn't be as forgiving.

Dylan wanted a clarification on a perplexing question that plagued our generation. It had no answer beyond the fact, violent men do violet things.

It wasn't very satisfying to know your country did a lot of violent things for no particular reason. It was more about who the leaders were than who the people were, but until the people spoke, the politicians felt free to do as they please.

"Why go all the way to Vietnam? If it's about killing commies? Castro's right across the Straits of Florida. Seems like we'd start closer to home if we need to kill commies. Couldn't we sit down and talk to them? See if there are things we agree on?"

"Kill a Commie for Christ!" Ivan said.

"What does that mean, Daddy-O?" Dylan asked, as his patience wore thin.

"Nothing," Ivan said. "It was a button one of the hippies wore. Christ was a man of peace and love. I suppose the button was to make people think about the contradiction in what they were doing."

"Dylan, it's easier not to try to figure out why our government does what it does. There are no answers to those question," I said. "Mostly they do what they do for political reasons. They do what is best for themselves and their friends, if the people stay out of their way."

"We are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. How many people would vote to go to Vietnam to kill the people there?' Dylan said, apply logic to the ridiculousness of it.

"I don't think the masters of war think about the distance we go to fight a war or the length of time between wars," Ivan said.

"The more the merrier," I said.

"I know I'm a kid and all, but when I have trouble with a boy, I try to see his side of it and I talk to him about it," Dylan said.

"How does that work out?" Ivan asked. "When you try reason?"

"OK, I guess. I don't like them any better but we don't end up getting into a fight," Dylan said. "You fight a guy and you've made an enemy. I'd rather have a guy I don't get along with," Dylan said.

"He's not going to be a diplomat, he's going to be a liberal," I said with mock surprise. "Our kid doesn't accept the status quo. It's a good start," Ivan said. "Question everything anyone tells you, except for me of course."

"Words to live by," I said. "Make a friend out of a guy you don't like and you won't get hit in the face as often."

Dylan laughed at his father's silliness.

"Speaking of friends, Carl was good company. I got used to his earring," Ivan said. "I knew it was a disguise but he was the same Carl with or without the earring."

"Thank heaven. I was afraid the earring was the last straw," I said. "I don't think I'd recognize Cousin Carl with his earring."

Ivan laughed.

Dylan felt his earlobe.

My kid was not wearing an earring. School is tough enough without inviting someone to hit you in the face.

"As I said, Carl was in no hurry to leave the country once he could. I was with him when Tom told him, 'There's a rural road in upstate Minnesota. It crosses into Canada. There are no border guards or even a border entry station. There isn't even a sign. Anyone in that part of the country, if the need arose, they could take that road and be in Canada. I don't expect you to ever be out there, Carl, but just in case, our Canadian isn't the only safe way into Canada. Be careful. You don't want someone looking too close at you. When you decide you're ready to go, let me know. We'll save you a seat the next time our Canadian makes the trip.'"

"Uncle Teddy went to Canada," Dylan said. "It turned out OK for him."

"Uncle Teddy did fine in Canada but your Uncle Teddy was a good businessman," I said. "He wasn't learning to be a killer or at risk of being killed. For a while Teddy lived near here with a group of draft resisters. When Pop told him the phone was tapped and the FBI followed me every time I left the house in his car. Pop said, 'Teddy told his buddies he was going to Canada so his family could live in peace. The rest of the group went with him. After that, when I asked Pop, 'Is Teddy OK.' He'd say, 'Teddy's fine, son.'"

"Jimmy Carter pardoned draft resisters. President Carter was a good man. He wanted to bring the country back together. He'd been a career naval officer. He couldn't bring the dead soldiers home but he could bring the draft resisters home," I said.

"That's way in the future. I'm with Cousin Carl circa 1972–73. I was in Cambodia when we got word of Carter's pardon. I thought about Cousin Carl. I thought I might go take a look-see in Amarillo for him, but then I figured I'd leave well enough alone," Ivan said.

"Smart move on your part," I said.

Ivan laughed.

Dylan looked at us quizzically.

"I took trips to Boise, Kellogg, and Missoula, Montana. When I came back, I was told, 'Carl has gone to Canada.' There was no message left for me at the house where we stayed for most of 1973. I knew he'd go. It's what he needed to do. I knew I was keeping him in Berkeley and so I went on the road without him. I must admit I missed Cousin Carl. There was no drama in his life and I liked that part of it. Our friendship was cool but we both had things to do and places to go," Ivan said.

Ivan went quiet as he considered his own words.

Dylan and I waited for him. There was nothing we could say.

"It was a bit lonely without Carl. We'd stuck together for so long, moving around alone felt strange, but it didn't last long. After I returned to California, Tom saw me downtown one day. He came over to me. He reached to shake hands. I don't think we'd done that before. As I recall, when I met him, he looked up at me like I might be an alien. He'd given me a nod. Cousin Carl's business had Tom's attention that day. Tom focused on Carl's situation. I was just the guy with Carl."

"When we met the day he thanked me for letting Carl go, he told me they flew men out of Southeast Asia using a reverse of the plan he'd come up with to get me into the region. He confessed I was the first guy they were flying into Southeast Asia," Ivan said. "I could see he had doubts about my sanity but that wouldn't stop him from helping Carl's friend."

Silence took over. The sound of the rain on the roof was loud. It sounded like it wasn't going to let up for a while.

We sat on the screened in porch to stay out of the weather. It was a warm drizzly day.

"Boys," Mama said. "I'm ready to put dinner on the table. You can finish your story after you eat."

She didn't have to say it twice.

Chicken and dumplings on a rainy evening was the cat's meow. No one could get enough of Mama's chicken and dumplings. We did stop eating long enough to let Mama serve cherry cobbler with vanilla ice cream melting on top. except for Dylan. He had to have chocolate ice cream melting on top of the steaming hot cherries. It was a delicious experience in sweet and sour, hot and cold.

It was raining at a good clip when we went down to dinner. By the time we got back to the screened in porch the rain had stopped. The wind had picked up.

We decided to stay at my house. As we ate Mama's lemon pudding cake, no one mentioned what came next. but not only were we ready, we were fat and sassy to boot.

We discussed where to sleep once Dylan was in bed. I was tired and didn't want to walk to Ivan's. We would sleep in my bed tonight and tomorrow night we'd sleep at Ivan's.

He agreed.

It was late, or maybe it was early, I'm not sure which, when I heard the knocking.

"Clay, is Ivan here?" Pop asked from my bedroom door.

My father sounded upset. I was drifting on the fog in my brain.

I never dreamed about my father. How weird was this.

"I'm here Mr. Olson," Ivan said, being immediately awake.

"I'm sorry. Popov is on the phone. I can't understand him. He's talking too fast. Something is wrong at the marina. You need to talk to him, Ivan," Pop said. "He wants Ivan. That part I understood fine."

"I'll be there in a second," Ivan said, moving his legs over the side of the bed to put his feet on the floor. The door closed and Ivan pulled on his shorts, turning to go downstairs. "So much for our secret love nest. Does everyone know we're lovers?"

"What's wrong?" Dylan asked, holding the teddy bear in one arm and rubbing his eyes as he stumbled into the bedroom.

"It's nothing, Dylan. Go back to bed," Ivan said. "It's just a phone call. It's fine."

"Yes, sir," Dylan said, being more asleep than awake.

"I pulled on my jeans and went downstairs to stand beside Ivan in the foyer. I kept my arm around his waist.

"Yeah, Popov. OK. OK. I'm on the way. Give me ten minutes. I've got to wipe the sleep out of my eyes."

"What's wrong?"

"The Bait Shop is on fire. I've got to go to the marina. My cars at my house. I need to see what's happening."

"I'll drive you," I said, not wanting him go alone.

"OK. I need my shirt. Did Dylan go back to bed?"

"Yes," I said. "I don't think he woke up."

I was wide awake the night trouble came to the cove.

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