The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 21

The I.D.

Approaching his backdoor, something was out of place. I sensed something was up but I didn't stop until I was face to face with a man Ivan's height. It wasn't Ivan.

He was thin like Ivan and not much older than me. The aviator sunglasses, military hair, and charcoal gray suit gave him away. As I looked him over, I wasn't certain I should be happy about the arrival of the FBI.

While I was noticing his spit shined shoes, checking to see if I could see my face, I was caught off guard by his smile. I was sure FBI agents didn't smile.

Why was he smiling?

"Young Mr. Olson," he said, watching my survey in silence until I tried to see my face in his shoeshine.

"I'd like to go into my friends house, if it's OK by you," I said.

"Can't. My boss is with Mr. Aleksa at present. He's not a man who likes being interrupted."

"Edgar's here?" I quipped.

"Edgar died several years ago," he said, chuckling to himself. "My regional boss is making a courtesy call. He won't be long."

"What's it about?" I asked.

"I can't discuss pending cases with civilians but I bet you have some idea."

"How do you know me?" I asked, more than a little curious. "When had I come in contact with the FBI?"

"We are an investigative arm of government. You'd be hard to miss in most cases. Right hand man to a congressman, a boat right out of Batman, and a headliner in the New York Times. Everyone knows you."

The smile told me that he read that somewhere. Ivan and I were together most of the time. It would be hard to miss in any investigation I did. If I was anyone's right hand man, it was Ivan's. With people investigating a crime, I'd be hard to miss.

When I was with Harry in public, I was usually at his side, and people said I was Harry's right hand man, because my work bolstered his. Everyone knew why I stood at Harry's side, but after the Christmas incident at the cove, I was with Ivan most of the time.

"You look familiar," I said.

"We all look alike," he said, way too casual for the FBI.

"Have I seen you before? That seemed like the place to start. I assume an FBI agent can't tell a lie."

"Only little white ones. You'd probably recognize me in your review mirror," he said.

And the tumblers fell into place.

"Your too young to have been my tail in the 60s," I said with an edge in my words.

"I'm Special Agent Bob Kramer," he said, offering me his hand and being too friendly for my own good.

"I'm marine biologist Clayton Olson," I said. "Why tell me that?"

He laughed.

"Your an observant man. You'd have figured it out and I'm planning to ask to be assigned to any cases in this area. You were my first case after I was trained. We came down here on Tuesdays and Fridays in '72. We followed a certain 1956 Chevy. I rode shotgun. You liked driving with the top down. I must admit I envied you, Clayton Olson. You were a cool customer with the FBI on your ass. Most people aren't that cool."

"I had nothing to hide. If there is trouble around here, I never found it. I was mostly going to school and learning my trade."

"You learned it well. I was surprised the first time I read about you in the news. I had to think for a minute to remember who you were. I knew the name but I didn't know from where. Then it hit me, Theodore Olson, draft dodger. You were the kid in the Chevy."

"Teddy didn't come home until he was pardoned," I said. "He never dodged anything. He resisted becoming a killer for old men who had less sense than he did."

He shrugged as if it was a matter of semantics.

I'd had enough of the FBI.

I walked around to the front door. Where there was a will there was a way. Kramer's twin was standing in front of the door. I went back to my usual entry point. I'd wait them out.

The FBI was in there, Ivan was safe. I wondered about that. Kramer was holding his hand over his ear. There was a tiny black object I hadn't noticed in his ear.

"OK, Olson, we're out of here. Stay out of trouble. I wouldn't want to arrest the area's second leading citizen. You be good and be careful."

I watched him walk away. I recognized him all right.

They did all look alike.

"The FBI?" I said, when I found Ivan sitting on the deck outside his bedroom.

"They woke me up, I was dreaming about you and believe me when I say, they weren't welcome in that dream."

"They didn't take you away. That's a good sign," I said, leaning to give him a kiss.

"You aren't going to like this. I didn't like it. Better sit down, Clay. You need to know this. They said not to tell anyone. It's an FBI confidential finding."

"Stand up and give me a proper kiss. It'll help my disposition. I may not want to kiss you once you finish."

He did what I asked.

I held him for a long minute. He showed no sign of being upset. I could tell when Ivan's feathers had been ruffled. He was calm like a man who was relieved. Was the trouble over? Had he been given information that explained the trouble at the marina?

"Go ahead. I'm as ready as I'll ever be."

"I'm innocent," he said.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"It's complicated," he said. "Actually, it's so simple it's complicated."

"That never stopped you before. Your life is complicated, Ivan," I said. "One of those agents used to follow me when I left the house in Teddy's car," I said. "We just had a chat while I waited."

"Small world, isn't it," he said. "There has been a development." He allowed his comment to linger in the air between us.

"I'm all ears," I said, wanting to know what brought the FBI to Ivan's door..

"I need a cup of coffee first. You want a cup of coffee?" he asked. "The FBI showing up at my door is not the way to start your day."

He was stalling but I let him have his way. I imagined I'd need some time to think if the FBI came calling on me, but I had a feeling they told him something important.

"Do I have to? Couldn't I watch you drink coffee."

"Relax. Popov taught me how, remember? It's not half bad."

"I do, but that memory doesn't override the memory of what your coffee tastes like. I'm too young to die," I said.

Ivan laughed.

I followed him to the kitchen.

He hummed as he made the brew.

I let him have the space he needed. I didn't complain or rush him. What he told me was most likely a toned down version of what the FBI came to tell him. He'd smooth over the hard parts and give me the version he was watering down at the moment. I would read between the lines and figure out what it meant.

"Nice day," he said, sitting down while we waited.

"The FBI?" I said.

"We were wondering why they hadn't talked to us. They've talked to me now. I stuck to our story but that's not what they came to talk about. I didn't get to tell the story we rehearsed. They have bigger fish to fry. Way bigger fish. I'm merely a witness."

"They wouldn't post guards at the doors to your house to find out what you had to say about the incident on the dock," I said. "What were they after that they thought you had?"

"They posted agents on my doors?"


"Yes, and I'm not supposed to tell anyone what I'm going to tell you and it's best for you not to tell anyone else. Don't tell Dylan."

"I promise not to tell anyone once you tell me. What's going on."

"It's complicated," Ivan said, still working on what to tell me.

Once the coffee was ready, Ivan poured each of us a cup. I automatically added milk and sugar before tasting it but the coffee was drinkable.

I followed him upstairs, through his bedroom, and out onto the deck. We sat in the wicker chairs and faced the Gulf.

"Did you know that the local yokel didn't find the guy's gun? When the FBI first showed up, they asked to see the gun the bullet they collected at the hospital went to. Sheriff Andy's investigation stopped at the stiff on the dock, now referred to by the sheriff's people as the Barbequed Gunslinger."

"Nice to know they keep themselves busy," I said. "I didn't know until I watched them fish the gun out of the cove next to the dock last week. I was coming back from a dive. I noticed the agents while I backed Sea Lab into her slip. They found boards too. Burned boards. They were green and had the shape of a small boat. Palmer's rents small green row boats."

"One of Palmer's rentals. They rented it out the day after Christmas and the guy never brought it back. They reported it to the sheriff," Ivan explained. "The FBI took what was left of the boat to Palmer's. They theorize that the arsonist came in that boat. When the gas can exploded, it rolled off the dock into the boat he came in. It burned and went down with the gas can, which they also recovered. You knew about the gun and the boat and didn't say anything?"

"I really didn't give a lot of thought to it. Of course the FBI would collect the evidence. Seems as thought the sheriff's investigation left a little to be desired," I said. "I'd forgotten about it. You reminded me."

"The regional director didn't think much of Sheriff Andy's sheriffing," Ivan said. "When asked about the shooting of Taggart, the sheriff said, 'The boy is going to be OK. The guy who shot him is dead. What was the point of going farther down that road?"

"I'm sure the FBI considered arresting him for impersonating an officer of the law," I said. "I imagine the FBI came to tell you what they found out by going farther down that road."

"They did," he said. "That's the part you aren't going to like. I didn't like it and I'm a lot less intense than you, sweet pea. This is where It gets complicated."

"I suspect they weren't here to discuss why the sheriff didn't feel the need to investigate the shooting of a person of ...color?"

"No, Taggart didn't come up except in the context of the bullet they removed from him. The bullet was of interest to them."

"Instead of playing twenty questions, I'll tell you what they said. I didn't have all that much to say," Ivan said.

"It's been a week since they recovered the gun. That's enough time to come up with some answers," I said.

"Bingo!" He said. "They have. The gun is the ballgame."

"And the answer to the question is?"

"I suppose you need me to tell you the answers? Before they showed up, I wasn't sure what the question was. Did I tell you they woke me up?"

"You did," I said. "And the answer to the question is?"

"How's the coffee?"

"Ivan, the coffee is fine. "Tell me who the guy is."

"I thought I did. The agent in charge said, 'It figured, if Sal caught fire when he fired the gun, he dropped it. It bounced on the dock and into the water.' It took a diver five minutes to find the gun and to bring up pieces of the boat the arsonist arrived in. None of the evidence had been disturbed, so it told them a story."

"I saw that part of it. I was a bit surprised no one looked for the gun after the incident. Falling in the water would have been my guess if someone asked me what happened to the guy's gun."

"Sal's gun."

Ivan paused. He watched some birds flying low over the water. We were about to dig into the part of the story he'd rather not tell me.

"Sal?" I said. "The gun gave them information on its owner?"

"The gun was a goldmine of information. The barbequed gunslinger is a button man for one Carlos 'Big Carlos' Santiago. He's a Jersey hood wanted by, wait for it, here it comes, the FBI. He dropped out of sight with his right hand man, Salvador, a few years back."

"Have you ever lost me. The arsonist is from New Jersey? What do they have to do with the cove? Why were two Jersey hoods trying to burn down the marina?" I asked. "Makes no sense."

"No, it doesn't until you know who Bob Jones is."

"Ivan, finish telling me who these Jersey guys are first? I don't know anything about these guys."

"You see, you jump to conclusions because you don't know them by those names. You won't like this. Big Carlos went on the lam when one of his boys bargained for a lighter sentence by giving up Big Carlos to the FBI. The snitch implicated Big Carlos in conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and two major robberies that took place at JFK and LaGuardia airports," Ivan said. "They traced Big Carlos to Miami, after someone tipped him off that he was about to be indicted. He dropped out of sight. Popular wisdom had him escaping to South America to a country with no extradition treaty with the U.S. They showed me a picture of Big Carlos and he isn't in South America. Care to take a guess?" Ivan asked.

"I'm really not going to like this, am I?" I asked.

"No, I think not."

"Do I know him?" I asked.

"Know is such a broad category. Yes, you know who he is," Ivan said, trying to be careful with the words he used.

"That sure clears things up. Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?"

"Animal. He's definitely an animal. More like you know of him," he said. "You saw him one time. I only saw him one time."

"Go ahead," I said. "You need to spit it out, buster. The longer you drag this out, the more worried I become."

"Bob Jones of the 'You don't know who you're fucking with' Joneses," Ivan said. "You might remember him. Imagine my surprise when the FBI agent drops a picture of the barbecued gunslinger in front of me. 'I don't know him,' I said. 'I've never seen him before and I didn't see him the day he shot Tag. I'm sorry,' I said," Ivan said.

"Then he drops another picture on top of the first one. I was rather well shaken at seeing Mr. 'You don't know who you're fucking with,' Then the FBI tells me he is not a nice man. What, we spent all of three minutes with the guy. He was a dick. I did what you do to people who are arrogant and obnoxious, I tossed his ass out of my shop and my marina. He apparently doesn't take such insults lightly."

"How long ago has it been, Ivan?" I asked. "Speaking of holding a grudge. He's got to be one of the all time grudge holders."

"I don't know. Before we started extending the dock. Right after I made the deal to buy the marina from Popov."

"The late Sal was a button man for this guy in the New Jersey mob."

"What's a button man? I'm not up to date on gangland vernacular," I said.

"Hit man. The gun the FBI recovered is tied to several murders in Jersey. The FBI would like to talk to one Salvatore Piscalli about those murders. He's indisposed at the moment, not to mention well done."

"Good luck with that," I said. "I guess you're going to tell me Big Carlos is still on the loose."

"He is. Very loose and they have no idea where he is."

"This guy is a big time hood from Jersey. He doesn't have anything better to do than burn marinas?" I asked.

"Hoods don't like being insulted. It's their over inflated sense of self. What I said to him would qualify as an insult and in front of witnesses. He's a man who must take that sort of thing seriously."

"You spent all that time in Southeast Asia tempting fate. You come back without a scratch and you cross paths with a psychotic hood, and he decides to get you?" I asked. "There's definitely something wrong with this picture."

"Couldn't have summed it up better myself. He needs to get a new button man. The FBI is sure he'll blame me for Sal's stupidity," Ivan said. "The FBI is sure he'll be back if he hasn't relocated. With the investigation the local yokels did, he has no reason to feel threatened by Sal's unfortunate demise. That means he can lay low until he gets another button man. Then he'll be back in two weeks, two months, or two years, but the odds are he'll be back sooner or later. That's what the FBI thinks. They'll look in on me from time to time to see if I'm still alive. As long as Big Carlos is on their most wanted list, I will need to be looking over my shoulder frequently."

"Look in on you? They aren't going to protect you?"

"Us," Ivan said. "If you think back to the incident in question, I wasn't exactly alone that day."

"Harry won't go for that. The FBI is hanging you out for bate. No, Harry brought them in on this. There's way more to this than you were told," I said. "They're answering to Harry and Harry isn't hanging you out to dry."

"Do tell," he said. "I thought my ass was hanging out here waiting to get a bullet in it so the next button man can be arrested and lead the to Big Carlos."

"They'll be around. They simply aren't telling you they'll be around. I'll call Harry. He's due home for the gig in Tampa. I'll tell him this is not satisfactory to me and he better speak to the FBI," I said.

"No one is supposed to know what they told me," Ivan said.

"Harry is getting a report from the Director of the FBI every day. At least when they find something. He knows they were coming here."

"Makes sense. He is a congressman. He would get kid glove treatment after calling them in on this."

"I'll call him. I'm not going to sit around worrying about what day someone is going to put a bullet in you," I said.

"Music to my ears, my lovely," Ivan said. "Tag was in on our initial meeting with Mr. Jones. He was the focus of the ...disagreement. You were on the scene, watching him while I insulted him for being such a dick. They can't rule out he'd hurt any of the three of us should he cross our paths," Ivan said. "But a man in hiding doesn't do a lot of path crossing."

"That's great. How do we avoid running into this character while we're with Dylan or any of the people we love and want to keep out of the line of fire? If we're targets, no one around us is safe. No one at the cove is safe."

"The FBI warned me that could be true," Ivan said. "It's the only reason I'm telling you everything. You aren't to go out on the Sea Lab alone. I'd consider that a personal favor. Take Randi or Jack, or take both of them when you go diving. For the time being anyway. I'll feel better if you do that."

"It's time to get my people out of the conservancy lab. Taking them along will allow them to get their feet wet. I might even get Jack into the water and then get him under it. I might start him on snorkeling at one of the more public locations. Let him get a glimpse of what's down there."

"I'm not telling you this to alarm you, but you need to know what we're dealing with. Now this dude will have Popov to deal with. He is protecting us and can likely keep trouble away. I don't know for how long he's going to do that. He'll do the FBI one better. He'll be on the job until the danger passes," I said.

"Yes, that sounds like Popov's plan," he said. "His men are aware of the threat and I'll tell him what I'm telling you."

"That's reassuring. How long can he afford to watch us?" I asked.

"Until he's satisfied he doesn't need to protect us any longer. Popov isn't given to allowing his people to be harmed if he can do something to stop it."

"We're his people?" I asked.

"He thinks you're a genius and he thinks I could walk on water if I try. Popov is as loyal a friend as you'll ever have," Ivan said. "There is nothing we can do about it. It's how life is for Popov. He's always felt a responsibility to the people who work in his cove."

"He treats me like a son," I said. "He loves Dylan."

"He came from a pretty tough place. My Pop Pop told me about J.K. being picked to be one of Stalin's bodyguards. After Stalin died, he returned to his village and he joined Popov's fishing fleet. He came to America with Popov but he's wise to how you protect someone from harm. Sounds like a man you'd want to have around in a pinch."

"It is amazing that so many people from so many different places have found there way to this cove. Popov and his Russians, the Vietnamese families, your grandfather was from Lithuania, my family came from Tulsa," I said. "It's an international cove."

"Don't forget Big Carlos. He's from New Jersey," Ivan said.

"Don't remind me," I said.

"If you look close, and I do, Popov's most trusted fishermen are the men he has on watch. I see J.K. moving around the marina every day. He's no doubt in charge."

"I saw Popov on the dock twice since this started. Once he was speaking with a Vietnamese family and once with Harry. He's around. Even with the fishing fleet going out, he's around."

"I think I'd rather have Popov watching my back than the FBI any day," Ivan said. "He knows us and he won't let anything happen to us if it can possibly be stopped."

"I wish I knew that for certain," I said. "We have a son that didn't mention you weren't at the dinner table last night."

"I told him I was working on the interior and I'd be doing things I wanted to get done some nights. The interior still has a lot of work to do on it. The contractor came by. He'll be grading a new section in the housing development he's building. Figuring February is usually one of our rainy months, he said he'd be done in early to mid March. Then I can use the grader and a dump truck. He said after rains it would be easier to remove the underbrush. The moisture loosen the roots and softens the ground around them. I told him his people would be able to use our beach and I'll discount any of our services they use. He wants a list he can post. He said most of the houses have pools, so he didn't know how often they'd want to go to the beach."

Ivan poured more coffee in my cup. I used less sugar and cream on the second cup.

"What are we going to do about, Dylan?" Ivan asked.

"You're going to be home for dinner every night, and that's not a suggestion. We'll sit on the screened in porch when we don't take him out. That'll satisfy him. He doesn't go to the cove except when we're going on a dive or going to J.K.'s. If he's seeing enough of you, he won't even think about it," I said.

"Sounds like a plan. I guess it's best I'm home before dark. Too many things can be hiding in the dark," Ivan said.

When I called Harry, he was waiting for me.

"Go about your business. You are in no danger. I'm not going to tell you why and I don't want you poking around. Follow your schedule and stay busy so you don't worry. I'll be home at the end of the week and Tampa is this weekend. After that I'll be in Florida more than I'll be in Washington. I need to blanket the state. You do what I said and I'll tell you more as soon as I'm home."

Needless to say, taking Ivan his lunch each day became a top priority. Spending an hour or two with Ivan each afternoon kept me from taking a jump off the deep end.

I told Ivan what Harry said. He didn't say anything.

We sat in the window and kept an eye on the marina and the cove, watching for men we knew.

We shared some of our best times in the shop he was constructing around himself. It was taking shape and looking good. He rebuilt the displays a little at a time. They changed each day as he rearranged the items. He'd stand back by the window observing his creations. A little more blue, a little less green, and some red for emphasis. If Ivan was worried, he didn't show it.

My mind always went back to those years away when I was trying to figure out why he was the way he was. There were differences, but they were subtle. I'd changed more than he had over those ten years. I'd had none of the stress on me that he'd had on him. Maybe therein was the answer. Ivan faced danger before, even if he denied it.

I jumped from any unexpected noise coming from J.K.'s Jr. Kitchen and it was only a few dozen feet away. I examined each face I didn't immediately recognize. At the marina, at the conservancy, at home, it didn't matter. I kept my eyes wide open.

Popov came to the new shop in the middle of the day Wednesday. He asked Ivan to ask Taggart if he would consider doing the electrical system in the new J.K.'s.

Taggart was happy to he in demand. Ivan didn't bother asking Taggart to stay home again, until this was over. That boat wouldn't sail. Taggart was as loyal to Ivan as I was to Twila. We'd been too close for too long to stop seeing each other, even with danger lurking.

Because of Twila, I worried about Taggart too. It would not do for anything else to happen to Twila's oldest son but none of us would be completely safe until Carlos Santiago was behind bars or dead.

When Taggart wasn't busy after school, he sat in the window with us and helped us drink coffee and watch the cove.

One afternoon Ivan walked me to the Sea Lab where I was developing a couple of rolls of Dylan's pictures, two workers nodded and went back to examining replacement boards they were installing. I nodded back but never spoke. I recognized them and they knew me. I knew why they were there.

There were always workers at the new J.K.'s location. They did a lot of work on the roof. I notice one in the shadows as I left the new shop and went to my car. There were eyes on us most of the time.

"What's wrong?" Ivan asked, as two of the Vietnamese came out on deck as we approached their boat. "The sudden motion startled me," I said.

One of the men moved to the stern of his boat as we passed.

He smiled and waved and I said, "Hello."

"Go on. I'll be along in a minute," Ivan said, and then he began speaking fast in their lyrical language. The man backed up smiling, inviting Ivan to come aboard. Two men and a woman came toward him as if they were greeting an old friend. I walked slow, moving one slip past. They were all smiles as Ivan squatted with them. The conversation flowed. Another woman appeared with a wrap of some kind. It appeared to me to be seaweed. Ivan smiled broadly. Biting into it, he exclaiming delight, taking two quick bites.

They laughed, chattered to each other, and Ivan drank tea that was offered to him in a tiny tea cup.

I was getting a glimpse of how Ivan related to the people while he was in Southeast Asia. He'd said the peasants were a quiet gentle people who valued family and hard work. I rarely noticed the Vietnamese. I was an outsider and they seemed cautious around people they didn't know. Being with Ivan meant I was OK, but stepping onto their boat wouldn't be something I'd do. I think it would be disrespectful, not to mention threatening to them.

When I saw the Vietnamese on their boats, I immediately thought of the war.

I listened for a minute longer, taking my time, and I found myself looking at the back of someone I was sure I knew, but unlike most of the people working around the cove, he didn't look up or acknowledge someone was right behind him. It was likely one of the fisherman. I recognized most men in the cove on sight.

He made no effort to acknowledge me and I moved on to board Sea Lab. I turned to look at his back again. He was familiar.

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