The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 22


We were getting the hang of the new instruments Harry bought just before Christmas. I'd begun to identify specific chemicals in the water. The next time I went out with Popov to his far western fishing grounds, I'd take a dozen water samples and begin the process of comparing what was in the water with the chemicals we were now able to identify.

Chemicals the CDC suspected were in the runoff from farmers' fields. It was in the fertilizers, insecticides, and a myriad of other products that ended up in the streams and rivers before running off into the Gulf and countless other estuaries around the world.

We weren't supposed to know if it could kill us or give us cancer. It was a company's right to kill us or give you cancer if it was in the course of making a lot of money. At least that's the way it seemed.

Harry, being smarter than the average bear, asked the CDC to give him the list of chemicals they suspected were involved in their study of diseases near chemical companies and petroleum refineries. Turning the information over to a group of scientist and engineers, they were able to develop an instrument to identify and measure those chemicals in the environment.

Harry provided his conservancy with the first two instruments the engineers produced. We had a tool in the fight that would put the names of chemicals in front of judges. Saying they were suspected in the death and disease caused by certain products containing these chemicals might get a judge to crack the code on proprietary rights of corporations.

If one judge breached a corporations proprietary rights, more judges would follow. This was going to be the next battlefield in the war to save the environment.

It was my job to take water samples and identify any of the suspect chemicals. I'd write a research paper documenting the chemicals and the quantity of particles present in the Gulf, Cove, and any nearby inlets where I took my water samples.

The speed at which new chemicals were being developed meant it wasn't possible to do a long term study. The corporations were blazing new trails with new products made with new chemicals.

The more frustrating it was the determined I became. There had to be a way to beat the people doing the polluting. I would become smarter and enlist the aid of more communities living on the Gulf of Mexico. There were universities and biologists doing what I was doing. We needed to pool our findings and make our research papers public.

The Clean Water Act forced companies to clean up their act, and they did, until they figured out how to bypass the new laws. If one corridor was closed they'd go down another one. They'd save money and outsmart the EPA. They did that leaving men like me to figure out how they did it and then get Harry to write new laws to stop them.

The best we could do was inform the public on what we found. I could say, 'We suspected certain chemicals in common products found around the house' They could sue me for mentioning specific products, but it we talked in general terms, we could get away with pointing a finger at those who were doing the damage. Making their kids sick and the land they lived on dangerous wouldn't be popular.

With the scientific community on board, our research papers became ammunition for Harry in his effort to pass sensible legislation to undo what unscrupulous lawmakers did behind closed doors.

As time went on, we fell farther behind, and we needed to work harder to protect the air and water. We were cracking the code on the chemicals doing the most damage and we made it part of the record every chance we got.

I would be discouraged if Harry wasn't so fired up all the time. It was up to us to make the biggest difference we possibly could. I was with Harry on that one but it required him to give me a reminder on occasions. I could still become discouraged when things seemed to be standing still.

As I matured, winning the war wasn't on my mind. Making a difference was far more important. Each paper I wrote needed to offer a hope of solving the growing number of challenges and that meant it would take all of us to turn around the damage being done. The people would need to be part of the solution.

After a busy week, Jack brought in some Jacques Cousteau films he'd bought while he was in college.

As we watched some Jacques Cousteau footage that came in with Jack one morning, it was obvious Cousteau wanted to bring the beauty of the undersea world to as many people as possible.

Jacques Cousteau and his crew went to the ends of the earth to photograph the life there. What was on the film made me feel what I felt when I fell back into the sea on a dive. It is impossible to do it justice with a camera but if anyone came closest, it was Cousteau. I did admire him as a school boy in Tulsa. That was as close as I came to the sea until I lived next to one.

Cousteau's films were meant to uncover the mysteries of the oceans. As beautiful as each film was, his films came with a warning. This underwater world lives in concert with our own world on land. These worlds are interdependent. Should the underwater world become sick and die our world can't hope to survive.

Jack stood and applauded once the film ended.

"He's the most effective researcher on the seas," Jack said.

"The most visible, which makes him the most effective. I've never heard anything negative said about him and that makes him a man who can be admired," I said.

In one segment of the film, there was a meeting at sea with two research vessels side by side. It was in the Pacific the year before. I recognized Bill Payne's research vessel.

I was exhilarated that the man at the head of the class in ocean research took the time to meet with a protege and fellow explorer. They'd showed several closeups of the two men together. I wouldn't tell the help that one day the man talking to Cousteau would be in the conservancy laboratory talking to them.

Cousteau was a beacon to the men in the same field. He ended anything he said on a positive note. It was all about the beauty, the color, the gift sea creatures are to the world. It was all presented with a smile.

Even with the intrigue at the cove, I managed to stay on track at work. A few years ago, I wouldn't have been able to let Ivan out of my sight but there were far more reliable people than me who were keeping him safe.

I thought of him from time to time while I worked. I smiled and went back to what I was doing. Everything was going to be fine, I hoped.

I waved at whoever was around before I untied Sea Lab's mooring ropes. I'd go straight to the bridge, hit the start button, and five minutes later I left the cove. I did what I was told. I'd always watched for signs of being followed. I wasn't paranoid, or maybe I was. I didn't like it when the FBI tailed me when I drove Teddy's car.

My caution to be sure no one followed me to one of my reefs kept me alert to the same boat appearing in more than one places where I went. I'd never looked into the sky and wondered if someone was photographing me. With a high powered lens, the coast guard could take a picture from miles away on the Gulf, and I wouldn't notice them.

This routine made it nearly impossible for someone to sneak up on me. I had once worried about someone coming on board Sea Lab while I was on a dive. The only time someone surprised me was when Ivan was aboard when I came back on Sea Lab two years ago. I smiled at that memory.

Had anyone else stepped out of the passageway, I might have stroked out on the spot. It was on my mind once Ivan told me that the Jersey hood might take a shot at any of us if we crossed his path.

Kramer knew me from my pictures being in the paper, standing beside Harry. Could Carlos Santiago remember me well enough to make the same distinction. Would he want to take out Harry's right hand man? Was my imagination too vivid for my own good?

With no one around when I went into the water, who was going to show up in the hour I was underwater?

Should I take someone on Sea Lab to make sure no one came on board while I was on a dive?

The dive that day went smoothly. I was gone two and a half hours and I returned to the cove just after noon. The first thing I looked for when I entered the mouth of the cove was Ivan's shop. It stood out as the most substantial structure overlooking the scene.

The Fish Warehouse was many times the size of Ivan's new shop, but it was off to one side and only the unloading docks and ramps were on the water. The rest of it stretched out toward the highway.

I backed the Sea Lab into her slip as usual. Ivan came to the front door of the shop to watch. I waved. He waved and I went down to secure Sea Lab. I needed to do an inspection but everything was working fine and I'd do it after lunch or I'd make time tomorrow.

It was one of those mild cloudless days that come in January. Being outdoors was hard to resist but I got a lot of outdoor time.

It was a month since the second incident that ended with a full court press to protect Ivan, the cove, and those of us who lived and worked in the vicinity.

Since Popov and Harry put themselves between us and trouble, my life had moved along without a hitch. The part of the day I looked forward to most was after eating with Mama, I'd take Ivan his lunch. I always left enough of an appetite to help eat the feast Mama sent.

There were other rewards that came with taking him lunch. Those were as nice as any dessert and twice as sweet.

I was more impressed each time I went to the shop. The displays grew more detailed and they were alive with color. The changes each day came as a surprise I looked forward to.

Ivan had excellent taste and I didn't know that about him.

One of the fisherman that kept watch over the conservancy house sent mama a dozen trout the day before, when Dylan took them dinner. She was tickled pink and she'd done one up beautifully for Ivan's lunch. With steaming mashed potatoes and fresh peas I couldn't wait to get it to him. It was still piping hot when I carried it from the car to the shop.

As January's go, this was a good one. After the trouble a few days before Christmas, we'd managed to recover nicely. I didn't feel the danger. I was aware that trouble would come suddenly and leave in a hurry. I was alert without being too cautious about something I could do nothing about. A month after the last trouble and with so much protection around us allowed me to relax.

As I went in the door and heard the bell tinkle, I smiled. I could feel the heat from the aluminum plate. Would he be surprised.

Ivan took a step backward once I put his lunch on the counter and opened my arms for a hug. He stepped back by the desk where he kept the plans. I closed the distance between us. He backed into the desk. I didn't know what game this was. I wanted a kiss for bringing him that damn fish and I intended to get one.

Neither of us was happy about the hug. I let go of him like he was a hot coal and I was burning up.

"You're going to tell me that's a growth on your back, aren't you, sweetheart?" I said in an angry voice. "We have a son, Ivan."

"It is exactly what you think it is. I'm going to protect myself, and Tag, and you. I won't be unarmed."

"Where'd you get the gun, Ivan?" I asked, stepping away from my lover as he tried to close the distance between us.

"I brought it home with me. They insisted I have one over there," he said. "Cost too much to leave it. There was no reason to leave it."

"How many times did you use it on someone, Ivan?" I asked in my, I want the truth voice.

"I didn't. I wasn't in that end of the Company. I didn't lie. Before they'd let me loose to go to work, I learned to shoot it with either hand. I could hit a target twenty-five feet away, dead center with either hand. In a two handed stance, I can hit a target 40 feet away," Ivan said. "I'm also smart enough to know that shooting a paper target is nothing like shooting a human being. I'd avoid that if possible. In this case it may not be possible."

Ivan was focused on me and I on him. That left our rear guard down. It was when my son's long arms got in the way of our war on guns.

"Cool!" Dylan said. "I knew something was going on down here. My father can shoot like Dirty Harry! Far out."

Dylan stood with his hand holding the bell so it wouldn't jingle.

"I was going to surprise you. We got out at noon. I got in the backseat of your car while you were eating lunch. I fell asleep," He said, trying to cover all his bases, but he'd picked the wrong conversation to interrupt.

I glared at Dylan and then I glared at Ivan. I couldn't say what I wanted to say and Ivan knew it. I wasn't done yet.

"You brought him down here. Don't look at me," Ivan said.

"I'm looking at you and I'm about to take him home, but I'll be back. Get in the car Dylan," I said in a way I'd never spoken to him before. "Didn't you hear me."

My son stood defiantly in the door.

"Yes. OK, Daddy, I will when you tell me why. Then I'll go get in the car. I came to see my father, Daddy. I have rights here. I'm not a child."

"Do what your daddy told you or you're going to have a sore butt to go with your rights," Ivan said.

Dylan looked stunned. He could get away with almost anything when it came to Ivan. This was definitely a setback.

"When I'm trying to protect you, you have no rights, kiddo."

"Cool your tool, Clay. He knows about the gun. I'll explain it to him," Ivan said.

"You've had that gun in your house and Dylan has been going up there? That isn't funny, Ivan. I don't expose him to violence for a good reason. I don't want him to get the idea it's ever an option."

"Daddy, get a grip. Do you see what's on television?" Dylan asked. "You want to know about violence, ask me, I'll tell you."

"The gun has been in the secret room where my grandfather's fishing equipment is kept. Junior doesn't know where it is. I haven't taken the gun out since I put it in there, until now," Ivan said. "To tell the truth, I forgot I had it, until now. I'm not going to face Big Carlos unarmed. Your version of an idyllic world works here, Clay, because we don't come in contact with the real world. Big Carlos is the real world and he's come to town. He'll be back. He'll be armed. I plan to be armed when he comes back."

"He's not eleven yet. I don't want him exposed to this," I said.

"You think I do, Clay? He is exposed to it. You didn't think he'd figure it out? Think about it. We've never lied to him. We told them all the protection was because of someone setting fires."

"I thought that was the dead guy on the dock. He was the firebug," Dylan said. "That's what I heard."

"Who told you that?" I asked.

"The sheriff's kid is in my class. It's all he talked about for a week. I was sure it's why Popov's men were guarding us. I didn't know the details, just rumors. I still don't know, but I know Daddy-O needs to carry a gun because he feels like there is danger."

"It's why we don't want you down here, Dylan," I said.

"I have no interest in his gun, Daddy. Can I be proud my father is good with a gun? Why not? It doesn't mean I want to have one or fire one, because I don't. I shoot pictures and all you need to do is tell me what's going on. You don't need to fight about it. I'll figure it out once I know the facts."

"Yes, we should have explained it but we don't know what to explain. We don't know anything for sure. That's why it's dangerous. Nothing could happen but something could," I said.

"I'd rather Daddy-O have a gun then be unarmed if something does happen," Dylan said.

"Yes, he should. As usual I'm worried about you, about him, and I don't like guns."

"I'll get rid of it," Ivan said. "With Taggart here every day and you here most days, I feel way better knowing I can take care of trouble if trouble comes calling."

"No! You're right. It might come down to you being able to protect us. If you know what you're doing, carry the gun. If I see Dylan so much as look at it sideways and I don't know which one of you I'll spank first."

Ivan cracked a smile.

Dylan laughed.

I wasn't laughing. It was still a hard reality to accept.

Once more my reaction was out of proportion to the event, except this event went far beyond what I would tolerate. Guns did one thing. They killed.

A civilized society didn't need to kill and claim it was a sport and they had a right to kill. I hated the killing and I hated guns.

"Trouble has come to town. It has visited the marina twice. The next time the objective might not be to set a fire. When this is over, we'll go back to doing things your way, Clay. For now I know what needs to be done to protect the people I love. I can't stand by to wait and see if someone else will protect us."

"OK. You do have a point. We'll wait to see what happens," I said.

"This?" Dylan asked. "What's this?"

"The fires at the marina were set. The guy responsible hasn't been caught. The cops know who he is and they're on the lookout for him. I have the gun to convince him not to set any more fires," Ivan said.

"That's all," Dylan said. "Daddy, you're wrapped too tight. I knew someone set the fires," Dylan said. "I know there are bad people in the world. The corpse was one of those?"

"He was. You don't need to be down here until the guy they are looking for is caught," I said.

"There's two firebugs," Dylan said.

"Two?" I said.

"The dead guy worked for another man," Ivan said.

"That's cool. All you needed to do was explain it, Daddy.

"With your father packing, you don't need to be down here until the need for the gun is over," I said.

"Can't you reason with him, Daddy-O?"

"I told him I didn't want you down here until the guy is arrested," Ivan said. "We agree on that one, junior. We need to make that call and you need to obey your fathers. That's how this deal works."

"You too. I thought you could fly. I don't see how you got off the ground, Daddy-O. OK, go ahead and take me home. I'll stay in my room until you let me out or until I'm twenty-one."

"Get in the car, Dylan. Your trout is probably cold but you don't deserve hot trout. I'll talk to you later," I said.

"You can shoot with both hands, Daddy-O?" Dylan said from the door. "How cool is that?"

"I've never taken the gun out of the holster since I qualified with it six years ago. I don't dislike anyone enough to shoot them, junior."

Dylan laughed.

I cringed.

Once again Ivan had remained cool while I became emotional about things I couldn't control.

Ivan was right and he defused the situation by telling Dylan the least troubling part of the story. It helped with Dylan but it did nothing for my disposition. It had become too real. It wasn't Ivan's fault. It wasn't anyone's fault, except for the psychopath who might be waiting to strike at any time.

I was worried about Ivan but he knew what he was doing. I wish I knew what was going on. I left Dylan sitting in the front seat of the Chevy to make a return visit to the shop before I left.

"I'll be right back, kiddo" I said.

His back was turned when the bell jingled.

"I love you as much as it's possible for me to love anyone, Ivan. I don't want anything to happen to you. I'll trust you on this. I know you'll do what's right or what needs doing. I'll try not to get in the way. You did fine with Dylan. I wouldn't have known what to tell him. I was wrong. I'm sorry I got upset at you," I said.

"I won't hug you or kiss you. I'm still too upset but I can admit when I'm wrong. I know I'm wrong, but I still don't like guns."

Ivan didn't move closer while I talked.

A hug would would mean touching that damn gun again, and I wasn't doing that. I left the shop.

I drove Dylan home and he went into the house. I stayed in the car shaking.

I wanted this to end.

What was going on at the marina wasn't happening in a vacuum. Popov started a search of coves and inlets, looking for the boat he'd seen at the end of the dock. Popov knew every boat in the marina. It was his marina before it was Ivan's.

Each time he came ashore in his launch, Popov put his foot on Bob Jones's yacht before stepping onto the dock. He had no difficulty remembering the boat or the man. It was this knowledge that had Popov searching for a boat he'd know anywhere.

Harry was quiet. Popov was vigilant and his fishermen watched the marina and our houses. The fishing fleet continued to go out early Tuesday and it returned on Friday afternoon.

J.K. might turn up anywhere. He was in the car watching the conservancy house a lot. When I got out of my car to take Ivan his lunch, J.K. might be standing by the new kitchen and he'd nod. When I walked down the dock to Sea Lab, J.K. might be sitting on a chair near the stern of the Daddy-O. He'd nod. I nodded back.

J.K. stayed very visible and one day, when this was over, I'd hug him and thank him for letting me know I was safe under his watchful eyes.

Carlos Santiago was nowhere to be found.

As Harry prepared to kick off his campaign for the senate in Tampa, we met at his house to talk about the importance of it. He called each time he wanted to talk and he sent Reginald for me in the evening after dinner,

Each time he sent for me, I expected this was when Harry would clue me in on what he knew and what the FBI told him.

He didn't. So I didn't ask. He'd tell me when he was ready.

We talked about the campaign, publicity, donors, and my place as the man who introduced him as the next senator from the great state of Florida. If Harry had any doubts about me, he didn't show it. Even when the house was full of close supporters, donors, and public officials, my place was at his side when he called for me to be there.

He didn't tell me what to say or what not to say but I knew better than to put on another performance like I did the last time I faced his donors, state officials, and the people who supported Harry.

It made me more confident and less self conscious about my last appearance in Tampa. We all make mistakes now and then. Learning from those mistakes means apologizing and never doing it again.

I was ready to put it behind me. I'd feel better when I did.

Harry was home a week before he kicked off his campaign for the senate in Tampa. He made the rounds in Florida and touched base with big supporters and donors. He appeared on television, was interviewed by newspapers, and in general the name Harry McCallister was mentioned every night on the local news.

A congressman has a district and he runs for election in that district. A senator must be known by the people in his state. What Harry had that no one else brought to the table, a vested interest in the Gulf of Mexico, the state's beaches, the air, and things that were a threat.

The Sanibel Island Conservancy was out front in research and in studying the environment that impacted every Floridian and anyone who visited or vacationed in Florida.

It was a hefty resume.

As the man Harry built the conservancy around, I spoke for him about the details and implications of what my work produced. Harry didn't just talk a good game. He rolled up his sleeves and he knew everything about my work and what that work signified.

Whatever I said, Harry knew about it. When I explained the significance of my findings and the threats we faced, Harry understood my message. He made sure I explained it to him. He was in Washington making sure he did all he could to protect the environment from corporations and misguided people who saw waterways as a place to dump anything they wanted to get rid of.

Many voters wondered who representatives represented. They certainly didn't represent the people. With Harry they knew where he stood and what he was doing. If you were a resident of Florida, no matter what you did, your livelihood depended on the pristine beaches, clean air, and healthy agriculture.

Harry McCallister stood up for Florida and everyone knew it.

Ivan drove because public speaking made me nervous. Dylan came along to see what his daddy might do for an encore.

What I'd do was introduce Harry and get off the stage.

The future senator of Florida deserved the best I had to give. He asked me to introduce him in Tampa to start the campaign. Trusting me to do the right thing and I wouldn't disappoint him.

I wasn't looking forward to facing this particular audience. Once I did, it would clear the air and allow me to take on the role Harry had trained me for. That was turf I was comfortable covering.

These were thoughts that ran through my mind as we raced toward Tampa. At seventy the Buick was smoother than the Chevy was at forty. It was a top flight ride.

It wasn't necessary for Harry to announce early but he wanted to discourage challengers before they decided to run. With Harry's father being a popular congressman, and Harry, picking up where his father left off, won the seat his father once held in congress.

Harry was a known quantity who stood for a prosperous Florida. He was known statewide for heading the Sanibel Island Conservancy before he went to congress. I worked at Harry's conservancy lab and on board the Sea Lab, which had become better known than me, and we took our business seriously. We intended to keep the Gulf of Mexico clean.

I showed Harry my introduction the day before he kicked off the campaign in Tampa. It took under five minutes to deliver. Harry read it in two minutes. He handed it back to me.

"Short and sweet," he said. "You aren't usually that brief, Clay."

"I don't want to go off script this time, Harry."

"I admire the effort. You'll be fine. Everyone understood your passion over your reef being destroyed. They were sorry too. Walk out there and give the introduction your way. You'll be OK once you start. They probably don't remember your last appearance. These people have busy lives. We occupy no more than a few hours of it each year."

In Tampa, in front of a standing room only crowd, the first odd thing threw me off of my prepared entrance, introduction, and exit. This wasn't about me. It was about Harry.

I didn't remember so many photographers as I took the walk onto center stage. When I stopped at the microphone, the cameras clicked. If there were cameras the last time, I didn't remember so many.

My name was on the marquee under Harry's.

I stood in front of the microphone. I didn't touch it or make sure it was on. That wasn't my job. The lights hid the people beyond the first couple of rows but I looked through the curtains before going on stage. It was a packed house but that was no surprise. The applause for me was.

The cameras stopped clicking and it was almost too quiet once the applause stopped.

I remembered to smile.

"You know me and you know why I'm here," I said.

The short speech I rehearsed for a week was nowhere to be found. My mind went blank.

The applause threw me. I hadn't said anything yet and I searched for the first word. If I remembered that, I'd be OK.

The applause died away.

I would introduce Harry and get off the stage. How hard was that? I'd known him for half my life.

I fought the urge to run.

I stood there smiling. I looked to see if Harry came onto the stage to rescue me, but I was on my own.

"I promise I won't depress you tonight," I said.

The audience laughed.

They remembered my last performance and they could laugh about it. I was relieved. If I could remember what I wanted to say, and it wasn't very long, I might survive this.

As the audience waited, the words came back to me.

"This is a special night for me. When I was asked to make this introduction, it seemed perfect, because this is the opening of Harry's campaign for the senate. We all know Harry is the right man for the job. He makes it possible for me to do the work I do. It's work I do for you and all Floridians. With your help, and with Harry in the senate, we'll keep Florida the picturesque place where everyone wants to be."

There was applause.

I hesitated, waiting for it to die away. I was OK now.

"I ran a little over the last time we met here, so I'll cut right to the chase. Honored guests, donors, campaign staff, ladies and gentlemen of Florida and the world, I give you my friend, my mentor, my boss, and the next senator from the great state of Florida, Congressman Harry McCallister."

The applause echoed throughout the auditorium.

Everyone stood and applauded.

Harry took long confident strides on his way to the microphone. I wasn't expecting the hug. It was reassuring.

"I told you you'd be fine. They know you're at the center of my work in Washington, Clayton. It's your passion we all love. Thank you," Harry said, patting my back before turning to face the audience.

I left the stage. The cameras clicked furiously. I looked back from the wings. Harry continued to wave. My mentor was on his way to the senate.

"Thank you. Thank you," he waved and smiled his biggest smile.

He stood motionless, confident, waiting for the last of the applause to end. He looked from side to side as if he could see everyone's face. His smile radiated warmth.

"The smartest decision I ever made was hiring Clayton Olson to be the Sanibel Island Conservancy's marine biologist. Give him a hand for doing a great job. I wouldn't be here if Clayton wasn't in the Gulf."

The applause thundered for Florida's next senator and his right hand man. I felt giddy. I was known because of Harry.

I'd come into my own as a man. My words meant something. The next senator from Florida needed me to stand at his side.

It was a sobering thought and as long as no one looked too closely at his marine biologist's life, we'd be fine.

The applause had stopped.

The cameras stopped clicking.

Harry was among friends and supporters who came to fill the Tampa auditorium.

"Honored guests, donors, my supporters and friends, ladies and gentlemen, I'm Congressman Harry McCallister and I'm running for the United States Senate."

The applause grew louder as everyone stood.

The cameras clicked.

Harry waved.

The audience applauded.

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