The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 23

The Kramer Effect

Having completed my service for Harry that night, I turned to Ivan and Dylan as Harry's voice boomed in the auditorium. He'd begun slow and calm and he was building in intensity and volume. Associating the man running for senate with the man who sat across from me in the Gulf Club wasn't possible.

This was political Harry. He knew his business and he was there to tell the people what the plan was for our future.

He outlined his speech for me over lobster in the Gulf Club. Like my speeches, there was an outline on what needed to be said and the knowledge that allowed us to explain it to any audience.

So I knew what Harry would say, except for the ruffles and flourishes he added that weren't included in our Gulf Club lunches.

Being relieved to be done for the night, I wanted to escape.

I turned to my man and my son and they were ready to go.

"Totally cool," Ivan said. "I didn't know an introduction could get my blood flowing the way that one did. These people like you, Clay."

"As long as you like me, I'll settle for that," I said and I would.

"What about me, Daddy?"

"You've got to like me. I'm your daddy," I said with detachment.

Dylan hugged me tight. I couldn't fool my son.

Ivan nudged Dylan out of the way to hug me too.

I was incredibly lucky. In spite of it all, my life was worth living.

"At first I saw the Clay I know and love," Ivan said. "Then you seemed to stiffen your back and I could see you are a man who knows who he is. You made me proud."

"I thought I did. Maybe I do," i said. "Thank you for saying it."

"The passionate emotional Clayton Olson was here in August. He wasn't as sure of himself but he had something to say and he said it. Just now, you stood beside Harry as his equal. Confident in the knowledge of who you are. They saw it. They applauded it."

"I appreciate your confidence in me, Ivan. Thank you. Let's go, Dylan is already dragging."

I had the urge to kiss him but we were in Tampa. Declaring my love for my man would be seen as inappropriate. If I wanted to preserve Harry's future, not to mention my own, I resist the urge.

Even in Tampa, I could squeeze his hand. He squeezed back. The message was sent and received. No one was any the wiser and western civilization would survived another day.

Bringing Dylan to include him in part of the political process meant leaving early. Being politically aware didn't negate his need for eight hours of sleep each night. Celebrating the beginning of Harry's senatorial campaign would be going on into the early hours. It was my least favorite activity. While I would accompany Harry from beginning to end on most of the campaign stops I attended with him, he gave me a pass to take care of my son on what we knew would be the longest night of the campaign.

I remembered Harry before he became a congressman, when he came to meet a boy he'd been hearing stories about. At that meeting our stars became linked in a future we'd share. In my wildest dreams I could never have imagined this.

Because of Harry I became a marine biologist. I was loyal and I admired Harry's integrity. He'd never gone back on his word once. He promised he'd help me make something out of myself. He did that without telling me my future would rise with his. A man who delivered more than he promised could hardly be faulted.

He was about to become a senator. I was a full grown man now and Harry would expect me to conduct myself like a man. I would stand beside him, representing his love for the environment.

Harry gave me the time to grow into my work and be able to tell the story he wanted his marine biologist to tell. He'd invested in a boy who was fascinated by things things in the sea and we'd traveled a million miles together.

My previous visit to Tampa was the final act in the life of the boy Harry picked to represent his interests at the conservancy and in the Gulf of Mexico. I had finished maturing by the time I got back to Tampa the second time. No doubt my first appearance lead to a second appearance I left feeling better about.

As I faced my demons head on, I realized they were a fiction in my mind. There were no more doubts about doing my part. After all, this wasn't about me. It was about Harry.

It didn't hurt that Harry's biggest advocates were behind me. I faced them like I was partnered with them in a great journey we were taking together. A journey that would end with Harry being a United States Senator.

I spoke for Harry with pride and enthusiasm. Harry was our champion. He would take us to a cleaner, healthier Florida.

There were no challengers for Florida's open senate seat yet. Congressman Harry McCallister was the people's candidate. He went to Washington to get things done. He made friends, creating alliances with politicians who wanted to get things done. They could see Harry took the job seriously. He kept his promises.

Harry would step up to a place where legislation was shaped to create the maximum benefit for the people. The senate was the place where men like Harry worked to make America better for everyone, not just for politicians, their friends, and, and for their biggest donors.

The congress was a stepping stone for men who were destined and Harry was stepping up.

The week before Tampa, Harry and I had time to talk about what was going to happen. I still felt like I'd let Harry down in Tampa. He insisted that what I did was what made him as effective as he was. I didn't think he was talking about Tampa. I was on Harry's team, but more than that, I was his right hand man.

If that wasn't enough to jerk me into the here and now, I didn't know what would.

Having Harry make me feel good about myself was nothing new. He was always in my corner. He treated me better than I had a right to expect. I was all in for Harry's rise to the senate. I had no idea how that might change my work, but I knew it would be changed as I would be changed.

Senators make national headlines when they do or say something to alter the playing field. A congressman might make local headlines. He might nudge the needle in a meaningful way. He didn't have the national stage of a senator, which made the difference.

Harry said that his donors, campaign staff, and the people in his corner knew how valuable I was to his work. On my second visit to Tampa, speaking on Harry's behalf, the reception startled me.

The people in that auditorium didn't hold a grudge. What I'd done the last time I faced them was selfish and inconsiderate, but I needed to tell people about the precarious position our environment was in. My reef was the proof and the perfect metaphor for the dangers our environment faced at the hands of men without scruples.

The greed of men who would never get enough threatened to destroy an underwater oasis full of life and beauty. They would destroy it without noticing the beauty.

This was a story that needed telling and I told it in Tampa. It was the wrong audience and I'd stepped way over the line. It was the best I could do then.

They took it in stride and welcomed me back as if I hadn't taken advantage of them. There was a story in that too. They knew why I was there and their enthusiasm couldn't be curbed tonight.

The stage had become larger and I needed to be smarter. I'd seen how swiftly I became national news by being Harry's boy. Anything I did reflected on him. I needed to keep my cool and do what I came to do. After doing it, I could leave Tampa feeling better about my ability to represent Harry and not upstage him.

I could introduce Harry without putting in my two cents worth. People had learned my name and they knew what I did. I'd been in school for years. I worked at the conservancy at the same time, but I learned more about myself in two trips to Tampa than I learned in school or while working. Sometimes it takes conflict to resolve an issue, even if the conflict is within yourself.

Everything in my life had changed since April of 1979. There was no way to explain the emotional swings I experienced over those months.

Before Ivan came home my work, my family, and everything I did was compartmentalized. I had a good perspective on life, but my life was missing an essential component for it to be complete.

Then Ivan came home.

Feeling like a teenager in love when I was turning thirty, created chaos. I maintained an even keel for years. My life was under control, until every emotion known to man ran through me at the same time. At least that's the way it felt. Anger and love are powerful forces to try to manage.

My first trip to Tampa made me realize I was out of control. A second trip to Tamp allowed things to reset in my mind. My new life was like my old life with one notable exception, Ivan came home. He intended to stay home with his lover and his son. I knew that now, and it made all the difference. Everything fell into place by January.

It allowed me to finish growing up. It took Ivan's return to shake my world back into alignment. That's when I finish growing up. That's what took place to allow me to become a man who was the equal of other men.

Once again my life was on an even keel. I'd never been happier.

Until I went to Tampa the second time, I wasn't able to say that.

I needed to face my fears. Once I did, I was OK. I realized my demons weren't real. They'd paralyze me. No obstacles stood in my way any longer. I knew where to go and what to do when I got there.

The following week I took my feelings of well being to where I got chills at the sight of the sunken freighter. It was inspiring, as most of my dives were. It was one of several reefs where I did my diving. I loved each one with an appreciation for the beauty diving added to my life.

I still haven't given up the idea of finding the ship's safe and the ship's log. I had no idea how I'd get the safe off the ship or get the log out of the safe, but I still believed it would unlock the mysteries that sank with the freighter. It made the freighter irresistible.

I backed Sea Lab into her slip. I went down to tie Sea Lab off and then I went to bring my tanks to the stern of the boat to take to Ivan to be filled. I'd go home for lunch and return with Ivan's lunch.

The local summer season would serve as a test run. It wouldn't be until the fall that the real tourist season would begin.

Ivan stood in front of the shop as soon as he saw the Sea Lab entering the cove. He waited for me to take him the SCUBA tanks.

I stepped off the Sea Lab and I immediately saw a guy in white cutoffs, a white tee-shirt, and a straw hat. I looked for unfamiliar faces no matter what I did. I was alert when I came and went from anywhere. The back of this man was familiar. I'd thought that the first time I saw him. Maybe a week ago I'd noticed the same back.

The guy in white was painting the piling white on the other side of the dock from Sea Lab. He looked harmless and thinking that was a sure recipe for me to end up on the short end of the stick.

He looked around. I'm sure he heard me. Our eyes met for no more than an instant. His eyes quickly went back on the paint brush. He dipped the brush into the paint, looking innocent enough.

My eyes reflexively darted to my SCUBA tanks. I collected them without looking toward the man again. The flickering glance told me what to do. I didn't need instruction. I'd figure out why later. I didn't want Ivan to ask what kept me.

The FBI had arrived at the marina and Special Agent Kramer was on the job. What job, I couldn't say, but I knew it meant they were establishing a presence in the cove. A presence that needed to be invisible if any effort were made to hurt one of us or burn anything.

Once again I was reassured. Just his presence meant they hadn't come and left us to our fate. They certainly didn't want us looking for them or giving them away. Being reassured was one side of a coin. The other side represented the danger I felt Ivan was in.

Because there was danger, neither Dylan or I was completely safe while we were with Ivan. No one knew what minute might erupt into violence. There was a certain risk in being alive. I didn't think that risk was any higher in Florida than it was in New Jersey.

The FBI was on the job and I'd been sent a message. I'd need to consider the stakes in this game of cat and mouse before I'd break my silence. Knowing agent Kramer was there told me a lot.

Ivan was waiting at the back door, ready to take my tanks.

"You sure are looking good, hot stuff," he said.

"I'm sorry. I have a lover. I don't acknowledge flirting young men no matter how handsome they are," I said, as his hand closed on mine.

We both held my tanks for longer than necessary.

"But in your case, I might, ...make an exception, handsome."

"Painting the dock?" I asked as I backed away.

"Harry sent him over this morning. Said, 'He needs work. Harry's paying for him," he said. "The pilings are scorched at the end of the dock. They were a reminder of what took place there. I already had men doing some painting. Sprucing things up a bit. I was going to attend to it myself or ask Tag to slap a coat of paint on them."

"Doesn't look like someone's hired hand," I said, fishing for what Ivan did and didn't know.

"I thought that too. Times are tough all over, I guess," Ivan said. "He's a pretty intelligent fellow as far as I can tell. He went right to work when I showed him the paint."

I held my tongue.

I'd go along with Harry and Special Agent Kramer for now. Ivan wouldn't like a man being put there to protect him.

I thought the idea was just spiffy.

Over the next few weeks, I appeared in Orlando, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, and Miami. I went on Harry's plane with him. I didn't like being away from my son for any longer than necessary, and Harry made sure I wasn't gone for more than a day at a time.

The reception I got at the campaign events still surprised me. The difference between a congressional campaign and a senatorial campaign was obvious. The rich and famous took their turns being photographed with Florida's next senator.

They applauded louder, longer, and threw money at their candidate. The rubber chicken circuit became the caviar and hors d'oeuvre circuit. The affairs at someone's estate were opulent beyond my experience.

Harry was rich and he lived well. The rich people who kept mansions in Florida for weekend getaways, were accustomed to the attention. When the flashbulbs did their thing, the diamonds, emeralds, and gold glittered. Dazzling white teeth glistened in each smile. These were the beautiful people and their public loved them.

There were mansions with a view of the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico with huge swimming pools. It seemed extravagant to me but I thought the deluxe extra large pizza at Ledo's was a tad extravagant. It didn't mean I didn't eat a piece.

Having my eyes opened to the disparity between working people and the people who lived for a living was enlightening. Jewels and sports cars separated the wealthy from those of us who made car payments on the family sedan and the Timex we wore kept good time but it wouldn't pass the sparkle test.

Harry knew the super wealthy from his father's day. Having a member of their own class running for senate was popular. He was a man who would protect their position in life and who would keep the money flowing in their direction.

Being pragmatic, Harry knew how the game was played. The glitter didn't blind Harry and he knew how well bred men acted. Fitting in didn't take much effort but Harry's platform failed to mention well bred men and their money. Harry would be a senator who intended to do right by Florida.

Who could vote against that?

In spite of the travel and many hours on the road, I got to know Harry the politician better. For a long time it had been a secondary role that Harry had in my life. His new role would mean more politics.

One night, as we headed for the plane after an appearance. Harry said, "I know a place in St. Augustine. The steak melts in your mouth, Clayton. After such a formal event, I think we deserve a treat. I'll have you home before sunup."

It was going to be early morning when I got home anyway and it was the kind of thing you didn't say no to Harry about.

Like the Gulf Club, Harry knew where the great restaurants were. A phone call assured one would remain open until we arrived.

Most of the longer trips were taken on weekends. Harry still had to be in Washington for three or four days a week. When he wasn't in Washington he was on the campaign trail and a nonstop schedule. He'd fly to pick me up Friday and I would be home early Sunday morning.

We'd get in an event Friday night, one at noon on Saturday, and one some Saturday afternoons. Saturday night was reserved for the main event each weekend. If Harry went out on Sunday, it was close by and he went without his marine biologist.

Sunday was for smaller more intimate affairs. Sundays Harry liked to relax and not run the day away. He didn't mind sitting around a pool at a donor's mansion, sipping bourbon and branch water while they chatted about how the future would look.

Any thoughts of being a politician left me as I did my best to keep up with Harry. I didn't know how the man did it. By Sunday I was ready to take a break and get back to my slow paced life.

Many weeks into the campaign, I was on my way to Sea Lab to develop the slides I'd taken the day before. As I walked up the dock, I saw Special Agent Kramer squatting among the Vietnamese. His size gave him away. No one would mistake him for Vietnamese.

He saw me and he nodded before he turned his attention back to the Vietnamese.

He wore white cutoffs, a white tee-shirt, and a straw hat. Like Ivan, the lyrical language flowed among excited fishermen and their wives. There was laughter and happy banter. I couldn't help but wonder about what it meant. What was Kramer up to anyway?

The more of Special Agent Kramer I saw, the less like an FBI agent he seemed. Nothing I'd seen him do would I expect an agent to be doing. Maybe that was his specialty. He fit into social situations without raising suspicions that he might be a fed.

I kept walking, slowly, wondering why he was here. I gave my usual wave and hello to the Vietnamese. They knew I was often with Ivan and since the last incident, the Vietnamese were much friendlier. They seemed more comfortable being at the marina. I didn't think they'd feel so comfortable if they knew they'd invited an FBI agent into their midst. Where did he learn to speak Vietnamese?

As I moved toward the end of the dock and the Sea Lab, I heard someone coming. I immediately swung around in a defensive move. I knew it was likely nothing but I was taking no chances.

"Hey, Olson. I wanted to thank you," Kramer said, holding the straw hat in his hand.

"I'm afraid to ask what I've done," I said, turning back toward Sea Lab, I continued to walk with my heart pounding a bit faster than when I didn't hear footsteps closing in behind me.

"I wasn't sure if you'd tell your... ah, Ivan who I was. It's easier if he doesn't know," Kramer said, moving up beside me.

"He wouldn't like it," I said. "Why make waves? I should be thanking you for being on the job."

"It's better if he doesn't know," Kramer said. "This way I can gain his confidence and get close to him."

"Gain his confidence by lying to him? What a novel approach," I said.

"It's my cover. It isn't lying. I'm playing a role, like in a movie," he said.

"Oh, silly me. Where's your gun, Special Agent Kramer?"

"I can't tell you that. It's a special agent's secret," he said.

"I bet it is. Where'd you learn Vietnamese?" I asked, watching his face to see how he handled the question.

"I was an intelligence officer in Vietnam. You've got to know the language if you expect to be intelligent," he said with a grin.

"The FBI sure knows its business," I said.

"Look, Olson, call me Bob. I'm not the enemy, you know?"

"Isn't that a bit chummy, Bob?" I asked.

"No, I'm undercover to everyone but you. May as well make the best of it. We want to catch this guy and if he shows up, I'll be here."

"OK, Bob, you can call me Clay," I said. "You'll have to excuse me. I've got some slides to develop from my last dive."

"Sounds interesting. Mind if I tag along?" he asked.

"No. Suit yourself," I said, stepping onto the Sea Lab with him close behind.

He took it all in as I unlocked and entered the salon, going inside. I pushed back the drapes and the doors to let fresh air into the stuffy overheated interior.

"This is a palace," Kramer said.

"What the best dressed marine biologist sails," I said.

Kramer laughed.

He seemed like a regular guy.

"Want a tour? It's what I do when a new face is on board," I said.

"I'd like that," he said.

We ended up in the lab where I developed my slides.

"Anything new on the Santiago business?" I asked.

"Big Carlos has managed to elude us for the time being. It's not the first time he's disappeared. This place is our only lead. If he doesn't show up here, we'll go back to square one. He'll turn up. For the sake of the people here, it would be better if he turns up while we're keeping an eye out for him. We'll scoop him up before he can do any more harm."

"That suits me fine," I said. "If he never shows up again, I'll be just fine with that outcome."

"No, you want this guy caught. If he doesn't show up here, he's out there somewhere and we'll go about our business until he shows up again. I wouldn't want him showing up here after we're gone."

"No," I said. "Ivan speaks Vietnamese."

"I know. I've read his file," Kramer said.

"The FBI has a file on him?" I asked.

"He's a legend, you know? What he did. I don't know a man who could have pulled it off. None of us do. He's a man I respect. Yes, we have a file that traces him through his anti war years and once he made it to Southeast Asia."

"You're a strange guy," I said.

"We're not all alike. We represent a fairly accurate cross section of Americana. I saw what went on over there. My country right or wrong might be the motto of most agents, but I know wrong when I see it done and I do my best not to become part of it. I want to do good and I do my best not fall under the influence of the unsavory forces in the agency."

"You sure don't sound like an FBI agent. You don't tell your boss how you feel?"

"Hardly. I keep it to myself, my wife, and a marine biologist now and then. I'm not there to run for office. I have an assignment. I asked the congressman to ask for me to be put on this."

"You know Harry?"

"He's my uncle."

"Harry is your uncle?"

I laughed.

"Give me a break. I wasn't born yesterday, and neither was Ivan."

"That's my cover story. He didn't question it. I think Uncle Harry called him before I showed up."

"You learn Vietnamese over there. I've watched these people. Ivan talks to them in their lingo. They hesitate to mingle with anyone that isn't Vietnamese. That's how it looks to me," I said.

"I appreciate what the Vietnamese suffered at our hands. I knew that before I left Vietnam. I'd passed the test for the FBI while I was still in the army. I became an agent when my military duty ended. They dropped me in here first. I really liked it. I let it be known I wanted to be assigned in this region permanently. They sent me to Houston."

I laughed again.

"What a government. Say you're a brain surgeon and they make you a cook."

Kramer laughed.

"Houston was nice. There was a case that took me to a fishing village where forty or fifty Vietnamese had settled. It's where I met my wife. She's the daughter of one of the fisherman I was talking to. When they had trouble in Houston, I told them about Florida. They decided to come here and here they are."

"Your wife is Vietnamese?"

"She is. She doesn't live with her family. We have a place in Tampa. I'm assigned there."

"You're full of surprises. I won't say anything but Ivan's pretty sharp. Don't be surprised if he sees through this little charade."

"Legends often do, Clay. He knows me now. It doesn't matter as much as when he knew nothing. If he gets too suspicious I might tell him to clear the air. I need to be close if Big Carlos shows up."

"You know about Popov," I said.

"Sure. I've read his file too," he said.

"Popov has an FBI file?" I said surprised.

"A Russian defector. What kind of organization would be be if we didn't checkout Russian defectors. Quite a character," he said.

"He's bigger in real life," I said.

"I've seen him. He's looked me over. I nodded at him."

"He's a force of nature," I said.

"As long as he doesn't get in the way, he can be anything he wants to be. He's done well for himself," Kramer said.

"I'm impressed. I guess I should learn that you can't judge a book by his badge. My oldest brother was over there. He came back and married a war protester. They're environmentalists now."

"You certainly have an extraordinary family, Olson. Theodore was just the tip of the Olson iceberg," he said. "He did fine for himself considering he was a draft dodger."

"Resister. Teddy is one of the most honorable men I know," I said.

"He was wanted for being a draft dodger. He broke the law. I was just doing my job," Kramer said.

"Hail mine fuhrer," I said without the salute. "He was a draft resister. He didn't need to go to Vietnam to know we didn't belong in their country. Teddy taught me about the environment. Everyone isn't cut out to be a killer," I said.

Kramer's back stiffened.

"I'd have resisted the draft too if my number hadn't been 314."

"I'm glad it was. Some men need to do what they're meant to do, Clay. You're well known and you are a force for good," he said.

"I've got slides to develop. It's not a big enough space for both of us. I'll see you out on the dock," I said.

"I'm undercover to everyone but you. It's a lonely job, Clay. I'm after a few minutes of being myself. I know your work. You're a smart man. I merely wish to be who I am and speak one man to another."

"You are not what I thought my first FBI agent would be like."

"Sorry if I disappointed you, Olson. Time for me to go back to work. Thanks again for not blowing my cover. It's easier to be close to Ivan this way. I'm going to help Taggart with building the fire pits for the new beach Ivan is about to create. I stay close to him when I can. So far so good. There are other agents. None of us have caught a glimpse of anyone suspicious. See you later, Olson."

Special Agent Kramer walked toward the stern. He certainly was nothing like I'd expect an FBI agent to be.

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