The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 26


I was filled with emotion. I was grateful no one was shot. I was very angry someone could have been shot. Knowing my son was there made my anger intensify.

For the second time in my life I felt death up close and it was not pleasant knowing this threat had come so close. If we'd arrived a few seconds later, I couldn't begin to imagine the carnage.

I was totally nonviolent. I hated guns. What Popov did probably broke any number of laws. I wasn't concerned with any of that now. Whatever Popov needed to do to get the information that took him to the man who was behind the trouble was fine with me. I didn't care what it took. I wouldn't ask any questions. What I wanted to hear was that the trouble was over.

The two people I loved most were within range of his gun. I wanted that kind of danger to end. I wanted Popov to do anything he need to do to end it.

Where would we be if J.K. hadn't known what to look for?

The shop we closed at three, when the grand opening officially ended, reopened at four thirty. Ivan, Kramer, and I sat on the three directors' chairs. Taggart sat on the counter, looking out at the peaceful cove.

It was a typical Saturday afternoon in the cove, if you didn't count the near shootout at the Daddy-O. The first thing I did before joining the watch brigade at the shop was take Dylan home.

Only after I left Dylan at the house, under protest of course, did I realize that my parents were going to ask, 'Where's Clay and Ivan?' and Dylan was going to tell them about the events at the cove and they'd fret until Ivan and I appeared.

I didn't know how much Dylan heard or knew about what did happen at the marina. He was in the galley of the Daddy-O for most of the incident and he couldn't have been aware of much because he didn't come out of the galley to see what was going on.

He knew Popov took a man away. That alone would lead to questions Dylan couldn't answer. What was done was done and it was too late to change my mind now. I drove back to the shop and hoped for the best.

As far as I knew, the four of us, Popov and J.K., were the only ones who knew what went on at the end of the dock.

"I'll go for coffee," Taggart said. "I need a cup of coffee after that little bit of theater. This used to be such a peaceful place."

I remembered the last time Taggart went for coffee. The odds of being shot twice while going for coffee seemed remote.

"That would be great, Tag," Ivan said. "I could use a cup right now."

Ivan handed Taggart five dollars as he scooted off his perch on the counter and took the five dollars on his way to the door.

"Will Jr. J.K.'s carry coffee? It'll make for a shorter trip if they do," Taggart said.

"I'm sure they will. J.K. will want it to be a good brew," Ivan said. "He has customers who stop just to get a cup of his coffee."

Taggart walked in front of the big window on his way to J.K.'s.

"I need to report this," Kramer said. "I don't know how many regulations I violated in the last hour. I let a man take a suspect away from me for Christ sake."

"You're undercover. Cool it. No one is going to rat you out. Sit tight. Let Popov handle it and you'll be fine," Ivan said.

"Popov will get a a lot more out of him than you guys will," I said. "And since when did everyone find out who you are?"

"Torture is illegal. He's not qualified to interrogate a prisoner," Kramer said.

"The guy with Popov, J.K.," I said. "He saved your life, Kramer. If Popov hadn't been on the job, you'd be dead and anything after that is academic, because dead men never complain."

"J.K.? He runs J.K.'s Kitchen," Kramer said. "Not my idea of a man who should be doing police work."

"When he was a young man, thirty years ago, he was one of Stalin's bodyguards," Ivan said. "He fished with Popov until he lost his leg in an accident. When he told Popov he loved to cook, Popov built J.K.'s Kitchen for him."

"You aren't serious?" Kramer asked. "The Stalin."

"The one and only," Ivan said. "Popov will get the information you want and he won't put a hand on the man," Ivan said. "In spite of his appearance, Popov is gentle as a lamb. He can act the part when terror is necessary."

"I can see where even a tough guy might pee himself if Popov was acting like he wanted to squash him like a bug," Kramer said. "that's a man who could make good on it."

"Exactly," Ivan said. "Popov will get what you need. You'll see."

We sat sipping coffee and watching the cove. In particular we watched Popov's trawler. No one was on deck.

The phone rang.

Ivan jumped up and answered.

"Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop."

Ivan listened.

"No ma'am. Yes ma'am. No ma'am. Four. Popov's taking care of it at the moment. We're waiting for him. Yes, ma'am. Thank you."

"What's for dinner?" I asked.

"She's sending us a bag of ham, ham and cheese, meatloaf, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She said, "We can get drinks at J.K.'s Kitchen," Ivan said.

"We are getting the B menu," I said. "Dylan talked. Why peanut butter and jelly. Neither of us eat peanut butter and jelly."

"She's sending them with Dylan," Ivan said.

"He's being sent to report back to Mama," I said. "She wouldn't let him near the cove if she thought there was trouble," I said. "She'd make me come for get the sandwiches. He might not have told her too much, but she expects us home for a hot meal before long."

"Your mother makes sure you don't go hungry," Kramer said.

"My mother would feed the entire civilized world if someone said they were hungry," I said.

Kramer laughed.

"The B menu sounds pretty good to me. I like ham," he said. "I've been known to eat peanut butter and jelly."

"Mama makes her own jelly," I said. "It's all fruit and on a hot biscuit you cover in butter, it's like going to heaven," I said.

Dylan walked in front of the shop window carrying a grocery size bag full of sandwiches.

"Who brought you?" I asked, Dylan when he came in the shop.

"Aunt Lucy," he said. "Can I tell her to leave me here?"

"You ratted us out," Ivan said. "That's why we're getting sandwiches."

"I did not," Dylan said indignantly. "I'm not stupid. I want to stay with you guys. Mama wouldn't let me if I ratted you out, Daddy-O."

"You didn't tell Mama what happened on the Daddy-O?" I asked.

"I'm not sure what happened. They were jazzed from the grand opening. Mama couldn't stop talking about what Ivan had done with the cove. Then they realized I was home and you guys weren't. They wanted to know why we didn't come home too. I told them that Popov had seen a guy who looked suspicious he took him to his boat for a chat and you were waiting to see if anything came of it," Dylan said.

"That's my boy," Ivan said. "Nothing like holding back information it would do them no good to have. We don't want to worry Mama and Pop."

"I like sandwiches and all, Daddy, but I eat sandwiches all week. Can we go get some fried clams?"

"We can do anything you want," I said. "You did good, kiddo. Go tell Aunt Lucy you're staying with us."

"Cool," Dylan said.

"We can check the trawler from the door of J.K.'s," Ivan said. "Let's give it a little while and drink the rest of our coffee."

We sat watching the boats in the cove. Nothing happened and the trawler's decks remained empty.

It took little more than an hour and one cup of coffee to decide nothing was going to happen for a while. Ivan put the bag of sandwiches in the refrigerator and we headed for J.K.'s.

No one in J.K.'s was any the wiser about what had taken place at the end of the dock at the marina. Popov and J.K. had retired to the trawler. They would take their time finding out what the hood knew.

We were all alive and well eating the clams off Dylan's platter.

"Want some more of those, kiddo?" I asked.

"Don't ask me, you guys are eating them," Dylan said.

The vote was for two platters of fried clams, one with hush puppies and French fries and one with clams only.

Popov set out to put a stop to the trouble in the cove. He'd been patient. He'd drawn up a plan to guard us at the points he believed where we'd be most vulnerable. He did what he could to discourage any more trouble. After months of visible protection around us, Popov set his trap for the grand opening. He intended to leave a hole wide enough to drive a large truck through it, only he and J.K. would be guarding the hole while looking like they were doing nothing more than enjoying the grand opening of the new cove.

If Big Carlos was still around and waiting for an opening, the grand opening would be irresistible. Dozens of people roaming around the cove unchecked. No guards, No guns, and no one keeping a watch over the dock and the Daddy-O.

What I realized was, and what stuck out like a sore thumb, a man wearing a suit and a hat would look out of place in a sea of tee-shirts, shorts, and sandals. Some of the men wore long pants and button up shirts, but very few. Amongst the gaiety created by a celebration of the new cove, with free things to give away, a somber man in a brown suit stood out. I knew it once I saw Popov and J.K. reacting to the man. Of course he was out of place.

Whatever answers Popov and J.K. got from the silent man, What I wanted to hear was the threat on Ivan was over. Once that was achievable, I'd rest easier. I knew the same was true of Popov. Whatever it took to reach that outcome, I could live with it.

As long as there was a threat, none of us was safe. We;d lived with the threat from Santiago for long enough. Even being nonviolent, nonviolence had its limits. I'd reached mine earlier in the day. Eliminating the source of the threat was mandatory.

I no longer objected to Ivan carrying a gun. I wanted my man safe and able to stop anyone who had any different ideas.

I was running on automatic pilot by late in the day Saturday. I wasn't so spent I couldn't make sure my men were getting what they wanted. Being close to them made the day more tolerable.

"What I want to know, and I was too busy to see, where did you get your gun from, Kramer?" I asked.

"It's government issue," he said.

"That's not what I meant," I said.

"I know, but there are some secrets best left untold," Kramer said. "To tell the truth, I've done business with some pretty rough characters. I may have stepped on a toe or two along the way. That's a good reason to carry a gun," Kramer said. "As you learn, you find inventive places for it. You need to use your imagination."

No, I didn't.

He knew exactly what I meant.

"Thank you for being willing to protect my men, and Ivan, thank you for being smart enough not to listen to me. You were prepared to stop trouble when someone intended to start it, and I find nothing wrong with it. I'm sorry I'm so hardheaded on the subject"

Dylan was scarfing down clams and paying no attention to what I was saying and he heard every word. I'd hear about it later.

Ivan's cove empire was well on its way to being a success.

The beach sparkled. J.K.'s Jr. Kitchen was ready to cook. The Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop overlooked the cove and it could supply visitors with beach essentials as well as activities that could make a beach week the best adventure of the summer and something to tell friends about.

The Daddy-O was poised at the end of the dock, ready for Ivan to take fishing charters to where the fish were biting. These things were available as of the grand opening. There was more to come and none of the planned additions would take as much work. The lion's share of the work was done. The new cove was dazzling for those of us who were accustomed to the old cove.

It was at the end of the dock where opening day ran aground. Popov took care of things like that in the cove for years. Once again he came to the rescue. Popov devised a plan to ensnare anyone who came to the cove for the grand opening and was up to no good.

It cut things a little too close for my taste but Popov knew, for a plan to work, his moves needed to be choreographed. J.K., trained in such things, wasn't going to let the fellow complete his objective, but he wasn't waiting for the man to pull his gun before stopping him.

It would have been easier to prove a crime was in progress if the man in the brown suit had pulled his gun. J.K. wasn't risking giving him the opportunity to wound or kill someone. Even a gangster is entitled to walk down a dock at a grand opening if he wants.

There were too many guns for my taste but the man in the brown suit didn't show his gun until he was ordered to drop it. We could speculate why he was there but we couldn't prove why he was there and being there wasn't a crime. The man hadn't done anything but walk to the end of the dock.

Popov's way meant the man was caught in a time and place that lead the sea captain to believe this man knew who was causing the trouble at the cove and Popov intended to get some answers. If the FBI took the guy into custody, they'd be talking to his lawyer. The way Popov handled the matter meant the man was talking to a very big and very scary Russian fisherman.

He was caught in the midst of carrying out his plan. He wouldn't think that reaching for his gun was innocuous. His hand was on his gun and he was there to shoot someone.

The man in the brown suit had to be thinking, 'I'm a dead duck if I make one false move.' He would know he was caught in the act, although no one else knew in the act of what.

Kramer had only seen J.K. make the man drop his gun. The man never pulled the gun. Technically there was no crime.

Popov, being bound by no such formalities, was free to question the man for as long as it took. Technically he'd kidnapped the man but the odds of the man in the brown suit going to the police with such a charge were slim to none.

I'd put the pieces together. Kramer hadn't. If Ivan had he didn't say anything. We waited to see what came next.

We waited to see what Popov found out.

After the incident at the end of the grand opening, it was a wonder Taggart wanted to come within a country mile of the marina. No one at Harry's house knew there had been new trouble at the marina. Reginald and Twila came early. They needed to get back to work. Taggart came with them and stayed when his mother left.

Luckily, when I got a close up view of more guns than I'd ever seen in one place, none went off. Had the gangster succeeded, Taggart would have been among the casualties. He showed no sign of being apprehensive. I showed a lot of signs. I was apprehensive.

After cleaning J.K.'s Kitchen out of clams, we returned to the Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop, mostly we wanted to keep an eye on Popov's trawler. We thought we might see someone on deck or perhaps the launch would make a trip back to the dock to update us.

We made small talk. No one hazarded a guess at what might be going on a hundred yards away.

There was a lot less to watch when Popov fired up the trawler's engines, brought in the anchor, and he steamed out of the cove heading straight into the Gulf of Mexico.

"What's he doing?" Kramer yelped.

"Going fishing? It is a fishing trawler, Kramer," Ivan said.

"Taking the man home?" Dylan asked.

"No, he definitely isn't doing that," Ivan said.

"He can't just take a guy off the dock, put him on his boat and sail off with him," Kramer said.

"I think he just did," Ivan said.

"I am in so much trouble," Kramer said.

"Lighten up. He knows what he's doing," Ivan said.

"I wish I knew what he was doing," Kramer said. "If he doesn't bring that man back, I've got to sound the alarm. I should have done it before I let him get away. I hope you need help around your new cove, Ivan. My job just sailed away on Popov's boat."

"You didn't let him do anything. You are in Popov's cove. He's never needed your help before, Kramer. He doesn't need it now," Ivan said. "Relax. He'll be back and you'll be fine."

"I've got to write a report on this," Kramer said. "And I watched him sail away with my prisoner is not a good outcome."

"Pretty boring report. We drank coffee. We ate clams. We drank soda, the end."

"You said a mouthful. The end!"

There was nothing Kramer could do. His best move was keep his mouth shut and let Popov take care of it, but an FBI man isn't trained on how to wait for the outcome.

We got home in time to have stuffed peppers, mashed potatoes, and fresh spinach.

We'd return to the cove in the morning and see what turned up. My money was on Popov. He intended to end the trouble. That suited me just fine, even if it had left Kramer a bit green around the gills.

The following morning Ivan threw his legs over the side of the bed as the first morning light diluted the night. I heard him in the shower as I dragged myself out of bed. I was more tired than when we went to bed. I didn't handle stress all that well.

I wanted to go see if Popov was back. Harry was home. The limo was parked in front of the house when we dropped Taggart off the evening before. Harry would know all about the trouble in the cove.

He had more events today but the first chance he got, he'd want to know what was going on. It would be better if I knew when he asked the question. I probably had until tomorrow to work on the least crazy sounding story I could tell him. He wouldn't be happy because no version of the truth would make anyone happy.

We still didn't know anything and once we heard from Popov, the story would be easier to tell and I wouldn't feel as anxious telling it. Harry was scheduled to come to the conservancy Monday morning. He gave me the weekend off from campaigning because Ivan was having the grand opening of the new cove.

Harry was sorry he couldn't be there Saturday. His campaign schedule was set in January. At the time Ivan didn't know the work would be completed in April.

Harry hadn't seen the cove since after the Bait Shop burned and the dock was damaged. His concerns involved stopping the trouble. He got reports on what the FBI was working on and he didn't want his presence at the cove to distract from the surveillance.

Odds were I would need to have a story Monday morning and then Harry would ask about taking a look at the cove. By that time the coast would be clear involving Popov. At least I hoped would.

On Sunday the plan was to enjoy our breakfast and go to the cove to continue waiting for Popov to reappear. I suspected we would be there most of the day but if Popov got what he wanted, he might be back this morning. Ivan and I wanted to be there when he returned and there would be no keeping Kramer away. He still didn't know what story he would tell when he finally told it. Like the rest of us, there was nothing he could do but wait.

I opened the door to Dylan's room. He was face down on his bed, one arm around his teddy bear. He slept in on Saturday and Sunday because he could. I wasn't going to disturb him.

Ivan and I had coffee, eggs, bacon, and biscuits. It was daylight by this time as the days were growing longer. We drove to the cove in the Buick. There was nothing to say. We both had the same thing on our mind.

Kramer was waiting at the front door of the shop. He had on brown slacks and a light brown button up shirt. It was the most clothes I'd seen him in since that day at the back of Ivan's house.

"You can go get the coffee," Ivan said.

The three directors' chairs hadn't moved. We sat in a row angled out from the shop window. It was a typical Sunday in the cove. Nothing moved but the birds flying low over the water, heading for the Gulf and the first feeding of the day.

The cove's waters were placid.

I took a look down the beach Ivan had carved out of scrub and brush. There was a single car parked almost at the end of the extended parking lot. A tent was a couple of campsites down from the car. The cove's beach had begun attracting campers.

I smiled. Ivan's cove empire was open for business.

The wait was on. There weren't going to be any customers today. This was God's country and if people went anywhere but church, we couldn't prove it. Two cups of coffee later, Kramer reported nothing was going on at J.K.'s. When he asked, no one knew where J.K. was.

"He'd be with Popov," the woman he paid for the coffee said.

We had sandwiches from the day before but Ivan and Taggart could eat those during the week. I went home and brought back a warm lunch. The eating was silent. Kramer hardly touched his and by afternoon, Popov's whereabouts were still unknown.

We left a little before it got dark. No one had come into the cove or gone out that day. The tent on the beach and the car at the end of the parking lot were gone. There was no one on the beach and only J.K.'s was open.

Mama waited dinner for us. No one asked and we didn't say anything about the missing Popov and his prisoner.

Kramer had gone into a funk and left before we did.

"I should have filed a report yesterday," he mused, shaking his head and passing in front of the shop window on the way out.

"Interrogation is a tricky business," Ivan said, as we sat at the breakfast table.

"A lot like gangstering," I said.

It hardly drew a smile.

I worried about Popov now.

It was Monday morning and Dylan came dragging in with his shirt half buttoned and half tucked in.

Ah, school days. Dear old golden rule days.

Dylan was at least half awake when I dropped him off in front of the school. I'd go in and be there when Jack and Randi arrived. I'd see what they were up to and if it wasn't enough to keep them busy for the day, I'd get them moving on analyzing some older water samples to see how they compared to the new ones we analyzed.

It was a little cool for May and when I parked the Chevy beside the laboratory, no one else was there. I unlocked the door and turned on the lights. It wasn't quite eight. I wasn't going to stay and I didn't make coffee. Pop would make some when he arrived at nine.

Jack came in at eight thirty and Randi came in about fifteen minutes later. We talked a few minutes and I asked them to pick water samples at random to compare with our newer samples. They both thought that was a clever idea, even if it would be ten years before any study would prove one or more of the chemicals might be making folks sick.

I was pleased with myself and I went to the Chevy to drive to the cove and help Ivan and probably Kramer wait.

I'd return to the conservancy at eleven for my meeting with Harry. He usually came in about that time when he was home. By then I was hoping to have something to report.

When I turned the key there was a rapid clicking sound. It was a new one on me. I waited the proper time to let things regroup and I tried again, getting the same annoying sound. I waited five minutes and I turned the key, even more annoying, there was a single click and then nothing.

I hung my head and practiced deep breathing. I hadn't been that ticked off in ages.

Why me? Why now?

I heard Harry's limo hit the parking lot at the end of my tantrum.

I'd never crossed paths with Harry in the parking lot at nine in the morning in my life. He'd pick this day to come to work early. I stifled the urge to pound the steering wheel. It probably wouldn't have helped anyway.

I looked at Harry's car as Reginald opened the back door to let Harry out. Reginald nodded. I nodded back, before dropping my head between my arms that held a useless steering wheel.

Tap! Tap! Tap!

Of course Harry was standing beside the driver's door waiting for me to roll down my window.

I started rolling down the window and the glass suddenly dropped deep inside the door.

"Shit!" I said.

"Having a bad day, Clay?"

"Harry, this really isn't a good time," I said through my teeth. "Aren't we meeting at eleven?"

"No, I have people coming. We're going to the Gulf Club. I wanted to let you know not to come at eleven," Harry said. "Anything from Popov?"

"No, sir. I was just going to go to the cove."

"You want Reginald to drive you?"

"No!" I said.

"I know this is a bad time to mention it, Clayton, but you really need to get a new car. Lord knows I pay you enough money. Why do you insist on roughing it,"

"It reminds me of my meager beginnings, Harry."

"You live in a hundred year old mansion and I've been paying you good money since you were seventeen."

"Meager as in before the mansion," I said.

"A new car wouldn't be considered extravagant. You've earned some creature comfort."

"Harry, I'm going to get out of my car and walk to the cove. Please go to work. I'm sure Connie has a stack of messages for you."

"Suit yourself. I know a man who can make you a terrific deal on a car, Clayton."


"You need to come in for a few minutes. As I mentioned, our eleven o'clock meeting is off. There are some questions."

I got out of the Chevy and followed Harry inside.

Harry sat down behind his desk and Connie immediately came in with two cups of coffee.

"Explain what happened to the car," Harry said.

"It was running fine when I took Dylan to school. I parked here to be sure I assigned enough work to keep Jack and Randi busy and I was going to the cove to see if Popov was back."

"Taggart wasn't clear on what exactly is going on. I called J.K.'s but they said, 'J.K. is with Popov.'"

"That's who he was with the last time I saw him," I said. "There isn't much to tell you. There was a guy Popov suspected was up to no good. He invited him to his trawler for a chat."

"That's about what Taggart told me. I want to know what Popov finds out. Can you call when he returns?"

"I can do that, Harry."

"Your car?"

"My car is fine," I said, sounding silly.

"Fine hardly describes that jalopy. I know gasoline when I smell it and I know lopsided when I see it. You're car is a mess."

"I've been meaning to lose some weight," I said. "Walking will do me good."

"You're thin as a rail, Clayton."

"Taggart was sketchy on the facts about Saturday afternoon. I sensed he was holding something back. I would like to know what happened," Harry said.

I hung my head. Can this day possibly get any worse?

"Until Popov comes back we really don't know anything," I said.

"That's what Taggart said. Where is Popov?"

"Line three, Harry," Connie said, over the intercom.

It gave me time to think something up.

I sat in front of Harry's desk. He sat with the phone stuck to his ear and his back turned to me.

I yawned. I could slip out but that would simply make Harry more suspicious. We didn't need him checking in with the FBI.

Harry hung up the phone and turned his chair back around.


"Captain," I said. "Fishing fleet."

"That's the one," Harry said, determination in his voice. "Where did he go? This entire episode is out of character for Popov. He's such a level headed fellow. I don't mind telling you, it worries me."

"Harry, think like Harry for a moment. Someone poses a threat to me, let's say. Make me Ivan and you Popov, and you can expect the unexpected," I said. "Popov is doing no more than you'd do under the circumstances. You'd delegate the task at hand. Popov takes care of it himself. He's doing what he thinks is necessary."

"Yes, I see your point. Where is Captain Popov?"

"I don't know. He left the cove before you talked to Taggart. I'm going to the cove when I get out of here. I'll get back to you on Popov as soon as I find something out. Until then we wait."

"I suppose we must wait to see how this plays out. Until we see Popov, we won't know," Harry said.

"I'd say you're right."

"Harry, line one," Connie said over the intercom.

Harry swiveled around in his chair with the phone in his ear.

There was nothing left to say. I stood and softly excused myself.

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