The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 27

The Glades

I left the Chevy parked at the conservancy and I walked to the cove.

"What took you so long. I've been waiting for you, my lovely."

"Now you know how I felt over the years you were gone. I needed to tend to the troops and then Harry showed up," I said.

My exasperation could hardly be missed.

"It's not even ten o'clock. Who put the burr under Harry's saddle?"

"People to meet. He wanted to let me know our meeting at eleven was off. So I don't need to return to the conservancy. Randi and Jack have plenty to do. Is Kramer OK?"

"It's about time you stopped worrying about everyone. We'll be fine unless we aren't and when we aren't, that's the time to worry," Ivan said. "I didn't hear you drive up."

"Nice morning for a walk," I said. "Let's not go there."

"Chevy take its last gasp? I've been expecting it."

"Wouldn't start. I think I flooded it."

"Would you like a suggestion?" Ivan asked.

"I got that suggestion from Harry," I said.

"He got to you first," Ivan said.

"He came to work early. I'd have been gone except for the car not starting. He wanted to talk about Popov and the events that took place in his absence at the grand opening on Saturday."

"Oh, yeah, did I tell you he had a meeting with a donor and was going to be gone all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday?" Ivan asked.

"No, but he explained it this morning."

"What do you know about that. They should make that guy a senator," Ivan said. "He thinks of everything."

"No doubt about it," I said.

"You can use the Buick. I'm here for the day every day. You're just over the hill at the conservancy. I don't mind, Clay," Ivan said.

"You shouldn't need to lend me your car," I said.

"No, I shouldn't but you need to borrow it. You like that Buick. Why don't you buy one? You have a birthday coming up, my love. Splurge and I'll put what I have set aside toward your birthday to help you with the purchase."

"How'd you know, sweety pie," Kramer said, stepping in the door behind us. "Popov hasn't returned?"

"Not my day to watch him," Ivan said. "Don't you have some painting to do? You're slacking."

"No, I think I'll just hang out here with the beautiful people," Kramer said. "Maybe it'll rub off."

"Don't press your luck, mad dog. You have your car with you?" Ivan asked.

"Yeah. It's behind the shop," Kramer said.

"See, if I need to go anywhere, Kramer can take me while he's watching my back. You can use the Buick. You look good behind the wheel of that Buick. Suits you, you, know."

"Give me the keys. I've got to get the Chevy fixed."

"It's a classic," Kramer said. "I had a 55 when I was in school. I worked on it. I can take a look at yours if you like. They have the same engines and carb."

"I'd appreciate that. I'll want to keep it in good shape even if I buy a new car. I hate the idea of car shopping," I said.

"I'll go with you. I wouldn't put you in the water with sharks and not protect you," Ivan said.

"I appreciate that," I said. "Do they still sell the 57 Chevy? I can upgrade slowly."

"No. No one upgrades that slowly. It's 1980, cutie pie," Ivan said.

"The shop and the marina, why's he selling it to you, after going through the trouble to get it?" Kramer asked.

"He's a smart man as well as a good businessman. I will own it and take the headaches that go with it. He gets a cut of the profit and the cove gets a face lift. It took him a little time to go along with what I was telling him I wanted to do. He didn't want the cove to change into something that could get out of control."

"No matter what you do in the cove, you'll sooner or later end up talking to Popov. I told him my idea as far as I got with it at first. He suggested I not only buy the Bait Shop but the marina too. He wanted the marina to double in size and he didn't want to do it himself. I could manage both easily enough and the ideas built from there."

"I've got to admit, compared with when I first came to the cove, this is way nicer. Bigger. The beach makes it look bigger, more classy."

"This is more than that old shop and the marina," Kramer said. "Except for the Fish Warehouse, it's a totally different cove."

"What can I say. I have a vivid imagination," Ivan said. "The idea kept on growing. Popov kept sweetening the pot. If I would take responsibility for everything west of the Fish Warehouse, he could make me a deal, which allows him to relax a little."

"He didn't look so relaxed Saturday. He was rather intense from where I stood," Kramer said.

"You mess with Popov's people and Popov does what it takes to discourage the individual or individuals causing the trouble," Ivan said.

"So when did you two get so chummy?" I asked. "You had a cover story when I saw you on the dock."

"Yeah, Uncle Harry was trying to help his misguided nephew," Kramer said. "Ivan was suspicious right off."

"Timing was too convenient. We're up to our ass in alligators and an alligator exterminator happens on the scene. That only happens in movies and when the FBI is involved," Ivan said. "I do know Uncle Harry and I gave some thought to what Harry might do. Uncle Harry can change everything with a single phone call. Kramer being his nephew stretched the bounds of credibility. The vibes were wrong."

"One day he asks me, 'Who are you really, Kramer? You're too bright to be a lonely nephew down on his luck. I didn't know if you might have told him?" Kramer said, looking my way.

"What have we here, another layer of the deception. My one true love knew Kramer was with the FBI and didn't tell moi?"

"He was the guy guarding your backdoor the day the FBI came to get your confirmation on Santiago. He was there to protect you. What wasn't there for me to like about that, big guy?"

"That has a ring of truth to it. I can see it from your perspective," Ivan said. "The truth is always best. How is it they let you go undercover when one of the main players saw you at my house?"

"I can not tell a lie. I didn't tell anyone. I asked for this assignment," Kramer said. "I figured Clay for an honorable man. Why would he want to blow my cover? I was the watchdog."

"You were there when the action went down," Ivan said.

"I'll tell that story to my buddies at the FBI one day if my ass doesn't get burned by that big Russian." "You'll be fine," Ivan said.

"You could have your fate in worse hands," I said. "That Russian will finish what he started."

"Please, don't try to comfort me," Kramer said. "I'm an FBI agent. I'm not supposed to let the locals take a prisoner away from me."

"He was never your prisoner. If not for Popov you might be in some intensive care unit right now, or worse," Ivan said.

"I wish you two would quit trying to make me feel better."

I laughed.

Kramer looked forlorn.

Ivan leaned forward in his chair, looking toward the cove's opening to the Gulf.

"Guess who's home from the sea," Ivan said.

"Home from the sea?" I asked.

"Popov's trawler is coming into the cove," Ivan said.

I leaned to study the cove entrance and Popov's boat appeared as it turned toward where he anchored.

"How do you do that?" Kramer asked, after seeing the trawler.

"I use my ears," Ivan said.

"I can't wait to hear what he has to say," Kramer said. "That guy better be OK."

"You are my humble employee. You don't get to question my friends, mad dog," Ivan said.

"Glad you reminded me. I was ready to read him his Miranda rights."

"You don't have it memorized? I'm surprised at you, Special Agent Kramer," I said.

"You read it from the card. You don't dare miss a word. Any criminal worth his salt knows it by heart," Kramer said.

"I trust Popov. You don't need to worry about him. He's an honorable man, Kramer," Ivan said. "It would be a better world if more men was as honorable as that man."

"Your man, not mine," Kramer said. "I like proof."

"You need to keep a low profile, Kramer. Remember your place," Ivan said. "You don't want to get fired, do you?"

"I'll listen before I take my cuffs out," Kramer said. "He better have a good story. That dude could be the key to finding Carlos Santiago and the man who finds him will be aces with the FBI."

"I am carrying a gun," Ivan said. "You need to remember that."

Popov dropped anchor. I watched Popov leave the bridge and come down from the bridge and go into the cabin.

We waited.

It wasn't possible to sit after the waiting was over. In a few minutes we'd get the answers we'd been waiting for.

We stood looking through the window for Popov's next move. We went to stand in front of the window to remove the barrier between us and what was going on in the cove.

Nothing was going on. What were they waiting for?

No one came on deck.

Five minutes after dropping anchor we watched the launch being lowered. Popov made his way to the dock. He was alone in the boat. J.K. stood on the deck watching the launch from the trawler.

He tied the launch up beside the Daddy-O. That meant he wasn't staying long. Popov climbed onto the dock.

"We are having the reception committee. I should have shaved," Popov said, having a full black beard and mustache.

Popov tied the launch to the side of the Daddy-O.

"Where's the prisoner?" Kramer asked.

"Am I being back in Russia with KGB nipping at Popov's heels?"

"Where's the guy you took?" Kramer asked.

"You... are standing in my way, youngster," Popov barked, bumping past Kramer, walking toward J.K.'s.

"Where's the prisoner?" Kramer insisted.

"Prisoner? You are being mistaken. Popov does not take the prisoners."

I lagged behind Popov, Kramer, and then Ivan. I sensed the man wasn't in the mood to chat.

Popov went up the steps, walking directly toward to J.K.'s Kitchen. Kramer stayed on his heels but he said no more.

Popov burst through the front door of J.K.'s, marching up to the counter and reaching behind it to get the phone. He dialed a number.

Kramer stood a few feet behind Popov. Ivan and I took the first booth, ready for whatever came next.

"Tito," Popov said, turning his back and leaning over the phone.

A gigantic mug of coffee was put down in front of Popov. He patted the waitress' hand.

"You are good fellow," he said.

"You don't think that old pirate left that dude in the Gulf, do you?"

"Not for a minute. I think the dude told Popov what he wanted to know. He's too determined to be in the dark. He's about to make his move and without Special Agent Kramer's say so," I said.

"Kramer's going to be beside himself if you're right," Ivan said.

The waitress brought us coffee.

"Anything else this morning?" She asked.

"No, we're waiting for Popov. No telling what comes next," Ivan said.

We smiled and thanked her. It was a good time for a cup of coffee. We could hear Popov talking but he wasn't loud enough to know what he was saying.

"Captain Tito... and ...Giovanni. He's the best shot," Popov said, turning our way for a few seconds and turning his back.

He hung up the phone and walked to our table and he took the seat across from us. He drank his coffee for a minute. Then he looked at us.

"You need to be cheering up, my friends. We're OK. You'll be seeing soon, after the errand Popov has left to run."

"You called Captain Tito?" Ivan asked.

"Yes, Tito, he and Giovanni are to be meeting me. They bring the gun for the shark we are hunting. Popov is taking no chances, he is telling you."

"Ah, hot coffee, that's what I'm needing," Popov said as he drank.

Kramer came to stand beside the table.

"Where is he?" Kramer more demanded than asked.

"Am I knowing this one? He is not learning manners so good," Popov said, talking to Ivan and me.

Turning the coffee mug up, he drained what was left, ignoring Kramer.

If there was anything I knew about Popov, he'd tell us what he wanted us to know, especially if the job wasn't done yet. When it was done, we'd hear about it and we might even hear how it was done over a plate of clams at J.K.'s.

"Why do you need a rifleman?" Kramer tried. "Let me use that phone."

"You are being the nuisance. You are using the pay phone in the front," Popov said. "You not use my phone until the manners are being learned."

"I don't have any change," Kramer said, checking his empty pockets.

"We are not making the change for rude young men. Come back when you learn the manners. I'm not knowing you."

Kramer's frustration showed. He'd met his match in Popov.

Kramer regrouped.

"Everything is OK, Popov?" Ivan asked.

"Is fine. We are going to be fixing problem pretty fast."

"Where's the prisoner?"

Kramer lacked the ability to restrain himself any longer.

Popov stared at Kramer as his cup was being refilled.

"Prisoner! Prisoner! I am taking new friend to get some sea air and you are insulting Popov by accusing me of taking my friend prisoner?"

"That's about the size of it. You can't just kidnap someone in this country," Kramer said.

"If this one is here with someone I'm knowing, Please be removing him from Popov's restaurant," Popov bellowed. "He is making me angry now."

"Popov, he's OK. He's with me," Ivan said. "He's harmless but well intentioned."

"Your new friend is annoying Popov. You are one telling Popov he is kidnapper. Am I mistaken?" Popov asked, looking Kramer over. "You, my young friend, still with the peach fuzz on his face, is lawyer or policey man," Popov said, patting Kramer's cheek with his meaty right hand. "A man, he comes to kill you. When Popov is taking him away, you are thinking I kidnap. I am admitting I favored the keel hauling of this brigand, but Popov is wanting the information he is having. So Popov use old fashion Russian torture to be finding what my new friend he knows," Popov said.

"Torture!" Kramer said alarmed. "He better be OK."

Popov shook his head.

"Vodka, she is loosening the tongue. I am treating him like old friend. I'm getting more with the vodka than you are getting with this good cop bad cop of yours. I am admitting, terrible waste of the Stolichnaya, but what's a poor fisherman to do? The tongue she is loose. Popov's new friend is talking and talking ...too much. Singing badly. After such is my experience you are insulting Popov? Saying I take prisoner? You, my young man, must be the policey man, I'm thinking. No lawyer speaking with Popov this way."

"That's about it," Kramer said. "Special Agent Kramer. FBI."

Kramer sounded certain.

"Next time, I'm thinking, maybe I let him shoot just you. You should be thanking Popov, but Popov is forgiving policey man. You are not knowing better."

Popov patted Kramer's cheek again.

"He's OK?" Ivan asked. "I'm thanking you, Popov. If you hadn't been there, I'm sure I'd have shot him. I don't like men who come to shoot me in the back but shooting someone I like even less."

"Popov not speaking truth if he say he is OK. He has the big hanging over. The fresh sea air is not so much agreeing with him. For you my young policey man, he is Tony Capriano from your Jersey. He avenges his dumb friend who is burning himself up. We are having it straight now. He is understanding that we are not the fault his friend is burning. Tony is being sorry for mistake. He is getting the bad information from man who is hiring him to make trouble."

"Just the same, I'd like to make sure," Kramer said. "As a special agent of the FBI, it's my job."

"You have no right to my new friend. He has done nothing for you. I'm sure no crime is being committed, unless taking boat trip for his health is against your laws, Mr. FBI man."

"It's not what you're here for," Ivan said to Kramer. "Lighten up."

"I must admit, you slipped ahead of me on that one. A person of interest is the best I could do in a pinch," Kramer said. "He was up to no good and he had a gun."

"If Popov is not mistaken, many Americans carry gun."

"What happens next?" Ivan asked.

"This one is not welcome to hear plan," Popov said. "I am not wanting to be interfered with until the job she is done. Don't need FBI in Popov's way."

"Kramer, you're my employee, say what he's about to tell us isn't going to show up on some official report you file," Ivan said. "Or go outside and keep going. I don't need a man watching my back if I can't trust him to do what's right and not just what's legal."

"I can't turn my ears on and off. I can't not hear something I hear him say," Kramer said.

"Use your imagination or go find someone else to protect," Ivan ordered.

"No. I will not act on any confidence I hear him say. My word of honor as a special agent of the FBI."

"This one is having honor?" Popov asked. "Please, as you say." "

"He's OK. A bit anal retentive but I believe him, Popov. Besides, he thinks he's got something he doesn't really have. He'll be good."

"Tony is knowing whereabouts of this Big Carlos. To the south maybe two hours. Once he is not being sick, we go. I am bringing Captain Tito and Giovanni. They are best shooters. They stay cool. I know place we are going. He is not being there much longer. We go right away. Tony says, 'Big Carlos has slipped through fingers of cops many times. Has nose for when the trouble is coming."

"You need to let us go after Big Carlos," Kramer said. "I can't allow you to go after one of the FBI's most wanted."

"Can you shoot this one. He is being on Popov's nerves."

"Kramer, how much information do you have about the whereabouts of one Big Carlos?" Ivan asked.

"He's doing police work," Kramer said. "It's a job for professionals. We've been chasing him for five years."

"You won't mind Popov taking one more day. Hardly much against the five years. He is being in Everglades. We come from water. He is on water. Tony say, wait too long, Big Carlos, he go."

"What does Tony get for this little piece of information?"

"Tony pay debt he owe Popov. Popov lets him go. That's deal. Never again is Tony coming to Popov's cove. We are even."

"You can't do that," Kramer said. "He might be wanted."

"I am getting men and we are doing this. There is no time for talking over. You are not getting in Popov's way and Popov is bringing Mr. FBI man big present if he good fellow."

"How long would it take you to get your agents together, get a boat here, and make a trip to an unknown spot in the Everglades?" Ivan asked.

"Days. Maybe by Wednesday," Kramer said.

"Let the man go get him before he leaves and no one knows where he is," Ivan said.

Tito came into J.K.'s with a long rifle under his arm and cradled across his forearm. Giovanni followed him in. His rifle was far more lethal looking. It had a powerful scope on it. Ivan told me it was a sniper's rifle and it was accurate up to a thousand yards.

To me it was just a big gun but rifles didn't worry me. I could see them and I could see what was going on with one. A pistol wasn't there until it was, and when it was, that's when trouble started.

Popov hugged Tito and shook Giovanni's hand. They talked Russian and both men turned to help Popov look at Kramer.

"Sit tight," Popov said, "We'll bring Big Carlos to you, Mr. FBI man.'" Kramer watched the three men leave. He seemed to grasp there wasn't time to get an FBI team together. He didn't like it but he begrudgingly gave way to the idea Popov was in charge and he would need to wait for Popov to make his move.

Popov, Tito, and Giovanni were already on the way.

If they hadn't been carrying guns, I'd have felt a lot better about it. Popov was taking no chances. Carlos Santiago was a dangerous man and it was best to be prepared if things went wrong but if Popov saw a need for guns, he'd be facing guns.

We ordered a plate of sweet rolls and more coffee. Kramer stood at the door watching for the trawler to weigh anchor and leave the cove. Then, he left the door and came back to the table.

The waitress brought him a cup of coffee.

"What if he isn't there?" Kramer asked.

"I hope that dude can swim," Ivan said. "He has no reason to lie. He's on the spot. Big Carlos put him on the spot he's on. Tony might want to see him pay for that little inconvenience."

"He won't let him go," Kramer insisted. "Tell me he's joking."

"Why not? He didn't fire his weapon. Maybe he just came to scare us. We really don't know his plan, because J.K. stopped him. You don't need him as a witness against Big Carlos. You've got enough on him to keep him on ice for life," Ivan said.

Sipping coffee and waiting became the order of the day. The upper reaches of the Everglades was a couple of hours south. No telling how much farther down the coast they needed to go.

"I've met a lot of characters in my line of work. I've never met anyone bigger than life. I've never met anyone more in charge. I'm sure I should be doing something. Wishing him luck and hoping he finds Big Carlos is the best I can do."

"It's an improvement. You need to let Popov finish what he started," Ivan said.

"The Glades are two hours. Leaving now, we should know how it turns out by four or five," I said. "That's if there are no glitches."

"How did you come by Popov?" Kramer asked.

"He's like a father to me," Ivan said.

"Me too," I said. "He's bigger than life all right. You nailed it. He may be an old Russian but he's a smart old Russian. My money is on Popov."

"Amazing man," Kramer said. "Is he capable of doing what he says he'll do?"

"I wouldn't want to be on the wrong end of those rifles. They make excellent shark repellant," Ivan said. "If they need to, they'll use them."

"If Popov returns without Big Carlos, call in your boys to take a shot. My money's on Popov," Ivan said. "He knows what he's doing."

We walked back to the shop to keep an eye on the cove. Popov's trawler was gone. The waiting game was on again.

I called Harry once we returned to the shop. He was getting ready to take his friends to lunch.

"The lobsters are waiting, Clayton. Make it short," Harry said.

"Do they do carry out, Harry. You could get me one to go," I said.

"No they don't and no I couldn't. What's up?"

"Popov was here. He left again. He knows where Carlos Santiago is waiting to here from his hit man. Popov convinced him to tell him what he knew. He's somewhere in the Glades. We're waiting."

"OK. Leave a message if anything happens. We'll be drinking and I probably won't get back to you today. I hope Popov hasn't bitten off more than he can chew. Santiago sounds like a nasty character," Harry said.

"Popov took Tito and Giovanni. They were carrying rifles. Popov doesn't intend to let him get away," I said.

"OK. Let Connie know if anything happens before she leaves at five. Otherwise, I'll talk to you in the morning."

"At nine o'clock, boss?"

"Heavens know. I got up once to be at work by nine this year. I won't do that again until next year," Harry said.

I laughed.

"Now you know how the other half live," I said.

"I'm not amused," Harry said. "Got to go."

Harry hung up.

"He coming over to help us watch?" Ivan asked.

"He's going to the Gulf Club for lobster," I said.

"Do they deliver?" Ivan asked.

"He's on the clock," Kramer said. "Two hours down, two hours back. If he isn't back by three, I'm calling the district director for instructions."

"Suit yourself. You don't know where they're going. I think your best bet is to stick with Popov," Ivan said. "You tell your boss what you know, what Popov has told you, and he's going to start having doubts about you. Not how the FBI works according to TV. You've got diddlysquat. Be patient. Wait this thing out and you might have Big Carlos to tell your regional director about. I'd think that's an outcome you could live with."

Kramer was quiet for a while. He didn't share his thoughts with us. Ivan sounded reasonable to me. What was going to be gained by calling in reinforcements at this juncture. What were they going to do, help us wait?

"I have a question about finding your brother. What in the world made you think you could find him?" Kramer wanted to know.

"It's a feeling I have. Boris has it too but he doesn't use it. If I focus on Boris, I can usually get a sense of him," Ivan said.

"How do you do that?" Kramer asked.

"I don't do it. It's a connection we have. When he went missing. I had no sense of him. He wasn't there. The connection had been broken. Or, as it turned out, he was close to death and in his weakened state, I didn't feel him. At first I thought he was dead but then I realized he could be weak and resting somewhere. When he got stronger I was able to sense him again."

"What happened?" Kramer asked.

"I became sure Boris was alive and that meant going to get him."

"You knew he was alive because of this thing inside you?"

"Yes," Ivan said.

"You know this place is right out of the Twilight Zone," Kramer said.

Ivan and I laughed.

"You sense him now?" Kramer asked.

"I do. It isn't hard. He's a hundred feet away on the next to last houseboat on the inside of the marina."

Kramer looked at Boris' houseboat.

"You were caught crossing the border into Vietnam. If you hadn't been betrayed and turned over to the Company's assets, would you have found Boris?"

"Yes," Ivan said. "Eventually I would have found him."

"So you are caught. You're shanghaied and forced to work rather than go to jail because the people who had you claimed you broke the law?"


"Then, if I have this straight, two Russians, not any of which reside in the cove, and they guided you to your brother in Laos, once you fulfill your obligation to the Company who really had no jurisdiction over you?"


"The people who stopped you from going to get your brother then has some random Russians lead you to your brother?"


"This is too far out for the Twilight Zone," Kramer said.

"You ever been in a tiger cage?" Ivan asked.

"I was an intelligence officer. Of course I saw tiger cages?"

"I was kept in one for two, three, maybe four weeks. I had no way of measuring time and after the first week there was only two things I could be sure of. I hadn't died so I was probably alive."

"Two or three weeks?"

"Maybe ten days. Maybe forty days. I lost all sense of everything. Another few days or a week and I'd have been dead. So, don't ask me why I signed up for the Company's program. Spend a week in a tiger cage, you'll know the answer," Ivan said.

"Yes, I suspect I would. We didn't believe there was an Ivan Aleksa. The story circulated through the secret agencies. No one believed it was true. It was some super hero yarn a CIA agent with too much time on his hands made up. We knew the story circulated inside the CIA first. Then, a year or so ago, one of my buddies from Quantico says, "Aleksa found his brother. He's off the MIA list and on the West Coast. He brought his brother home on a CIA plane that originated in Cambodia," Kramer said.

"It took me a minute to put it together. Then I remember thinking about it back when I first heard it. I'd just returned from Vietnam then. A guy went to get his MIA brother from Vietnam. Seeing you sitting in front of me, I wonder how you did it?"

"No how. I just did it. It never occurred to me I couldn't do it."


"Maybe while I was in the tiger cage I wondered what the hell I was doing. I couldn't find anyone if I died."

"I can imagine," Kramer said. "They knew how long it took for someone to die under those conditions. They knew when to let you out to get the maximum amount of cooperation."

"Come by and go on a fishing charter with me and I'll tell you about Southeast Asia Air Freight and my trip to Southeast Asia. They usually brought guys out of Vietnam. I was the first guy who wanted to get into Vietnam. For all those years I worked for the company, I didn't know anyone knew what I went to Southeast Asia to do. I worried I might die before I did it but I didn't die, as you can plainly see."

Kramer could see and he looked Ivan over as if he might find what it was that made him special.

You couldn't see what made Ivan special. It's what was inside of him that separated him from ordinary men.

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