The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 28

Captains Courageous

Since just before Christmas, I'd been waiting. I couldn't be certain what I was waiting for, but after the second attack on the cove that month, there was an unknown force lurking close enough to reach in and snatch one of us out of the cove.

At first the wait was a daily expectation of sorts. It wasn't disabling, but it was alarming. As the months went by, after the second attack on the cove, I began to wonder if the culprit had moved on once his right hand man didn't return from the mission he was sent on.

Popov's men were a reminder of what was out there. Their presence was comforting and maybe I pushed the danger out of my mind, until the grand opening of the new cove.

As we waited for Popov to complete the mission he went on, the talk as we looked out of the big front window of the Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop turned personal, even introspective.

"He's ...slow. Your brother," Kramer said.

"He bled a long time before the Laotian fishermen ran across him. Luckily it had rained. He'd crawled through that wet Vietnamese soil. It's not the recommend way to stop bleeding but if it works, who am I to advise against it? It saved Boris' life. He isn't able to immediately respond to a question or instantly recognize someone. Give him a little time and he can put things together. He almost died. He lost his arm. Clinging to life he began getting stronger in a Laotian fishing village. It's the life he was born back into. He is Laotian for the most part. I say that because he became the people who brought him back. Their slow paced lives suited his new slower brain."

"You said you listened. You heard Popov's boat when it came into the cove. Clay and I had to look to see if he was back. Is that an example of how you learned to listen?" Kramer asked.

"It's related. It's how my brain has become compartmentalized. Hearing Popov's boat is the result of my subconsciously listening for his boat to return. What I did over there was talk to a man I sat across from and at the same time listen to a conversation two tables away. I was taught certain techniques that were useful in this. I had a fairly focused mind before they forced me to focus on staying alive. Once they had me where they wanted me, I was anxious to pick up whatever tips they gave me. The clutter in my mind was reduced so that concentrating on the techniques they taught me was made easier," Ivan said.

"Like brainwashing," Kramer mumbled.

"In this case washed and tumbled dry. It took me some time to start recovering the biggest parts of who and what I was. Then I was doing what the Company told me to do. The idea of walking away did occur to me but there was still the idea I could find Boris."

"I can see how that might work," Kramer said.

"I can retain a great deal of spoken information and repeat it verbatim for a few hours up to a few days, depending on how complex the conversation is. Most conversations of interest to my handlers would require a meeting after I notified them. I'd be debriefed and my information recorded ASAP."

"Who'd you call?" Kramer asked.

"Just a number. I had no information that was of any use to anyone. I was simply a human recording device. My job was to listen. It was a means to an end. The information meant nothing to me."

"Silly us," Kramer said. "We need to go to court for a wiretap and we could just as easily come to you."

"You don't send men in undercover to get information on people you suspect of committing crimes?" Ivan asked.

"There is that. It's standard law enforcement procedure," Kramer said.

"Because of the chaos in Southeast Asia after we withdrew from Vietnam, a lot of people had big ideas about how to benefit from the void we left behind. Their plans were as likely to be discussed over a beer or coffee as in a backroom. By being a constant presence around places where I listened, no one paid any attention to me."

"I don't know I could do that," Kramer said.

"And you're a white bread white boy. You'd stand out. My people are from Lithuania and we have Asiatic blood in our veins. In the right clothing I blend in to the Southeast Asian countries. It's why they had it in mind to use me. It seems like a long time ago now."

"Is there something in the water around here?" Kramer asked.

"Not that I'm aware of," Ivan said.

"Clay is a kid wizard of things in the sea, but before he came here he didn't make so much as a wave. Now he's a marine biologist of note. His employer and mentor is a congressman, soon to be senator if my instincts are right. You take off to find your brother while you're still wet behind the ears. Somehow you find him ten thousand miles away. You have a photographic mind. Your mentor and friend is a huge Russian who just happens to be a crime fighter in his spare time. He may be about to bring back a man the FBI has been unable to catch in the last five years of looking for him. It's got to be something in the water here," Kramer said.

"You look at the end result and you think it's impossible. I never thought it was impossible. I never thought I couldn't find him. My determination led me to him because people who learned my story decided to look into it. They found him, or they found the people that knew of him, and once I did my time with them, they saw no reason not to let me find him and that would get me out of their hair."

"And I was curious about what was in the sea. Harry did the rest. What's here isn't in the water, Kramer, it's in the people. They come here to get away from the never ending rat race, the endless judgment, and control freaks," I said.

"This place offers peace and tranquility. No one is in a hurry and most people are willing to live and let live," I said.

"Or who to love?" Kramer said.

"Or who to love," I said, realizing I was holding Ivan's hand.

"No one says we can't," Ivan said. "They don't care how we find happiness. It's up to us to find it for ourselves. No one needs to tell us what to feel or who to feel it for. We are the masters of our destiny."

"Interesting concept. I'll give you that," Kramer said.

We sat in the Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop and the conversation turned personal. Kramer finally shook his mind loose from Popov. He revealed something of himself in his questions.

His story was far more typical than the ones Ivan and I had to tell. There was envy in his words. He found things he was able to admire in spite of the conservative life he was living. The people he surrounded himself with were more conservative than he was.

"Does expand my world view beyond the bureau. The constraints on agents don't encourage growth. You need to think along conventional lines to stay out of hot water. Most police agencies aren't going to move far from social norms," Kramer said. "Not on the record anyway. They are surprisingly willing to create a story that helps their cause. I find that somewhat disconcerting."

"I've seen nothing that refutes that. The law is in charge and they say what they need to say. Most people aren't in law enforcement," Ivan said. "They're expected to tell the truth."

"But you were," Kramer said. "You worked for the Company. You might not have liked the law they enforced but they exacted penalties from those who dared to cross them. They create their own justice."

"I believe you. I listened. They did what they did," Ivan said. "I'll remind you, I worked for the Company against my will."

"I'm in the wrong business. I think I ought to quit the FBI and come to work for you so I can get in on whatever it is this place has. I grabbed the duty here as quick as it was available. This place seemed so remote and beautiful. I couldn't wait to come back."

"More coffee, Kramer?" I asked.

"Yeah this cup is cold. Waiting and coffee go together."

"Me too, love of my life. Get something to nibble on. Those hush puppies with powdered sugar sprinkled on them."

"Yeah, all this work has worn me out," I said, heading for the door. "No way I'm sitting at the conservancy and waiting."

I carried the bag of coffee and sweet rolls from J.K.'s across the highway as two cars were coming our way. It was rush hour.

Both cars pulled in beside Kramer's car. I recognized Taggart's car and his mother was driving. Taggart drove one of Harry's classic Cadillacs and he pulled in behind the shop.

"Hi, Mr. Clay. Nice to see you," Twila said with a smile.

We hugged and I stepped back to take a look at her.

"You're looking younger every day, Twila. Good to see you looking so well," I said, taking her hand.

"I's feelin' right good these days. There for a while I couldn't be sure I was gettin' better or fixin' to die, Mr. Clay."

"Speaking for my family, and especially for Dylan, we're sure glad you decided to stick around."

"Excuse me. I hate to interrupt you two," Taggart said. "But I have a message for you, Clay. Mr. Harry said, 'You can drive the 54 Caddy for as long as you need it. He's sending your car to his garage man to look at. The Chevy is to be fixed so it starts. He won't touch anything else and it won't be returned to you until you go automobile shopping with him on a date he'll name later. That about covers it."

"And I've gots to be gettin' back to work. I be helping your Mama tomorrow and I'll see you there at lunchtime. I've gots my work cut out for me today. I gots to clean up after those donors. They keep comin' by for a word with Mr. Harry. They all stays for lunch or dinner or both. Freeloadenes folks I ever seen, Mr. Clay."

I laughed at Twila's description of the hangers on at Harry's. She was getting better. She rarely complained but Twila could spot a freeloader a mile away.

"Twila, I'll tell you a secret. They don't come to see Harry. They come for the fantastic food you prepare for them. I'd be visiting Harry a lot more if Mama wasn't such a fine cook," I said.

Twila giggled like a school girl. I'm sure she blushed.

"Well, thank you. I'll look at it that way from now on," Twila said.

"Tell Ivan I'll be right back, Clay. I'm taking Mama back to work. You got a cup of coffee in there for me?"

"No, but I'll go get you one and it'll be here when you come back."

"Makes coming to work a fine idea," Taggart said.

I watched him back onto the highway and turn toward Harry's. I walked over to the shiny object Harry sent for me to use. The black classic Cadillac had what looked like a gray crushed velvet interior. The dashboard was made of wood. The car shined in the Florida sunshine.

I wouldn't be driving this car with a cup of coffee between my thighs. It gave new meaning to the word classic.

I walked the coffee and sweet rolls into the new shop.

"Did you grow the beans for the coffee? I'm ready for lunch now," Ivan said.

"Taggart will be back as soon as he takes Twila to Harry's."

"He didn't go to school today?" Ivan asked.

"He's a senior. It's May. How many days did we go to school in the last half of our senior year? Not many, as I recall."

"That's true. He'll be working full time soon. The calls have started coming in for deep sea fishing and he'll take care of the shop while I'm out on a charter."

"It's hard to believe the sleepy little cove I first knew has turned into a commercial enterprise zone," Kramer said. "The thing is, it's neat and has a clean look to it. It's not overdone with stuff to buy."

"You haven't seen anything yet. We'll have diving and surfing. We'll offer activities a seaside town should have for beach goers to get the maximum out of their vacation," Ivan said.

Ivan went outside, walking down the dock to the Daddy-O once he finished with his coffee and a sweet roll. While walking back, Taggart was parking his car and they came into the shop together.

"I'm going home for lunch. I'll bring some food back for you guys," I said. "We'll be waiting another four or five hours."

"I'm hungry for one of J.K.'s oyster poor boys. Don't bring food for me," Kramer said. "It'll give you less to carry."

"I've got a bag my mama fixed before I left Harry's," Taggart said. "It's plenty to feed me and the three of you. Mac & cheese, corn fritters, tuna casserole, and enough chocolate cake to feed all of us."

"Isn't that one of Harry's cars in the parking lot?" Ivan asked.

"It's to give me something to drive while Teddy's Chevy is under the weather," I said.

"He sent it for Clay to drive. He's holding the Chevy hostage," Taggart said.

"The Chevy gave up the ghost," Ivan said. "They don't run forever. It does prove if you take care of one, it'll last a few years."

"It gave up everything. Just as I was about to ditch it and walk here, Harry drove up. He hasn't been at the conservancy before lunchtime but twice that I can remember. If I left a couple of minutes earlier I'd have been fine."

"Good for Harry," Ivan said. "It's time to park the classic Chevy before the wheels fall off it. I know just where you can get a super deal on a brand new Buick."

"I feel like a prisoner of war," I said. "I've never gone into a car dealership and I'm not looking forward to it."

"You've got to do it. There isn't much alternative," Ivan said.

"The only thing wrong with Teddy's Chevy is it won't start."

"Oh, is that it?. Well if you push it, that isn't a problem," Ivan said.

Kramer laughed.

"Shut up," I said.

"When's the last time Teddy drove his Chevy?" Ivan asked.

"!967!" I said.

"I think it's safe calling it Clay's car," Ivan said. "I have a hunch Teddy isn't going to come looking for it if he hasn't come looking for it by now."

"You aren't fooling me. You want to talk me into buying a new car," I said. "Sounds like a needless expenditure."

"I've been found out," Ivan said. "You've got to do it for your son, and if you've ever got to walk here from the house carrying your SCUBA gear, you'll see the wisdom in buying a new Buick."

"What's Dylan got to do with it?" I asked.

"His reputation is on the line. Sooner or later his classmates are going to notice you're driving a twenty-five year old car."

"Twenty-four," I said. "Dylan isn't that material. He loves that Chevy. It's a classic."

"It's an old car. That's what Dylan knows. He'd love his father to roll up in a nice new shiny Buick," Ivan said. "I'd love it."

"He's got yours. You can roll up in a new Buick if the Chevy becomes an embarrassment to him," I said.

"Not much chance of that. It doesn't start. A car that doesn't start isn't going to roll anywhere," Ivan said.

"When you get it back, if I'm still around, I'll take a look at it," Kramer said. "I had a 55 Chevy and my brother had a 57. We were always tinkering with them. Getting parts is a job if there aren't any junkyards around. A good junkyard can keep you in parts forever. The power plants were the same in 283 eight cylinder rides."

"A new car would negate the need to fix the old car," Ivan said. "I don't mind driving you where you want to go, but one day I'm going to be taking out a fishing charter, or you'll be on a dive, or both, and we'll both need a car, because the car won't always be where we need it. Which means walking a lot more often. Not that I mind exercise."

"I know. I know. Maybe later. I'll drive Harry's car for the time being," I said. "I wouldn't want him believing I didn't appreciate his thoughtfulness."

"No, we wouldn't want to do that. The Chevy is kaput," Ivan said. "Keep that in mind, honey bun."

I needed a new car. I wasn't going to give in too easy. No one remembered the trouble with the Chevy more than me. It was hard to forget.

I took such good care of Teddy's Chevy.

Driving the Cadillac was like driving a tank. It was a smooth riding tank. I went home for lunch and stopped by the conservancy and told the troops not to expect me back that day.

I took Ivan lunch and we were drinking sodas out of the shop fridge by two. I collected the dozen used coffee cups with varying amounts of cold coffee in them and they went into the trash.

I nibbled on some carrot sticks that went with the pork barbeque sandwiches, slaw, baked beans, and pickle spears. It was a perfect lunch and I ate lunch with Ivan without eating park of his lunch.

The smells mingled in the shop creating a wonderful fragrance.

At a few minutes after three Ivan perked up. I watched him listening for something. Kramer noticed the change too. He immediately went to the window to watch the entrance to the cove.

"Popov's back," Ivan said.

He'd vacillated over calling the regional director. The fact he was sitting and waiting to see what happened was a sign he didn't have much to say.

Ivan set aside his soda and the second half of his second barbecue sandwich. He got up and stood beside Kramer. I stood beside Ivan.

Popov's trawler was crawling along just inside the cove entrance.

"I'll be damned. How do you do that?" Kramer said.

I still didn't hear it but I couldn't take my eyes off of Popov's trawler. It stopped where it usually anchored.

A smaller boat moved out of the trawler's wake and came toward the beach.

"There's a boat behind the trawler," Kramer blurted.

"Hello Bob Jones," Ivan said. "He got you, you son-of-a-bitch. Way to go, Popov. Special Agent Kramer, call your regional director and tell him you know where you can put your hands on Carlos Santiago."

"I'll be damned," Kramer said. "That's Santiago's boat?"

"It is," Ivan said. "And it looks like it's coming right to you."

"What's he doing?"

The boat continued coming toward the beach. It seemed to be picking up speed. From the time it came out from behind the trawler it hadn't altered its course.

"What's he doing?" Kramer asked. "He's moving pretty fast, isn't he. How does he stop it before it runs into the beach?"

Ivan laughed.

"I think Popov intends to deliver the prisoner to you. Watch close. You don't want to miss this," Ivan said, heading out the front door on the run.

We followed Ivan outside, stopping on the sidewalk. The beach started on the far side of the boat ramp twenty feet away and Bob Jones' boat was aimed at a spot on the beach ten feet west of the boat ramp. It made no attempt to slow down.

There was nothing to do but watch.

"He's going pretty fast," Kramer said. "Shouldn't he slow down?"

"He is," I said.

"No brakes on a boat," Ivan said. "He's definitely aiming for the beach," Ivan said. "You ever seen someone beach a boat, Kramer?"

The boat kept on coming. It was too late to veer away and it kept on coming.

It wasn't Popov coming at us. It was Captain Tito driving Big Carlos' boat. That was odd. This was Popov's show. Why would he give Tito the starring role?

I looked back to the trawler. The launch had been lowered and several men were helping a third man into the launch. The third man was easy enough to recognize. It was Popov.

I'd never seen anyone assist Popov doing anything.

My attention quickly turned to the beach. Without slowing, the boat ran up ten to fifteen feet onto the beach. Only the very rear of the boat was in the water. The engine shut down as the nose of the boat hit the beach. Its momentum carried it far enough that only the rear four or five feet were in the water.

The boat kept sliding until it stopped in the soft sand.

"What a landing," Taggart said.

Ivan and Kramer charged across the boat ramp to the side of the beached craft.

"I'll be damned," Kramer said. "Hello, Mr. Santiago. Have a nice trip? I know some people who would like to speak with you."

There was muffled and sustained cussing I didn't try to understand.

Big Carlos was definitely not pleased by his return to the cove.

Ivan and Kramer leaned on the side of the boat to look at a package tied up at the stern.

When I walked over, a man was screaming and protesting big time. Being on his belly made his words poorly enunciated and hard to understand, not that anyone cared what he had to say.

I recognized the man but it was still a mystery how he got his girth underwater. Whales did it. It was harder imagining Big Carlos submerging. I decided not to ask. The man was in quite a snit.

Then there were the words I could now laugh at.

"You don't know who you're fucking with," Carlos Santiago spit out in an easy to understand phrase.

"He's all tied up," Taggart said, when he stood beside the boat. "Isn't that the guy...."

"Uh huh," Ivan said. "He's the guy."

"He's the guy," I said.

"Hog-tied," Ivan said. "Who knew Russians knew how to hog-tie a guy? Nice touch. Howdy Doody, Mr. Jones. Looks like you've gotten tangled in your fishing line. If I were you, I'd find a new hobby. Fishing doesn't look like your bag. Maybe try surfing. I'd like to see you on a surfboard."

Big Carl went ballistic but he couldn't get off his belly. Soon he began to run out of steam. He was as mad as a hornet. I wondered if he had high blood pressure. His tirade couldn't be good for him.

Big Carlos's screaming drowned out most conversation for a few minutes. When he stopped screaming, Captain Tito slid over the side of the boat and onto the beach. He looked back at the prisoner in the bottom of the boat.

"It's a nice beach you made, Ivan. I figured it was still soft enough to make a landing here. Popov said, 'I am to be telling Mr. FBI man, this is being his gift for you," Tito said with Popov's accent. "Is for being good boy."

He looked at Ivan, me, Taggart, settling on Kramer.

"This must be for you. You're the only one I don't know. If I was asked to pick an FBI agent out of a crowd, I'd pick you every time, Mr. FBI man," Tito said to Kramer.

"Thank you. I don't know what to say," Kramer said. "Popov's giving him to me?"

"He'd take up too much room on Popov's trawler. He wanted him on ice. He considered using him for bait, but he was sure you'd be able to keep Mr. Santiago tied up for a long long time. So he gives this gift to you."

"The card in your wallet. I'd start there," Ivan said. "Nothing like giving an asshole his Miranda rights before he starts crying you violated his rights. I want to be able to testify I heard you give them."

Carlos Santiago yelled some onerous warning about what he intended to do as soon as he got untied.

"Tide is not in yet," Tito said. "At high tide two men can push the boat off the beach. I'd suggest getting this man in handcuffs, but let him stay tied up for a while longer. He's not a nice man. He shouldn't be around nice people."

"Nice landing, Captain Tito," I said.

Big Carlos hurled a fusillade of insults in our direction. He fell silent much faster this time. He was definitely wearing himself out."

"Let me see if I have this straight," Taggart said. "All of this, the fires, the attempt to burn the marina, my being shot, and the violence at the grand opening are because of me?"

Ivan put his arm across Taggart's shoulders.

"Tag, those things happened because of him," Ivan said, pointing at the package on the deck. "There are ugly people in this world, my friend. This is one of the ugliest. You are just fine."

Taggart looked at Santiago. A smile appeared on his face.

"I'm glad I didn't fill your SCUBA tanks," Taggart said.

Big Carlos let loose with some more insults and accusations.

He was the new cove's first unhappy customer.

"You don't hush and I'm going to take bets on how close to three hundred pounds you are. After the bets are in, I'm going to take you to the Fish Warehouse, stick the hook in your mouth, and hang you up to see how much you really weigh," Tito explained.

Big Carlos fell silent in the middle of more insults.

"Tito, you're bleeding," I said, once I got a good look at him.

"It's Popov's blood. This snake tried to run. Popov leaped from the trawler onto the deck of this boat. I was on the bridge of the trawler. This reptile got one shot before Popov reached him. Popov insisted on taking the bridge when we started for the cove. J.K. was on the bridge when we passed the trawler just now," Tito said.

"I made a stop at Palmer's to let Tony go on his way and I followed the trawler in. Lots of padding on that old Russian but he was losing blood," Tito said. "No where to stop until we get here."

"He was losing a lot of blood," I said. "That's not a few spots."

"I helped him get back on the trawler before I took over this boat. J.K. hog tied this guy. Said he saw it on western movies."

Ivan laughed.

"J.K. has a sense of humor," Ivan said.

"A sense of justice," I said.

I turned to look at the trawler. The launch was heading for the end of the dock. I couldn't see Popov.

I ran inside the shop and dialed 9*1*1.

"We need an ambulance at the marina. A man's been shot," I said, hanging up before there were questions.

I was at the end of the dock when Popov's launch tied up. It took three of us to get Popov onto the dock. The big jovial sea captain was in no shape to protest our help. By the time he was sitting down and leaning back against a piling, the sirens could be heard coming our way.

Popov was pale and beyond resisting help. His breathing was shallow and he'd begun to sweat on a warm May afternoon. He moved to get more comfortable. A soft groan escaped from him. He made no more effort to move.

I did not like his color. I helped ease him onto his back with Taggart assisting. Popov let us do this for him. I didn't know he had the strength to object.

I felt sick at my stomach.

What I wouldn't give for one loud burst of words from the jovial Russian fisherman. Popov wasn't simply a good man, he breathed life into the cove. He was the engine that kept the cove working.

There was silence. The siren died away as an ambulance appeared in the parking lot above the steps. Two men jumped out and opened the back door to bring a gurney. The wheels clacked on the boards as they rushed to the cluster of people at the end of the dock.

Popov opened his eyes when Kramer asked, "How is he?".

"You see what Popov is bringing you?" Popov said softly. "That's for being good boy and not getting in Popov's way, Mr. FBI man."

It was painful to hear the slow pace of Popov's words. Kramer's eyes revealed the pain he felt while listening to Popov.

"Thank you, Captain Popov. You're quite a man," Kramer said. "Now let us take care of you and we'll be talking over coffee soon."

"You hog-tie him, Popov?" Ivan asked.

"No, but Popov make him pay for shooting him. I beat him pretty damn good, you ask me. He be causing no more trouble in Popov's cove," Popov said with a serge of energy.

"What did you do with Tony?" Kramer asked.

Popov wasn't talking and his eyes closed again.

"We stopped at Palmer's. He got off there," Captain Tito said. "You don't listen so good."

"Hard to Keep up with you guys with so many of you doing magic tricks," Kramer said. "One day I'd like to hear the story behind the capture of Carlos Santiago."

The EMTs took Popov's vital signs. He kept his eyes closed while they worked over him. They were ready to go after five minutes.

"We'll need a hand here. We want to lift him onto the gurney and be as gentle as we can," one EMT worker said.

Popov raised no objection to being put on the gurney.

"A couple of you guys will need to lend a hand getting him up the stairs and lifting him into the ambulance," the technician told us.

It was a struggle getting Popov up the six steps. Ivan and Taggart and the two EMS technicians lifted the gurney into the ambulance.

Ivan got inside and sat beside Popov.

"Here," Ivan said, tossing me the keys to the Buick. "Come to the ER in a couple of hours. I'll stay with Popov. I'll call you at the house when they have him ready to go to Fort Myers."

"The shop. Call me at the shop. I'll be there," I said.

The siren wailed as the ambulance turned onto the highway.

That's when the bottom dropped out of my stomach as I watched the tail end of the ambulance. I once again felt the fragile hold we had on life. A few hours ago Popov was full of life and now he was fighting for his life because of a lowlife New Jersey gangster.

I hated guns. They brought only one tragedy after another.

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