The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 29

Good News Bad News

"Connie, Clayton here. Harry wanted me to call when there was something to report," I said.

"OK," Connie said. "Go ahead."

"I've got good news. I'm at the new shop. The man behind the trouble in the cove is waiting to be taken into custody. The trouble in the cove should be over."

"Good," Connie said. "We'll all rest easier."

"I've got bad news," I said.


"I don't want to upset you but the truth isn't pretty, Connie."

"I understand. Go ahead. I'm ready," she said.

"Captain Popov was shot while capturing the... man who is now prisoner."

"Oh, my God. Is he going to be OK?"

"He spent over two hours as his boat made his way back to the cove. He lost a lot of blood. I can't say what his condition is but he didn't look good. He's a tough man and that might make the difference. I just don't know, Connie."

"He's such a presence here. I can't imagine the cove without Captain Popov being in it."

"No. Me either. I need to keep the line open. Ivan's going to call from the emergency room. Tell Harry he'll most likely be sent to Fort Myers ASAP. He'll want to know," I said.

"I'll make sure he knows before I leave work. If you see Captain Popov, give him my best, will you?"

"I will, Connie. Goodbye."

Kramer was standing behind me when I hung up the phone.

"Can I use it?"

"Yes, but make it short. Ivan's going to call to let me know when Popov is stable enough to make the trip to Fort Myers.

"Agent Kramer for director Taft. Interrupt him. This can't wait. I've got to get off the phone in two minutes. Get him."

"Yes, sir, it is. Carlos Santiago is... twenty feet from this phone. I've read him his Miranda rights. I can use some assistance."

Kramer told his director he was where he was assigned to be and he needed a team to take Santiago off his hands.

"Yes, sir. I'll keep an eye on him. He isn't going anywhere," Kramer said.

He hung up the phone. Kramer was smiling.

"I need to go handcuff him. Do you want to hold my gun on him while i cuff him?" He asked.

"No, I'm not holding your gun. Get a grip. He's turning blue. Getting that tub of lard off his belly and upright will make him very happy, Kramer," I said.

"Afraid you'll shoot him for shooting Captain Popov?"

"No. I let people like you take care of the shooting, Kramer."

I was angry and I wasn't in the mood to pamper the FBI.

"He said he was calling Washington after he hung up."

"That's good?" I asked.

"That's very good. He's sending a team to take him into custody. They'll hold him in Tampa until they can extradite him back to New Jersey. They'll try him there."

"You're forgetting Florida," I said. "He's committed crimes here," I said.

"Somehow I don't see us calling in your sheriff to take custody of our prisoner. Federal crimes trump state crimes," he said.

"So Popov getting shot bringing you the man you guys couldn't catch after five years is just inconvenient for Popov?"

"I didn't say that. Federal laws are way more effective in taking a slime ball like Santiago off the streets for as long as possible. Popov will get his due. There's a considerable reward. I'll make sure Popov gets it," Kramer said. "I'll tell the story the way it went down."

"Congratulations, Kramer. You better go keep an eye on him. Someone might come along and see him tied up like that and think he's a poor fisherman who got tangled in his fishing line," I said. "Wouldn't do to let someone else untie him."

Kramer laughed.

"He sure isn't getting out of that rig by himself. In the spirit of taking no chances, I'll wait until backup arrives to untie him. He deserves a little discomfort for what he did to Captain Popov. He is a very bad man," Kramer said. "I hope the captain will be OK."

People who came to look at the new cove walked to the beached boat, looked at the man resting on his belly, and they walked on down the beach. Most seemed amused by the fellows predicament. If Santiago was still screaming, I didn't hear him.

Kramer walked over and leaned on the side of the boat to watch his indisposed prisoner.

It took a little more than an hour for three FBI agents to show up. They read Santiago his Miranda rights a second time.

After taking pictures of the hog-tied hood, one of the agents climbed into the boat and came out with Santiago untied.

Kramer held his gun on Santiago and more pictures were taken as the prisoner was handcuffed and marched to the waiting sedan.

The last time I saw Carlos Santiago, he was wedged in the backseat between two squeezed FBI agents. They looked as uncomfortable as their prisoner.

One of the FBI's most wanted was wanted no more. I resisted the urge to wave bye bye to Carlos Santiago.

The trouble in the cove finally ended. It was hard to muster much pleasure in that little factoid. I couldn't help but wonder if the cost had been too high. Where do men like Santiago come from? I'd never sought to hurt anyone for any reason in my entire life. This guy left destruction in his wake. His only purpose in life was to sow as much misery as he could. What kind of life is that?

"Where'd you go?" I asked as Taggert came back into the shop.

"I went to tell my mama about Popov. Her brother worked for him for a spell back a ways. It was a big help to us at a hard time. I didn't want her hearing it from someone else."

I left Taggart at the shop and went to get in the Buick to drive to the emergency room. Kramer's car was gone by the time I left. I guessed his job here was done. Kramer got his man and no doubt the entire FBI would be talking about the capture of Santiago by now.

I drove Ivan's car to the emergency room. I couldn't wait at the shop any longer. I wanted to make sure Popov was still alive. I thought of Boris and how he changed after losing so much blood. I didn't want to imagine how different the cove would be without Popov.

Popov was hooked to a blood transfusion. He'd been given two pints of blood and this would be the last blood before he was transported. They thought they got enough blood in him soon enough to avoid brain damage but the doctor couldn't be sure.

The big fisherman had lost a lot of blood but the doctors seemed satisfied that he was stable enough to transport to the hospital where they'd remove the bullet.

Ivan sat with Popov. I sat with Captain Tito and J.K. in the tiny waiting room. It was wait and see. After the bullet was out, they'd know more. Popov lost consciousness shortly after the ambulance left the cove.

Ivan sat in the back of the ambulance with Popov, I drove the Buick. I followed Captain Tito and J.K. in J.K.'s car. There were no lights and siren as the ambulance made its way to Fort Myers.

It was dark by the time we reached Fort Myers. A team of doctors had Popov on the way to the operating room before I got out of the car.

Ivan was standing in the hallway looking at the spot where the wounded sea captain disappeared.

"You OK, Ivan?"

"I never thought anything could happen to him. He's so alive. He's been in my life as far back as I can remember," Ivan said.

I hugged him. He was shaking and doing his best to hold back his emotions.

"The FBI came for Santiago. They'll keep him in Tampa until they extradite him to Jersey," I said.

"Wasn't worth it. I'd rather deal with that scum bag than with what it took to get him," he said.

We walked toward the waiting room. As we passed the nurses' station at the opening to the hall we were in, I went to the nurse who stood writing behind the kiosk.

"Can I help you?" she asked, giving me a big smile.

"Sure. We need coffee. Is there a place nearby where we can get in and out without a lot of fuss?" I asked.

"You're with the man who was wounded?"

"Yes, ma'am. I'm here with my friend and two of Captain Popov's fishermen. We'll be here until we know something," I said.

"Can I ask what happened to him? We don't see a lot of gun shot victims. Was he robbed?" Tammy asked.

"I should make something up. You wouldn't believe the truth," I said.

"I'll believe you, hon. How did he get shot?"

"He's a sea captain. He has a fishing fleet in the cove where we're from. He went to get a man who had caused us trouble at the cove. He captured one of the FBI's most wanted men. The guy shot him before he got to him. Then he proceeded to make the man pay for shooting him. He beat him pretty good," I said.

"Sounds like a well deserved beating," she said.

The nurse took us to a side room near her station and she showed us the coffee pot and Styrofoam cups.

"You take as much as you need. It takes five minutes to make more. There is a restaurant out the front entrance to the right about a block. They do carryout. The food isn't bad. If there's anything I can do, just ask. I'll let you know if I hear anything about the captain," she said.

"Thank you," Ivan said. "I really needed a cup of coffee."

"You know where it is. Take all you need," she said.

I took coffee to Tito and J.K. and told them where it was and that we'd been told to take what we needed. The four of us sat silently in the empty waiting room. It was too quiet for words.

I got up to call Mama at dinner time. Pop answered the phone.

"How's Popov?" Pop asked.

"You know about it. I didn't want to upset you guys," I said.

"Connie said you called and Popov had been shot. How is he?"

"He's in the operating room. We don't know anything. He lost a lot of blood. Once they remove the bullet they'll know more when he wakes up," I said.

"Ivan's here and we won't leave until we know something," I said. "Do you mind looking in on Jack and Randi in the morning? Let them know I'm tied up in Fort Myers. They probably heard about the shooting too."

There wasn't a lot more to say and I ended the call with a promise to update them in the morning.

Ivan and I went to dinner at the place the nurse mentioned. We brought hamburgers and soda back for Tito and J.K.

Once more we did what it seemed like we'd been doing forever. .

We waited.

Popov was in the operating room for an hour and a half. The operation was described as routine by the doctor. He was still unconscious and in recovery. They called his condition critical but stable. The loss of blood being the main concern.

They don't know if the loss of blood caused brain damage but he was breathing on his own, which was a good sign. They would be able to tell us more once he woke up.

They didn't plan to wake him for twenty-four hours, but he could wake up on his own, which was what they hoped was going to happen.

Ivan and I were allowed to see Popov before we went home. Sitting there for days on end served no purpose. Tito and J.K. were determined to wait until Popov sat up and said he was OK. That was enough men for the small waiting room, and as the word spread, more fishermen were bound to make the trek to Fort Myers.

We'd come back in the morning.

The two hour drive home took an hour and a half. I didn't feel Ivan wasn't capable at that speed but I didn't drive that fast.

We walked around the side of the house and went in the kitchen to forage in the fridge before going to bed. We didn't want to wake the house up. I told them we wouldn't be home.

Before I had much of a chance to locate what I wanted, Mama was moving me out of the way.

"Sit. I'll warm up some things. How is Popov?"

"They don't know anything. They called the operation routine but he lost a lot of blood. They'll know more tomorrow," I said.

"Your son refused to go to bed until he knew where you were," Pop said.

"Oh, Jesus, I forgot my kid," I said, feeling really bad. "With Popov being in trouble and the man who caused the trouble a few feet away, my mind hasn't been working right. I was so concerned about him that I forgot about everything else. I'm sorry, Pop."

"How is he? Who shot him? Will he be OK?" Pop asked excitedly.

Ivan came back into the kitchen before I knew he left.

"I told him we got tied up and we forgot to call," Ivan said.

"What's going on?" Dylan asked, coming into the kitchen with the giant teddy bear under one arm.

"Is everyone up?" Lucy asked. "You've got to go to school in the morning, Dylan. You need to be in bed."

"I want to know what's going on," Dylan said. "Why is everyone in the kitchen in the middle of the night? What's going on?"

Ivan put his hands on the sides of his head to keep it from exploding.

"Popov was shot. ...We've been attending to that. ...He's been operated on. ...When we left he was stable. ...The place was filling up with fishermen. ...We came home. The end," Ivan said succinctly, putting his hands down.

"Oh my," Mama said. "We've never had this kind of trouble."

"It's over," I said. "Popov was shot catching the man who was causing the trouble. It's over. There will be no more trouble. The FBI have the guy now. We'll go back to the hospital in the morning to check on Popov."

"You still want me to look in on Jack and Randi in the morning?" Pop asked.

"Yes, I'd appreciate that. They know what to do. I usually let them know if I'm going to be gone for any length of time," I said.

"I'll fix some things for the fishermen. They won't be going out and there's only fast food near the hospital," Mama said.

"That would be nice," I said. "They're the closest men to Popov and they're the same men who have been watching over us," I said.

"Can I stay home from school?" Dylan asked.

"No!" everyone said at the same time.

"Can't blame a guy for trying," Dylan said, going back upstairs before he was told to go back to bed.

"They don't need us up there. Give Popov our love and tell him we're thinking about him," Mama said.

"He'll like that," Ivan said. "We really should get some sleep before it's time to head back up there" Ivan said.

"You boys sit still. I'll have some hot food for you in a couple of minutes. It won't take long. I'm just warming up what you'd have had for dinner. You need to keep up your strength."

Yes, we did and we slept until Pop knocked on the door after the day had brightened and before he left for work at nine.

Mama had two bags of food for us to take with us. It was fried chicken, potato salad, cornbread, and hush puppies.

It was as good cold as it was hot and the fishermen laughed and ate for an hour after we arrived. They'd had egg and bacon sandwiches for breakfast and the chicken was just the ticket for lunch.

We stay until four and Popov hadn't regained consciousness and more fishermen had come to wait to find out about their captain.

Ivan and I left to return home. We'd go back the next day.

As of four Tuesday afternoon, Popov's condition hadn't changed. When he woke up, if he woke up, we wanted to be there but adding to what was a full waiting room didn't accomplish anything.

Dinner was a quiet affair. Once we said there was no change in Popov's condition, nothing else was said. We enjoyed sea bass and seafood chowder with hush puppies and peach pie.

It was very good but my appetite wasn't what it usually was. Ivan was restrained with his eating and he had nothing to say. We went upstairs with our pie and sat outside of my bedroom.

Pop knocked on the door.

"We're on the porch. Come on in," I yelled.

"Harry's on the phone, Clay. He sounds tired. I didn't want to put him off," Pop said. "It sounds important."

"No, Pop, that's OK. I need to talk to him. I'll be right down," I said.

I went downstairs and picked up the phone.

"Yes, Harry."

"Come over before you leave for Fort Myers in the morning. I talked to the hospital just now. Popov is sleeping and isn't expected to be awake for at least eight hours. You can wait here as easily as you can wait there," Harry said.

"OK. Ivan hasn't been sleeping so I'm hoping he'll get some rest tonight. We'll come over after we get breakfast."

"Around eleven will be good. I'll get breakfast and try to freshen up," he said.

Lucy took Dylan to school again. Mama had bacon, biscuits, cream chip beef, potatoes, and grilled apricots ready to put on the table after we woke up and came downstairs.

I needed coffee and aspirin. I had a king sized headache.

I slept like a log but the waiting was taking its toll. Ivan felt better than I did after a night's sleep. He polished off two plates of cream chipped beef over biscuits, potatoes and coffee.

After showers and clean clothes, we left for Harry's with another bag of food for the fishermen.

Harry looked tired as he hung up his jacket and poured himself a bourbon and branch water.

We both had sodas. Harry put his feet up on his desk as he leaned back to take a long pull on his drink.

"If I survive running for the senate, I plan to do a lot of this," Harry said.

"Drinking?" I asked.

He laughed.

"That too. Relaxing. And I suppose I won't be relaxed once you tell me about Popov. How did the man get himself shot?" Harry asked.

"He was bulldogging a boat at the time," Ivan said.

"Come again? Don't you bulldog a steer?"

"Popov's from Russia. He figured he'd bulldog a boat," Ivan said. "The guy was trying to run. Popov had Tito pull along side and he jumped from the trawler onto the guy's boat. When he got up, Big Carlos shot him. That pissed Popov off. He beat the hell out of Big Carlos. J.K. tied the guy up and Tito drove Santiago's boat back here. Popov was on the bridge of his boat. He was apparently losing a lot of blood. It was two hours to here. He wasn't in very good shape when he got here. We got him to the ER and once he was stable, they took him to Fort Myers. They moved him into a room yesterday. He wasn't conscious. Nothing changed before we left."

"He's over sixty. Does he think he's Roy Rogers?"

"Sixty-two," Ivan said. "He tries to take care of everyone."

"Now it's our turn to take care of him," Harry said. "I expect you'll be going to the hospital from here. I wanted the story before I talk to the FBI. No telling what they'll come up with."

"The FBI doesn't always tell the truth?" I asked with mock surprise.

"They have good writers. I wanted your version before they released their version. That way I know what questions to ask."

"Be careful. Harry. It wouldn't do for them to shoot you," I said.

He laughed.

"They're inventive. I don't think they are the bad guys."

"I haven't been doing much work since the final chapter started playing out. No way I can sit in my office. My heart isn't in it."

"I wouldn't expect you to. I know how much that old Russian means to you boys. I must admit, this place would not be the same without Popov. He supplies half the personality the cove has. Anyway, if you don't mind, I'll go to the hospital with you. I'm not available for comment today. The hospital seemed sure he'd be awake this afternoon. His vital signs are back to normal. Considering they took a bullet out of him, that's a good sign."

"Better than what they told us before we left last night," I said.

"Well, I'd like to go if there's room in that Buick for a worn out politician. I have a campaign affair tomorrow and I won't have time to get to Fort Myers for the rest of the week and I want to pay my respects to the cove's leading citizen."

"Mama is sending food for the fisherman that are waiting. They were the guys who were looking after us and you know Mama."

"Yes, I do. Your mother is a treasure," Harry said.

Finishing his drink, he got up to fix another.

"You boys want more soda? I've got food coming, so we can't leave for a while. What I want is to hear the story from beginning to end. I lost track of what was going on after I called in the FBI. The director keeps telling me it's being taken care of. I didn't know he meant Popov was taking care of it. Kramer didn't mention it."

"Popov was with J.K. at the grand opening," Ivan said.

"I am sorry I didn't get back for that. I had too much to do, Ivan. I want to hear about that too. So what happened?"

"The guy Popov just caught sent a guy to kill me, I guess. I don't know what he intended to do. About the time he was making his move, J.K. stuck a pistol in the back of his head. That was Saturday. Popov took the guy, quizzed him, and the guy talked. He knew right where Santiago would be until late Monday. Popov went to get him, and we told you the rest of what we know. Hearing Popov's side of the story will be something I look forward to," Ivan said.

"We'll have him over here so he can tell it once and we'll all hear it at the same time," Harry said. "How'd he know to look for the guy at the grand opening?"

"Something else we'll need to wait to hear from Popov. For some reason he calculated the bad guys would make their move on the last day of the grand opening. They were waiting for him to show up."

"They were waiting at the top of the steps. The guy comes strolling in wearing a brown suit, a brown hat, and dress shoes. He looked exactly like what he was, a gangster."

Harry laughed.

"They didn't become gangsters because of their over abundance of brain cells," he said.

I laughed.

We arrived at the hospital between three and four.

Popov was sitting up in bed. He was weak from his loss of blood but the doctors said it wouldn't be a factor in a full recovery.

When Harry followed Ivan and me into the room, Popov became more alert.

"Mr. soon to be senator, to what am I owing this honored visit?" Popov asked,

Harry sat on the edge of his bed.

"My friend, I needed to come to see that the cove's leading citizen is OK after you finished with your crime fighting."

"You are too kind," Popov said.

He had good color and he seemed aware of the people around him, which wasn't as easy as it sounded. We were the eighth, ninth, and tenth people in his room.

"I told Clay and Ivan I wanted to see for myself that you are OK, Captain. I shouldn't like to think of you not being in our cove."

"I'm strong man. I am being around for long time," Popov said.

"That's good to hear. We should have drinks at my house once you are back on your feet, Captain Popov. I want to hear the entire story from you."

"Is date," Popov said. "Popov ready to go home now."

"Soon, my friend," Harry said."

He smiled and took Popov's hand.

"I'll leave you to get well. I'll be sending my car for you one evening once you're back in the cove. We shall have a long talk."

Popov began to laugh but he thought better of it as he reached for his shoulder.

Ivan and I stood on either side of Popov's bed as Harry left the room to cut down on the number of people there.

"You are looking better today, Popov," I said.

Ivan took his hand and smiled at his friend.

"I am telling you the secret. One of the nurses took a piece of your mother's corn bread to the kitchen. She heated it and it is dripping with the butter. It first thing Popov is eating with flavor since... since... he can't remember since when. You are thanking her for Popov. She is saving Popov's life. The food she is terrible here. No flavors. I'm not getting the coffee. What kind of man is starting his day without the coffee?"

"My mother told me to thank you. She never felt any danger after you began to watch the house. She is wishing you a quick recovery and she'll have you over for a dinner once you feel better."

"Is a fine offer. Popov is looking forward. I would be shot sooner am I knowing so many are caring so much," Popov said.

"OK! OK! Say hello, goodbye, and clear this room out. I told you that an hour ago. The man is recovering from a gunshot wound. He needs rest. Scat. Scat."

The imposing nurse ordered everyone out.

"You'll be coming back later," Popov said softly.

"Rest! You are to rest. Do you hear me?" "I am hearing. You hurt Popov's ears," Popov complained.

"I'll hurt more than that if you don't rest. Rest."

As we moved into the hall, Harry was at the nurses' station surrounded by nurses, doctors, and staff.

"We will be taking care of all things Florida. We will be looking at health care and I'll be back to consult with you once hearings are held. I want to thank you all for taking good care of Captain Popov. I'll remember you treated my friend so well," Harry said.

In campaign mode, Harry shook every hand and stopped to speak with each nurse and doctor.

Before we left, Harry went into the waiting room and he shook the hand of every fishermen and spoke to each one as if he was the only man there.

On the way out Harry stopped to do the same with several fishermen who stood at the curb smoking. The expression on each fisherman's face told the story of how important they felt that a future United States Senator was bothering with them.

Harry was the man and I was ready to get home to take a nap. One thing was for sure, it wouldn't take long to get there the way Ivan drove.

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