The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 30


Popov came home Friday.

Ivan and I didn't go back to the hospital after we took Harry. His fishermen were closest to him and the people he depended on at a time like this. We'd merely add to the numbers and that wasn't necessary, once we knew he was OK.

Popov stopped at J.K.'s after the long ride from Fort Myers. In no time a crowd gathered around the first booth where Popov was sitting.

Ivan came to the conservancy for me so we could pay our respects once Popov was back at the cove.

J.K. walked with us once he brought Popov's launch to the end of the dock. After he rested for a time, he could go to sleep in his own bed and drink his own coffee when he awoke.

We were surprised to see Kramer sitting across from Popov in the first booth just inside the door. I hadn't seen him since the day Carlos Santiago fell into the hands of the FBI.

"Hello, stranger," I said. "Couldn't stay away from our cove."

"I'm afraid I'm going to need to let you go, Kramer. The paint hasn't been touched all week," Ivan said with authority.

"I wanted to be here when Captain Popov came home. I wanted him to be the first to know, I've been made the assistant to the regional director. I don't need to worry about being transferred out of Florida. Regional assistant directors stay in place until they're ready to transfer. I owe Captain Popov. I was coming to tell you next."

"Kramer, I knew you'd make something out of yourself one day. It's why I hired you," Ivan bragged.

"Good for you, Kramer." I said.

"Good job," Ivan said.

"How is Captain Popov today?" I asked.

"Fine. I'm being better each day. Not so strong today. Better tomorrow."

Popov was dressed in a baby blue sweatsuit. His left arm was in a sling. His hair had been neatly combed and he didn't have his hat on. For the first time I noticed flecks of gray in Popov's black beard.

Time marched on whether we liked it or not.

For the first time since I'd known Popov, he wasn't supplying most of the energy in the room. He was quiet and he sat still. Each of us understood that the sooner Popov was back to his old self the better the people in and around the cove would feel.

I was able to have an unusual look at a powerful man at low ebb.

We'd been told Popov would make a full recovery. He would return to his bigger than life persona with a dash of reserve Popov never showed before. Popov now knew he was mortal.

I was changed by this episode in our lives. Everyone in the cove had been touched by the trouble. A once safe haven was in the cross hairs of a vindictive man's mind. Carlos Santiago may have called the shots in New Jersey. He didn't get away with it in the cove.

The trouble had come to the cove and now it was gone. The biggest lesson I learned was to tell the people I loved and depended upon that I loved them and depended upon them. As Popov would be tempered with a dash of reserve for his bigger than life personality, I knew my life had been blessed. I was where I wanted to be and with people I wanted to be with.

I was making a difference and I'd soon be seen as the right hand man of a senator. I already accepted that this is what I signed up for. Neither Harry nor I could have imagined his career would soar, but it did, and I was there to back him up on the need for laws to protect the environment from those who destroyed it for profit. We may have been fighting a war we'd eventually lose but we were going to give the forces of destruction one hell of a battle.

As much difficulty as Ivan brought home with him, none of that mattered now. If I never heard any more about his time away, it didn't matter now. He was home and we were together and I loved him. We began rebuilding a life together. We shared a son and a family that loved us as much as we loved them. Life was good.

Close to thirty I realized I'd been raised by extraordinary people. They held me close enough for me to know I was loved and loose enough so I could find my place in life.

The end of the trouble marked the return of peaceful pleasant days in the cove. Things would never go back to normal, because the cove was never normal. No one in our vicinity was the least bit normal. We were the most diverse people you could find anywhere.

The families living on boats at the marina were pleased. They knew Popov took care of the trouble and they wouldn't be forced to move again.

They lived lives on the edge of danger at least part of the time before coming to the cove. Hard times weren't new to the families of the fishermen. The trouble reminded them of where they came from and how dangerous life could be. They came to the cove to find a peaceful place to live and whatever it took to keep it that way was a price they were willing to pay.

Each time I walked to Sea Lab, if anyone was out on the deck of the houseboats, I waved and said, 'Hi.' They'd wave and return my greeting in whatever language was handy. We understood each other.

After the grand opening, Ivan made improvements and provided the necessities that made life easier for the people at the marina. These were our people and they'd saved their marina. When they saw the fire, they ran into it to save the neighboring boats. They never considered running away. This was their home. We were neighbors and we looked after one another.

The beach had visitors almost every day that summer. Some bought things from the Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop and some didn't.

They stopped for seafood at J.K.'s Jr. Kitchen. No seaside visit was complete without seafood. J.K.'s was the best around.

There was no charge for occupying a campsite. The visitors would go home and tell family and friends about the cove. Then they'd come to the cove to see for themselves.

It's the theory Ivan worked out, and as with most things he did in the cove, it was a big success.

The first anniversary of Ivan coming home passed shortly before the grand opening. After a year he'd built the cove into a vacation spot where people would come for the peace and beauty.

It wasn't big enough to get out of control or so small visitors wouldn't find way to have fun. The expense was as grand as you cared to make it but Ivan's cove would fit into a families tight budget.

Ivan didn't want to make a killing. He created a place where people could be happy getting away from the grind and he was happy to have a hand in making their stay memorable. Because he could be happy watching the people who came to the cove and enjoyed themselves.

Ivan made me happy and I didn't need to go anywhere. The cove was beautiful and more alive than it had ever been.

As traumatic as it was at the cove for six months, I felt lucky. I was grateful to be alive and to be with the man I loved, my son, and my family. I was thankful to have a job where I made a difference. The life I lived was a good life and I had nothing to complain about.

At the grand opening when push came to shove, the lesson I learned gave an entirely new meaning to my life. A man came to hurt us. He marched in, walking down the dock, he stood a few feet from my lover, a friend, an FBI agent, and my son.

He could have destroyed my life but the people of the cove wouldn't allow that to happen.

Had J.K. and Popov not been there to protect the people from harm, the ending would have been far more tragic. Because of the people in the cove the trouble ended with that final incident. It was an incident few people knew anything about.

It wasn't the sheriff or the FBI who rode to the rescue, it was the people of the cove who protected one another. It was nothing new for Popov. J.K. had a history in protection.

It turned out OK.

Like the Vietnamese men who danced into danger, walking through fire to save other men's boats, it was the people taking care of each other. We may not have spoken the same language but we shared a common home.

We came from places as diverse as Russia, Ukraine, and Lithuania. When we reached the crossroad, each of us came to live within the vicinity of the cove.

We were Laotian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Oklahomans. The only person born and raised here was Harry. His family lived in the vicinity of the cove for generations.

And when we got in trouble, no one waited to see if the police or the fire department would come to save the cove. It wasn't their cove. If it needed to be saved, the people would and did save it.

The people of the cove saved themselves.

Even as 1980 was coming to a close, my world was expanding.

With Jack and Randi doing most of the writing and reading, when I needed to travel to carry Senator McCallister's message around the country, the conservancy laboratory was in capable hands. If I was away too much and I wanted to take Ivan on a trip with me, Harry wired the ticket as soon as I hung up the phone.

By election day in November of 1980, I was taking divers out on Ivan's second boat two afternoons a week. When I told Harry what I was doing, he said, "I want to go out with some of your vacationers. Won't they be surprised when you introduce Senator Harry McCallister as one of that day's divers."

If I took out two or three families of divers at one time, I'd never have thought to introduce them, until Harry said that. I immediately began introducing my divers to each other.

On two afternoons a week, the boat I used to take out divers was used for tourist trips into the Gulf. Ivan took them out if he wasn't on a charter fishing trip. When he was, Taggart left a sign on the front door of the shop, 'Back at 3,' and he took the tourists out. Riding along a hundred yards from the pristine Gulf beaches mile after mile, you heard amazement in the passenger's voices. They'd been introduced to each other by then.

No one was in such a big hurry they couldn't go on the boat tour one last time.

The new cove became everything Ivan said it would. I couldn't imagine it when I watched him developing his plan. I didn't need to. Ivan had it in his mind and what he didn't have, he'd create later. He had a good dream and he made sure it came true.

No one didn't like being in the cove. Maybe Carlos Santiago didn't care for it, but I bet he liked it a lot more than where he is now. I've never been to New Jersey. It's probably a nice place, but the cove is a wonderful place to be if you don't come to cause trouble.

If Big Carlos were nicer, he might still be sunning himself on the deck of his yacht and sending out for J.K.'s seafood.

Ivan made a habit of telling Dylan and me how happy he was. Dylan loved his father and his life would never be the same once Ivan came home. Ivan gave Dylan something I couldn't and no one was happier than me. Dylan could finally look someone in the eye and know where he came from.

By the time June rolled around in 1980, life was hitting on every cylinder. With Dylan out of school, we went diving more often, worked less, and even went out over night on the Daddy-O to catch fish. A half a lifetime ago, I'd been a fisherman and the memory was sweet. I was the angel of Captain Popov's fishing fleet.

I did accompany Harry on three of his campaign appearances the week after Popov came home. We flew to Orlando, Florida City, and Pompano Beach. It took two days but most events were in the late afternoon or evening. You might squeeze two into an evening if they were close together.

Unlike before, I didn't mind leaving the cove because I got to go back by the end of the next day. Gone were the trips when I was tense and anxious. Besides, Harry began letting me fly the plane. He even dozed while I was at the controls. I never got tired of seeing Florida pass beneath my wings, and what a beautiful state it is.

The lessons on flying that began five years before, when I flew to Washington with Congressman Harry McCallister, to speak before his environmental committee, were continued on each trip we took when it was just the two of us. Harry walked me through take off, landing, and explained instruments and the lingo pilots needed to communicate with the ground.

We did a lot of night flying in 1980. We finished one event and we flew to where the next event was scheduled, or we were flying home after we'd finished for the weekend. Until October it was a couple of weekends a month, during recesses, and over long weekends when we criss-crossed the state.

It wasn't every weekend. One or two weekends a month was the average, until October when we'd campaign together full time. It would be six years before Harry needed to campaign again and whatever it took to get him into the senate was fine with me. No matter how popular a congressman he was in his district, he needed to tell the people in his state who he was. He needed to tell them he wanted their vote to help elect him to the senate.

Late at night Harry was on his game. I might learn anything on one of the night flights. Especially when I flew the plane, Harry talked and held onto his bourbon and branch water. I learned about his early life and his relationship with his father. It wasn't a close relationship and yet, when he died, Harry took over for his father.

He knew his father was engaged in something important. Harry improved on his father's inventions. I was one of Harry's biggest gambles. If I failed to grab hold of what he wanted me to do, Harry McCallister would have been a flash in the pan. The conservancy wouldn't have survived reorganization to backup my work in the Gulf of Mexico. What Harry did wouldn't have been recognized as a step forward in keeping Florida's economy viable and healthy.

The gamble paid off and Harry would be a senator now. He'd gone farther than his father dreamed of going. My boss was a visionary. He didn't talk a good game. Harry didn't simply say Florida needed a brighter more prosperous future, he took Florida there.

While doing it, he taught me to fly. It had been five years since the first time he gave me the controls. This was the five years it took Harry to get to where he decided he needed to go.

It was Harry's plan but I was the man who would alter the direction of the conservancy. It was my work the conservancy wrote about and spotlighted for the state and the nation to notice.

When his father died, the conservancy conserved nothing. Politics took priority. Harry put on the brakes and reversed course. The conservancy was at the center of what Harry did. Politics was the means he used to make the conservancy vibrant when it came to the environment.

I loved the feel of the instruments in my hands. Harry told me one night, 'One day you'll need a plane to get to my speaking engagements and back. You'll speak at events I plan for you. You'll plan them for yourself. We are going national, Clayton. Our voices are getting louder and the problem is getting larger.

My career was on track. What I did was important.

Each morning, after the grand opening, for the rest of May I started my day with Ivan at the new shop. After a cup of coffee and with the sun on the rise behind us, we walked hand in hand down the cove beach until we reached the Gulf.

We stood in silent prayer to the power that created such a place. It had been right under our noses for years, and we never saw it until Ivan took a grader to the undergrowth.

How glorious that move had been.

There were often people in a few of the campsites closest to the shop during the week. There were always two or three of the wilderness sites occupied over the summer. People found us.

Some days I had to leave Ivan as we drank coffee with one of the families camping on the beach.

They'd call to us to join them.

Before we finished accepting the offers as we walked, it was time for me to get to work, I felt like I could run there.

For ten years I was at work before eight every morning. In 1980 I went into the conservancy at nine. Some days I beat Jack and Randi to work. Some days they were at work when I arrived. The work got done either way.

Harry wasn't lying about our campaigning in June. It was more like every weekend that month. Congress was on recess. We were flying to Ft. Lauderdale on the afternoon of my birthday.

On my birthday Ivan was gone when I woke up. Dylan was gone. I went downstairs. Mama, Pop, and Lucy weren't there. At first alarmed I walked to the front door to see which cars were there.

When I swung open the door, my hand immediately came up to cover my wide open mouth.

"Oh my God!"

Sitting across the doorway was a 1980 Buick with a huge red ribbon tied in a bow on the roof. I'd never seen a more beautiful green. It wasn't a factory paint job. It was painted especially for moi.

My surprise had my family laughing. I had no idea I was getting a car and no one in my family could afford a brand new Buick.

I knew Harry had a hand in it.

"How? Who?"

"I picked it out and I sent it to be painted aquamarine for you, my sweet. I didn't know if they'd get it done in time, but Pop took me to pick it up first thing this morning. Harry lent me what I didn't have so it was ready for you on your birthday," Ivan said.

"We will pay Harry back. He's given me everything I own. He can't buy this. It's beautiful, Ivan. I love it. You picked the color?"

"I did. It's darker than the Gulf's turquoise but a little lighter than the deeper blue shades. It's called aquamarine. It came out beautiful," he said. "I didn't realize I had such good taste."

"Do you really like it, Daddy?" Dylan asked, putting his arm around my waist and admiring the newest Buick in the driveway..

"I do," I said. "I love it. I've never seen a more beautiful car."

"That's what your mama said," Pop said. "People will see you coming, son. They'll say, 'Here comes that Clayton Olson."

"We're flying to Ft. Lauderdale this afternoon. If we started now, I think I could make it in time if Ivan drives," I joked.

Everyone laughed.

"Come on inside. You can sit in your car all day. I've got biscuits, hash, and potatoes staying warm in the oven. I'll fix eggs and bacon to go with it," Mama said.

"My favorite breakfast," I said.

"Happy birthday, Clay. My baby is thirty. I can remember carrying you home the first time after you were born," Mama said.

"I'll bet he's a lot bigger now," Dylan said.

Everyone laughed.

It was an amazing birthday from beginning to end. Dylan and Ivan flew with us to Ft. Lauderdale. Harry said he wanted them to be there and while we flew, with Dylan sitting beside Harry in the front, Harry never mentioned my birthday. He'd paid for the Buick. He knew what day it was. I suspected there was a skunk in the woodwork, but there was no way for me to imagine what was coming.

We were escorted backstage as quick as we arrived. Harry liked to walk the auditorium before an event. He said it gave him a sense of the space, but tonight Harry was satisfied with a bourbon and branch water and a comfortable recliner.

The flight didn't take long. With a prevailing tailwind it was less than two hours to cross the state.

After an hour, Harry's campaign manager came in and said I was on in five minutes. We stood and moved into the wings. The auditorium was full. People stood all across the back wall and down the sides. It was a 5,000 seat auditorium with no empty seats.

Dylan took over once I stopped checking out the crowd. I wouldn't be on stage long but tonight we would wait until the end of the event to fly home. Harry said we'd leave by ten and we'd be landing behind his house before midnight.

The drum roll announced me. I waited for the crash of the cymbals. It was live tonight.

I walked onto the stage, the lights dimmed, the crowd fell silent.

This is what they were waiting for. They'd seen me beside Harry in a half dozen campaign commercials playing around the state. It wasn't a surprise when they saw me in person.

"Hello," I yelled. "You all know me. You know why I'm here," I said with excitement in my voice.

The cymbals crashed again.

What's that about? I wondered, looking around.

The lights came up. A banner unfolded on the back wall near the ceiling, 'Happy Birthday Clayton!'

The audience began to sing, "Happy birthday to you."

Harry came out and gave me a hug. Ivan stood on one side of me and Dylan on the other. I was overwhelmed and tears began to flow. Nothing prepared me for this.

One the singing was done, the audience broke into applause. I was speechless and Harry stepped over to the microphone.

"Thank you. Thank you," Harry said.

The applause died away.

"Thank you. I'd say he was surprised, wouldn't you?"

The audience applauded again. I stood stunned. I wasn't surprised by much.

"Yes, we know who you are, Clayton. I can't begin to tell you how glad I am that I know you. You've made the career of a well meaning congressman something to behold. Thank you."

Everyone stood and applauded. I cried.

"I, all of us, love your passion for the things in the sea. There is nothing that I can say that matches your dedication to keeping the Gulf of Mexico and Florida clean and the sea creatures alive and well."

I stood behind Harry with Ivan and Dylan holding onto me. I heard the words but it was difficult to fathom the meaning.

"The job we are doing has started but we have a long way to go. As your senator, with the help of Clayton Olson, I will push legislation that keeps Florida vital and the place where everyone wants to go."

The crowd stood to applaud again.

Harry was on a roll. He'd veered right into his stump speech."

As with the greatest moments of my life, seeing Ivan fly, surfacing after my first dive with Bill Payne, the birth of my son, and Ivan's return home, it was over too soon.

I knew Harry's campaign speech but I couldn't concentrate on his words. Like at so many times in my life, I wasn't absolutely sure it was happening or if it might be a dream. Even if it was a dream, it was a great one.

Having Harry's approval was important. My well being as far as my career was concerned depended on him. Having Harry take such an important role in making my birthday happy added some magic to the day. Thousands of people were singing to me.

How cool was that?

Having Ivan and Dylan with me made the day complete and I hadn't driven my new car yet.

I didn't want to get that paint job dirty.

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