The Gulf of Love
A Rick Beck Story
Editor: Jerry W.
Harry & Me
I stopped at Harry's door, knocked twice, and stuck my head inside.
“Clayton, come in, come in,” Harry said, meeting me halfway to his desk for a hello hug. “Tell me everything I need to know and what you're up to. I've got ten minutes.”
We both laughed. Harry was a busy man as a six time elected congressman from our district.
“I'm about to go diving. Dad said you'd come in. Congratulations on being reelected, Mr. Congressman.”
“For the sixth time,” he reminded me. “We do have a wise electorate.”
“People aren't as stupid as they appear to be close up,” I mused.
“Not if they vote for me they aren't. I do my best to make your suspicion about politicians inaccurate where I'm concerned. I know much of the electorate doesn't trust their government. It's easy to understand once you see our legislators in action.”
“Boggle the mind, do they, Harry?”
“They do,” he said. “You boggle my mind, Clayton Olson. I keep looking for the little boy who came to work for me... how long ago? I don't even remember how long it's been. You are a handsome man, Clay. You've come a long way.”
“Not much I had to do with it. I just showed up and here I am. Time has a way of moving you along.”
“Yes, you are, and I'm proud of it.”
“How is Washington?”
“One would think some of those fellows purposely set out to disillusion voters. What is gained by men running the government trying to convince John Q. Public the government doesn't work? If they believe that, why don't they go into farming or sell used cars?”
“Wouldn't you characterize that as work. Those birds don't do anything that might take the luster off the manicures, Harry.”
“Ouch! You're a tough man, Mr. Olson. I've seen at least two congressman break a sweat in my career. It was at election time.”
“I say what I see. I don't see much. Work is something they want someone else to do. When they see someone not working, they complain,” I said. “We can't have that. Everyone needs to work.”
“To tell the truth, I see what they're doing but I can't figure what's to gain by obstructing progress. It defies logic. I suppose I shouldn't put so much stock in logic. I do my best to make things better if I can. I work at it the way they work at obstructing things.”
“If you say so, Harry. I'll take your word for it. I'm not impressed by the intellect of the people who stand for election. Present company excluded. They don't represent the average working stiff.”
“Does make one wonder how they keep getting elected,” Harry said. “The working stiff might not be paying attention.”
“I wouldn't be off base saying my government leaves something to be desired?” I asked.
“I wouldn't go that far, Clay. There are still some good legislators on The Hill, people who are there to do the peoples' business. The newest members don't seem that interested in the people.”
“I vote for you because I know you're making an effort. Otherwise, our government is far too involved in the rest of the world and not involved enough with what's going on here at home. If we let other countries take care of their own business, they'll figure out what's best for them. Just the way we did it.”
“You do have a way of cutting to the chase. I'm trying to get legislation passed to protect the environment, make corporations responsible for cleaning up after themselves. There's a lot of resistance to this idea. Once again we come back to logic and what is best for the American people.”
“I won't hold my breath, Congressman. I appreciate your effort. Using common sense to reason with people who have none is futile. Their positions don't come from concern for the people.”
“How would you like to bring some of that passion to Washington, Mr. Olson? I think you'd make an excellent witness in front of the Environmental Committee.”
“I was in Washington once. I went to oppose our government's war on the Vietnamese people. As pretty as the city is, it disturbed me that the men who made that city, risking their lives creating this nation, would be appalled by men who pose as leadership today.”
“You're coming up on your annual appearance in Tallahassee. Can I read your testimony into the congressional record if I can't talk you into appearing? It would help illuminate my arguments. I get the Gulf of Mexico on the record as often as I can. I read Bill Payne's testimony into the congressional record a couple of times. Adding you to the record can't hurt.”
“Harry, whatever you need me to do, I'll do it for you. I don't have to like everything I do. My life is incredibly good because of you. Helping you help me to preserve the Gulf sounds self serving to me. You tell me when, I'll be there.”
“I'm still chairman of the Environmental Committee. Everything I do gets more scrutiny. It takes time to get into a position where you can get things done. The more ammunition I have the better my chances of having a good outcome.”
“You do what you need to do, Harry. I'll do my job and if my testimony helps, I'll come to Washington. I won't say I'll look forward to the experience,” I said.
“Your friend? Ivan isn't it? I wonder about him all the time,” Harry said. “He having any success finding his brother? That's such a sad story. It's the kind of thing I'd like to get closer to.”
“I wish I knew. I haven't seen him in years, Harry. It might mean he's onto something. I just don't know,” I said sadly. “He calls. He's over there, you know.”
“I'd like to do more for him. I don't know who he's talking to or what they might be telling him. I'd hate to cause him trouble. Anyone I talk to might not be in the loop on his brother's case. You know there are things I can't talk about, Clay. I just want you to know, when I heard from Ivan, I did what I could for him. It wasn't enough but I'm unable to go into details. Some of our government works outside the view of Congress. Sometimes I think they're on there own.”
“You've mentioned it and Ivan mentioned talking to your office. You once told me that you could tell me what Ivan said but he couldn't tell me what you said,” I reminded him.
“Exactly,” he said. “I could do him more harm than good if I pushed the wrong button. I'm confident I don't know what's going on beyond our shores that I can't read in the Post. We're told what they want us to know.”
“I know. He was OK the last time I heard from him. I do know that he's been told people have seen Boris alive. I can't say how accurate those accounts are. He's been gone so long I can't remember when he told me what, but I believe Ivan is involved with one of our government agencies. I can't prove it but the last time we talked, he indicated he was working for some Americans. He won't tell me what he's doing or for whom. He was caught somewhere he shouldn't have been and they apparently say they can lock him up if he doesn't help them. It sounds like the kind of thing a congressman might want to investigate.”
“Speaking of men who don't represent the people. I better be careful. They might have this place bugged,” Harry said, looking around. “Don't tell anyone else what you're telling me. It's not safe for Ivan. You need to keep this between you and me.”
“Believe me, Harry, I don't say anything to anyone about what Ivan says, except to you. I know you're honest even if you can't tell me everything you know.”
I laughed uneasily, knowing how precarious Ivan's position was. Harry smiled.
“What I know about secret agencies makes me think they're dangerous, Clay. They have no oversight. They seem to operate under the radar, doing whatever they decide to do.”
“He can't let go of it and he says they'll give him what they have on Boris, after he's done what he's been told to do. I'm supportive. I don't express my doubts. Would a person who is representing one of our government agencies lie to a voter, Harry?”
“I can make inquiries. A congressman's inquiry makes waves. It can have an impact that isn't intended. It's why I hesitate in matters such as this. I don't know who he's talking to and if I knew, I couldn't tell you.”
“I understand. I don't know what you could do. He's been at this for ten years. He thinks he's talking to reliable folks. I don't know how much longer he can keep going.”
“We can go that way as a last resort. Tell him I said that when you do talk to him. His family has been through hell. If all else fails I'll poke around in the high grass a bit,” Harry said.
“I'll be sure to mention it when he calls,” I said. “Thanks, Harry.”
“Ivan was such a nice boy. His father was an asset to this community. Close to your dad, I recall. Just sailed off one day.”
“Pop misses Mr. Aleksa. He doesn't care for most men. They became friends right off. Mr. Aleksa is a naturalized citizen. He's not too happy with America at present. Captain Popov said he's been fishing Chili's waters. He says he's well.” “Keep me up to date on this stuff. We might come to a point when I can make some discrete inquiries. I wouldn't mind knowing who has their hooks in Ivan,” he said.
“Whoever it is, it's how he gets access to Southeast Asia. He keeps saying he's close. I wish I knew, Harry. I surely do. I never thought he could get into Southeast Asia.”
“Sounds typical. It's the way the game is played, Clay. You give us what we want and we'll make sure you get what you're after, but not right away.”
“Anyway, Ivan is OK. He was in Thailand the last time he got a call through to me. Communication isn't very dependable from over there. He says Southeast Asia is a mess but that makes it possible for him to move around without being noticed.”
“Sounds like he knows what he's talking about,” Harry said.
“Well, I'm ready for Tallahassee. It's not more than a couple of days of inconvenience if I stay overnight. As time goes on the Environmental Committee has become more friendly to me. There was quite a bit of tension my first few times in front of them,” I said.
Harry chuckled, having a clear memory of the trouble I got into on my first appearance in front of the state's environmental committee. I was sure Harry would fire me as a result but he was still laughing about Lucy and me taking no prisoners.
“You taking Lucy this time? They are still talking about her in Tallahassee. I'm waiting for her to run for the state legislature,” Harry said. “Lucy is a handful when she gets her hackles up.”
“She knows what she thinks and she isn't bashful about expressing herself. She's working on her doctorate. She's still teaches at the university. She'll be home for the holidays. Why not come to dinner while she's home? I think Teddy's going to be home too,” I said.
“I'd like that, Clay. It's nice to get away from my crowd when I'm home. It's difficult to relax when everyone wants something from you.”
“You can hide out at our house, Harry,” I said. “Mama loves company, especially over the holidays. You wouldn't go hungry.”
“Tell you what, if I decide to call you to testify on the health of the Gulf of Mexico, I'll give you one of my staff to show you around. I'll make sure you see what interests you without the inconvenience of needing to find your way around. I'll fly you up and back and we'll have at least one dinner together. There are some fine eateries in Washington. They do know how to go first class up there.”
“Call me if you need me, Harry, but I don't want to spend any more time there than necessary. Besides, my work is never done right here. When I go away, it's waiting for me when I get back.”
“Speaking of which, I don't want to hold you up. I know you look forward to your dives. We'll have plenty of time to talk now that the election is over.”
“I'm looking forward to it,” I said.
“Thanks for taking the time to stop by. We go back into session in early December. We've got to get back in time to go on Christmas recess. Always something to do in Washington,” Harry said with a laugh. “Don't quote me.”
“Is that any way to run a government, Congressman?” I asked, standing up to leave. “You know where to find me, when I'm not underwater or at the house. By the way, Pop has the compass readings on my dive in case Bill Payne comes by or calls. He mentioned being on the island today. Let me give them to you. He'll probably come see you first. It's where I've been diving for some time. Bill's been there.”
“If he calls or comes by I'll give this to him. We'll do a dive while I'm home for Christmas. I miss sharing that part of your work with you,” Harry said. “I'd like to see your new reef. I've read all about it.”
“You're on,” I said, slipping out of his office before we could work our way onto another topic.
I loaded the SCUBA gear into the trunk of Teddy's 1956 blue and white Bel Air before leaving the house to pick up Dylan at school. I liked diving in the afternoon, when the sun was overhead. This meant stopping at the dive shop to have my tanks refilled before going home, but I was usually back before the dive shop closed.
Being finished at the conservancy, after my meeting with Harry, put me that much closer to being underwater. It was a ten minute drive to the marina. In less than an hour I'd be a world away from Harry. As much as I liked him, I loved to dive.
I'd watched men walking on the moon over the last decade. I didn't think being underwater was that different from being on the moon, and it was a lot closer to the house.
I'd been driving Teddy's car for over ten years. We didn't see Teddy for most of those years, until the year before. That's when President Carter took office. He pardoned Teddy and all draft resisters in an effort to heal the nation that had become split by war.
The war was over now. Eighteen year old boys didn't face the prospect of being sent to die in Vietnam any longer, although they still needed to register for the draft. Our government didn't fool anyone. The draft was but one signature away from being reinstated. The heat was on and they backed off knowing, America didn't want to be too far from a good war.
Even when the draft ended in the early 70s, nothing was done about the men who thought for themselves and refused to go to war. In the media they were called cowards and draft dodgers. Our society was great at shaming and humiliating those who didn't blindly follow along and do what they were told.
We were programmed to obey after all.
There was no talk about the morality of killing people who dared to disagree with the U.S. over how to run their country. We knew how things should be run and our citizens were dying to prove it.
Draft resisters had no access to media. They had no way to promote peace, brotherhood, and understanding. The masters of war owned the media and they intended to keep the draft dodgers on the run. They didn't approve of men who refused to go to war.
I had cause to ponder the list of dead from the Vietnam War, in particular the kids who would have been my age. These were kids who didn't get a life after high school. They'd gone to fight for their country and they died for it. Most were drafted. There were names I knew but didn't investigate.
I had no sorrow over not going or not being willing to go. That didn't mean I didn't have sorrow over the boys who went and didn't come home. Maybe because of Boris, Vietnam was vivid in my mind. Maybe because I wanted to know the reason for the war and the dying, it continued to come to mind as I lived a good life on the beach.
Boris wasn't on the list of the dead. I suppose that should have made me feel better, but it didn't. Ivan had gone in search of his brother, and that meant he wasn't with me.
I wondered if it would be easier on Ivan if Boris had died.
I hated having thoughts like that. It was selfish but I missed Ivan. I wanted to be with him, but he couldn't be with me until he found out what happened to Boris.
It was a hard time to be in love, when you couldn't be with the one you love. Then I thought of the boys who would never be in love. Boys who would be my age now, had they lived.
That was hard time.
Had Boris not gone missing in August of 1968, I'd have forgotten about the war by now. Vietnam would be an ancient memory. With Ivan out there trying to trace Boris' steps after he was wounded, the war was still on.
Pardoning the men who refused to be part of the killing was meant to heal the nation. Using logic, it sounded like an excellent way to bring the country back together. The public hadn't forgotten the divisions that separated the 'America, Love It or Leave It' patriots from the 'Hell know, we won't go,' war protestors.
We waited for the dominoes to fall. We'd left Vietnam in April of 1975. The Vietnamese ran Vietnam now. They weren't our Vietnamese, but they were the people who lived in Vietnam.
We were told the war was about dominoes. The commie hordes were poised to sweep across all of Southeast Asia if not for the Americans blocking their way. Like we'd been poised there for over ten years.
There was a difference between America and the commies. The commies were in eastern Europe and Asia, which was in the vicinity of Vietnam. We lived halfway around the world. We had a long way to go to be in Vietnam, and the reason we were there, dominoes.
If the commies were going to sweep across all of Southeast Asia once we were no longer blocking their path, they were taking their time. Once we'd left, mostly the people of Southeast Asia were in Southeast Asia. They weren't all nice people. They weren't our people, but they were the people who lived there.
In 1978, long after the last Americans left Vietnam, I'd have forgotten about the war if not for Boris. Then there was Teddy's pardon. Men invested in war were opposed to the pardon of men who refused to fight their wars.
Carter's effort to heal the nation became a reason to fight the war all over again. America loved a good fight. Begging someone's pardon, not so much. How do you give a good war if no one will fight?
I had no objections to having Teddy home, but he never truly came home. His life was elsewhere now. He could come for visits and to be with his family, but he had a family of his own, a business, and Teddy worked all the time. Instead of Quebec he was in Orlando.
The FBI had other people to follow now.
Boris didn't come home. He was still lost, an MIA on a list with a thousand names. No one knew where they were. They'd gone to war and never came home. They weren't dead. No one knew if they were alive, which was worse than being dead for their families.
I escaped the war with a student deferment. I had a high draft number and I was told I'd probably never go. When Harry was home, he'd check to be certain everything was in order to keep me out of the draft. Having a congressman in my corner was my ace in the hole.
I felt bad knowing how many kids my age died over there. I didn't feel bad I wasn't one of them. I led a charmed life, even though it was a lonely life. I had my son, my family, and my work.
I'd loved only one person romantically. I didn't see myself falling in love with anyone else. I hadn't given up hope yet but as fast as things changed, there were no guarantees Ivan would come back to me once his search ended.
It took a single trip to get my tanks from the car onto the 36 foot Sea Lab. It was fitted with the latest equipment to make a marine biologist's job a dream come true -- mine anyway.
The boat with the lab built into it was a gift to the conservancy the year before. One of Harry's admirers wanted to ensure the quality of work we did was surpassed by no one.
Mr. Mosby was in favor of preserving the Gulf of Mexico. He lived and worked on the gulf. The idea it might become polluted gave him nightmares. He did what he viewed as necessary to prevent it.
The boat allowed me to go anywhere to see whatever might be found and examine it as easily as if I was in my lab. I could see and preserve a specimen on the spot. It took me one step closer to understanding man's impact on the Gulf of Mexico.
Harry supervised what went into the Sea Lab to make sure that the Sanibel Island Conservancy went to the head of the class when it came to investigating and protecting the waterway that was the primary attraction on Sanibel Island.
We were determined to keep the attraction attractive.
As I dropped my equipment over the side, I felt great pride in the boat that was fitted out with me in mind. The 36 foot scientific sea laboratory replaced the eighteen foot Seaswirl tri-hull, which replaced Harry's classic fourteen foot wooden boat I used on my early dives. The eighteen foot Seaswirl tri-hull was bought the year the fourteen footer needed work, after the the discovery was made that there was more sealant in the hull than wood.
The Seaswirl had been a stable diving platform and we went diving frequently in those days. My education was all about what was under the gulf. The Seaswirl was a good boat with twin 40 Evinrudes for power. It cut slickly through the water. When I was alone, I'd push the throttles all the way forward to satisfy my need for speed.
The Seaswirl was the alternate boat at the conservancy now. It was used at the company picnic to take employees out into the gulf. The fourteen footer had been beautifully restored with an interior of polished mahogany. It was a show boat.
Harry used it to show important people around his kingdom. It was the perfect tool to impress donors who weren't accustomed to being on the water, but when a major donor needed extra convincing about the work we were doing, Harry got them on board the Sea Lab.
Once my gear was loaded, I cast off the lines, moved to the bridge, turned the key, hit the starter button, and listened to the quiet hum. There were two major Detroit diesel marine engines purring twenty feet below the bridge where I controlled them.
I eased away from the slip. My stomach fluttered as I passed the empty slip where the Vilnius Two used to be. I was told Captain Popov paid the slip rent, waiting for Mr. Aleksa's return.
I wasn't as sure about Mr. Aleksa's return. My mind always moved directly from Mr. Aleksa to Ivan. I hadn't heard from him in too long. He'd been close then before he went silent.
It wasn't the first time Ivan said he'd find Boris soon. When he left after Boris went missing, he didn't think he'd be gone long. As he closed in on Boris, the distance between him and me increased.
I understood Ivan had a far rougher road to go down than I did. His love for his brother was immense. His decision to find him, dead or alive, was a far more monumental task than I could have imagined, but Ivan's determination got in the way of reason. He went on because he refused to accept defeat and time was passing.
I told him, 'No matter how long it takes, I'll be here when you come home.'
I knew early on that Ivan was my one true love. I didn't know we'd be separated and I was left to wait for us to get on with our lives together. I didn't want to spend my life waiting. If I intended to be with him, I needed to wait for him.
He came home three or four times a year at first. Then he was coming home twice a year for a couple of years, but he called frequently. Now, if I saw him once a year, it was a lot. Once he reached Southeast Asia, the calls all but stopped.
Waiting wasn't getting any easier but I hadn't come up with an alternative. I told Ivan I'd be here when he came home and I was still here.
Thinking about my origins, and how I got to where I was, came to mind on dive days. Seeing Harry reminded me of the impact he'd had on my life as we... The empty slip reminded me of better days when Ivan was home and we were together.
I was pretty good at taking care of business, but while creeping along at the 5 mph posted speed limit, waiting to escape the cove, Ivan inevitably came to mind.
I'd been going in and out of that cove for half my lifetime. The history of my life since arriving in Florida was written there as one boat or another carried me far off shore, starting with Mr. Aleksa's.
It was while snorkeling with my son that I'd found the reef I was diving on now. In the next year I'd take Dylan diving there. At the rate he was growing he'd be big enough for the equipment.
My son loved helping me in the labs and he loved being in the water. He was smart, hated homework, and he swam like a fish. Since diving was my favorite activity, I couldn't wait to introduce Dylan to it. It would be interesting to see how he reacted to being under the gulf. He'd get there way earlier than I did.
The day we discovered this reef, we were in the Seaswirl and heading straight out into the gulf, southwest of the marina. It was hotter than the hinges of hell and the humidity was higher than high. Forsaking the power, speed, and Dylan's joy of watching the rooster tail kick up behind us, I shut it down and we went directly into the water.
We nearly landed on what I'd come to realize was a shipwreck. The top of what is now a reef wasn't that far from the surface. Both Dylan and I marveled at the variety of sea life we observed. Once back on board I wrote down the compass settings and made up my mind that my next dive would be done there. I'd made close to a hundred dives since we found it.
I suppose most major underwater finds are made in a similar fashion. The only thing on my mind was cooling off and I found the most pristine reef I'd ever seen. It was obvious by its condition, no one knew it was there but me.
It created an opportunity to watch a reef go through its natural cycles without other people disturbing it.