A Favor for a friend
By R. L. Keller
Seaview, the largest submarine in the world and pride of the Nelson Institute for Marine Research, had docked the day before and was scheduled to be in port for several weeks. Most of her crew had been given an extended shore leave while some internal systems were upgraded. Her officers were looking forward to relaxing a bit as well, and catching up on all the paperwork that inevitably accumulated while they were at sea. Seaview’s Captain, Lee Crane, Executive Officer Chip Morton, and the designer and owner, Admiral Harriman Nelson, were just finishing up a late afternoon meeting, discussing plans for the coming few weeks. It was somewhat unusual for Seaview to be in port for this length of time since she was kept fairly busy with the Admiral’s research projects, as well as the occasional military assignment. Both Admiral and XO were hoping their Captain – and friend – would manage to take some leave time, something his workaholic personality rarely allowed. But after the royal fiasco on the last cruise (*see Pressure Valve) neither was about to bring it up directly. Lee’s left hand still bore stitches and bandages from what could have been a far more serious incident, and while Lee had taken the whole thing a good deal more light-heartedly than he could have, Admiral, XO, and CMO were being unusually cautious around the occasionally volatile Captain.
Nothing came out of the meeting that wasn’t already pretty much common knowledge. Admiral Nelson would be helping technicians make changes to several of Seaview’s operational systems, including the Reactor Control Room and engines, while Chip installed several new computers and augmented some new programming. Both knew Lee would keep a watchful eye on both them and their projects since he took a very proprietary attitude toward his "Lady", and wanted to know what was going on at all times. All would be spending any spare time on the ever-present and never-ending reports, although Lee would be doing most of the pencil pushing. The bandages would keep him from doing much of the actual work on Seaview. They were calling it a day and just leaving when Lee was called back to his office to take a phone call. Nelson and Chip both cocked eyebrows at him, but he just shrugged his shoulders and said he’d see them in the morning.
Not bothering to sit down, Lee just snatched up his phone. "Crane," he said, all business. His secretary had identified the caller as Brad Spencer, and while Lee had a feeling he should know the name for some reason, he couldn’t immediately place it.
"Lee? Brad Spencer. We met at Tim and Annie Hughes’ B&B awhile back."
"Of course," and Lee smiled, his voice relaxing. "Knew I should know the name. How are you? Are you in Santa Barbara?"
"Fine, and yes. Not on business. Had some personal things to take care of. Thought I’d see if you had time to meet for dinner, maybe help me with something. You live here, and this is pretty much my first visit."
"Be glad to. Where are you staying?"
"My cousin’s house, actually, but things are a little chaotic. Got a favorite restaurant? I’m buying."
Lee named a small steak house he enjoyed, Brad said he’d find it, and they agreed to meet in about an hour. As Lee drove the short distance to his condo and quickly changed, he remembered back to when he’d met Brad (*see Friends). The reason for the trip, and some other things that had happened, still haunted Lee a bit. But he had the old memories under control now, and had wonderful new ones of his stay at his friends’ Bed and Breakfast on the Oregon coast. Brad was a sales rep for a company based in Los Angeles and traveled all over the West coast, staying at the Spindrift when he was in that area. As the two met a short while later and shook hands, Brad looked down at Lee’s bandaged left one.
"Still tilting at windmills, I see," and both men chuckled.
"Lost an argument with a piece of high test fishing line," Lee admitted. They sat down, ordered drinks, and spent a few minutes reminiscing. Brad had seen the Hughes just a couple of weeks previously and Lee was anxious for news of his old friends. They both laughed as Lee asked if Annie had made Brad’s favorite breakfast, Stuffed French Toast, and Brad just heaved a gigantic sigh of contentment. Lee admitted he’d gained 7 pounds the almost 3 weeks he’d been there and Brad just harrumphed, admitting he gained that much in just a few days, and they both laughed again. The two placed their dinner orders and were halfway through their salad course when Lee finally asked what Brad was doing in Santa Barbara. "You said it wasn’t business."
"No," Brad admitted. "We don’t have any companies here I work with. One of the other reps takes care of this area."
"But you live so close," Lee said, amazed.
"Danielle lives closer," Brad chuckled. "Anyway, I enjoy traveling and she has a family to think about. But I have, well, had a cousin living here. He passed away last week."
"I’m so sorry," Lee said quietly.
"Yeah, it was pretty sudden. We didn’t see that much of each other but we’re pretty much the only family each had left, so I got tapped to tie up all the loose ends."
"Rough," Lee agreed. "You indicated earlier there might be a way I could help?"
"Like I said, I don’t know anyone else in this area. Kyle’s lawyer, thankfully, is handling all the estate details. That just leaves Lacey for me to deal with…" and went on to explain the problem. "And now," he finished as they were both partway through their prime rib and baked potatoes, "I have to make an emergency trip up to Washington State. I was promised a month off to take care of everything, but apparently I’m the only one that can straighten this problem out. Wouldn’t you just know it?"
"Been there," Lee commiserated. "Don’t know how many times leave’s been canceled because Seaview got an unexpected call-up."
"And it’s not like Lacey needs any special attention. Mostly I just need someone to stay at the house at night and keep an eye on her until I can figure out what to do. Any ideas?"
"Where’s the house?" Brad named an area slightly north of Santa Barbara known for its expensive beach houses and exclusive nature. Lee whistled appreciatively and Brad smiled.
"Yeah. Kyle’s father was old money. His mom and mine were sisters. When his parents were killed in the crash of a private plane, Kyle moved in until he could get things settled. Ended up staying."
Lee lowered his eyes to his plate, deep in thought. "Doesn’t sound like it’s all that safe to live there," and he glanced up at Brad. "Seems like everyone who lives there ends up dead."
Brad just nodded. "I’ve thought the same thing this last week," he admitted. "I’m just hoping that doesn’t effect selling the place. The lawyer didn’t seem to think so, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Kyle fortunately left a will, and a lot of the estate is scheduled for distribution to his favorite charities."
"What a nice thing for him to do. What about Lacey?"
"Oh, I’ll take care of her with what was left me. That’s not an issue," and the two ate in silence for a bit.
"How long do you think you’ll be gone?" Lee finally asked, and Brad shrugged his shoulders.
"Quick fix, about 3 days. But from what I’m hearing it could be a week, maybe ten days. I suppose Lacey could stay somewhere else but I know she’d be happier at home. She’s upset enough already, without Kyle there."
There was another short silence before Lee said quietly, "Why don’t I stay at the house? Seaview’s not going anywhere, and with this hand it’s unlikely I’ll get called up for any…Navy assignments." He’d almost said something else and had to quickly catch himself. Brad was a civilian, after all, and didn’t need to know about Lee’s ONI connections.
Brad looked at him, surprised. "That’s not what I had in mind when I said I’d buy you dinner," he said quickly. "I just thought you might know someone who wouldn’t mind house sitting on the beach for awhile."
"I do," Lee smiled. "Me. Always wondered how the other half lived," and both men laughed.
"There is that," Brad agreed. "And you can’t beat the view. The bikinis-per-square-yard ratio is definitely impressive."
"Lacey doesn’t get jealous?" Lee smirked.
"Nah," Brad shook his head. "She just thinks it’s funny."
"When do you have to leave?"
"Tomorrow if at all possible."
"Then what do you say, when we’re done eating, I follow you out there and you introduce me to the fair Lacey and show me where things are. I’ll pack what I need when I get home and can go straight there from work tomorrow. Be there by 1830, ah, 6:30, tomorrow night."
"You’re sure it won’t be a problem?"
"For the next couple weeks all I’m doing is office work, and checking the boat. And there are three people in particular that wouldn’t complain at all if I’d take some extra time off. Maybe Lacey and I can stretch out on the beach and catch some rays. Or would she prefer to go jogging?"
"Actually, from what I’ve seen so far, probably both."
"Perfect. And I’m paying for dinner." As Brad would have objected Lee cut him off. "Nope. I’m definitely getting the better of this deal."
* * * *
There were a few raised eyebrows the next day when Lee mentioned that if anyone wanted to reach him for awhile they’d have to use his cell phone, that he wouldn’t be home. Lee didn’t elaborate, just said he was doing a favor for a friend and house sitting, and everyone went about their assorted duties. No one was anticipating any reasons Lee would be needed beyond his normal hours at the Institute. Chip was a bit surprised that his friend wasn’t more forthcoming, but since he not only had his hands full with Seaview’s computers but also a little after hours pursuit of a new Institute secretary he didn’t immediately tackle the issue. For his part Lee spent a productive day in his office, and as things were quiet threw a couple more reports in his briefcase and left a little early, since instead of a 20-minute drive home he’d now have one of almost an hour. Once there, he used the remote Brad had given him to open the garage door, and after it closed behind him grabbed his bags and let himself in the connecting door to the house. As expected, Lacey met him just inside.
"Hey, Lacey," Lee said affectionately. "Did you have a good day? Told you I’d be here this evening – even made it a bit earlier than planned." He looked at her a moment. "Has anyone ever told you, you have the most beautiful blue eyes?" Lee got himself settled into the guestroom then fixed dinner for the two of them. Afterward they went for a jog on the beach, then Lee sat down on the couch to work on the reports he’d brought with him. Lacey puttered around the house for awhile, then curled up on the other end of the couch. Both were quiet, content within their own thoughts.
The next day, Thursday, went much the same. Lee saw little of either Nelson or Chip, as he was kept busy in the office while they were occupied aboard Seaview. On Friday Chip tracked Lee down and asked if he’d like to get together that night for dinner, maybe a double date. He knew Lee had been seeing a girl who worked as a paralegal downtown. But Lee declined. He’d already discovered Patty was out of town for a few days, and in actual fact was enjoying his quiet evenings at the beach. The long jogs were very relaxing after all the hours he was putting in at the office, and Lacey was pleasant company. Chip didn’t argue. He was just glad Lee seemed to be enjoying the time in port. So many times that wasn’t the case. Lee got bored easily - as they’d all found out rather harshly on the last cruise - increasingly frustrated and occasionally short-tempered until once again back out on his beloved sea – and his beloved Seaview.
Brad called Saturday morning just as Lee was fixing breakfast. "Figured I’d better check in and see how things were going."
"Fine," Lee assured him. "You know, I could get used to living in this place."
"It goes on the market as soon as a few loose ends are tied up. Are you interested?"
"Are you kidding? I couldn’t even afford the insurance, let alone the house payments," and both men laughed. "Besides, I’m not home enough to justify keeping a place like this."
"There are disadvantages to a life on the road." Brad agreed.
"How goes it with you?"
"Rough. Looks like I’ll be here at least all next week."
"Not a problem," Lee assured again. "I’ll be here."
"No problems with Lacey?"
"Not a one. In fact, I’m getting kind of fond of having her around."
"Yeah, I discovered that myself. Another disadvantage to being gone so much."
"What are you going to do about her?"
"Cross that bridge when I have to. Right now all I can think about is this mess. But I’ll be open to suggestions once I get back."
"Will give it some thought," Lee said. "Right now we’re going for a good long jog, then spend the rest of the day down on the beach. Can’t go swimming until the stitches are out of my hand, hopefully sometime this coming week. But I have every intention of stretching out and catching some rays."
"Ah, the life. I get to spend the day wading through 45 pages of screwed up data." Lee’s laugh was one of commiseration, and Brad rang off.
* * * *
Actually, Lee spent Sunday much as he spent Saturday. With few interruptions at the office all week he hadn’t felt pressured to bring work home for the weekend, and was really enjoying his time house sitting. Each night Lacey stretched out with him on the couch, and after the first couple nights in her own bed, had begun joining Lee in the king-sized bed in the guest room. Lee had been surprised the first time but they really were getting along quite well. As he told Brad, he was definitely going to miss her.
He was walking into the office Monday morning, whistling softly to himself, when Chip’s voice behind him caused him to turn and smile.
"Well, well, well," Chip observed, looking him up and down. "House sitting seems to agree with you. And is that an extra pound or two I detect?" Lee’s slender frame was always evident under his well-fitted uniform, and the last mission had caused him to lose weight he could never afford.
"When you’re cooking for two you can’t skip meals," Lee said nonchalantly, and Chip’s eyebrows went up. Lee made them go up even higher when he added, "Lacey doesn’t cook."
Unfortunately for Chip he wasn’t able to continue this most intriguing conversation as at that point Admiral Nelson joined them and the three headed for the Admiral’s office for their usual Monday-morning-while-in-port strategy session. Chip did give Lee a few speculative glances during the meeting, which did not go unnoticed by the Admiral. But Lee refused to say anything more on the subject.
Chip, however, tackled him at lunch, as Lee sat munching a sandwich at his desk. Lee didn’t immediately see his XO as he concentrated on his computer screen, and Chip leaned up against the open doorframe, crossing his arms. "Lacey, huh," he commented dryly, and Lee looked up sharply in Chip’s direction. An absolutely brilliant smile appeared on Chip’s face as he continued. "Blond, brunette, or redhead?"
Lee just laughed. "Sort of hard to describe," he admitted, leaning back in his chair.
"Uh huh. And when do we get to meet this magician?"
"Magician?" Lee asked, puzzled.
"Must be. Anybody who can get you to not only eat, but actually cook it first," he said, and both men burst out laughing.
"I don’t know, Chip," Lee finally settled down. "About the only time she leaves the house is to go down to the beach."
"So, if you can cook for two you can do it for four. Jenny and I will come over."
"Sorry," Lee shook his head. "Not my house. I don’t have the authority to invite guests."
Chip was all set to respond when his beeper went off. Frowning at it, he muttered, "We haven’t finished with this discussion," and stomped off, Lee’s laughter following him.
On Tuesday Lee spent a fair amount of the day aboard Seaview, getting caught up on the upgrades Admiral Nelson was making. Lee had read all the reports on the new designs, now it was time to see for himself what was happening. The two spent an amiable day working side by side, and while Lee’s hand kept him from doing much, he nonetheless intently watched what was going on. The Institute cafeteria sent down sandwiches and coffee since there was no one working in the Galley, and Chip joined them for lunch in the Wardroom, continuing the gentle harassment of his best friend. Nelson watched it all with a bemused expression. He so enjoyed watching these two young officers revel in their friendship, making them that much more formidable a team for any opponent to go up against. At one point Nelson thought Chip was perhaps going a bit too far when the XO turned to him and said knowingly, "You know the reason Lee won’t introduce us to his new girlfriend has to be because she’s a real dog, and Lee’s ashamed to show her off in public." But instead of getting angry Lee had just burst out laughing, barely able to finish his meal.
In fact, Lee was still laughing about his friend’s remark when he came in the back door that night, and also about what Chip had pulled, or rather tried to pull, as Lee was leaving. Too many years of ONI training caused Lee to never drive unaware of his surroundings, and he’d easily spotted Chip trying to tail him back to the beach house. Poor Chip. It hadn’t taken Lee more than 90 seconds to lose his friend. Once back at the house he greeted Lacey cheerfully, telling her all about it as he changed clothes and started fixing dinner. After eating and cleaning up, and still reminiscing about friendships old and new, he took the drink he’d just poured and settled on the couch, picked up his cell phone, and dialed a number he’d become very comfortable dialing of late. Lacey joined him just as his call was answered, and Lee spent a very enjoyable 45 minutes with Tim. Annie joined in on the speakerphone once she’d prepped the next morning’s breakfast entrée. Lee refused to ask what she was fixing, knowing he’d never be able to duplicate it anyway and would just make himself hungry for Annie’s cooking. He eventually got around to telling them where he was calling from, and explained why. Both Tim and Annie expressed condolences for Brad’s loss and Lee promised to pass them on. He also talked for a bit about Brad’s most pressing problem, and was amazed and delighted as Annie proposed a solution. Tim also thought it a wonderful suggestion and Lee promised to pass it on as soon as he talked to Brad. Lacey herself didn’t have much to say on the subject. Annie reminded Lee that they had an open room anytime Lee wanted to come up, and Lee said with a laugh he just might take them up on it for a few days. The conversation ended on a high note for everyone.
Wednesday started badly for Lee, with a memo waiting on his desk from Doc. Lee’s presence was requested in Med Bay at 0830 so Jamie could look at Lee’s hand. As much as Lee was looking forward to having the stitches out and bandages finally off, his natural distaste for anything medical kept him grumbling all the way to Jamie’s office, merely adding to the CMO’s contrition over what had happened on the last cruise. While secretly amused Lee kept it to himself, letting Jamie stew while examining the hand and removing the stitches. Jamie warned Lee that, while the hand was definitely healing well, it was going to continue to be sore for awhile. He stopped just short of telling Lee to continue to take it easy and merely sent him back to work with a reminder that he still wasn’t released for swimming or diving. Lee acknowledged the warning and left, a smile back on his face once he was out of the medical building and headed back for his office. Lee knew he was going to eventually have to let Jamie off the hook. The CMO had truly been thinking only of Lee’s best interests. And while he’d gone about it somewhat badly, that didn’t lessen his good intentions. But Lee figured he’d let him stew a while longer, just to be ornery, and smiled to himself all the more. The Admiral and Chip had also contributed to the problems, albeit at Jamie’s instigation, and the more Lee thought about it the more determined he was to make all three sweat it out a bit more. And he thought he knew just the way to do it. He’d wait until he talked to Brad again and then put his newly hatched plan into action.
* * * *
His opportunity came sooner than expected, when Brad’s call caught him in the office just before 1200. Lee had Brad hold on just a moment while he got up and closed his office door, earning a surprised look from his secretary since Lee so rarely did so, and told Brad of his conversation with Tim and Annie and their surprising solution to Brad’s problem. Just as Lee had, Brad thought it a wonderful idea and gave Lee permission to take care of it, something Lee readily agreed to do since it fit in with his own plans so well. He spent the noon hour finishing up a few things that had to be done then told his secretary that he’d apparently overused his hand that morning, it was hurting, and he was leaving early. That caused another surprised look since it was well known by everyone who worked anywhere near Seaview’s Captain he almost never admitted pain. But she said nothing, just wished him well and told him she’d take care of anything that came up and she’d see him in the morning. Lee just smiled, not telling her that wasn’t going to happen. He drove quickly to the beach house, packed up all of his things and what he knew Lacey would need, made a stop at his own place to repack for himself, and headed out. The drive north was a good deal easier than it had been the last time, and didn’t take him nearly as long. Not always obeying all the speed signs in his little red sports car, he pulled into Tim and Annie’s about 1800 Thursday afternoon.
* * * *
All hell broke loose Thursday morning when Nelson discovered Lee was actually gone. He’d left a voice message with Security that they forwarded for him. "Sorry for the short notice, Admiral," Lee had said. "After Jamie took the stitches out of my hand I tried to do some work on the computer, and probably did too much. He warned me it would be sore for awhile and to take it easy, but you know me. Tried to do a few things after I came back to the place I’ve been staying and just made things worse, so Lacey and I decided to just go away for a few days and veg. You and Chip have the re-fit well in hand and there’s nothing in my office that can’t wait until I get back, maybe about the middle of next week. Didn’t think you’d mind. You’re all always after me to use my leave time anyway. Will call when I get back, or if I need anything. Other than that I’ll probably have the cell phone turned off, since Lacey doesn’t like it."
Nelson had exploded and Chip, just coming down the hall, had come running, thinking there must be a dead body in Nelson’s office, or at the very least been a break-in or something. Nelson played the message again, demanding to know who this Lacey was, where the hell Lee had been staying, and where he was now. He hadn’t even left Security an alternate number where he could be reached. A definite breach of protocol! Chip could only shake his head. He admitted what he’d tried to do Tuesday night, and his shame at being such an abysmal failure finally calmed Nelson down. He just stood there shaking his head, and Chip remained quiet as well.
Finally, Nelson started to chuckle softly. "The damn thing is, he’s right," Nelson admitted. "We are always on his case about taking time off. And if he’d come to me this time and asked, I’d probably have turned him down, saying I needed the reports he’s working on by this weekend."
"Don’t you?" Chip asked cautiously.
"Not particularly. Oh, it would have been nice to get them out of the way. But it will be just fine if they wait an extra week. Which Lee knew," and he chuckled again.
"I have definitely got to meet this new girlfriend of his," Chip said, with a grin of his own. "Not only does she get him to eat, she gets him to fix it as well, and now she’d talked him into taking a week off. We have got to make sure he keeps this one, even if she does look like a dog." Both men laughed and got busy.
* * * *
"Lee, she’s beautiful," Annie exclaimed as Lee opened the passenger side door. He’d barely driven in when both Tim and Annie came flying out to greet him and his friend. When he’d opened her door Lacey stepped out gracefully and waited at his side to be introduced. Lee had obliged. "Lacey, meet your new owners," and Annie had immediately gone to her knees in front of the blue merle Shetland Sheepdog, looking so regal in her huge coat of gray mottled with flecks and patches of black, and her huge while shawl collar. There was more white on her face, chest, and down both front legs. "Tim and Annie, may I introduce Champion Chrysalis, better known as Lacey," and Annie gave the little dog, looking like a small version of a Collie, a big hug.
Lee turned to grab his bags, as well as the one he’d packed with Lacey’s stuff, and was stopped abruptly by Annie’s voice. "Damage report," she commanded firmly, looking at Lee’s left hand, and Lee just laughed.
"Lost an argument with a piece of fishing line," he confessed, and Tim reached around him to snag the bags. "Seems like I can’t show up unless something hurts."
"Didn’t work out so bad the last time," Tim chuckled and slapped him on the back.
"At least you show up," Annie agreed. "Come on, Lacey. Let’s introduce you to your new home."
Annie had dinner ready, since Lee had called about an hour south of Newport to let them know about when he would arrive. Because Lacey wouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen they ate in the dining area usually reserved for breakfast. Tim and Annie had already been making plans and while they ate, as Lacey lay contentedly by Lee’s chair, they discussed what would be done. Annie had always wanted a white picket fence around the house and now she was going to get it, with chain link on the outside for added security. A dog door would be added to the back door of the house, with a small entryway added at that end of the kitchen so she had ready access to the Hughes’ quarters downstairs. There would also be a half-door installed between the kitchen and the front of the house, so Lacey could help entertain guests if she chose. Lee assured them she probably would since she seemed to naturally love people.
Lacey herself firmly established that she was now the official greeter at the B&B. As the three sat visiting in the large front room that evening, Lacey amiably greeted each guest as they returned for the night. For the most part she returned each time to lie quietly by Lee’s chair, and again slept on his bed that night in the Driftwood Room at the top of the stairs. But by Friday night, after spending the day dividing her attention between the three, supervising the workman who was making the changes to the house, and helping Lee, Tim, and several neighbors start on the new fence, she was perfectly comfortable changing her residence to the downstairs. Annie laughed at breakfast Saturday that she thought Lacey was a little miffed to be relegated to her own bed instead of sharing theirs, and Lee laughed but noted that he didn’t think that would last very long. With sheepish grins both Tim and Annie agreed.
By Saturday night the new fencing was almost complete and Sunday, after breakfast, Tim and Lee went down to the beach to take Lacey, and themselves, jogging. Finishing touches were completed on the fence and the three, now four counting Lacey, sat around the front room in peaceful conversation. Lee had to leave the next morning, to be back at work on Wednesday. Brad had called to make sure everything had gone well and was assured that not only had Lacey settled in, she’d already taken over the B&B as her own personal territory.
Lee sat in his chair, drink in hand, totally contented, sorry he had to leave in the morning. But he smiled to himself as he looked around the room. He felt proud that he’d been a part of this happy ending – or, rather, this happy beginning.
This story is dedicated to the memory of Ch. A.A. Kelnook Chrysalis, who stole my heart as a newborn puppy, and enchanted my life for 12 ½ years.
Ch. A.A. Kelnook Chrysalis, pictured going Winners Bitch, Best of Winners, Best of Opposite Sex. Shown by then Handler, and always very dear friend, Sylvia Calderwood.
Judge: Marion Hodesson