By Sue James
The air was humid and a smoky haze encircled the crowded bar as Nathaniel Sharkey placed the two large glasses of golden beer on the table.
“So, how was it?” he peered curiously at his companion who had wrapped his stubby fingers around one of the glasses and raised it to his lips.
“How was what?” the other man raised bushy eyebrows, his expression questioning as he surveyed his older brother.
“The Seaview of course!” Nat laughed. “What else?”
“Aah,” Francis Sharkey drank appreciatively from his glass before allowing a slow smile to spread across his craggy face. His eyes twinkled as he regarded his sibling across the table and tried to think of a word to sum up the experience of his first cruise aboard the world famous nuclear powered submarine, Seaview.
“Awesome,” he said finally, “totally awesome!”
“That good, huh?” Nat grinned. “You’re a lucky bugger; getting requested like that by no other than Admiral Nelson. There’s a lot of guys in the regular Navy’d give up next month’s pay check for an opportunity like yours.””
“Don’t know that I’d go that far!” his brother grinned back, “but, yeah, I know I’ve struck lucky,” he paused to take a long drink from his glass before continuing, “not that it’s all roses, you know!”
“Sure it’s not!” Nat laughed. “Biggest sub in the entire world…no more cramped quarters and windows… windows…” he shook his head in disbelief. “You must get one hell of a view!”
“They’re not really windows…they’re X-tempered herculite,” Francis responded smugly.
“Cut the technical crap! You can see out ‘em, can’t you?”
“Sure,” his brother grinned broadly. “Not that I get to look out of ‘em too often, being down in the missile room most of the time but, yea, the view is amazing and I found it hard to drag my gaze away from it the first few times I got the chance to look out.” He shook his dark head in awe. “I have to admit I was amazed at how the guys in the control room didn’t really seem to notice; just acted like it was normal!”
“Guess it is to them,” Nat observed wisely.
Silence descended over their very small part of the crowded bar as both men concentrated on finishing their drinks.
“So what’s the crew like?” Nat finally broke the silence while simultaneously signalling to the barman to refill their glasses.
“No, let me get these!” Francis protested while ignoring his brother’s question.
“Forget it!” Nat shook his head. “I invited you out so I pay and all you have to do is tell me all about life aboard the famous Seaview.”
“Okay!” Sharkey acquiesced easily with broad grin, “but you have to remember that a lot of things are classified.”
“Including the crew?” Nat raised one greying eyebrow.
“No!” Sharkey shook his head.
“So, what they like?”
“Okay,” Sharkey shrugged as he accepted his freshly filled glass and sipped at the contents appreciatively. “Of course, I don’t really know them too well yet but on the whole they’ve been very welcoming considering…” he paused, a distant look on his face.
“That I’m stepping into the role of a dead mate,” Francis frowned suddenly. “They could’ve been hostile but they weren’t which was a huge relief to me.”
“Good,” Nat frowned slightly. “Not like it was your fault, after all.”
“The previous chief dying like that!” Nat sounded almost indignant on his brother’s behalf and Francis had to smile as he replied, “I know but it can be a challenge stepping into the shoes of anyone, not least a dead man! From what I’ve heard Curley Jones was real popular with the men and his sudden death was huge shock. It would only be natural for them to resent me.”
“Yea, I guess I never thought of it like that,” Nat made a face. “What about the officers? Are they human?”
“Seem to be,” Francis nodded. “The Skipper seems like a real nice guy and he’s been very supportive. He actually called me into his cabin at the end of our first day at sea to ask me how I was settling in.” He shook his dark head from side to side at the memory. “Seems he had a few problems being accepted by some members of the crew when he took over from the previous captain and he seemed keen to ensure that I didn’t have the same problems; I wouldn’t be surprised if he had lectured the men before I came aboard though I don’t think it extended to his officers!”
“Oh?” Nat raised his own bushy eyebrows. “Stuck up, are they?”
“Not exactly,” his brother’s frown increased. “They’re okay for officers but then Admiral Nelson only hires the best and Captain Crane runs a very relaxed boat; it’s not all stiff and formal like the regular Navy.”
“Who says there’s a “but”?”
“Your face does,” Nat grinned. “C’mon, Frankie…what’s wrong with the officers?”
“Nothing!” Francis protested indignantly. “They’re okay,” he downed the rest of his drink and glanced at his watch. “You want to go eat somewhere?”
“Sure,” Nat downed the remainder of his own drink. “Sounds good to me; Pizza? I noticed a pizza restaurant about a ten minute walk from here.”
“Pizza’ll do just fine,” Francis grinned as he stood up and reached for his jacket. “But I’m paying this time!”
“Okay,” his brother nodded, “I’ll have extra large!”
The sound of footsteps echoed on the deck in the otherwise silent control room.
Confident that he knew who the footsteps belonged to Lieutenant-Commander Chip Morton kept his blue eyes fixed on his clipboard as the sound moved closer to where he stood at the plot table.
As the footsteps faded to a halt he could hear the breathing of his best friend close to his right ear as a cheerful voice enquired, “You okay?”
“Sure,” Chip looked up and grinned brightly as if to give confirmation to his vocal assertion before handing the clipboard over for perusal by his commanding officer.
“Good,” Captain Lee Crane grinned back as he gazed at the neat figures in front of him. Pulling the pencil from the top of the clipboard he initialled the bottom of the page he had just read and handed it back to his friend and executive officer. “Only you have been kind of quiet lately.”
“I’m always quiet!” Chip grinned, his hands clasping the clipboard tightly in front of his chest as if it was some kind of shield.
“True,” Lee smiled back and fought to keep the concern from his voice as he said carefully. “So long as you’re sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine,” Chip asserted patiently. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“No reason,” Lee frowned slightly, “are you going to be much longer?”
“Maybe half an hour,” Chip shrugged his broad shoulders, “how about you?”
“Got some paperwork to finish,” Lee made a face. “I could leave it but I’d rather get it done before I leave. Probably a couple of hours…”
“Okay,” Chip nodded his blond head, his hands still clasping the clipboard tightly, “I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Great,” Lee grinned and turned to go. Ascending the spiral staircase to their right he paused half way up to look down in concern at his friend’s bent head and frowned heavily before continuing his climb to Officer’s Country and the sanctuary of his own cabin.
Aware he was being watched Chip kept his
head bent over the chart table his pencil poised over a map of the
Except they weren’t going anywhere!
As he heard his friend’s footsteps continuing their ascent out of sight the blond executive officer grimaced in annoyance and squeezed the pencil so hard that, to his surprise, it snapped in two. Staring in amazement at the two yellow fragments in his right hand his grimace increased as he threw the pieces across the table in disgust.
One piece rolled to the end of the table and fell to the deck with a clatter but Chip ignored it as he wandered across to the vast windows that made Seaview so unique.
Stuffing his hands into the back pockets of his uniform trousers he stared out at the activity on the dock before him almost unseeingly as he considered his recent disaffected mood.
He felt guilty that he hadn’t been honest with his best friend but the truth was he didn’t really understand why he felt so irritated and out of sorts. He suspected that he knew the root cause but he didn’t understand why he couldn’t rise above it with the sheer force of his usual stubborn determination and that was beginning to make him angry.
Ever since they had set out on their recent
short cruise he had felt unaccountably irritated and ill at ease and their
arrival back in
And had he really managed to hide his emotions anyway? It was obvious from his friend’s comments and looks of concern that he hadn’t fooled the Captain even if he had fooled the crew and that just exacerbated his bad temper.
It was all so silly really…so childish…and yet he couldn’t help the way he felt; he just didn’t want to admit it, not even to himself and definitely not to his friends.
Air hissed through his clenched teeth as he turned from the busy scene on the dock to survey the empty control room behind him. Empty and silent it seemed to reproach him as his quick eyes took in each unmanned station and in his mind’s eye he saw the highly trained men who worked there.
A small smile tugged at the firm set of his determined mouth as he realized with sudden clarity that the crew had seemed happy enough on their short trip out; that, unlike him, they seemed to have dealt with the changes thrust upon them so unexpectedly and appeared perfectly accepting of their new situation.
No real scuttlebutt had reached his ears during their eight days at sea and he knew he should be pleased about that. As executive officer discontent among the crew was his problem but in his current frame of mind the fact that there had been no problems among the men for him to sort out just added to his irritation and discontent.
Shaking his blond head he mentally berated himself for his childish feelings as he crossed the short space back to the chart table.
“Get a grip, Morton!” He told himself crossly as he bent to retrieve the piece of broken pencil that had fallen to the deck. “You’re acting like a prize jerk!”
He tossed the end of the pencil on to the table and growled in angry frustration as it nudged against the other piece that sat there and they both rolled on to the deck.
“But you have a right to feel aggrieved…” his inner voice taunted him as he fought against the childish urge to stamp on the offending pencil ends.
“Heck!” he shook his blond head vigorously as if trying to dislodge the mocking voices within. “Maybe I just need a holiday!”
Ignoring the pencil ends he started to gather together his navigational instruments and fold the charts in front of him. They were due to be in port for the next ten days and he had planned on spending most of that time in his Institute office focusing on the never-ending paperwork pertaining to this last cruise and their upcoming mission but maybe he would take a long weekend first and fly east to visit his family. He hadn’t been home in a long while and maybe a change of scene would help him to get his troubled thoughts in order.
A sudden muffled sound to his left caused him to glance upwards and he groaned inwardly as he saw his best friend descending the metal staircase. Wearing his uniform jacket and with his cover tucked under his left arm Lee Crane held a battered, bulging briefcase in his right hand as he walked the few paces to the chart table.
Glancing at the pencil ends that lay close to his polished shoes he merely raised his dark eyebrows before looking at his friend and asking casually, “You coming ashore?”
“I thought you had paperwork,” Chip frowned.
“I do!” Lee indicated the briefcase with a nod of his dark head, “but it’s getting late and I figured it could wait. I need a good dinner before I fade away!”
Chip’s brilliant blue eyes widened in surprise; the Lee Crane he knew so well never worried about food and certainly never put his appetite before his work. Usually it was left to Chip to almost drag him physically from his desk to go and eat so his friend’s comment failed to ring true and he felt a scowl beginning to form between his blue eyes as he realized that Lee was concerned enough about his current frame of mind to put his welfare before his own paperwork.
A minor battle began to war inside him, twisting his gut into painful knots as he weighed his response to Lee’s gesture of friendship. His natural reaction right at that moment was to tell his friend to “go away and leave me alone” but deep down he appreciated Lee’s concern and felt that to say he wasn’t really hungry would just increase his friend’s conviction that something was seriously wrong.
“What do you fancy? Sung Lee’s? Or Raffiels?” Lee named a couple of local restaurants that they frequently patronised when they were in port.
“You choose,” Chip spoke reluctantly.
“Okay!” Lee shrugged slightly surprised that his usually food mad friend had passed up the chance to choose their dining destination. “Tell you what. I’ll take this up to my office,” he indicated his briefcase for the second time. “Then I’m going home to shower and change,” he glanced at his wristwatch. “I’ll meet you at your place at 18.30 hours.”
“Fine,” Chip nodded slightly and forced a smile to his lips as his friend turned to go. Maybe his gut would unknot itself when they reached the restaurant and he might manage to eat but he was damned if he was going to respond to any more probing about his current mood by his friend and Captain.
Placing the instruments he still held into their slots beneath the chart table he crossed to the stairs and started up to his own cabin as his best friend exited the vast submarine on his way to his office.
“So, you got a problem with someone on the mighty Seaview?” Nat Sharkey asked casually as they waited for their ordered pizzas to appear.
“Nah,” Francis shook his head although his mouth was set in a grimace.
Nat raised one eyebrow in a disbelieving gesture. “It might help to talk about it.”
“Grouse you mean,” Francis frowned slightly.
“If that’s how you feel.”
“It is,” the frown increased and he twisted a paper napkin between his hands, “but…heck, maybe I should just give the guy a chance. Some people are just harder to get to know and it was my first trip,” he shrugged his shoulders. “He seems okay with everyone else.”
“But not with you?”
“Maybe it’s just my imagination,” Francis strove to be fair. “Like I said the guy seems okay with everyone else and I haven’t heard nothing bad about him.”
“You don’t have any imagination!” Nat laughed as the pretty young waitress approached their table bearing two massive plates of pizza.
“I do!” Francis protested indignantly before turning his friendliest smile on the waitress as she placed his pizza in front of him. “Thank you.”
The waitress smiled back, “Can I get you guys anything else?” She looked from one to the other.
The two men looked at each other before simultaneously shaking their heads, “No, thank you,” Francis replied. “Not at the moment.”
“Enjoy your pizza!” the waitress said cheerfully and disappeared back to the kitchen as both men tucked into their food.
For a few minutes they ate in silence before Nat enquired, “So, what is wrong with this guy?”
“Nothing!” Francis responded irritably as he swallowed a mouthful of cheese and pepperoni. “It’s just…just his manner, I guess.”
“And we’re talking officer, right?”
Francis nodded almost reluctantly and Nat whistled across the table, “rank?”
“Does it matter?”
Francis scowled, unable to resist answering in the face of his elder sibling’s persistence. Glancing almost furtively around the restaurant as if he expected someone to eavesdrop, he leant across the table and whispered his reply, “The exec!”
Nat’s eyebrows shot up and he whistled again, long and slow, “The XO? You’ve got a problem with Seaview’s XO?”
“Sssh, not so loud!” Francis glared at his brother and cast another furtive look around the restaurant causing his brother to almost choke on his pizza.
“What’s the problem, Frankie? You think he has this place bugged?”
“Nah!” Francis shook his head, “ I just don’t feel comfortable talking about it in a public place.”
“Fair enough,” Nat nodded. “Soon as we finish here we’ll go back to your place and you can tell your big brother everything!”
Lee savoured the taste of the crispy duck as he thoughtfully surveyed his best friend. Although Chip was steadily working his way through a large plate of beef chop suey and egg fried rice he was not eating with his usual enthusiasm. Chip’s love of food was well known but on their recent cruise Lee had become aware that although his friend hadn’t actually stopped eating his infamous appetite had noticeably waned.
It was very obvious to Lee that something was bothering his friend but he didn’t have a clue what it was and he knew that he would have an uphill battle to find out. Chip had never been one to readily discuss his innermost feelings easily. In all the years that Lee had known him he had only really spoken honestly about his deeper thoughts when he had drunk too much. The problem with that was that Chip didn’t normally allow himself to over indulge his drinking! It was all part of his highly developed sense of self-control which had become stronger over the passing years.
There had been a time when they were younger that Lee could get Chip drunk and vice versa but he doubted it would work tonight. It wasn’t that they didn’t know how to have fun; just that they didn’t need to get wasted first. Maybe it came with age and responsibility? Lee shrugged mentally and chewed at a particularly tasty piece of duck. The man sitting opposite wasn’t only his best friend, he was more like the brother Lee had never had and it pained him to think that something was bothering his brother. Anything was worth a try if he was going to find out what was going on in that blond head.
Smiling across the table Lee indicated Chip’s half full beer glass with a nod of his dark head. “You want another?”
Chip frowned and glanced at his drink. “I haven’t finished this one yet!”
“I know but Chinese food can make you thirsty,” Lee offered lamely.
“Are you trying to get me drunk?” Chip laid down his chopsticks and stared intently across the table.
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Because you want to know what’s bothering me?”
“Is there something bothering you?” Lee asked quietly, hiding his surprise that Chip had readily admitted that there was.
“Maybe,” Chip shrugged and picked up his chopsticks, “maybe not…I don’t know Lee, but I do know that I’m not going to let good food go cold while we debate the subject!”
“Fair enough,” Lee grinned. “I can wait til we’ve finished.”
Chip merely raised his eyebrows before taking another mouthful of food and chewing in an exaggerated fashion. They continued eating in silence. Chip finished first and laid his chopsticks neatly across his empty plate before pushing it to one side and reaching for his drink. Keeping his blue eyes fixed on his friend he swiftly downed the rest of his beer and then pushed his glass across the table. “You’re driving so I’ll have that refill now!”
He grinned broadly and Lee grinned back as he signalled to the waiter and asked for a refill of Chip’s glass and lemonade for himself.
“It won’t be enough to loosen my tongue,” Chip commented as soon as the waiter had disappeared.
“You can always have a third!” Lee said hopefully as he cleared his own plate and placed the last piece of duck into his mouth.
“You wish!” Chip laughed. “Look Lee, I really appreciate your concern but I can’t talk about what’s bugging me, okay?”
“So you admit that there is something?”
“I admit that I’ve been a little preoccupied recently,” Chip nodded, his expression serious, “but I can’t talk about it; I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
“Is it something to do with the sub?” Lee frowned.
Chip raised his eyebrows again and waited while the waiter placed their fresh drinks on the table. “I said I can’t talk about it!”
“Fair enough,” Lee frowned and picked up his drink. He drank slowly before lowering his glass and staring seriously at his friend. “It might help to talk.”
“And it might not!” Chip said firmly. “Don’t take it personally, Lee. You know me. I’ve got to sort it out in my own mind before I can attempt explaining it to anyone else.”
“Anyone ever tell you how damn aggravating you can be!” Lee glowered across the top of his glass.
“Yep!” Chip grinned broadly. “You have… plenty of times and the feeling is mutual!”
“Touché!” Lee couldn’t help laughing back. “Well, you know I’m here pal if you ever figure out how to put your problem into words!”
“I know,” Chip nodded soberly. “And I do appreciate it, Lee.” He shrugged slightly. “Maybe once I’ve been home I’ll be able to explain it to you.”
“Home? You’re going home?” Lee sat up straighter in his chair. “Why? Is there a problem at home? Is that what’s bothering you? Why didn’t you say before?”
“Slow down!” Chip grinned. “There’s nothing wrong at home. I just feel that I need a break and I haven’t been home for months now. It’s only for a few days” he hesitated. “You can come with me if you want; maybe we could do a bit of sailing.”
“Sure,” Lee smiled. “I’d love to come.”
“Great,” Chip smiled back. “I’ll call Helen first thing in the morning, let her know she needs to get more food in!” he picked up his half empty glass and raised it to his lips. “Cheers!”
“I don’t think he likes me,” Francis Sharkey frowned at his elder brother across the room.
“You don’t think he likes you?” Nat laughed. “You know how that sounds, Frankie?”
“Suppose you tell me,” Francis glowered.
“Like you’re still in third grade!” Nat continued to laugh.
Francis shrugged, his bushy eyebrows almost touching each other as he frowned at his brother’s comments. Then his face cleared and he joined in the laughter.
“Okay,” he conceded. “I guess that did sound a bit pathetic. It’s not like I care if the guy likes me or not but I don’t care for his stuffy, formal attitude. I don’t think he even knows how to smile!”
He sat back in his chair and took a swig from the bottle of beer held in his right hand.
“If that’s his way it could be you’ll just have to get used to it,” Nat said wisely, “who is this guy anyway? Would I know him?”
“I doubt it,” Francis shook his head. “Lieutenant-Commander Chip Morton; he’s just a bloody kid!”
“Yeah, looks about twenty-one,” Francis took another swig from his bottle and sat forward. “You know the type, Nat; jumped up high achiever looks down his nose at real working guys.”
“That’s a bit of a sweeping statement,” Nat observed carefully. “XO of a submarine is a highly responsible job. Anyway, from what I’ve heard that Captain Crane of yours is a real high flier; youngest sub commander in history and now he’s skippering the greatest sub afloat.”
“Yeah, well, Capt’n Crane is one hell of a Skipper from what I’ve seen and heard but he and the exec are like chalk and cheese.”
“So how do they get on?”
“Crane and Morton?” Nat sighed impatiently. “They have to work closely together so how do they get on?”
His brother shook his head from side to side as if in disbelief before answering, “Oh, they get on fine. Best friends apparently; been buddies since their academy days. Beats me,” he shook his head again. “They are so different.”
“Opposites attract,” Nat shrugged.
“Yea,” Francis snorted and shook his left forefinger at his elder brother. “Well, these two are like…like…” he raised his eyes to the ceiling seeking inspiration and a huge sigh escaped his lips as he exclaimed triumphantly, “…like a wolf and a…a sheep…”
“You’re calling your new Skipper a sheep?” Nat teased a broad grin on his face.
“What…t?...No!” Francis blurted out his response spraying beer down his front and on to the carpet. “Now look what you made me do!” he said crossly.
“Well, I’m guessing this Morton guy has to be the wolf,” Nat laughed, “so that makes Captain Crane the sheep!”
“Aw,” Francis scowled, “You’re not taking this seriously,” he grumbled. “I’m telling you, the XO and the Captain are total opposites, that’s all!”
“Sorry,” Nat apologised and wiped the grin from his craggy face. For a while there was silence in the room and the sound of the television in the neighbouring apartment could be heard through the walls.
“Maybe it’s just cos you’re new,” Nat offered into the silence. “You’ve been around a bit, the guy’s just a kid ; you said he seems to get on okay with the rest of the crew; maybe he just wants you to know who’s boss. Maybe you just need to get to know each other a bit.”
“Maybe,” Francis shrugged, “but I still think it’s something else; he just looks at me weird. Those blue eyes bore right into you and he always asks me if I understand what he’s just said, like I’m dumb or something and…sometimes…I’ve seen him watching me with a frown on his face like I’m gonna make a mistake or something!”
“Have you told anyone else how you feel about this?” Nat was curious.
“Oh, yea,” Francis spluttered indignantly. “Questioning how the XO goes about his job on my first trip out? That’d be real smart, Nat! Besides the guy’s got ears like an elephant. I swear nothing happens on that sub that escapes his notice; he keeps everyone on their toes.”
“Sounds like he’s very good at his job,” Nat ventured, “And maybe he just needs time to adjust to a new CPO; the same way you need time to adjust to a new XO!”
“Maybe,” Francis shrugged his tone of voice unconvinced.
“I’m serious,” Nat continued. “He was used to working with the previous chief; could be he’s finding it a little hard to accept a new man in his place.”
“Yea,” Francis scoffed. “You met Curley Jones Nat. There’s no way he and this Morton would’ve gotten along…too different by far!”
Nat raised his bushy eyebrows, so like his younger brother’s, “Curley got along with everyone,” he said quietly, “And you’ve already said Crane and Morton are total opposites and best friends, so why couldn’t Curley and Morton get on?”
“Maybe,” Francis Sharkey stared in grudging admiration at his brother. “Could be you’re right; I never thought about how the XO might feel about getting a new CPO; it might explain his attitude…like he was trying to mask his hostility and not quite making it. I guess I’ll have to give him another chance!”
“I guess you will,” Nat nodded. “Cos he was there first so if you want to stay, you have to knuckle down and accept the way things are!”
“Might’ve guessed I’d get a lecture if I confided in my big brother!” Sharkey laughed, “D’you want another beer?” He waved his empty bottle at his brother.
“Nah, I’m gonna turn in. G’nite, Frankie,” Nat stood up and stretched his stocky frame.
“G’nite, Nat,” Francis grinned at his brother, “and thanks for listening.”
Chip Morton finished brushing his teeth and stared into the bathroom mirror.
“What were you thinking of, Morton?” he grumbled at his glowering reflection before shaking his blond head in irritation and switching off the bathroom light.
Walking slowly back into his bedroom he threw back the covers and lay down on his bed with a heavy sigh. He’d planned on going home to get away from Seaview and NIMR for a few days in the hope that putting some distance between himself and his work might enable him to sort out his troubled feelings. So what had he done? Chip glared up at the darkened ceiling in self-recrimination. He’d gone and invited Lee to join him!
It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy Lee’s company and Lee wasn’t really part of the problem but he was Seaview’s Skipper and Chip wasn’t sure that he would really achieve the distance he was seeking with Lee tagging along. Sure he valued his friendship with his closest friend and he was enjoying working closely with him after so many years apart but that didn’t mean he wanted to share his small-minded and uncharitable thoughts with him. With another heavy sigh Chip rolled on to his stomach and punched his pillows in angry frustration before closing his eyes and waiting for sleep. Tomorrow was another day… and maybe he’d feel differently in the morning!
Less than half an hour later a restless Chip rolled on to his side and reached out his right hand to activate his bedside lamp. As the soft yellow glow illuminated his room he reached for the pile of letters stacked neatly on the small table. Most of the envelopes bore the familiar handwriting of his elder half-sister who wrote him regularly despite his failure to write back very often but one dark blue envelope near the top of the pile was addressed in a more masculine hand.
Sitting up and swinging his long legs over the edge of the bed Chip held the envelope in his long fingers for a moment. Staring at the clear, cursive script favoured by the older generation he clenched his teeth before turning the envelope over and reaching inside to extract the card it contained. Glancing briefly at the seascape on the front Chip took a deep breath, opened the card and began to read,
I am so very sorry to hear that Curley Jones has passed away so suddenly and unexpectedly. I know that his death must have come as a tremendous shock to the entire crew. Although you have only been together for a relatively short time that is all it takes for a crew to become like a family and any death hits everybody hard especially when it happens on board as it did with Curley. I hope though that you can all take comfort in knowing that he died doing a job he loved amongst people he enjoyed being with.
I know from our conversations that
Curley was a lot like his late father and therefore I know his death has left a
gaping hole aboard Seaview which will be hard to fill. I suspect also that
Curley’s passing has left a huge gap in your working life Chip. I know that you
and he had developed an unlikely alliance and an excellent working
relationship. From things you have said I know that he was a great support to
you when you first moved to
However, I just want you to remember that Gwen and I are always here for you Chip if you need to talk. I know that you are not always comfortable discussing your feelings and I respect your need to deal with things in your own way but please remember that there are people who want to help you so try not to shut them out. If you want to talk just give me a call. Better still, get on a plane and come visit! It’s a while now since you came home and the whole family would love to see you!
Think about it, Chip.
With all our love,
Tom and Gwen
PS I didn’t mean to nag you about coming home. I know you have a very busy life out there but don’t ever forget you have a home and family here too!
Moisture blurred Chip’s vision as he read the final lines and he rubbed at his eyes with the back of his left hand, banishing the threatened tears. When he had first received Tom’s card he hadn’t read it for two days because he was afraid of what the words might do to his fragile emotions. To his shame he hadn’t replied to it either although he had spoken by phone to his sister and asked her to pass on his appreciation. He knew that Tom would understand his reluctance to write back on the subject of Curley’s death but he still felt guilty for his lack of courtesy. It was another reason why he needed to go home for a few days so that he could thank Tom personally and, maybe, discuss his troubled feelings with his adopted grandfather and mentor.
With a heartfelt sigh Chip started to return the card to its envelope before changing his mind and standing it in front of the lamp. He then turned the lamp off, lifted his legs back on to the bed, rolled on to his right side and closed his eyes. His mind a mass of jumbled thoughts he tossed and turned restlessly for a while before falling into a deep and, thankfully, dreamless sleep.
Admiral Thomas J. Marshall (rtd) was working up a good sweat as he lovingly polished his five year old car until it gleamed in the early spring sunshine. In his mind’s eye he pictured the ice cold can of beer awaiting him in the refrigerator and began to polish faster in anticipation of his reward for a job well done.
A car door slammed on the street behind him but he didn’t bother to turn around. It was probably just a delivery van or someone visiting a neighbour so unless someone actually walked up his long, sloping drive he had no intention of pausing from his endeavours.
Chip Morton stood by his sister’s car, his left hand in the back pocket of his neatly pressed jeans, his right hand shielding his eyes from the sunlight as he stared up the driveway in front of him. His beloved adoptive grandfather was bent over the trunk of his car absorbed in his task and Chip grinned as he observed the old man through half-closed eyes.
Tom was polishing the already gleaming tan paintwork with the vigour of a man half his age, his concentration totally absorbed by his work. The ability to focus on a task to the exclusion of everybody and everything around him was a trait that Chip shared with the old man much to their amusement as they weren’t physically related. For a while Chip continued observing the old man before removing his left hand from his back pocket and striding purposefully up the tarmac driveway.
Bearing in mind Tom’s advancing age Chip was wary of shocking him so as he neared the car he cleared his throat and kicked at a stray stone in the hope that Tom would realize that he was no longer alone.
Suddenly aware that he had company of some sort Tom Marshall frowned at the rear window of his car as he straightened up and turned around to see who was interrupting his moment of solitude.
“CHIP!” Tom dropped his cloth in surprise and wiped his hands down the front of his grubby, well-worn jeans as he stepped towards his unexpected but very welcome visitor.
“Hi!” Chip grinned broadly at the sheer delight on the older man’s weather-beaten face before the two men embraced each other in a swift hug.
“We weren’t expecting you today,” Tom said as he stepped back and eyed his visitor up and down. “Gwen said you were coming for dinner tomorrow evening…with Lee,” he looked over Chip’s left shoulder to the road beyond. “Where is Lee?”
Chip laughed, “Chris roped him into giving a talk to the students at the high school about life in the submarine service and commanding Seaview.”
“Wow, that’s quite a scoop,” Tom was impressed. “Not many high school students get to meet the Skipper of the newest and most powerful sub afloat.”
“That’s what Chris thought,” Chip grinned but didn’t add that he had specifically asked his brother-in-law to find a way to occupy his best friend for an afternoon. “He’s billing it as an inspirational talk from the famous Captain Crane!”
“So why didn’t you go along?” Tom frowned. “You’re Seaview’s exec and you’re an ex-student of the school; how inspirational is that?”
“Oh, you know me, Tom,” Chip shrugged his broad shoulders. “Public speaking isn’t my forte; whereas Lee will be in his element, especially on the subject of his beloved Seaview. He doesn’t need me to hold his hand. Besides…” he hesitated and glanced briefly down at his feet before looking back up into Tom’s questioning face. “I wanted to come see you instead.”
“Well, I’m honoured,” Tom grinned broadly. “I was just finishing up here, and then I was going in for a well earned beer. Care to join me?”
“Sure,” Chip grinned and looked over the car. “Can I help?”
“Not really,” Tom shook his greying head, a twinkle in his grey eyes as he retrieved his cloth from the trunk where it had landed earlier. “I’m almost finished. You go on in and make yourself comfortable,” he nodded towards the side of the house.
“Okay,” Chip agreed cheerfully. “I’ll just go say “Hi” to Gwen.”
“She’s not in,” Tom paused in the act of re-polishing the already polished trunk. “She’s gone shopping with Esther Halligan; I’m not expecting her home till late afternoon.”
“Oh,” Chip frowned slightly, disappointed that he wouldn’t get to see the woman who had loved and spoilt him as if he was her own flesh and blood for over twenty years.
“Hang around long enough and you can see her before you go home,” Tom said reasonably. “In the meantime, she was baking this morning in anticipation of your visit tomorrow so why don’t you go try out the results? You know where everything is! I’ll be right in soon as I’ve put this stuff away,” he indicated his car cleaning equipment with a nod of his head.
“Sounds like a good plan!” Chip grinned and disappeared round the side of the house in search of cake and cookies.
Chip was sitting in his favourite armchair in the spacious, comfortable family room munching chocolate chip cookies when Tom appeared ten minutes later carrying two cans of beer.
“I see you found the cookies,” Tom remarked with a grin as he handed him a can before sinking into the over stuffed chair opposite and pulling the ring pull from his own can with a loud pop.
“Thanks,” Chip smiled gratefully as he pulled the top off his own can and drank appreciatively.
“So, how long are you staying?” Tom asked curiously as he lowered his own half empty can from his lips.
“We fly back Sunday evening, “
“Four whole days! Helen must be thrilled,” Tom teased his young visitor.
“She acted like she hadn’t seen me in years,” Chip complained good-naturedly.
“I think it feels like years to her,” Tom commented wisely.
“I know,” Chip sighed, “but I do come as often as I can, Tom,” he shrugged, “it’s just that it’s not as often as Helen would like.”
“She understands,” Tom smiled. “It’s just that we all like having you around.”
“That’s only because I’m a novelty,” Chip laughed. “If I was here permanently you’d soon get fed up with me!”
“True!” Tom laughed before taking another swig from his can. “So what brings you here this afternoon?” he lowered the can and leant forward in his chair, his grey eyes focused on Chip’s face. “Is it just a social call or is there something on your mind?”
Chip frowned, and tightened his grip on the can in his hand. “How’d you know?”
“You’re all tense,” Tom replied simply. “Look at you, sitting on the edge of your seat, eyes darting round the room. This is like your second home, Chip; you should be relaxed drinking my beer and eating my cookies!”
Chip grinned and sat back in his chair, stretching his long legs out in front of him. “This any better?”
“A bit,” Tom laughed. “So what’s on your mind, Chipper? Girl trouble?”
“Girl trouble!” Chip raised his eyebrows in amusement. “I’m a bit old for girl trouble, Tom!”
“You’re never too old for girl trouble!” Tom shook a finger at him, “but I take your point, so is it woman trouble?”
“No,” Chip shook his blond head. “Wish it were that simple,” he muttered as a troubled frown spread across his face darkening his blue eyes and creasing his broad forehead.
“Oh, dear,” Tom frowned back. “That bad, huh?”
“Yep,” Chip nodded unhappily before lifting his can to his lips and draining the rest of the contents.
“I’m listening,” Tom said quietly, his eyes still fixed on Chip’s face.
“I know,” Chip forced a grin as he crushed the now empty can between his hands. “Could we go outside?” He glanced around the room as if it might be bugged and Tom had to struggle to hide a smile of amusement as he responded, “Sure, shall we go take a walk round the back yard or d’you want to go down to the beach?”
“The yard’ll do,” Chip stood up, the crushed can still held in his right hand.
“Okay,” Tom stood and the two men walked through to the kitchen and out through the side door, depositing the empty cans in the bin as they passed by.
Walking down the path they turned left into Tom’s prize Rose garden where the older man settled himself on the rustic bench which afforded him a perfect view of his wide variety of plants. Chip stood in front of him, his hands jammed into the front pockets of his jeans.
“I’m sorry I never thanked you for the card you sent,” he allowed his gaze to settle on Tom’s craggy face. “I did appreciate it.”
“No problem,” Tom said gruffly, “besides Helen did pass on your thanks when you called her.”
“Good,” Chip nodded slightly and turned to look out over the numerous rose bushes. For a long while he just stood and stared ahead while Tom stared patiently at his back view.
“You were right,” Chip said eventually without turning round.
“About what?” Tom asked when it became obvious that Chip wasn’t going to elaborate.
“Curley…” Chip turned back to face his “grandfather”, a slight smile on his face.
“Aha,” Understanding crossed Tom’s lined face. “Left a huge gap, has he?”
Chip nodded and let his gaze fall to his feet, “An irreplaceable gap,” he muttered.
“That’s understandable,” Tom said quietly. “From what you’ve told me before Curley was a lot like his late father.” He paused before continuing reminiscently, “Jerry was a larger than life, down-to-earth character; very popular with the men and the officers and an excellent CPO.”
“That’s Curley,” Chip looked up briefly to smile ruefully at Tom before returning his gaze to his feet. Silence fell over the garden broken only by birds singing and the distant hum of a lawn mower.
“It’s so wrong!” Chip finally spoke, a tinge of anger in his deep voice.
“What is?” Tom’s voice was calm, his eyes fixed on Chip’s frowning face.
“Curley dying like that!” Chip pulled his hands from his pockets, his fists clenched. “It’s not fair!” He looked challengingly at his mentor. “He wasn’t old, Tom; he hadn’t even retired…” Chip kicked angrily at the grass beneath his feet. “He loved his job and he was damn good at it…and now…now he’s gone!” Chip kicked again at the grass as Tom eyed him sympathetically.
Obviously Chip hadn’t come to terms with his loss yet; in fact, knowing him as he did Tom guessed that this was probably the first time the younger man had really faced up to it. He watched as his visitor paced the grass in front of the bench. In the distance a dog barked excitedly, drowning the sound of the lawnmower and Chip spun on his heel to glare at Tom.
“I miss him…” he almost whispered the words, his teeth clenched. “It’s not the same without him.” He moved back to the bench and sat down heavily next to Tom. “It’s like there’s a big hole…wherever you go on the sub, there’s this hole that used to be full of Curley.”
“That’s natural,” Tom observed quietly, “when a larger than life character like Curley dies so suddenly and unexpectedly they’re going to be missed everywhere by a lot of people. Its how it should be even though it hurts,” he reached out and placed one hand on Chip’s left shoulder. “You need to let yourself grieve, Chipper; you owe it to yourself and you owe it to Curley.”
“Who says I haven’t grieved?” Chip’s words were almost belligerent as he looked sideways at Tom, his blue eyes sparkling with unshed tears.
“You do,” Tom spoke gently as he rubbed his shoulder. “I know you, Chip. I know how determined you are to control your emotions and deny your feelings but trust me, in the long run you’ll feel a lot better if you allow yourself to let go.” Letting go of his young companion’s left shoulder Tom reached across his back and clasped his right shoulder pulling him closer to his own body. “It’s just between us, Chipper; I won’t tell anyone you lost control, not even Gwen.”
“I wasn’t even there,” Chip mumbled as he leant into Tom’s comforting hold. “I heard the call for the doc to go to the missile room but I didn’t know why. Lee got straight on the intercom to ask what was going on and someone said the chief had collapsed…” he paused to suck in a deep breath as several tears escaped to run unchecked down his face. “Lee went to see what was going on but…” he choked and swiped at his tear stained face with his right hand, “…it…it…was over before he got there…before…before doc got…th…th…ere.”
“At least he didn’t suffer,” Tom murmured as Chip dissolved into tears, his face buried in Tom’s shoulder. “If it was that quick, he wouldn’t have known much about it.”
“B…b…but we d...d….did,” Chip’s muffled voice shook and he clutched at Tom’s arm with his right hand as he finally let go of the grief he’d been burying ever since the fateful morning he’d just described.
For a long moment Tom sat with his arm around his “grandson”, his eyes on his roses some of which were beginning to bud. The sound of the lawn mower ceased; a door slammed somewhere in the distance and children’s voices rose shrilly from a nearby garden.
Eventually, Chip’s sobbing eased and he let go his grip on Tom’s arm to fumble in his pocket for his handkerchief. Pulling the pristine white square free he shook it open and wiped at his face as he lifted his head from Tom’s shoulder.
Blowing his nose noisily he scrunched up the hankie and stuffed it back into his pocket. “Sorry,” he managed a shaky smile at Tom who still had an arm across his shoulders.
“Nothing to be sorry for,” Tom smiled back. “I know it’s considered unmanly to cry but it’s a human emotion and you know what Helen says!”
“Yea,” Chip grinned suddenly, “better out than in!”
“Exactly,” Tom slapped him across the back. “D’you feel better?”
“A bit,” Chip nodded and a grimace passed across his tear streaked face, “but I don’t understand why I’ve found Curley’s death so difficult to deal with.”
“Most deaths are difficult to deal with…when you’re close to someone,” Tom frowned, “especially when it happens so suddenly and unexpectedly.”
“I guess,” Chip sounded unconvinced, “but I haven’t felt like this since…” he paused and looked away from Tom’s kindly face afraid that he would dissolve into tears again, “….since…” he paused again and swallowed hard, “…since I was…ten,” he managed finally.
“Sounds right to me,” Tom frowned at the back of his companion’s blond head. “Curley’s the first person you’ve lost that you felt close to since your parents and Tim died so unexpectedly. It’s a tremendous shock to the system, it….”
“But I didn’t grieve like this for John,” Chip interrupted suddenly as he turned back to look at Tom, his eyes full of confused anguish. “He was a friend and a colleague; he died suddenly and unexpectedly and…and I just got on with things,” he pulled away from Tom’s hold and stood up again, pacing the small patch of grass in angry frustration.
Tom watched him silently, considering his next words before he finally broke the silence that had descended, “Does it bother you that your reactions to Curley’s death are different to your reactions when John was killed?”
“Yes,” Chip stopped pacing to glare almost angrily at Tom. “John’s death was sudden and violent and, yes, I was upset initially but I got over it; it didn’t affect my work or my mood.”
“And Curley’s death has?”
“Yes,” Chip snapped and rubbed a hand over his face in frustration. His shoulders sagged suddenly and his voice dropped back to a whisper as he looked imploringly at his grandfather, “I’m just so angry and confused, Tom…” he hesitated, biting his bottom lip as he struggled to say the words that were on his mind “…and I don’t know what to do about it.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Tom responded calmly, his eyes never leaving Chip’s anxious face. “You’ve come to see me; you’re talking about it and I suspect that you are hoping that I can help you sort out your feelings. Would that be right?”
Chip’s frown intensified and he looked down at the grass, his teeth still gnawing at his bottom lip as he considered Tom’s words. The older man sat patiently, enjoying the warmth of the sun on his weather-beaten face as he waited for his young companion to respond. Eventually Chip looked up, a slight grin on his tanned face.
“I guess you’re right,” he rubbed at his face with both hands before letting out a huge sigh.
“Come and sit down,” Tom patted the empty space next to him.
Reluctantly, Chip obeyed stretching his long legs out in front of him and closing his eyes as he lifted his face to the sun.
“I may be wrong here,” Tom began carefully, his own eyes on Chip’s face which remained troubled even though his eyes were closed, “but I do have a theory on why you’ve reacted differently to Curley’s death than you did to John’s.”
Chip turned his head and opened his eyes slightly to peer curiously at the older man but he said nothing and, after a few seconds, Tom continued, “You have a very dangerous job, Chip,” the words were spoken matter-of-factly and without emotion. “I know you tell Helen differently, but I also know the role Seaview plays in the defence of our country and I know that you have faced a number of difficult and dangerous situations over the past year…” he paused and Chip eyed him almost challengingly, his blue eyes narrowed thoughtfully but he remained silent and, taking a breath, Tom continued, “John Phillips was killed as the result of one of your more dangerous missions. It was a shock and it was sad but you accepted it as part of the work you do and, as you were in the middle of a very dangerous mission, you put your grief to one side and got on with the job. Then Lee came in and took John’s place…he filled the gap, making it less painful…and your mind was occupied with the joy you felt at having your best friend in command and the difficulties you both faced in making your relationship work in the Control Room…”
Chip sat up at that point, blue eyes widening in surprise, “How’d you know?” he frowned quizzically.
“About you and Lee having problems?”
“I never told anyone…not even Helen.”
“You didn’t have to,” Tom grinned and patted Chip’s left arm. “I know you both; it stood to reason that there would be difficulties and you may not have realized this but you did allude to them several times in odd comments and things you wrote home at the time.”
Chip shook his head in wonderment, “We came close to falling out, you know.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Tom smiled gently, “but the point is you worked it out and, more importantly, it removed the focus from John’s death whereas Curley was different…”
“You mean I didn’t have a distraction?” Chip stood up again, his face still clearly troubled.
“That’s just a minor part,” Tom continued as he looked up at him, “John’s death was possibly more acceptable because it occurred as part of the mission; dreadful as it was it could be rationalized, explained, especially as John, like all of you, knew and understood the risks of your work. Whereas Curley died suddenly and unexpectedly of a common old heart attack on a routine mission; there’s nobody to blame, no way to rationalise it; it seems cruel and pointless and there’s no best friend coming in to distract your thoughts. Added to that,” Tom hesitated and Chip felt that the old man’s grey eyes were boring into him as he continued, his voice quietly gentle, “You had a different relationship with Curley; you’d known him longer and I suspect, from things you have said, that the pair of you had formed a strong working relationship based on mutual respect. Going through that minefield together not long before he died in order to save Lee and the rest from certain death strengthened that relationship…it gave you a special bond…and now he’s gone it hurts, you feel angry, you feel abandoned and you don’t know how to deal with it…”
“I know how I’d like to deal with it,” Chip muttered under his breath.
“Nothing,” Chip shrugged, slightly shame-faced and Tom raised one bushy, grey eyebrow enquiringly. He hadn’t missed the belligerent tone of Chip’s voice although he hadn’t managed to catch most of the words. For a while he waited patiently for his young companion to elaborate but Chip remained silent and eventually Tom asked quietly,
“Have you spoken to Lee about how you feel?”
“No,” Chip shook his blond head.
“I…the subject never came up.”
“It never came up?” Tom’s voice was disbelieving. “Curley died on the boat and you expect me to believe you and Lee haven’t had a chance to speak about it?”
“We talked at the time,” Chip frowned and pushed his hands back into his pockets. “We…just haven’t spoken lately…it was weeks ago,” he added defensively as Tom raised his eyebrows. “Life goes on…besides it wasn’t a problem…I missed Curley…sure…especially when we first went to sea without him but…” he shrugged unhappily and pushed his hands further into his pockets “…I was dealing with it.”
“And now you’re not?”
“So what’s changed?”
Chip sighed heavily and turned his back on his grandfather, shoulders hunched as he kicked again at the grass beneath his feet reminding Tom of when he had been a teenager working through a bad mood.
“We got a new CPO,” Chip muttered, the words barely audible.
“We got a new CPO,” Chip repeated as he turned back to face his grandfather.
“Ah,” Tom resisted the urge to grin at the sullen look on his grandson’s face. “And I take it you are finding it difficult to accept this man in Curley’s place?”
Chip nodded his expression grim.
“Who is he?”
“Sharkey…” A slight grin brightened Chip’s sullen face. “Francis E. Sharkey…apparently the E is a secret. Lee and I have a bet on what it stands for.”
“So you two have talked about him?”
“Before his first cruise…sure…” Chip’s face became sullen again. “Lee was involved in the interview process.”
“And you weren’t?”
“Did that bother you?”
“No,” Chip frowned slightly. “It was just a formality anyway. The guy worked with Admiral Nelson in the past. Apparently the Admiral wanted him for Seaview in the beginning but he wasn’t available; Navy wouldn’t let him go.”
“Must be good then?”
“Oh, yes, he’s one of the best,” Chip’s frown intensified.
“But you don’t like him?” Tom guessed.
“I never said that!”
“You don’t have to,” Tom struggled not to laugh at the younger man’s belligerence. “It’s written all over you, Chip but the question is “Do you dislike him as a person or do you dislike him because he’s not Curley?” ”
The question hung in the air between them as Chip glared at his feet.
“I don’t know,” he said finally as he lifted troubled eyes to face his grandfather’s unwavering gaze. “Does it matter? The point is, as soon as we set out on our last cruise I found myself hating the sight of this guy. He’s so different to Curley; I find his manner aggravating and I wanted to keep yelling at him for not reacting or performing in the way that Curley did. And I feel…” he kicked again at the grass. “…I feel so childish, Tom. I’m acting like a stupid kid…I’m supposed to be an intelligent, rational adult but I don’t feel like one when this guy is around.”
“So you’ve been beating yourself up over it, making yourself unhappy and unable to tell Lee how you feel for fear he’ll think you’re being unreasonable?”
“I guess so,” Chip’s blue eyes sparked with surprise at Tom’s neat summing up of his confused feelings.
“Come here…” Tom indicated the empty seat next to him and reluctantly Chip sat down again, his expression almost mutinous.
“I’m guessing that you never set out on your last cruise with your mind set to dislike the new CPO,” Tom said calmly as he wrapped one strong arm around his grandson’s shoulders.
“Of course not,” Chip turned to scowl at the older man. “That would be childish!”
“Exactly,” Tom almost grinned. “So your reactions were unplanned and unexpected; they took you by surprise and confused you.”
“I guess,” Chip’s voice was low and troubled, “but that doesn’t make them right; I’ve got to work with this guy, Tom. How can I do that when I want to thump him just for being there?”
“You can’t,” Tom agreed. “But one thing at a time, Chipper and first you need to stop being mad at yourself. Your feelings towards this new guy aren’t wrong; they’re natural.” He paused, carefully considering his next words before he uttered them, “You’ve been through a lot in the past two years, Chip…personally and professionally…and most of it has occurred at a rate of knots with no time to fully absorb events and deal with the impact. You’re very accomplished at burying your feelings in your work but this is one problem that can’t be dealt with that way so you need to take a step back and come to terms with Curley’s loss before you have to set sail with this new CPO again. And I think it would help you tremendously if you talk to Lee about it…I know you don’t want him to know how you’ve been feeling but my guess is he knows there’s something wrong and he can give you his perspective on this new chief; help you to put things into perspective.”
“I guess you’re right,” Chip responded reluctantly.
“You know I’m right,” Tom laughed as he squeezed Chip’s right shoulder affectionally. “That’s why you came all this way to see me, isn’t it?”
“That and Gwen’s cooking,” Chip laughed suddenly and sat up. “Thanks, Tom; it has helped and I will talk to Lee; I promise.”
“Good,” Tom slapped him on the back as he moved to stand up. “Let’s go test some more of Gwen’s cooking before she gets back!”
“Sounds good to me,” Chip smiled broadly as he stood up and stretched his hands above his head. “Talking like that makes me hungry.”
“Everything makes you hungry!” Tom laughed as they moved towards the house. “Any time you stop eating is when we know we really have to worry about you!”
“I wish you had told me before,” Lee Crane stood back from the car, a look of consternation on his face. “I knew there was something wrong, Chip but trying to get you to talk was like trying to break into a locked box. You had me worried pal.”
“I’m sorry,” Chip had the grace to look shamefaced as he threw his sponge into the bucket of water at his feet. “But I couldn’t tell you because…” he paused and bent to retrieve his sponge squeezing water from it with more force than was strictly necessary before facing his friend again “…because I couldn’t find the words; to be honest…” he slapped the sponge down on the roof of the car with a sigh “…telling you would be like admitting my feelings and I guess I was trying to deny them.”
“Why?” Lee asked curiously, his eyes fixed intently on his friend’s troubled face. “They’re perfectly reasonable feelings, Chip; you had a great working relationship with Curley. It’s only natural that you should miss him and that you should find his replacement hard to accept.”
“You think so?” Chip frowned. “I’m not the only one who misses Curley but everyone else seemed to get on with Sharkey okay which made me feel that I was being totally unreasonable.”
“He has fitted in well,” Lee acknowledged thoughtfully, “but, at this stage, I’d say the crew’s relationship with him is purely professional…most of them appear to get on okay with him because the job demands it and that’s all you need to develop …a professional relationship. You haven’t got to like the guy so cut yourself some slack and accept the fact that Sharkey is very different to Curley…”
“You got that right!” Chip glared. “They’re like chalk and cheese.”
“Like us you mean?” Lee grinned as he slapped his own sponge down on the roof of Chip’s sister’s car causing drops of water to fly up and hit his friend in the face.
“Hey,” Chip glared. “Watch what you’re doing!”
“Sorry,” Lee laughed and repeated the action, this time with more force.
“You’ll regret that,” Chip snarled as water droplets ran down his face. Bending down he disappeared momentarily before reappearing and hurling his freshly dripping sponge across the car. It was aimed at Lee’s face but his friend was too quick for him and the sponge landed at his feet as he leapt backwards throwing his own sponge as he did so. Unfortunately, Chip ducked and the sponge hit Chris who had just stepped outside to speak to them.
“Hey!” the older man blinked several times as water dripped from his wet hair into his eyes.
“Sorry,” Lee struggled to stifle a laugh and tried to assume an air of innocence as he faced Chris across the car. “That was meant for Chip!”
“I see,” Chris grinned and bent to retrieve the sponge at his feet before squeezing it over his brother-in-law’s head.
“Hey, he threw it,” a spluttering Chip moved away jabbing a finger at Lee who was laughing with delight on the other side of the car.
“Yes, but he meant it for you,” Chris laughed as he jumped forwards and in one swift move stuffed the soaking sponge down the back of Chip’s shirt.
“Whose side are you on?” Chip gasped as cold water dripped down his back. Pulling the sponge out with one hand he threw it back at his brother-in-law’s laughing face and then grabbed the bucket of soapy water raising it high above his head.
“Oh, no,” Chris threw his hands up in front of his face as he backed away from Chip who was now grinning evilly, “don’t you dare, Chip…I’m warning you…”
“You shouldn’t have taken his side,” Chip said threateningly as he edged towards him, the bucket held at an angle ready to empty over Chris’s head. On the other side of the car Lee laughed louder at the scene developing in front of him only to shout in protest as Chip turned suddenly and in one swiftly executed move threw the contents of the bucket across the roof of the car splashing Lee with a generous amount of cold soapy water.
“You shouldn’t have done that!” Lee choked as he struggled to contain his laughter with water running down his face.
“You started it,” Chip pointed out between bursts of triumphant laughter.
“True,” Lee acknowledged with a grin as he hurled the sponge Chip had thrown earlier. Taken by surprise Chip barely had time to dodge out of the way and the sponge caught his right ear before landing on the grass. Intent on revenge he turned his back on the car and bent to retrieve it but as he turned back, straightening as he did so he was hit full force in the chest by a stream of water from the hose held by a gleeful Lee.
Taken by surprise Chip stumbled backwards falling to the grass as the water sprayed all over him.
“I think I’ve won,” Lee yelled above the sound of the water as he came around the car the hose held tightly in his hands. “Do you surrender?” He pointed the hose at the grass giving Chip a chance to respond.
“No…” Chip shook his head, blinking rapidly as water dripped from his wet hair into his eyes. “I’ll get you for this, Lee…” he started to get to his feet only to fall back again as Lee turned the jet of water back on him directing it up and down his friend’s helpless body until Chip was thoroughly soaked and lying in a pool of water.
“Do you surrender now?” Lee grinned down at his spluttering friend who glared heavily while attempting to wipe his face with the dripping sleeve of his shirt.
“Okay,” Chip nodded before bursting into delighted laughter as Lee was suddenly engulfed by a deluge of soapy water thrown by a grinning Chris.
“Here,” Chip moved quickly to grab the hose from his stunned friend’s hands. “You need rinsing down!” He turned the hose on Lee with a broad grin on his own dripping face. “Cold, isn’t it?” he yelled above Lee’s cries of “Stop it!”
Desperately Lee attempted to grab back control of the hose but the force of the water kept pushing him back against the car as Chip kept it firmly trained on him.
They were both taken by surprise when the water suddenly stopped.
“Hey,” Chip frowned at the hose held between his hands. “What…”
“I think that’s enough,” a grinning Chris appeared and removed the hose from Chip’s hands. “You’re both soaked and the children are due back in the next half hour, don’t want to set them a bad example so you both better get inside and get dried off.”
“But what about the car?” Lee frowned with a glance at the half washed bodywork.
“I’ll sort it out,” Chris laughed, “… seeing as I probably made a silly situation worse!”
“True,” Chip acknowledged as he squelched towards the house water spilling out of his shoes. “I think you’ve ruined my shoes, Crane,” he looked down ruefully at his soaking sneakers before bending down to remove them.
“Well, at least we’re quits,” Lee retorted as he bent to remove his own soaking deck shoes, “these will never be the same.”
“You should’ve thought of that before you started throwing water around,” Chip said reprovingly as he straightened up, his dripping shoes held in one hand.
“Like you’re innocent,” Lee shot back as he kicked his own shoes off.
“I swear you two are worse than the children,” Chris frowned although his grey eyes twinkled with amusement. “Just go and get cleaned up, both of you!”
“Yes, sir!” Chip threw his brother-in-law a snappy salute before retreating around the side of the house closely followed by a grinning Lee.
“I’m sorry,” Lee emerged from the en suite bathroom wearing a maroon towelling robe, a white towel draped around his neck. His wet hair was a mass of dark curls glistening in the artificial light that glowed behind him and he wore a sheepish expression on his face.
“So you should be,” Chip attempted a scowl which was failed by the laughter in his blue eyes as he sat on his bed wearing clean, dry jeans and one dark blue sock. A second sock hung from the fingers of his right hand as he looked up at his friend, “Throwing water around like a teenager; not very dignified behaviour, Captain Crane!”
“I‘d like to point out that it only escalated into a water fight because you retaliated,” Lee leant against the door jamb, his arms folded across his chest, his eyes on the shining wet head of his friend as the latter pulled on his other sock “but I wasn’t apologising for that,” his tone became serious, “I’m apologising for messing around when you were trying to have a serious conversation with me about Chief Sharkey; it was very thoughtless of me.”
“No problem,” Chip straightened up, his own face serious, “as you just pointed out it only escalated into a water fight because I retaliated. If I’d wanted to continue the conversation I wouldn’t have thrown that sponge back at you!”
“Meaning you’d had enough of true confessions?” Lee guessed.
“It’s not something I excel at,” Chip shrugged his broad shoulders, a rueful expression on his face, “…and telling your CO that you think the guy he’s hired to be COB is a total ass kinda goes against the discipline and training we received at Annapolis.”
“Yes, I guess it does,” Lee nodded, his face grave. He fully understood Chip’s dilemma. Their naval training ran deep, as much a part of them as walking and breathing, and in the regular Navy a subordinate officer wouldn’t dream of expressing personal dislike of another member of the crew to his Captain. Within the highly disciplined environment of a ship the men had to put their personal feelings aside and work together as a team. On a submarine it was even more important and for the executive officer, responsible for the efficient day to day running of the boat and the discipline of the men, it was vital. Chip had found himself in a difficult situation and, in Lee’s opinion; he had dealt with it masterfully when they were at sea. Unfortunately, it seemed that his unhappiness with the situation had become magnified when they got back to port because he couldn’t let go of the fact that Lee, despite being his best friend, was still his commanding officer and had been partially responsible for hiring Sharkey. No wonder he had felt the need to come home and talk to Tom. Lee sighed inwardly, his eyes on his friend who…obviously uncomfortable with his confession… had crossed the room to fetch a clean sweatshirt from his closet and was now pulling it slowly over his head preventing Lee from seeing his expression.
“I’m sorry you didn’t feel able to tell me what was on your mind,” Lee said quietly, “you know I would never pull rank on you off the boat.”
“I know,” Chip smiled ruefully as he straightened the dark blue NIMR sweatshirt and walked past Lee into the bathroom his friend had just vacated. Picking up a comb he pulled it through his damp hair, arranging the blond strands with military precision, his eyes fixed on the mirror in front of him, “but it was more than that, Lee…” he put the comb down and turned to face his friend who now stood in the doorway still wearing the robe and towel.
“I couldn’t tell you because I didn’t want to admit that my feelings were real; they felt wrong and you know me…” he shrugged, “…I don’t talk easily about this sort of thing.”
“I know,” Lee nodded understanding, “you thought you should just get on with it, huh?”
Chip nodded but said nothing as he walked back into the bedroom and sat down heavily on his bed, “My problem…” he spoke slowly, eyes on his sock covered feet, “…my problem now is that I’m not sure whether I dislike Sharkey because he’s replaced Curley or whether I just don’t like him period!”
“And do you like everyone on the boat?” Lee queried seriously as he sat on the other bed and faced his friend.
“What sort of a question is that?” Chip demanded.
“A reasonable one,” Lee grinned, “It’s a big crew and some of them are harder to get along with than others.”
Chip frowned thoughtfully as he faced his friend. If he was honest he’d never really considered his relationship with the wider crew. They were his subordinates and so long as they followed orders and performed their duties his contact with them was limited; he didn’t socialize with them on or off the boat so it didn’t matter. It didn’t mean he didn’t care; it just wasn’t that important to his day to day work. Lee, of course, was different; Lee made it his business to get to know every man aboard personally and took an active interest in them as individuals. It was part of what made him an outstanding Skipper but Chip felt no need to emulate his friend and he couldn’t answer the question because he didn’t know the answer!
“My guess is that it doesn’t matter to you whether you like the men or not,” Lee dropped his wise words into the silence, almost as if he had been reading Chip’s mind. “It’s not all that important to the way you run the boat.”
“I guess not,” Chip frowned uncomfortably, unnerved by his friend’s complete understanding of his unuttered thoughts!
“So whether or not you actually like Sharkey is irrelevant,” Lee continued calmly, “be….”
“No, it’s not,” Chip interrupted now, “because on the last cruise I actively disliked him. I wanted to thump him, Lee! Every time he came near me, every time I heard his voice. I guess I may be a little indifferent to some of the crew but with Sharkey it’s more than that; I hated him for being there and I can’t be like that, not with the COB; it’ll affect my work…and possibly his as well…and what if the crew notice?”
“They won’t,” Lee asserted confidently troubled by the anguish he could see in his friend’s blue eyes, “I didn’t notice, Chip; sure I noticed you were unusually quiet and reticent…and a bit off your food… but I didn’t have a clue how you felt about Sharkey until today so there was nothing in your working relationship with him that was untoward. Trust me! The Admiral can’t have noticed anything either or he would have mentioned it to me.”
“I think Sharkey noticed,” Chip continued to frown.
“So?” Lee frowned back. “You gave him a hard time? What did he expect from the best exec in the business? The poor guy is probably wishing right now that he’d never accepted the position!”
“Sure,” Lee grinned. “You’re downright scary when you put on your official XO face and my guess is you gave poor Sharkey the full “I’m running this boat and you’ll do it my way” treatment. I bet he thinks you don’t even know how to smile!”
“Probably,” Chip laughed suddenly momentarily brightening his troubled face. “Poor guy; maybe I should cut him some slack on our next cruise?”
“No,” Lee shook his dark head, his expression grave. “Let him carry on thinking you’re an ogre; makes me look better!”
“Oh, and since when is it my role to make you look better?” Chip’s tone was indignant.
“It’s part of your unwritten job description!” Lee grinned delightedly, “one of the penalties of being friends with your CO!”
“And there are a lot of those,” Chip grumbled.
“Goes with the perks,” Lee continued to grin.
“Which are?” Chip frowned and Lee shrugged, “Don’t ask me, they’re not my perks!”
“Trust me, there aren’t any!” Chip made a face.
“You were able to tell me you don’t like the new CPO,” Lee pointed out quietly.
“Yes, and I still don’t know what to do about it,” Chip’s sombre mood returned.
“You don’t need to do anything about it,” Lee said carefully. “What you need to do is let yourself grieve for Curley…”
“I have…” belligerence framed the words and Chip’s hands balled into fists at his sides as he glared at his friend.
“No, you haven’t,” Lee spoke confidently ignoring the dagger like looks that seemed to shoot from his friend’s glacial blue eyes, “when he died you reacted with formal correctness, Chip and you know it. Even at the funeral you were in total control and it’s my guess you held on to that control until Sharkey came along and threatened…No, let me finish…” he held up his hands as Chip opened his mouth to protest, “…Sharkey threatened your control because his presence forced you to confront the truth…that Curley is dead and he’s not coming back. I’m sorry, Chip…” Lee’s words softened to a whisper as he took in his friend’s anguished face, “…but it had to be said, for your own good. You had a special relationship with Curley; I could see that as soon as I came aboard. He had a soft spot for you and it’s been hard for you to adjust to his dying so suddenly but until you grieve for him properly you’re going to resent Sharkey’s presence.”
“I hate you when you’re right,” Chip growled as he fought against the tears that had gathered once more in his blue eyes.
“I can take it,” Lee grinned as he stood and crossed the small space between the beds. Placing both hands on his friend’s shoulders he looked down into Chip’s moisture filled eyes, his own expression full of compassion, “the important thing is that I help you through this, pal so tonight, after dinner, we’re going out for a drink and you can tell me more about Curley and your life aboard Seaview before I came along. And then…” he squeezed Chip’s shoulders gently, “then we’ll discuss how Curley would’ve dealt with Sharkey’s annoying little traits.”
“So you admit he’s annoying?” Chip’s words were thick with emotion, his eyes downcast.
“Sure, I do,” Lee spoke cheerfully, “but we all have our annoying traits, don’t we?”
“Have I told you recently that I hate you?” Chip looked up again, a slight grin on his troubled face.
“That’s what brothers are for,” Lee grinned back as he released his hold on Chip’s shoulders, “I’ve got to get dressed, maybe you should go take a walk before dinner…”
“Yea,” Chip stood up and stretched, “Thanks, Lee; I do appreciate it.”
“I know,” Lee grinned as he reached for his jeans, “don’t worry about it, Chip; we’ll get you sorted before our next cruise!”
We’re docked on the east coast for forty eight hours so I thought I’d use some of the time to catch up with you on the news front!
Man, I have to tell you brother that life on this sub is NEVER boring and trust me when I say that it’s a good job that so much of our work is classified because you’d never ever believe some of the tales I could tell you! It’s certainly been a whirlwind of experiences since I came aboard. I’m beginning to feel like I’ve been working on here for years rather than months and I’m getting to know some of the guys really well so I don’t feel like an outsider anymore.
time you wrote you asked about the XO and I have to say that the guy does
appear to be quite human after all! He’s kinda reticent, not a great talker but
he’s not all bad. Seems he’s a big football fan, used to play for the Navy and
when you talk football with him he’s okay. He’s a bit misguided…supports the
Bears but then the guy can’t help it that he was born near
Anyway, Nat, hope to catch up with you again soon.
Love ya, big brother,
Feedback welcome at s.james2409@NTLWorld.com