By R. L. Keller
As he approached Dr. Will Jamison’s office door aboard the submarine Seaview, the boat’s designer and owner, Admiral Harriman Nelson, thought he heard some dark mumbling from the other side. Highly unusual, since Seaview’s CMO and his two corpsmen were among the most levelheaded, under control people it had ever been Nelson’s pleasure to serve with, either during his Naval career or his now semi-retired one as head of the Nelson Institute for Marine Research. Which, considering the excitement and sometimes out-of-this-world injuries he was faced with on a regular basis, was one of his most valuable characteristics in Nelson’s eyes. And that wasn’t even mentioning Jamison’s biggest challenge aboard Seaview. The sounds caused a moment’s hesitation, but as silence greeted his arrival at the door, he quickly turned the knob and went in. Or rather, started to. His first step into the office coincided with a heavy ceramic coffee mug shattering against the metal bulkhead barely a foot from his head. Happily, the mug appeared to have been empty, since all he ended up with were a few shards on the shoulder of his khaki uniform shirt. Counseling his expression into one of benign patience, he casually brushed off the shards and continued into the small office, brushing a few more shards off the chair seat on his side of Will’s desk before sitting down.
On the other side of the desk, the slender, slightly balding doctor took a couple of deep breaths but continued to stand, his expression remaining momentarily dark, before sending Nelson a resigned glance and sighing heavily. “Care for a cup of coffee, Admiral?” he asked mildly.
Nelson did a quick mental check of what had been happening on Seaview since he had last seen the doctor. Adding that to the particular heavy sigh that Will tended to reserve for one and only one member of the crew satisfied the Admiral that the only thing wrong with Will was something that was too routinely wrong with him. “Only if it stays in the cup,” Nelson replied carefully, still controlling his expression. Now did not seem like a good time to further antagonize his CMO – and friend – by laughing, as he desperately wanted to do. He waited patiently for Will to grab two more heavy mugs, fill them about three-fourths full of dangerously dark-looking coffee, and add a splash to each from the bottle of medicinal brandy he kept in his bottom desk drawer. As he picked up both mugs, and handed one across the desk, Nelson asked quietly, “What’s he done this time?”
Will’s knuckles turned white as his grip tightened around his own mug. “As if you didn’t already know,” he muttered, voice matching the hard expression that instantly returned to his face.
“Have a feeling that Sharkey gave me the condensed, highly edited, version,” Nelson replied, still presenting a calm exterior to the ticked off doctor, and took a sip from his mug.
Will took a longer drag, then sighed heavily again, and finally sat down. “Do you know where he is?”
Nelson nodded. “Chip has him corralled in his cabin.” He glanced at his watch. “Since it’s after 2000 hours, with any luck he’ll stay there, at least for the night, now that everything is back under control and we’re headed home again.”
“Not holding my breath,” Will muttered into his coffee, and Nelson finally let a small grin appear. He also raised an eyebrow, encouraging Will to fill in the details.
It took the doctor another swallow. “You know it started yesterday morning?”
nodded. Seaview and her crew were
returning home from a trip to the
All that changed the morning of the previous day. The dive planes started reacting to commands sluggishly, then with almost no warning failed altogether, sending the giant submarine straight to the bottom. Luckily for all hands, the area of ocean they were traveling through at the time was relatively shallow, allowing divers to work outside to try and fix whatever had gone wrong. Unhappily for all hands, the sudden crash into rocky terrain shook loose a lot of sensitive equipment all over the boat.
Seaview’s crew was highly skilled and used to functioning in demanding situations. Every hand turned to and hit their designated areas with speed and accuracy, but it still took over thirty hours to either actually fix all the damage, or make enough repairs to raise Seaview and allow her to limp home where permanent repairs could be made. During all that time, very few crewmembers took time out from their duties for longer than it took to shove a couple of sandwiches in their mouth and wash them down with the strong coffee Cookie’s assistant kept flowing out of the galley. And three of the hardest working members of that crew were Nelson, Seaview’s Captain, Lee Crane, and her XO, Chip Morton. The Admiral had his hands full getting the reactor, damaged by the jarring Seaview took hitting bottom, back on line. He was being ably assisted by Cookie. As Seaview’s back-up Reactor tech, and with the main tech sidelined with injuries, Cookie was serving double duty. While working side by side with Nelson he was also making sure that critical support to all hands was provided by large amounts of easily eaten food, and keeping flowing the strong, black brew that put strength into flagging muscles and determination into flagging spirits. Chip had coordinated all repairs, while helping to get the computers back up and running. Lee had been everywhere at once, it seemed, swapping out exploded circuit breakers, slipping into the ballast tanks to help unstick plugged valves; anywhere on the boat, anytime a spare hand was needed, her Captain seemed to instinctively show up. The crew was so used to it happening, they merely gave each other a knowing nod and a quick smile behind Lee’s back, and handed their Skipper whatever tool he happened to need at the time to help out with what they were tending to.
Will had been busy during those first frantic hours. Most injuries were minor, thanks to a quickly
broadcast warning. But there had been
two broken wrists, one of them belonging to the lead Reactor tech, that needed
casting before he joined his corpsmen wandering around the boat, tending to
minor injuries that crewmen hadn’t bothered reporting before getting to the
work at hand. Sprained wrists and ankles
had been taped, analgesics dispersed for headaches, backaches – and other
assorted aches. Will was used to the
crew’s attitudes toward minor injuries.
They’d have all been reported eventually, but not while the safety of the
many was more important than the discomfort of the few. Will had smothered more than one grin,
acknowledging not only the necessity of such an attitude, but also recognizing
the influence of a certain workaholic commander. Will had purposely sought out the Skipper as
one of his first tasks once he was free to leave
What had sent him over the edge – and the mug into the bulkhead – was what had happened a few hours ago. He’d gotten a whispered call from Chief Sharkey to please hurry to the Missile Room; the Skipper was headed out for a dive to do the final repairs on the dive planes and the COB had noticed, as Lee was changing into a wet suit, that his back was one solid, heavy, bruise. Sharkey was uncomfortable letting the man dive, but wasn’t exactly in a position to stop him. Doc had said a few words that didn’t normally come out of his mouth, thrown down the mic, grabbed his emergency kit, and literally ran aft.
Now he took another long drink of coffee. “How much do you know about what happened when I hit the Missile Room?”
Nelson composed himself before answering. “That’s the part that Sharkey was most…circumspect…about.”
The doctor’s mug, now empty, slammed down on the desk as he jumped to his feet. “Sharkey did his best to delay Lee, and I walked in the hatch just as he was starting to pull on the top of his wet suit.” He glared at Nelson. “That…that…”
“Easy, Will.” Nelson meant to calm his once-again out of control CMO. He hadn’t really believed even the Chief’s edited version. He now had to do some rapid recalculations. He’d never seen Will like this.
Unfortunately his efforts backfired, and the doctor turned a look on Nelson that actually made the Admiral uncomfortable. “NO,” exploded out. Will leaned forward toward Nelson, his hands fisted on the desk. “The man didn’t think it necessary to mention that when we hit bottom, he’d been thrown backwards into some wooden crates hard enough to turn his back into one giant purple blotch. He didn’t bother to mention he had a knot on the back of his head, or the headache that went with it. He could have been walking around for nearly thirty-six hours with a concussion, spinal damage, internal injuries. And now the damned idiot was going diving!” The explosion of air as Will straightened up and turned his back on Nelson covered whatever words came out with it, for which the Admiral decided he was grateful.
Not used to being talked to in quite that manner, Nelson took a couple seconds to counsel himself once again and remind himself that all of Doc’s anger and frustration stemmed from a profound and deep-seated respect and friendship for his frequently impetuous Captain. Nelson recognized, and knew that Will did as well when he was thinking clearly, that Lee wasn’t foolishly impetuous. Instead, he had the ability to rapidly assess a situation and come to a course of action while others were still scratching their heads and wondering what had happened. It was a recognition of this trait that was one of the reasons Nelson so appreciated having Lee as Seaview’s Captain. It didn’t stop him from joining in when Chip and Will commented – frequently derogatorily – on the subject, if for no other reason than to make sure Lee continued to go through the assessment stage, however rapidly, before he took action that all too often put his safety behind that of crew and boat. This time, Nelson had a few pieces to the story that apparently Doc did not. “Lee must have let you examine him, since you know about the lump on his head.”
“Barely,” came out as a growl, Will’s back still turned toward Nelson.
“And was he injured, beyond the heavy bruising?”
Another explosion of air was released, ending in a long sigh, and Will finally turned around. “Didn’t appear to be,” he admitted reluctantly. “But…”
Nelson stopped him with an upraised hand. “And as often as Lee has had to deal with bumps and scrapes, are you comfortable admitting that he would have been fairly sure that he didn’t have a concussion, or broken ribs, or whatever?”
“He wouldn’t admit it if he did,” Will all but yelled, once again angry. And it didn’t help at all that Nelson lost his battle with keeping a small grin buried.
“True,” he admitted.
“That man had no business headed out for a dive – no matter what,” Will continued to insist.
It was Nelson’s turn to sigh. “Are you aware that there was still about half an hour’s worth of work to do on the dive planes before we could even hope of getting off the bottom safely?”
“And there are any number of qualified divers aboard…” Will blustered, but was again stopped by an upraised hand.
“The only divers aboard who were qualified to do the repairs were already maxed out on their diving hours. Lee was the only one, besides me, who wasn’t, and I was still finishing repairs to the reactor. Chip had just notified both of us that the air revitalization system computers were proving a major problem to get back on line, and there was no guarantee that he could get them fixed before we ran out of air. I gather he didn’t explain that to you.”
Will lowered his eyes. “He may have tried.” He gave Nelson a sheepish look. “At that point I wasn’t really in the mood to listen to anything he had to say.” The two shared a small grin.
“Sharkey said you didn’t hang around until Lee came back in.”
“Returned here and waited for the emergency call,” Will admitted.
nodded. “Somewhere along the line Chip
heard about the argument – Sharkey swears he didn’t call him. Chip was in the Missile Room when Lee
finished the repairs, having finally gotten the computers running, and they
went back to the
Will sent him an honest smile, then cringed and gave himself a shake. “Suppose I’d better go apologize.”
“For what?” Nelson was genuinely confused. “You were just trying to do your job the best way you know how. For which we are all extremely grateful,” Nelson added with heartfelt sincerity.
“And the Skipper was just trying to do the same thing,” Will answered. “Which, after these years, you’d think I’d be able to figure out without going ballistic.”
Nelson shrugged his shoulders. “We are both all too aware of how easily that man can drive a sane person to drink with some of his antics,” he acknowledged, and both men finally chuckled. “And you know all too well that he’ll be the one apologizing for causing your frustrations.”
“True,” Will admitted. His voice turned hard again as he added, “But it won’t stop him from doing the exact same thing all over again.”
Nelson nodded. “He will always put everyone else ahead of himself. There’s nothing we can do about it. We might as well get used to it.”
“Easier said than done,” Will growled, before finally smiling.
Nelson returned it, stood up, and nodded. Glancing at the floor he asked casually, “Should I have some metal cups ordered for you?”
“NO,” Will thundered back. “Shattering is much more therapeutic than clanging.” Nelson’s laughter trailed after him down the corridor.
Twenty minutes later, after making sure that the two crewmen with broken bones were resting comfortably and that John had everything else in order for the night, Will headed for his own bed, by way of Capt. Crane’s cabin. He still wasn’t totally sure what he was going to say, and was halfway hoping he’d find no light showing from the small crack under the door, and that the Skipper was finally fast asleep. No such luck. Not only were there obviously lights still on, but also Doc could hear soft voices coming from the other side. Taking a deep breath, he knocked lightly.
Instead of the usual call to come in there were rapid footsteps, and the door opened just far enough to allow Chip’s blond head to appear. “If you’re here to kill him, I request permission to help,” Seaview’s XO said seriously. His only response being a snort from Will, he continued in a conspiratorial voice. “I even know where we can hide the body.” About that time a balled up uniform shirt hit Chip in the back of his head, and both he and Will cracked up.
“I’m unarmed, Skipper,” Will called out amiably. An outsider may have been surprised at the antics between Seaview’s senior officers. Will was extremely pleased to be a part of it. With the pressure cooker atmosphere that the entire boat had been under the last day and a half, this release of tension was not only healthy, but also very welcome. Chip opened the door wide and stepped back, and Will entered. Lee sat on the edge of his bunk, shoes and socks off as well as the shirt he’d thrown at Chip. Will continued in to stand by Lee’s desk as Chip, who’d stayed by the door, said quietly, “Guess I’ll go stumble off to my own bunk. See you both in a week or so.” He bent over and retrieved the shirt, tossing it gently back at Lee, and left. The shirt fell into Lee’s lap and he lowered his head, ostensibly to unball it before throwing it in the dirty clothes hamper in his closet. But Will saw him glancing his direction, giving Will that little ‘through the eyelashes’ look the CMO was so familiar with. Will shook his head.
“I just came to apologize,” he said softly, resting a hip on the edge of Lee’s desk.
Lee’s head popped up. “Why?” came out a little louder than he’d intended.
“What happened in the Missile Room, shouldn’t have,” Will answered calmly, then gave Lee a little smile. “At least, not at that decibel.”
Lee dropped his eyes again. “Not like it was the first time,” he answered softly, and sent a glance Will’s way shyly.
“And I rather doubt that it will be the last,” his CMO replied firmly, before the grin spread. “Doesn’t mean it was right.”
“You have nothing to apologize for, Jamie,” Lee responded honestly, raising his head again. “I shouldn’t have been going diving. But…”
Will stopped him with an upraised hand. “I know, Skipper. Admiral Nelson explained why it happened. I even vaguely remember you trying to. I just wasn’t in the mood to listen.”
“We were all a little stressed out,” Lee offered.
“And now I’m keeping you from the rest you so desperately need.” Will rose abruptly and started for the door.
“That’s all?” came out before Lee could stop it.
Will laughed over his shoulder. “Told you I came unarmed, Skipper.”
“But…” Lee couldn’t, or at least didn’t, finish the thought.
“I don’t usually let you off the hook so easily?” Will chuckled again as he turned slightly toward Lee and got the bashful ‘through the lashes’ look again. “First, you’ve got ibuprofen in your cabinet. It’s one of the things I know you’ll take, and it would do about as much good as anything else I could give you. And the reason I know that it’s there is, it’s on Frank’s pre-cruise checklist to make sure your container is full.”
“Wondered about that,” Lee admitted, and he gave Will a small grin.
“And second,” Will continued, “I can be pretty sure that’s about all you need right now, because Chip was fully aware I came empty-handed, and left way too easily if he even suspected you were hiding something more serious than a black and blue back. With his talent for reading you, I’ve come to depend on him to report anything you don’t feel it necessary to.” He laughed outright as Lee balled his shirt again and tossed a perfect two-pointer into the hamper. “Nice shot, Skipper. More evidence that you’re not always as foolish as you seem to be on occasion.”
“Maybe only as often as you, Doc.” Lee sent Will an obvious faux glare for his temerity, and both chuckled as Will left.
* * * *
Will Jamison mumbled a few words most of his acquaintances didn’t know he even
knew, and tossed the report on the desk in his office at NIMR’s
“Jamie? Everything okay?”
Will easily recognized the voice of Seaview’s captain, Lee Crane, although he sounded more tired than he usually allowed himself to sound. Will blew out a large breath and got himself a little more under control. “Long day at the office, Skipper. What can I do for you? I thought you were still at that training camp.”
“Sprung myself a day early. Ah…”
Will could hear weariness over the phone lines. “What’s up, Skipper?” he asked gently.
“Oh, never mind, Jamie. You sound tired. It will wait until tomorrow.”
Will grinned and shook his head. Typical Lee Crane. Put everyone else before himself. “Skipper, I’m a little frustrated at the moment, that’s all. What can I do for you?”
“I know you’ve been doing physicals this week. Thought I’d see if you had any free time this afternoon, and I’d get mine out of the way before I need to get busy tomorrow with the next cruise.”
“Who are you?” Will demanded.
“This is not CDR Lee Crane, the acknowledged expert at avoiding anything and everything related to his health.”
Laughter greeted the comment, but Will could still detect weariness to the sound, especially as Lee spoke.
“Honest, Jamie, it’s me. And I do take care of myself regardless of what mother hen Chip thinks. Been doing it most of my life and I’m still here.”
“What’s wrong, Skipper?” Will asked gently, concern overcoming his disbelief, and not distracted by Lee’s complaint.
There was a long sigh before Lee answered. “Training got a little…intense.”
“Your tail, my office. Now!” If Lee was actually admitting that, he must be at least three-fourths dead! But his command was greeted by soft chuckles, and then a dial tone.
Just over twenty-five minutes later Lee Crane walked into Will’s office, and the doctor immediately started visually evaluating his least cooperative, but most frequent, patient. Instead of Lee’s usual light, energetic step, today he was moving slowly. The tiredness in his voice as he greeted Will was even more noticeable in person than it had been over the phone lines. Will was immediately concerned. This man routinely ignored anything so insignificant – to him – as a few aches and pains. Something was seriously wrong. “Looks like it was a rough session, Skipper.”
sighed heavily, and eased himself down in the visitor’s chair opposite Will,
who was seated at his desk. “I didn’t
realize until I got there that it was going to be run by an old friend of mine,
Master Gunnery Sgt. Walt Terananza, Marine Corps. Enlisted at seventeen, and worked his way up
through the ranks with a toughness that puts even most Marines to shame. Likes nothing better than taking down
officers a peg or two – especially
“Some friend,” Will observed dryly.
Lee gave him an open look. “Actually, he is,” he assured Will. “Sure, he’s a hard instructor. But he wants his trainees prepared to handle anything a mission could throw at them so they get back alive.” Lee gave Will a grin, albeit a tired one. “He just has a fiendish streak when it comes to setting up the training parameters.”
Will recognized the grin. “And you take just as much fiendish pleasure in outmaneuvering him.” Lee’s grin broadened, as did Will’s. But the grin wavered as Lee shifted in the chair and a groan escaped. “Had a little more fun this time than you should have, Skipper?” He got back the ‘through the lashes’ look that he always associated with a small boy getting his hand caught in the cookie jar. It made Lee look even younger than what Will knew him to be, and Will couldn’t stop a return of his grin. “Give,” he still managed to get out firmly.
“Part of the class revolves around getting through Walt’s obstacle course.” Lee gave Will a sheepish look. “I think he had help designing this one from the Marquis de Sade.” Lee chuckled, but Will could still see the effort it took for Lee to sound relaxed.
“Is that why you left a day early? Because your Marine friend won this round?”
Lee glared at him. “No.” His expression softened before he continued. “Wouldn’t give him that satisfaction.”
Will snorted. “Well, let’s adjourn to the exam room and see what you’ve managed to do to yourself.”
“I’m fine, Jamie. Just really tired.” He groaned again as he stood, and gave Will another sheepish little grin. “And a little sore.”
The two made their way down the hall a few doors and, as Will set out those instruments he’d need, Lee started getting undressed. Will noticed Lee’s jacket land on the chair fairly quickly. But his shirt took a bit longer, and was accompanied by a not quite covered up grunt. As Will turned around Lee, in definite discomfort, had one hand on the exam table and was leaning over cautiously to untie his sneakers. Will took pity on him.
“Just leave that for now and take a seat, Skipper.” A quick glance didn’t show anything more serious than a couple small bruises and a slight scratch across one shoulder blade. Will spent several minutes gently feeling all over Lee’s torso but could find nothing broken, cracked, or otherwise out of alignment. Through it all Lee sat quietly, leaning slightly in the direction of the hand he’d rested on the edge of the table, but following Will’s instructions to breathe deeply or look this way and that. Will backed off and looked at his CO quizzically for a moment, before reaching around for his blood draw kit. “Skipper, tell you what. It’s obvious you’re exhausted. I’m just going to do the standard blood work and call it good for this physical.”
“I’d just as soon you finish up now, Jamie, if you’re just going to call me in tomorrow to finish up.”
“I don’t see a need, Skipper. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t had you in my sights all that long ago.” Will grinned. “Or, that I’m likely not to have you there again shortly, given your track record.” He chuckled at Lee’s instant frown, drew three vials of blood, and steadied Lee when he listed to port slightly as he stepped down from the exam table. “Are you safe to drive home?” he asked, concerned, then added with a quick smile, “I could get you a room here for the night.” He laughed outright at the look that drew from his CO, and Lee finally grinned as well.
“I think I can manage that far, Jamie,” Lee still grumbled, reaching for his shirt. Will busied himself labeling the vials and making a few notes as Lee dressed, and went as far as his office with Lee as the younger man walked wearily out. Will thought he heard Lee mutter something over his shoulder, but when he turned back Lee was just entering the elevator so didn’t call after him to find out what he’d said. He did think about alerting Chip that Lee was back a day early, knowing the XO would immediately go check on his friend. But he decided against it. Obviously the training camp had taken a lot out of Lee, and he didn’t need Chip appearing unannounced to keep him from going to bed any longer than it took him to drive the short, easy distance to his condo. Will would track him down sometime the following morning and see how he was feeling. In the meantime, he’d walk the vials of blood down to the lab and supervise the testing himself. Positively the last thing he wanted to deal with today was one more screw-up.
* * * *
after 0800 the following morning, Will gathered up another blood draw kit and
headed to the Admin building and Admiral Nelson’s office. The man was going to be touchy enough just
hearing why Will had to re-do the tests.
First, though, he wandered past Lee’s office. But all was quiet, as was the XO’s
office. He gave some thought to perhaps
Lee wasn’t totally up to par yet this morning, but knew that he’d hear soon
enough if that was the case. Chip was
all too adept at dragging Lee’s tail to
Nelson greeted him warmly from behind a desk littered with half a dozen open folders, before noticing Will was carrying the small leather case he used for minor cabin calls aboard Seaview. He glared at it a moment before transferring the glare to Will’s face. Will grinned. “Relax, Admiral. Some blood work got destroyed in the lab (Will decided abruptly to downplay the incident) and one of the samples was, unfortunately, yours. Just need to draw a new set.” He kept a soft smile on his face, hoping that it would help defuse the impending four-star explosion. It seemed to work, because Nelson just let out a large expanse of air, pushed his chair back away from his desk, and started rolling up his uniform sleeve. Will hurried to complete his task before something, or someone, interrupted.
He’d just finished taping a small patch over the collection site, and was putting the vials in his bag as Nelson rebuttoned his cuff, when he asked offhandedly, “Have you seen CDR Crane this morning?”
“So you know he’s back.” Nelson grinned. “He came bouncing in just before 0700…”
“Bounced?” Will asked incredulously.
Nelson nodded. “Happy as a clam. Said he’d aced the course and got himself sprung a day early.” Nelson grinned, shaking his head. “Never saw anyone in my life as happy to get back to a 24/7 job as he always is.” Nelson chuckled.
“Bounced?” Will repeated.
Nelson gave him an odd luck. “Practically ran in, tossed his training report on my desk – it’s here somewhere – grabbed Chip who was just coming in, and hightailed it for the boat. Wanted to see all the repairs. You know him. Isn’t satisfied until he’s checked everything himself.” He continued to stare at Will.
“Bounced!” Will exploded.
“Will, what’s wrong?”
Will stomped a few feet away, getting himself back under control before turning back toward Nelson. “He called me yesterday afternoon. Said he’d just gotten home. Wanted to know if he could come over.”
“Lee? Asking to see you?”
“Came in practically dragging his tail. Gave me some cock and bull story about being exhausted, but he knew I’d been doing the semi-annual physicals and wondered if I had time to do his before he got back to work today. That…”
Will flattened his hands on Nelson’s desk. “Harry, that…that…officer,” Will made that last sound like a dirty word, “was groaning so much every time he moved that I actually started feeling sorry for him.” It didn’t help Will’s temper tantrum at all when Nelson snorted, a big grin beginning to form. “Did a quick check, drew some blood, and let him go.”
Nelson couldn’t hold it in any longer. He laughed so hard he couldn’t even hold his coffee cup. But he finally got himself under enough control to get out, “Yesterday, you say? Figures.”
“Why?” Will growled, steam practically coming out of his ears by this time, realizing he’d been had – big time!
Nelson didn’t answer verbally, just reached over and flipped the day calendar on his desk back a page. Immediately Will knew what Lee had tossed over his shoulder when he’d left Will yesterday. The calendar read April 1. “April Fools.”