As the Admiral Orders
By Jill I. Collins
Lee Crane and his executive officer, Chip Morton, gaped in mouth-hanging-open shock at their commanding officer, Admiral Harriman Nelson, sitting across from them at his desk. The two young officers turned their heads slowly to look at each other. Lee shuddered slightly as Chip gulped nervously. Together they faced Nelson again.
ABegging the Admiral=s pardon, sir.@ The dark-haired skipper of the famous Seaview cocked his head slightly. AWould you clarify the assignment, please?@
Nelson leaned back, his face beaming with humor. After pulling at his right ear, his hand rose questioningly. AWhat is there to clarify, Lee? Seems pretty straight forward to me.@
ABut, but, but˙@ The normally controlled XO stammered before stopping to clear his throat. Continuing in a more restrained voice, Morton pushed forward. AAdmiral, sir, you really can=t be serious?@
AI have never been more serious, Chip. This is great P.R. The Institute has been honored and respected for years, but to the public, it is still something of an enigma hidden behind high fences and immense security.@ The Admiral stood and moved to the large picture window to survey his realm. The two officers shifted in their chairs as their eyes followed him. AThis will put a more human face on NIMR.@
ABut the tours do that, sir.@ Morton, ever the pragmatist, ventured. AOur visitation has increased significantly over the years. The gift shop can=t keep up with the demand for NIMR logo items.@
AYes, yes, I give you that, Chip.@ The Admiral returned to perch on the edge of the desk. ABut this, this is national television. The Institute will receive more coverage for a few days of your time than all the tours since it opened.@
ABut, Admiral, really. Don=t you think you=re asking a great deal from us? After all, this intrudes into our personal life.@ Lee rubbed the back of his hand as he tried to reason with his superior. AYou can=t ask us to give up our privacy, sir.@
AI=m not asking you to do that, Lee. Okay, okay.@ Nelson held up his hand to forestall his rebuttal. AMaybe just a little, but it will be invaluable to us, and˙@ A little ashamed at hitting below the belt, he played his trump card, A˙the production company will donate the net proceeds to St. Lucius= Children=s Research Hospital.@
Crane and Morton looked at each other, their faces unreadable. NIMR=s personnel, especially Seaview=s crew, had adopted the hospital two years ago when Lt. Brice=s one-year old daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Little Amy=s valiant fight against a horrible disease touched everyone. Subsequently, NIMR=s employees had not only donated financially but also thousands of volunteer hours to the hospital. They organized fund-raisers, from bake sales to car washes to rummage sales. Nelson himself, with the help of his sister Edith, had hosted a large gala at his palatial estate, raising over $700,000. Amy=s death only six months earlier had fortified their resolve to do all they could to further the hospital=s research.
Morton sighed resignedly as Lee closed his eyes briefly in defeat. Both officers sagged in their chairs. The captain, on behalf of his XO and himself, reluctantly conceded to the higher authority. AOkay, Admiral. What do we have to do?@
After magnanimously accepting their capitulation, Nelson had made a call to set up an immediate meeting with representatives from the production company. There was down time now, but Seaview was scheduled to head for the South Pacific in less than five weeks.
As he waited for the impending meeting, he kept busy reviewing the blueprints of the circuitry room refit scheduled for Seaview. Tapping his pen on the desktop, Nelson scrunched up his nose as he tried to follow the intricate lines of the proposed electrical modifications. Feeling a headache developing behind his eyes, he massaged his left temple, jumping when the door to the conference room opened and Angie, his administrative assistant, stuck her head in.
The pretty brunette smiled contritely. AI=m sorry, Admiral, but Lee and Chip are waiting. The front gate just called and the TV people are on their way up.@
With unexpressed relief, Nelson sat his work aside. He rose and crossed the room to join her. Angie stood aside to allow him to enter. Closing the door, the pretty and incredibly efficient brunette walked to the room=s public access and exited. Crane and Morton stood near the large rectangular table talking quietly as the XO poured coffee from a silver carafe. Lee lifted a cup and handed it to the Admiral who accepted it with a nod. Settling down at the head of the table, he motioned for the officers to take their normal places. Within a few minutes, the door reopened and Angie ushered in a man and woman, both dressed in formal business attire.
Seaview=s senior staff rose to its collective feet. Admiral Nelson moved around the table. Reaching out, he welcomed them with a handshake and smile. AMr. Morrison and Ms.Thompson, I presume?@ The two executives smiled respectfully at the humor. The Admiral motioned to his men. AMay I introduce Commander Lee Crane and Lt. Commander Chip Morton.@ The men nodded courteously as Nelson directed everyone to sit. Settled in position, Nelson politely asked them, AWould you like some coffee?@
After she served their guests, Angie settled next to the Admiral to take minutes. With the amenities out of the way, Nelson started the ball rolling. AAs I have told you, my officers have agreed to participate in your program. The Institute=s attorney and financial manager will handle all the necessary legal arrangements. We are here to iron out the roles of the Captain and Mr. Morton.@
Dan Morrison nodded at his companion, Sheila Thompson, who sat forward expectantly. AAdmiral, I can guarantee that your episode will be the highest rated Trading Spaces since we went on the air.@ Reaching into her briefcase, she pulled out a file and laid it open before her. AThe designers will be Genevieve Gorder and Hildi Santos Tomas, with Amy Wynn Paster as carpenter. I must admit, it was difficult to make the final selection for the show. All the designers wanted the assignment.@ Turning to the silent commanders, she smiled invitingly at them.
Admiral Nelson fought back his grin. He had been studying his men since Thompson had begun speaking. Neither displayed any outward emotion, but the admiral could easily detect their discomfort. Lee sat back leisurely, only the twisting of his ring suggesting his true feelings. Chip, the ever enigmatic exec, sat rigid and stoic next to his skipper, a slight twitching along the jaw line revealing his disapproval.
AHrmmf!@ Nelson=s subtle clearing of his throat snapped Crane out of his sulking.
Smiling slightly, Lee nodded at the female executive. AThat=s very flattering, Ms. Thompson.@
AOh, Sheila, yes.@ Glancing briefly at a non-responsive Morton, Lee leaned forward. AMr. Morton and I are honored that you have such faith in us. Isn=t that so, Chip?@
Chip=s jaw clenched fleetingly before a forced smile came to his lips. AYes, it is an honor, Ms. Thompson.@
Morrison frowned at his companion, nudging her under the table. Sheila started slightly, her cheeks burning. AYes, of course.@ Clearing her throat, she pulled a piece of paper from the file. AWe have the dates lined up. You have such a full schedule, it=s a wonder you could fit us in.@
Admiral Nelson took a drink of his coffee. AThe sub is being refitted and will be down for a few weeks. It was lucky you came to us at this time.@
AAin=t we just so lucky?@
Chip=s muttered words, meant only for his friend, reached Crane=s ears just as he took a sip of coffee. Sputtering slightly, he grabbed a napkin and dabbed at his mouth. He apologized. ASorry. Went down the wrong pipe.@ He shot a look at his exec only to be ignored by the blond officer who sat staring at the two visitors, a closely controlled half grin on his lips.
Thompson smiled understandingly. AYes, of course, anyway, we just need to decide on the rooms to be redecorated. Gary and I have discussed it and felt perhaps the bedrooms B@
AAbsolutely not!@ Chip finally broke his silence in a big way. Though his voice was controlled and at a normal level, there was no doubt of his feelings. The others jumped, startled by his declaration. The XO sat determined, his arms crossed over his chest.
ABut, Commander Morton, the audience would love B@
Admiral Nelson cleared his throat, displeased by the outburst, but he knew his executive officer would not budge. AMs. Thompson, Mr. Morrison, perhaps their bedrooms are too personal. My officers are very private people. Only their desire to support St. Lucius convinced them to participate.@
Morrison and Thompson looked at each other, obviously disappointed. Nodding briefly, Sheila reluctantly agreed. APerhaps you=re right, Admiral. Maybe the kitchen?@
Lee snorted. AKitchen? What=s that?@ Laughing, he leaned over the table. AForgive me, Ms. Thomp˙I mean, Sheila. Chip isn=t a bad short order cook, but I really don=t do much in the kitchen except nuke a frozen dinner once in a while.@ Glancing briefly at Morton, he made a suggestion. AHow about the living room? Outside of the bedroom, it=s about the only other room that gets much attention from either of us.@ He flashed his famous knock->em-dead smile.
Nodding happily, the two television executives leaned back in their chairs. AThat=s perfect, Captain.@ Morrison smiled broadly. ALogistically, it will be a piece of cake. You live in the same development along the beach, isn=t that correct?@ Nelson and his two officers nodded in the affirmative. AGood. We can set up the carpentry tent in between. Now, I think that is about all. As you said, Admiral, legal matters will be ironed out by the proper authorities while we go ahead and arrange the bread and butter part of the project.@
Ms. Thompson smoothed her blazer as she gazed across the table. AWho will you be teamed with, Captain? I=m sure the audience would love to see you with your current lady friends. Ummm?@
Feeling Chip tense up even more, Crane moved to prevent another outburst. ANo, Sheila, I=m sorry, but once again, that would be far too personal. No, we=ll pull a couple of men from the crew.@
Resigned, Sheila Thompson nodded sadly. AFine, fine.@ Glancing at Morrison, she closed her file. AWell, then I think that is about it for now. We=ll get our end of things pulled together. All we need from you is two days of your time.@
Standing, she brought the men to their feet AGentlemen, I can only say I wish, at this moment, I was an interior designer. But sadly, I=m color blind and would be miserable at it. But I might be on hand during the taping, depending on my schedule.@
Morrison winced slightly. ANot if I have any say, Sheila.@ His jealous thoughts burned in his eyes. Lee and Chip glanced at each other with knowing smiles.
Admiral Nelson moved to stand next to the young woman. AThank you both for giving us your time today. Just let me know the next step and Captain Crane and Commander Morton will be at your disposal.@
Sheila Thompson smiled coyly at the two young officers. ADon=t I wish.@ Her murmured words were almost inaudible.
AI beg your pardon?@
ANothing, Admiral, just clearing my throat.@ Picking up her briefcase, she held out her hand. AI want to say thank you, again, Admiral. We are all looking forward to the taping. It is going to make one hell of a show.@
Two weeks later, Crane and Morton had their first interview for the upcoming program. Each sat in his respective living room as the hostess, Paige Davis, asked the typical questions: what would you like to see done; what wouldn=t you like to see done, etc. Unfortunately, the day both dreaded arrived B the two-day remodeling. Seaview=s captain and executive officer had chosen the seaman with which each had a good working relationship: Crane with Kowalski and Morton with Patterson.
At 0800 on the eventful day, the four men stood under the early morning sun, dressed in t-shirts, shorts and tennis shoes. The color of the smocks they wore indicated their teams: Crane and Ski in blue with Chip and Pat in orange.
Flanking Paige as she began her introduction and pep talk before the camera, the two teams waited patiently, relaxed even in the face of public scrutiny. The exuberant young woman had won over the officers, while totally entrancing the seamen. As she traded keys to begin the proceedings, the brilliance of their smiles challenged the bright summer sun.
Separating, Blue and Orange headed to their targets. Crane and Ski skipped through the front door of Chip=s home to be greeted by Genevieve just as Chip and Pat met with Hildi. The cameras, already rolling, began to chronicle the adventures of Seaview=s officers and men.
Hildi Santos Tomas, a pretty brunette interior designer, welcomed her helpmates warmly. Dressed in black stretch pants and short-sleeved top, she accented the darkness of her clothing with a radiant smile AGood morning, Chip, Pat. What do you see us doing here?@
Chip glanced at Pat before responding. AMore furniture. It=s pretty sparse in here.@
Hildi nodded, AAnd the color?@
Chip pursed his lips. AWell, I like the color. I don=t see any need B@
AEverything is white, Chip. Don=t you think there should be more color?@
He shrugged indifferently, AMaybe in the cushions˙maybe.@
AHmmm.@ Hildi smiled wisely. AWell, let=s just clear this room, and then we can talk color.@ Clapping her hands, the threesome began to lift and carry.
Three blocks away, the very same scene was being played out by the Blue Team. Genevieve Gorder, barefooted and wearing navy slacks and shirt with her shoulder length blond hair topped by a cowboy hat, sat crossed legged on the ottoman. AOkay, gang, what would you like to do to this room?@
A wide grin lit up his face as Lee looked around. AWell, maybe more shelves. He has way too many books for the ones he has. Maybe a few more pillows.@
AHow about color? Perhaps brighten up the walls?@
Lee scrunched up his face. AWell, Chip=s not much for color. He prefers neutrals.@
AWell, I think he needs color, so let=s get this place cleared and then discuss exactly how colorful we are going to make it.@
The room was quickly emptied, the painting tarp spread over the wooden floor. Genevieve had gathered her paint samples in the center, and the Blue Team sat around them, waiting. The blonde designer pried open the first can, revealing a soft oatmeal color. AThis will be for the ceiling and three walls. And this one˙@ She pried off the second top to reveal a bright red, A˙will be for the wall with the fireplace.@
Lee stared nervously at the second can. AAh, Chip really doesn=t like red. As a matter of fact, he specifically told me not to allow anything to be painted red.@
The interior designer reached behind her and pulled out a beautiful multi-colored retro-design fabric. AThis is my inspiration for the room. I want this space to be like the fabric - understated but with pop B not only the oatmeal color but red, green, gold and smaller bits of blue.@
Noticing Crane was shaking his head, she laid her hand on his knee. AIt will work. Trust me. The red will be only on one wall. The rest B oatmeal, very neutral and crisp with this fabric and a couple of other accent pieces to jazz up the place.@
AIt won=t match his furniture.@
AThe sofa and loveseat will be recovered with the fabric, and his navy blue recliner will match perfectly. You wanted more shelving, didn=t you? We=re going to make shelving units to flank the fireplace, as well as a new and larger coffee table.@
Ski spoke up. AWhat about the fireplace? You going to paint it, too?@
Genevieve looked over her shoulder at the hearth with its sand and brown bricks. ANo, it=s perfect. The bookshelves around it will be the added punch of color needed.@
Lee chewed his lower lip as he stared into the red paint can, shaking his head.
Genevieve screwed her head down and into his line of sight. AHow about it, Lee? Trust me. It will work.@
Crane scratched the back of his neck before shrugging. AI guess, maybe.@ He failed to notice Ski=s look of incredulous disbelief.
AAh, Skipper, you sure? I mean, Mr. Morton, he=s˙well˙he=s B@
AYa, ya, Ski, I know, but I think it just might work. He does need more color in his life, even if he doesn=t think so. And who best but his captain to see that he gets it! Yes, this will work.@
Ski could only shake his head and mumble his support, all the while almost certain that Mr. Morton wouldn=t see it the same way as the skipper
In Crane=s house, the identical scenario was taking place but with different results. Hildi unveiled her first color selection - a deep sea green - followed by two accent colors of light chocolate and beige.
AThe green will be the walls and the furniture being built by Amy Wynn. We=re going to add a couple of matching chairs and a new coffee table. The fireplace will be painted the chocolate brown with beige for the moldings.@
ALee hates green, Hildi. You have to pick something else.@
AWait, this is the fabric I=m matching. It will cover the sofa. The stripes are the sea green we want to bring out with snatches of the brown and beige.@
Chip reached for the material and studied it briefly before smiling patiently. AThe fabric is beautiful, Hildi, but the green has to go. If you want to match anything, why not match the smaller stripes of blue? The two neutral colors will still go with it.@
Hildi shook her head. ANo, Chip, this will work. The green won=t B@
AThe green won=t do anything because it is not going to be used. I=m sorry, Hildi, but Lee really, really hates green. You are going to have to pick something else.@
The brunette leaned back on her heels and stared at the XO. Chip, his arms crossed over his chest, merely looked back. Shifting her eyes to Pat, she raised an eyebrow and received a warning nod from the seaman. Pursing her lips, she made one more attempt to dissuade the officer.
AI see your point, Chip, but it will work with the accents and fabric˙@ Her voice trailed off as she found herself being stared down. AOkay, but this will set us back and we only have two days.@
APat and I will start taping the walls while you go for the new paint. And it won=t put us behind. That I can promise you.@ He smiled warmly trying to soften her disappointment.
Melting slightly, Hildi replaced the lid on the green paint and stood. AOkay, guys. Start taping, and I will go get different paint.@
Lee felt the paint drip on the rim of the hat he had found in the closet. His first attempt at painting the ceiling without protection had threatened to turn his dark black hair into a mass of spotted curls. He just hoped Chip wouldn=t mind a few oatmeal colored dots on his Cubs baseball cap.
Behind him, he heard Ski call his name. ASkipper, how=s this?@
Turning he studied the taping job around the fireplace. Nodding with a big grin, he approved. AClose enough for government work, Ski. Now you can start painting.@
Hesitating, Kowalski shifted nervously. AAre you sure, Skipper? I mean, Mr. Morton, he might get upset about this. I don>t want to be spending my next leave scraping the boat=s hull.@
Crane laughed lightly. ATrust me, Ski. He=ll love it! If not, I=ll take the heat. He can=t have the Captain scraping the hull, now can he?@
As Ski pried opened a can and stared gloomily at the red paint, he merely shook his head and muttered, AI wouldn=t bet on it.@
As the seaman poured the offending color into the tray, Genevieve bounced into the room. AAmy Wynn has the designs for the bookshelves and coffee table. Hopefully she will get them done in time for homework tonight.@ Frowning at Crane, she checked out his hat. ALee, you should have asked for a Trading Spaces cap before getting yours all splotchy.@ Spinning around, and grabbing a roller, she dipped it into the red paint and did a quick crimson square on the wall. Glancing over her shoulder, she winked at the Blue Team. AWhat a punch!@
Laughing she merrily continued painting as Ski, his face ashen, looked pleadingly at Crane. The skipper had removed the baseball cap and stood staring at it. Taking a deep breath, he placed it back on his head and raised the long-handled roller to the ceiling. Meeting Ski=s panic-filled eyes, Crane shrugged and gave a half-heartened thumb's up. Kowalski reached for a brush and, with trembling hand, dipped it into the paint. APermanent extra duty for life - that=s what Mr. Morton will do to me.@ As he worked, his sour thoughts turned the crimson pigment into blood B his own.
Pat and Hildi had removed the old fabric covering Crane=s large sofa. The decorator instructed the seaman in the cutting and placement of the new material. With the last pin in place on the back of the piece, the brunette glanced at Patterson kneeling at one end with pins in his mouth. She leaned a hip against the sofa.
APat, one question.@ Stopping his work, the seaman removed the pins and stared up at her. AWhat would have happened if I hadn=t backed down on the paint color?@
A wide grin lit up Patterson=s face. AWe would still be sitting around that paint can with you trying to talk him into it, and Mr. Morton staring you down.@
AHmmm, that=s what I thought. Stubborn guy˙@
Pat merely nodded as he resumed pinning the fabric. AYou don=t know the half of it, Hildi.@ He chuckled to himself as he worked.
Meanwhile, Chip and Paige were putting the second coat of royal blue on the walls. As she added more paint to her roller, the pretty hostess checked out the room. AWell, you did tell Hildi you wouldn=t fall behind and you meant it.@
Morton smiled shyly. AI=m afraid I upset her enough for one day. Didn=t want to completely let her down.@
AYou don=t mind this color? It is very bright.@
Shaking his head, he filled his roller again as he worked. ANo. Lee loves color. That wasn=t the problem. He just hates green. I think it reminds him of the first time he got seasick. It was his first summer sail at the Academy. Got sicker than a dog. Boy, was he embarrassed.@ Stopping, he looked grimly at her. ADoesn=t look good for a sailor to be seasick, ya know.@
Paige laughed. AI wouldn=t think so. How did he get over it?@
AOh, he still gets seasick. Just don=t stick up anything green around him, and he=s fine. That=s why Seaview=s painted gray˙with yellow accents.@
The hostess squinted suspiciously at the blond officer. AYou ARE pulling my leg B aren=t you?@
AWould I do that, Ms. Davis?@ Chip=s broad, mischievous grin answered not only her question but his own.
AYou may be an officer but you are no gentleman, Mr. Morton.@
Paige entered the carpentry tent as Amy Wynn shook a bottle of antacids, releasing two of the chewable tablets into the palm of her hand. Concerned, the hostess went to her friend.
AAre you all right, Amy?@
Popping the two tablets into her mouth, the pony-tailed young woman nodded as she crunched down on the candy-flavored antacids. She picked up the nail gun from the work table. AI=m fine, Paige. Just a tummy ache, that=s all. I=m a little tense.@
ATense? Are you that much behind?@
Setting the gun next to the large tool cabinet, she reached for a tape measure. AThanks to the team members, I=m not behind at all. All four have been down to help. They are a handy bunch of guys.@
Confused, Paige leaned against the table. AThen why the tension?@
Amy scratched her chin and looked askance at the tall brown-haired girl. AWell, I=m not really tense˙I mean˙@ She rubbed her hands on her jean-covered thighs. AThe guys have been sawing, and hammering, and lifting, and˙and˙.bending over˙.and˙@
A˙and˙and? Come on, Amy.@
The carpenter threw up her hands in frustration. AIt has been hard as hell not to reach over and goose >em.@
Paige burst out laughing. Tears began to fill her eyes as she watched her friend=s face turn a bright red.
AIt ain=t funny, Paige!@ Amy=s embarrassment had turned to anger as Paige laughed.
AI know, I know.@ The hostess bent at the waist, her hands on her knees supporting her upper body. Breathing in deeply several times, she finally gained control of herself. Standing straight, she smiled softly at her friend. AI=m sorry, Amy. I=m not laughing at you. I came down here because I had just finished helping the Blue Team put up a new light fixture. Lee was on the ladder while Ski held the fixture. And I was caught in the middle. My back against Ski=s chest and my face in˙@ She coughed briefly. AAnyway, I needed fresh air and right away.@
Amy reached for the bottle and shook it in front of her face. AWant a couple?@
Evening had finally arrived, which meant homework. The teams had priming, painting and staining to do on the new furniture pieces as well as touchup on the walls. Bright and early the next morning, the two designers rejoined their teams.
Hildi carried an armful of colorful flowers and a large cardboard tube into the kitchen where Chip and Pat sat with their coffee and newspaper. AGood morning, good morning. Did you get everything done?@
Both men stood. Patterson took the flowers from Hildi as Morton handed her a cup of coffee. AEverything=s done, Hildi. We even had time to put in a new electrical outlet in the corner to eliminate the need for an extension cord.@
The brunette designer scrunched up her nose. AYou qualified to do that?@
Chip laughed. AIf Pat can re-wire the circuitry system of a nuclear submarine, I think he can put in a simple outlet.@
Hildi grinned sheepishly. AYa, I guess. Anyway, we still have a lot to do today. Need to finish the upholstering, curtains and pillows. But first˙@
Setting her cup on the counter, Hildi opened the tube and pulled out a long cylinder. AI found this last night in a flea market across from the hotel. I think it is just perfect for your captain.@ She unrolled her prize and held it flat on the table, placing weights at each corner. Morton and Patterson looked down at the poster before them.
AI second that, Pat.@ Morton smiled brightly at Hildi. AIt=s great.@
Hildi preened proudly. ACan you imagine anything more perfect than an old submarine movie poster? And this one is the best B The Enemy Below. What a picture!@
AIt was one of the better ones, although I prefer Run Silent, Run Deep.@ Morton smoothed one of the edges of the paper. AWhere are you putting it?@
AJust inside the door. I picked up a black metal frame that Amy Wynn needs to cut to size. It=s going to look super.@
The Orange Team and its mentor gazed fondly at the prize addition to the skipper=s room.
Crane yelped and put his finger in his mouth, sucking on it. Glaring reproachfully at the cushion balanced on his lap, he reluctantly took up the bloodthirsty needle that had pricked him three times. A sewer he was not.
Genevieve giggled. AYou=re not very good at that, Lee.@ The dark haired sailor looked at her with his hurt puppy dog look. The blonde stifled her merriment. AYa, right. Why don=t you check with Amy Wynn to see if she=s ready to install the bookshelves?@
Lee=s face brightened substantially at the suggestion. Sticking the needle in the cushion, he jumped up and bowed slightly to her. AThank you, Ma=am. I shall repay your kindness tenfold.@
Genevieve roared as Crane rushed out. Kowalski, sitting cross-legged at her side, smiled knowingly. He only wished he had thought of the self-maiming way out first. He didn=t like to sew.
Crane literally ran into Amy Wynn as she came through the door. The tool box in her hand went crashing to the floor. Seaview=s skipper grabbed her around the waist as he fought to keep their balance.
AWhoa, Skipper. Where=s the fire?@
ASorry, Amy. Wasn=t watching where I was going.@ He straightened up, one hand still resting on her hip. The pretty carpenter gazed up into the big dark eyes of her rescuer, feeling slightly lightheaded and thinking of her nervous stomach. AI should have brought my antacids.@ With an embarrassed cough, Crane released her and smiled. AI guess I was in too much a hurry to escape the sewing circle.@
Amy laughed and reached for her tool box. Lee beat her to it and lifted it from the floor. She curtsied and responded to his gallantry. AThank you, kind sir.@ Heading toward the pile of crimson painted shelving, she commiserated. ASo, you don=t like sewing?@
Crane shrugged. AI=d just as soon as have a root canal.@ Looking conspiratorially over his shoulder, he staged whispered, ACan you keep a secret? It=s the real reason I entered the Academy. Officers don=t have to sew their own buttons on.@
Nodding wisely, his eyes shone with humor. ANow, Chip, he likes to sew. He has one hell of a slip stitch. The best in any man=s navy. Said he learned it from having to repair the sails on his family=s sloop. I=ve even heard stories that when he was an ensign, he supplemented his meager income by taking in sewing. But then, it is only a rumor.@
AOne he hasn=t heard, I hope.@ Amy Wynn indicated where he could set the tool box. When he turned his back, she pulled out a small bottle of breath freshener and quickly sprayed her mouth before returning it to her hip pocket. Nonchalantly, she knelt down before the box. AAnd what did you do to supplement your meager income?@
Squatting next to the box, Crane watched as Amy removed the tools she would need to install the bookshelves. AMe? Oh, I just called home and dropped a few, subtle hints about how destitute I was. Even having to skip meals in the wardroom because I was strapped.@
AOh, a man of means.@ The carpenter began measuring the location of the first shelving unit with Lee=s help. She stopped suddenly and looked at the captain. AAnd you entered the Academy so you wouldn=t have to sew on your own buttons? Does that mean you had to at home?@
AYup. Even though we had maid service twice a week, my Mom and Dad felt I should be more self-reliant. I learned to wash my own clothes easy enough. Didn=t inadvertently dye too many whites pink, but needlework just escaped me somehow.@
AI don=t believe a word of it, Captain.@
With exaggerated shock, Crane looked at her with a hurt expression. AWhy, Amy, you have wounded me to the core.@
AYa, right. Hand me the drill. I want to get this done so I can go fetch my hankie.@
Laughing, Crane reached for the tool. The shelving units went up fast, not hampered B much B by the playful banter between the Captain and the Carpenter.
The Orange Team had cleared out the space to begin setting up. The last bit to do before moving in the furniture was to hang a new light fixture. Hildi held the functional sculpture of glass and chrome as Pat, perched on the ladder, removed the old ceiling light and relinquished it to Morton=s care. As the blond officer took away the old, the dark haired decorator handed the new to Patterson. He secured the wiring and screwed in the anchoring plate before descending the ladder. Hildi stepped back and with arms over her team=s shoulders, smiled proudly at it.
AWhat a chandelier!@
Morton squinted slightly. AIsn=t it a little crooked?@
Hildi cocked her head before suddenly releasing her crew and climbing the ladder. She promptly adjusted the fixture=s arms. Stepping down a couple of rungs, she jumped the rest of the way to the floor.
ATerrific! Let=s get this place put together@ Chuckling lightly, she headed out of the room, motioning for her team to follow.
Chip remained unmoving. AIt=s still crooked. What do you think, Pat?@
The other man studied the object. AMaybe it=s supposed to be, sir.@
Sighing resignedly, the officer nodded. AGuess it=s close enough for government work.@ Hildi=s voice floated into the room from somewhere in the house, urging her team to move it. Putting his hand on Pat=s shoulder, Morton resolved to obey. ALet=s get this over with.@
Amy Wynn and Genevieve hung the designer=s wall sculpture above the fireplace. The slats of wood of varying lengths were painted oatmeal and navy blue with intervening oak-stained accent strips. While the women finished and carried out the ladder and tools, Crane and Ski shifted Chip=s huge entertainment unit back into position. The new coffee table mirrored the beautiful wood veneer of not only that piece but the floor.
Turning to move the sofa, recliner and coffee table into the room, they were halted by Genevieve. She had carried a large roll of carpet through the archway separating the living room and dining area and leaned it against the door frame. With one foot, she kicked the carpet over and unrolled it, introducing the surprise addition with great pride. AOne more punch of color for the room.@
With foreboding, the men stared at the large oval area rug. A broad border of oatmeal framed an elliptical center of bright crimson. This was not good for their future survival, even Lee knew that. Resigned to the inevitable, they helped lay the rug in preparation for completing the room.
The time of reckoning had come. Paige Davis maneuvered Crane and Kowalski into the corner of Lee=s living room to get the full impact of the new décor. Their eyes firmly shut, the men shifted nervously.
ALee, are you ready to see your new space?@ Receiving a hesitant nod, her smile broadened. AOkay, open your eyes.@
The Skipper and Ski stared wondrously at the transformation. The royal blue walls shone brightly; flickering candles reflected the hue back into the room. The men turned slowly around and marveled at the change.
AThis is great, Paige.@ Lee=s grin was breathtaking, and Paige hung onto Ski=s arm for support. AI never imagined it would look like th˙@ Catching sight of the movie poster, he sucked in his breath. AWow, that=s terrific! I=ve always wanted a copy of that poster.@
AWell, you got one now, Skipper.@
AThis is really great, Paige.@ Crane pulled her to him and kissed her gently on the forehead.
Having a little difficulty catching her breath, the hostess remained leaning against his arm. Clearing her throat which had gone very dry, she finally composed herself. AI=m so glad you like it. Now, let=s see how Chip likes his.@
Ski and Crane exchanged worried glances as Paige headed out the door and to the other house.
Paige had positioned Morton and Patterson just inside the front door. Her arms through theirs, she swayed back and forth as she prepared for the unveiling.
AThis is it, guys. Open your eyes.@
She heard Pat=s gasp and glanced at him. His eyes were wide, and when he turned to her, she saw concern bordering on hysteria before he shifted his gaze to the man beside her. Following his stare, Paige turned to Seaview=s Executive Officer.
Morton stood rigid, his face a solid granite façade. His jaw clenched tightly, threatening to lock in place. With a Herculean effort, he shifted his attention to the hostess, forcing a small smile to his lips. AWhere=s Lee, Paige?@
AAh, ah˙@ She glanced nervously at Pat only to find he had slithered behind her. Coughing roughly, she broadened her frozen smile. AHe=s around, but what do B@
Kowalski peaked hesitantly around the corner of the archway separating the two main rooms. Pat, seeing his best friend, frantically motioned him away, but Morton, catching a glimpse from the corner of his eye, barked out. AKowalski!@
The senior seaman reluctantly entered the living room. Glancing over his shoulder, he frowned worriedly as he noticed he was alone. No matter his fondness for the young captain, he had no intension of facing the XO alone and without backup. He called out. ASkipper, you coming?@
Crane shuffled slowly around the corner, looking daggers at Ski for his betrayal. Recovering quickly, he beamed happily at his friend and fellow officer. AWell, what do you think, Chip? I think it=s pretty amazing myself.@ He put his hand to his chest modestly.
Unimpressed, Morton smiled respectfully at Paige as he moved to stand in front of his superior officer. Crane took an involuntary half-step back. With a sick grin, he pulled himself up and decided a good offense was better than a cringing defense.
AWell, Chip, how do you like it?@ Gesturing grandly, Lee began to point out all the wonderful, to him, improvements. Turning his head back, he found his nose nearly touching Morton=s.
AIt=s red, Lee.@ Chip growled at him.
AYa, I know, but look at the book B@
AIt=s red, Lee.@
AOkay, you said that, but B@
AIt=s red, Lee.@
Putting his hands on his hips, Crane huffed back. ASo it=s red. Get over it!@
Morton straightened his back, his lips becoming a thin line in his features as his jaws clenched even tighter. AI made it clear I didn=t want red, just as you made it clear you didn=t want green. Is there green in your house, Lee?@ Before Lee could answer, Chip shook his head. AOf course not. And why is that? Because I refused to allow Hildi to use the sea green paint she had chosen, that=s why, Lee.@ The XO moved closer forcing his Skipper to back up against the wall. AAnd why did I not let her use green, Lee? Because I respected your desires, that=s why, Lee.@
As Morton attacked, Ski and Pat had also backed up so Paige was firmly between them and the enemy. The hostess nervously looked for the seamen only to find them behind her. Sputtering, she leaned toward them. AHey, it ain=t gentlemanly to hide behind a woman!@
ADon=t worry, Paige. Mr. Morton wouldn=t think of being impolite to a lady.@ Ski looked at Pat. ABut he isn=t that considerate with us underlings.@
Crane put his hands on Morton=s chest in a gesture of peace. ANow, Chip, I know you don=t like red, but I thought B@
ANo, you didn=t think, Lee.@
ANow, Chip B@
AWell, isn=t this attractive. As nice as Lee=s place.@ The Admiral=s deep voice echoed from the dining room. AI really do like the fabric and the wall color, Chip. You both really˙@ His words faltered as he moved further into the room and spotted the red wall. His eyes traveled around the room, coming to rest on the crimson floor rug. AOh, my.@ Turning to his beleaguered captain, his features grew stern as he admonished him. ALee, what possessed you to get Chip pissed off right before a long voyage?@
AAbba, abba˙@ Lee slammed to a halt, finding his tongue unable to work properly. Swallowing painfully, he grimaced. AI thought it would work.@ His words were almost too low to hear.
AWork!@ Chip pushed even closer. AHow could you have thought B@
The Admiral placed a hand on his executive officer=s arm. AAt ease, Commander, and that is an order.@ His words, though low and soft, carried a firm warning.
Morton backed away, his face reddening in embarrassment. He looked apologetically at Paige pressed up against Ski and Pat who were holding her protectively by the arms. AI=m sorry, Paige. I didn=t mean B@
The hostess sighed and rushed to take his hand. ADon=t worry, Chip. Unfortunately, there have been other times when I have had to deal with unhappy team members.@ Smiling broadly, she flicked her finger under his chin. AAlthough this is the first time I came near witnessing a murder.@
Chip laughed contritely. The back of his hand brushed the side of her face briefly. AI wouldn=t have murdered him, Paige. Just maimed him a little, and out of camera range.@ He leaned toward her and whispered, ANo video evidence, you know.@
Nelson appeared at her side and tucked her arm under his, holding her hand as it lay on his forearm. AThe Institute thanks you for your time and energy to raise money for the research hospital. And, as for this little scene, I=m sure it will be edited out.@ Looking over his shoulder at the camera, he frowned speculatively.
AOf course, Admiral. But in order to edit it out, we need something to replace it with.@ Paige motioned to the two officers. ACome on you two. Let=s give a great Trading Spaces send-off!@
Crane and Morton had the good grace to blush as they flanked their hostess as Nelson moved out of camera range. Paige waved him back but he merely shook his head. Paige shrugged and took the arms of Lee and Chip as Ski and Pat stood behind them.
AWell, that ends another Trading Spaces. One happy camper and ˙@ Clearing her throat, her smile became a little crooked, A˙one definitely seeing red.@ Morton winced and shook his head critically. Paige laughed, her voice breaking up. AI want to thank our worker bees, Captain Lee Crane and Executive Officer Chip Morton and Seamen Kowalski and Patterson of the famous submarine, Seaview. And a great big thank you to Admiral Harriman Nelson and the Nelson Institute of Marine Research for making this possible. It all benefits St. Lucius= Children=s Research Hospital in Santa Barbara.@
Tightening her grip on Lee and Chip, her face lightened even more. ASo let=s bid everyone a fond adieu. Gentlemen?@ Ski and Pat beamed happily as they waved behind the heads of their officers. Slightly embarrassed, the Skipper and Mr. Morton raised their hands tentatively and followed suit.
AOkay, cut!@ The cameraman looked up from his equipment and signed that it was all over and done.
Admiral Nelson sighed in relief. Walking to Paige, he grabbed her hand. AAnd now, there=s a beach party waiting down by Lee=s place. And, one thing NIMR can do very well is throw a great party.@ Glancing at his men, he squinted at his officers. AAs for you two, get going and˙@ The Skipper and XO waited nervously. A˙play nice. That=s an order.@
Lee and Chip studied each other briefly before turning toward the rear door and the beach. Chip=s voice carried back to the front of the house as the two friends left for the party.
AYou and Ski will be getting rid of that red paint tomorrow, Lee.@
ATomorrow? We have the day off to rest up, you know that.@
AWhat I know is that you will be spending one more night here while I enjoy sleeping in late at your place.@
ACome on, Chip. We can get some of the crew and have it done in no time. It doesn=t B@
AYou can=t be planning on pulling some of the crew off leave just because you can>t say no to a pretty face?@
A short silence followed before Crane=s voice was heard, this time too far away to make out the words. Chip=s emphatic >no= did carry back to the house. Pat and Ski, who had hesitated at the door, looked at each other.
AYou will help me paint, won=t you, Pat?@ Ski pleaded.
ANo way, Bud. You are in this alone.@
AHey, how was I supposed to stop the Skipper? Huh?@
AI don=t know, but I ain=t going to give up my day off.@
ASome friend.@ Ski=s voice was still grouching as it faded away down the beach.
Paige and Nelson had suppressed their laughter so they could follow the arguments. Once the voices had become unintelligible, they roared, hanging on to each other as they proceeded to join the party.
AAdmiral, are they always like this?@
AOnly off duty. Chip would never be so insubordinate otherwise. He has a more effective way of making Lee pay for his - how should I put it - transgressions. The upcoming cruise is going to be a long one for my captain.@
As they walked through the sand toward the music and laughter down the beach, they enjoyed the beauty of the early evening horizon. Paige sighed contentedly. AIt is really beautiful here, Admiral. That must be one of the reasons you settled in Santa Barbara.@
AThat and the deep channels along the coast. Essential for a submarine, you know.@
Laughing, the pretty hostess nodded. AYa, I would image a submarine does work best in deep water.@
Hesitating slightly, Paige chewed her lower lip before asking Nelson. AYou really like what was done at Lee=s place?@
AVery much, and Chip=s was well done, too, except for the red paint. Too bad Lee has a problem saying no to a pretty lady.@
AChip doesn=t seem to have that problem.@
Nelson snorted. AChip would say no to the President if warranted. Politely, of course.@
AAnd to you?@
The Admiral laughed. AHis no=s to me are more subtle, and at times fairly sneaky.@
AHe sics Chief Sharkey on me. The chief can annoy me out of practically anything. Except if my curiosity is up. Then nothing will stop me.@
ASo, the show meets with your approval?@
AAs the saying goes, close enough for government work. And since NIMR, Seaview and her officers are sometimes called upon by Washington, it=s completely satisfactory B once the red is gone.@
AI=m glad.@ Paige rested her head on the Admiral=s shoulder and sighed. AIf only I wasn=t married˙@
Nelson=s laughter echoed along the beach as the couple closed in on the party. And, true to the Admiral=s promise, it was one hell of a party.