Authors note:- Firstly, I’d like to thank my friend and ever patient beta, Lyn Barrow, for her permission to adapt my Chip background story from her Maiden Voyage series on Unchartered Waters… also other Voyage writers and friends for the gentle nudges to get it done!
Secondly, I fully acknowledge that the Naval procedure I use to tell this story bears no resemblance to Standard Operating Procedure, then or now. I have taken ‘poetic licence’ and bent it all out of shape!
The Devil Pays a Call
“I understand you have an interest in photography, seaman. Have you ever done any underwater work?” asked the most senior officer on the interview panel.
The young seaman sitting tensely in front of the interviewers swallowed quickly, “Eh, yes, sir, - that is sort of, sir.”
“Sort of?” came the edgy reply.
“Well, some for the Navy a few times but mostly I do it on leave, sir - as a hobby like - sir.”
“I see, and do you enjoy it?”
“Enjoy it, sir? Well, I guess so – no, I mean, yes, I do sir, very much. It was something I learnt from my father.”
The Admiral nodded approvingly as the chairman of the panel looked at his fellow officers who shook their heads.
“Very well Seaman Patterson, you’ll be informed of our decision one way or the other in three days,” Captain John Phillips said by way of dismissal to the young sailor who rose hesitantly, saluted smartly and moved towards the office door then stopped, turned and said belatedly.
“Yes, sir - I mean thank you, Sirs.” The waiting NCO opened the door for Patterson’s hurried departure, a clear indication of his obvious nervousness during the strangest interview of his Naval career. He wasn’t sure what to make of his performance in front of the formidable Admiral Harriman Nelson, Capt. John Philips and a very stern looking lieutenant but he hoped he’d made a good impression.
Phillips smiled and made a notation on the file in front of him. “Well, Admiral, what do you think?”
“His skills are just what Seaview needs.” He flicked through a couple of pages of the typed data before him and continued. “He’s a good man, clean service record and first-rate endorsements from his previous boats. The photography could be useful on some missions. I think he’ll do, I’m sure he can’t be that indecisive all the time. I say hire him.”
“I agree,” John Phillips nodded as he smiled, “but you can’t wonder that most of those we’ve interviewed have seemed rather jumpy, you have to admit Harry, this isn’t exactly standard operating procedure for the Navy.”
Nelson stretched his back muscles and relaxed again. “I suppose not but now the office of Naval Affairs has finally seen fit to endorse our endeavours I’m not going to let them dump just any personnel on us no matter how much funding they offer!”
“Of course not, Harry, but having some qualified officers and crew on permanent assignment from the regular Navy is a bonus we didn’t expect.”
Admiral Nelson looked at his friend and agreed. “I suppose so. I did wonder where I might get 120 men trained with the skills we needed. But we both know this is the Navy’s way of having the last word! They’ve watched us struggle for three years to get this far and now that we have Seaview built, equipped and seaworthy they want a hand in her!”
John Phillips smiled as he listened to his friend’s complaints one more time. He had happily thrown his lot in with Harry Nelson five years ago. They had become friends since they met on their first posting together. He felt privileged to be part of the Institute and Nelson’s plans. Having lost his wife some years ago in a stupid automobile accident and with no children to provide for, his career had become automatic and routine until Harry’s offer had given John the challenge he had been looking for. It had been hard work right from the start. Long hours of meetings and negotiations over construction issues while dealing with the sceptics who so often laughed in the faces of both men as they insisted it couldn’t be done! Well, they hadn’t reckoned on the tenacity of Harriman Nelson! Even the Navy had mellowed their attitude to grovelling appreciation of what a fine vessel Seaview was and he could almost see the Joint Chiefs of Staff salivating at the prospect of having her as part of the fleet even if it was on a need only basis!
Harry had proven everyone wrong and now they were so close to starting sea trials a suitable crew had to be recruited. That’s where the Navy had jumped in with their offer to man Seaview entirely with their own personnel but Harry had immediately spotted their intentions! This was still his boat and while he recognised the need for experienced crew he wasn’t about to let the Navy take over! He had his Captain, and had negotiated that certain key officers and men should transfer in by his consent only. Others would come from the reserves and some he had already recruited for himself, men he had personal knowledge of, the rest he would only accept after meeting them. He wanted to see what he was getting!
“How many more, Mr. Morton?” Harriman Nelson asked wearily.
“Just one, Admiral. Seaman Kowalski, Joseph. 12 years service, senior diver, leading sonar operator and trained in the use of underwater explosives. There’s nothing official on his file but when he independently volunteered for consideration I did some checking. He’s good and he knows it, not arrogant exactly but has had some issues with chain of command, nothing serious, just acts autonomously sometimes. Often his actions are proved justified but that hasn’t stopped him getting into hot water on occasion. You have a copy of his record in front of you, Admiral.”
for the first time, John smiled at the efficiency of Chip Morton. Harry had gone looking for a capable
administrator for his new venture and found a disgruntled desk bound officer he
Nelson had gratefully passed over all the mundane tasks that clogged up his days and stifled his creativity to his admin officer who kept him informed kept informed of progress with daily reports. Harry however took little active involvement in the humdrum daily grind. It was John that watched and approved as Morton recruited a team of highly trained professionals around him and allowed them to run their own divisions while he retained overall responsibility on the simultaneous constructions of the fledgling NIMR complex and it’s revolutionary submarine. Young he may have been but he had earned most people’s grudging admiration quickly. His reputation for meticulous attention to details and strict adherence to discipline grew and though some considered him ruthlessly single-minded they always listened to his opinions. He never needed to shout but John knew his voice was heard and respected.
Chip Morton had surpassed with excellence all Admiral Nelson’s expectations of him but Phillips often wondered if Harriman Nelson knew just what other potential there was in this young lieutenant!
“Very well, reel him in Chief.” Nelson instructed the gruff 200 lb, craggy faced, bald COB who waited patiently by the door. Master Chief Petty Officer Curly Jones was another early recruit to the cause as Chief of the Boat. He was Navy from cradle to grave. Jones had served with Harriman Nelson near the start of the officer’s career and held the Admiral in the highest regard. When word reached Curly of Admiral Nelson’s plans he had applied to Harry personally and been happily accepted. He had fitted in well and immediately taken a liking to the young lieutenant in charge and used subtle ways to help guide him the way he had another green young officer all those years ago.
“Aye, sir,” came the crusty reply and he went to fetch in the waiting Sailor.
Joseph Kowalski, known to everyone as Ski, had followed his older brother into the Navy straight from college. He’d loved the Navy from day one. It had given him a career, skills and let him do all the things he enjoyed, like diving. Diving was his second best passion --- his first being women! Ski believed in the sailor’s adage of, ‘a different gal in every port’. He was highly trained and enjoyed a satisfied confidence that he was good at his job. That wasn’t cocky at all in his opinion. When the buzz went around that the Navy was looking to transfer some of it’s own personnel to a different sort of duty, and as he liked fresh challenges, he had volunteered to be considered for this private sub he’d heard so much about. Ski thought this sounded new and exciting!
Kowalski made a respectful salute and took his place on the lone chair in front of the large desk. The two senior officers sat side-by-side behind it and a junior officer stood to one side. After a question and answer session from all three about his skills and experience, Admiral Nelson asked evenly, “I understand you’re not afraid to think for yourself, Kowalski, that you don’t always await orders before you take action. Is that because you think you know better than your officers?”
Kowalski squirmed a little and thought about his answer. He’d heard much of Admiral Nelson and liked what he heard. He knew too that Captain Phillips was also a first-rate captain and well regarded. That was good in his opinion, he believed the men who gave him orders should at least be intelligent enough to do it and in his experience that hadn’t always been the case in the Navy!
His reply was carefully neutral. “Not better, Admiral, sir, just sometimes I think a bit faster than some of them – if something goes wrong and I know how to fix it, I just do it, sir – my way of doing the best I can I guess!”
“I see. And if you don’t know how to fix it?”
Ski looked along the row of officers. Nelson’s eyes were sharp and observing him with great interest, as was Captain Phillips, but the eyes of the lieutenant at the end of the table were hooded slightly as he made notes on a clipboard. Even so, Ski could tell he was listening carefully to every nuance in his replies.
“Well, sir, that would kinda depend on circumstances but I figure there’s always something useful you can do till the right help gets there.” He regarded the Admiral and Captain carefully, had he made the right answer?
Nelson gave him no clue as he continued, “Why do you want to be transferred from the regular Navy to Seaview, Sailor? It’s not going to be the usual sort of posting, might even hold back your Navy career. Seaview is intended primarily as a research vessel. Will you enjoy counting dolphin’s for weeks on end, Kowalski?”
Ski thought about that for a moment. Maybe the research part would get a bit boring but then he thought of the stories he’d heard about this new sub. The depth’s it could go to, the places it was going to reach that hadn’t been seen before.
“I’ll admit, Admiral, that maybe that part could get a bit routine but there’ll be other missions, sir, that will make up for that I reckon. I heard a lot about Seaview’s capabilities sir, and if only half of them are true, you’re going to want the best man you can get on your sonar station and that’s me, sir. I can hear a jellyfish sneeze at a 100 yards and tell you just how much room you have around you to manoeuvre at the same time, sir!” Ski replied boldly.
Harry smothered a smile. Hmm, he certainly didn’t lack confidence.
They asked a few more routine questions and after a quick glance at his colleagues Captain Philips dismissed the Sailor with the same assurance he had given all the other interviewees.
Outside, Kowalski turned to the burly COB and asked, “What d’you think, Chief? Will I get hired?”
Curly saw the eagerness and smiled, everyone wanted to get aboard this boat seemed to him. “How do I know, kid? I don’t make them choices, you’ll have to wait and see just like the rest of them.”
Ski grinned ruefully and accepted the answer. Now he’d seen the set up here, he wanted in. There was a buzz about the place that felt good.
“Okay Chief, but if they ask ya, can you mention that I’m a great card player too?” He laughed and turned to go but turned back again. “Hey, What’s the scuttlebutt on that Lt. Morton in there?”
Curly looked confused, “What d’ya mean?”
“Well, I heard a lot about Admiral Nelson and Captain Phillips but only rumours that it was a young hard-nosed lieutenant running this place. Just wondered if that was him on an interview panel in there.”
“You want to watch your mouth Sailor! If we’re lucky that officer is gonna be our boss one day and he don’t take no prisoners. Step out of line with him and you’ll look just like one of them jellyfish you talked about!”
“What him? You serious?”
Curly put his hands on his hips and nodded like a sage old owl.
Kowalski looked surprised and downhearted at the same time as he walked away. Geez, just what he needed, a grim faced martinet with no sense of humour for a superior!
Three weeks later Harriman Nelson sat at his desk surveying the latest estimates for his prize project -- Seaview. The expenses on the latest fixtures and fittings seemed astronomical! He knew when he had started on his quest to build the world’s first, and most probably only privately run nuclear-powered submarine, that money would be his biggest headache.
Even inheriting a quite sizeable family fortune had not been enough for his purposes so apart from a highly successful Naval career, he had set about amassing considerable wealth from the patent contracts on his numerous inventions. Science and the sea had always been twin motivators in his life and now one had helped to accommodate his ultimate goal – owning and running his own vessel. Not just any vessel but a submarine, designed and built to his exacting specifications and capable of reaching depths far beyond those of conventional subs! He intended to take marine exploration to a much deeper level!
He sighed as he assessed the cost of each essential item listed. With the Navy offering to finance a percentage of the capital expenditure in return for what they saw as reasonable operational involvement, it had lifted some of the financial burdens but his instinct was to maintain his independence as much as possible. He didn’t want to lose control of Seaview now, not after coming this far!
“Excuse me Admiral,” the intercom on his desk interrupted his reveries, “There’s a Mr. Andrew Morton wishing to see you, sir.”
Harry frowned, Morton? Could that be the father of Lt Chip Morton?
“Thank you Angie. I’ll be right out.” He released the answer button and strode towards the connecting door into the office of his personal, private secretary Miss Angie Hamilton. A remarkable young woman who had become as invaluable to him as his left arm. Her skills were many and varied and went far beyond simple secretarial duties. She ran her office with precision and managed all the bureaucratic administrative affairs of the NIMR with astounding efficiency. A pretty face and shapely figure belied a will of steel – no one got to bother the Admiral at NIMR headquarters without going through Miss Hamilton first!
The only other occupant was a man in a very expensive dark suit who stood with his back to him as Nelson looked across enquiringly to Angie who merely shrugged and made introductions when the visitor turned to face him. Both men shook hands and immediately Harry could see the obvious likeness between father and son.
“Mr Morton, very glad to meet you, sir. How can I help? Was it Chip you wanted to see? I can arrange….”
“No, Admiral, it was you I came to talk with. My son has no part in this conversation. I’d prefer that he doesn’t learn of my visit if you don’t mind.” He glanced at Angie who was, to all intents and purposes, oblivious to their presence as she busied herself with paperwork. “May we talk in your office,” and without waiting for consent walked passed the senior officer to enter the inner sanctum as many had named the admiral’s private den.
Perplexed by the almost aggressive attitude, Harry merely turned and followed him while issuing orders to Angie for no interruptions.
He watched as Andrew Morton walked across to look out of the floor to ceiling wall of windows overlooking the newly constructed institute grounds that led down to the distant docks and Seaview’s private lair that were almost nearing completion.
The man stood with hands folded behind his back and rocked slightly from heel to toe. Harry smiled at the familiarity of this stance. He had noticed his administrative officer often used it when raking over some hapless construction worker, engineer or seaman for whatever misdemeanour they may have committed.
Harry walked slowly to his desk, sat down and waited. This was quite obviously a man with something on his mind and no doubt he was about to unleash it in Harry’s direction.
Andrew Morton turned and stared at the man he despised more than any other. He wasn’t normally given to such loathing but this man that had ruined his son’s Naval career and made him choose against his father’s wishes!
He stalked back to face Nelson and then declared bluntly. “I want you to release my son.”
Harry was confused. “Release him? I don’t understand. I don’t hold him prisoner.”
Andrew put both hands on the very large desk and leant forward menacingly. “Not physically, no, but you are keeping him here and I want it to stop!” He stood upright again while still glaring at the seated man. He put his right hand inside his jacket pocket and produced a leather bound checkbook that he threw onto the desk while Harry frowned and leant back in his chair trying to assess his visitor.
Andrew laid a gold pen on the leather wallet and waited as he glared at the man opposite him.
Harry leant forward and laid his forearms on the desk while he intertwined his fingers thoughtfully. “What makes you think I am keeping him here against his will? Mr. Morton is a very capable officer and perfectly able to make his own decisions. He has never indicated to me that he wishes to leave.”
“Don’t toy with me Admiral Nelson, I won’t be charmed the way my son was. I’m a very skilled negotiator and quite determined to bring a stop to all this nonsense! You know who I am and the power I represent? Well, I want you to understand I won’t be thwarted in this.”
“I know you are President of Morton Industries. A millionaire business man, generous benefactor and very influential in certain circles, if that’s what you mean.” Harry’s reply was respectful but not ingratiating.
“Very influential when it comes to matters of getting what I want, Admiral, you’d do well to remember that.” Andrew looked unpleasantly at his quarry as he continued. “I have worked my whole life to have something significant to pass on to posterity. My company and its reputation mean everything to me! I built it from nothing and it has always been my intention to pass it on in the family-- it’s all there waiting for my son to inherit -- only he doesn’t want it because he developed a ridiculous loyalty first to the Navy and now to that damn submarine out there!
“While I was prepared to tolerate his choice of the Navy over family commitment when it looked like he could achieve rank and position, I’m not prepared for him to turned his back on a promising career to follow you in this absurd obsession any longer! He had excellent prospects until you subverted him away! He has already wasted three years of his life and it has to be ended now, before he throws away his future on one man’s personal crusade and has nothing worthwhile to show for his life! So name your price Nelson,” he flicked open the wallet to a blank check, “You need money and I’ll pay any price within reason! What will it take – a million, two?” he growled while throwing himself into the leather chair in front of the desk and preparing to write.
Harry sat quietly through the tirade as he watched the resentment and frustration flow from Andrew Morton like a tsunami. His disappointments over his son’s choices weighed heavily on him but Harry felt the anger rise in him.
“You dare you harangue me for your son’s choices? No one twisted his arm. He’s an intelligent man that was already unhappy where he was. I only offered him an alternative course for his life. I’m sorry that you feel disappointed but no amount of money will buy your son back! You must see that I can’t order Chip back to the Navy! It’s his choice to leave or stay!”
“That’s not what I intend! I just want you to release him, sever whatever contract you have with him and send him away. As soon as he has nowhere else to turn he will honour the agreement we made and come home to do his family duty!”
Andrew became guarded, “Three years ago when he resigned from the regular Navy, he and I reached an agreement. When he moved here and found his plans didn’t work out he would return home, give up this Navy nonsense and follow my plans for him.”
Harry looked contemptibly at the businessman. “I see. And when that didn’t happen you decided to take the first opportunity to make demands that I sell him back to you!”
Andrew’s fury rose in him as he saw and heard the scorn heaped upon him from his enemy. “This is far from my first attempt Nelson! Who do you think engineered all your delays and contract difficulties? Who do you think it was that stirred up the union disputes? Did you think I was about to let go of my dreams so that yours could succeed?”
Harry jumped up plainly angry as he growled derisively. “You did all that but to what purpose, man? To manipulate your son into giving up on something he considered more important to his dignity and self-respect?” Harriman Nelson looked away in disgust and ran a hand through his hair to disturb the auburn locks before he looked back, “Do you have any idea how what you did had the opposite effect to the one you wanted?”
Andrew puckered his brows and looked confused.
Harry continued scornfully, “Your interference only served to make him work all the harder to overcome all the obstacles you put in his way. You are the one that drove Chip on. You may not have intended to but you were the one that stimulated his loyalty to Seaview, not I – and for that I must remain in your debt! We couldn’t have come this far without his determination to succeed against all the odds!”
“NO! That can’t be true --- you’re lying he …” Andrew Morton sat completely still as colour drained from his face and the full enormity of what he had done sank in. After a few moments he felt a cold glass placed in his hand and heard the instruction, “Here, drink this.”
Automatically he lifted the glass to his lips and felt the burn of strong liquor seep down his throat… it revived him enough to help him think coherently.
He had gambled and lost! He had taken that one step too far to break his son’s resolve! Chip was not going to follow in his footsteps and his hopes for what might have been were possibly dashed forever.
Harry watched the older man carefully. The look of utter defeat seemed to age him in only moments. His sympathies reluctantly went out to him. He well understood the despair that could be generated between father and son.
“Are you alright?” He asked eventually as he returned to his seat.
Andrew stirred himself enough to look at him. Nelson showed genuine concern and he railed against it. He didn’t need or want this man’s pity! But for him things may have turned out entirely differently.
He made to rise but Harry admonished him. “Take your time, finish your drink at least.” He turned away as he sipped from his own glass and Andrew Morton sat back down almost unconsciously as both men reflected silently on their individual thoughts.
Finally one felt compelled to speak. “I suppose you think I’m a fool?” Andrew said unhappily.
“No, not a fool. Just a man driven by a desire he couldn’t control. You wanted to have your son live your dream but forgot that each man makes his own dreams and sometimes a son can’t do what his father plans for him. Fathers have to learn compromise while their sons find their own path in life.”
“How can you talk of fathers and sons? You have none that will disappoint your aspirations for them.” Andrew complained harshly
“No, but I was a son once.” Harry replied broodingly.
Andrew glanced sharply at Nelson and saw a look of sadness laden with memories that seemed to hurt him deeply. He sat back in the chair, sipping at the amber fluid in his glass and there was silence again as both men mourned individual disappointments.
“He’s good then? Chip? Good at his job?”
Harry smiled, “Better even than I had expected. He’s young but smart men have learned to their cost what a mistake it is to underestimate him. His drive and energy have been part of the major force that got all of this done.” Harry waved his hand vaguely in the air and hesitated as he let the knowledge of his statement sink into his own consciousness. He suddenly understood why John was always admonishing Harry to take a proper look at his young administrator. Harry had seen only the project manager that would make his job easier and his life less harried but realised now that Chip Morton was much more than that. Although he found the man’s calm demeanour in the face of frustrations hard to fathom, being of a more volatile nature himself, he had always been thankful for Morton’s expertise with the minute details. Maybe he should follow John’s suggestion and take some time to find out what makes Mr. Morton tick after all. Aware that Andrew Morton was waiting he continued. “He’s still the son you can be justly proud of. You should consider this as his great achievement when you talk of legacies to the future. I know I’m grateful for his extensive skills, I’m just not sure I always know what he’s thinking behind that mask of indifference he has perfected so well.” Harry mused reflectively.
At that Andrew Morton snorted ironically. “You and me both! I’m afraid his mother is the only person I know that can read those annoyingly bland expressions of his! I used to think of them as a form of insolence but my wife assures me it’s just his way of protecting himself against the judgements of others. Maybe she’s right; she certainly seems closer to him than I. We never seemed able to establish a stable enough relationship for me to understand what made him the way he is!”
“That’s often the way between determined fathers and sons.”
Andrew Morton downed the last of his whisky and rose. He looked down at the open checkbook and suggested hopefully. “I could always improve my offer.”
Nelson sighed impatiently and shook his head. “You haven’t enough money that would ever induce me to sell any man, especially one like Lt. Morton. You will just have to acknowledge the fact that he made this choice of his own free will and accept defeat on this particular business deal.”
“I never accept defeat, Admiral. There is always an alternative when you look for it.” Andrew Morton declared grimly as he picked up his belongings.
Before Harry could reply the intercom on his desk buzzed. Knowing that there would have been no interruptions unless they were urgent he chose to answer. “Yes, Angie, what is it?”
“Admiral, I’m sorry, sir, but this couldn’t wait. There’s been an accident – down at the loading bay construction site.”
Nelson could clearly hear the stress in her voice and guessed there was something more serious to come. “Has anyone been hurt?”
“We don’t know for sure, sir, – well that is – it’s Mr. Morton, sir. He was under the platform doing an inspection with the contractor when it failed. The report has just come in, Admiral. No one seems to know just what the exact situation is. The rescue is still underway.”
“I want more reinforcement here and here.” Chip Morton ordered as he pointed out the points on the platform superstructure to the offended owner of Calvert Construction.
“Look Mister Morton, you won’t need the extra expense of doing that. Trust me we’ve built thousands of these platforms for the oil industry and …”
“I want the work done properly as it was first designed!” Chip looked down at the blueprints. “You have made modifications that weren’t authorised so you put it right at your company’s expense.”
“Now wait a minute! I sub-contracted this work out to reliable firms and they assure me it meets all your specifications! Do you know what the alterations you’re demanding will involve? Hell, we’d have to practically start again!”
“Then start again!” Chip replied firmly, “We don’t know the exact weights of the equipment Seaview will be required to carry. The Admiral has factored in the maximum probabilities so I’m not about to let this loading dock be inadequate in any way!”
“According to his stipulations you could rest your damn submarine on it!” Lewis Calvert muttered frustratedly.
Chip remained unmoved. “If that’s what he wants to do then I’ll see to it this platform meets his criteria, Mr. Calvert. If you don’t think you can meet those exacting standards I can have your contract terminated at once and …”
“Hold on there! I didn’t say that we couldn’t do it just that it will cost a lot more! Have a heart here …” He stopped talking as there was an ominous creaking from above. “What’s that noise?”
“I had one of my men move the heaviest crane we have on to the dock. I wanted to see where the stress factors are.”
“Geez, you’re a real s.o.b. aren’t you?” Both men stood on the concrete foundation footings at the base of the structure looking up and listening to the groaning steel girders. Seawater lapped around their ankles as the tide started to rise but Chip Morton ignored the dampness and continued his inspection. After some minutes Chip pressed the on button on his walkie- talkie.
“Okay Chief, take her back but slow, there’s an awful lot of noise down here!”
They waited as the big machine was eased back onto terra firma but the creaking continued until suddenly it seemed the whole structure moved and started to fall about them.
Chip only had time to yell out a warning as he pushed the other man aside and tons on steel hurtled down on them.
Kowalski was watching the huge crane ease back and could still hear loud creaking coming from the new dock extension. He looked at his new friend Patterson and grinned. “Something tells me that Mr. Morton ain’t going to be green lighting this build. That’ll be another dissatisfaction for him to add to that clipboard of his.”
Patterson was by nature a quieter personality than Ski but had grown to like the other Sailor anyway. They found a compatibility that allowed each man his individuality and still stayed friends. “What you got against Mr. Morton, Ski? He’s okay in my book.”
“I’m not saying he ain’t okay -- as officers go he knows his stuff but don’t you get just the teensiest bit uncomfortable around the guy? I never met anyone so hard to warm to, it’s like he’s super cooled or something! I mean you ever met an officer that didn’t yell a lot of orders around and take his frustrations out on every unlucky sailor around him? Not this one – he just talks all cold and disapproving like, making ya feel like a fool or worse and that glare of his is enough to make anybody uneasy, geez, they just talk themselves into trouble! It’s creepy if you ask me, nobody can be that chilled all the time, the guy has definitely got a problem over something! Give me Curly’s temper any day; at least you know where you are with him!
Patterson sighed. He liked Ski but sometimes his opinion of all officers seemed slightly skewed by his experience of the bad ones. “He’s not like that and you know it. He can yell when he has to, he just doesn’t need to so much, it isn’t about making his crew afraid of him, it’s about letting us do our job and putting us right when he sees a mistake. He just likes things done right and that is what we’re trained for! You and I both know that in a sub at 20,000 feet we all rely on each other knowing our jobs when things go wrong and I’d sure rely on him knowing what to do in a tight spot!”
That made Ski thoughtful. He knew Patterson was a lot more willing to trust officers than he was. Experience had taught him that not every graduate from officer training school was made of the right stuff. Some of them were downright dangerous in his opinion but he had to admit that Mr Morton seemed more intelligent than most. A little too uptight and hard to work out for his tastes but even-handed as far as he could tell. Maybe he’d could try and get to know the guy better. Pat certainly seemed to like him, so how hard could it be? He just wished he could tell what the guy was really thinking behind that all-seeing, piercing blue stare of his!
Suddenly there was a loud groaning from folding metal and yells of warning. The whole of the upper decking area toppled over and landed with an ear splitting crash at the bottom of the dock. Everyone ran forward looking down in disbelief. As silence descended worried faces looked for the two men they knew were under that heap of destruction!
Chip Morton came to with slow awareness. He looked about him and saw Lewis Calvert lying a few feet away but unconscious. Salt water gently moved around his prone figure as Chip tried to move towards him but realised he was pinned under some heavy steel girders. He tried to budge them with his free arm but nothing moved. He called out to the other man but got no reaction. As he listened to distant voices above him he knew that rescue couldn’t be far away. He tried to assess where he hurt most but it felt like his whole body was just one giant hurt!
Well, this would certainly make his father happy when he heard about it. Just another nail to knock into his son’s argument over his choice of career!
“Mr Morton? Mr Morton you here, sir?”
“Over here Kowalski.” Chip said as strongly as he could then saw a dark head bob towards him through the rising tide and manoeuvre around the strewn metal.
“You okay, sir?” Ski breathed as he reached him. He was wearing a scuba tank over his uniform, a clear testament to his hurried descent from the docking area.
“I’m trapped but okay. Go see to Calvert over there. He hasn’t been conscious at all, he may be badly hurt.” Chip ordered, hoping that it wasn’t a worse case scenario for the other man.
Ski hoisted himself out of the water and threaded his way carefully over the fallen scaffolding. He felt Calvert’s neck for a pulse and moved a couple of timber supports aside. As he did so the remaining structure above them creaked ominously but stayed in place forming a rather precarious cave like structure around them.
“Well? Is he alive?” Chip asked anxiously.
“Yes sir. He looks mostly uninjured as far as I can tell but has a nasty crack on the head…” just then a groan emanated from Lewis Calvert as he came back to consciousness.
“What the hell happened?” Calvert moaned as he struggled to sit up with Ski’s help.
“Your loading dock just landed on us, Lewis. Surprisingly enough, I’ve changed my mind about attempting to rest Seaview on it after all!”
Ski looked across to Mr. Morton’s sardonic expression and wondered at the exterior calm the man exuded even under these circumstances.
Lewis Calvert was momentarily confused but thinking back to his earlier statement he answered. “Right now I’d have to agree with you.”
“Ski, can you manage to get Mr. Calvert out with the scuba gear?”
Ski? By the book, Mr Morton had called him Ski! “Eh, yes sir, but don’t you think we should try to get you out first?”
Lewis Calvert was standing now but swaying as he held his head. Chip noticed the bruising on the man’s temple was turning darker and replied negatively. “No, looks like he might have a bad concussion and some internal bleeding. You need to get him topside and medical help asap!”
“But sir, this tide’s rising fast…” Ski protested.
“I’ll be all right! Just follow orders Sailor and get that civilian out of here!” Chip saw the seaman’s very real dilemma and made to reassure him. “Just do it, Kowalski. I can hang on a while longer. Maybe the water will help me get loose from under here. Just get Mr Calvert topside and tell them to take things easy up there or they’ll drop the whole lot on me.”
Kowalski wasn’t happy. He didn’t like leaving a man behind but Lewis Calvert was babbling almost incoherently now and Ski couldn’t rescue two men alone. He was just lucky the scuba gear was lying close by when the accident had happened. He hadn’t hesitated to hastily buckle himself into the straps with Pat’s help and dive in.
“I don’t like this Mr Morton, but I’ll do it sir.” He said sadly as he helped Calvert to the water’s edge. He saw the waves lap over Chip’s chin and watched as he strained to keep his mouth out of the water.
Again there was a movement of the twisted steel and wood and another few pieces fell around them.
“I don’t ask you to like it Ski, just get the two of you out of here. That’s an order!”
Ski knew that voice of command and lowered the limp man he was helping into the water. “I’ll be back real soon Mr Morton, you can count on it!” Ski said firmly.
Morton kept his mouth shut against the rising tide and just nodded as he watched Ski take a deep breath from the tank regulator and then put it into Calvert’s mouth. The water had revived him slightly but he allowed Ski to guide him down under the surface to find their way through the fallen construction.
Chip smiled inwardly to himself. Judging by the speed of Kowalski’s arrival and the scuba tank over his uniform, he was willing to wager that the sailor had pulled another of his instinctive responses to a crisis. He had been keeping a careful eye on the new recruit and found him to be quick and resourceful. He worked hard and knew his job but liked to enjoy himself at the same time, consequently he sometimes had to be chivvied along by Curly’s less than patient tongue or reprimanded by Chip for some minor misdemeanour that had the possibility for getting out of hand. On the whole Chip liked the new crewman and could see great potential in him but decided that it would do no harm to curb his more exuberant nature. His friendship with Patterson was something Chip hadn’t expected.
Patterson was a much quieter man and less given to the unregulated merriment Kowalski liked to enjoy. Chip found Patterson’s temperament made him easy to work with even if that sometimes meant a little less than stimulating. He hoped that both men would gain something from each other’s association - Ski, Patterson’s calmness and Pat, Ski’s quick thinking.
The water was nearly over his mouth now and he was just coughing up some swallowed seawater when he felt a regulator eased into his mouth. He looked sideways and saw Ski’s worried eyes through a protective diving mask. He gave the okay signal with his free hand and took several welcome breaths. Around him now were several men all working to free him from the mangled mess entrapping him. The buoyancy of the sea also helped to ease him out from under and suddenly he was floating free while supported on either side by Kowalski and he was almost certain the suited diver to his right was Patterson. The men worked well in unison and very soon he was at the surface being helped to the shoreline, laid on a stretcher as the regulator was removed and borne up to a waiting ambulance.
He kept his closed as he was carried until he heard a worried enquiry. “Chip? Are you alright?”
He opened his eyes at the familiar voice. “Dad? What are you doing here? How did you know? I mean…” he croaked uncertainly.
“Later, Mr Morton. Right now we need to get you to hospital and have that leg looked at.” Nelson was worried at the profuse bleeding that stained the wet uniform pants leg of the rescued man and seeped down to pool on the stretcher bed. Then a corpsman applied a pressure bandage and stemmed the red tide.
“But I don’t understand how he could be here, Admiral.” Chip tried again but was forestalled by the medics loading him into the ambulance.
Nelson looked at Andrew Morton and said. “Why don’t you go with him?”
Andrew Morton took a moment to nod a grudging thank you as he went to climb in beside his son but his look of utter resolve was not lost on Harry. Andrew Morton wasn’t about to give up on changing his son’s decision, especially after this incident!
The hospital bed in the private room was as comfortable as he could hope for and Chip was grateful for the cessation of pain even with his leg held in the air by traction and weights. His father’s presence had been the biggest of all shocks but over the last week both men had seemed to forge a surprising understanding and instead of using this accident as another excuse to make the same well-worn demands on his son, Andrew Morton had seemed to mellow a little. He never mentioned the reason for his visit to see Chip but instead concentrated on making his son comfortable and being as pleasant as he could. In return Chip had lowered his natural defences slightly and found that he could relate to his father more than he ever had before.
Andrew had even made every effort of affability with Admiral Nelson and John Phillips as they had visited their wounded officer. Chip watched the show of amiability but felt there was something between Andrew Morton and Nelson that remained unsaid – at least in his hearing. Having said their goodbyes, Andrew was now on his way home as all Chip needed was time to heal a broken leg and let the extensive bruising fade from his body. Chip was eternally grateful that his father had managed to keep his mother and both sisters from flying to his bedside – as much as he loved them he didn’t need their inevitable fussing! Besides moving had become considerably easier today and he felt less uncomfortable.
He still couldn’t quite believe the transformation in his father. Maybe he was at last beginning to understand that he couldn’t persuade his son to give up his new life and now he would confirm Roxy in the position she had worked towards all these years! For too long she had waited in the wings for her father to yield so she could achieve her ultimate goal. Her life on hold it had seemed to Chip.
He moved slightly to a more comfortable position. He had just said goodbye to another visitor. Lewis Calvert had recovered completely from his injuries and made an embarrassed apology for Chip’s continued confinement. Between them they had agreed to a new working relationship that renewed Chip’s confidence in the man’s abilities. The accident had been investigated and so far the steel suppliers found to be at fault. But Lewis Calvert had agreed to supervise the reconstruction personally this time and at his company’s expense.
“How are we this morning Mr Morton?” enquired the chief Naval doctor of the base hospital as he came in with an air of cheerful optimism.
“I am fine Doctor Jamieson and wondering just how soon I can get out of here!”
The doctor looked over the patient record chart. “Hmm, I see your temperature is back to normal and you’re responding to the antibiotics. You realise of course that you’re very lucky we had that particular one available? I don’t think I’ve ever treated anyone with quite so many drug allergies as yourself. How did you ever pass you’re Navy physical?”
“I lied about my health,” came the deadpan reply.
Doctor William Jamieson smothered a smile. Sense of humor returning was always a good sign. “Indeed. Well, I’d say another day of traction and then we’ll try you on crutches. You’ll be on sickcall for at least six weeks and then we’ll see how the healing has gone.”
“Six weeks? I can’t be away from my office that long, Doctor. Can’t I sit at a desk just well as on a couch at home?”
“The point of the exercise is complete rest not running around an office doing 14 hour days!” Jamieson answered somewhat testily.
“What say we compromise, Doctor? I won’t do any running around and keep it down to an eight hour day and heal just as well?” Chip countered equally irritably.
Jamison shook his head sadly as he muttered, “Why do I always get the difficult patients? No, I can’t sanction –“ and stopped abruptly as Chip tried to interrupt but Will put up his hand for silence, “As I was about to say – I cannot sanction anything longer than a five hour day on four days a week and that’s my final offer, take it or leave it! No one is indispensable Mr Morton, not even a man with your formidable reputation!”
“I’d take it Mr Morton. I know of Dr Jamieson’s stubbornness from personal experience. I believe it’s the best you can hope for,” Harriman Nelson advised sardonically as he entered the room unnoticed by both men.
Will Jamieson turned and smiled half-heartedly. “Please tell me they’re not all going to be as obstinate as this one Admiral. I agreed to sign on as CMO for an easier life, not to treat men who disregard their health in the name of pig-headed obsession to duty!”
“CMO?” asked Chip confusedly.
Nelson grinned bashfully, “Oh eh, did I forget to mention that Dr Jamieson has agreed to join as our medical officer and eventually head of our own medical facility when it’s built?” He watched as the shutters came down over Chip’s face and a look of complete neutrality was displayed there.
“Yes sir, I think you did. Welcome aboard, Doctor. I look forward to working with you.”
Will watched the transformation with interest and understood some of the comments he’d heard amongst the nursing staff now. This man really could manage to switch off his face!
“Thank you Mr Morton but may I say that I hope I our work will be on a purely healthy basis after this little incident.”
“My sentiments exactly Doctor. Now when did you say I can get out of here?”
Chip was just ending his last working day of his week. He snorted in disgust, who ever heard of a four-day week and three-day weekend? No one except maybe a difficult doctor! He was four weeks into his agreement with Dr Jamieson and had kept to the rules thanks to the eagle eye of Miss Hamilton and the reliability of his two drivers, Seamen Patterson and Kowalski. They took alternative days to be his transport service and were quite obviously impatient if he tried to extend his work time beyond a reasonable delay.
There was the respectful knock at his office door he had been expecting but instead of waiting for permission to enter the door opened and Admiral Harriman Nelson and Captain John Phillips entered.
“I’m glad we’ve caught you before you left,” Nelson
informed him as both men took seats and casually arranged them in front of the
desk, “ I’ve just got off the phone with
Chip looked interested but not overly curious. He knew there were several candidates in the running, even Lt Bishop, Admiral Leggett’s son-in-law. Bishop claimed he was confident of a promotion soon, although Chip knew that there were certain reservations over an incident concerning a rating’s accident on Bishop’s previous boat.
“I see, sir. Have you managed to make a decision?”
Nelson and Phillips looked at each other and grinned conspiratorially. “I think we have - that is if the officer wants the position.”
Chip frowned, who wouldn’t want a prestigious posting like that? “Is there some doubt he will, sir?”
“Well, I don’t know Mr Morton, do you want the job?”
Chip sat in stunned silence. Him? Nelson was offering him the XO postition? He hadn’t even hoped for this yet. He knew the Navy had made certain stipulations about the command crew they would find acceptable and put forward many suitable officers for consideration. He had supposed he would get maybe engineering officer until that post was filled last week or hopefully second officer– but Exec? He suddenly frowned. “But I thought the Navy had insisted on a minimum ranking of Lt Commander when Seaview became a nuclear armed boat, sir? Will they sanction a lieutenant rank in that position?”
Harry looked suitably serious as he replied. “No, I’m afraid they won’t.”
Chip hid his disappointment well, “Then I don’t understand how you think I can take the position, Admiral.”
“Oh, Harry put the man out of his misery. I never took you for a torturer.” John Phillips complained good-naturedly.
Nelson stood up and came forward. “The Joint Chiefs of Staff have quite rightly stipulated that a nuclear armed vessel such as Seaview must have the best officers and men available. I have stipulated that I already have the best officer available for the position of my XO, therefore Lt Commander Morton it’s my pleasure to apprise you of your forthcoming promotion in the ranks and invite you take up your new posting as Executive Officer aboard Seaview with immediate effect.”
Chip Morton sat dry mouthed during Harry’s speech and amazed by the joint pieces of good news.
Harry grinned as he saw the unguarded looks of surprise and pleasure filter across Chip’s face. “Well, Mr. Morton do I take your silence as an affirmative?”
Suddenly rallying himself, he made to stand as smartly as his plastered leg would allow and smiled. “Yes sir. I would be honoured to accept, if you’re sure—”
“We’re very sure Chip, so don’t even question the decision. Just enjoy the moment. You’ve earned your position more than once.” John Phillips assured him as he shook his exec’s hand. “I think this calls for a small celebration. Now begins what will undoubtedly prove an eventful adventure for us all.”