By R. L. Keller
“Now this is the way to live.”
“What’s that, Jamie?”
Dr. Will Jamison, CMO at both Nelson Institute for Marine Research and their research submarine, Seaview, looked up from the poolside lounger he was stretched out in at the tall, dark-haired man standing to the side and slightly behind him. He waved one hand at their surroundings, the other one occupied at the moment holding a large pina colada. “I said, Skipper, that this is the way to live. Warm sun, cold drink, and a lovely view.”
Lee Crane, Seaview’s Captain, raised a speculative eyebrow, but grinned nonetheless. “Better be careful with the view, Doc. Lu Tsi finds out you were giving all these lovely ladies the eagle eye, you’ll be looking out of black ones.”
Will chuckled. “I’ll have you know, young man, that she has absolutely no problems when I look.” He paused a second. “Anything further, on the other hand…” He let the sentence trail off, listening to delighted laughter he so infrequently heard at work. The sound also attracted the attention of those ‘lovely ladies’ who didn’t already have their eyes focused on the darkly handsome young man. Will laughed himself as Lee noticed, and ducked his head. Thoroughly enjoying Lee’s self-conscious embarrassment, Will turned back toward the pool and took a sip of his drink.
Two days ago, Seaview’s two officers found themselves in a rather unusual situation – spending four days aboard a luxury liner sailing between Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Will had flown in a week ago for a medical convention. Lee had been to Puerto Montt, Chile, on business for their boss, Admiral Harriman Nelson. The original plan had them meeting in Port Stanley and flying home together. But weather and Mother Nature conspired against them. Severe storms had followed Lee’s plane in, and lightning strikes had not only started several very smoky fires, but had damaged the airport’s air traffic control instrumentation. On top of which, a heavy ground fog had set in, and didn’t seem in any hurry to dissipate. Between the smoke, fog, and faulty equipment, all planes, both incoming and outgoing, were grounded until repairs could be made and visibility cleared. Impatient as always, hating to waste time, Lee had been on the verge of calling Santa Barbara and having Chief Sharkey bring FS1 to pick them up. But fate had stepped in, in the form of Will’s host at the convention. He and his wife had been scheduled to leave the day following the convention for a cruise. But because of the fires, with their accompanying injuries and hospital staffing adjustments, they decided to cancel, and offered Jamie and Lee their cabin. Rio was the ship’s first stop and from there the two could fly home. Will was a bit skeptical at first – you don’t just make that kind of switch in reservations overnight – not with today’s heightened security measures. However it happened – and Will was willing to bet it had not a little to do with Admiral Nelson being their employer – the travel agent had everything arranged in a matter of hours. But not without a bit of under-the-breath muttering from Lee that had Will watching his Skipper closely for the first day or so. The cabin was upper deck with its own private balcony. Light, airy, and roomy – for a cruise ship – Lee had barely tossed his bag on one of the two beds before Will noticed he was prowling around, looking uncomfortable. Will put his hands on his hips and glared at Lee.
“Skipper,” he started meaningfully, and waited until Lee looked at him, albeit darkly, “why does the thought of spending four days in my company have you acting like a caged tiger? How many injuries are you trying to hide?”
That brought Lee up short. “What,” he practically squeaked, giving Will a totally disbelieving look.
Will shrugged. “Figured that’s the only thing that would have you prowling around like that.”
Lee hung his head and closed his eyes. “I’m fine. I’m just not fond of surface vessels when I’m not the one in charge.” He gave Will a sheepish grin. “Okay?”
“Chill,” came the instant order. As Lee glared at him, Will added, “Sir.” Seconds later they both chuckled. “Try changing into something besides a uniform,” Will suggested. “That should help you relax.” When Lee ducked his head and gave him that through the lashes, bashful look that always reminded Will of a small child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he gave Lee a hard look. “Don’t tell me – there’s nothing in that bag except uniforms.” Lee kept his head down, but gave Will a small grin. “Chip’s right – you don’t know how to take a vacation.”
At that Lee’s head came up. “This wasn’t supposed to be one.”
Will waved that off as being totally beside the point. “Come on. We’ll go down to the on-board shops and get you something a little more appropriate.”
Lee shook his head at the suggestion. “Stuff on a cruise ship is too expensive, Jamie. It’s only for four days. I can just stay here in the cabin. I’ve got several reports I can work on.”
“Come, Commander. Now!” Will grinned at the look Lee shot him for that particular tone of voice. “We’ll just charge it to the cabin.”
“But the Admiral said he was going to pick up the tab for this.” Lee’s glance swept the room.
“That’s right. And when he sees what all the charges are for, maybe it will finally get through that thick skull of his just how hard he expects you to work.” Lee flared up at the suggestion of any wrongdoing on the Admiral’s part, but Will cut him off before he could say anything. “Coming, Commander?” he said with a grin belying the use of Lee’s formal rank, something he usually only used when he was royally ticked. “I really rather think you might want to tag along. No telling what I’d be tempted to buy for you, otherwise.”
Now, two days later, Will looked up at Lee, fresh from a long swim in the short ship-board pool. Lee had settled for dark blue swim trunks with a red stripe up each side, a couple pairs of shorts, and several casual shirts, one of which he now pulled on but left unbuttoned as he dropped into the lounger next to Will. “Feeling better?” Will asked teasingly, and got the expected glare before it quickly relaxed into a friendly smile.
“Yes, Doctor. Your prescription worked. For a change,” he added gruffly, but his smile quickly broadened.
“Good. Then I won’t have to go down to the Dispensary and get you a prescription for tranquilizers to last you the rest of the trip.” Will got the reaction he’d expected from that irreverent remark and grinned at Lee over the top of his frothy drink.
Lee’s dark look was softened perceptibly by a large yawn. “That part of your prescription won’t be necessary, Jamie,” he admitted, and dropped the head of the lounger a little lower.
“Long meetings?” Will asked casually. “Or didn’t you sleep as well as I thought you did the last two nights?”
“How would you know how I was sleeping? You’ve been sawing logs the instant your head hits the pillow.” The glare that brought from the older man relaxed as both men chuckled.
“So?” Jamie asked.
“So, you’re avoiding the original question.”
“Oh. No, not all that long. Just boring,” Lee finally admitted, eyes closing.
“Oh, oh.” The humor was evident in Will’s voice, and Lee opened his eyes, sat up, and showed Will his hands.
“See? Not so much as a scratch,” he said defiantly. Lee had a tendency to punch out any available surface when he was frustrated, and boredom all too often led to frustration for the workaholic officer.
Will refused to be goaded. “Very good, Skipper. Go ahead; lay back and close your eyes. I’ll wake you for dinner.” Lee surprised Will and actually did just that, albeit not without another glare. But Will saw the corners of his mouth twitch as Lee turned his head away, and watched as hands, while not clenched, still slowly relaxed. Will relaxed back into the lounger as well, comfortable that the skimpy clothing couldn’t hide any injuries Lee wouldn’t think worth mentioning. He hadn’t had much chance to check before now. While not in uniform, Lee had still spent the previous day - no matter how Will had sniped at him - working in the cabin finishing the reports so they’d be ready for the Admiral when they got back. He just kept telling Will that he was better off in their cabin’s air conditioning than out on deck where there was still some residual smoke in the air. With the reports done and the skies now clear, he’d had no excuse not to comply with Will this morning and get some fresh air. Sipping at his still half-full glass, Will now, too, occasionally closed his eyes in contentment. He knew Lee didn’t sleep. The lovelies poolside continued to try – without looking like they were trying – to attract Lee’s attention, and Will saw Lee’s eyes flick open at a particularly infectious giggle or splash of water. But he’d just let a contented grin briefly cross his face and close his eyes again.
Since neither had formal clothes with them, they were bypassing the main dining room at dinner and opting instead for the 24-hour buffet. Lee decided that evening he’d take a jog afterward to help himself relax. That told Will loud and clear that Lee probably hadn’t been sleeping well. But he wisely remained silent on the subject, and told Lee he’d settle for a more leisurely stroll. Neither was all that interested in the plentiful shipboard nightlife offered. Lee left to change back into shorts, after some good-natured teasing about Will joining him for the jog. Lee reminded the older man that his diving re-certification was coming up shortly, as well as his fit-rep, and Will would need to be in good physical shape for both. Lee timed the remark just as Will was finishing the last of his coffee, and nearly got a face full as Will sputtered and coughed at the reminder. Lee laughed out loud, and made his escape before Will could get off the suitably scathing reply that instantly formed in his mind. But he shook a finger at the still chuckling younger man as Lee turned and looked at him over his shoulder, and finally grinned as well.
He cleaned up the bit of a mess Lee’s teasing had caused and was gathering their dishes together in a neat pile when he spotted Lee’s head on the opposite side of the somewhat crowded room from the direction in which Lee had gone. Or thought it was Lee’s head. Standing, he realized the other man just reminded him of Lee. Same dark, short cut, curly head of hair. The man was exiting the other side of the room, so Will didn’t get to see his face. Had me going there, for a second, though, he chuckled to himself. He left the dining area and spent the next couple hours wandering around the huge liner. He and Lee did share a couple of speculative glances as they both prepared for bed that night, but nothing more was said directly about either sleeping habits or upcoming scheduled events.
The following morning, their last full day aboard the cruise ship, Lee decided after breakfast to go talk to the Purser and see what the chances were of getting a tour of the bridge. Will just grinned – he was a bit surprised it had taken Lee this long to ask. He took another long walk through the ship, glancing into the shops and enjoying the artwork displayed throughout the various decks. At one point, coming out of one elevator, he noticed a couple of men in the uniform of the ship’s officers entering the next one, and heard an all too familiar voice. Guess he got his tour, Will chucked to himself. Just as the elevator doors closed, he thought he heard Lee’s voice say something that sounded like “I gave him a shot of penicillin. He’ll be fine in a few hours.” Will, you’d better have your hearing checked. He shook his head sadly, then grinned at himself. You’ll have to ask Lee later if he remembers what he actually said.
Two hours later found Will watching from an upper balcony over the central lobby, laughing with all the other spectators at what was happening on the floor two decks below. The Activities Director had set up what looked like one hole from a miniature golf course. There weren’t any obstacles, but none were needed. The ‘green’ had a couple gentle curves, with bumper boards on the sides to help the golfer negotiate them. But the main ‘obstacle’ was the fact that because they were on a ship in the middle of the ocean, the green kept tilting in different directions. The Activities Director and her assistants were encouraging everyone to try their luck, with prizes awarded to anyone who could score a ‘Hole In One.’ One contestant had just been within a few inches of the hole, the ball headed straight in, when the ship tilted just enough to make the ball just barely skirt the edge and slip past. Amid all the laughter and groans, Will’s eye just happened to catch a glimpse of two ship’s officers pass by underneath him. While again he missed seeing the face, there was no mistaking that head of hair attached to a tall, slender frame. Not a chance. No way, Will assured himself. Just because he went off to the bridge… However… Will sprinted for the staircase, but since it was crowded with spectators also watching the golfing ‘tournament,’ it took him several minutes to reach the lower deck. By that time there was no sign of the two men he’d seen from above. He thought about asking at the desk, trying to describe the man. But with what, 50 to 60 people on board running around in officers uniforms, from a multitude of nationalities, many of them dark-haired and olive-skinned, what was Will going to say that didn’t come off sounding totally silly? He just shook his head and found another vantage point from which to watch the conclusion of the golfing.
He wasn’t worried when he didn’t see Lee at lunchtime. While in a lot of ways a very private man, put Lee in a group of kindred-spirited ‘men of the sea’ and there was no telling when he’d re-surface. Will assumed that whoever he was with wouldn’t have Lee’s same aversion to eating, and Lee would go along if for no other reason than to be polite. Will, after taking far more food than he normally would from the overabundant selections at the buffet, once again stretched out on a poolside lounger and dozed contentedly. Definitely have to talk to Lu Tsi about taking one of these cruises. I’d gain 20 pounds, he acknowledged silently, with a grin. But it would be worth it. Just have to make sure it’s right after my yearly fit-rep.
He finally roused himself about 1520 hours and decided he’d take another walk around the ship before returning to the cabin. He was half-heartedly hoping Lee would check there for him, and the two could enjoy one last relaxing dinner before debarking the following morning and returning to NIMR and its usual assortment of chaos. He made one round of the upper deck then descended to the lobby level and walked through the more heavily used area, enjoying a little unobtrusive people watching. He’d just come down the grand staircase into the main lobby when, across the crowded area, he once again spotted the familiar-looking head on top of an officer’s uniform. This time he got just a glimpse of the side of the man’s face before whoever he was disappeared through a door on the other side. Before Will could do more than take a deep breath, his jaw dropping open, a hand landed on his shoulder from behind and he spun around, to stare at the smiling face of Lee Crane. “Dear God, there’s two of them,” he blurted out, and watched Lee’s face fill with concern.
“Jamie, are you okay? Do you need to sit down? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Something even scarier,” came out before Will could stop it, then he gave himself a shake and got himself back under control.
“Jamie? What’s wrong?”
Will finally grinned. “Apparently nothing, Skipper.” He gave his head another shake. “I gather you’ve had an interesting day?” He could read the indecision on Lee’s face, unwilling to let pass what he didn’t yet understand. But Will just continued to smile easily, and watched as the younger man finally relaxed. As Jamie turned back toward the way he’d been going, the door at the far side of the lobby opened and the dark haired, olive skinned officer came back out. While there was a minor similarity to Lee from the side, now that Jamie saw him straight on he took a deep breath and relaxed, greatly relieved at the differences he now saw between the officer and his Skipper. He didn’t think he could survive two Lee Cranes in the world! He and Lee ended up spending the next couple hours enjoying more excellent food, and a couple of equally excellent drinks, as Lee expounded on the virtues of cruise liners. Not that he was in any hurry to give up his beloved Seaview, he assured an amused Will. But the big ships did have their attractions. Will started to ask at one point about what Lee had actually said as he entered the elevator with the two officers he’d been with, but ended up keeping quiet. Lee was in such a relaxed, easy state, Will didn’t want to do anything to mess it up. Asking his question would involve telling Lee what he’d thought he’d heard. While innocent enough, with Lee’s aversion to anything medical it might just be enough to spoil the mood.
The ship was due to dock at 1030 hours the following morning. As their flight home didn’t leave until nearly 1600 hours, they decided to just relax and let the passengers who had shore excursions planned get off first. Lee said he’d take care of the bags if Will wanted to wander around the ship a little longer. Will tried to tell him that that wasn’t necessary but Lee just waved him off, and arranged to meet him at 1230 hours at the bottom of the boarding ramp. They could then be assured of grabbing a cab with a good deal less hassle, stop somewhere for lunch, and still be at the airport in plenty of time to check in for their flight. Not all that grudgingly, Will agreed. There were still a couple places on the ship he hadn’t checked out. Lu Tsi would want a first-hand report on the exercise room if she was going to be subjected to that much food, and Will still hadn’t run across the Dispensary. Professional curiosity suggested a quick look.
He received a concerned look when he asked at the Purser’s Desk for the locations, and had to grin as he assured the pretty young woman that “no, he was not planning on hurting himself over-exercising on the equipment; that he was indeed a medical doctor on a bit of a fact-finding mission.” The woman’s frown turned instantly to a dazzling smile as she gave him careful directions to both areas.
The exercise area was what he’d been expecting. Weight machines of various configurations, jogging machines and stair-climbers – they made Will tired just looking at them all. The steam room had possibilities. But he figured he’d be just fine walking around a cruise ship and enjoying the shore excursions offered – depending on what destination Lu Tsi chose. Now that he thought about it, she had mentioned casually a couple times about taking one of the cruises to Alaska. But never with any real conviction, and Will had simply forgotten about it. Shame on you, Will Jamison, he chastised himself, and sent his wife a silent promise to do better.
Will wasn’t sure what he was expecting in the way of medical facilities aboard. But when he stopped to think about the approximately 2500 passengers and 1200 crew aboard a ship like this, he decided that finding what resembled the efficient Emergency Room at NIMR’s Med Bay shouldn’t be all that surprising. He was met immediately upon entering the area by, from appearances, a young corpsman/male nurse, and again had to explain who he was and that he didn’t really need assistance of any kind. As the ship was in port and things were fairly quiet, the young man took the time to show Will around and explain the staffing. The corpsman explained that they were equipped to handle most emergencies, up to and including surgery. They also had satellite-based communication available to assist in the management of complex and emergency situations, and there was a helipad on the top Deck if anyone did have to be evacuated.
“I think you like it when we have to evacuate a patient, Billy,” came from behind Will, in such a familiar-sounding voice it caused Will to almost stop breathing. He spun around and stopped dead – he was looking directly into the face of Lee Crane! Wearing the dark blue officer’s uniform with a caduceus on the collar! The man was focusing on the corpsman, thankfully, broad smile on his face, and didn’t immediately notice Will’s reaction.
“Now, Doc,” the corpsman protested, “you can’t mean that. I hate when a passenger is sick or injured.” Will got his shock under control enough to glance back in Billy’s direction. “However,” the young man added with a sheepish grin, “getting to ride back to the mainland on the chopper is kind of cool.” As the newcomer chuckled oh so familiarly, Billy made introductions. “Dr. Jamison, Chief Medical Officer at the Nelson Institute in Santa Barbara, California, our Ship’s Surgeon, Dr. Brooks.”
Will wasn’t sure how he managed to get his expression under control enough to keep his greeting from sounding too strangled. But apparently something was amiss, because Dr. Brooks raised an eyebrow just slightly – again, an all too familiar gesture to Will, and he gave the man a self-conscious little smile.
“Sorry, Doctor,” he practically mumbled, before getting his voice – and emotions – under better control. “It’s just…well…you look so much like someone I know.” He shook his head. “It’s a little unsettling, actually.” Understatement of the century, he told himself.
The man with Lee’s face smiled. “They say each of us has a twin somewhere.” He grinned all too familiarly. “Anyway, pleasure to meet you.” He stuck out his hand and Will took it readily. “And, it’s Peter.”
“Will,” Will amended as well. “I’ve been admiring your set-up,” he added, trying to steer the conversation back into comfortable channels. It gave Will the chance to look around the area, and the two chatted comfortably for several minutes. At least, it seemed to Will that Dr. Brooks was comfortable. He, on the other hand, was practically coming unhinged. Standing here, talking to ‘Lee Crane’ about anything medical as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Just the thought of that man wearing a caduceus on his collar – gad. It’s almost more than I can take!
Suddenly Dr. Brooks got a speculative look on his face. “Your friend, ah…” He hesitated and gave Will Lee’s sheepish little grin. “I just assumed he was a friend…”
Will chuckled. “There would be those who wondered, listening to the two of us on occasion,” he acknowledged. “But yes, very much a friend.”
“He wouldn’t happen to be aboard, would he? Reason I ask,” he hurried to explain, “one of the crew was giving me a hard time, teasing me about being out of uniform last night, having a drink in one of the bars.”
Will just nodded. “Obviously they saw Lee and me. Perhaps it’s a good thing we’re leaving the ship here. No telling what trouble Lee could get you in.” He frowned, realizing Lee had spent the day previous on the Bridge. He shook his head and shuddered, but smiled nonetheless.
“He’s still on board?” Brooks asked. “I’d like to meet him.”
Will glanced at his watch. “Should be waiting for me at the bottom of the boarding ramp, if you’d…” He never got a chance to finish. At that moment the loud speaker called.
“Ship’s Doctor, please report to the Pirate’s Lounge, “C” deck.”
Brooks shrugged. “Ah, the life of a doctor.”
Will gave him a sympathetic look. “Tell me about it. Pleasure to meet you, anyway.”
Brooks nodded as he grabbed his bag. “Another time. I definitely want to meet this friend of yours. Here I thought all along I was unique.” He grinned Lee’s easy, companionable grin, and hurried out.
And I was hoping Lee was unique, Will breathed quietly, and shuddered. Glancing at his watch again, he thanked the corpsman for the tour, and hurried to meet Lee. As the more familiar khaki uniform came into view, Will asked casually, “Skipper, I keep forgetting to ask you, how was your day on the Bridge yesterday.”
Lee just shrugged. “Never actually made it there.” He grinned. “Got sidetracked with the Engineering Officer, and spent the whole time down in the engine room.” He paused a second before continuing. “There was one interesting little bit…” His voice trailed off.
“Yes?” Will prodded gently.
Lee gave him that same sheepish grin he’d seen not that long ago on a man dressed in dark blue. “Lt. Awadi gave me the most curious look when he first saw me. Said he almost mistook me for one of the ship’s officers.”
“Oh? Which one?” Will asked innocently.
“The Ship’s Surgeon, actually,” Lee admitted, almost reluctantly, with another sideways sheepish grin at Will. Will shuddered over-dramatically, causing Lee to laugh out loud. “Yeah, Doc. My reaction as well. Told him that would be the absolute last position I’d hold!”
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Dr. Peter Brooks, as portrayed by David Hedison, appears in the Irwin Allan Made-for-TV movie, Adventures of the Queen, c. 1975
Lu Tsi Jamison used with permission of Cris Smithson