( Sequel to Nerves of Steele)
Author’s note: Both ‘Nerves of Steele’ and ‘Ghostwalk’ take place sometime after the series episodes: The Phantom & Return of the Phantom.
"Hey Ski?" Riley asked as he finished stowing his gear aboard Seaview. The entire crew had been on a month long shore leave and it was difficult not to resent going back to work, at least a little bit.
"Yeah champ?" Kowalski bounced a quarter on his freshly made up bunk. He was pleased. Seaview may not be Navy but at least no one could say she was sloppy.
"Any idea where we…oh," he grinned, as the word caught up with him, "Aww, hey, it wasn’t anything," Riley grinned in appreciation. "Gotta' admit though, my Mom doesn’t know whether to be proud of me or lock me in my room to keep me from bustin’ up something !"
"Well, how about some chow," Ski prodded the boy, "I don’t know about you, but I’m already hungry."
"You’re always hungry."
Chip Morton doubled checked yet another one of the repetitive and mundane tasks he’d come to accept as his lot in life aboard the submarine. Executive Officer, he ruled the sub with ease and was respected by crew; but he was becoming a tad mift at the way he was being taken for granted. Why, only a few minutes ago he’d been treated like a mere errand boy by the Admiral. Even the Chief had assumed he’d take care of yet another problem in the procurement department. He might as well resign and go be an errand boy and….
"Morton?" Nelson’s voice came through the PA.
"Morton here," he quickly replied on the mike.
"Be sure to send the Captain to the nose when he boards. I want him to meet my quest and go over some things with us."
"Aye sir," Chip replied obediently. Why couldn’t the Admiral confide in him? He’d have had his own command by now if he’d stayed in the Navy. Everyone said so, and…
"Permission to come aboard?… Chip?… Earth to Chip…Mr. Morton!" the voice from the topside hatch interrupted his reverie.
"You don’t need my permission, you’re the Captain," Morton said without emotion.
"Hey!" Lee jumped off the ladder into the control room, but before he should have, so he landed off balance. "Ahhhgh!" he yelped as he hopped about, finally leaning on a rung.
"Lee! Are you okay?" Chip helped him stand upright; his jealous thoughts wiped clean. Crane was a friend in a million. Chiding himself for being so…so…stupid, he studied his Captain. "Sick Bay, I think."
"Not on your life," Lee practically gasped, "and what’s all that ‘you’re the Captain’ crap? Chip, this isn’t like you. What’s wrong?"
"You may have twisted your ankle, or it’s a sprain at least," Morton ignored the question. "C’mon Lee, or the Doc’ll have us both for lunch!"
"Don’t be silly," Lee insisted, " see?" he took a couple of steps before stumbling with accompaning epiteths that would do Chief Sharkey proud.
"Lee~," Morton raised an eyebrow with a look that he’d brook no argument, and Crane knew it.
"Okay, okay, you win…give me a hand will you? Doc’s never going to let me live this down!"
"Surprise!!!!" yelled the men waiting. The mess was decorated with streamers, ribbons, and a huge flat cake decorated with an ocean wave and a surfer atop it. Hawaiian music played in the background, and a makeshift curtain made out of a sheet was opened. An extraordinary hula dancer appeared and began to sway to the music to backslapping and ribald appreciation.
"So, Baron," Admiral Nelson drank his gin with a discerning look in Seaview’s observation nose, "you think this vessel could actually hold valuable Imperial German treasure?"
"I am sure of it!" the immaculately groomed gentleman stressed, his accent vying with his well-studied, if stiff, English.
"Old family stories are not usually that accurate…do you have any proof?" Nelson was intrigued and tried to be encouraging. "Actual proof that there was treasure aboard one of these boats?"
"In writing, no. But I am convinced of it. That is why I am here. I was informed that you have special capabilities for an exploration of this type."
"You realize we normally have a waiting list for our services and…oh," he looked up, annoyed at Crane’s scruffy appearance, "Baron Eryll Smidt, my Captain, Commander Lee Crane."
"Herr Capitan," the Baron stood and clicked his heels toward Seaview’s master, and surveyed him. Despite Lee’s faded jeans, T-shirt, and sockless sneakers, protocol had demanded acknowledgment of his position. Even though to the elder Baron, he looked like a mere boy. They all looked like boys on this boat. All so young, so alive.
Crane could have at least been a bit more presentable, Nelson mused, hadn’t Chip told him about the guest? Only as he noticed a slight limp, did he see Lee’s bandaged ankle. They hadn't even gotten underway and Lee had had a visit to the chief medical officer? Were there gremlins aboard already?
"Baron," Lee nodded in return as the two men sat, but was unable to hide a questioning eyebrow.
"The title is a courtesy, nothing more. There is nothing to back it, no diplomatic consideration from Germany, no property. I am merely Mr. Smidt, or Smith if you prefer. My credentials," he handed the Captain a small portfolio.
"Baron Smidt will be fine," Crane replied as he leafed through the portfolio and questioned, "the Carillon Archeological and Historical Society?"
Smidt nodded, "with your Admiral’s approval, I would like you to locate and salvage a shipwreck. I have reason to believe it carried some valuable treasure. We don’t know her name, but we do have an idea where she may have been sunk. We were informed by a most reliable source that you should have no problem finding her."
Nelson pulled out a map, "apparently this vessel, a submarine of the First World War, went down about here, in the North Atlantic…" he said with an undercurrent of excitement.
"A submarine carting treasure?" Lee asked, surprised.
"Indeed, Herr Capitan…Captain," Smidt quickly corrected the Old World pronounciation to the English, "Gold bullion, diamonds and many other jewels. It is said that they were placed on the submarine at the request of the Kaiser. For safekeeping. Estimated at today’s value of say, around 39 billion dollars."
"39 Billion?? " Lee ran a hand through his hair, "I can’t even comprehend that kind of cash…but for safe keeping? On a submarine? In the middle of a war? That’s rather absurd, if you’ll forgive me for saying so."
"The submarine-boat was to meet the Kaiser’s agent at a predetermined location. To take charge of the cargo, place it in hiding…but then the news came that the boat had been sunk by the Allies…if the reports are accurate. The jewels are worth even more than the gold. Some are quite priceless, really." Smidt looked at the Captain questioningly. Crane was frowning. "I can see you are not too thrilled about the idea Captain. I am sorry, I had hoped you would find a treasure hunt a bit out of the ordinary for your fine vessel."
"Its not that sir," Lee replied quickly, " I’m all for treasure hunting, it’s just that…"it was difficult put into words his hesitation; an explanation that the man would understand.
"I know how you feel Lee," a private message passed, "but," Nelson continued, determined, "70 % of the gold at least has been promised to the German government, if found; to be put to good use; medical research, hospitals, orphanages, wherever there is a need, Lee. Think about it, finding this wreck could help thousands of people, even save lives," he said passionately.
"This," Smidt stated blandly, almost by rote, "will prove to the world that the past is over. We can have a little pride again. To help just causes this time."
Lee paused then spoke, "Those currents are tricky, " he studied the chart, " not to mention all the crevasses in the area. There’s also drift and time involved. If this sub is still in one piece she may be too deep to salvage; even with the newer heavy depth gear there could be a problem doing anything. And finding her in a graveyard of old war wrecks…."he argued, almost to himself, but Lee could see from the set in Nelson’s face that he’d already lost the battle, "I’ll need a little time to make sure there’s enough back-up equipment aboard."
"I take it then Capitan, that you will do it?" Smidt asked hopefully.
"I’m at your disposal, now, if you’ll excuse me…"
"I would like to have an agent from Carillon accompany us," Smidt quickly added, urgently.
"That should be no problem. I’ll have cabins prepared for both of you," Lee nodded and left the treasure hunters in the nose.
"Lee?" Morton popped his head into Lee’s Cabin. "The door was open and I was wondering when you were going to join in Riley’s victory party?"
"Party? Oh, that’s right, how’s he taking it, being the number one surfer in world?" Crane grinned, "I’d have thought he’d rather be off endorsing suntan lotion, surfboards, and meeting more girls than reporting back to Seaview. He’s bound to have been approached for his celebrity status, not to mention just how to spend his winnings. I’m just glad he didn’t kill himself. Those waves were horrible monstrous things. I still can’t understand why he likes them!" he laughed, "just give me a few more minutes."
"Sort of…Chip?" Lee looked up from his cluttered desk, strewn with maps and charts and paused, with a furrowed brow. Chip noticed he aged at least ten years in that moment. "You’re not going to like this, Chip, I know I don’t…."
"We don’t like a lot of our missions," Morton sat on the edge of Crane’s desk, a bit concerned, " but you usually don’t admit it so readily; so, what’s the problem Skipper?"
"We’re going on a treasure hunt. Don’t look so pleased. It’s in a wrecked sub," he paused, "a U-boat actually."
"Oh, please Lee," Chip groaned, "don’t remind me…"
"Yes, I know, I know. I never want to see a U-boat again either, not for as long as I live. Logically it’s childish of me to feel like this. It could be a find of the century, this shipwreck. 39 billion dollars worth or more, and we’d get to keep some of it. Well, Nelson anyway. Finder’s fee, and a lot of good organizations and people will benefit."
"So what’s the problem?" Chip asked, noting Crane’s hunted eyes, "Lee… Kreuger’s dead and gone and finished with. Kaput."
"I just…I’m being foolish," he allowed himself to chuckle.
"Far be it from me to argue with my Captain, come on, Lee, they want to cut the cake and Ski demands you to do the honors, I’ve no idea why. And then there’s the hula contest they want you to judge."
"Hula contest? I wasn’t aware we’d brought any girls aboard. The Admiral will have a fit if…"
"We haven’t," Chip smirked as he let that sink in.
Crane began to laugh and the two men proceeded to join the festivities.
"Again, thank you Admiral," Smidt grasped Nelson’s hand firmly.
"Our pleasure, you know, this going to be a welcome change from charting the seabed or taking a seal census, among other things!" he laughed.
The music had stopped and there was silence in the mess. Muted voices wondered what the outcome would be.
Chip took the small slip of paper from Crane and cleared his throat. "Gentlemen, the winner is…Patterson!"
Claps of applause greeted the man, dressed in a pull-on grass hula skirt over his red jumpsuit, complete makeshift bra of coconuts, and yellow mop wig.
"Patterson," Crane extended his hand, "congratulations," he shook his head at he assembled and similarly arrayed crewmen "you all have to be crazy to pretend you’re hula girls!"
"That’s for sure Skipper!" Riley piped up, in complete agreement.
"Will you cut the cake now?" Kowalski edged his captain to the table with all the goodies on it.
"Are you sure you want me too? After all…"
"Nah nah, Skipper, you hav’ too," Cookie added.
Crane hovered the knife over the cake until it came to rest where Ski had maneuvered his hand and slowly he lowered the knife.
"AHHHGGH!" the cake screamed as the knife touched it.
Crane jumped in feigned shock, but quickly recovered, and began to laugh with all the rest of the miscreants. "Another of your magic shop gizmos Ski?" he held up the tiny frosting coated cushion the knife had uncovered.
"Well, sir, we figured we’d better let you do the honors cause our conquering surfer hero champ might not be so understanding! "
"Lee," Chip approached Crane a several hours later in the missile room, "the Carillon agent Smidt insisted on joining us is here."
"It’s about time. Get us underway then and…what is it? You look like a cat that swallowed the canary."
"Do I? Sorry. Oh, the Admiral wants you to join the guests in the nose after we get moving. As soon as possible, he said."
Crane sighed, "he knows I wanted to check this new diving gear over myself…very well, get some men to give these monstrosities a thorough going over…and have the Chief schedule some refresher drills in their use. Maybe I’m being over cautious but we may have to go a lot deeper than I’d like. If we’re hunting for something that actually exists."
"You don’t buy it then."
"I have to admit I don’t. I think we’re following a ghost-trail. Don’t say it Chip. I’m not in the mood for play on words. There are hundreds of sunken boats in the Atlantic. Some of them are ours. It’s going to be gruesome."
Nelson tried very hard to concentrate on acting non-challant as the submarine departed the pier and finally plunged into the depths. He could see at least one of his guests’ apparent pleasure as they watched the massive bubbles quickly disappear and the blue-green vista open before them. He’d kept the speakers on so his guests could hear the commands and equipment at work from the control room, conveniently closed off by the accordion doors.
But if Smidt was impressed he didn’t show it, as if this was something he did every day.
The separating doors slid open and Nelson turned with a grin at his senior officers. He knew Lee had to have been a little perturbed by his summons to the control room, but there was no sign of irritation in hs Captain now. Seaview was Lee’s baby and there was nothing like taking her conn. He looked refreshed and pleased with Seaview’s performance. Chip smirked with a wink to Nelson as Crane went forward to greet the Admiral and his guests.
"Lee, may I present Carillon’s agent…"
The woman turned to face him, with a beautific and sweet smile, "Captain."
Lee couldn’t hide his surprise, but quickly kissed the woman’s cheek and stood with his hands on his hips in exasperation. No wonder Chip had had that silly grin. "Admiral, do you have any idea how difficult it is for me having my mother aboard?? And last time…"
"Yes yes, I know Lee, but this is different, " Nelson spoke, "this is just a little treasure hunt, that’s all. No psychiatric observations, no mad experiments, no underhanded anything."
"I was unaware that you were related to the Capitan," Smidt spoke, seemingly mift that he had not been informed. "I do not understand…you a psychiatrist?" This was not good.
"Oh," Lee sat next to his mother, his arm around her shoulder, "you’d be surprised at how talented she is, in many fields. Shrink, best-seller novelist, even amateur archeologist."
"You’re forgetting the most important one, Lee, dear."
"What’s that?" Lee asked, confused. Had she taken up yet another crazy career move?
"My job as Your meddling mother!" she replied biting her lip to keep from laughing too loud.
"A job and a half, I’m sure," Nelson quipped, as the small group joined in the merriment; even Smidt tried to hide his discomfort at the revelation.
"Is it any wonder I find her presence aboard a bit distracting?" Lee added, "Am I correct in assuming, Dr. Crane, that it was you who suggested Seaview to Carillon?"
"Guilty. But then, dear," she finished her gin, "I’ve always been interested in old shipwrecks. So have you, and think of the adventure. You can certainly use a change of pace, as well. And I thought it would be a good idea to get some more background for my new book. I’m going to call it ‘Doomed at the Dock’, all about…never mind. I do tend to rattle. Besides, I don’t know of too many other vessels that would like to take up this challenge. Seaview’s perfect. Now, if you don’t mind gentlemen, I would like to go check my story webpage."
"No," Lee objected, "no laptop, no email, no Internet. Not this time."
"Lee," Nelson tried to override him, "I’m sure there will be no difficulties with piggyback messages, spies or the like this time… and you can have Sparks have a source- tie- in placed in the radio shack, so if anything out of the ordinary shows we’ll know. It won’t be that private, but at least Kathleen can keep up with things."
Lee pursed his lips, and shook his head. "I’ll have to think about it. No, wait, let me finish. I know you both think I’m being unreasonable but cyber-security is not what it should be, even now. In the meantime, if you absolutely have to access the Internet, Mom, you can use the secure PC’s in the crew’s lounge during our specified access times."
"Lee," Nelson urged, "I hardly think its necessary to…"
Crane interrupted, firmly, "I’m responsible for the safety of this submarine and all hands and …Mom, stop laughing at me. I have no choice and…"
"Very well, Captain," Nelson interjected, exasperated, eyes heavenward; he’d lost this argument too many times to count. "Point taken. I don’t agree with it, but you’re the Captain."
"Well, Harriman," Kathleen nodded, " that’s what you pay him for, to make those decisions; as for you Lee, it’s just all that ‘my responsibility’ talk that gets me…giggly. And weary. You already know Harry knows it. I must say even though you’re within your rights, you can be a pain in the ass at times. I just don’t know how he puts up with you."
Smidt was noticeably confused. Her words didn’t seem to mesh with her affectionate tugs at Crane’s hair, or her look of total devotion toward her son.
Nelson rose, and nodded to his guests, "I’ll leave you two together to chat while I go over a few more details with the Captain. Lee?" he motioned to the control room.
"See you later Alligator," Lee took his mother’s hand and kissed it.
"In a while Crocodile," she replied after him as he joined Nelson in the control room, as Smidt tried to fathom what on earth they had just said.
"But why the sudden hurry?" Lee asked Nelson later on in the Admiral’s cabin. "The shipwreck isn’t going anywhere."
"Ahh, but the treasure hunters are. Somehow it’s been leaked out all over the press. Lee, Seaview may have been hired for this, but if some other salvage operators just happen to find the wreck, well…"
"How is Mr. Smidt taking it?"
"Understandably perturbed," he paused, "Lee? You’re not so upset about it anymore? This hunt for a U-boat? And…well…you mother being aboard again? I had no idea the additional agent would be her."
"Well," Lee paused and grinned, "It’ll cut down the phone bills and stamps, that’s for sure; as for our mission, I still don’t like it. But it’s unprofessional to let one bad experience influence another. And like Chip said, Kreuger is done with….but you will let me know if you have any ghostly visitations."
It was not a question and Nelson couldn’t decide if the comment was made in jest or in earnest, or maybe a bit of both.
"Go on, get out of here…don’t worry. There won’t be any problems this time, I’m certain of it. And Lee? Next time climb down the conning ladder? "
"Now listen up you bozos," Chief Sharkey took an authoritative stance in the missile room. "This here new diving gear ain’t gonna do us any good if you don’t know how to use it, so quit clownin’ around! And remember we got two guests aboard. And we don’t want Mrs., I mean Dr. Crane seein’us all shabby, now do we."
"But Chief," Riley complained, "we were all checked out in this gear long ago and even used it twice, why go over it all the safety precautions again? It’s awful heavy! And it’s hard to move in! I feel like an astronaut, it even looks like a spacesuit! And what’s wrong with the old deep-dive gear?"
"Did you hear the Skipper complainin’ about it?"
"No, but he’s…"
"He’s a concerned Captain and don’t want nothing to go wrong this cruise. Especially with his Mom aboard. And He’s got the brains to make sure we’re all double, triple checked out in this extra deep diving stuff- just in case we need it! This ain’t no picnic cruise! Now, lets go over it all again!"
"Like," Riley asked, "when have we ever had a picnic cruise? Not since I’ve been aboard that’s for sure."
"Knock it off! Now, we’ll start our review with smart-alec here…."
"But it’s gone! The whole shebang!" Kathleen was upset. "I entered the URL and it was gone! My web page doesn’t exist! It says so, right there in black on white on the screen. All my work! All my contributor’s!"
"Now, Catty," Nelson said calmly, across from his desk,"I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation; did you check with Sparks? A possible problem with the server? Our systems even?"
"Of course I did. He said he doesn’t know what the problem is. I even tried sending a feedback message to the host site and it wasn’t there either…oh, Harry, what if they went bust? All my files!"
"I think you should bring Chip in on this. He’s our resident computer whiz. If he can’t figure it out, no-one can…"
"Thank you Harry. Will Lee mind?"
"He may want Chip to wait till he’s completely off-watch, which is understandable. But I’ll have a word with him."
"Thank you Harry. I know Lee thinks it’s silly of me to even have a web page. It’s not even professional. It’s just a hobby, and my publisher thinks it utter foolishness, posting perfectly good stories that could be for sale, on site for free, but…"she began to sniffle.
"Will you get a grip on yourself?" Harriman rose and approached her. He took her arm gently, "Look at you. You’re almost hysterical. It’s not the end of the world, Catty. If the files are lost, you can always start over…you do have copies don’t you?"
"Do you have any idea of what having a web-page is like? I’m no expert. Yes, I have the files on disks at home but they’re all jumbled. There are revisions, and revisions of revisions. Boxes and boxes of them, and oh, I hope they’re not all lost. Lee’s right, I’m not organized, I should have had help, I should have filed them differently, made it more efficient but I just never got around to it and …."
"Kathleen, listen to me," he interrupted and moved her to sit on his bunk, "you’re making a mountain out of a mole-hill, making this…this glitch way out of proportion to what it is. Now, I know it’s important to you, but even you have to agree that it’s not life threatening, to yourself or to anyone else. It’s a little inconvenient, but that’s all. Now," he added gently as he dabbed her teary eyes with a handkerchief "you see that don’t you?"
" Oh I see it allright, but I still don’t like it," she pouted. She knew darn well it wasn’t the end of the world, but all that work…
"You don’t have to like it when things go wrong," he put his arm around her shoulder, "Just don’t let yourself get into a tizzy. I don’t like it when you get upset."
"You going to make that an order Admiral?"
"I could, but I was hoping I wouldn’t have to…and of course," he added, very gently, "I’m so much more understanding than the Captain in these matters."
"He would think I’m behaving like a silly goose. I’ll try Harriman."
"Good girl. Wait here, I’ll go talk to Chip."
"And so," the reporter continued on the TV monitor, "Squidshadow for one, has reportedly begun search operations already, despite opposition of the Carillon company. But Carillon has nothing to stand on legally. The shipwreck, if there is one, is in international waters and salvage law is quite specific. In other words, finders-keepers.
"What about Seaview?" the co-reporter asked.
"If someone else finds it first, Nelson and Carillon will simply have to take a loss, and turn back."
"But surely Squidshadow or any other treasure hunters would welcome someone of Admiral Nelson’s caliber to command search and salvage operations."
"Being welcomed into the search is rather doubtful. That’s a lot of money at stake. Money most people won’t want to share. And now to other news…"
The carved Ticki statues shimmered in the moonlight as the heavy mist swirled about them. The sound of drums echoed in her ears. A chilling face took form nearby. He was haughty, superior, commanding…
"Mom? Mom? You okay?" Lee’s voice became louder.
"Mnnhuuh?" Kathleen Crane gratefully departed the unwelcome dream from Nelson’s bunk. "Oh, Lee, dear, I’m sorry, I must have fallen asleep while I was waiting for Harriman to come back. I had the oddest dream."
"The Admiral tells me your website went kablooie. When Chip’s free I’ll have him check a few things for you, allright?" he helped her up. "I’m sure it’s nothing Mom. Computers have problems all the time. I should know. Even ours acts up sometimes."
"All right Lee, thank you," she kissed his cheek. "I’m sorry I made such a fuss."
"Well, artistés are entitled…they almost made your last story a movie didn’t they? You’re allowed to be a little…emotional once in a while."
"Skipper," Kowalski interrupted the Captain later in the nose, " Mr. O'Brian asked me to give you the latest coordinates. He just took the sighting. I gotta say, it’s a real pretty night up there…"
The Skipper looked tired, Ski noted. The Captain might be pulling a late one again. It was nearly 2400. It wasn't unusual for him to prowl the boat during the third watch. But why was Mrs. Crane sitting on the front porch with him this late? The Admiral had already gone to bed. And the Baron too. And why had Morton sent O’Brian topside to shoot the stars, instead of doing it himself? He had the watch. Everyone knew the XO really enjoyed shooting the stars. So did the Skipper for that matter. Maybe his ankle was still hurting. Yeah, that was probably it. Morton was keeping a distant eye on him. Maybe Mrs. Crane had been drafted to keep an extra eye on him as well. The skip’ was still limping a bit. Everybody had noticed.
"Can I get you both anything? There’s some leftover brownies."
"How about a new webhost?" Mrs. Crane asked sourly. Chip had tried, he really had, but to no avail. Nobody knew what was wrong. The page was gone. The webhost was gone. Vanished into thin air.
"Mom~" Lee warned. This was not the time or place.
She nodded her acknowledgment and changed the subject, "No, thank you Ski. You dear?" she asked Lee.
"Not just now. We’re much closer, even if this could be a wasted trip. Well, no rest for the wicked. Thank you Ski. You can return to your post now."
"Aye sir," Ski replied and departed the nose.
"Dear, I was wondering…"as she watched Ski walk past the conning tower ladder.
"Okay, but watch your step," he read her mind, "just tell them I said it was okay for you to pop up to the conning tower for some fresh night air."
The calcified tendrils cascaded from the lopsided, rusted metallic corpse. At one point in time the pride of her nation; now, lost, forgotten and decayed. A tomb, nothing more. An eel slithered through a skeleton. A shark swam through the broken observation nose.
"No! No! Noooo!"
"Admiral? Sir?" Chief Sharkey’s voice came through the mists of sleep. "Sorry sir, you were calling out and you didn’t answer…"
"Oh, Francis," Nelson wiped his sweaty brow, as he sat up from his bunk, "thanks. That was some dream," he replied, trying to make light of it, but he was noticeably shaky.
"Are you okay now sir?"
"Yes chief, I’m fine," he checked his watch. "Good grief, I’ve overslept," not that it mattered. He didn’t have a timetable like Morton adhered to almost religiously. Woe be to anyone who came under Chip’s noted wrath. Grinning, Nelson relaxed. All except him, and Crane, that was. Of course, Morton did sometimes take Lee to task, as was his right as Crane’s watch officer. Not that Lee had scheduled watches.….
"Uh sir?" Sharkey intruded his meandering thoughts, " Me and the guys have been talkin’. You really think there’s treasure? There’s nothing to back it on, Mr. Smith said, just some old folk tales."
"Francis," Nelson mused, "we may very well be a wild goose chase, but…it may very well be the truth and would benefit untold millions of people. I’d say it’s worth our time and trouble. Now," Nelson looked at his watch rather pointedly, "I’d better get a move on if I want to get in some breakfast in before Morton devours it all."
That’s for sure, Sharkey grinned to himself, where did he put it all? As for Nelson’s glance at his watch, for as long as Sharkey had been aboard, he’d never seen the boss without it. For that matter, he’d never seen any of the officers without theirs either…must be something peculiar to the breed.
"Morning Mom," Crane sat down in the wardroom and yawned. Cookie had noticed from the galley's slide-through and nodded in silent agreement towards her. It was doubtful the Captain had even bothered to go to bed last night.
Lee noticed Smidt’s portfolio, left on one of the tables. Several old photos had spilled out. He scooped up a few, disinterested, then stopped and gave an appreciative whistle.
"Oh," Smidt entered the room, as if on cue, "good morning Captain, I see that you must have found Fraulein Sexpot, as your men have named her."
"Sorry, you’ll have to forgive them, who is she? She’s very pretty."
"I do not know. No one knows anymore. So many lives, all gone now…yes, very pretty…look, the woman next to her, she is wearing one of the jewels. Many of these old pictures show the jewelry that was placed on the submarine. Most are on family members but some was given away by them to their favorites."
"Well," Lee didn’t really care to pursue the prospect, "It’s hard to see the jewelry very well from photos this small…may I have our lab enlarge them? It could help in the excavation…if we find the sub."
"Of course, I am glad to help. I would like to say Captain, that I am most heartened with your cooperation. I know you are none too pleased with the mission; several of your crewmen have seemed…hesitant…may I ask why?"
"Perhaps it would be better to speak to the Admiral," Lee hedged, "I’d better get moving. I have a few details to tend to. I’ll have someone take care of the pictures shortly," he scooped up some scrambled eggs onto a slice of toast and departed with it.
Smidt returned his attention to the pictures.
"He’s never told me either," Kathleen whispered. "Something has them a little spooked. They won’t admit it of course. Typical."
Riley pursed his lips as he finished checking one of the heavy diving gear’s regulators. The new guy was getting to be a pain in the butt.
"Well, what do you think?" Dale polished an oxygen gauge, "there’s no documents, no letters, nothing. Just gossip from some old servants or something…"
"Well, I don’t know," Patterson put his own two cents worth in, "my grandfather told me a couple of old war stories and I thought he was just exaggerating, but it turned out he was right on the button. "
"They don’t even know the name of the boat! Just how are we supposed to find one old sub in particular? The Atlantic’s full of old war wrecks! Let ém rest in peace."
"That’s for sure," Kowalski agreed, under his breath, "we had enough trouble before."
"Oh for Pete’s sake, are you on about that again? You guys musta been hallucinating or breathing bad air or something…"
"Look, bud," Ski threatened, "it’s the truth, ask the Skipper if you don’t believe us. It was him that got possessed and…"
"Okay okay," Dale was tired of all the ghost talk going around. "So you had a couple of, what do call them Riley?"
"A couple of paranormal experiences," Dale continued, " but its like a zillion to one of it ever happening again…but it’s still really stupid, if you ask me, of the Admiral to try to find a needle in this haystack, especially when this tub probably never even had that treasure aboard and…."
"Nobody is asking you Dale," Crane suddenly intruded upon the men. " Patterson, I want you to enlarge some pictures of Mr. Smith’s, right away. He’s got them in the wardroom. Riley, why don’t you give him a hand. Kowalski, you could use some gym time, if Mr. Morton’s efficiency report is correct. Why not take it now."
The Captain’s helpfulness was an apparent excuse to keelhaul Dale in private. The men in question vacated the chamber quickly.
"You seem to object to our mission, Mister Dale," Crane folded his arms across his chest as he leaned against the mini-sub. "You have a right to your own opinion about that, but," Crane said coolly, menacing, "I never want to hear you say the Admiral is stupid ever again, do you understand?"
"Let me put this a little bit more clearly," Lee spoke with formidable authority, "if you think for one moment that the Admiral is unworthy of your respect, I don’t want you aboard. Is that clear?"
"Aye sir. Sorry sir. It won’t happen again."
"Very well, finish checking the equipment then report the Chief for the latest watch assignments."
"They just can’t find her, Admiral," Morton reported to Nelson in the nose. "Squidshadow is nowhere to be found. Their home base is frantic, that’s why the authorities called us to help the search. But nothing we have is helping any, and we’re pretty close to where she was last reported. Our equipment just isn’t picking up anything."
"Were there any bad storms in the area at the time they lost radio contact?" Nelson rose.
"No. Nothing out of the ordinary. They’re skilled seamen I understand, not novices. It’s like she just vanished."
"Perhaps they are not supposed to find the U-boat," Smidt commented eerily.
"What’s that supposed to mean?" Morton asked.
"I mean, well, if it was your tomb, would you like just anybody to find it? To disturb your rest?" he furrowed his brows, " I know I would only allow select persons to open my sepulcher."
"Baron, I’m sorry," Nelson replied, in no mood for idle chatter, "right now, we need to be concentrating on Squidshadow. We don’t have time to wonder about philosophy or metaphysical mysteries and the like."
"I apologize Admiral. I had only thought to suggest a possibility."
"I…I’m sorry too Baron, I know how much the treasure hunt meant to both of us…perhaps another time…"
"Of course…excuse me, though," he paused before ascending the spiral steps,"you, as a scientist, should know such things are at least possible."
Several crewmen at their control posts nodded their affirmation. Nelson noticed, and was not amused. "Keep your eyes on your instruments, men. Lives are at stake….Chip, has the Captain been informed of the situation?"
"Yes sir, he’s asked me to take the flying sub out for aerial reconnassaiance."
Smidt was not used to being dismissed so casually. Perhaps the photographs would be ready, little good it would do them.
Patterson hung up the latest of the enlargements to dry. Fraulien Sexpot was a real item, maybe he should make a copy. Hers was the only photo really worth keeping. All the others were of old sourpuss dowagers and bemedaled officers and the like. Really boring.
"You still aboard?" Riley asked with a grin, as Dale entered the crew’s quarters for some down time.
"Yeah yeah, knock it off. You know, Crane’s weird. He didn’t even raise his voice. Went real quiet, but it was like he chewed my head off. I still think he shouldn’t have gotten all harpy on me just for having a little dig at his pal, the admiral."
"You’re lucky he didn’t fling you to the deck," Ski said, "I know I would have."
"What’s that supposed to mean?"
"It means, Dale, that no matter what you think, the Admiral is smarter than you, so clam up or ship out!"
"Hey take it easy Ski," Riley tried to play peacemaker, "Dale didn’t mean anything by it. Did you Dale?"
"And what if I did? Look fellas, the man’s getting’on in years. He could be sorta’ senile already and I am entitled to my own opinion you know."
"Well keep it to yourself!"
"Or what? You’ll report me to the Captain? So he can kick me off the boat? I’d sue NIMR! And win, for that matter. You can’t fire someone for having an opinion, no matter what the Captain thinks."
"That’s probably true, but it ain’t too pleasant sticking out the rest of the cruise in the brig."
"That would just add the moolah to the court settlement, punishing me like that."
"Punishment?" Ski answered, " You’d just be in the brig for your own protection! From me! And most of this crew. Look, bud, the Admiral, well, he’s special to us. We may not understand a lot of his…idiosycracies, but we like him, we respect him, and if money is the only thing you understand, its his signature on your paycheck!"
"Ohhh I’m so scared," Dale answered menacing, mad. He should never have signed aboard with these geeks.
"Leave it Ski!" Riley kept Kowalski from striking the man, "get some sleep."
"Who made you mother-hen surfer boy?" Dale asked snidely.
"Don’t you call him names!" Ski punched Dale in the jaw, and all hell broke out.
"Well?" O’Brian demanded. "I’m waiting." Sickbay was crowded, as poor Doc and his corpsman Frank were busy patching up the scoundrels.
"Uh, well, you see sir," Ski winced as Frank placed antiseptic on his cut lip, "we kinda slipped and stumbled on the new deck polish. You know maintenance really shone her up good during refit. Isn’t that right Dale?"
"Yeah, that’s right Ski, I knocked my eye right on the edge of the table!"
The Lieutenant rolled his eyes heavenward, "I see I have to place that table on report, again," he paused, and let it rip, "What is the matter with you men? Brawling? In the middle of a search and rescue? Or have you forgotten that? Some of you are supposed to be friends! Now, Listen and listen good. I want to know, one, why, and two, who threw the first punch, and three, just why I shouldn’t put you all in the brig right now!"
Not one of the rabble-rousers replied.
Well, at least they’re sticking together now instead of killing each other, O’Brian thought. "Very well, consider yourselves on report. You’ll be having a little talk with Mr. Morton at his convenience. Doc, when you’re finished I’ll need your transcripts to place in their personnel records."
"Are they sure this was her last reported position?"
"Positive Lee," Chip removed his flight jacket as Sharkey closed the flying sub hatch in the nose. "Why, what is it?"
"I’m not so sure she has a problem….now, maybe I’m way off base here, but if I was trying to uncover some buried treasure and other people were right on my tail, I just might try a diversionary tactic to get them to make a wrong turn."
"You think we’re being misled?"
"We’ve scanned everywhere since it was first reported. No sonar indication below, no radar above, no wreckage, no sightings, nothing. Not even a splinter. I think Squidshadow just want’s us to think she’s lost, so we hang around here why they go treasure hunting."
"Possible, possible, but …" Chip paused.
"There’s been talk… of a curse, if you believe in that sort of thing of course."
"You can’t believe the Baron’s hocus pocus?"
"No, not really, but he thinks so. And so does some of the crew. Lee, we’ve had strange…experiences before….and the men are already tensed up. Even had a minor scuffle. You can trust me that they won’t be at fisticuffs again, but… "
"I’m sure about that! Had a little talk with them, did you?"
"Rather me than you…Captain’s mast is not a pleasant affair. I saved them and you the aggravation."
Crane laughed, "very well, take the conn Chip. I’ll take the flying sub out for a new reconn shortly. "
"He wants Dale to go with him?" Ski asked, surprised.
"Sorry Ski," Sharkey replied, holding a couple of flight jackets. "Skipper said Dale so Dale he gets."
"But he’s not even qualified!"
"Relax Ski, the Skipper knows what he’s doing," Sharkey replied, "but uh, I’ll put in a good word for you if it makes you feel better. Could come in handy at Captain’s mast, its all over the boat that Morton spoke to him already. "
"Gee thanks Chief."
"Now look Ski, you don’t have to get sarcastic. I don’t like this newbie going out with the Skipper either."
"Sorry chief, its just that…"
"Yeah, I know."
"You did a good job sailor," Smidt held the photos. "But I don’t know if we will be using them any time soon."
"Yeah, I heard about that ship that’s gone missing. The Captain is taking the flying sub out to look for her himself this time."
"So, Captain," Dale strapped himself in the Flying Sub’s co-pilot seat, " you think that other ship’s pulling a fast one on us?"
"I’m not sure at all, but I’d like to investigate. They could simply be off course. It happens."
"Skipper," Dale asked, hesitant, "how come me? Wouldn’t you rather have me scrubbin’ out the head? The whole crew wants me in the brig and we’re all on report and…"
"Personally? Probably," Crane began flipping some switches, "but professionally I think you could use a bit more responsibility. And you have better than average vision. Here," he handed Dale a set of binoculars. "See anything, even a spec in the ocean and I want to know about it." Crane held his throat mike, "prepare to launch flying sub."
"Aye sir," Sharkey’s voice answered, and the control panel in front of Crane exploded.
"Squidshadow pulled into the port of Greenwich, England today," the reporter said seriously, "her crew is badly shaken. They were taken to the local hospital where they are reported to be in a state of undetermined mental confusion. The vessel has not suffered any apparent damage even though her homebase had reported loss of communications.
Admiral Nelson has requested an audience with the Maritime authorities. And it’s not just Squidshadow that has had a run-in with bad luck.
The Seaview’s smaller nesting submarine, commonly called the flying sub, had an explosion earlier today, injuring two men, one of them her master, Commander Lee Crane…which has encouraged some people to think there may be truth to the rumors of a curse on finding the old U-boat, or it’s treasure…. and now the weather…"
The rusted hatch wheel turned slowly in the dark and flooded companionway. Grime swirled in the flashlight’s glare, as the diver tried to push the door open. It was jammed against something. Finally with a final shove, it came off its hinges and fell to the deck, trapping something under it with a sickening crunch. The diver saw his bubbles rise above him, and tightened his grip on his flashlight; it’s shine finally coming to rest on a bony remnant of a hand, long ago decayed, which protruded from under the door. It was clutching something small. A microphone. "Sorry lad," the diver lifted the door off of the remains and braced it against the greenish slime on the wall. Not all of the skeleton had been crushed. The skull was still intact, its mouth was open in agony. A sea snake slithered through an eye socket. Some brightly colored fish swam through other bones, one nudging the tightly fisted hand. The glint of a ring flashed. A familiar ring. One the diver had seen on numerous occasions. "No!!! Dear God, no~" he whispered in sheer anguish.
" Lee!!" he yelled, suddenly awakening up in a cold sweat. Not another blasted nightmare! This one was a bit too close for comfort. Lee had almost been killed today. If even one of the pieces of shrapnel had been just a fraction closer to the artery…Nelson shuddered at the thought. As it was, both men had been very very lucky. Dale had already been released, with only minor scrapes.
Seconded to sickbay, Lee had only minor burns, cuts, and a few welts from the exploding shards. And fussing, it was reported, all the while Doc patched him up. Nelson slowly ran a hand through his hair and decided there would be no more sleep tonight.
"What are you doing here?" Chip asked Crane, as he descended the spiral steps the next day, still in his pajamas and robe. He looked like he’d just woken up. "You’re still supposed to be in bed, resting. Doc’s orders I understand. Dr. Crane’s, even."
"It’s almost afternoon anyway," he said casually, "Any luck?"
"No. Par for the course," Morton replied, noncommittally. Nelson had decided Seaview would resume her search while he’d taken the repaired flying sub to London, and most hands had been less than enthusiastic about it.
Crane suddenly felt the hairs on his neck stand up. "Kind of chilly in here, isn’t it?"
"Well, if you insist on going barefoot…what is it Lee? Lee?" Morton was concerned. Lee was pale.
"I ..I don’t know," he responded quietly. Too quietly. "I…Chip…she’s here. I know it."
"All stop!" Morton ordered.
"No, Chip, not our treasure boat. Her. U-444. Kreuger’s boat," he whispered.
"Lee?" Morton guided him to a chair, and forced him into it. "I think you got out of sickbay too soon. Get the Doc up here for the Captain," Chip ordered loudly enough to be heard in Control.
"I..I’m all right….Chip…we…we have to turn back," he said almost inaudibly.
"It’s…it’s too late…look," he pointed at nothing outside of the windows. "She’s out there. Waiting. Waiting to strike."
"Lee. You’re seeing things." Morton poured a glass of water from the sideboard, "Here, drink this. And Kreuger’s gone. His boat is in the Pacific anyway. Not here in the Atlantic."
"He’s here, Chip. I can feel him," he said, softly but resolute.
"What’s going on here…"Doc had arrived on the scene in minutes. "What happened?" he whispered to Morton.
"You don’t have to whisper," Lee said with deathly quiet. "You won’t believe me either,"
"Why don’t you tell me about it," Doc asked gently, as he took Crane’s pulse, and shone his penlight into Lee’s eyes .
"Kreuger," Lee looked up at Doc, "he’s here. Out there. Waiting. Evil. Evil…" his voice was less than a whisper, "Stop him Chip, whatever it takes, stop him..."
"Lee?" Kathleen stood on the spiral steps, ashen faced. Everyone aboard had heard the call for Doc, but she’d been stopped from descending any further and going to her son by Kowalski. This was a job for Jamison.
"What is going on?" Smidt asked from the hatchway, also prevented from approaching the Skipper by a concerned crew.
"Do you see him now Lee?" Chip asked.
"No. But he’s here. Just out there. Waiting. Turn back Chip. Turn back. Before it’s too late. Before…before..its..too…..late," he collapsed into Doc’s arms.
"You mean to tell me," Kathleen stared at Morton, "that Lee had actually been possessed by a…by a ghost??" she asked, incredulous. Oh, the poor boys had to have been delusional that trip.
"It’s the truth," Chip replied, watching the sharks swim past the windows. He’d continued course after Lee had been taken to sickbay. He had not been able to get in touch with Nelson, who was even now meeting with the authorities in Greenwich. Lee was under sedation in sickbay. Doc hadn’t wanted to take any chances.
Morton turned, and continued. "Now, I know it’s hard to believe but it all happened. Just the way I said it did. To Lee," he paused, then reiterated for the benefit of the doubters, "This German sub Captain wanted a real body and chose Lee. He did it all for his dead lover. There was a girl too. He wanted her for his girlfriend to possess. But we blew up their love island and they weren’t stuck on Earth anymore. A promise given and taken about reuniting had kept them here. Believe it or not."
"And now" Smidt said, with sarcasm, "Crane feels that this ghost, what did you call him? Kreuger? Is back?," he mocked, " To take him over again and destroy Seaview?"
"No, I don’t know what the ghost wants, if he’s out there. He could be, you know. All I know is that Lee is convinced that he is out there…." he opened a manila folder he’d had Ski bring him, "here’s his photo. From the German Admiralty. This one," he pulled out another glossy, " is from our security cameras."
"It’s the same man," Kathleen looked at the photos in awe.
"Just because these two look alike," Smidt said, " does not mean that…"
"No, that’s not what I meant…I …had a dream…"
"Tell me about it, Chip asked.
"He formed out of the mist,"she said, uneasy, "In a tropical jungle. There were carved wooden Tiki statues…he…he was snobbish. Superior..Evil….Chip? Mulayo? Where Kreuger took Lee?"
"Kreuger’s playing games with us," Chip said firmly convinced.
"This is absurd, Smidt said.
"Contact" O‘Brian’s voice interrupted from the control room, "profiles like a sub, not too deep, but its sort of dangling on the edge of a crevasse."
"All stop, hold her steady," Morton replied, " Increase nose floodlights to maximum. Magnify the nose cameras," Morton ordered, as he stood in front of the windows. A shipwreck slowly came into view
"If I am not mistaken, that is a vintage German U-boat," Smidt rubbed his hands.
"Well, it gives me the creeps," Kathleen mused, still on tenterhooks about Lee. It was hard waiting for Doc to figure something out. "Seeing it for real like this," she continued, trying to take her mind off her son, "I didn’t quite expect it to look so…recent. Stupid of me really. All those poor dead boys."
"These men were your country’s enemies," Smidt asked, surprised, " you feel compassion for them?"
"Yes, and great sorrow that it took a war and death to end disagreements."
"Surely there is more to it than that. Sometimes war is necessary. You simplify things."
"Perhaps. I really don’t want to get into it right now, the philosophy of it all…that’s a tomb, that sub. They never went home. They had families, friends….so alone…so lost."
"You must put that in one of your stories, it’s quite poetic. Tell me, were they able to retrieve your web page?"
"How can you be interested in my stupid webpage at a time like this? When Lee is hurting and while that poor old submarine is right in front of your nose with all those dead sailors in it?"
"Your concern for your son is understandable….you must forgive me. It is also too bad about the story page. I would have liked to have seen it. I was told by a crewman that you had an interesting specialty," he practically leered.
"No Baron," she replied quickly, weary from being reminded about her short-lived spell as a sextherapist. "They’re only the simple ramblings of mostly middle aged women. Most of the stories are romantic, but not all; some are stories based on TV shows, of all things."
"It sounds charming. I am sorry you may have to start all over again."
"I don’t want to talk about it right now. If you’ll excuse me," she rose and departed. Anything to get away from him. How could be so…so… blasé’ while Lee was suffering, perhaps even being haunted, and they were practically hovering over a burial ground.
"Have you sent out a diving team yet?" Nelson asked from the videophone in Chip’s cabin.
"Admiral…I don’t even want to. And just how do we know if this is the boat, other than opening her up?"
"We don’t, evidently. Chip, she’s only a few hundred yards from where it was reported sunk. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed. I think it would be a good idea to investigate right away. It will help take the crew’s thoughts off Lee. He’d want us to, you know that, if he were in his right mind. The sooner we’ve finished, the better."
"Well, he’s awake now Dr. Crane," Frank the corpsman said quietly, " but please, maám, remember, he’s still confused."
"Lee?" she leaned against the bedframe. He looked so lost. Like a wounded puppy expecting to be whipped. "Lee? It’s Mom, please son, look at me."
"I’m sorry," he whispered, "I should have made you go…get off the boat, Mom. Hurry. While there’s still time. You can use one of the scuba tanks if Seaview can’t surface…"
"Lee, darling, its allright. No one’s going to hurt you…"
"He…he will," he began to thrash about, "Go…get out of here. Now! Please Mom," he began to pluck at his blanket, "go, now! Don’t you understand! I can’t stop him…I can’t fight him…I can’t…."he practically whimpered.
"He’s convinced," Morton continued, his voice almost breaking, as he spoke with Nelson, yet again, "absolutely convinced that Kreuger will be sneaking into Seaview and taking him over again. And he …he seems to have given up. No fight left in him at all."
"This scares me Chip. It’s unlike him to quit. I’ll try to get back as soon as possible. Do you have the infrared and aura sensor cameras set up like I said?"
"Yes, if they’ll do anything. Admiral, I’m sorry. It’s kind of a wild shot, hoping they can pick up a spectre..Or maybe…do you…do you think it may have already happened? That Kreuger’s already taken him over?"
"Does he act at all like Kreuger?"
"No…but I’ve never seen Lee like this. He’s scaring the daylights out of me. I wish we could knock some sense into him. His Mom’s with him still. I hope it helps."
"I see…very well Chip, send the dive team out when you’re ready. I’m glad the depth’s okay for regular scuba gear. But make sure the divers are careful with the sand removal equipment; that crevasse is just too deep and narrow for us if the sub slips."
"Good luck Chip. I have one more visit to make, I can’t help thinking Squidshadow has a connection to Lee’s problem, no matter how illogical. Nelson out."
"Crane," the voice said, somewhat amused, "come on now, son, you can’t make me disappear by closing your eyes and pretending I’m not here."
"No, go away," Lee thrashed about on the sickbay bunk.
"I’m not here to hurt you son, I’m only here to help. To help you and Seaview."
"Seaview?" Lee asked, "You don’t want to help Seaview. You want to destroy her," he practically spat.
"Me??" the voice took form and the man laughed. "Son, this boat of yours means almost as much to me as she does to you… "
"Leave my boat alone!" Lee tossed and turned in mental anguish, "You’ll never have her, never!"
"Wait, you think I’m Kreuger?? Listen to me son, I’m not Kreuger and I’m no ghost. Understood? Scouts Honor," he gave the salute.
"I..I don’t know…I…"
"Call me John. Captain, you have divers out exploring that wreck of a sub right now."
"That’s a matter of opinion."
"I don’t understand…"
"You don’t have to…now listen."
Kathleen and Doc stood by, watching with growing alarm as Lee bantered back and forth with his hallucination. The monitors had not picked any thing abnomal presence up, to Morton’s dismay and Sharkey’s distress. He’d come down to take a peek at the Captain and all he knew was that the Skipper was talking to someone that wasn’t there, and it wasn’t his imagination, no matter what they all said. It couldn’t be.
"No!" Lee suddenly yelled and sat up from his sickbay bunk. He jumped out of it and almost made it out of the door before Doc, Frank, Sharkey, and his mother caught up with him. He was quickly restrained by the many hands, but fought them.
"No! Let me go!" Why wouldn’t they let him go? Didn’t they know he had to hurry?
The sand blower/vacuums had done a good job. Most of the sub had been exposed. Her bow now showed a gaping hole in the port side, as she’d come to rest on her side all those years ago.
Ski gasped from his post at the nose windows.
"U-444," Smidt said, and looked at Morton, "While it appears your Captain may have been correct about her being out there, but that is no figment of your mass imagination. Besides, Commander, your ghost ship was in the Pacific."
"I also said she’d been reported sunk in the Atlantic. I can’t explain it. Can you?"
Permission was quickly given for divers to enter the wreck. It was decided that the best route would be through the gaping hole in the bow.
Ski shuddered as he saw the divers enter the derelict and disappear.
"You wish it were you, sailor?" Smidt asked Ski.
"Chip? Can you pick up, it’s Will," Doc’s voice came over the PA urgently.
"What is it Doc?" Chip picked up a mike as he heard scuffling like a struggle. Morton ignored the monitoring cameras and equipment that now littered the nose.
"Lee..he…he’s still bewildered. Hold him Frank!… I can’t make out hide or tail of it but he seems to want to go somewhere…he’s getting rather violent."
"All right Doc," Morton answered quickly, "don’t restrain him, but escort him wherever he goes. Let’s find out what this is about."
"I’m not so sure that’s a good idea but considering the circumstances… that’s it Frank, fix the transponder to my pocket…I can talk now, Chip. I have a portable transmitter on. All right, Frank, let him go. Sharkey come with us. Dr. Crane, you’d better go up to the nose. There’s no telling what he may do..That’s an order."
The unkempt man in the London hospital was sobbing, "I ain’t crazy! I aint!"
"How long has this been going on," Nelson asked the assembled doctors just outside the padded cell.
"Who knows. He’s just like the others. They were barely coherent when the coast guard spotted Squidshadow."
" She had no pilot," the maritime agent added, " her engines were at standard, and nobody aboard seemed to be aware of anyone, not even each other…they were all scared, confused, and babbling about some voice telling them they would all die; none of them made any sense."
"This man, his name’s Jones," one of the doctors said, "started screaming that he wasn’t crazy. They all say that, but he’s a bit more vocal. It’s not much, but I’m afraid it’s all we have to go on. He’s a tad violent. They all are."
"May I?" Nelson was granted permission to enter the cell. The heavy door closed behind him. He approached and took the man’s hand, "easy, easy. Look at me…that’s it…lie back down, there that’s right. You’re not crazy…no, not at all…"
The resident doctors and nurses watching though the large one-way window found it difficult to keep an open mind, but this was a VIP and they’d been told to give him carte blanche by the highest authorities, even if he was a Yank.
"Can you tell me what happened? What you saw?" Nelson asked softly.
"You don’t believe me! You think I’m crazy! You all think I’m crazy! I am crazy!" he sobbed.
"About what? "
"NO! Leave me alone!" the man lashed out and struck Nelson, his fingernails leaving a small trail on his face.
"I told you it was hopeless Admiral," one of the doctors entered the cell.
"Nothing is ever hopeless," Nelson mused, "nothing. Haven’t you tried truth serum yet? No, I thought not."
Crane was strapping on the upper part of the heavy dive gear to the lower which he’d already stepped into. At Morton’s command, Riley and Kowalski climbed into the other heavy-duty pressure gear.
They cast sidelong glances at their Skipper, who seemed totally unaware of their presence or of Morton’s, who had quickly come on the scene.
Crane’s eyes were glazed and he seemed almost as if he were in a trance, occasionally talking to thin air and making no kind of sense that they could figure out.
But then, maybe he was, Ski thought. Maybe that bastard Krueger had already taken him over again.
"Follow him," the XO ordered, " keep in constant communication. "
"Do you think he’s possessed again?" Riley whispered.
"Well, he’s not acting like Kreuger."
"I don’t like the way you said that sir," Ski swallowed.
"Neither do I men. Now look, I don’t know what you may be getting into. You may have to use your own judgment. You’ll have to use the belly hatch with that gear, even though you don’t have to use it at this depth…Lee seems to think he needs it…Good luck."
"Mr. Morton!" O‘Brian yelled through the PA. "The wreck! It’s slipping!",
"Get the team back!" Morton commanded, but it was too late. The old wreck had already slipped into the gorge.
His horror was interrupted by the splash of Crane plunging into the sea from the belly hatch. Riley and Kowalski didn’t wait for approval from the XO and followed Crane into the depths.
From the obersavtion nose windows, O’Brian watched Crane turn on the jetpack to propel himself toward the gorge. Ski and Riley trailed after, disappearing from view into the blackness and swirling sediment.
It was growing darker as Crane descended further, close to the jagged walls, further into the crevasse. His helmet light did little to illuminate anything.
"Mr. Morton," Ski said into his helmet-mike, " We can’t see anything. We can barely see the Skipper."
Nelson had gleaned little from the serum, aside from an uneasy and unvoiced confirmation of his fears. Different reports of ghostly taunts, and laughter, inoperable equipment, and a submarine that wasn’t there. So, Kreuger was behind it after all. He had to have been behind it all. And now, it might be too late.
"Mr. Morton," Sparks called out, "a message for you sir, from the Carillon group."
"We’ll have to get back to them later."
"They said it’s urgent."
"Very well, pipe them through." Morton was in the nose, checking one monitor after another. Why the hell didn’t the deep dive helmet cameras work ? The scuba team had not responded and their camera’s didn’t either.
"Commander Morton?" the voice asked, "I have disturbing news. Our Herr Smidt is a fraud. We were doing some routine paperwork and the only Baron Erryl Smidt on record died more than a hundred years ago. We’ve contacted the police, but we can’t find anything to reveal the fraud’s true identity. I’m sorry the facts slipped though our protocols. I hope it hasn’t been too inconvenient."
"It may explain a few things though," Morton answered, "thank you. We’ll be in touch."
Sparks broke the connection and turned, as the rest of the control crew toward Morton for instructions.
"O’Brian, organize a search for our ‘guest.’"
"Deepdive to Seaview…Can you still read us?"
"We read you Ski," Sparks replied through the static, "What’s happening?"
"Skip’s found her. She’s caught on a ledge." It was awkward moving in this gear, the hatchways were small for these monstrosities. "The Skipper’s already gone inside."
Inside, the U-boat looked almost green. But it was only from the slimy reflection of the skipper’s helmet light up ahead, Ski noted with relief. "We’re in her now. Gross."
"Oohh," Riley added, "that’s weird. One of the skeleton’s waving at us."
"That’s just the current," Morton was not in the mood for jocularity.
"They're all over the place,"Riley continued, " all jumbled up, lots of old equipment must’ve fallen on top of some of them….Skipper’s up ahead…we can’t get him to say anything…I don’t even think he knows we’re here."
"Any response from the first dive team?" Morton asked. "We can’t raise them either."
"No sir," Riley answered, " and I gotta’ say that makes me nervous."
Ski was just about to step over more remains when he saw the Skipper suddenly stop and stoop.
"Something’s goin’on,"Ski said, "The Skipper’s just bent over somethin…It’s Pat!"
"Is he dead, Ski?" Riley asked.
Crane looked up and motioned by hand-signal for Ski to help the limp man back to Seaview.
Without a word, Crane continued further into the boat, Riley following, barely enough room to move through the tight companionways.
"Ski’s takin’ Pat back to Seaview. Skipper’s orders. We think, anyway. Pat’s still breathing but I guess he’s unconscious. I’m still following the Skipper."
Crane turned and lifted one of several large chunks of debris.
"Dale! He’s got Dale! He…looks alive but…he’s trapped. The Skipper’s puttin’ an octopus hose on his air supply…let me give you hand….yeah..oh man that’s heavy…yuk…lots of goop on these struts. Dale? Can you hear me? Skipper? What? Uh, Seaview, Skipper’s motioning me to octopus with Dale, and get back to Seaview…what do you want me to do?"
"We’ve already got more divers on their way. Return to Seaview with Dale. Has the Captain said anything through the two-way?"
"No, it’s like he’s not there…I mean…hell, you know what I mean, and he’s already gone back into the corridor. He’s moving even further into this tub."
"The Skipper must have been led to rescue these men," O’Brian mused, at the blackness beyond the nose window, " by his voices. Perhaps Gerhart Krueger is not such a bad ghost after all."
"I’ll believe that when I see it," Sharkey said. "And the Skipper ain't back yet. Sorry Mrs. Crane. We’ll get him back for you. You just wait and see."
The old U-boat was finally flooded by the special lamps Morton had sent out with as many divers and remote cameras as he could spare. They were an odd assortment of standard, depth and deep dive geared men. The ledge that held the hulk was narrow and undoubtedly strained if the small rock falls meant anything.
"Ski’s back aboard, Mr. Morton," Sparks relayed, "Patterson’s being taken to sickbay and Riley’s coming aboard now with Dale. The Skipper’s still inside though. The new team is just about to enter the wreck and…"
"Get back! Get back!" one of the divers yelled through the PA, "it’s giving way!!!"
Kathleen Crane screamed, Morton stood in shock, as they watched from the monitors, U-444 tumble with the rockslide into the abyss.
Suddenly laughter began to echo throughout Seaview. Haunting, ghostly, and familiar.
"Mine," the Teutonic voice jeered, as it echoed throughout the great submarine, "At last. Crane is mine! You will never see your precious Captain ever again!"
"But it doesn’t make sense!" Nelson pounded his fist on the conference table. He was tired from his entire trip, glad to be back aboard Seaview, but unconvinced.
"How else can you explain it?" Chip asked.
"I can’t. All I know is that Krueger wouldn’t have cared one iota if Dale or Patterson had died. Something or someone else was at work here as well. Those couldn’t have been hallucinations Lee had. It was too convenient. Lee was in just the right place at the right time to save those men."
"What difference does it make now about what it was?" O’Brian had lost hope, "The Captain’s dead. Crushed to death, or…."
"We don’t know that Lieutenant," Nelson demanded faith.
"Any sign of Smidt?" Morton asked.
"None," O ‘ Brian reported, "It’s like he’ was never aboard."
"Figures," Nelson pursed his lips. "What I don’t understand is why the depth gear. Why? Unless…"
Gold bars were scattered all over one of the cavernous rock formations, most of the U-boat having shattered even more on it’s way further down the abyss. Crane's deep suit had protected him as he'd been tumbled and bashed against the ruptured bulkheads,as boat tore into pieces about him. Suddenly he'd found himself freed from it's confines. Some sparkles of green and red and diamond jewels glimmered interspersed with assorted human remains.
"What does it profit a man…"Crane thought to himself,the friendly, if overwhelming mind-voice having departed him. Shaking his head in confusion,other memories quickly came back as he hovered in his deep-suit in the black water, of the treasure hunt, the dive team, the disemboweled U-boat, and John. Telling him how to save the lives of his men in the wreck. He’d told Crane the truth. He was no Krueger.
"But I am," Kreuger’s voice came through loud and clear. "You are mine now, Crane."
Kathleen would never have believed it. All her training told her there were no such things as ghosts. "But she helped you before!" She had to believe to save her son.
"I’ve tried calling her, believe me I’ve tried to get Lani back to help us," Nelson rubbed his neck. The conference room was crowded, some crewmembers spilling into the corridor. Waiting for Nelson to come up with something, anything, to get the Captain back.
"She was limited even then, perhaps there’s nothing she can do this time, if she can even hear us, but there has to be something we can do…there has to be!"
"And if he’s dead?" O‘Brian asked. "Even if by some miracle we can locate and retrieve his body, we can’t bring him back to life."
"Now you stop that!" Sharkey demanded, "sir," he added contritely, "We don’t know anything yet."
"Chip," Nelson was in deep thought, "This may not have been an act of revenge. Kreuger wanted Lee’s mortal form last time. Why not now? Why the hell he went though all this to get it when he could just as easily have…no wait….he has limitations too, I’d almost forgotten…’it is impossible for me to take the life of the body I want to possess’, that’s what he said. An accident would be different….very well. We need to assume that Kreuger has taken over Lee Crane’s body. So lets’ invite Kreuger back. Something so irreistable that he can’t resist….Catty, how good are you at playacting?"
"Again maám," Riley said as he fiddled a switch on the voice synthesizer. He was glad to be helping.The special speakers had already been set up to broadcast the finished recording into the sea. If they could get it right, that was.
"Gerhardt, my love," Kathleen spoke into the small recorder.
"No, no, no…you need to be more sultry," Nelson said, irritated, "you’re lovers, not friends."
"My love," she spoke again, hopeful.
They waited as Riley punched more buttons. "My love," played. It didn’t sound like Kathleen at all. But it didn’t sound like Lani either.
An octopus swam by as Crane tried to get his jetpack to work as the current bobbed him up and down a little.
"You must know it is useless," Kreuger taunted.
"You’re supposed to be with her, at peace! You’re not trapped anymore!"
"I found myself missing the warmth of your blood," Kreuger snickered, " I mean to have it back. For myself …and for her."
"Leave me alone!"
"I tire of this, you have no choice. None."
"That’s it!" Nelson said," as Kathleen finished speaking yet more words of love into the recorder. "Sounds just like her, he won’t know the difference."
"Harriman, I would think he would."
"If you have any other suggestions, I’m open to hear them."
"Very well, what do you want me to say now…"
"I am stronger than you Crane, you are powerless against me. You know that."
"No! Leave me alone!" Crane tried everything in an effort to escape the invisible grip that held him as Krueger invaded his mind and body.
"You know I can’t do that," the voice said calmly as he forced Lee’s limbs to pick up a few jewels from the rock clutter. "This is the greatest treasure I have to give her. Aside from your body of course. You may as well enjoy it."
"Are you a man or a mouse? I see now I should have made Nelson shoot you yet again, or perhaps one of less stalwart crew. Your mind is too active. But that will pass. You will no longer exist. You are mine. You are me."
"My love," the familiar voice waved though the sea.
"Lani?" Keruger asked in startled, " Where are you? I wanted to surprise you."
"Gerhardt, my love, I know what you are doing. I have taken the body of the woman on the Seaview. Come to me. Come to me now. I have poisoned their air. I am in Nelson’s cabin. I hunger for you."
"My love! I am coming. I will be there soon."
No! Lee’s mind screamed in outrage. Leave her alone! Both of you!
"Quiet!" Kreuger demanded as he forced Lee mind into confusion and his body into motion up the crevasse and toward the sub.
Kathleen sat on the bunk, her hands clenched tightly for what must come.
Kreuger/Crane emerged from the belly hatch into the missile room. Sailors were sprawled all over the deck as if they were dead or unconscious.
He removed the awkward helmet. The deep-dive suit followed. He strolled through Seaview’s lifeless corridors, until he came to the rendevoux. He placed some of the jewels Crane’s body had retrieved for him into the pajama pocket.
Mrs. Crane stood as he entered the doorway and opened her arms.
Kreguer grabbed her in a passionate bear hug.
"NOW!" Nelson commanded from his hiding place in the head, and Kathleen sprayed both of Kreuger’s eyes with the pepper spray canisters hidden in her palms.
"What have you done?" Kreuger gasped, quickly departing Lee’s body as fell, huddled on the deck, Crane holding his eyes in agony.
"You have deceived me!" he struck Nelson to the deck, knocking him out cold. "You will die for this!" Kreuger roared, "You will all die!" he marched out of the cabin, dragging Kathleen with a grip of steel. None of the crewmen, suddenly ‘alive’ could stop him. He was hollow.
"Stop it! Don’t hurt her!" Lee yelled, as he stumbled, still blinded, trying to follow.
"I would have given you immortality!" Kreuger turned almost breaking Kathleen’s arm in his grip.
"Hold it right there bub!" Sharkey grabbed Mrs. Cranes’waist.
"You think you can pull her away? You would tear her in half! " he spat, "Peasant!"
"Wait!" Crane called, "Chief, let her go! Kreuger! Let her go and I’ll…"he took a breath, "leave my mother and crew alone and…you can do what you will with me."
"You will not resist me anymore?" Kreuger asked with no hint of compromise.
"Lee, no!" Kathleen pleaded, still in the ghosts’grip.
"Let them go," Lee said, resigned to his fate, his eyes still blurry.
Kathleen was practically flung to the deck, as Kreuger quickly re-entered Lee’s body.
"Do not try to follow me, any of you," Kreuger/Crane demanded as he walked away, aloof, satisfied, powerful. "A little insurance," he added, turning, as he strolled the corridor, as he batted Kathleen away as she’d tried to grab Lee to no avail.
Suddenly the pressure in the sub increased and everyone fell to the deck in agony. The oxygen was sucked out of boat as if by magic. Just as before.
"My love, do not do this, it is wrong," Lani suddenly appeared.
"Lani! My love!"he turned and gave her a wonderful smile.
"Gerhardt, you must not do this. Release them. All of them."
"But it is all for you! Even these," he held out some diamonds.
"I have no desire for baubles," Lani said.
"But this body? It is so warm!" he reveled in it, "Crane’s body is so young, so alive! So alive, for you!"He tried to embrace her.
"But is it for me or for you?"she pushed him away, "Do you not know that I love you," Lani said, "I have no desire for an earthly body, or the warmth of a stolen life. Let us be done with this abombination. It is offensive to me."
"No," she placed her fingers on his lips, "no, Gerhardt, never again."
Crane suddenly fell, free from the spectre’s hold, as the Kreuger and Lani vanished from sight.
Immediately the normal pressure resumed, and the oxygen was blowing normally.
"It appears that the treasure sub," the reporter said, "fell into a deep crevasse, breaking apart…though some bars of gold and a few gems were caught on an outcropping. Seaview is using their heavy depth gear to garner what they can, but its doubtful that there will really be anything of value salvaged…"
"Skipper?" Ski asked, as he entered the Captain’s cabin, "the divers found this too. That’s about the last of it."
"On old metal box?" Kathleen quipped. "That’s got to be worth a bundle," she said sarcastically.
"It’s still sealed," Crane tugged at the lock. "Got a bobby pin, Mom?"
"You can’t seriously think you can take those TV shows seriously," she removed a hairpin from her hair and handed it to him. She couldn’t help smiling at him, as he played with the lock, he looked just like a little boy. Even in his pajamas. It had taken skill, but he’d managed to convince Doc that he could rest just as easily in his cabin than in sickbay. There was no real harm done to him anyway. His eyes would be a little sore, but that was all.
"It worked in a couple of your novels, didn’t it?"
The seal cracked as Lee twisted the pin in the small lock.
"She got it back then? Her web stuff?" Dale asked as he helped with the salvage inventory. Only his arm was in a sling. Twice in sickbay this trip. This boat played hard.
"Apparently her host-server had a hardware problem," Patterson made a notation on his clipboard, "that’s it then. I’d better report these totals to the chief," Yeah, it was good to be back on the duty roster. Just a little wind had been knocke out of him. Man had he been lucky. "Well, "he continued, "It happens a lot, these Internet glitches, they tell me. None of her files got fried though."
"Glad to hear it. She was kindá upset about it all. But I know I wouldn’t go all ballistic about a bunch of silly stories. Pat," Dale pursed his lips. "You really think that Smidt guy was actually Kreuger?"
"The Admiral does…kinda odd, though. Toying with us like that."
"Well, maybe he needs a hobby, even if he is a ghost."
"Well," Nelson looked up at Morton. All the special equipment in the nose had been removed and it looked back to normal.
"The chief reports the salvage operations are complete. Everything’s inventoried and awaiting Carillon’s inspection when we dock. Not much of a treasure, I’m afraid."
"You might be mistaken about that Chip, dear," Kathleen entered the nose, carrying a small stack of papers.
"Catty," Nelson smiled, "what brings you here, I thought you were busy being mother-henning our poor ill-used Captain."
"Did he tell you that?"
"Not in so many words…but you know he hates being fussed over, Doc still won’t put him on the duty list. Something about him needing a rest from the..stress."
"That won't stop him, "Morton grinned.
"Well, he’ll just have to put up with it,"Kathleen replied…Now, look here…these may be worth more than any of those gold bars you brought up."
"What are they," he noticed the rather small pieces of paper were stained, but in otherwise good condition.
"His and hers. Hers were in that crusty old box. I got his after a bit of web searching some archives. "
"Hard to imagine him keeping them so safe."
"When I spoke to the South Seas Archive Association, they found these in an estate file and sent them via radiophotos. Do you know how many Lani’s there are in the islands? But I’m sure these are hers, you’ll agree. There’s a picture of them together too,that was in the box" she paused, "you know, as much as I despise him; after seeing these, well, perhaps he’s not quite so horrible after all. Here, let me put them in order……."
August 29, 1918 - still in the North Atlantic.
Capt. Gerhardt Kreuger
We have run into a few more minor troubles, but I promise you I will return soon. It will soon be September and I have been promised leave. Wait for me my dearest love. Gerhardt
My dearest Love,
I am sorry to hear about the delay. But I know I have no choice. I will wait for you with baited breath until I can hold you in my arms.
2239 Hours-Septemeber 2,1918- North Atlantic-heavy seas and strong winds topside! An advantage for a U-Boat!
Capt. Gerhardt krueger
Victory is ours . At least it will be soon. Only a few casualties from our latest encouonter, but that is too be expected. I came through unscathed yet again. I am beginning to obtain a reputation as invincible! I will soon be as feared as Ricktofen. My career is quite successful and I have no doubt I will soon advance in rank, but I will miss my little boat! But enough of war and the weariness of it all. I long to return to the islands and to you my dearest love. You are always in my mind, and heart. For always.Wait for me my dearest love, as I have no doubt I will be with you soon.
All my love,
My dearest one,
While I am glad you are doing well, be careful. Pride can be a terrible thing if left to grow. I fear for you and hope you will not become like some of your colleagues, vain and hungry for power and glory. Dearest Gerhardt, don't let them sway you to their level. Remember I love you, not your uniform.
Forever yours, Lani.
capt. Gerhardt kreuger
Lani, my Lani,
No need to fear for me. You do not understand. What is wrong with being proud of my skill as a submarine capitain in this conflict? Pride in one's work is a good thing, and I have a long career yet ahead of me. I am in the prime of life! But you are a woman, thus you cannot understand.
Dearest, I did not mean to hurt your feelings. But do you not remember when you could not bring yourself to tell me you were sorry when you knew you were in the wrong about not telling the Baroness about us? It was not for lack of feeling for me, but pride in yourself. You could not stoop to the level of the 'failure' in telling me you were sorry you could not tell her about us.
We promised never to have secrets from each other. Your mother may not approve, but at least you would be standing up for us.
No matter what, I cannot find it in my heart to be angry with you for long, and over such a trivial matter so long ago. I love you . No matter what.
Captain gerhardt kreuger
Enough ! I cannot defy the Baroness my mother. It is not for lack of love for you. Gerhardt.
Forgive me. It is true I do not understand. The ways of your country are confusing to me still. I will not mention it again.
I am writing this in the moonlight and dream of our times together in the past and the near future I hope.
I long to grow old and grey with you my dearest love, our squabbles forgotten and nothing but laughter and kisses remaining between us.
1538 Hours -Sept 18,1918- I long to return to you and the islands!
capt. Gerhard kreuger
My dearest Love,
The action here is getting very crowded. We have made several hits and have eluded many close calls. Your picture is taped above the periscope-to remind me, to remind us all, of those we've left behind, to fight for the Kaiser. I will be getting new orders soon. I can only hope they will be to relieve me of command while they refurbish the boat so I can return to you if even briefly. My love, I think of you all the time. I will return at the first opportunity. Wait for me my dearest love, wait for me. I promise I will return. I promise we will grow old together.
PS. I have enclosed a picture taken by my first mate. You will see that I am quite fit.
There was an unconfirmed report that the Allies engaged and sunk another U-boat on Sept. 27 at approx. 0230, with no apparent survivors.
"Thank you Patterson," Nelson nodded from the wardroom table at the latest batch of photographs from the salvage operations. "I don’t suppose this is a salvage photo?"
"Oh," Patterson turned red, as he took the photo from Nelson; "I must have gotten some things mixed up. Sorry sir."
"What is it?" Crane asked, as he sat down, finally in uniform. "Oh, Fraulien sexpot. What’s she doing here with the salvage photos?" He held the photo for more than a few moments until Nelson coughed politely. "Oh, uh, Patterson," Crane continued, " this isn’t the original is it? How many copies did you make?" he asked.
"Uh, well…uh…"Patterson was embarrassed.
"You know," Crane said, "I could place you on report for misuse of time and supplies… keep out a copy for me will you?" he flashed the crewman a forgiving smile and laughed, returning his attention to the other pictures. "Pat, who’s this?" he said a moment later, almost ashen faced.
"Oh, that musta gotten it mixed up too, sorry sir, it’s for Miss Angie, she wanted to put it up on her office wall, the one with all the pictures of Seaview stuff…you never knew him. That’s Captain Phillips."
"Lee, what is it?" Nelson asked, growing concerned at Lee’s pallor. " You look ill."
"The…" Crane looked up at Nelson, "my …hallucination, Mom called it, he…it…it was him."
"John?" Nelson whispered, then nodded, "yes…of course."
"I’m sorry. I guess I should have realized right away," Lee said with genuine sadness, "he’d …he’d said he cared for Seaview as much as me. I should have known….Admiral?" Lee knew Nelson must be feeling the loss again, "If anyone had to come from the other side to help us out, I’m glad it was him."
"So am I, Lee, so am I."
"He…said he said he wasn’t a ghost…."
"Ahhh.,"Nelson seemed to understand and accept something. " My boy," he tried to make light of it, " it appears as though there’s been an additional member placed in your troop of guardian angels," he paused, "you wear them out so much."
"Well, Catty," Nelson stood at the ladder as crewmen lugged her baggage topside. "What are you going to call this one?"
"Harriman, now why on earth do you think I’d write about this little excursion? Oh, very well, I’m going to call it, The Vow. Dreadful title but I just can’t think of anything else yet, not that it matters, I know you macho males would never even dream about reading romantic fiction or other such nonsense."
"I’d hardly call love nonsense," Nelson held her hand, "it’s the most powerful force on earth. Warped like Kreuger’s or Genteel like a mother for her son, its what makes life worth living."
"You know, Harry, you’re quite poetic, perhaps you should take to the keyboard."
"Or set up your own web-page," Lee added with a wink as he climbed the ladder.
"Not in a million years! Now, off with you…Lee, enjoy your shore leave. Catty, make sure he doesn’t do anything too strenuous like rock climbing or bunjee jumping."
"Chip’s got dibs on the bunjee jumping!" Lee’s voice came from topside.
"Don’t worry," Kathleen looked upward toward the hatch, and whispered, "I’ve granted his services to a cub-scout troop in need of a temporary leader…no, don’t look worried. Cub scout cookout, that’s all."
"Take care my dear," Nelson gave her a little peck on the cheek. Was it his imagination or was he enjoying that? He nodded to Ski and the crewman helped her up the ladder and into the sunshine.
"Everything’s in order sir," Morton handed Nelson the clipboard. Only the two of them remained aboard. "Any word from the historical society?"
"Well, $726,000 is just an estimate for the gold recovered. As for the jewels, well, there isn’t much. Carillon is sending some gemologists to check them out,"he sighed, " I had such hopes.."
"I’m sorry sir. But the site’s been mapped. Perhaps when there’s newer, more capable recovery gear…we’ve been offered some new Verne prototypes…"
"Perhaps, perhaps. Oh, and thank you Chip, for all your help. Its difficult, your position, I know I sometimes don’t say it, and…"
"My pleasure sir, I wouldn’t change it for the world, besides, somebody’s gotta keep Lee in line…you think he’ll take it easy this shore leave?"
"That, Chip, is a definite impossibility!"
Both men laughed as they departed the boat.
The love letters lay intertwixt with each other in the small acrylic box specifically requested to hold them. Angie would be by later to collect them for Carillon, to be added to the ‘treasure’ collection for display before distribution of any profit after expenses.
Valueless, they were, according to Carillon, aside from some historical interest.
Words on paper. Only words.
A few faded faded photographs lay atop them. An image of a man long dead, one Gerhart Kreuger, submarine Captain, and Lani, his one true love.