A short vinyette by Carol Foss
Author’s note: this vinyette takes place just after ‘Eleven Days to Zero’
The photograph almost burned in his hand. It had been taken by the newly installed security cameras placed about inside the sub. They were to have placed exterior ones next month. It just wasn’t fair. None of it was fair.
“Ski, quit your daydreamin’ “ Chief Jones said, irritated, “ go take that new thingimibog of the Admiral’s to the boat.”
“The new toy Captain Phillips talked him into getting when they...” he let the question drop, “shit.”
“What’s that you got there?”Jones asked. “A new girlfriend?”
“No,” Ski said, anger growing, “here.”
“Sorry, Ski, I didn’t realize...”
“It must have been the last picture taken of him alive...I was getting the scoop about our new security plans from the new Captain when I saw it. Just lying there on top of the others on his desk. Like it was...nothing.”
“So what did he say when you asked him for the picture?”
“I didn’t. I just took it. He was too busy to even notice. He was on the phone to Pearl about getting his car here.”
“Well, I hope you return it to him before he finds it missing and throws you in the brig. Now, go on. The weirdy thing’s down in supply.”
“Like Duhhh, Curley.”
“Ahh, my new triad microscope,” Nelson said as Ski appeared aboard Seaview with the Admiral’s latest acquisition. “Good, over here, I’ll install it later.”
For a moment Ski simply watched as Nelson went about the lab, immersed in whatever it was he was investigating now. He had much bigger and sophisticated lab ashore; why he’d chosen to be here on the docked sub instead was anyone’s guess. It just wasn’t like him.
“Anything wrong, Kowalski?”Nelson interrupted Ski’s thoughts.
“No. It’s just...”he took a deep breath, “are you sure about keeping Captain Crane?”
“Why do you ask? He’s a fine sub commander, even you have to admit that and....”
“It’s not that he can’t skip a boat, but...”
“What is it son?” Nelson indicated the only other chair, actually a hard stool.
“I saw this,” Ski handed Nelson the photo, “it was just tossed on a pile of security pictures on his desk. He didn’t even seem to care and...”
Nelson studied the image of Phillips in the control room....
“We all feel the loss, Ski.Especially me. John and I went back a long way. But it’s not Crane’s fault if he can’t feel our grief.”
“No sir, but...”
“Ski, there’s going to be a period of adjustment for all of us. Just give it time, okay?”
“Sir,” Ski hesitated, “am I...am I ‘ordered’ to like Captain Crane?”
“No,” Nelson said, disturbed by Kowalski’s suddenly harsh attitude, “But I’d appreciate it if you could respect him.”
“Oh, I respect him okay. I just can’t...well...it’s hard to get used to him...”
“Even though he saved our skins? Including yours? He was a vital in the success of the emergency mission. Thousands, even millions could have died...or are you still angry he smacked you when he snuck aboard to test security? It was just a reflex when you tried to subdue him. Could have happened to anyone. I thought he explained things....”
“It’s not that sir. He did, it’s just...Captain Phillips is dead, and he doesn’t give a shit about him.”
“Ski..you don’t know that.”
“Is there anything else sir?” Kowalski stood firm.
“No. You can return to your duties. And Ski, you might want to stop by the visitor’s center. There’s something there you may want to look at.”
The memorial wreath in the marble lobby, dedicated to the late Captain, driver, and two guards also killed with Phillips was impressive. Laid by Nelson, and witnessed by all hands in the memorial service which had taken place almost as soon as the boat had docked two days ago, it offered little comfort to the weary crewman. Why did Nelson want him to see it again? Then he saw a scroll of sorts, laid inside some of the flowers. That hadn’t been there before. Ski took it and began to read....
Dear Capt. Phillips,
I never had the privilege of knowing you, but I can tell how very much your officers and crew admired you. I just wanted to say, I cannot, nor will I, try to replace you, the man, only the job. If I can obtain even half the respect they had for you, I’ll consider myself quite a success in my decision to remain aboard Seaview.
I know I’ll have to set aside some of my preconceived notions about her. The Admiral has already seen to most of them, but no doubt there may still be some problems as we all adjust to each other.
She’s a fine lady, Seaview, pretty astounding actually, and I promise you that I’ll never knowingly let her down, or her crew or Nelson.
Ski rolled the scroll and replaced it, looked at the portraits of the lost men, bowed his head, then left, his mind confused, unsure, and a little guilty as he walked back to the Institute offices.
As he passed by the Admiral’s outer office corridor, he noticed the boxes of Captain Phillips personal effects set on Angie’s desk. Her laughter as she spoke to Crane made what he had to do worse. But he had no choice. Captain Phillips would have wanted it this way. He cleared his throat.“Permission to speak with the Captain?”
“What’s on your mind Ski?”
“I need to give you this...I took it from that pile of security pictures on your desk. No excuse sir.”
Crane took the photo, somber, “I was wondering where I mislaid it. I promised his wife I’d bring it over with his personal effects...Ski? Would you like a copy of it?”he asked gently.
“I...yes. Yes, sir, I would.”
“I’ll have copies made for anyone who wants them. He was a good man.”
“Thank you sir. Uh, would you like me to carry the boxes for you?”
“I’d appreciate that, yes, Ski. The car pool said they’d have a vehicle here soon.”
Ski lifted the four stacked boxes, “‘Soon’ is a matter of opinion with them, Skipper. See you downstairs.”
“What is it Lee?”Angie asked.
“Nothing,”Lee tried to hide a grin, “We still on for lunch tomorrow?”
“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away, unless they’re sea-horses that is...”
“Did somebody mention sea-horses?” Nelson popped into the office. “I have a new species that...”
“No sir,” Angie said, and waved to the smiling Crane as he departed.
“He seems to be in a good mood...ahh.”
“It’s not what you think sir....just lunch tomorrow, with Chip and Lola.”
Angie hadn’t noticed, but Crane had. Ski had called him the more fraternal ‘Skipper’ instead of the more formal ‘Captain’ he’d been using all this time. Crane could tell it had been forced, but the crewman was making the effort at least and as Kowalski began to chatter in the car about the upcoming spaghetti eating contest planned for next week, Crane began to relax a nagging misgiving about taking on Seaview. He was finally beginning to feel at ‘home’.