A short vignette by Carol Foss
Author’s note: this vignette 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 set exterior ones just when they’d been called away on the emergency mission, now completed. Almost as if the whole thing had never happened. It just wasn’t fair. None of it was fair.
“Ski, quit your daydreamin’, “ Chief Jones said, “ go take that new thingamabob of the Admiral’s to the boat. What’s that picture you got clutched in your hand like you’re afraid it’ll blow away?”
“It’s the Skipper. Must have been the last picture taken of him alive. I was getting the grief about our bad security from the new Captain and all of his plans for the essential upgrades we need when I saw it. Just lying there on top of the others on his desk. Captain Phillip’s desk, not his. Not really. Like the Skipper never even existed. Like he was...nothing.”
“So what did Crane 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.”
“You know he could have you fired for swiping that picture? He could do it you know.”
“I almost hope he does. I don’t know if I even want to be on Seaview anymore. Not with him aboard.”
“You didn’t think that when he saved our hides. And the world’s too, if you get right down to it.”
“That was a global crisis. It’s different now.”
“We always have emergencies, global and otherwise, that’s what we do best. And the Admiral wouldn’t have asked the Navy that we keep him if he didn’t think he could do the job, even to handling crybabies like you. Now quit acting like an idiot and get that whatever that doohickey is to the Admiral before he starts griping about havin’ to wait.”
“I was beginning to think you’d gotten lost,” Nelson said as Ski appeared aboard Seaview with the Admiral’s latest acquisition, protected in a yellow vinyl wrap. “These triad microscopes can be temperamental if they get moist. Supply should have kept it crated... Any sign of the rain stopping?”
“It’s starting to clear but the forecast is for more rain later today.” Without being asked, Ski held and turned the vast affair as Nelson made the necessary adjustments while he installed it into its new place in the boat’s lab.
“You’re pretty quiet, lad, not like you. Anything wrong?”
“No. It’s just...” Ski took a deep breath, “are you sure about keeping Captain Crane?”
“Sure about....”Nelson paused, the question was a bit of a shock. “Why do you ask? He’s a fine sub commander. I couldn’t have chosen better myself.”
Ski said nothing.
“What is it son?” Nelson indicated the only other chair, actually a hard stool.
“It’s not that he can’t skip a boat, but...I saw this,” Ski handed Nelson the photo; “it was just tossed on a pile of security pictures on Captain Phillips’ desk. He didn’t even seem to care and...”
Nelson studied the image of Phillips in the control room...
It was an ordinary scene of work aboard Seaview, one they’d all seen numerous times, of their late Captain checking on some equipment in the sub’s control room. Nelson noticed the security ticker on the bottom, and the date. It had been taken just an hour before he’d been killed by the terrorists intent on Nelson’s failure to avoid a full scale natural disaster caused by recent seismic activity....Nelson had managed to survive the gunfire by being tossed out of the car before it spun out of control and burst into flame. “We all feel the loss, Ski. John and I went back a long way, and he’ll be sorely missed by us all...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. Believe me; you’ll come to like him. Just give it some time, okay?”
“Sir,” Ski hesitated, “am I...am I ‘ordered’ to like Captain Crane?”
“No,” Nelson said gently though disturbed by Kowalski’s 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. Captain Phillips is dead, and Captain Crane doesn’t give a shit...”
“Enough. I’ll allow for that outburst due to the stress we’ve all been under, this time, but...”
“Is there anything else sir?” Kowalski interrupted.
“No,” Nelson said, “If you’re so dedicated to disliking him, there’s nothing I can do about it. 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 see.”
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 a few days ago, it offered little comfort to the weary crewman. Why did Nelson want him to see it again? Then he saw a plain white 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, but 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 or her crew or Nelson down.
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 bit guilty as he walked back to the Institute offices.
As he passed by Officer’s Row, the wing in the institute that housed the Captain’s and XO’s offices, Ski noticed the last remaining boxes of Captain Phillips personal effects just outside his office. The door was wide open and Angie was inside with Crane, laughing about something or other. Ski’s resolve almost disappeared but he had no choice. Captain Phillips would have wanted it this way.
He cleared his throat at the door. “Permission to speak with the Captain?”
“What’s on your mind Ski?” Crane asked, well aware his mere presence was still not exactly welcome by the crewman.
“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 gratefully, “I was wondering where I mislaid it. I promised his wife I’d bring it over today with his personal effects...Ski? Would you like a copy of this?” he asked gently. “This is probably the last picture taken of him....”
“I...yes. Yes, sir, I would.”
“He was a good man,” Crane said softly.
“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 the car pool, Skipper. See you downstairs,” Ski departed.
“What is it Lee?”Angie asked.
“Nothing,” Lee tried to hide a small grin, “We still on for lunch?”
“We are, if you don’t mind cafeteria blahh. I have to stick around the grounds until Lola gets back from vacation. Been kind of short staffed. Someone on staff always has to be ‘readily available’ as the boss puts it.
“Did somebody mention lunch?” Morton popped into the office.
“Beware the bottomless pit; you’ll join us, won’t you Chip?”Angie asked.
Morton glanced at his Captain, not quite sure if he would be interfering with a date.
“Actually, that’s a good idea,” Crane came to his rescue, “we can discuss some of the new security measures we’re initiating. Should come as quite a relief to some of the crew, including Kowalski.”
Morton laughed with Crane as Angie tried to figure out what was so funny.
“Don’t worry, Ang,” Chip said, “I’ll fill you in all about it as our gallant Captain attends to his errands.”
As the car drove Crane and Ski the moderate distance to Mrs. Phillip’s home, Crane began to relax any of his nagging misgivings about taking on Seaview. Angie hadn’t noticed anything, but he 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. Soon Kowalski was chattering all about the Cafeteria’s nuances and what to religiously avoid.
“Where’s the Captain?” Morton asked the returning Ski as he stood alongside Angie, just outside Crane’s empty office.
“He’s at the outcrop. Just looking at the ocean.... I think he kinda’ wanted to be alone.”
“Ahh. How did Mrs. Phillips handle things?”
“Oh, she was okay. I think it got to him though...all those pictures of him and her and all the grandkids running around...”
“Maybe this isn’t a good time...” Angie said, indicating a monitor to the stretch of rock overlooking the shore. “Security just installed it this morning.”
Crane was just standing there, hands in his pockets, kicking at some turf. Suddenly a stream of sunlight broke through the clouds and a rainbow appeared over the water. Turning for a better view, he suddenly knelt to the ground and appeared to bow his head.
“What’s he doing, praying?” Ski asked.
“Looks like it,” Morton said.
“What’s going on here?” Jones asked, suddenly on the scene, “You all look a bit pale.”
“The Skipper’s praying!” Ski whispered.
“Well, he’d have to, with a knot head like you and...You’re not kidding are you?” Jones finally saw the image.
“What about, I wonder?”Angie said.
“Okay, okay,” Morton said and turned off the monitor, “break it up. These cameras are for security, not for invading anyone’s privacy. And what the Skipper prays for is his own business. I think we all still have some things we can find to do before lunch.”
The cafeteria was crowded that day despite it being regarded as the ‘Pepto-Pit’. When Crane had returned to his office, he told Morton and Angie that he had a few matters to attend to before joining them for lunch and that he wouldn’t be long. He wasn’t.
“Any recommendations?” he smiled, placing his sweater on the vacant chair.
“Yes,” Morton said, “Chang Lee’s”
“Oh, it can’t be all that bad...Chip, why don’t you give me a hand deciding what to choose.” It was not really a suggestion. Morton knew that command intonation, and immediately complied. Soon the two men were seen speaking in undertones as Chip picked and pointed to the various offerings in the sterile food trays. “It’s kind of quiet all of a sudden isn’t it?”
“Probably food poisoning,” Morton laughed as the men rejoined Angie.
“C’mon Chip,”Angie insisted as she sat at her desk after lunch, “you can tell me.”
“Pretty please? I’ll bake you some peanut butter cookies.”
“Homemade Apple Pie?”
“What’s this all about?” Nelson asked as he hung up his raincoat. The slight drizzle had turned into a downpour. “No sooner than I return from my bungalow I find everyone buzzing about the Captain. And apparently you two as well.”
“Chip won’t tell me anything!”
“Can’t. Sworn to secrecy.”
“But Lee was praying!”
“A lot of people pray. It’s a God given right you know.”
“Chip Morton, if Lee’s in trouble I want to know about it. He’s kind and sweet and...”
“Praying?” Nelson interrupted.
Just then Nelson noticed a shadow pass by in the corridor. “Lee, in here, now!”
“You sure?” Lee asked from the hallway, “I’ll drip all over your hooked carpet. I had a few errands to run after lunch and I thought I’d beat the storm, but I underestimated it....what’s wrong?” he ignored the rivulets of water running down his face and stepped into the outer office.
“That remains to be seen, my office. Angie, no interruptions. Morton, you get in here too.”
What was said or not said in the Admiral’s office remained a mystery to all but the three. And if Crane was regarded a little more like a saint as the sec-cam’s picture was quickly bootlegged and distributed, who was Nelson to argue with it. It was good for Captains to be treated with a bit of awe. Especially Seaview’s.
“Thank you for framing the picture for me, Lee,” Mrs. Phillips said sweetly. “John would have liked it. Seaview was his love next to me. Must be a captain thing. Hard to believe it’s a security picture. I know I’ve apologized before but I’m so sorry little Timmy tipped that bookcase over on you yesterday. Are your ankles better? John had a similar accident and his would actually go out on him occasionally until they healed. I still think you should have let me put ice on them right away instead of joining your men in the car.”
“I’m fine, Amelia. I’m just sorry I couldn’t have known him.”
“I know....Lee; I just wanted to say, I think you’ll be a very fine Captain for John’s boat.”
“I’ll try to be. Well, I have to get back. I’m taking Angie out to Chen Lee’s today.”
“Good choice. But just between you and me, I’d rather have a McDonalds.”
The two laughed and Crane
waved goodbye from his rented wreck. At least if felt like a wreck. His own car
would take awhile as it had to come by freighter from the
As a new rainbow formed over the sea, he pulled the car over to one side on the narrow curving highway, and just soaked it all in. He had informed Chip about the bookcase incident and sworn him to silence that day in the Cafeteria. That a small child could do so much damage was embarrassing. Morton had promised to keep mum about it; even if the whole base thought that it was Crane praying instead of merely loosing his balance, falling to his knees and muttering epithets to himself about being a klutz.
Now, however, as he saw the glory in the sky again of a long ago promise, he got out of the car, knelt reverently and thanked God for sparing the earth the hazards that had been abated, and the lives that had been spared. As he got back into his car and drove back to the Institute he didn’t see that a lone cyclist had stopped and hidden in some brush, and had witnessed his moment of quiet devotion.
Kowalski was aware of the latest rumor, that the Captain had been seen favoring his ankles on more than one occasion, that perhaps he wasn’t such a ‘saintly’ skipper after all, just a clumsy one. But now, Ski wasn’t quite so sure. What he did know, was that Crane was Skipper of the Seaview, and it was going to be all right.
Author's Note: In the initial episode of Eleven Days to Zero, Crane takes it upon himself to sneak aboard the sub to test their security. As he reaches inside the control room from the ladder, he's waylaid, and reacting, punches Kowalski in the jaw, before he's subdued. His action is not appreciated by the crew or by Nelson, though Crane rightly insists he actually got aboard.