As Chip walked down the corridor at NIMR, headed for his office, he heard a door slam loud enough to echo halfway to Seaview’s dock. Hmm. Wrong direction to be the Admiral, he muttered under his breath. Guess HurriCrane Lee just blew back in. Doesn’t sound like he had a very good vacation. A slow grin crossed his face and he headed in the direction of his CO’s – and best friend’s – office.
Seaview’s workaholic Captain had, six days ago, been ‘persuaded’ to take some time off. Of course, Dr. Will Jamison’s method had been to remind Lee that unless there was a suitable absence of the Captain’s backside from NIMR property, the CMO would declare him unfit for duty for the giant submarine’s next cruise. Jamie usually had to resort to that threat at least once a year. With the usual reaction from the Captain – Lee yelled until he was blue in the face that Jamie had no right or reason; that he, Lee, was just fine, thank you, and would Jamie kindly get out of his way and let him do his job. Then Jamie would remind Lee – at much the same volume – that he, Jamie, was doing his job by maintaining the health of Seaview’s crew, of which Lee was a part. It always ended the same way: Admiral Nelson and Chip would break up the combatants, Lee would grudgingly split for a week or so, and all would be forgiven by the time he got back. Wonder what happened this time? Chip gave Lee’s secretary an upraised eyebrow, but that stalwart survivor of Command Personnel temper tantrums just shrugged her shoulders, and Chip walked over and tapped lightly on Lee’s office door. Not getting a response, he quietly opened the door and slipped inside anyway.
His first look at the returned vacationer wasn’t promising, and had Chip closing the door behind him as silently as he’d opened it. Lee was sitting leaned back in his desk chair, head against the tall back, eyes closed and fists clenched. “That bad,” Chip finally asked with an amused grin. He watched as Lee started badly, then finally relaxed and settled back into his chair. Chip walked over, poured out two cups of coffee from the pot Lee’s secretary always started when she got in, set one down in front of Lee, and settled himself into one of the visitor’s chairs.
Lee took a couple deep breaths, sighed heavily, and reached for the cup of dark, rich brew. Not without having to stifle a low moan, unfortunately, and he ducked his head as he realized Chip had noticed. “I really wish,” Lee grumbled, “Jamie would quit insisting I take a vacation. Nine times out of ten I come back feeling worse than when I left, only to have to face all the blasted paperwork that’s built up while I was gone.” He waved a hand at his overflowing ‘In’ basket, flinched again, and settled both hands around the coffee cup, finally taking a long, slow, swallow.
While taking note of his friend’s apparent stiff and sore movements, Chip chose not to comment. Instead, his grin broadened. “That good, huh?” he asked casually. Laughing outright at the instant glare he got in answer, he finally saw Lee’s lips twitch as he took another swallow of coffee.
“Let’s just say, it had its moments,” Lee acknowledged.
give, buddy. Tell your Uncle Chip what a
terrible time you had, off in the wilds of the
Lee chuckled, not without another momentary flinch that he knew Chip caught, and quickly got himself back under control. “And who was it I had to bail out the morning after Mikey Stengler’s party, when you and Tim decided to go skinny dipping? If Gunny Zitka had ever found out about that…”
Chip’s ears turned bright pink. “We didn’t know it was the Mayor’s pool,” Chip defended himself indignantly. “No one told us he lived next door.” Lee’s laughter filled the office as Chip’s face turned crimson. “And you’re changing the subject,” Chip challenged. He got more serious as Lee reached to put down the now empty coffee cup and cringed doing it. “What did you and Tim get into that made Annie beat you up with her rolling pin?”
Lee just shook his head. “Wasn’t Annie’s doing,” he admitted, and gave Chip a sheepish grin. “Tim and I managed to mangle ourselves all on our own.”
“I knew it,” Chip said triumphantly, as Lee cringed again. “Give,” he demanded.
Lee reacted to the order with an instant glare, but it defused rapidly into another sheepish grin. “You know the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area?”
“Not personally,” Chip quipped. “Heard you talk about it.”
“Cool place. Over 10,000 acres of dunes and beaches to explore. Tim and I rented a two-person dune buggy for the day and just took off. You can’t really get all that lost. At the widest, it’s only a little over two miles. Just head for the beach and turn north. You eventually get back.”
“So?” Chip prodded again.
“So…” Lee gave his friend a decidedly chagrined glance. “We got, shall we say, a little too up close and personal with the sand.”
Chip set down his coffee cup with exaggerated carefulness. “You rolled the dune buggy?” he asked, slowly and sternly.
Lee looked at him through his lowered eyelashes, and held up two fingers. “Twice,” he admitted softly. “It’s really amazing. You look in one direction, and all you see is flat sand. You look at the same stretch from the other direction, and then you can see all the potholes. We were strapped in, of course,” he hastened to add to the blond, who’d just closed his eyes and was shaking his head slowly. “Didn’t hurt anything. They make those buggies to withstand that sort of tearing around. We just unbuckled, flipped it over right side up again, and went back at it.”
Chip finally opened his eyes at the obviously delighted sound in Lee’s voice. But he kept his expression stern. “So, why are you flinching every time you move an inch? And why the sound effects when you came in this morning?” He nodded toward the office door.
A momentarily hard look crossed Lee’s face, but he smiled at Chip. “A little stiff and sore the next morning,” he admitted. The smile broadened as he added, “Annie threatened us both with leeches, after looking at all Tim’s bruises.” He laughed, and relaxed as Chip joined in.
“But if you didn’t get that hurt,” the blond persisted, “why are you still stiff? And what about the rest?” He again indicated the door.
The hard look came back. “Came later,” Lee growled. “Now, if you have nothing better to do than sit there and interrogate me, I’m sure I can find a few dozen reports you can work on.”
“Have my own, thank you,” Chip admitted, and stood. But as he did, Lee reached for the stack of folders to his left, and immediately cringed as he extended his left arm. It wasn’t until then that Chip noticed a small stain on the shoulder of Lee’s uniform shirt, and stopped his movement toward the door. Lee finally noticed where Chip was staring, and glanced down.
“Damn,” he growled. “Bandage must have slipped.”
“Bandage?” Chip pounced.
“Relax, Chip,” Lee tried to placate his instantly concerned friend. “Just a scratch. I’ll clean it up in a bit. Think I have a spare shirt in the closet.”
But Chip wasn’t about to be dismissed that easily, especially as he noticed the stain was spreading. He quickly walked around the desk to stand next to Lee. “Give!” he demanded. “What’s going on, Lee?”
“Nothing,” Lee tried again to wave him off, this time, unfortunately, with his left hand. As a stab of pain shot through his shoulder, he had to reach around with his right hand and hold his left arm steady. “It’s nothing,” he tried again to calm down an increasingly upset Chip. “Just a scratch, like I said before.”
Chip had been through this far too many times to be waylaid that easily. His right hand shot out and clamped around
the back of Lee’s neck, and he practically lifted Lee out of the chair. “Move, mister,” he demanded, and shoved Lee
toward the door. Lee balked stubbornly,
and glared at his friend, but Chip wasn’t fazed. “Now!” came the next demand. “Either I escort your six to
It was Lee’s turn to momentarily close his eyes. When he reopened them, Chip was still glowering at him, but as he allowed a small, sheepish grin to appear, he was relieved to see Chip relax. But not enough to let Lee off the hook, as Chip just pointed toward the door.
They made the short trip in silence. Lee periodically glanced sideways at Chip, but neither said anything until they got to the front desk, where Chip asked the nurse on duty to point him in the direction of the nearest empty exam room. The petite redhead took in the fact that Lee was still holding his left upper arm, and pointed down the hallway. “Room three,” she told both men. “I’ll call Dr. Jamison.”
“Terrific,” Lee muttered. “Thanks heaps, Chip.”
“Just doing my job,” Chip responded, way too cheerfully as far as Lee was concerned. “One of the main duties of a good XO is looking after his Captain.” Chip could afford to be flip, now that he’d manhandled Lee into getting treatment.
They didn’t have to wait long. They had barely gotten to the exam room, where Chip managed to get Lee to sit down on the gurney – or at least the edge of it – when Jamie walked in. Lee wasn’t about to let the CMO get up a head of steam. “This is all your fault,” he blustered at the older man. “If you hadn’t forced me out of here, none of this would have happened.”
His foul mood had about as much effect on the CMO as it did on Chip – unfortunately. Jamie just grinned, walked over, and started unbuttoning Lee’s shirt. “And you,” Lee turned on Chip, “now that you’ve delivered me to the Torture Chamber, can hike your six out of here.”
“And miss the rest of the story?” Chip looked at him innocently. “Not a chance.” The blond settled into a chair, off to one side against the wall, leaned back, and crossed his arms and ankles.
By this time Jamie had Lee’s shirt off, and Lee had to spend a couple minutes explaining to the Doctor why there were obvious seat belt marks across his chest and stomach. But what drew the most attention were the numerous cuts and scratches covering Lee’s entire torso, and the obviously self-wrapped bandage around his upper left arm and over his shoulder, its rapidly growing bloodstain drawing a short intake of air from Jamie. “Skipper…”
Again Lee cut him off. “Jamie, chill,” he demanded. “It’s not that bad. Don’t know why it started bleeding again.” He glared at Jamie. “You’re worse than Mr. Mom over there,” and he nodded toward Chip, no longer so relaxed in the chair.
“I’m supposed to be,” Jamie blustered right back, and started to unwrap the clumsy bandage. As he stripped off the last layer there was another sharp intake of breath – this time from Chip.
“That’s a gunshot wound,” Chip yelled.
“Tell the world, why don’t you,” Lee responded dryly, then drew in his own sharp breath as Jamie examined the wound. “It’s a through-and-through,” he continued. “Nothing much damaged.”
“And just how do you know that, Doctor Crane?” Jamie snapped.
“He ought to know by now, Jamie,” came from Chip. “He’s been shot enough.” Despite the seriousness of the situation, all three men were forced to grin, Lee decidedly sheepishly.
“ONI?” Jamie asked, as he walked over to a cabinet to start collecting what supplies he needed. Two hands slapping chair arms drew a commiserating glance at Chip. The XO made no bones about hating the fact Lee still took occasional assignments from the intelligence agency.
“No,” Lee all but snarled. “Just a dipstick teenager with his brains in his jock strap.”
“Excuse me?” Jamie turned back toward Lee.
Lee just shook his head. “Was driving home from the Hughes. Got a little tired, and stopped off where there was a wooded area. A trail led off into the woods, so I decided to follow it a ways – stretch my legs before I continued the drive. AWHHH,” he yelled suddenly, as Jamie placed two gauze patches, moistened in antiseptic, over the entry and exit wounds. “Damn, Jamie,” he continued a little more softly – but not much. “Give a man a little warning, would you?”
“And take all the fun out of it?” Chip commented lightly. Lee just glared at him.
“By rights I should give you a swift kick in the backside,” Jamie retorted. “You got home last night? And didn’t think a bullet wound was worth mentioning?” He pressed on the pads a little harder for emphasis. Lee cringed but kept his mouth shut. While Jamie worked to staunch the blood that had, for whatever reason, started to weep from the wounds again, he glanced at the assortment of cuts and scratches. “Are there more on your legs?” he asked, a little more civilly.
“A few,” Lee mumbled without looking up.
Jamie gave the wounds a couple more dabs, soaked fresh gauze pads, and taped them in place. “That will hold for the moment. Drop your pants and let’s take a look at the rest of the damage.”
Lee grudgingly complied. Kicking off his shoes he stood up, loosened his belt, and removed his trousers. If anything, his legs were in worse shape than his upper body. But before Jamie could say a word, Lee fixed him with a hard stare. “Don’t start, Jamie. I told you, this is all your fault.” A snort from the side of the room caused Lee’s stare to change direction.
Jamie just laughed. “Down, Commander,” he ordered, albeit still grinning, and patted the gurney. “All the way,” he continued as Lee again sat on the edge, and he gently maneuvered Lee into a prone position. “None of them looks too bad or deep.” He laid a hand gently on Lee’s forehead. “And so far, no fever. I’ll give you some ointment to rub on them later. For right now, I’ll just administer a wide-spectrum antibiotic, and you can continue with the explanations while I put a few stitches in your arm.”
Lee let out a few more mumbled grumbles as Jamie motioned for him to roll onto his side so the CMO could give him the shot in his hip. But as he turned back, Jamie pulled a sheet halfway up his chest, and turned attention back to Lee’s arm.
“The gunshot wound?” Jamie prodded, and Lee got back to his narrative.
“Didn’t have a clue there was anyone else within half a mile. Never heard a thing until a shot rang out, and I got nailed. Had no idea what was happening, just threw myself to one side and flattened.” He grimaced. “Unfortunately, where I threw myself ended up being down an embankment into some stickery bushes.” He glanced at Jamie. “Hence the scratches.”
“How come there aren’t any on your face?” Chip wanted to know.
“Haven’t a clue,” Lee admitted. “Anyway, the shots were still coming – not really like they were at me, just in my direction. I worked my way through the brush until I could get behind whoever it was, and found this dumba…”
“Skipper!” Jamie warned, not without a grin.
“This stupid kid,” Lee finished disgustedly. “Seems he’d ‘borrowed’ his Dad’s target pistol, a little .22, and was trying to impress his girlfriend by shooting at a bunch of tomatoes they’d swiped out of her Mother’s garden.” Lee all but growled. “They didn’t have a clue I was there. He didn’t pay any attention to which way he was shooting. Could have killed someone and never even known it.” This time there was a definite growl at the end.
“What did you do?” Chip asked carefully. A seriously ticked off Lee was not a pleasant sight.
“Screamed bloody murder, for starters,” Lee admitted. “Scared the pair of them so badly, she screamed even louder, and he dropped the pistol. It discharged when it hit the ground – thank heaven all it hit was a tree. I grabbed it up and unloaded it before I used it myself…” He gave Jamie a wry grin as the CMO snorted. “Yeah, well, I was ticked enough.”
“And?” Chip verbally nudged again.
“Told the little dipstick where I was going to shove the barrel of the pistol if I ever found him with one again, made them both tell me their names and addresses, and left them there. Went back to the car and used the first aid kit to bandage the wound, grabbed fresh clothes out of my bag and changed, and drove to the next town. Left the gun,” he paused and yawned, “at the police station, along with the kids’ info. They can contact the parents.”
“Without admitting that you’d been hit?” Jamie guessed, and grinned broadly as Lee’s answer was delayed by another yawn.
“Didn’t see any point in it. I wasn’t going to press charges. Prob’ly scared the both of them so bad…” he yawned again, and suddenly glared at Jamie. “Doc! What did you do?” he demanded. Unfortunately, by now his voice lacked its usual timbre and the Doctor just grinned as he added a light blanket to the sheet covering his CO.
“My job, Skipper,” he answered mildly. “Now just close your eyes. Let me make sure there aren’t any bits of forest left in all those scratches. And if you’re really nice, I might even let you go back to your own bed this evening.”
“Damn well better,” was mumbled back at him softly. Jamie just grinned. “And no more vacations,” Lee made an effort to order his CMO. He fought to keep his eyes open, and get out one last thought. “Not sure I can survive many more of these.” He fell asleep to the sound of his friends’ laughter.