Secret Agent Man
*Note: This tale takes place just after Eleven Days to Zero and before City Beneath the Sea. It’s a period of time for adjustments, revelations, and rekindled friendships.
“Why me?” Kowalski muttered from inside the nearly deserted sub dockside. It was still the graveyard shift, only 0345, but as nearly everyone had been given a month long shore leave a few weeks ago after their emergency mission to the Arctic, Ski felt justified in complaining. “Why did I get stuck with the duty?” Ski added more chrome polish to his rag as he polished the air vent’s grille.
“It’s a job,” Clark scrubbed the deck. “Besides, it’s kind of nice not to have the brass hovering over us. Especially the Chief.”
“What was that?” Chief Jones asked, startling the men and causing Ski to loose his balance on the stepladder, sending him careening to the deck.
“Where’d you come from?” Ski pulled himself up unharmed. “Cheesh, you almost gave me a heart attack, sneaking up on me like that.”
“Sure, kid sure, sorry. You’re not hurt are you? No, good. Now, since you’re already in Officer’s Country, make sure you both do a really good job. The new Captain didn’t exactly have a very good impression of us when he piped aboard.”
“It still wasn’t his place to test our security like that,” Ski said.
“Sneaking aboard and smacking Ski....”Clarke added.
“Hs place is to be on top of things,” Jones said, “all the time. Even if it means makin’ sure you get that spot you missed over there, Clarke. C’mon, move it. We only got a couple of weeks to get the boat ready for that seaweed scientist,” he mocked.
“Very funny,” Ski said. “Hey...what’s that...?”
“Sounds like it’s coming from the Captain’s cabin...”Jones said, “but he’s not due back until we sail. I coulda’ sworn he never logged aboard...”
“Dogone it,” Ski said “if he’s testing us again...” Ski whined.
“You two stay put.” Jones rushed down the corridor to press a silent alarm.
“Well, I ain’t gonna’ be caught with my pants down again!” Ski barged into the normally sacrosanct cabin.
“You idiot, wha....”Clarke stopped, open mouthed as was Ski, to the to the unlikely view of the Captain, snuggled in blankets, sound asleep....on the deck.
“Uh...did he fall out of his rack?” Ski whispered
“With his pillow all scrunched up like that under his head? He looks kind of comfy to me.”
“What do we do?” Ski asked, “I had a friend once who fell out of his rack and busted some ribs...”
Clarke ‘shushed’ him and knelt beside their new commanding officer. A gentle tug on his shoulder did nothing. “Captain?” he asked softly, then “Captain Crane?” a bit louder, shaking his arm.
Crane slowly turned toward the intrusion and yawned “What? What’s wrong?” he asked sleepily, squinting his eyes hard against the painful light.
It was impossible not to notice the dark circles under his eyes, a deep bruise on his cheek, and blood matted hair near his left temple. The band aid on his skin looked like it had been applied hastily and haphazardly. There were a few blood splats on his pillow too.
“How bad are you hurt? Do you remember falling out of your bunk?” Ski asked, kneeling beside Clarke.
“Falling out of ....”Crane rubbed his eyes, “Oh for Pete’s sake. The bunk’s too soft, that’s all,” he said with an edge of exasperation. I’m fine.” But his words couldn’t quite disguise the exhaustion in his voice. “Wake me up in a couple of daysss....” he sank back down into his pillow.
“But you’re bleeding!” Clarke said.
“Hmm? Oh, that.” Crane touched his band aid, looked at the dried blood flakes that came off from it, and yawned, “Just a scratch...Camping trip. So I’m a klutz. That’s all. Goodnight,” he burrowed under the blanket.
Clarke hesitated but Ski spoke up,“Uh, no. No sir.”
“What? It’s just a scratch. I’m fine!” Crane insisted, “Now, go away,” he said, irritated. The sound of running footsteps grew loud. Crane winced.
“No sir, you’re hurt,” Ski said. “Where the hell’s Curley?”
At that moment the Chief returned, with two security guards in tow.
“Chief,” Ski said, “call Frank. It won’t take him long to get here. You others get to sickbay and bring the first aid kit, the portable x-ray machine, some sterile towels, fresh linens, more pillows....”
“I don’t need any damn x-rays!” Crane said, or tried to say, as he cringed in pain as he tried to sit up.
“Oh, no you don’t,” Ski pushed him back down to the deck.” What are you waiting for Curley?” he added as he tossed the blanket aside and began to unbutton Crane’s PJ’s.
“Hey!” Crane said indignant, but too weak except to try and bat the hands away, without success.
“Sorry, but,” Ski stopped as he spread the top wide open, “My god, Captain, what have you been up to?”
Crane bit his lip, then said, “I told you.. Camping trip....uh.. Equipment trouble.”
“Must have been some trip....”
“Ski, look,” Crane’s voice was tired, irritated and on the edge of total exhaustion. “I know you’re just trying to help, but I’m fine. Just leave me alone and let me get some sleep! Okay?” It was not uttered as a request.
“I’m sorry but I can’t do that.”
“No sir. I’m the acting corpsman when Frank’s not here. Clarke, give me a hand...”
Within minutes the two had managed to remove the Captain’s pajamas against his futile attempts to stop them. It was easy for anyone to see he had absolutely no strength left in him. And Crane usually had muscle to spare.
“How the hell did he get those?” Clarke whispered as he saw even more massive purple bruises, “Looks like they were made by rifle butts,” he continued, “...and those scrapes...”
“He’s too hot....probably infected,” Ski said while probing Crane’s apparent wounds and looking for others.
“Will you two quit yakking as if I weren’t here, and just let me get some sleep?” Crane practically wailed. At least that’s what it sounded like to the men.
“Frank’s in Las Vegas,” Curley returned again, “He won’t be able to get here anytime soon, he says to do the best you can...maybe we should call the Santa Barbara Hospital.”
“NO!” Crane shouted, vehement. “It....they’ll ask too many...questions.... find out about Seaview...”
“Then shut up sir,” Ski said, “and let’s at least give you some first aid,” he tried to give Crane a modicum of coverage with the newly arrived towels.
“Hey, the hospital has some staffers that have Reserve status,” Clarke said, “I saw it on the news. Maybe they can loan us one of ‘em...he’d know to keep his trap shut about Seaview.”
“How about it Chief?” Ski asked.
“It’ll have to go through Navy security channels; it could take some time and...”
“Blast the channels! I don’t think the Admiral would be too happy about us having to get another new Skipper if he dies on us.”
“Die?” Clarke asked aghast. “He’s gonna die?” he practically whimpered.
“Oh for the love of...”Crane turned sore eyes on the duty crewmen now packed in the small cabin and spilling out into the corridor. “I think I’d be aware of a little detail like that...I’m okay! Just...a bit tired, that’s all!” he shouted, grimacing again in pain.
“Skipper,” Ski asked gently, “How many times were you knocked out?”
“I don’t know!”
“How many?” Ski demanded, not ungently. “Light hurts your eyes; you have a nasty gash on your temple and a whopper of a bump on your scalp. I may only be pinch hitting here, but I think I know a concussion when I see one....Sir.” he added.
Crane hesitated, “Couple of times, I think. I’m not sure...honest. Now will you please let me get some sleep?” he was beginning to sound desperate.
“Sorry sir. No can do. Not with a concussion. Not a deep sleep anyway...has anybody got a hold of any of the officers?”
“The gate says the Admiral and Morton are in the middle of a snowstorm in Montana and the phone lines are down,” Jones said. “Lt. O’Brian’s on his way, and Ensign Connor too.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Ski said, “but...just in case, please, Chief, just get the Reservist medic down here? I’ll take the guff if the Admiral wants to fire anyone.”
“I’ll get him here, even if I have to steal him from the hospital!” Jones said and vanished.
“Here, Clarke, let’s get these x-rays taken so the doc won’t have to waste any time,” Ski said as the equipment was being lugged in by some of the crew.
Using the portable x-ray machine wasn’t easy to use, as Crane had to be manhandled a little for the plates to be placed appropriately. But finally one of the crewmen rushed them to sick bay to be developed and waiting for the visiting sawbones.
Ski and Clark began to sponge Crane’s wounds with a strong smelling antiseptic.
“I thought you said this stuff was supposed to be painless!” Clarke hissed, as Crane winced when the deeper gashes were anointed.
“It’s supposed to be. Sorry Skipper, I guess it’s gonna’ hurt a bit.”
“The Doc’s here,” Curley and the doctor entered Crane’s cabin.
“Thank god,” Ski said relieved. “He’s got so many bruises and scrapes and open sores, I can’t count ‘em all. The X-rays are hanging in sickbay waiting for you.”
“Good. Well done. Just let me examine the patient first and...My god! It’s Lee Crane!” he recognized the recumbent form on the deck.
“Oh great, that’s just great!” Lee snuffed back under his pillow on the deck without enthusiasm.
“What the hell happened to
you? Oh well, never mind that for now...let’s take a look.” “No,” came Crane’s
defiant and muffled voice from under the pillow.
“No,” came Crane’s defiant and muffled voice from under the pillow.
“Pretty please, Lee? For your old sawbones?”
“You know the Captain?” Jones asked.
“We served on the Halliburton. Lt. Crane was our XO. A regular....visitor to sick bay. I can’t say he was very cooperative. I wouldn’t have been quite so hesitant if I’d known just who I was practically kidnapped to treat.”
“Very funny,” Lee said as he emerged from under his pillow. “Hi Will. Sorry.”
“Well?” Jamison asked as he began to take Crane’s pulse.
Crane remained silent.
“It was a camping trip,” Clarke said.
“Camping trip?” Jamison snorted. “I see. Gee, Crane. And here I thought you’d given up playing James Bond and....”
Crane’s cough had nothing to do with his physical condition. Jamison took the hint and simply examined him without further conversation as to the how’s and why’s of his injuries.
“I’m telling you,” Clarke said as he grabbed an early morning doughnut from the box in the crew’s mess, “That’s what he said or was starting to say when the Skipper coughed and shut him up good.”
“The skipper’s a spy?” Patterson asked in awe. The gossip mill had been running overtime, and several crewmen had been returning to the sub like ants. The new Captain might take a little getting used to, but he was still theirs.
“Could be,” Clarke said. “You don’t get those kinds of bruises and cuts camping, even if he is kinda' scratched up like he’s been crawling around in the brush someplace.”
“Chief!” Ski’s panicked voice came over the cabin’s desk intercom/PA, “Get poison control! The Doc found a snake bite and....”
“Damn it Ski, I’m fine!” Crane’s irritated voice came over the system. “The snake died!”
“Are you sure it was a Surucucu Lee?” Jamison’s voice asked.
“I think we’d still better be safe than sorry,” Jamison said. “Do you have anti venom aboard?”
“Will you two stop acting like my mother? You know I’m immune, Will!”
“You said it wasn’t light when it bit you. How can you be sure?”
“Ow! I am sure!”
“Drawing blood wouldn’t hurt as much if you’d quit squirming. Now stay still.”
“I’ll prove it to you! Ski! Empty the laundry bag!”
“Huh?”Ski asked, confused.
“Just do it!”
Ski opened the drawstring from the mud stained bag and dumped the contents on the deck. Amid a few dirty clothes, including a mud stained multi pocket safari jacket and crucifix, was the remnant of an eviscerated snake.
“Uh...”Ski asked, “ Doc...”.
“Okay, okay, you win Lee. It was a Surucucu. Damn, you had me scared for a minute. One of these days I’m going to throttle those guys in ONI! Making you field agents ingest poison to develop immunity. And what the hell happened to your backup? Sending you home without so much as a fit rep and...
“I wasn’t on any special assignment!”
“Damn it Lee! You have some kind of a death wish or something? The last time you went off on your own you....”
“Enough!” Lee yelled then noticed Ski’s rapt attention, “Uh, Kowalski, you will forget all and everything you’ve heard while assisting Commander Jamison, is that understood?”
“Aye sir, understood sir, but...”
“And cancel poison control.”
“Yes, sir, but...”
“Well, uh, I was just wondering...why is the snake gutted?”
“I was going to have it for breakfast, okay?”
“Eeeooo.” Ski said.
“They’re not that bad. Now will you both please shut up and let me get some sleep?”
“Very well,” Jamison replied, “But we’ll have to wake you every two hours. Just a precaution due to the concussion. No argument Lee. Ski, help me put him in the bunk.”
“Can’t I just stay down here?” Crane pleaded.
“Admiral Nelson will kill me if I let his Captain sleep on a filthy deck.”
“Seaview’s deck is not filthy. You can eat off it. Isn’t that right Ski?”
“I swabbed it myself, Doc, twice,” the crewman said, not quite knowing why.
“Liars. Very well, Lee,” Jamison said, “but don’t get used to it.” He mouthed ‘later’ to Ski. “When Admiral Nelson reads my report, I doubt if you’ll you’ll be gallivanting off on one of your little adventures ever again. Here, let’s get those IV’s attached. I don’t care if you said you had something to eat and drink when you came aboard. You probably lied about that too. At least I can satisfy myself that you’re nourished and hydrated...oh, by the way, Kowalski, you did just fine filling in for your corpsman. I’d be proud to have you as my assistant any time. The other young man too.”
“Thank you sir....wow, who woulda’ thought. The Skipper’s a bone’ fide secret agent...”
“Field agent,” Jamison corrected. “And arguably one of ONI’s most stubborn, asinine, idiotic...”
“He gets the idea Will!” Crane said, utterly spent. “Now, go away!”
“Thank you for that vote of confidence Lee.”
“Sorry, no offense.”
“None taken. I’ll sit with him Kowalski. You look done in.”
“If it’s okay with you sir, I’d kinda’ like to wait it out as well....would you like some coffee sir?”
“That would be very nice, thank you.”
“Uh, why does he prefer sleeping on the deck sir?”
“Occupational hazard. Happens to some of them after roughing it. Takes time to reacclimatize to the niceties. Or....perhaps the bunk really is too soft. Now, how about that coffee?”
“Right away sir.”
Crewmen parted like the red sea as Ski emerged from the cabin. He was sweaty and had blotches of antiseptic yellow and what looked like little bits of blood on his denims.
Phrases such as “Good job, Ski,” and “Right on,” followed him to the galley where Cookie handed him a carafe of piping fresh brew.
“How’d you know I wanted coffee?”
“Well,” Curley said, “you’re not the first one to forget to turn off the intercom,” he laughed, “I remember when Mr. Morton was chatting up Miss Angie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him redder when he found out we all heard his sweet nothings to her.”
“Oh, shit. The Skipper’s gonna kill me!”
“Well, he won’t today,” Clarke indicated the sound of Cranes’ snoring from the PA. A welcome sound, augmented by the almost audible sigh of relief from the crowd of eavesdroppers.
“More pancakes, Admiral?” Mrs. Morton asked Chip’s houseguest.
“I wish, however, I’m afraid there’s just no more room.”
“I’ll have some more Mom.”
“Unlike the bottomless pit,” snickered Chip’s kid brother Edwin from the living room, as he tried again to get something on the radio aside from weather reports about downed phone lines, stranded motorists, and the need to conserve power.
“I’m so sorry you had to cut short the ice fishing,” Mrs. Morton said. “As it is, I’m sure glad you’re both home, safe and sound.”
“It was a pleasant diversion, even if it wasn’t as long an outing as I’d have liked.” Nelson leaned his feet toward the roaring fireplace and settled into warm contentment, Edwin tuning or trying to tune the radio...
‘.... while the widespread rumors of a crane accident last night at the famed Nelson Institute have spread throughout Santa Barbara, there has been no confirmation from NIMR spokesmen.’
“I’ll try to get hold of them,” Chip hurried to the phone.
‘In other news, rumors are growing that the small order of nuns formerly believed to have been detained by General D’Amato’s for their own protection in that hotbed of political and populous unrest, may have subjected to atrocities inflicted by his own troops. D’Amato’s denies any such allegation and says the nuns left the country some time of their own free will due to lack of funds, and that transportation problems have simply hindered any communication with them...’
‘Montana is still in the midst of widespread blizzards, knocking out most phone lines and some power grids...’
“I thought they wouldn’t be able to work on that new roof for another month,” Chip said as he hung up the dead phone.
“I did, but that doesn’t mean that Angie couldn’t have quickened it along. I hope to God no one’s hurt.”
Crane had been lifted off the deck and into his bunk a few hours ago without so much as batting a sleeping eyelash. Ski was physically tired but listening to Jamison’s’ recollections about his Captain’s exploits was too good to pass up for some sack time.
“So,” Ski asked, “the Skip actually kicked the Navy’s collective butt in that war game? As a midshipman?”
“Eluded and targeted the damn whole damn fleet. His actions became the stuff of legend. And it got the Navy to reconsider a lot of its defensive strategies. I’m surprised you don’t know anything about it. Nelson was there, in command of one of the boats he targeted, I forget the name.”
“The whole point of the academy’s at-sea exercises was to give the Sub school candidates a little ‘command experience’. The boats were manned by regular officers and crew, but they couldn’t offer any suggestions, or belay any orders unless there was an emergency,” he looked fondly at Lee. “The fact that some of those orders could be really stupid was not a factor.”
“Stupid? But you said...”
“Well, how would you feel? You’re the captain of a fighting sub and have to spend a couple of weeks playing host to some senior midshipmen. They’re bursting with knowledge and enthusiasm, just waiting for their turn to play captain. They know the rules of engagement, they know the tricks of the trade, ‘cause they’ve studied them in the classroom and at sea during the summer programs. They’re on the list of potential candidates for sub school after they graduate and are commissioned. You expect them to act accordingly. However,” he smirked as he indicated Crane. “Not he. That’s what got so many burrs up so many collective asses at headquarters. They didn’t know whether to congratulate him or chew him out for reckless endangerment, though he insisted there’d been none.
“Suffice it to say, he simply ducked the sub into some of the undersea caverns in the engagement area, hid there for the sonar sweeps to pass, then peeked out, aimed, and chalked up ‘kill’after ‘kill’. When he wasn’t in a cavern, he let himself get ‘found’ a few times, while he made whale noises, walking through the boat, getting the whole crew involved. As far as the fleet was concerned, they were tracking a pod of whales. Later it turned out he got that idea from a movie. Boy the brass was pissed...but even they had to agree that it had worked. They weren’t too happy about the caverns either. They said he could have damaged the boat, even caused a cave in and that the captain should have aborted. Then Captain Nelson spoke up,” Jamison checked his watch, stretched and went over to examine his slumbering patient.
“Well?” Clarke asked from the open door. He was not alone. “What did he say?”
“How long have you men been eavesdropping there?”
“Uh, well. You see, sir...we were just outside and....”
“Never mind, “Jamison said, satisfied his patient was doing well,
“It’s not that we’re eavesdropping sir,” the MAA explained, “It’s just....well..he is the skipper sir and...”
“Well, sir? What did the Admiral say?” Ski asked.
“Captain Nelson told the debriefing brass that he wished he’d thought of Crane’s maneuvers! But that still didn’t get Crane out of trouble, even if Lee kept insisting that if it had been wartime, the actions would have been considered successful, not stupid.
“In the end, they simply warned him of untested and untried strategies in the future. Still, pretty soon, all boats were given charts of available undersea caves... for ‘duck and cover’ maneuvers. It wasn’t too much a surprise that he graduated tenth in his class, aced sub school, and went off into the deep blue yonder...ending up some years later aboard the Halliburton as my XO, but that’s another story.”
“How about some more Joe to warm that cold stuff up? It’s been hours,” Cookie sat a new carafe on Crane’s desk.
“How is he?” The MAA asked.
“Doing pretty well actually.”
“Uh, one thing,” Clarke said, “you seem kinda’ familiar with that ONI stuff....”
“How did you know abou...”
“I uh, left the intercom on by mistake,” Ski said, “It’s okay sir. I turned it off when I came back in after I ....”
“Does the whole crew know about this?”
“No need to worry sir,” Jones squeezed in from the group of men blocking the doorway, “our lips are sealed.”
“Doctor Jamison?” Cookie asked, “I was just wondering, being you’re a medical man... just how long do you gotta’ cook what’s it called, Sur-u-cu-cu? I mean, rare, medium or well done? I’d kinda like to get it started so I can just reheat it for the Skipper for when he wakes up.”
“You can’t be serious!”Jamsion replied, aghast. “Even if you were, it’s bound to be spoiled by now...”
“Oh, no, sir. Clarke put it in the freezer last night.”
“And who knows how long it was in that bag. It could be full of e-coli,” Jamison said, then, “Look, why not just fix some chicken. I don’t know about Surucucus in particular, but I do know that rattlesnake tastes like fowl. Trust me. I know. I had some on the Halliburton. In fact Lee’s responsible for it,” Jamison laughed. “He’d run over a rattler with his motorcycle on the way to the base. He was in a hurry and didn’t notice it in time to swerve. Said the least he could do was to give it a decent funeral. Had a terrible time convincing Cookie to grill the thing. Too bad the Captain didn’t know what it was until after he’d eaten some of it for lunch... Lee spent the next few hours as bilge tank inspector.”
The laughter inside and outside the cabin at that revelation began to rouse Crane. With a muffled grunt he opened his eyes.. “Mhh? Wha..”
“Well, good afternoon Captain,” Jamison was beside him in a flash, “How are we feeling? And don’t give me any of the ‘fine’ crap. I have witnesses that you were in pain.”
“Like a herd of elephants trampled me.”
“That’s better. Let’s check your eyes...does they hurt?”
“Ow! They do now! Will you get that damn penlight light out of them?”
“Ummhumm. And this, how does this feel,” he prodded the deeper bruises.
“Like I’ve been down for the count.”
“You were. And this...”
“Just a little sore. Do I smell coffee?”
“That stuff? I hate to tell you this Lee, and I don’t mean to offend anyone, but its sludge. Sorry Cookie.”
“C’mon. I’m in caffeine withdrawal!” Crane said.
“No, you’re in concussion withdrawal.”
“One cup, then, no more,” Jamison said.
“Tyrant,” Lee said.
“Here,” Jamison took the the hastily poured cup from Ski and held it to Crane’s lips.
“There are some things I can do myself,” Crane said, “...I think...” glad of Will’s assistance holding the cup, and swallowed some down, “Mmmm,” he said gratefully, “mother’s milk.”
“Remind me to examine her.”
Lee’s stomach rumbled and his eyes began to search his cabin, “Where’s my snake?”
“In the freezer. And you’re not going to have it for breakfast, unless you want to get sick, Lee, really sick.”
“But you’ve had snake before, lots of times and....”
“I had fresh road kill, and five star o’deourves from exotic countries, not a decaying reptile that’s been mortifying in your laundry bag for God knows how long.”
“It was only a week,” Lee pouted.
“The generator won’t hold much longer,” Mrs. Morton said as she bundled up in another sweater.
“Well, at least we have plenty of wood,” Chip brought in a fresh pile, rubbing his gloved hands together. “Anything more on the news?”
“Not much,” Nelson said as he kept trying to tune the radio to a more audible frequency. “The front’s stationery,” he continued, “Phone lines still down, roads impassible. And there’s nothing about the crane accident. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a dent in the building...ah here’s another station that’s managing to come in...”
‘...Sister Agatha insists the man who rescued them was American. She said no other country except America could have people speak the Spanish Amazonian dialect so abominably and with a Rhode Island accent. And she should know, the former Sharon DeAngelo was an exchange student at Hope High School in Providence, before taking the veil. The small order of nuns are currently undergoing medical and psychological examinations by the Red Cross in the border town of Jasiminia, in New Amazonia.
General D’Amato’s vehemently denies their allegations that he held anyone, let alone the ‘holy nuns’, hostage, or that he had anyone killed.
The sisters claim their liberator infiltrated the military compound where they were being held, by paying off the guards for a ‘night’s pleasure’ with them, that the General himself was hoping to ‘pimp’ them off to the highest bidder. At the time nothing had happened to the nuns, but they were kept without food or water and subjected to the vilest of insinuations and promises of the dire fate to come as they tried in vain to free themselves from the’ horrid’ dirty cell.
The Hollywoodish looking American was led to their cell, and while the sisters cowered in the corner, he pretended to have every intention of fulfilling his ruse, but told the guards that D’Amato’s wouldn’t get the rest of his money if he had an audience. He paid them for a little extra privacy with some drugs known to be a favorite of D’Amato’s troops.
Even though he agreed to be locked in the cell with them for ‘safekeeping’, and the guards moved off to another part of the compound to avoid being discovered, the man easily picked the lock, and led the sisters quickly past the now unconscious soldiers. It is not known what the drug was to knock them out so quickly.
It was an agonizing trek through thick jungle and swamp towards the border and safety.
Sister Agatha also claims that while trudging through swampland, a great Surucucu snake attacked their rescuer, but he quickly dispatched it with a hunting knife, then, laughed and stuffed it into his jacket belt, with the words ‘breakfast’. Apparently he’d not been bitten as they’d thought.
It was dawn when they neared the border, and the checkpoint was just visible when the soldiers, now alerted gained on them. There was no way to outrun one of the All Terrain Vehicles hard on their tail. Ordering the nuns to go on, as the young man turned to head off in another direction as a decoy; Sister Agatha removed her crucifix and placed it around his neck. With a grin of thanks, he ordered, ‘Go,” and ran away making a lot of noise to lure the pursuers. Just as the nuns had crossed into the checkpoint and safe territory, they heard shouts of victory and gunfire...
“That was one tough dude,” Morton said sadly. “If the story’s for real, I mean.”
“Don’t you trust CNN?”
“I only know it sounds like some kind of James Bond movie.”
“Nuns don’t usually lie, dear,” Mrs. Morton said.
“I guess not. But a snake for breakfast?”
“One of my fit rep doctors said he had some once,” Nelson said, “and that it wasn’t too bad. Road kill by his XO. I didn’t ask for details. I thought it was a joke. Now, well, I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s some kind of delicacy. Here, let’s try these signals,” he began to turn the knobs...
‘...sunrise is at...’
‘...surf will be unusually high...’
‘...registration for the Miss America contest....’
‘...apparently misquoted or misinformed. There was no crane accident at the Nelson Institute. We apologize for the error. Hugo the Whale and Dimitri the dolphin are fine and will be on display during regular business hours...’
“Now they tell us,” Chip said disgusted.
“Well,” Nelson sighed, “At least we relax now, let’s try to get the weather again...”he turned the knob...
‘...The US weather service says relief is on the way for residents of Montana, that the storm front should pass by tomorrow morning. It is not known if the phone lines will be up any time soon, however...’
‘... The liberator is described as tall, rather thin, with thick black curly hair, hazel eyes, and a small mole on his cheek. The sisters are convinced he had known General D’Amato’s previously, and that it had been a most unpleasant association...’
“You know, Chip,” Nelson mused as he turned off the set, growing concerned, “Lee’s tall, thin, has curly black hair, hazel eyes, and a mole....”
“He also speaks Spanish. I remember him telling the crew of the Nautilus that if one forgot a foreign language, you could usually get by with 3 phrases, ‘how much is it?, ‘where’s the toilet, and ‘what’s your phone number’...Chip, I know it’s a long shot, but...I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps that ‘crane accident’ was code from the institute to let us know he’s in trouble....”
“That’s ridiculous on the face of it. You think he dashed off to the other part of the globe to rescue some nuns from a ‘fate worse than death’ at the hands of that creep? Nobody even knew about them being held hostage till after their rescue...”
“No, but we did hear about some nuns being ‘detained’ by General D’Amato’s shortly after we arrived home from from the Arctic. I know it sounds silly, but, when Lee was on Nautilus, ONI requested he change his designation from the submarine service to the agency. I assumed it had something to do with my report when he’d volunteered for a special patrol to rescue some hostages held by some terrorist group....he did a superior job and I commended him for it. ...I wonder....Chip, when the Navy removed his active status, gave him to us, to Seaview; they asked that he be available for any special Navy assignments. I thought they meant reserve duty on other boats, but now...”
“But wouldn’t they tell you if he was a actually an operative? Wouldn’t you have known if he’d accepted the designation? He’s spent his career as a submarine officer.”
“That doesn’t mean he can’t have more than one.....the nuns said they heard gunfire...if it was Lee...he could be dead.”
Concern was interrupted by the doorbell.
“Mrs. Morton?” Officer Ross stood at the door, the snowplow behind him. “Is there an Admiral Nelson with you? He’s supposed to be visiting with your son and...”
“I’m Admiral Nelson.”
“We’ve been trying to get to you since last night. There’s a message for you from the Navy. An Admiral Whitlox. He says,” he read the scrawled note, ‘you’d better have an explanation’ that’s all we got. The other call was garbled. As far as we could tell it was from a Curley Jones saying a Capt. Crane was hurt, but was being fixed up. That’s all we got before the relay went dead again.
“Do you have any idea when the roads will be clear?” Nelson ran a hand through his hair, “ Flights? Phones?”
“Well, the plough can get you to the airport, but you might as well stay here, for all the good it’ll do you. Nothing’s getting out till the front moves on...as for the phones, they’re starting to get back up, but only over in the next county...you want a lift to the courthouse there? We can take you.”
“We’ll be right there,”Nelson motioned Chip aside and whispered, “Whitlox is commander of ONI special operations.”
“Shit! The Skipper’s a spy!” Morton hissed.
“We don’t know that Chip. But he’s involved in something. At least he’s alive. Let’s go.”
“Easy, Lee,” Jamison helped Lee from the head as Clarke hurried making up the bunk with fresh linens. “You’re going to be sore for quite some time.”
“Like it takes a genius to know that,” he settled back on the bunk in weary relief. “I’m sorry, guess I’m just tired. So do you. How long have you been here?”
“Since I was practically hauled out of General. Just wait till you get my bill. Relax. I’m a Reservist now. We’ll chalk it up to Navy time.”
“Quit being sorry and just eat some supper,” he handed Lee a small bowl.
“What is it with you and Jell-O?”
“I don’t want you vomiting anything up like you did lunch.”
“You didn’t tell Cookie did you?” Lee asked in horror.
“No. I didn’t have the heart. He’s devastated that I actually hate his coffee. How you can adore it is beyond human comprehension. As for his chicken frittatas...I thought they were rather good. Your stomach is just bruised, that’s all. Solid food will be a problem for awhile.”
“I suppose I have no choice,” Lee lifted a spoon of green glop and forced himself to swallow. “Eeeooo.”
Clarke had a difficult time resisting a chuckle at their bantering as he packed the laundry bag.
“You can finish that later, Clarke,” Jamison said. “And close the door behind you to keep the vultures away.”
“Private joke,” he waited
until Clarke had left and the two were isolated from prying ears. “So, Lee,
what happened? Just how did Sister Agatha’s knight in shining armor escape D’Amato’s
goons alive? Last she knew, you were gunned down.”
“How did you know abou...”
“It’s been in all the news. Only snippets so far but it’s not all that hard for anyone to add together. Now, spill it. Call it necessary information for your attending physician.”
“Now, look, Whitlox,”Nelson raised his voice in an effort to be heard; telephone reception was still bad, “I told you I know nothing of....yes. no...He’s on shore leave damn it! How am I supposed to know if he...I see...then you swear on all that’s holy that you boys don’t know anything about....uh, huh. No. Yes. Well if you’d have cared to fill me in on that little detail perhaps I could have known he’d be up to something and...Don’t yell at me, I’m not the one keeping secrets here...what’s that? What’s going on? Whitlox? Whitlox? I see...that’s good news...how soon can you interrogate them? I see....no...Yes....I don’t know! I can’t get through to him. Yes, most of the lines are still down here. I’m in another damn county, blast it! How can I hang around for you to call? The cops gave me a lift in the snowplow to get me here and it’s needed for....no, I can’t requisition it....yes, but I want a full report. No, he’s not fired! I see. Well, you still can’t have him!” Nelson hung up the phone, nearly breaking it.
“I take it we still have a captain?” Chip queried
“That depends if he’s still alive after I’m done with him. No, I'm kidding. Don’t worry; you won’t have to break in a new one. Damn it Chip, why the blazes didn’t he tell me?”He dialed a new number.
“Maybe it was a spur of the moment thing or...”Chip hesitated.
“Or maybe he didn’t want you to forbid him.”
“Lt. O’Brian!” Jones’ voice came over the PA,“Phone call from the Admiral!”
A collective sigh of relief came from the gathered men in the crew’s mess.
“Put it on the squawk.”
“Is Captain Crane all right?”
“He’s kinda busted up sir. But Doc Jamison says...”
“Lt. Commander Will Jamison here, Admiral,” Will’s voice came over. “Your men called me to attend to Lee. I assure you I’ll respect the boat’s security status.”
“Very well...how is he?”
“He’s lucky his ribs are only bruised instead of broken. Some areas of inflammation, he needed some stitches, pretty bad cuts and scrapes, had a concussion and he was pretty well dehydrated and severely exhausted, but he’ll live to play James Bond again or Seaview’s Skipper, I’m not quite sure which he is yet.”
“Give me that,” Crane’s voice said, irritated. A few rustling sounds were made then, he continued, “Admiral? When are you and Chip getting back?”
“As soon as there’s a break in the weather. Are you all right?”
They could hear Jamison’s snort in the background.
“Good,” Nelson said, “Then you’ll be up to a little talk when I get there.”
There was a pause, then, “I’ll have my resignation ready for you right away. And please don’t get after Ski for bringing an outsider aboard. He thought it was the right thing to do. I’m sorry I’ve been so much trouble and.... ”
“God give us more men who’re this much trouble,” Nelson interrupted.
“I’m not fired?” Crane asked wistfully.
“With nuns and clergy across several denominations praying for your safe return to civilization? Far be it from me to tempt divine disaster. I have a message to give you from Admiral Whitlox, but I’ve decided to wait and deliver it in person, as it may burn Jamison’s ears, and he’s the only doctor we have right now.”
“You uh, know about Whitlox?”
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who barged into that fleabag country to do the job when ONI told you there would be no US involvement. That could be construed as an order. They could press charges Lee. And they’re also concerned about just what you used to knock out those guards.”
“But he deserves a medal!” Jamison said. “It’s divine providence that the guards only beat him with their rifles instead of shooting them off in a victory celebration and...”
“Quiet, Will,” Lee said calmly, “They were only knock out drops. An anesthetic. And I knew getting court martialed was a possibility.”
“I wouldn’t worry,” Nelson’s voice said, “How would it look? However, there will be an ultimatum.”
“I don’t understand,” Crane said.
“You have to choose between the agency and Seaview.”
“There’s no contest,” Lee said.
“Meaning?” Jamison asked.
“Will,” Crane said, “I can’t believe you spent all this time with me and you don’t know the answer.”
“Ahh. Well, at least Cookie can rest easy. At least you like his coffee.’
Laughter from both ends of the phone and on the boat was interrupted by Sparks. “Sorry sirs, but there’s a visitor topside. He has top level security. A Mr. Smith. Office of Naval Intelligence.”
“You up to it Lee?” Jamison’s voice asked gently.
“Not really, but let’s get it over with,” he said tired.
“I’ll leave you to it then,” Nelson’s voice said, “Nelson out.”
“Wait, stop here,” Nelson said to the taxi driver the next day. They’d finally gotten a flight out and were bone tired.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” Chip said.
In less than five minutes Nelson was back from the small establishment just outside of Santa Barbara and handed Chip the sealed container.
“Admiral, are you sure about this?
“It’s the least I can do for our gallant hero.”
“Is the Captain still asleep?” Nelson asked, checking his watch as he and Morton neared the Captain’s cabin.
“Oh, he was up about an hour ago,” O’Brian said, “Though he and Doc had a difference of opinion about him actually getting out of bed. “Maybe they’re not quite finished...”he added as they heard arguing from the open door of the Captain’s Cabin...
“No,” Jamison said.
“C’mon. It’s only coffee.”
“You’ve had four cups already and it’s not even 0800.”
“Just because you don’t like it doesn’t give you the right to...”
“I’m still your chief medical officer even if I’m temporary, I have every right. Over you and this crew of yours. Do you have any idea how totally addicted you all are?”
“So we’re caffeine junkies. I’ve never heard of any problems.”
“We’re only just learning of the dangers...give me back that cup!”
“Captain I insist! Don’t you stick out your tongue at me Lee Crane! You’re still on the sick list! I can have O’Brian put you under arrest.”
“Wanna’ bet?” Crane said slyly.
“Just because you inspire blind obedience of any crew you captain, it doesn’t mean I can’t force the action. I mean it Lee.”
“And to think you actually have your own practice in addition to the medical pool at General? Talk about bedside manner.”
“Give me back that cup or I go straight to the top.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Try me,” Jamison picked clicked the mike, “Sparks, get me the US Naval Reserve Board, Washi....”
“Belay that,” Crane spoke loudly as he grabbed the mike then clicked it off. “Okay okay, you win. You don’t win fair, but you win.”
Nelson decided it was time to intervene. “Lee,” he entered the room, “good to see you alive. You had us all worried.”
“Admrial!” Lee smiled, “That was quick! What’d you do, fire a nuclear devise at the weather front? Oh, this is my jailer, Will Jamison.”
“Good to meet you,” Nelson said, “I hope he hasn’t been too much trouble.”
“Trouble is his middle name.”
“Very funny,” Lee said, “....so how was the ice fishing?”
“Skipper, I got your breakfast ready,” Cookie appeared at the door a half hour later with a piping hot covered dish.
“I’m not really hungry Cookie,” Lee said.
“Oh, but you’ll really like this,” he removed the cover of the dish proudly. “Grilled Surucucu.”
“But Doc said..”
“Oh, this is fresh Surucucu, Lee,” Nelson said, “my treat.”
“Cost him a packet,” Chip added. “But he thinks you’re worth it.”
“I don’t know what to say. Thanks. Join me?” he indicated all of his visitors.
“Uh, no thanks, I ate on the plane,” Chip said.
“Admiral?” Lee offered. “To satisfy that scientific curiosity of yours?”
“Well, when you put it that way...nothing ventured, nothing gained...” he accepted one of the tooth picked squares and after a moment’s hesitation, put it in his mouth and almost immediately darted into the head and spat it out. ‘God, Lee, is that snake business some kind of joke? I’ve never tasted anything so vile! How can you stand it?”
“I don’t understand...Here, let me try one.”
“I..I thought I cooked it right” Cookie said, horror struck, “I couldn’t read the instructions, some foreign stuff....”
“Aggh!” Lee spat his out into the hastily grabbed wastebasket Nelson held for him,” Cookie, what did you do?”
“Let me,” Jamison took a tiny bite, “Eeeyyyooo. I don’t know what this is, but it isn’t snake.”
“But there was a picture of it right on the package!” Nelson said, “I asked the clerk if it was snake meat and she said yes.”
“Cookie, do you still have the package?” Jamison asked, “Good, bring it here, will you?”
“Just where did you buy it Admiral?” Jamison asked, as Cookie hurried off.
“Chip?” Nelson asked.
“All I remember is that it was just outside of town, Patell’s something or other. I saw the poster on the window. ‘Snake meat.”
“Patell’s?” Jamison said. “That’s a reputable store. Some of my patients shop there. Maybe the wholesaler switched brands or something....”
“Here it is sir,” Cookie returned, out of breath, handing Doc the container, showing a lurid drawing of a hissing snake intertwined with an Amazonian warrior.
“Well?” Nelson asked as Jamison bit his lip.
“Lee? Do you want to tell him
or should I?” Doc handed Lee the container.
“Oh, my God...”
“Will one of you please tell us what’s going on?” Nelson demanded.
“Uh,”Lee forced himself to speak. It was apparent he was holding back the urge to laugh, “It’s not snake. It’s snake food....”
“Snake food?” Nelson said, appalled.
“Damn it, what the hell did he eat?” Morton asked, aghast.
“He didn’t swallow it,” Jamison said, “he spat it out. They’ll both be fine. As long as their shots are up to date.”
“It’ll be okay Admiral, I mean; they have rules, even in the Amazon and third world countries for export products. They have to meet rigid standards, but...if you must know,” Lee took a breath, “Cookie fixed dehydrated rat.”
“Rat?” Nelson sputtered, “I ate rat?”
“Bred for the sole purpose of some ancient third world religious rituals,” Jamison said, “There are still some remote areas in the Amazon where Surucucus are considered sacred. Some places in India and Africa worship snakes as well and...Well, don’t worry, the rats they feed them live a pampered vetted life until they’re harvested. I mean, the natives don’t usually feed them street rats, though there have been a few instances of black market lab specimens....”
Nelson sat down on the edge of Lee’s bunk in shock.
“Uh, Admiral,” Lee said, “Sorry about the mix up, I’m sure you didn’t mean to poison me, but does this mean I don’t get my snake?”
“You can bloody well go catch your own damn snake yourself!”
Cookie and Morton and Jamison held their collective breaths. After a moment Lee began to laugh. It was infectious and soon all of them were snickering over the food faux pau.
“Ahh. That hurts,” Lee held his side as he chuckled, “I know it’s not really funny, but I can’t help it....”
‘...The sisters have taken a short sabbatical in Los Angeles and will be incommunicado at the Pope’s request...as for the mystery man, well, God only knows...’
“Curley,” Ski mused, as he switched channels, “Just what did happen to him when they beat him up...I mean...how’d he get away? How’d...”
“I don’t know and I know better than to ask. Or do you want us all to go on report for being too nosey?”
Lee really wasn’t all that well yet, but Jamison had no choice but to relent. It was evening before the rental car pulled in front of the entrance to the small gated building and parked in the empty lot.
“I don’t need any help,” Crane said as Ski and Jamison walked with him to the door.
“Just along for the ride, Lee.”
Crane rang the bell.
“May I help you?” a small woman in nuns garb answered door.
“I’d like to see Sister Agatha.”
“Sist...how did you get this address? I’m sorry, no press. Please.”
“We’re not the press...tell her...”
“I don’t care what you want to tell her. Now, please go away or I’ll call the cops.”
“Even if I want to give her back this?” he pulled a small crucifix from under his green turtleneck.
The portess’s eyes opened wide and looked again at Crane, then gasped.
Jamison and Ski stood a polite distance as the Spanish nuns spilled into the convent’s entryway, embracing and ruffling Crane’s hair, practically smothering him with motherly concerns, as their American sisters hosting the visiting order whispered in awed tones.
“How...how...”Sister Agatha asked. “How did you get away?” she asked in English.
“When I’d come to in the ATV, I told the soldiers the crucifix was an antique and worth a couple of million dollars. Well, by the time we neared the compound they were all fighting over it. One thing led to another and while they were arguing, they began to shoot each other... only a few soldiers were left....”
“Go on,” Sister Agatha said.
“One of them said he didn’t want me to tell D’Amato’s about the cross, so he was going to kill me before D’Amato’s did, so he and his buddies could keep the money for themselves, but... you remember the snake? Well, I guess I didn’t gut it quite well enough. One of its muscles contracted and its head popped up out of my belt pocket and there it was, with its mouth wide open, looking ready to bite. Scared the poor guys shitless....sorry. Most of them flung down their rifles and ran away hysterical...something about me being a devil...anyway, I managed to steal the ATV before a couple of them regained their senses and started firing, and got all the way to the river before I managed to send it down a mud hole, then I lurked through the jungle rot awhile... After I got to the border I hired a small seaplane and the rest is history. I guess somebody was watching over me...”it was not made in jest.
The sound of a bell interrupted, calling the nuns to prayer.
“Will we see you again?” Sister Agatha asked.
“I’m afraid not,” Lee said. “I just wanted to give you back your crucifix and let you know you don’t have to pray for me anymore. I heard about that on the TV and radio.”
“Can I know your name? Who or what you are? We owe you our lives, and more.”
“I’m sorry. I have other persons to consider.”
“I see. Well,” she glanced at the others waiting for her, and took his hands in hers, “At least we know you’re safe. We’ll never forget you,” she bowed her head slightly and sadly took her leave of him as they retired into another part of the convent, leaving him alone with Will and Ski.
“Is that really what happened, Skipper?” Ski asked, “Doc?”
“You know I’m not allowed to say. Doctor/Patient privilege.”
“You know debrief regs Ski, but...let’s just say sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. C’mon, let’s go home; we have a boat to get ready.”
Kowalski was humming as he gave the spiral ladder a final polish as he came down into the Nose, his headset at least masking the noise. He stopped as he saw Nelson and Crane there. He removed his headset to speak, “I’m sorry, sirs, I didn’t mean to interrupt...”then he turned red. The music was rather audible and playing ‘Secret Agent Man’.
Crane groaned and Ski escaped back up the steps.
“Appropriate tune,” Nelson said. “Whitlox called me earlier. We agreed there’s no reason why you can’t be both an agent or my Captain. After all you had both designations in the Navy.”
“Are you sure Admiral? It might get a bit...complicated... but what if they need me to go off and do something when Seaview’s right in the middle of something...”
“I think you have a pretty good feel for what has priority in any given circumstance...Lee...I know what you told the sisters, I know what you told Will and ONI, but...I can’t believe your getting away was as simple as all that.”
“Well, maybe I left out some details. In fact, it was a pretty fierce rough and tumble with those soldiers; they did beat me up pretty well, before and after I lied about the crucifix, but the snake did save my life. It seems the Amazon’s full of ancient legends about snakes taking on human form...and I guess I looked kind of ... slithery...”
Nelson laughed, “You’ll have to give me the whole story when we have more time, but for now, speaking of snakes, Jamison’s office sent me a message that the tissue sample he took of yours for the health department to evaluate, came back negative for e-coli or any other bacterial agent...so if you still want it for breakfast, you can give Cookie the OK to defrost and cook it.”
“Actually, I’ve been thinking about that...after all, after what he...”
“She, Lee. It was a female.”
“If truth be told, that makes it worse...after what she did for me, even if she was dead...I’d feel a bit like a cannibal. I guess I should dispose of it, but...”
“Well, I do have the name of a taxidermist who might be able to preserve it for you if you like. But if you’re still in the mood for reptile, here,” he handed Lee a brochure. “’Uncle Jack’s Dude Ranch’. I got us a couple of rooms there for the weekend when we get back from the current expedition. Cowboy and Indian shows, riding, fine cuisine, baked beans and fried rattlesnake...as you say, I should satisfy my curiosity. And with my Captain’s odd culinary cravings, this seemed the safest way to treat both.”
“Admiral, I’d be glad to join you. My treat though. I think I’ve put you through enough trouble.”
“Far be it from me to turn down a free lunch.”
Both men laughed at the pun as Jamison joined them.
“What are you doing here?” Crane asked, pleased.
“Oh, just putting in some more Reserve time. Somebody’s got to look after you,” he firmly grabbed Crane’s coffee cup.
“Hey, no fair. You didn’t take the Admiral’s cup.”
“He’s not addicted to coffee.”
“If you two will excuse me,” Nelson said, “I have some visitors to greet when they arrive at the gate,” and departed.
“But, we’ll work on his nicotine addiction later...”Jamison said el sotto.
Crane grinned, “C’mon then, ‘Sawbones’, let me give you the grand tour. I don’t think you got one before. And since you’re going to be one of us every so often, I’d better warn you that the bunks aren’t comfortable at all. I think he gets them from Army Surplus...”
“Better than sleeping on a cold hard deck.”
“Not always,” Lee flashed a smile.
“Lead the way Captain...I mean...’Secret Agent Man’. Did you know there’s a song about you? Heard it on the radio...”
Crane groaned and shook his head as he led Jamison aft.
In a few minutes Morton’s voice on the PA told all hands to make preparations to get underway.
A new mission aboard Seaview was about to begin.
*’Secret Agent Man’ song/lyrics of the TV theme by PR Loan & Steve Barri
(A ‘classic’ show of the 50/60’s generation)
*ATV ‘All Terrain Vehicle
* Surucucu is a snake common the Amazon. I have no idea if this snake tastes like chicken or if it’s even edible, so it’s used here with a bit of literary license. If anyone knows, please do let me know.
*Rattlesnake is edible, and does taste like chicken.
*Jasimina and New Amazonia are fictitious as far as I know.The Submarine Halliburton is ficitious as far as I know.