“Mr. Morton, er, sir,” Chief Sharkey hesitated, his voice almost echoing in the nearly deserted sub, most of her officers and crew released for shore leave as soon as the great sub had reached her home port.
“What’s on your mind?’
"The secretaries. They're acting weird. The Skipper asked Ski to go get some blueprints he wanted to check on before going home, and the kid almost got a drawer slammed on his knuckles when he asked for it. Then when he takes it to the Captain, he sees little groups of em' whispering, frowning. Then he said he saw one of em set a cup of coffee down on the Captain's paperwork too hard and it spilled all over it. Well, naturally the Skip muttered that he had to do them over and in triplicate, and she said 'Good!" then huffed off. And to top it off, his office was a mess. A real mess.Papers and files, and memos and envelopes, those big ones all over the place. I know they're not supposed to touch anything when we go to sea, but they were even stacked on the floor in the corners and there's even an ancient half eaten banana and a sandwich growing green fuzz on top the file cabinet juggling for a spot next to a dead fern. You remember that fern. The one Miss Angie gave him. And Nobody's emptied the trash either. Everyone else's offices are all tidy and spic and span! It's...it's like he's being shunned! And well, anyway, mopping up the coffee, it just made matters worse and he got ink all over his fingers, then of course, his shirt, his forehead, and then when it couldn't get any worse, the phone rang! It was that foreign lady, yeah the one from where he had to play Arab. She was gonna' come out and visit him remember? Well, Ski couldn't hear much but he could tell she was angry. The Skip tried his best to calm her down, ask her what the problem was but she hung up. I guess she's not coming. If you'd seen his eyes..."
"Very well Chief," Morton sighed, " I'll take care of it."
While Angie held the permanent post of Administrative Assistant to Admiral Nelson, the primarily female secretaries of NIMR were assigned to Seaview’s officers on a rotation basis, and Crane was popular. Something was very very wrong.
As Chip walked over to the
"C’mon, you can tell me,” Chip oozed charm, leaning over Angie’s desk, "why's Lee's office in such disarray and why's he in deep doo doo?"
“I’m really very busy Commander,” she rose.
Commander? Oh boy...
"Look, Chip…never mind,” she picked up her steno pad and walked to Nelson’s office and knocked on the door.
“Nelson left for his meeting with the local ROTC Commander as soon as he got in," Chip smirked, "You handled the request for the official vehicle and drivers dockside, if I recall...”
“Oh, you…you…man you!” she practically flung her pen at him and huffed out into the corridor.
“Well, that went well….” he muttered as he headed to Crane's office. Yep, this might be more a battle between the sexes more than something specifically aimed at Lee.
“Cheech, Lee, whad’ you do?” Morton declined sitting on the edge of Crane’s desk, as it littered with messages, printouts, forms, post it notes, letters, envelopes, and interoffice memos which cluttered every square inch.
“Me? I didn’t do anything!”
"You must have said or done something!”
“All I remember was asking Carol for a cup of coffee. Was that so terrible?"
"Maybe it was the way you said it."
"And when I'd gotten here after we docked, I kept the elevator door open for Tish, she had a few heavy books in her arms besides, well, she glared at me, turned tail, and took the stairs," he ran a hand through his hair, "I even called Katie to ask what the hell was going on and she said if I didn't know she certainly wasn't going to tell me!"
"That is bad, " Chip pursed his lips. Katie was a minor staff assistant, certainly, but she was a fellow 'spook' employed as Lee was for various ONI assignments. And that was a kinship which usually superseded such things as a love interest or personal problem. Until now.
"Well, since you're persona non grata," Chip continued, "and apparently I am as well, there's only once choice. Have Riley ask them."
"Oh gawd. No. No way. They'll kill the poor kid with one look!"
" If sending him into the lions den upsets you, think of it as a command decision."
“Anyone ever tell you that you have a tyrannical streak?”
“Learned it all from you boss. You know they won't be able to resist him. The kid reminds them of their baby brothers."
Just then Lola entered with an armful of invoices, procurement reports and the inevitable Semi Annual Crew Evaluations he had to complete for the Reserves. Without saying a word she plunked them atop the report he was working on, then left, slamming the door behind her.
"Kind of cruel to draft him for hazardous duty," Crane sighed. "Do it. Give him an extra two days shore leave after. I'll clear it with Nelson when he gets back."
The phone rang and Morton frowned as Crane responded with a lot of 'yes's and 'no's, and 'but's. "I'll be there!" and hung up. "Sorry Chip,' he rose, "these will have to wait," he sighed regarding the paperwork, "I have an errand I need to go on."
Nelson sat down, aghast and disbelieving. Riley had, as expected, accomplished the unenviable task of finding out why the Skip was in such trouble. Morton had quickly formed a council of war. In addition to Riley, O'Brien, Sharkey, Ski and even Doc, all of whom had suffered some barbs and arrows from the women, were gathered. Only Nelson had been immune from the women's glares. Of course, he was the boss.
Chip was continuing Riley's report, "Angie heard Lee on the phone just before we left on our last mission. He was saying that he wanted a blonde secretary, and one that was pretty and thin legs would be nice. "
"I can't believe it, I just can't believe it," Nelson shook his head, "I know he likes a pretty girl as much as the next man, but he'd never use that as a reason to hire someone else!"
"I’m not sure. He got a rather cryptic phone call and left."
"Can we track him? That newfangled GPS?"
"He refused to put it in his car. "
"His ONI tracer! The one in his big toe?"
"Invasion of privacy," Doc shook his head. "ONI would have us on the carpet. Only they can trace it. "
Nelson sighed and pressed the intercom," Angie, would be so kind as to get me the Chief of Police."
"I wanted you to find him, not arrest him!" Nelson said, puffing furiously on a cigarette.
". Now you telling me the only reason you wanted him found was because you'd lost him?"
Sam laughed, hard. "I'll have him released. Well, he was speeding. But Harry, you'll still have to explain yourself to him!"
"One watch, one wallet, one ring, sign here," the clerk handed Crane a pen. He could feel eyes behind the glass doors of the waiting area watching him.
"Impound lot 4C," he handed over the keys.
"Is there a way out of here besides going through the front entrance?"
"Over there," he nodded toward the restrooms.
"Thanks," Lee replaced his personal belongings and retreated. Still angry and confused. The booking detective had told him the APB had been called in from NIMR, that Crane was an escaped felon.
"Lee? Lee?" a familiar voice finally found him as he hurried to the impound yard. "It was a misunderstanding," Nelson puffed from the round about route, "Sam misunderstood me..the staff got it wrong. I said an escaped fellow, not felon..."
"Is there anything else Admiral?" Lee interrupted coolly as he approached his car.
"Actually, yes...about the secretaries....how could you simply decide to hire a new one with nary a word to me! And for such a reason!"
"What are you talking about??"
"The Nelson Institute does not discriminate based on looks," Nelson could see Lee's confusion.
"Angie heard you demanding a new secretary, blonde, pretty, slender."
For a moment Crane was dumbfounded, then started to laugh. Hard.
"Lee this isn't funny."
"Actually it is," he got in his car and started it, "In fact, why don't you ask your cohorts in crime to meet me at my apartment. Say in about an hour? Bring Angie along. I'd like you all to meet my new secretary," he revved his engine and drove off.
"Of all the nerve," Tish was complaining. "Going over Nelson's head like that."
She, as the others hadn't been able to resist and joined Angie while everyone milled around the small apartment unit, waiting. Finally Crane's red Alpha Romero came into sight.
"Well?" Nelson asked, his arms folded. "I don't see anyone. Is she inside?"
Crane popped out of his car and headed to the trunk. "In here," he opened the lid.
"Meet my new blonde secretary."
For a moment they stared at the antique piece of furniture. Clearly it had seen better days. "You must have heard me on the phone with Agent Catfish, Angie. She's into antiques. I wanted a blond secretary as a functional desk to go with the chair I'm refinishing.. There was a lot of interest in it at the auction house. It dates from 1776. But there's another reason I was speeding to the sale. Look, here..."
"Somebody's engraved their name on it," Chip said.
"It's...it's you skipper!" Ski said.
"Well, it's another Lee Crane, yes. Kind of like fate I guess..if it could only talk. Lost, forgotten in time.. at least I can give it a good home."
"Oh, Lee," Angie moaned, "I...Captain...I...I'm so sorry... I..."
"I'll call Katie right away..."Tish groaned.
"And I'll get in touch with Luanna..."Lola said.
"So it was you who told her to dump me, that I was only after one thing and one thing only?"
"She said that? I mean..well, I guess that's how it came out...Captain, I can't apologize enough."
"Lee," Nelson began, equally shamefaced, "I should never have thought..."
"Forget it. All of you. But next time you have an issue," he added gently, " at least have the courtesy to confront me with it up front so I can confirm or deny it without all of this trouble, okay?"
Several affirmatives later, Crane's apartment was bursting to the brim with good cheer and laughter, the relic from the past safely stowed in his bedroom, gracing the small room with it's presence.
After the last of his 'guests' had departed, and Lee prepared for bed, he raised the last glass of gin in tribute to it.
The smell of fresh paint assaulted his nostrils but Lee was more surprised to find his office had been painted, tidied, and the heaps paperwork organized into neat piles in labeled bins.
Had the girls come in early to do this? Or perhaps stayed late last night? But before he could call them into his office to tell them he didn't want anyone to feel guilty, he saw a lone item prominently displayed on the desk.
An airline ticket. To a very exotic location. With an electronic note simply signed 'Luanana'.
It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what it meant.
"Well? What are you waiting for?' the girls giggled from the doorway.
"Go on, have a great shore leave," Chip grinned." You're already late taking it. "
"You know, I think I just will," Crane grinned. "One condition...leave everything in here just the way it is...," he added laughing. "Hasn't been this clean that I can even remember."
"You got it," Angie declared. "Oh, and here's a little something from us to Luanna," she handed Crane a card..."she can open it tomorrow."
"Thanks. I'd better get moving, pack.."
"All taken care of Skipper," Kowalski squeezed in with a suitcase and carry on. "Mr. O'Brien helped. Picked out all the stuff you'll need..."
'I don't know what to say..."
'Well, how about goodbye?" Nelson laughed." And Lee, this type of misunderstanding will never happen again. I promise you that. Now, be off with you..."he beamed.
Two weeks and four days later, a suntanned and rather scruffy looking man deplaned and hurried to the man waiting. "Chip, what's wrong?"
" Did you have to take those extra four days?" Morton asked, irritated.
"Do you have any idea how hard it's been working in your office? Don't look at me like that. Human resources made me. As Acting Captain even if we're not at sea! They never made me before! I can't so much as sneeze without Lola running in to make sure I wipe the snot or germs off your desk! Angie keeps it like a shrine! Yeech! Tish won't even let me touch the bookcase. I can't adjust the chair to make it more comfortable...Lee...you have got to have a talk with them...maybe get me a new secretary!"
Lee stifled a laugh.
"l...er...maybe not," Chip joined in the laughter as they headed home.
* Secretary. In America, a piece of furniture incorporating a large cabinet with a fold-down desktop, usually with drawers below and an enclosed bookcase above. 'Blond' furniture can range from an ashen or yellowish wood to a medium golden color.