Lee Crane groaned and rolled his eyes at Chip Morton, Seaviewís Executive officer, as he replaced his office phoneís receiver into its cradle.
"Canít be all that bad," Chip encouraged while stretching his arms overhead. Seaview had just returned to Santa Barbara and the entire crew had been granted a week of shore leave while needed maintenance was performed on her engines. After four days of catching up on paperwork, he and Lee had made plans for a fishing trip to Monterey and were about to depart when the phone had rung.
"Care to bet?" Seaviewís Skipper replied glumly. "Scratch one fishing trip."
Morton frowned and straightened in the chair opposite Craneís desk. "Why? What happened?"
"It would seem that Senator Thompson has decided to make an unexpected trip to Santa Barbara, which means that the Admiral will not be able to present his paper at the Marine Biology seminar in New York tomorrow. We have just been handed that "honor"," Crane said sarcastically as he ran a hand through his thick, curly black hair.
"ThompsonÖisnít that the senator who supposedly has the Presidentís ear when it comes to funding for marine research?"
"Thatís the one," Lee sighed. "Why me?"
The Exec grinned. "Thatís a no-brainer: ĎCause heís the Admiral and youíre the Skipper!"
Lee gave him a black look. "I guess I better let Sharkey know weíll need FS1 ready to go within the hour." There was a knock at the door as he reached for the phone. "Come in!" he called.
The door opened and Angie Peltier, the Admiralís administrative assistant, appeared. "Sir, the Admiral just called to say that FS1 is down for repairs so he booked you and Mr. Morton on the United flight that leaves at 1230."
Crane fumed. "This is getting better by the minute!" He looked up at Angie who looked as if she was wishing for a trap door. "Sorry, Angie; didnít mean to take it out on you. Thanks."
She nodded to them both and gratefully exited.
"Well, I guess we better start hauling, if weíre going to make a flight in two hours," Lee said in a resigned tone. "Letís meet back here at 1100 and we can take my car to the airport."
"Sounds good to me," Chip said as he got to his feet. "Cheer up, Lee, itíll probably turn out to be a memorable trip."
"To quote the Admiral: ĎHrmmph!í"
As the two were leaving Leeís office Chip happened to glance down the hall and caught a glimpse of Angie eyeing them nervously. Curious, he said to Lee "Meet you at 1100," and then headed up the hall to the administrative aideís desk. Crane was too pre-occupied to even notice.
"Is something wrong, Angie?"
Angie nodded. "It would appear that Unitedís ticket agents goofed. You both were booked into Coach by accident; by the time the error was caught, First Class was full." She handed him the two ticket envelopes. "Oh, and the Huntington Heights doesnít have a shuttle; youíll have to take a cab. Sorry."
"Sorry? Itís not your fault," Chip reassured her. "I promise I wonít tell Lee until after we leave."
She smiled gratefully. "Thanks, Chip. I owe you dinner."
"I accept; details to be worked out upon our return."
Chip frowned and glanced at clock on the wall of NIMRís lobby. It was 1120 and Lee had yet to return. Then, before he saw it, he heard the roar of his COís sports car as it raced into the administration parking lot. The roadster came to a screeching halt in front of the main building. As he ran towards the car Chip noticed with dismay that Leeís mood seemed to have further deteriorated.
"Something happen?" Morton asked as he tossed his bag into the back and hopped into the passenger seat.
"I was out of dress uniforms so I had to stop at the dry cleanerís!" Crane fumed, as he shoved the gear into reverse.
"Well, fortunately, Santa Barbara is a small airport and we should still be able to get through security clearance with time to spare," Chip remarked in an effort to soothe his friendís nerves. Now is definitely not the time to tell him about the seating goof-up!
As Chip had predicted they arrived at Santa Barbara Airport with adequate time to check both themselves and their luggage. Crane glanced at the boarding passes that the ticket agent handed him and did a double-take. He had been assigned seat 22A for the first leg of the flight from Santa Barbara to Denver and seat 25A for the remaining portion to New York. He turned back to the ticket counter only to see eight more people in line.
"Damn! Chip, check your boarding passes. I think thereís a mistake."
Morton reluctantly displayed his own passes: seat 22B and seat 25B. "Itís not a mistake, Lee. Angie told me that United apparently goofed and booked us into Coach. You had already left so we didnít get a chance to tell you."
"Wonderful! Six hours of feeling like a sardine," Lee groused.
"Look at it this way," the XO encouraged. "Itís a rare opportunity to relax: read, nap---no immediate pressures or worries."
The one adjective that could not be used to describe either leg of the flight was relaxing! Just over the Nevada border the jet encountered turbulence so severe that even the two seasoned naval officers felt nauseous. The Denver-New York leg was somewhat smoother, however, seated two rows in front of the Seaviewís Captain and Exec was a young woman with two pre-school aged children who wailed at the top of their lungs the entire flight; in the row behind were two more tots who thought it great fun to kick the seats in front of them. By the time the plane touched down at JFK even Chipís typically unflappable countenance was displaying severe strain!
Together they pushed as rapidly as possible through the throngs of travelers heading in both directions of the long corridors leading to Baggage Claim. By the time they were finally able to exit the terminal they were totally exhausted.
"Okay, now where do the hotel shuttles pick up?" Lee mused as pivoted in all directions for the familiar-looking signs.
"The Huntington Heights doesnít have a shuttle."
Craneís bags hit the sidewalk with a loud thud! He looked at his friend in disbelief for a moment, then asked through clenched teeth, "Are there any more details to this already-delightful adventure that I need to be aware of?"
"If there are, itíll be a surprise for us both," Chip replied wearily.
"Now what---do we rent a car or take a cab?" Lee asked, the ire in his voice now dissipated.
Morton shrugged. "Youíre the Skipper; you choose."
Crane again picked up his luggage and headed in the direction of the waiting cab. The line in front of them moved quickly and within minutes they were seated inside a vehicle which quickly pulled away from the curb.
"Where to, gentlemen?" the driver asked, glancing over his shoulder.
Crane pulled the travel folder from his coat pocket. "The Huntington Heights in Melville," he read.
"Whoa, wait a minute!" the cabbie exclaimed as he brought the vehicle to a halt along the outer fence.
The Seaview officers exchanged mystified glances. "Whatís wrong?" Chip asked cautiously.
"Melville is out on Long Island! Itíll cost ya a hundred and fifty dollars---each."
"One hundred-fifty dollars---are you kidding?" Lee roared. "Itís not that far; I saw it on the map!"
"Each," the driver calmly reiterated. "Look, pal. I take you out to Long Island, I donít get another fare for quite awhile. Now, whatís it 'gonna be?"
"Keep driving," Crane fumed with a wave of his hand.
After what felt like an interminable length of time, the cab exited interstate 495 at the state route 110 off-ramp. At the end of the overpass to the left could be seen the blue neon sign "Sheraton." Hmm, must be down that way, the cabbie thought to himself, and turned north when the stoplight turned green.
The Sheraton turned out to be the only major hotel along Rt. 110N and after a few minutes the open landscape became the strip malls, restaurants, and gas stations of Mellville.
Crane and Morton gazed around them and again exchanged confused glances. Suddenly, Chipís neck cranked around in a quick double-take. "Did you see that?" When Lee shook his head, he continued. "That store was selling caskets!"
"Good; because if we donít get to the hotel soon, there may be a need for one!" The Captain retorted under his breath.
"Say, you fellows donít by chance know where this place is, do ya?" the driver asked.
After a prolonged moment of silence, Crane replied, "Uh, n-o-o-o; donít you?"
"No. Hell, we drivers hardly ever come out this way. Why do 'ya think the fareís so high?" The cabbie flipped on his left blinker and turned into a Shell station. "Iíll ask here. Iím out of gas anyway."
The two officers watched from the rear window as the cab driver joked with the station attendants while he pumped the fuel. "I donít know whether to laugh or scream," Crane commented.
"No kidding!" Even Chipís patience was wearing thin.
The driver bade a cheerful good-bye to the attendant and hopped back into the driverís seat. "Okay, weíre squared away now. Turns out we shoulda' gone right insteada left. No problem; Iíll have ya there in no time!"
Ten minutes later the cab pulled into the circled drive leading to the Huntington Heights entrance. Crane and Morton exchanged sighs of relief as the driver jumped out to retrieve their bags from the trunk.
"Iíll settle with our 'friend' here," Lee said grimly after checking his wallet, "but it looks like youíre buying dinner!"
"Whatever; youíre the Skipper," Chip replied as he swung his long legs out of the vehicle.
As the cab roared away, he grinned at his CO. "I take it you didnít give him much of a tip."
Lee looked askance at him. "Three hundred-ten was all I had on meóin fact, thatís more than I usually carry!" He picked up his luggage. "Come on, letís get settled. Iím starving!"
Their assigned rooms were across the hall from each other on the twelfth floor. As he inserted the magnetic card key into the door, Crane looked back at his Exec and said, "Give me ten minutes."
Less than two minutes later, Chip heard a loud pounding on his door. He opened to find Lee standing in his doorway rubbing his eyes, then his temples. "That was a fast---whatís wrong, Lee?"
Silently, the Captain motioned with the crook of his finger for his Exec to follow him. Grabbing his own magnetic key from the dresser, Chip crossed the hall and entered Leeís room.
Crane pointed toward the bathroom. "Tell me Iím seeing things."
Puzzled, Morton flipped the toggle light switch. Two large cockroaches scurried across the floor into a tiny wall crack. "Oh, geez!" As he reached again for the switch, from the corner of his eye he detected movement at the sink. Upon looking more closely Chip realized the motion was from a large army of black ants!
Crane shook his head wearily. "I hate to think of whatís n---oh, Miss!"
A housekeeping attendant was passing through the hall just then. The Captain motioned for her to come and then pointed to the bathroom. The woman did so and immediately understood the disgust and urgency in the manís tone.
"Oh, ma' gawd! Be back in a sec!"
The woman turned and walked rapidly in the direction from which she just come and returned moments later with a large can of bug spray. She sprayed the sink drain and wall baseboards liberally, so much so that the two officers began coughing.
"There, that ought to take care of ya! Sure am sorry about the trouble." With that, she was gone!
Chip leaned his tall frame against the still open room door. "Want to call down and demand another room?"
"If I werenít so dogged tired, I would. Right now, I just want something to eat."
"Letís order room service and eat over in mine," the XO suggested. "Itíll give the fumes time to dissipate."
Crane nodded and followed him back across the hall.
Chip handed the room directory to his CO who had sprawled into one of the two straight-backed chairs. Lee flipped through it for a moment and handed it back.
"I want the grilled chicken club with french fries," he said covering his eyes with his right hand.
Chip picked up the phone and punched in the number sequence. "Yes, this is room 1239 and Iíd like to order dinner. We want the grilled chicken club with french fries and the rib-eye steak sandwich, medium-rare, also with french fries." The XO placed his hand over the mouthpiece. "What to drink, Lee?"
"Two Michelob," Morton said. "Okay, thanks." Hanging up the phone, he relayed, "The kitchen said it would be about half an hour."
The Captain nodded. "And at the rate things have been going, we can multiply that by six since theyíll probably have to go catch the chicken!"
Chip flashed a lopsided grin at his friend. "Come on, I think just about every conceivable hassle has already occurred---unless, of course, you forgot the Admiralís paper or something."
Crane sat up with a start. "Oh, shit!" He took off at a run out of the room leaving Chip to simply shake his head.
A few moments later there was a knock on the door. Chip opened to a blanch faced Captain. "You forgot it, didnít you?"
Crane nodded. "The problem is I donít know where I left it!"
"Well, no sweat. We can have Angie fax us a copy first thing in the---"
"Californiaís three hours behind," Crane cut in.
Chip looked at his watch, then picked up the phone and punched in the Instituteís phone numbers. "Angie? Glad I caught you! Weíve got a bit of a problem back here. Could you please fax us a copy of the Admiralís paper? The fax number is 1 -555-488-6161. Thanks a bunch!" He turned to Lee triumphantly. "See? Problem solved, just like that."
A few minutes later there was a knock on the door, followed by a male voice announcing, "Room Service!"
"I told you, Lee; our luck is changing."
Chip signed the room service ticket and wheeled the car bearing the two trays into the room. Removing the plate covers both were aghast to see two plates containing steak sandwiches and bags of potato chips.
"Chip, what was that last comment you made?" As he started to pick up the phone, Crane waved his hand in dismissal. "Forget, Chip. At this point steak is just fine." He lifted the top bun from his sandwich to spread steak sauce and discovered the meat was garnished by three onion rings. Looking over at his Exec he commented, "How did they know I hate onion rings?"
"Say no more," the Exec replied, spearing the three rings with his fork.
The two officers ate in tired silence. When they had finished Chip stacked the plates and trays, then carried them to the door.
"Let me get the door, Chip. I need to go down to the front desk and pick up Angieís fax." He shook his head thoughtfully at the Exec. "I donít know what the Institute would do without her! Iíve got to think of some way to show my appreciation."
"Donít worry about it, Captain. Iíd be more than happy to take care of that detail for you!"
Crane smiled. "So the rumors are true, huh? Well, it couldnít happen to two nicer people. Iíll see you in the morning, Chip."
* * *
By the time the second paper had been presented the Seaview officers were convinced that they were more knowledgeable of marine biology than most of the people attending and certainly more than the first two speakers! Consequently, they were struggling by the first intermission to keep their eyes open.
"I may not forgive the Admiral for this one," Crane murmured after they had each filled a cup with coffee.
"You have to," the XO replied between bites of Danish. "Heís the Admiral, youíre the Skipper."
"You always have to bring up technicalities, donít you?"
"Part of my job," Chip replied with a grin. "It falls under the heading of looking out for the best interests of my CO: in this case, your head!" He picked up a toothpick from a glass dish next to the tray of Danish. "Here."
"Whatís this for?" Lee asked, frowning.
"If you break it in half, youíll have one for each eyelid. It probably wonít reflect well on the Institute if you fall asleep before you read Admiral Nelsonís paper."
Despite himself, Crane was forced to smile. Observing that the next speaker was already at the podium, the attendees still standing again took their seats.
Five minutes into the presentation on the latest efforts to make plankton edible for humans Chip heard the snap of Leeís toothpick. He quickly covered his mouth to stifle the laugh.
As fortune (or misfortune, in Craneís mind) would have it, the Admiralís research on Mutant Strains of Common Ocean Flora was the last paper presented. Apologizing for the Admiralís absence, the Captain proceeded to merely read the description of Nelsonís study and was rewarded with a standing ovation when he was finished!
"I wonder if the applause was for Admiral Nelsonís work or the fact that we could all get the hell out of there?" he mused to Chip as they rode the elevator back to their rooms.
"Does it matter? Weíre done! First thing in the morning weíll be on our way home to the beautiful silver lady of our lives, cab drivers and cockroaches no more than a fading bad dream."
"Cab drivers!" Lee exclaimed as he punched the button for the first floor. "I almost forgot: I need to hit the ATM downstairs so we donít wind up on the side of the freeway with our thumbs in the air!"
When they reached the first floor the Captain stood in the short line for the cash machine while Morton went to the desk to inquire about cab service back to JFK.
As they walked back to the elevators, Chip wondered how Lee would react to what he had learned at the desk.
"So, are there taxis out front in the mornings, or do we need to call for one?"
"We call," Chip said. "Would you like to know the fare?"
Leeís amber hazel eyes began to smolder. "If you tell me that itís three hundred, each---"
"Thirty!" the Captain roared.
The blond haired Exec nodded. "From what the desk clerk told me, the cabs at JFK are based in New York and charge exorbitant rates to keep from leaving the city. The ones taking people back are based in this area and could care less."
"So what do most people do?" Crane fumed.
"They either rent cars or arrange for shuttle vans, but those have to be booked in advance. Cheer up; itíll be sixty for the two of us. Itíll be smooth sailing the rest of the trip!"
* * *
"I called for the cab," Chip said as they rode the elevator down the next morning. "Should be waiting for us."
"Great! Iíve never been so glad to leave a place in my life," the Captain replied. As his Execís eyebrows arched, he continued, "Okay, okay! I take it back. This is one of several places Iíve been glad to leave!"
After returning their keys and signing their room statements, the two exited the lobby and headed towards the waiting cab. Noticing their approach, a short, stocky woman jumped out of the driverís seat.
"Oh, good morning, gentlemen!" she greeted with a Bronx accent. She tried to take their luggage which they politely declined and hoisted into the open trunk themselves.
"Oh, thank you so much," she said. "Where is it you want to go?"
"JFK, please," Crane replied.
"JFK, okay," she repeated breathlessly, as she adjusted the rear-view mirror. "I apologize for being so nervous, but itís my first day on the job!"
Lee managed a smile. "Well, donít worry, Maíam. Take your time; our flight isnít for two and a half hours yet."
"Thank you so much, Sir! I so appreciate your patience," the woman said as the taxi pulled out onto the street. "Letís see, we want 495 West. Gawd, itís only 6:15! What a morning! My first day and the boss is already pissed because I had to borrow money from for change. ĎWhy didnít ya' go to the ATM on the way in?í he asks. I said, ĎYou know Iím just getting off disability. I donít have extra money!í Gawd, I didnít need to start the morning off like that!"
"Just relax, Maíam," Chip said, reassuringly. "As my friend said, weíve got plenty of time."
"Oh, thank you, Sirs! I just canít tell you how much I appreciate your patience!"
"You said it was your first day back," Lee said, hoping conversation would help. "Did you have an accident?"
"Oh, no, Sir. This isnít my first day back; itís my first day ever driving a cab," she corrected. "I was on disability for a nervous breakdown."
Lee felt the seat begin to shake. He glanced at his Exec who had one hand covering the side of his face. "Donít start, Chip!" he warned under his breath. The seat shook harder!
"Oh, my gawd! Oh, no!" the woman suddenly wailed.
"Whatís wrong?" Lee finally managed.
"The engineís over-heating! How could they do this to me on my first day? Oh, gawd!"
The woman signaled to change lanes toward the right and drove off the freeway at the next exit. "Thatís it! Iíve had it! Iím quitting! Iíll get you to JFK, but then Iím going back and quitting! How could they do this to me, giving me a broken cab on my first day?" she fumed as she stopped the taxi along the curb of the first side street that she came to.
"Maíam, youíre doing fine," Chip said soothingly. "The cabís not your fault and thatís why we always leave for an airport early. Weíve got plenty of time."
As the woman radioed her dispatch with the problem the two officers made the mistake of making eye contact with each other. The entire trip and their experiences suddenly became hilarious and it took all of their discipline not to burst into laughter, which most certainly would have been the driverís unraveling!
The woman had just hung up the mike when another cab stopped on the opposite side of the street after noticing the hazard flashers. She recognized the driver as being from the same dispatch and quickly got out of the vehicle to talk to him.
Lee felt the seat begin to shake again. Not trusting himself to look at Chip, he simply warned, "Donít start, Chip! If you do, Iíll start and--"
The woman climbed back into cab and started gathering her log and other belongings. "Philís going to give me his cab and heíll wait for the tow truck."
She pulled the trunk release. "As soon as we can get your bags transferred, weíll be on our way."
Within minutes the woman was waving good-bye to her co-worker and they were back on route to JFK. The remainder of the drive was, thankfully, uneventful. As the cab exited 495 for lanes leading to the airport, the driver asked, "What airline, Sirs?"
"United," Crane responded.
"Okay, United," the woman repeated.
The early traffic rush was just beginning as cars, shuttles, and other taxis began to speed in and around them. The driver frantically studied the overhead signs while attempting to keep up with the flow of traffic. "I havenít been to JFK in at least two years. How could they send me here on my first trip? Thatís it; Iím going back and Iím quitting!"
The rear seat began to shake again. Crane glared at his Exec. "Maíam, youíre being too hard on yourself," the Captain told her. "Youíve done just fine and weíre here with more than enough time to spare."
The woman looked them in the rear-view mirror. "Oh, Sirs, youíve been so kind! I so appreciate it!"
"Maíam, Iíll bet it wonít be long before youíll look back on this and laugh at it," Chip encouraged.
"Not until hell freezes over!" The taxi suddenly veered sharply to the right as the woman noticed the signs for United. She sighed with relief as she pulled the cab alongside the curb. "Oh, gawd, what a morning!"
She exited the cab to make sure that the two men had all of their baggage. Crane then handed her the fares for Chip and himself and gave her a tip equal to another fare. "Thank you, gentlemen! Youíve been so kind! Have a very pleasant trip home."
"Good luck to you, Maíam."
She shook her head, muttering to herself, as she crawled back into the taxi and sped off.
The Captain and Exec exchanged glances and immediately lost it. Picking their bags up from the curb they laughed all the way to flight check-in.
"This is definitely one for the books!" Chip laughed.
Both segments of the return flight were as smooth and relaxing as the first had been turbulent. Since they picked up three hours traveling west, it was only 1130 when the jet touched down at Santa Barbara Airport.
After claiming their bags, Lee led the way to the parking lot where he had left his sports car. Chip suddenly stopped.
"Lee, you didnít park in lot A, did you?" Crane had originally dropped him at the curb with their luggage to grab a place in line.
"Yes, why? I always park in 'A'."
Chip pointed to the sign. "Lot A has been changed to short term parking. We should have been in 'B'."
Crane groaned in unpleasant expectation as they approached the red roadster. Sure enough, tucked under the windshield wiper was a parking ticket! He crumpled it into his hand and slid into the driverís seat.
As they pulled up to the ticket booth, Chip asked, "Do you have enough cash?"
"Sure. I have all of that cab fare that I saved this morning!" Lee replied sarcastically.
Forty minutes later the sports car pulled up in front of the NIMRís main administration building. "Itís true," Lee commented as the two swung their long legs out of the tiny car, "Thereís no place like home."
Walking down the plush carpeted halls of the first floor both started to laugh again at their misadventures. As they approached the Admiralís office, the door opened and Nelson stepped out to talk with Angie. Catching sight of his tow top officers, he smiled. "Well, how was the trip?"
Crane and Morton looked at each other. Both opened their mouths to speak and immediately shut them. "Sir," Lee finally replied. "There arenít words for it!"
Before the Admiral could inquire further, the door to his office opened again and a beautiful blonde woman exited.
"Senator Thompson, Iíd like you to meet Seaviewís CO, Captain Lee Crane, and her Executive officer, Commander Chip Morton."
The senator extended her hand. "Captain, Commander, itís my pleasure. Iíve heard wonderful things about you both," she said warmly.
"Thank you, Maíam," they chorused politely. Lee continued, "I didnít realize that there were now two Senator Thompsons."
The woman smiled. "You were probably expecting Fred Thompson, the one who often appears in movies. Iím from North Carolina."
She turned to Nelson. "Admiral, thank you for your hospitality and the tour of the Institute. Iíve made extensive notes and will do what I can to help."
"Good-bye, Senator. Have a pleasant flight back," Nelson said. When she was no longer visible, he looked at the two men in amusement. "No doubt youíre wondering why you were elected to go to the seminar rather than host the lovely senator?"
"Well, Sir, it was your paper," Lee pointed out. "I guess---yes, Sir. Chip and I have wondered several times in the last two days; why us?"
"Assuming you did get a good look at her, the answer should be obvious. Because Iím the Admiral and youíre the Skipper!"
Michelob is a product of Anhauser-Bush