Lt. Commander Chip Morton of the SSRN Seaview surveyed the bar of the Sea Tiger with a distinctly jaundiced air. Accompanying the Admiral to the American Embassy in Hong Kong was hardly his idea of fun and he could have killed Crane for dropping him in it.
I’m sorry Admiral. You know what the Chinese are like. I’ll have to be here to cut through the bureaucratic red tape or we’ll never be ready to launch tomorrow. I’m sure Chip would be delighted to go with you. Every word had been true and said in Lee’s most persuasive and polite tone and Nelson had been perfectly happy to accept Morton’s assistance instead of Crane’s.
Didn’t mention that I could have handled the red-tape every bit as easily as you though, did you, Lee? Oh, no, forgot to mention that, didn’t you? So much for my quiet day off for my birthday. Hah! You wait until I get back on board. You are going to be so miserable for forgetting...
“Mr Morton?” Nelson looked at the blond Executive Officer with a faint smile. “How do you fancy a drink?”
“A drink, Sir?” Morton was a little startled. Nelson had never bought him a drink before.
“Yes, Chip. You know, one of those liquid things with stiff alcohol content. After dealing with those morons at the Embassy, I think we both need one. What would you like?”
“Uh,” Chip was never at his best when startled. “Lemonade?”
“Lemonade?” Nelson gave him a shocked look.
“Scotch,” Chip hastily amended.
“Better,” Nelson grinned amiably. “I wouldn’t have thought you’d drink anything as innocuous as lemonade when you’re out with Lee.”
“Harry,” Nelson corrected gently. “I think we’ve known each other long enough for first names, don’t you?”
“Uh, yes s... Harry,” Chip felt himself colour as long ingrained habits tripped him up.
“Oh and Happy Birthday by the way.”
“You know-? Er, thank you, S….I mean, Harry…” Chip gave him a startled look.
“Well, let’s say a certain little bird dropped a none too subtle hint this morning...” Nelson chuckled deeply, amused by Chip’s blank expression. “Relax Chip; you can take your time over your drink. I have no intention of heading back to Seaview for at least another hour.”
Half an hour later, Chip was feeling pleasantly relaxed and comfortable and had decided he wasn’t going to let Lee forgetting his birthday depress him anymore. Nelson had allowed him to switch from straight Scotch to beer without complaint and proved to be a jovial and good natured companion. Morton was a little surprised to realise that the Admiral wasn’t entirely the staid unbending senior officer he had expected. He was even more astonished when Nelson told him a wickedly funny story from when he had been an XO.
“Old MacGinnis was a great Captain. But he did enjoy his drink,” Nelson laughed as he finished the story. “But that was the only time I ever had to get him out of the brig.”
“Not something that happens on the Seaview,” Chip chuckled back. “Can you imagine Lee’s face if I had to get him out of the brig?”
“He’d never live it down,” Nelson rumbled in amusement. His smile faded, however, as a large and meaty hand came down on the table between him and the blond. The hand was attached to an equally large and hairy forearm that led up to broad shoulders, a barrel chest and the ugliest face either officer had ever seen.
“You’re at my table,” The voice sounded so deep and gravelly it should have belonged to a troll.
“Well, I’m afraid you are going to have to find another table this time,” Nelson replied pleasantly but sternly. “Excuse me now, but you’re blocking the light.”
The troll like figure blinked at the older man in disbelief and made a low grumbling sound deep in his chest. He shifted his grip on Nelson’s shoulder.
“Now hang on!” Chip pounced quickly. “He outranks you, Popeye.”
“What did you call me shrimp?” the huge man turned beer laden breath on Morton; his hand latching onto the blonde’s shirt front and hauling him out of his seat.
Chip thought about it for a second, then he hit him...
Scowling in irritation, Lee flung the towel around his neck and headed over to pick up the intercom. Some days he couldn’t even take a shower in peace. “Yes, Sparks, what is it this time?” He knew there was a reason he was normally quite happy to let Morton handle harbour details.
“Uh, I’m sorry to disturb you, Sir. We’ve got a couple of men in jail and we need an officer to get them out.”
“Oh, great,” Lee closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the bulkhead for a moment. It felt wonderfully cool but only served to remind him of the sweltering humidity lying in wait up on deck. He definitely did not want to ford his way into Hong Kong and through the afternoon traffic to pick up a couple of errant seaman. “Look, it can’t be that difficult to find Commander Morton. Tell him to go pick them up.”
“It’ll give me more time...Um? Sparks, that is not a very hopeful sound.”
“It er, it is Commander Morton, sir.”
“It is?” For a moment Lee went completely and utterly blank. Chip was in jail. Chip I never get into trouble Morton was in jail.
“Captain, Mr Beech is on board, I haven’t told him yet. I thought I’d better come straight to you. Should I...?!
“No, Sparks, no it’s okay. Get me the details and I’ll go and pick him up,” Crane paused, a horrible sneaking suspicion taking over him. “You did say two men?”
“Yes, sir,” Sparks sounded like he wanted to be in an entirely different ocean rather than anywhere near giving his Captain bad news. “Mr Morton has the Admiral with him.”
“The Adm...Sparks, if you say a word of this to anyone I will personally have you keel hauled. Understood?”
“Yes, sir, I wouldn’t dare, sir. Will you be going alone?”
“Count on it.”
“Ashore, Captain? Now, sir?” Chief Sharkey looked at his senior officer in astonishment. “Mr Morton could be back at any second.”
“I doubt it, Chief. Somehow I really do doubt it. It shouldn’t take long to er...sign these...er...forms I’ve missed,” Lee adjusted his tie and reluctantly put his hat on, bitterly aware that he was going to melt in the afternoon heat. “Can you handle things here?”
“Oh, sure, sir. No problem. Kowalski and Patterson have the Ward Room well in hand. And Riley is ‘assisting’ in the galley.”
“Not that dreaded rum punch of his?” Lee asked in alarm. Last time Riley had put together his punch concoction, it had been strong enough to melt holes in the deck plates. Lee had had a hangover for two days, but it hadn’t even phased Chip’s cast iron stomach and the blond had actually seemed to like it.
“I told Cookie to keep an eye on him, sir,” Sharkey couldn’t quite hide his grin at Crane’s expression. “Everything will be perfect. Trust me.”
Lee grinned back and relaxed. “Naturally, Chief. Don’t worry, I’ll ...er...pick up Mr Morton and the Admiral on my way back.”
“Are you okay, Admiral?” Chip didn’t think that now was the time to be overly familiar with his senior officer. Nelson was cradling one hand over a potential black eye and looked as if he might be in a bad mood. The older man had been napping when Chip returned to the cell after making his one allowed phone call.
“I dare say I’ll survive, Chip. Did you call the Seaview and explain things to Beech?”
“Uh, yes and no, I told Sparks to tell Sharkey, he’ll keep his mouth shut.” The man would kill himself rather than embarrass Nelson. “I figured we don’t really want Beech coming to get us. Sorry I got you into this, Admiral. If I hadn’t swung at that guy...”
“Nonsense, Chip. It was a marvellous fight. I haven’t had that much fun in ages,” Nelson patted the Exec briskly on the shoulder. “Where’s the harm in having a little old fashioned punch up on a man’s birthday.”
Chip sighed in relief. “This isn’t exactly...” He started to explain when the door at the end of the corridor clanged open and a familiar lean figure in uniform stalked in with the round MP who had hauled Morton and Nelson down to the cell. Chip couldn’t help it, he groaned aloud. “Oh, no...Sparks told Lee...”
“Correct,” Crane glared at him through the bars. “Chip, it takes an officer to get you guys out, and I can’t believe you did this.”
“Neither can I,” Chip moaned. “Are you going to get us out?”
“I don’t have much choice, do I?” Lee retorted. He glanced at Nelson, looking slightly uncomfortable. To his relief Nelson grinned at him.
“Makes a change, hmmm, Lee?” he said cheerfully. He poked Chip in the ribs. “Ole MacGinnis would have loved this.”
Chip smiled back ruefully.
The MP touched Lee’s arm, gently urging him aside so he could unlock the door and release the two officers. “Bet you’re glad your Captain doesn’t know about this,” the man chuckled to Crane as Chip emerged reluctantly. “Won’t be pleased at his XO having to fish the officers out.”
“I am the Captain,” Lee rumbled darkly and jabbed a long finger at Morton. “And he’s my XO, supposedly the most sensible man on the boat.”
Chip gave him a hostile glare, but didn’t dare say anything. Not in front of Nelson. And certainly not with the kind of mood Lee was in.
The MP looked at Crane with shock. “Yeah? Then who...?”
“Don’t ask,” Lee said shortly.
“Actually, I’m the Admiral,” Nelson smiled wickedly. He was having a wonderful time disconcerting his junior officer and his smile widened into a grin at Lee choking in horror at his revelation.
“Wow...” the MP shook his head, wishing that he had never asked. The Chinese man had never gotten much good at reading US Naval insignia. Watching Morton and Nelson move on ahead, he fell into step beside Crane. “Uh, I wouldn’t want to be Captain on your boat, sir,” he offered. The dark haired officer looked down at him and for a second his scowl lifted to show a sparkle of mischief.
“Well, I can’t complain about it being dull...”
“Lee?” Nelson stuck his head around Crane’s cabin door as the young Captain answered his knock cheerfully. Crane was seated at his desk, wading through a heap of forms.
“It’s okay, Admiral. Chip’s so embarrassed he headed straight for his cabin and locked himself in.” Lee grinned broadly. “He won’t go near the ward room yet, and Riley is on look out if he does.”
“I thought he was making punch.” Closing the door, Nelson came all the way into Crane’s quarters. He noted the neatly gift-wrapped box sitting on the Captain’s bunk.
“He nearly set fire to the galley and Cookie got a mite upset,” Lee settled back in his seat. “Admiral, when I asked you to keep Chip occupied for the afternoon, a jail wasn’t quite what I had in mind. I never expected...”
“You’re the last person I expected to assume I’d get on my high horse about it, Lee. It’s not as if it’s the first time I’ve been in the brig,” Nelson chuckled in genuine amusement. “Let’s face it, it’s not every Captain who gets to fish his Admiral out of the brig.”
Lee stared at him solemnly for a long moment, doing his best to look disapproving. Finally he could hold it any longer and burst out laughing. “It was the look on Chip’s face when he realised it was me!” he giggled. “He looked so horrified!”
“Lee, I really don’t feel like dinner,” Chip complained as he and Crane headed for the wardroom. Lee had come to fetch him, finally bored of waiting for him.
“You can’t hide all night. The Admiral doesn’t care, I don’t care,” Lee grinned at his friend, his hazel green eyes sparkling with mischief. “What’s the problem? It’s not as if it’s the first time. I keep telling you that you that you should watch your temper when you drink scotch.”
“I only had one!”
“That’s all it takes,” Lee pointed out.
“I wouldn’t have had that if you hadn’t forgotten...” Chip stopped himself.
“Forgotten? Forgotten what?” Lee asked innocently.
For a long moment, Chip simply stared at him and then he slumped. “Oh, nothing, it doesn’t matter,” he turned away from Crane and pushed through into the darkened Wardroom. For a second the gloom didn’t register, then the lights came up with a blaze of colour and the crewmen packing out the Wardroom let out a jubilant cry “SURPRISE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR MORTON!”
Chip blinked in shock and looked over his shoulder at the Captain and saw the amused affection in Lee’s eyes.
“You idiot, Chip. I’ve never forgotten yet. Did you think I really would this time?”
“You arranged all this?”
“Sure, why do you think I wanted you off the boat? Besides, who do you think told the Admiral?”
A certain little bird... for Chip the light suddenly dawned, but before he could say a word, Kowalski had hold of his arm and was dragging him forward into the depths of the party.
“I think I’m going to have to pour you into your bunk,” Lee chuckled as he steered a somewhat befuddled Morton through the door to his cabin.
“Nah...” Chip tightened the arm he had around Lee’s neck into an awkward hug. “Thanks Lee, it was a great party.”
“You’re drunk.” Giving the blond a little push, Lee got him to sit down on the edge of the bunk. “You should have stayed away from Riley’s punch.”
“You mean like you did? Chicken...”
“Someone has to be sober enough to take Seaview out tomorrow morning and it’s not likely to be you,” Lee pointed out cheerfully. “Here, open this,” he fished Morton’s gift wrapped present out of his pocket and thrust it into Chip’s hand.
“What is it?” Chip asked, shaking the box curiously.
“Open it and find out, dimwit,” Lee instructed as he set about removing Morton’s shoes for him. He didn’t think Chip was going to stay awake long. “I hope you like it.”
Chip gave him a befuddled grin. “I’m sure I will. Does it go boom?”
“Not this time,” Lee admitted with a grin. That had been the box of explosive cigars Crane had brought the blond one time back at the Academy. Of course, it had been accompanied by a slap up meal at the most expensive restaurant in town too.
“I’ll never forget the look on Griswald’s face when the darn thing blew up...” Chip giggled as he struggled with the paper. “Why do you always wrap your presents up so well?”
“It’s half the fun of getting them open.” Dropping Morton’s shoes to the floor, Lee perched on the bunk beside his friend and watched impatiently as the XO tore the package open and took the lid off. “You said it was what you wanted. I had it engraved. I figured the next time you get into trouble it might help...”
“Since when do I get into trouble? It’s usually your fault,” Chip found his voice, slowly extracting the heavy gold identity bracelet from its nest of blue tissue.
“What do you call today? You can’t blame me for that.”
“Oh yes, I can. It was your idea to send me ashore,” Chip studied the inscription on the bracelet. “To the thousandth man ...Lee...this must cost you ...”
“It was worth it to see the look on your face,” Lee grinned, delighted that his present was well appreciated. He sobered. “Besides, I mean every word. You’re always been there when I needed you. I figure it was time to show my appreciation. One of these days you’re going to get your own boat, then where will I be?”
Chip chuckled, “The scourge of the High Seas, that’s us. Lee, thank you for this, I’ll treasure it. You wait until it’s your birthday, somehow I’ll top this.”
“I’m sure you will,” Lee slid to his feet and paced for the door. “That and the watch the Admiral gave you should go well together.”
“I think he’s embarrassed for not having realised before,” Morton murmured.
“Probably. Don’t worry, I’ll remind him next time too,” Crane said brightly. “And the crew...”
Chip groaned. “Please, don’t. I don’t think I could stand another inflatable doll...”
“That was a joke,” Lee chuckled. “You liked the gold pen, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Chip touched his pocket to make sure he still had the gold fountain pen Sharkey had presented to him on behalf of the crew. Their grins had made him feel warm inside.
“You’re a soft touch, Mr Morton,” Lee teased. “And another year older.”
“That’s right, rub it in. You’ll catch up.”
“Ah, now, that’s something I always remember,” Lee mused.
“What is?” Chip asked suspiciously.
“”That no matter how old I get, you’re always going to be older than I am.”
“Get out of here!”
It was a good thing Lee Crane had a sense of humour and could forget he was a Captain in Morton’s presence because the pillow Chip threw at him hit him square in the face. Taking a deep breath, Lee picked the pillow up and stalked towards him.
“Now, Lee,” Chip protested.
“Hold still, Mr Morton, and that’s an order.”
“Did you hear something, Admiral?” Sharkey asked as he said goodnight to Nelson before heading for his own cabin.
Nelson tilted his head towards officers’ country, hearing the sounds of a strangled squawk, a muffled thump and a splutter of laughter. “Er, no, Chief, did you?”
“Uh,” Sharkey hesitated and then shook his head. “No, I guess not. Good night, Admiral.”
“Good night, Chief,” Nelson watched him go and then headed for his own cabin, grinning broadly as he passed Morton’s cabin and heard Lee’s muffled yelp of “No fair!” from inside. Everyone needed a little fun and he had had his for the day. There was no point in ruining theirs by interrupting. Besides, he wasn’t sure it was a good idea to tell Sharkey that two of the senior officers on the Seaview had the occasional tendency to work off their frustrations with a pillow fight that usually ended up with both of them in a fit of hysterical giggles...