Another story featuring my marine archaeologist, Serena Harrison but told from the viewpoint of Lee Crane. Admiral Nelson has hired her following the discovery of the Spanish galleon the San Isabella and she now heads the Department of Marine Archaeology.
I glanced at the proposal in my hands and suppressed a shudder. Beside me Chip was reading over my shoulder. We exchanged looks, glanced back at the typed proposal and then looked up at the author of the proposal.
Doctor Serena Harrison sat across from me, patiently waiting for our answer. "Well, what do you think?" she asked, indicating the proposal in my hand.
"NO," came the double reply from both Chip and myself. Morton even went so far as to take the folder from my hand, close it up and slide it across the table back to her. She looked puzzled but accepted the manila folder back.
At the head of the table Admiral Nelson was trying hard not to laugh as he held his own copy. I was not amused.
"Gentlemen, why may I ask are you dismissing this without so much as a review of the history of the site?" she asked.
I pulled myself together and in my best Commander-Tone replied, "I donít believe a search for a World War I submarine is the best use of the Seaviewís resources."
Harrison wasnít ready to back down. "Sirsí, this is a very solid lead, Iíve invested a lot of time on this. The U-444 was sunk in 1916 . . . "
"The answer is no," Chip said, cutting Harrison off. I glanced over at my friend, who was just a touch paler than normal. He would never have interrupted a lady under normal circumstances. Right now he was glaring in her direction, that look guaranteed to freeze crewmen in their tracks. †
Harrison blinked and seemed to realize she was fighting a losing battle. She sighed, shook her head and laid the folder aside. She glanced up at the admiral. "All-righty then. It was just an idea. Moving to the next proposal; Hammond Bancroft has approached me concerning a recovery effort."
"How does this concern the Marine Archaeological Department?" Nelson asked, flipping pages on his copy of the next proposal.
"Hammond Bancroft is a Titanic historian and he wants to research the reported rumors that an Egyptian mummy was onboard the liner when she went down. He proposes that there is a chance the mummy could still be intact and recoverable."
"No mummies," again Chip and I had spoken as one. We glanced back at each other, trying to hide our concerns. I could see the question in Chipís blue eyes. Was this woman crazy?
"Whatís wrong with mummies?" Serena asked, her green eyes confused.
This time the admiral came to my rescue. "I believe that this project screams of the unlikely persuasion. I seriously doubt that the soft tissues of a mummy could have survived after nearly a hundred years on the bottom of the North Atlantic. Let's move onto the next proposal, shall we?" Nelson said smoothly. I had to admire him.
With a grim twist to her lips, Serena pulled the next proposal from the stack next to her and flipped it open. "Foster Williams Teach claims to be a direct descent of the pirate Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard, and would like the Seaview to search for the Queen Annís Revenge . . . "
"Absolutely not." Funny, I donít remember practicing with Chip, but we had done it again, speaking in unison. Serena stared at us, plainly disgusted. So far we had knocked three of her proposals for an archaeological survey out of the air before she could barely explain them. Clearly she was not happy. How do you explain that weíve already had our share of Germans, mummies and pirates? What the devil was her next project idea? I dreaded opening the folder in front of me. Chip had gone completely blank on me. I had no idea what he was thinking but I knew he wasnít happy.
"Must be a guy thing . . . " she mumbled and flipped open the fourth folder. She adjusted her green wire frame glasses and began to read, "The Flying Dutchman . . ."
"Doctor Harrison, no offense, but the Seaviewís resources are better spent on things other than searching the ocean floor for a myth," came Admiral Nelsonís terse reply. This time it was Chip and I who had to hide our grins. Nelson locked those blue laser eyes on us. I felt Chip trying not to squirm in his seat, and I repressed the urge to do the same. I tried to focus on Serena.
†"Whatís your next proposal?" I asked.
"Why donít we just skip to the part where you say ĎNoí? Itíll make things go so much faster," she said tartly, dropping file number five in front of her and throwing the cover open.
"Doctor HarrisonÖ" the admiral warned in his rumbling bass.
Serena flushed slightly. "Sorry. You gentlemen are hard to please this morning," Serena said sourly.
Chip tried to defuse the angry archaeologist. "Doctor, we just want to see Seaview being used to her best potential, after all her research efforts are normally highly publicized."
Serena made a sound that sounded suspiciously like 'Humph'.
"Well this is going to require a bit more research. I wasnít going to mention it but the way things are going maybe I should run it by you first so I know whether or not to waste any more time on it."
"Go on," I said, trying to be as encouraging as possible. I really wanted her to have a nice project in that stack of files.
"Itís an island, the closest translation I can find is the Isla de Muerta, reported to be the hiding place of cache of Aztec gold."
Nobody spoke. Aztec Gold? Sounds harmless. I glanced up at the admiral, who was looking thoughtful.
"Other than the Aztec angle, is there any other historical significance?" he asked.
"The story is that the island is the final resting place of a stone chest containing eight hundred and eighty-two pieces of gold given to Cortez by the Aztecs. If found, the discovery would indeed give credence to the legend that the Aztecs tried to buy their freedom from the invading Spanish armies."
"Sounds interesting. Go ahead and continue the research on this. What else do you have for us?" Nelson asked. Serena looked somewhat mollified and continued with her presentation.
An hour later we had agreed on four possible projects, including my favorite, a missing WWII B-29 bomber. Chip and I were gathering our own paperwork and files. The admiral had already gone back to his office to start on a round of phone calls. Serena had collected her things and was on her way out the door. She paused just inside the door and fixed Chip and me with calculating gaze.
"Gentlemen, you really should open your minds to the possibilities Archeology can offer. I agree that Seaview should be used to the best of her abilities but there is so much more out there than counting plankton species," with that, the clueless archaeologist gathered herself and left Chip and myself gaping.
Chip looked over to me. "You think we should tell her, Lee?" he asked.
"Do you think sheíll believe us?"