Undercover Crane

By

Carol Foss

Sequel to 'Ensigns of Command'

Part of the 'Secret Agent Man' series

 

"So, Mr. President, "Dr. Fitzpatrick proudly told his esteemed visitors at the Norfolk Naval Test Labs Facility, "This augmented system will render our present satellite imaging obsolete. Now, this is what I mean...there, notice on the fourth wall monitor...the image you see is magnified from orbit without any loss of detail, including cutting through inclement weather, such as rain, as in this particular case."

"Whoever that man is, he's acting positively furtive," Midge Watson, a senior Presidential staff assistant, said of the raincoat clad officer on the screen. He was sheltering under a covered sidewalk of what appeared to be some kind of military base.

"Yes, he does, and that's one of the reasons this system is so valuable. We can observe any subject we want with none the wiser. A valuable tool to discover and weed out undesirables, saboteurs, spies, and even terrorists. Anyone bent on making trouble...."

As he fiddled with a switch to zoom in, indeed, the lone young man, a duffle bag over his shoulder, was looking about rather suspiciously.

"My god, it's Lee Crane!" Harriman Nelson exclaimed.

"And he is...?"The President asked.

"Ensign Crane served with me aboard Nautilus. He was only aboard a short time, no fault of his own. They simply needed him elsewhere. A fine officer. Was transferred, oh, about a year and a half ago."

"I've asked the system to correlate all known information on the name," Fitzpatrick finished typing on a console, "and...what?"

Midge could only point as she giggled.

Crane had dropped his bag, and was jumping up and down splashing gleefully in the soggy lawn's deep puddle. Yanking off the raincoat and hat, heedless of where they landed, he spun around, tossed his head back, and tasted the raindrops...

"Excuse me, Admiral Nelson," the President sputtered, "but is this normal behavior for a 'fine officer'?"

Just then a group of sailors, also toting belongings, emerged from behind the same building. Immediately they began to tug at Crane's sleeves in a vain attempt to get him out of the downpour.

He simply smiled, removed his shoes and socks, and began to slip and slide on the drowning blades of grass like a boy at play.

"I used to do that as a girl!" Midge said, "It was so much fun. My mother was appalled though. Said it was not the behavior of well brought up young ladies."

"It's also not acceptable behavior of Officers in the United States Navy!" the President growled.

Crane had lain down and was making lawn 'angels' in the flooded grass.

Most of the sailors were shaking their heads, bemused, and some actually began to shed their rain gear as if to follow suit but a four striper rounded the corner and waylaid them, ordering them to be on their way. But it took a nod by the now risen and 'at ease' Crane to get them to actually move, which made the Captain even angrier.

Giving the Ensign concerned backward glances they glumly obeyed and disappeared. Crane dutifully picked up his discarded shoes, socks and duffle, and headed to the Administration building as instructed, the Captain yelling all the way behind him...

 

"Location, New London, the sub base there," Fitzpatrick read the printout," Ensign Lee Crane verified as assigned to the submarine Ariel. Capella class. I believe there's been some controversy regarding this prototype. It..."

"She," Nelson interrupted, "Its are unknowns. Traditionally."

"If I may continue? It...she just pulled in this morning. So, you see Mr. President, the recon system tied into a vast database is one hell of a system...what's that 'Code Alpha Romeo' attached to Crane? Isn't that some kind of car? Why would that be in there..."

"I know there's an Alpha Romero automobile but.."Midge said.

"Nelson?" the President asked.
"I'm sorry sir," Nelson said," I have to admit; I'm unfamiliar with any code Alpha Romeo. Perhaps your staff went a bit too far and put in more personal information than originally intended..."

"My staff does only what I tell them...and it says 'Code'..."

"Midge?" the President said, "ask the Secnav."

"Right away sir," she headed to the phone.

"Out of curiosity, Nelson," the President asked, "just how old is this Crane?"

"He had his twenty first birthday aboard Nautilus..."

"Hard to believe when he's acting like a ten year old."

"I'm sorry sir," Midge returned, still holding the phone, "The Secnav says he doesn't know of any code 'Alpha Romeo'."
"What? I'll take it," he grabbed it, "Tom? What the hell do you mean you don't know? I know you're as green as me in these new jobs of ours, but....all right, all right, I'll wait. No, it's not an emergency. It in the databank the new spy satellite's got. Yes, that one. What? Oh. Regards the Ariel and an Ensign Crane. What? It's a submarine, damn it. Get your act together," he hissed. "Yes, I'll wait," he sighed. Within seconds he was listening to the man again, "Office 51? What do they do? What? Well find out! Our new security system won't mean much if we don't know what anything means and... Oh....um hm...I see...um hm...um hm," he raised an eyebrow, "It's nothing to do with the boat, just the Ensign? Um hmm. He what? And a Captain's Mast? Um humm...ah, yes, I remember the incident, a real shame too, considering the...no, do what you feel best, you're the SecNav...what...that too? And we...um hm...heavens. Not exactly the way to win friends and influence people," he chuckled, "he'll learn soon enough, no doubt. But...um hm...what? No kidding? Well, if that's the case, he can play in the rain as much as he likes!" he laughed. "Hm? What? Oh, he uh, never mind...just got someone's nose out of joint this morning, probably his commanding officer from the looks of him, yes, from the satellite...damn good view...No, nothing else. That's all," he hung up. "Ah, yes," he changed the subject, "well, it's a fine system Fitzpatrick. Well done."

"Thank you sir, so, er, just what does the code mean?"

"Sorry, Alpha Romeo is limited disclosure. Now, let's go get something to eat."

"Harry? What's wrong?" Midge asked as they followed the President.

"If Lee was up on charges bad enough to merit a Captain's Mast..."

"Forgive me for asking but why the interest? The boss doesn't seem distressed about it."

"Something's wrong about it, that's why. He's a good boy, Midge. I can't believe he'd do anything to jeopardize his career."

"People change. And they can make mistakes in judgment, Harry."

"Not Crane."

"You like this boy, don't you."

"Yes I do. He's also a born leader, highly disciplined; at least he used to be."

"Harry? To change the subject, are you really okay about having to give up command?"

"My ego's bruised, I'll admit. But it was time to let go when I actually began to resent my boat taking all my time away from research."

"Liar. I can tell you miss command. And your ego's not only bruised, it's damn well bleeding."

***

It was on a Saturday about a week later when the duty staff at the New London sub base gave the one star Admiral all due courtesy then conveniently forgot all about him as something else had their interest. All hands visibly cringed for the poor soul being chewed out behind Captain Gladstone's closed door. Even Nelson had to raise an eyebrow at some of the epithets that managed to escape through the hinges. Finally the door opened and the emerging Crane sneezed heavily.

"I knew it, Mr. Crane, I just knew it," a CPO complained, "I bet you didn't even go home and get warmed up afterwards last week, did you? Probably went right on out on your new boat and.."

"I'b fine, Chief," Crane said, his stuffed up nose and raspy voice giving lie to the words.

"Sure you are sir," one of the other sailors added " how about some nice hot chicken soup and..."

"Lt. Crane is not in need of any nursemaids, " Gladstone said suddenly from the doorway, in golf attire, "he is, however, in need of disciplinary action for standards of procedure that he chooses to ignore, repeatedly. He will not be joining us for the next cruise. Instead he'll be spending a little time as our liaison officer at the local recruiters."

There were grumbles by the crowd until one of Gladstone's words dawned on them.

Crane was absently holding the brand new pips and bars of a Lieutenant Jr. Grade.

"This isn't the end of it, Crane, I assure you, now go home and take care of that cold," Gladstone added dangerously and left though the throng which parted as if the man were a poisonous snake.

As he vanished, one could almost hear the sigh of relief en masse as the crowd heartily, if confused, gathered around Crane to both console and congratulate him.

 

Perchance there had been a little Presidential involvement after all, Nelson wondered. And he was beginning to have doubts about being here. What if Lee took offense at his former commander checking up on him? No matter what excuse Nelson might choose, Lee would be on to him; it was impossible to pull the wool over those intuitive eyes, which fortunately hadn't seen him yet.

By the time the Marine Gunnery Sgt. clerk remembered the waiting Admiral, Nelson had already departed.

***

"Hiya sailor," the woman greeted him at the motel door.

"Midge! What are you doing here?"

"Just curious about your boy wonder."

"I changed my mind about meeting him," he said and sat down on the edge of the bed, and grinned, "All this time I've been worried, but come to find out Lee's been promoted, not punished, in spite of a heavy tongue lashing. I just couldnít help thinking maybe Lee'd be offended if he thought I was checking up on him..."

"Well, there's no harm in just saying hello, is there? He doesn't have to know you why you came to New London. Just tell him you're taking me to the Ballet Festival."

"Ballet?"

"Ballet," she held up two tickets.

"The things I do for my best girl."

"At last, I'm not competing with a sub. Now that that's settled, how about some lunch? The manager told me about a place called 'The Porthole' that's supposed to have the best fried clams in the area, maybe the entire state ... "

 

***

"I'm sorry Harry, I assumed it would be more...uh.."

"Any port in a storm," Nelson said of the torn red vinyl booth. "Besides it's the company I crave, not the food."

A middle aged waitress approached the casually dressed couple, and handed them greasy menus.

"Excuse me," Midge said, "But we heard this is a submariner hangout. I don't suppose you know a Lt. Lee Crane off the Ariel?"

"Babycakes? Everyone here knows Ensign Crane. Wait, did you say Lt.? Well, about time," she said with almost maternal pride.

"Harry used to work with him," Midge said. "We're in town for the Ballet Festival and thought we'd look him up. But we don't know where he lives."

"Oh, that's nice. Well, if he's not at the base he should be on his sailboat, the Lucky Charm. Berthed at Sam's Marina. Spends most of his time on it. If not, he's probably with his friend Joe. Ensign Joe Jackson. He's a nice boy too. Or you can just stop in at the base visitor center. Not sure if they're allowed to give you any emergency contact info...but I can give him the message if he comes in here. "

"Captain Walter Gladstone," the Captain that Nelson had seen interrupted, from the deli counter, introducing himself, "I'll have the special Mabel." He waited as she departed, "Lee Crane's my fourth officer."

"Harriman Nelson, and this is Miss Midge Watson."

"Ma'am...Harriman Nelson? As in Admiral?"

"That's right. I knew Crane aboard the Nautilus ..."

"You don't have to tell me. All I hear from Crane is 'Captain Nelson this' and 'Captain Nelson that'," he chuckled, "He seems to think you can almost walk on water."

"I, uh, didnít realize," Nelson ran a hand through his hair, embarrassed. "Please, won't you join us?" he asked.

"Thanks. Try the special. The place is a dump but the food's great."

"I heard that!" Mabel called out.

"Sorry."

"About Lee.."Nelson began. "I think there was a rumor about a Captain's Mast...."

"The Captain's Mast that never was?"

"I don't understand."

"The charges were dropped before it even got started. Straight from the top. No explanations. You know, that boy's been a thorn in my side ever since our sea trials. Probably gave you hell too..."

"So what happened?" Nelson interrupted, "The Captain's Mast..."

"Oh, well let's see, it was about four months ago. We were in Rio de Janeiro. Not only did he get drunk on shore leave, he was in an out and out brawl. A great deal of expensive fixtures in the casino were damaged. I had to drop what I was doing and go all the way into town to talk to the mayor about releasing him from jail when...."

"We are talking about the same Lee Crane aren't we?" Nelson asked, incredulous.

"If you're the same Nelson, yes. Anyway, I'd almost gotten his honor to sign the release by promising we'd take care of all expenses, when we get a call from the police station that Crane's escaped! And if that wasn't enough, he took the whor...uh...ladies with him! Seems he picked the damn locks! So I had the more sober of the crew that had already returned to the boat go out to go search for him. Big mistake. It didn't matter that Crane was defending Ariel's name in the second brawl they found him in; they knew better than to join in.

"We were kicked out of port by our own Ambassador! And Crane had vanished; slipped away unseen by anyone. My miscreant crew complained that he might be lying dead or dying somewhere," Gladstone took a breather as he ran a hand through his hair, "But Crane or no Crane, we had to get underway. I skirted the shore as long as I could before we were reminded by police boats that expelled meant outside territorial waters.

"Suddenly, like a bat out of hell, a fancy power boat zooms alongside us, Crane at the helm. And you know what irked me, what really irked me? He was so damn smug! A girl was with him too. Ordinarily I wouldn't have minded any of my crew receiving a farewell kiss, regardless of the circumstances. But she revealed more cleavage than the dresswear manufacturers intended and my crew started to make rude noises and gestures. It was appalling. And if that wasn't bad enough, she...I hate to say this in your presence, ma'am, but she roamed her hands downward and stroked Lee, right down there where she had no business, at least in public, speak of the devil," he whispered, "there, over by the take out counter in the game room, behind the beadwork curtain..."

 

"You're the only man for the job, Lee," the jeans clad Joe Jackson was insisting.

"I'b the only one you can dalk ido it, you bean."

"Yeah, well, you owe me buddy. Even if you should be home in bed for that cold. A real home, as in apartment, even mine, not that stupid boat you were suckered into."

"I'b fide.And she's a dice diddle boat."

"She's not little and she's an utter wreck!"

"Do you wad me to do this job or hah...aaaachhoo! Or dot?"
"Sometimes you're a real grinch, Lee."

"So sue be."

"You remember what to do?"

"Yes, muder."

"Hmpf," Joe handed the cashier a fifty for the take out.

"Keeb the change," Crane said winking at the redhead.

"Hey!"

Crane shook his head sadly, took Jackson's arm and led them the way out the side door. "Id neber hurts to ha...hhhachhoo! Hab friends,"Lee grinned as they departed...

 

"There's something shady about that Ensign Jackson too," Gladstone continued, "Sometimes after they get together, Lee disappears, without a trace, in total violation of Navy policy of leaving a contact phone number or address. I realize he's as entitled to his weekends and shore leave as much as the next man, but damn it, he knows he's call 24/7. At any rate, as I was saying about the Rio affair, just as I started proceeding with the Mast aboard, I got a message from Washington to dismiss all charges! I can only think the Ambassador wanted to sweep it all under the counter. I hadn't even filed my own report yet! But you know the worst of it? All the while, instead of looking properly repentant, Crane sat there in my cabin, covered in bruises and band aids, all the while with a little smirk on his split lip.

"Then today!" Gladstone continued, "The order for his promotion! Looks like a damn reward for all of his indiscretions! If it weren't for the fact that the orders had been signed a full two months before we returned from patrol, and got lost in the shuffle. If I hadn't come in on a Saturday and personally verified they weren't bogus, I would have suspected he'd forged them himself! Still, looks pretty damned convenient! Friends in high places, I suppose."

"You've certainly had your hands full Captain," Midge said.

"What do you think of Crane as a sub officer?" Nelson asked, "aside from the er, problems."

"Well, if I'm honest, I can't argue with his potential. Annapolis, Sub School, and of course he apparently did well enough during his short stint aboard Nautilus with you. He's shown better than average instincts as a tactician and he certainly has the respect of the crew, however unfounded. But personally? Sometimes I want to kill him!" he laughed. "And another thing," Gladstone continued, "He's always strapped for cash. I even had my XO investigate, thinking he was into some hard debt or something. But come to find out he'd actually had a seagoing ketch worth a lot of money. Not the wreck he has now."

"Yes, the Vagabond," Nelson interrupted, "I remember it. He used to use it to help disadvantaged and orphaned children. "

"Then you know its worth. But instead of selling it like any normal person, he gave away to the same child services agency! Lock, stock, and barrel. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for good causes, but throwing that kind of asset away?"

"Perhaps it was just easier to give it away than sailing round the Horn or paying through the nose to take her through the Panama Canal."

"I realize he has the right to donate whatever he has as he sees fit, but it's not the sort of thing a normal young man would do!"

"Ah, but I think we can both agree that Lee Crane is not exactly a 'normal' young man," Nelson laughed. Soon all three were.

***

The marina hardly deserved the term as Nelson and Midge took a look about an hour later. It was more of a single wharf with one or two tie up posts. He and Midge could only look at the oily water where the boat should have been.

"Lad took the Lucky Charm out for a spin," an old man with a fishing pole sitting on the dock said, pointing to the sailboat anchored in the bay. It was smaller than Vagabond, and certainly no blue water craft. Nelson could only just recognize the young man emerging from below by his lean form and black hair.

 

He was wearing a red plaid robe and as he bent down to retrieve a tissue from an overflowing pocket that had escaped, it a lean, long and definitely feminine bare leg protruded from the hatchway, hooked the edge of his robe, the foot slowly rising up his also bare leg. Then an arm snagged Crane's sleeve and pulled it, along with its owner back into the cabin...

 

"Captain Nelson?" Jackson waved, scrunching over the gravel, "What are you doing here? I mean..."

"Ensign Jackson, good to see you. May I introduce Miss Midge Watson?"

"How do you do," Midge took an instant liking to him, "And it's Admiral, now," she patted Nelson's arm lovingly.

"Ma'am. Beg pardon sir. Congratulations. Lee'll be real pleased about that. And about time Washington sent a real submariner to inspect Ariel."

"I'm sorry, but I'm not part of any inspection team..."

"We're here for the Ballet Festival," Midge said quickly.

"But I'd did want to look in on Lee," Nelson sighed, nodding to the glassy bay, though the sailboat seemed to be bobbing up and down a bit.

"Yeah, he always gives his baby a real workout."

Midge had to stifle a snort. She was no sailor, but she knew damn well something mighty interesting was going on out there. And she knew Nelson knew and Jackson had probably already surmised.

"I'm surprised to see you here Ensign, I mean here, in New London," Nelson changed the subject.

"Yes sir, I'm still Lee's self appointed keeper when he forgets to feed himself, not that he was all that thrilled I requested the transfer. You know, sir, Lee wrote an official grievance about you getting canned..I mean, transferred to a staff job. Well anyway he wrote straight to the top. But I, well, I had to stop the letter from going in the mail. You see, he was kind of drunk at the time...it wasn't exactly the kind of letter you send to the President."
"Heavens, he wrote to the White House?" Midge asked.

"Sure did," Jackson grinned, "I had to lie to him about mailing it at the time. But honestly, I had to do something. You just don't call the Secnav and the President that stuff. Though, I kind of doubt anyone would have taken a letter written in crayon all that seriously. Only thing he could find at the time..."

"Was Lee planning on meeting you here?" Nelson asked, checking his watch.

"No, but I'll hang around until he comes."

Midge had to turn her head to keep from laughing. Nelson had a difficult time not joining her. Jackson was either used to Crane's activities or was too disciplined to reveal any kind of ribald humor.

"I've got some cookies he ordered from the bakery," Jackson said holding up a paper bag, "Always gets a discount. The counter ladies are putty in his hands," he pulled one out and munched on it happily." It's that lost puppy dog look of his, gets 'em every time...I hope he hurries up, I mean...well, there won't be any left! Sam, you get the power feed for the dock yet?"

"For the last time sonny, I ain't made of money."

"Okay, okay. But he still has a cold, and he really needs some heat and hot water on that boat."

"Don't worry, he'll stay in bed if he knows what's good for him," Sam said

"Oh, I'm sure he will," Midge nudged Nelson knowingly.

"You know sir," Joe continued, "maybe Admiral Hayes, that's the base commander, would let you take an unofficial tour of Ariel... since Lee's taking his sweet time about bringing the Charm back , why don't I get things rolling...I've eaten most of these anyway...."

"But..."Nelson began.

"Hayes would suggest it himself, I'm sure, sir. You leave everything to me. Why not go have a cup of coffee at the O'Club and I'll join you there shortly."

"Well, we..."

"Lee'd never forgive me if I didn't try to get you a tour, sir, even on a weekend."

"Very well, Ensign. Carry on."

***
"I hope they're not pulling out all the stops, white glove and all that," Nelson checked his watch in the nearly vacant Officer's Club.

"What if they are? Relax and enjoy it. You're famous."

"Well, rank does have its privileges."

Suddenly a flushed and frazzled looking young woman with a visitor's pass barged into the Club, and took a seat with woman Ensign a few tables away...

 

"So much for my feminine wiles," she complained, "He'd barely taken me back to bed again..."

"How many this time?" the friend sighed.

"Four unless you're counting last night...then I'm afraid he was just so damn good I couldn't keep count. Anyway, there we were, just getting down to business again this afternoon, when that damn Jackson radios telling Lee to get back to the base ASAP. Duty! Duty! Duty! I'm so damn sick of duty! Begging your uniformed presence that is."

"No offence taken."

"But," she added, "at least I got the last laugh. I made him suffer all the way to the dock. While he'd slipped on his grubby old sweats and took the helm to power us back, I'd put on his robe, you know, the one I bought him for his birthday? Anyway, I kept to just inside the hatchway out of any prying eyes but his. Anyway, I writhed around suggestively, sliding the robe off my shoulders, opening it bit by bit, a tantalizing and erotic little strip tease. He was coming unglued even if we'd been making love just a short while before. Oh gawd, I've never seen Lee so hyped up, so ready for action, if you know what I mean, by ahem, ready for action, and unable to do anything about it. Then, as soon as we tie up, I milk it for all it's worth, I mean, he'd pulling on his underwear, his uniform, everything, all while I'm dancing around him, shimmying and gyrating like a belly dancer...stark, blooming naked."

"You bad bad girl!"

"I just about had him, when he takes a deep breath, knots his tie, pulls out an icepack he'd put in his pants, and tells me to help myself to the pirogues and jumps ship! You know," she sighed, "sometimes dating Lee Crane is nothing but trouble."

 

Midge hid her sputters behind a napkin. Nelson took a calming gulp of whiskey.

 

"Trouble or not," the Ensign was saying, "he does have a few redeeming factors. I mean, you only have to look at him."

"True, true..."

"He likes dogs. Kids too. Didn't he do a lot of charity work on his old boat?"

"He still does, but..."

"He makes a mean cup of coffee," the Ensign sipped hers, "not this garbage."

"They all do. It's a submariner thing."

"And the rumors about his tattoo are not exaggerated."

"How did you know about ...oh, not you too?"

"Oh, no, no, no, hon. Don't worry, you're exclusive. He treats me like the plague. Ever since I had to treat him in sickbay. That's how I discovered the tattoo. It'll fade in time. Not all ink is as indelible as claimed. In fact, his is not technically a tattoo at all. Still, it must grow on you," she giggled as her friend guffawed loudly.

 

"It grows on you?" Midge whispered to Nelson, confused, "What kind of tatoooooohmygod! Not... "

"Perhaps we should go outside for a breath of fresh air..."

"Right now," she bit her lip to avoid laughing out loud, 'before we both embarrass ourselves."

 

***

While Nelson and Midge waited dockside with Admiral Hayes, who was pointing out some of Ariel's hull characteristics. Captain Gladstone, in uniform now, excused himself at the sound of a disreputable motorcycle arriving....

 

"About time! What the hell took you so long? Admiral Nelson's been waiting."

"Nelson?"

"Yes, Admiral Harriman Nelson and..."

"Not my Nelson? No kidding?"

"Pipe down. The woman with him is a Presidential staff assistant, so behave yourself. A Miss Watson..."

"Midge Watson?" Lee asked.

 

"You're famous," Nelson whispered to the lady in question.

 

"You know her, Lt.?"Gladstone was asking Crane.

"Odie by reputation. They call her Midge the Mosquito. She bites. One duff dookie....Scares everybody aaaachhooo! Away...."

"Damn it Crane, you should be over that cold by now. You are taking something for it, aren't you?"

"Dot's of stuff. Ibe fide sir. Just dounds bad."

"Well take something stronger! It's a damn nuisance, and you sound like a drowned cat. Oh, good, Admiral Hayes," he added as their superior approached, "maybe you can order him to see the fleet surgeon..."

"Quiet down, both of you," Hayes said under his breath, "we can hear you all the way to the boat... I hate to think what the President will say when she tells him about what you called her."

***

It was a full guided tour, Crane pretty much left to the rear, but Nelson couldn't help notice he gave her the odd pat now and then. While introducing the couple to the skeleton crew aboard was Gladstone's job, it was Crane who added his praises for their work. Yes, the boy certainly had leadership skills. Innate. Untaught. It was just plain natural for him, Nelson mused, a born leader, just like he'd seen aboard Nautilus. So what had gotten into him lately to act so out of character...

"Well, I hope you enjoyed your tour, sir," Gladstone was saying as it wound down.

"Very much, thank you."

"I'll certainly tell the President how fit and ready for action she is, once her repairs are complete," Midge added.

"Perhaps you'd care for a bite? I think there's one messmate aboard."

Crane mouthed 'no' as he vehemently shook his head from behind Hayes and Gladstone.

"Thank you but no, big reception tonight...spoil our appetites," Nelson took the cue to heart.

"Ah, yes, the Ballet Festival, isn't it...the town's really geared up for it, in spite of countries represented that we're barely tolerating, let alone in a kind of stalemate with."

"Wid your permission, sirs, may I escort our guests topside and ashore?" Lee asked.

"Very well,Crane," Gladstone said. "You're dismissed. It's been an honor having you aboard, Admiral, Miss Watson."

***

"Dat was a close call," Lee whispered as they strode down the gangplank.

"What was all that about Lee?" Nelson asked.

"Last time 'Dumpling' tried his hand at cooking anything udder than opening a can of Spam, most of us ended up in sickbay with the ru...er...sick. He's only a messmate, nod a cook..."

"Well, I thank you for the warning Lt," Midge said.

"You'll have to take me out for a spin on the Lucky Charm next time I'm in town and you're feeling better, Lee," Nelson said.

"Why nod dow? Would you dike to cub a..a... aaachhoo! Along too, Miss Watson?"

"If you donít mind Lt., I'll take a rain check, let you boys go play with your boat, without me tagging along. Speaking of rain, I understand it caused you a bit of trouble last week?"

"Uh, a dittle," Lee almost flushed. How could she have known...

***

While the young man's enthusiasm for his sailboat was apparent, it was all Nelson could do to avoid saying anything about the mixed odors of Vapo Rub, turpentine, and bilge water that assaulted his nose. They'd barely boarded when Sam hollered down the hatch.

"Yeah, whad is it?" Lee hollered back, unable to avoid a coughing fit from the effort.

"Girl's tapping her foot in my office a might too loud for me to stay asleep. I'm a hopin' you'll hurry up so's you can take her off my hands."

"He'll be right up," Nelson took the liberty of answering. "No, it's all right Lee, you can take me out for a spin some other time. A word of advice, never keep a woman waiting. She'll be a fine boat Lee. And thanks for the tour. "

***

"You're awfully quiet Harry," Midge said as they took their seats in the auditorium later that afternoon. "I'm sorry Lee couldn't take you sailing. Just what was it that came up?"

"Guess," he snorted. "At least the girl had the decency to wait in Sam's shack...I'm not sure how much more the bed in the master cabin can take. It's already cracked clean in the middle."

"No!"

"Yes," Nelson sighed, "I don't think he knows I noticed it. Master cabin has its own hatch, but it was open. Midge, you know, in spite of everything, I'm worried. The boy's sick as a dog, the boat's hardly livable, he's bound to overextend himself and..."

"Somehow I don't think he'll mind," she uttered then patted his arm, "Now, enough about Crane. Let's just enjoy the show."

***

"Stop hitting yourself over the head about it," Midge whispered as they mingled backstage to congratulate the dancers at the premier. As word spread of the visiting couple, they'd been corralled by the mayor and felt obligated to join the dignitaries.

"Crass rudeness, that's what they must all think, crass rudeness."

"Nonsense, nobody was looking at you."

"I fell asleep!"

"Harry! Look! By the dressing rooms..."

"What?"

"Crane. He...at least I think it was him before he went in...He was pawing his hands under one of the ballerina's tutus! Oh, his poor girlfriend. I mean, well, they're practically living together..."

"Perhaps you're mistaken...a lookalike..."

"Harriman," she interrupted, "I know whom I saw! And what he was doing..."

"I almost wish you hadn't. I'll have no choice but to report your suspicions on his conduct unbecoming."

"Maybe I am mistaken, Harry...I mean, he was kind of scruffy. Faded jeans and t-shirt...maybe a stagehand..."

"So, his puppy dog eyes did get to you, hm?"

"Don't be silly, it's just..."

"Yeah, I know...damn shame. But he has to learn there are consequences for his actions."

***

Business suits, tuxedoes and a few scattered dress whites mingled at the gala reception held later that evening in the Convention Center, while the ladies wore everything from full fledged evening gowns to rather casual pantsuits. Midge had decided on a simple black dress with a strand of pearls, while Nelson opted for one of the tailored suits he'd brought for the weekend.

"Harry? Over there...well, at least he's changed clothes. Who's he with? She looks old enough to be his mother!!"

The matron was ruffling Lee's hair adoringly, and offering the sneezing young man a hankie.

"I guess he's into vintage vixens too," Nelson said sorrowfully.

 

"Captain?" Ensign Jackson, resplendent in dress whites, as was Crane, interrupted, "Some dull party huh? Elevator music, no less. Don't worry, though, I'll liven things up... And I bet Lee could sure use a break from 'Godzilla'."

"Godzi...I find that remark not only insulting but in extreme bad taste," Nelson said.

"No offence intended sir..."

Just then 'Godzilla' greeted a young woman warmly who took Lee's arm, giving Jackson a chance to escape as Nelson studied the girl, stunning in a virginal white taffeta dress with little pink rosebuds. The epitome of charm and purity.

Apparently Jackson had talked the conductor into a somewhat better selection. Soon the dance floor was crowded for a traditional Tango. Still, several eyes couldn't help turning as Crane and his date enjoyed and exaggerated the various steps.

"They make a cute couple don't they, a matched set. Good evening," the matron approached with Jackson, "Well just donít stand there Joseph, introduce me."

"Yes ma'am. Admiral Harriman Nelson, Miss Midge Watson, may I present Zilla Harris."

"Godzilla please, it's a nickname I've come to use. I collect memorabilia regarding the ravenous reptile...Joe tells me you know Lee."

"Yes, but I'm afraid we didn't have much time to get reacquainted, aside from a short tour of his boat."

"Oh surely he didn't actually take you out aboard that eyesore?"

"Uh, well, aboard, yes, but not for a sail. Mostly he helped us tour his submarine, the Ariel."

"Lee couldn't take Harry out on the Charm because he had some urgent business to attend to," Midge said, with a dangerous wink at Nelson.

"Yes, but we haven't had the pleasure of meeting his date.."

"Ahh, yes,"Zilla said, "what'sthisone's name again Joe?"

"Chastity."

Nelson bit his lip before speaking, "The Lucky Charm's a fixer upper for sure, but he's convinced he'll put her back into order like he did the Vagabond."

"Admiral! Miss Watson!" Lee and his date approached. "I see you've met Zilla. May I introduce Chastity Connolly? Is dat champagne?"

"Did you enjoy the ballet Lee?" Midge asked.

"Badday? I dode understand..."

"I believe you were enjoying company of one of the dancers afterwards?"

"I dink you must be mistaken. I didn't see the show."

"What about you Zilla, how did you like the show?" Nelson changed tactics.

"Well, if I'm honest, I'd have to say not much. At least not until the danseur noble came on stage."

"That what?" Nelson asked.

"Danseur Noble, the male lead...the one in the green tights. Oooh, gave me chills, and not," she nudged Midge, "from the dancing....it's a girl thing boys."

"But it couldn't have been a girl thing at all," Midge giggled.

"I think gentlemen," Nelson tried to keep a straight face," perhaps we should leave the ladies alone for a little while..."

"What's the matter Harry; think we're going to start exchanging notes?"

"Well, I'm not hanging around to find out! "

The women began to laugh uproariously.

"Oh shit."

"Igdore them sir," Lee said leading the way toward the buffet table, "I'be learned to."

"Well, Lee?" Nelson asked as they headed off, "Were you backstage? Midge is practically convinced she saw you there."

"What's dis a..aaaachhoooo! All about?"

"She says you were doing something...objectionable with one of the ballerinas."

"Lee always does the objectionable with the girls," Jackson snorted, 'that's why he's so dear to their sweet little hearts."

"Joe..."Lee warned.

"Sorry. I think I hear a beer calling me," he vanished.

"So whad did she dink she saw?" Lee asked, as he helped himself to an oyster.

"She said," Nelson whispered, "she saw you er...groping the ballerina under her tutu."

"It's dot whad you think Admiral."

"You admit to it? Damn it Lee, its conduct unbecoming and..."

"I wasn't groping ad her privates."

"Then what..."

"Not here..."

"Lee?"Zilla interrupted, "I need to show you off to some of my friends."

"Zilla~" Lee whined.

"Now, now, it won't be that bad."

"If dey ruffle by hair one more time..."

"Sorry, dear, it's our sacred duty," she took his arm and led the reluctant Lt. back into the party as Lee mouthed 'later' to Nelson...

***

As the evening had worn on and Zilla hogged Crane's attention it appeared to Nelson that 'later' was unlikely to happen. Frustrated, Nelson finally drove Midge and himself back to the motel past the theatre.

"You can talk to him tomorrow, Harry."

"What's gotten into him? It's just not like Lee.

"Harry! Look! Over there! With Lee! It's the same girl I saw earlier, I swear it!"

"Well, I'm going to resolve this tonight, one way or the other," he said, pulling the car over.

***

Their breathing seemed too loud in the darkened auditorium as Nelson and Midge headed backstage in the dim glow from the security lights.

"Harry, maybe this isn't such a good idea. You're not going to do anything foolish, are you?"

"Crane's the fool if he thinks I'll let this slide...."

Lee's "'Oww! Oww! Oww!' from inside a dressing room interrupted whatever Nelson was going to say.

"Oh, stop acting like such a big baby," the girl's voice said, "and don't bleed on any of the costumes! They're worth more than what you make in a year. I'll be right back with the first aid kit."

Grabbing Midge and ducking behind one of the heavy curtains, the intruders saw the woman, leaving the dressing room to climb up a narrow staircase towards the manager's office.

"I hope that's some kind of costume..."Nelson said the red and black teddi.

"Maybe this isn't such a good idea, Harry."

"Damn right it's not, but we're going in anyway," Nelson departed the safety of the stage curtain, and barged into the dressing room followed by a reluctant Midge.

Crane was extricating himself from a pile of costumes, the rack having fallen on top of him.

"Lee, what the dev..."

"Shhhh!"Crane warned," If Victoria fides you here, you'll spoil everyding."

"Apparently. Damn it Crane, what is wrong with you? It's one thing to play the field, but to blatantly lie about what happened earlier..."

"I was not fondling her!

"Well it had sure as hell looked like it to Midge, and now..."

"I was looking for a microdot," Lee whispered.

"Microdot?"

"Attached to the tutu she wore for the performa...achhoo performance."

"All right, produce the damn dot then."

"The transmission stopped before the contact could tell me which. It has to be around here someplace," he continued, " in all the netting stuff."

"Tulle, this stuff's called tulle," Midge said. "And what is a submarine officer doing undercover?"

"Long story. You'dbedder sneak back out..."

"Does Gladstone know about this?" Nelson asked.

"You're nod going to dell him are you? It'd wreck eberyding."

"Lee..."

"Please...you hab to drust be !" Lee hissed, pleading.

"Oh very well, come along Midge. Apparently we've interrupted some kind of covert action."

"Doe, not dat way, use the back door, ober der...."

"I expect a full report tomorrow, Lt.," Nelson said as he ushered Midge and himself out just before Victoria returned.

***

"Harry? C'mon..."Midge was saying over Sunday breakfast at the diner.

"I'm sorry. Just no appetite."

"You don't know that he wasn't telling the truth."

"I told him I wanted a full report. It's nearly 10 am."

"You didn't give him a timetable."

"Don't forget poor Chastity...speaking of which...over there...."she whispered....

The girl was dressed in an old USNA sweatshirt which had to be Lee's, and very tight fitting bermudas which certainly were not. She was purchasing some Danish pastries and was in a bad enough mood without Mabel's pestering.

"No dear," Mabel was telling her, "I told you, Lee likes raspberry Bismarck's."

"These are not for Lee! He stood me up! Zilla too! Vanished at the reception. No word, nothing. We had to get a cab. I made it stop by the marina. The Lucky Charm was no where to be seen and old Sam said he he'd taken her out..." she sniffled, and paid the bill, turned to leave and added, sobbing, "with another woman!"

***

"I'm not sure we should be doing this," Midge whispered nervously as Nelson showed their ID to the reception clerk at the base HQ.

"Sir? Ma'am, what can we do for you?" the CPO asked.

"I need to contact Ensi..Lt. Crane. Lt. Lee Crane. He's out on his boat, and..."

"Ariel's in port sir and..."

"Yes, Chief, I know that. I meant his sailboat. I need to contact him by radio. "

"Yes sir, which office do I charge this to?"

"Er...it's a personal matter."

"I'm sorry sir, but unless there's some small craft advisories out, or he's in danger, I...."

"Oh he's in danger all right. He's in danger of my fist or a general courts martial! Now get on the horn sailor. I'll take responsibility for the call."

"Yes sir, this way...."the man led them to a small room. "Louis?" he called out to a sailor chuckling over the comic strip in the newspaper," Contact the Lucky Charm."

"But it's Sunday! Crane likes to go out and watch the sunrise and contemplate stuff on Sundays..."

"Now, sailor. Admiral Nelson requests she retu.."

"Admiral Nelson orders Crane to return to port," Nelson corrected, "And that Crane acknowledge the message."

"Right away sir," the communications specialist reluctantly began the transmission.

"Would you like some coffee while you wait, sir?" the Chief asked, "there's a really nice snack lounge and..."

"She doesn't respond to the hail sir," Sparks looked up nervously.
"Lee?" Nelson grabbed the mike, "Lee Crane, you pick up and you pick up right now! Crane? Crane!"
"I'm sorry sir...there's no contact. Maybe she's either turned her radio off or it's not working...he could be asleep. The ensi...the Lt.'s been working awfully hard lately."

"Oh I have no doubt he's been working hard. Very well then, get me the Coast Guard."

***

"But, Crane?" the seaman aboard the Cutter complained sadly as they located and neared the sailboat. She didn't respond in any way to their blow horn.

"What'd he do to get a burr up some brass's ass?"he indicated Nelson with the Captain on the bridge.

"No idea...but I'd sure hate to be in the Lt.s' shoes."

Ignoring protocol, Nelson was first to board the boat after coming alongside. Quickly opening her hatch without preamble, he entered the main salon. Only empty beer cans and stale pizza graced the floor.New photos hung, if somewhat lopsided, on the paneled bulkheads, books and magazines were scattered about, giving the place an almost homey look, if one ignored the well worn Playboy's spilling from the little booth that served as both desk and galley table.

But what was of most interest was the trail of spent tissues and discarded clothing toward the Master Cabin.

At first the sailors who'd boarded with Nelson didn't know if the sleeping form under the bedclothes was dead or alive until they saw the gentle rise and fall of the occupant's chest. Nelson nudged the man, who roused to sombulent wakefulness, lashed out, momentarily blinding the intruder.

"Watch it!" Nelson held his sore eye.

"Wha...oh, sorry Admiral Nelson...reflex..."

"Jackson? What are you doing here?"

"Well, first I'm hitting myself over the head for being stupid enough to catch Lee's a...aachhoo! Cold." Clotheless, he reached for the potent green fluid at the bedside table. "This new stuff of his makes you feel bedder but it tends to make you unconscious...uh..."he seemed to suddenly notice the empty space next to him.

"Where's Crane?" Nelson interrupted his thoughts.
"How should I know, I'm not his babysitter," Jackson tried to hide the red and black teddi peeking out from under the pillow next to him.

"You seemed to indicate so previously."

Suddenly the head's door opened and Victoria, dancing backwards to her headset's music, bumped into Nelson, turned, screamed, and grabbed what she could of the tumbled sheets to hide her birthday suit.

***

"I'll never live it down," Nelson said wearily at the diner, an afternoon storm pelting the windows with rain.

"Nonsence," Midge said. "How were you to know Jackson had taken the damn boat out."

"The entire Navy's laughing at me. Not to mention the possibility of formal charges for overstepping my authority. In fact, I had no authority at all.."

"Admiral?" Lee quickly approached from the entrance, shaking off the rain from a windbreaker which had certainly seen better days,"I just heard...what the hell happened? Didn't you get by message?"

"What message?"

'The one I deft on your motel phone answering machine last night," he sat down opposite him," there should have been a red blinking light on it...."

"Damn," Midge said, and handed him some napkins to dry off a bit, "My fault...Harry? I thought it was the phone's alarm clock setting..I turned it off. At least I thought that's the button I pushed. I'm sorry Lt."

"That's beside the point right now...I'd like to know what the hell you've been up to.. And why you left Chastity and Zilla at the reception all alone."

"Couldn't be helped when.."

"Lee!" Victoria interrupted, fuming, charging over as Joe mouthed 'Sorry' from the doorway. "What are you doing with him? Never mind," she pulled out the red and black teddi from her purse, slammed it on the table in front of Nelson. "Hope you enjoy it! I know he will!" she glared at Crane, huffed back to Joe and left.

 

"Well, that went well," Lee muttered, as he inspected and fingered the garment.

"Lee! What are doing?" Nelson asked, aghast.

"Oh,sorry. There is an explanation sir...but this isn't the time or place. At least we can rule this one out...."Lee mused, disappointed, "And after all the trouble we had getting it off her..."

"What???" Nelson roared, rising in sheer anger.

"Shhh. You want to make a scene? I toad you there's an explanation...C'mon...let's get out of here," he rose, grabbing Nelson's arm. "My tab Mabel!" he called out as the mystified couple followed.

***

"What on earth's he doing?" Midge asked from inside their rental as Lee checked under the hood, in spite of the pouring rain.

"I have no idea," Nelson sighed.

Seemingly satisfied, Lee slammed the hood closed, but then leaned into the car, checking the front seat, the back seat, crevasses, under the dashboard, and even the ash trays.

"Lee?" Nelson asked.

Finally, Crane slithered in the back seat, closing the door, "I suppose you're ready to listen calmly now..."

"Don't you treat me like a raw recruit! You owe us an explanation, Mister, and it had better be a good one!"

"And what was all that about, with the car?" Midge added, waiting to start the ignition.

"One in the same actually," Lee paused then continued, "I'm a field agent. So is Joe. Aa.aaachhoo! As for the car, doesn't hurt to check for bugs. Me..Joe...we're Office 51."

"Which for my benefit, happens to be just what?" Nelson asked.

"Oh. Sorry. I didn't know you wouldn't know. It's a branch code for ONI."

"ONI?" Nelson exploded, "what about all your plans to become a submarine captain?"

"I still intend to! Id was just a...aaachhoo! a quirk that I got into it...look Skipper, I bean Admiral," he hesitated then, " the microdot we're after has all the launch codes for the People's Republic's nuclear missiles."

"My god!"

"Like I told you, Intel thought it was smuggled out with a troope of dancers on tour. Sewn into a tutu. But...then, they said there was a..aa... aaachooo! A major foul up," he pulled it out of his left ear to show Nelson a transceiver, then returned it to its place," the contact had to cut the call short, that it had something to do with Victoria's secret, but that's all. Dook be awhile to figure it out..." he grinned, "You doe...Victoria's Secret?"

"I am acquainted with famous brand names, Lt."

"Really? Er...uh, well, you ged the idea..."

"Somehow I think I don't even want to know...Lee? Just tell me that this is for real? That it isn't some kind of imaginative excuse for conduct unbecoming?"

"You doe me better than that."

"Sorry, lad. But you have to look at it from our point of view."

"I understand, but the fact remains that information vital to our defenses is on a piece of ladies underwear, maybe they meant one of the other dancers, I'm not really sure. We have to get to the bottom of things ...I mean..."

"Ignore it Midge," Nelson warned.

"We don't ha..aaachoo, have much time," Lee continued," to find it before they know we're onto them and they change the codes."

"We, Lt?" Nelson said after a moment.

"Well, I figure since you've been informed, and you have clearance, you might, er...help out?"

"I will, but I won't have Midge placed in harm's way, Lee."

"But a wubad on the inside is a godsend...you know, girl talk with them.. maybe even have her sneak it out id a handbag or tote or..."Lee reddened then continued, "or by wearing it."

Midge gasped.

"Even if we could," Nelson said, exasperated, "if I allowed Midge to help..."

"Allowed me, Harry?"

"I won't let you get hurt."

"I'll decide if I want to help. Of course I'll do what I can, Lt. Crane."

"Very well, for the sake of argument," Nelson said, " how are we even going to recognize the damn thing? They're practically invisible and..."

In answer Lee removed a contact lens. "Macro identifier...if I hadn't cracked when I tripped in the dressing room, when we still thought the dot was in one of her costumes, I mean, I had had to get into her dressing room somehow, please udderstand sir, I was under orders to use whatever means I had...well, if it hadn't cracked, and if the transmission had come sooner, it could have saved Joe and I some trouble...."

"And just how does he fit in?" Nelson asked wearily. He was feeling way out of his league.

"We're both qualified for Alpha Romeo operations. We had to continue the investigation. I called Joe to bring my spare lens. By now I'd been informed of the new kind of garment I was supposed to search, so I had Joe pretend nod only was I was needed back at base, but that I was more interested in trying on her lingerie than taking it off her...It was the end of a beautiful, if short, relationship. While Joe took her away, I went to her hotel, pulled the fire a..aaa...achhoo! ..alarm to ged her roobate and everybody out of the way, and managed to rifle through most ob her stuff before their damn security started to make a physical room check. Had to duck out the fire escape. Kind of appropriate actually...."

"Just tell me what code Alpha Romeo is."

"Undercover code for ... how did you know about dat?"Lee interrupted himself but he had to wait to explain until Midge stopped laughing, along with Nelson.

***

"I don't like this Lee," Nelson checked his watch for the umpteenth time, as he adjusted the pilfered Hotel uniform of a Room Attendant in the floor's broom closet.

"You think I do?" Lee sneezed, adjusting the coveralls of a local plumber. "But it's the only way we can be invisible...and get access to the rest of the dancer's rooms, as well as Victoria's. But I'm counting on Miss Watson's ruse as a Avon representative....should already be yakking to some of them about their latest addition of lingerie to all that make up fluff...you got the other room numbers I gave you?"

"Yes mother."

"Sorry sir."

"No, I am. That was totally inappropriate of me, Lee. This is your operation. I'm just along for the ride..."

"Lens giving you any trouble?"

"Well, let's just say if I ever need reading glasses, I won't opt for contacts."

"Very well, let's go."

***

Midge was enjoying herself, but it wouldn't do, she reminded herself. She had to be detached from the giggling, the oohing and ahhing as she showed the various flyers and catalogs to some of the girls who'd invited her into their rooms after her knock and introduction.

"You mean you don't have this sort of thing back home?" she pointed to a very sexy number.

"Olga's got lots..."

"Yah, she is a 'hot tootie'.."

"Oh, I'd love to see them. All of them, "Midge said. "Perhaps we can give all of you commissions to model our line..."

**

Nelson hurriedly scrounged through drawers, closets, and the half packed suitcases in Victoria's room. He wasn't used to ladies underwear. But none of what he'd seen gave him tingles or looked in any way like the fancy line of lingerie he'd seen her wearing or that Lee's contact had indicated. As he snuck into the next room with the master key Crane had managed to obtain, he wondered how Lee was doing. And that he'd have to have a long talk with the boy about just how he'd managed to obtain it. No, he thought the better of it. That was agency business. He'd best just do his job and ignore all the details were Lee Crane's territory.

***

"Oh swell," the man in question muttered and wondered if he'd gotten it all wrong, the adventure, the duty, making a difference. Perhaps he should never should have joined the Agency. This was the correct hotel wing wasn't it? But this next batch of likely dancers he was supposed to check out was wrong sex. Yet...some male dancers were supposed to be a bit...er...well....it wouldnít hurt to check.

Several shorts, briefs, and rooms later, that he was rudely interrupted.

"What are you doing here?" a lean but muscular man leaned from the doorway.

Lee pointed to the badge sewn into his uniform. "Al's plumbing.. bad leak...it's okay now..."

The man didn't seem upset about the intrusion; in fact, he leaned back against the door and locked it. Then gave Lee an appraising look that needed no explanation. Damn, how was he going to get out of this one....

***

"Any luck?" Nelson asked Midge as they met at the pre-arranged time in the broom closet.

"Yes and no. The lens didn't pick up anything but I'll be getting a heck of lot of commissions from Avon."

"Same here. Nothing...You know, I'm proud of you Midge. Even if all my instincts tell me you shouldn't have come along."

"And you'd be correct," the door swung open, revealing two police officers.

***

"So, Admiral," the cop asked," Any explanation why you were going through the personal belongings of the hotel guests? Disguised as an employee, not less?"

"No comment."

"No comment; you do realize don't you that the hotel security cameras have you on tape, and one of the room's had a hidden camera. Placed there by a rather anxiety ridden who's parents told her something just like this might happen."

"I didn't steal anything!"

"Nobody said you did...so, it just some kind of fetish? You enjoy handling pretty little bras and panties?"

"Absolutely not!" Nelson roared. When he got his hands on Lee for getting him into this...

"Then what were you doing?"

"I can't tell you," he said. Keelhauling. That's what he'd do to Lee. Along with hanging, drawing and quartering which would be preferable. No, not really, of course, but...

"Can't or won't," the officer interrupted his thoughts.

"No comment."

"JAG's here," an officer interrupted.

"Very well. Show him in."

"Officer," the Naval lawyer greeted the cops, setting his briefcase on the table." This is..." he made a show of checking a printout from his pocket, "Admiral Nelson?"

"He's all yours, for now, Ensign Leesbro," the officer said leaving them in peace, as all Nelson could do was look in total shock at Ensign Jackson.

"Joe Lee's-bro, Admiral," Ensign Jackson extended his hand. "I've been assigned to act as your counsel..."he looked at the floor, suddenly stamped his foot hard, and seemed to scrape the remains off his shoe with the printout, "damn bugs, we can't get rid of them this time of year no matter how many exterminators we hire. Guess it's the same here," he absently placed the page on the table. It had words highlighted in the text. 'Play along.'

"Ensign Leesbro."

"Now, sir, I only have a few details. I believe you were searching for a mutated species of...dermestids."

"Yes...that's right," Nelson played along as instructed, grateful for any kind of excuse. At least he knew where they were headed now.

"So you had to keep quiet about it, to avoid an international incident or panic the girls from the suspect countries that this species very likely, arrived from."

"Yes...didn't want to alarm anyone. But once these populate, well, not only would they cause severe skin rash and irritation to the ladies, they'd also get into the general bug population and destroy some of our crops, not to mention a great deal of the fabrics we use everyday. Wool, cotton, linen, fur, even silk."

"The Navy commissioned you to check it out?"

"Uh, no...The Dept of Agriculture. I'm on leave from the Navy...I helped with the original investigation of this mutation. So far, thank goodness, the troope doesn't seem to be infested as was believed."

"I see. Why not just tell the Hotel? Of course, they wouldn't have cooperated would they? Loss of business. I think I have all I need...I'm sure I can have you released on your own recognizance, that means on your own honor..."

"I know what it means, Ensign."

"Sorry sir, anyway, I'm almost sure the hotel and the dancers won't actually press charges."

It was that 'almost' that still concerned Nelson as Leesbro departed and Nelson was taken to a holding tank.

***

Jackson had worked fast and it wasn't long before Nelson signed for and emptied the manila envelope containing his personal effects into his hands. "Where's Midge Watson?" he asked, looking around, hoping she hadn't been through the third degree too, as he pulled on his watch, and returned his wallet to his back pocket.

"No charges were filed," the officer said, "Left about a half hour ago."

"Did she say where she was going?" Nelson asked, a little surprised she hadn't waited or left a message.

"No. Left with a man. Tall, dark.."

"I have a car for you sir," Jackson approached and led Nelson toward the exit.

"No word, nothing!" Nelson hissed, "Just takes her out of here, nary a word to me...When I get my hands on Crane..."

"It wasn't him," Jackson said under his breath, as they exited the building, "and Lee didn't report in at his check time. I can't raise him on the transponder either..."

"Do you know where this stranger and Midge were headed?" Nelson asked, his ire immediately deflated.

"No idea. Lee put a GPS bug on her, that's a new invention we're still working the kinks out of...global positioning system. Shows you or someone else where you are. Based on latitude or longitude...but it's not working, or..."

"Or?"

Jackson stopped and looked at the senior officer squarely. "Or she's dead."

***

"I'm sorry, Admiral,"Gunny said at HQ, "but..."

"Do it," Jackson ordered the Marine.

"You don't have authorization either, sir."

"Then I'll make my own!" Nelson blared.

"Sir...please..."he pulled his firearm from the holster.

"Oh good grief. I just want to make a conference vidphone call!"

"Not to a classified facility like the Navy test lab and Dr. Fitzpatrick. They're both secure lines."

"I told you, I don't have the damn clearance code!"

"I'll take responsibility for him, Gunny," a familiar voice said, if somewhat out of breath.

"Lee!" Jackson rushed over," you okay, bud?"

Crane was liberally splattered with mud and a few blood splatters from a cut above a black eye, but that wasn't what glued the duty staff's eyes to the lithe form. He was garbed not in 'Al's plumbing' coveralls, uniform, or even casual weekend attire. He was, simply put, wearing the white tights and short green jacket of a ballet dancer. Complete with rhinestones and fabric slippers.

"Don't even aa..aaachooo, ask," Lee said wearily. "Gunny? What's taking so long? Release the damn door to communications. Admiral? Joe? This way...Bates?" he aded to one of the crewmen, "Coffee for three. Straight."

"Right away!" the crewman dashed without hesitation, on fire to know what happened and used to submariner's prefering it strong. In fact, it was rumored that coffee aboard Ariel was so strong a spoon would stand up in a mug without much support.

"Out," Lee simply ordered 'Sparks'.

Backward glances, yes, Nelson noted, but he obeyed without question.

Lee closed the door and leaned against it wearily.

"What happened?" Nelson and Crane asked each other at the same time.

"Never mind me," Lee said, "I got here as soon as I could. Mind telling me what you need from here? Better hurry before Hayes or Gladstone get wind of it. They're on the golf course, but word might have already spread. And I donít exactly have authorization for getting you in here. I'm just the ranking officer on deck."

"Technically you're not, Lee," Joe said, "in fact you're AWOL from the Recruiters. Remember their big gig at the college today?"

"Swell, I forgot all about it. Well, we can't do anything about it now, so Admiral, what do you need?"

"I need to get in touch with Dr. Fitzpatrick at the test lab. He's got a satellite spy system...can pick out a mushroom from outer space, let alone missing persons...It might not be the GPS Mister Leesbro was touting but..."

"Lee's bro?"

"All I could think of. Hey, it worked didn't it? Lee, Midge Watson was seen leaving the police station with somebody," Jackson said. "We don't know who...we already checked the motel room. At first we thought it was you..."

Jackson opened the door to two loud knocks. Bates had returned not only with a carafe of coffee and three mugs, but was also holding a freshly pressed khaki uniform in cleaner's wrap. There was one problem. It was Gladstone's.

"I can't wear that!" Lee shook his head.

"Any port in a storm sir," Bates said. "Sides, who's gonna know...no pips or badge on it."

"He'll know."

"Only that it's still at the cleaners, sir."

"Thanks...I don't suppose you have any shorts to go with it...this thong thingy is killing me..."

***

"You sure you're okay?" Jackson whispered to Lee, ripping off the plastic wrap of Captain Gladstone's uniform, leaving Nelson to his conference video with Dr. Fitzpatrick.

"Well, aside from a bruised ego and a black eye...I'm fine Joe, really."

"So, what happened?"

"Only thing I could think of to keep Vicktor's hands off me.."

"You mean he wanted to....kripes, Lee!"

"Had to distract him by pretending to be interested in his costumes. He was distracted all right. Had me try some of them on... then his boyfriend came in...

You'd be surprised how strong these guys are..especially when they're in a jealous rage. I barely managed to get out unscathed...well, sort of..." he fingered the band aid, "Any luck Admiral?"

"Not one damn image..."

"Can this system record anything?"

"There were intermittent recordings during the test phase...Fitz?"Nelson asked the man on the vidphone.

"I'm on it..."

"Excuse me Lt.," the voice came after the knock, "We got some briefs."

Lee opened the door, only to find everyone turning to see the irate Gladstone and Hayes hurrying toward the room with SP's fast behind them.

"Prepare to repel boarders!" Lee grabbed the briefs from Gunny and slammed the door shut, setting the numerical lock.

"Over here," Nelson called. "Does this look like her to you Lee, Joe?"

"Not sure...kind of distant."

"Best we could do...but it's the same outfit..."Nelson said.

"An old blue Corvette," Joe began, "there's not many of those around here except for..."

"What is it Lee?" Nelson asked.

"Except for the one belonging to Captain Gladstone's wife..."

***

"You only had to ask!" Admiral Hayes ranted as Nelson stood at attention in spite of the senior officer's casual attire. "Damn, I know it's a Sunday, you still could have called me! And leading one of my men astray! The other one too, whatshisname?"

"Ensign Jackson," Gladstone said.

"It's not Crane's fault..."Nelson began.

"What the hell would you call it?" Gladstone shook his head," And he slammed the door on us!"

"I accept full responsibility for Crane's actions."

"I may just hold you to that.'

"The duty watch says he volunteered the communications room to you, Admiral Nelson," Gladstone said.

"Don't you understand? Midge was missing..."

"So you barge over here, visions she was abducted or something?? We could have told you my wife loaned Chastity Connolly the damn car. Miss Watson must have called her. Sent one of her staff. Didn't you check the police records?"

"That phone call was privileged information," Nelson said. "We tried.."

"Sir," Gunny interrupted from the open door, "we have a uh, situation."

"Now what?"

"Well, Bates was waiting for the Lt. to come out of the men's room, you know, he was changing out of his tights..."

"Hmphf," Gladstone said.

"It's not what you think, Captain," Nelson said.

"Go on Gunny," Hayes added.

"Well, er...he was taking awhile...the guys and me were getting worried...I mean he'd been complaining about it being a bit tight and..."

"What the hell happened?" Hayes blared.

"So Bates goes in to see if he needs any help, and...the Lt.'s gone. Right through the window...er...he left the costume behind, "he held up the costume pieces including the specialty jock strap.

"Now do you understand why I want Crane permanently removed from Ariel?" Gladstone asked Hayes wearily.

"There's more..."Gunny paused.

"Well?" Hayes demanded.

"Ensign Jackson's missing too. Must've sneaked out when we were looking for Crane. Nobody saw where he went."

Nelson, still at attention as a one star to Haye's two, had to admire the boys' distract and escape tactics, but why, if all they had to do was call Chastity...ah yes, they had, and she hadn't answered...

"Contact Jackson's superiors,"Hayes sighed, "if you can find them; he's on report. I leave all of Crane's disciplinary actions to you, Captain. Make it stick this time. As for you, Admiral Nelson, you might want to get your old shoulder boards out of storage; no matter how brilliant a mind the President seems to think you have, can't prove it by me after all this...the police, no less, it turns out! No matter that you were doing the Feds a favor. You should have been up front with the hotel. Have you forgotten work protocols since you got your star? Think about it. Dismissed."

***

Nelson wasn't alone in thinking Crane and Jackson may have returned to the Charm. Haye's must've the SP's sent to hunt the errant officers down and bring them back. But apparently neither been aboard as the jeep headed off without either.

"Mighty interestin', that," Old Sam strolled out of his shack with a fishing pole, and looked at Nelson, "What's your interest?"

"Lee was helping me find Miss Watson."

"Oh, aye...the boy told me about that, so he did..."Sam spat a chaw of tobacco into his hand, and attached it to the bait on the fishing pole, walked the short distance to the dock, and dipped it it in the water.

"Then he's been here?"

"Didnít say he wasn't."

Just then bubbles began to pop up from beneath the wooden dock, trailed from under it, and Lee popped up to the surface, removing his regulator and scrambling up onto the dock.

***

"They won't think about returning soon," Lee said, rinsing the scum off his, rather Captain Gladstone's uniform, with a garden hose as Sam leaned the scuba tank against the shack where others were stacked haphazardly. "Thanks Sam," Lee led Nelson away towards the Charm. "No sooner than I'd snuck out the SP's were on my trail. So, aaaachoo! Stupid cold, feel it getting better though. I grabbed some gear and dunked under...Sam knows the routine when I'm..er...in trouble."

"So, what's the plan, Lee?"

"Well," Crane said as they boarded the Charm, "If it was Chas's car, they're probably on her yacht. No, it's not anchored anywhere near, not even in this bay," he added at Nelson's glance outward, "we're too sleazebag for the rich and famous."

"I've been wondering, Lee...if she's okay, Midge might not like us interfering."

"We'd better," he paused, as they entered the hatch, "the Agency's been suspicious of Chastity for some time...my job was to lower her guard...keep her under surveillance..."

"Among other things, I suppose." There was no need to explain what he meant.

"Yes," Lee explained to Nelson's disgusted expression. "I was ordered to use all the weapons at my disposal.. "

"Hmf."

"At first it was only to get her to think I was nothing more than a quick lay, smitten by her overly apparent charms. I was too, at times. Still am," he stripped off the sodden uniform then scrounged for some dry clothes, as he toweled himself, "Sometimes it's hard to disassociate it all. Occupational hazard. I keep hoping maybe the Intel's all wrong...they're only suspicions after all. No hard evidence. The more I got to know her," he dressed, " the more she didn't seem like the spook type at all. God, I hope she's not. So...anywaaaachho...anyway, I had no idea this microdot was in anyway connected to a possible shadow life she might have. And its probably not, but Miss Watson's life could be in danger if she hangs around her. I can't ask you to help out in this any longer."

"Try and stop me. Just tell me what to do."

Just then the sound of a motorcycle on the gravel penetrated the boat.

"Even if I have reinforcements?" Lee added.

"Even then."

"Very well, make all preparations to get underway Mr. Nelson."

***

"Miss Chastity?" the epitome of a British butler interrupted the girl and her guest in the brightly appointed and spacious main salon of the yacht, "there's something claiming to be a boat that's just pulled up alongside us. And a ruffian looking fellow aboard is asking for you. Tall, dark, skinny fellow. Plaid flannel shirt and tight jeans..."

"You can just tell Lee to go jump in the lake!"

"He has a huge bouquet of flowers... "

"Probably stole them off somebody's grave."

"There're two other gentlemen with him. One of them says he's an Admiral. Wants to see Miss Watson."

"Oh, all right, let them aboard. Better break out the gin too. Looks like we have some brass to entertain."

***

"You're welcome aboard, Admiral," Chastity said as Nelson was relieved to find Midge, apparently in no danger, surrounded by brochures and catalogs. "But," she added to Crane, "You're not."

"I didn't mean to stand you up! Joe forgot to give you the message. I was called back to base..it was an emergency."

"Tell that to Zilla! She was devastated."

"I know, I know, I aaa aaachoo! Please Chas, don't let it end this way..."

"Where is he?" a voice was heard then, an Armani clad man entered the salon with the butler, "Which one is it?" he was asking. The Butler pointed to Crane.

"No one trifles with my daughter's affections and gets away with it!" 'Daddy' headed toward Crane, menacing. "Honey, did he..."

"What if he did. It's over."

"Not yet it isn't," he nodded to the Butler who pulled out a gun, aiming it at Crane, "You're getting married," Mr. Connolly added. "Now."

***

"You can't be serious!" Nelson complained, as Crane was still held captive by the Butler's gun.

"It's also not legal," Jackson added as the yacht's quickly summoned 'Captain' hurriedly put on a uniform jacket over his vacationing Speedos.

"That true?" the father asked.

"Well, er...I.....uh...don't know sir."

"You don't know? You're the Captain, and you don't know?"

"Hey chill,"Lee said, "a lot of people have made the same mistake, trusting old movies .The Maritime Commission banned captain's performing weddings it years ago.."

"Get the Justice of the Peace then. Must be one somewhere nearby," Connolly ordered.

"I can't find a bible anywhere aboard sir," the cook panted in.

"Daddy," Chastity spoke up, "really. Don't be so old fashioned. It's not like he took my virginity or anything."

"What's that? You go to your stateroom young lady!" Connolly said.

"Iím over twenty one Daddy. So let your stupid crew go back to drinking all your gin and vodka till you need them to sail this stupid boat to the next port to show off to all your rich friends."

"That will be all," he told his staff after a moment, still stunned that his little girl wasn't so little after all.

"Nothing personal, sir," the Butler said to Crane, lowering his gun and left.

"Why...why...where did we go wrong?" Connolly said absently. "Her mother always warned me to put her away in a convent..."he said to Midge. "Who are you, again?"

"Midge Watson, Avon."

"Hmm. But don't think you're off the hook young man," he added to Lee. "I'll be watching you. You make my little girl cry again like she did that night and I'll personally tear off your gonads and feed them to the fish! Understood?"

"Crystal."

"Excuse me, the 'Captain' hurriedly returned, "There's a Coast Guard cutter hailing us...somebody called Gladstone with them demanding somebody's head. Your's I think," he indicated Crane.

***

"Well, this is just great..."Nelson fumed. He, Jackson and Crane had been unceremoniously herded into one of the windowless and easily guarded offices. "Shhh!" Lee adjusted the volume on his ear transceiver while Jackson finished checking for bugs, satisfied the place was clean.

"Anything?" Jackson whispered after a moment.

"The spook...its Zilla! And she's known about the microdot all along..."he frowned. "Knows where it is...it's not Victoria's Secret...It's Vicktor's! The Sleeping Beauty Third Act Ensemble..."

"But that's great Lee!" Joe clapped him on the arm.

"Not really," Crane sighed, "That's the little number I escaped Vicktor's boyfriend in. Gunny sent it to the cleaners. And if Zilla finds ou...aachhoo, out where it is, they'll get the dot back..."

"Well, why didn't that dohicky in your eye pick it out when you were wearing the damn thing?"Nelson asked.

"It popped out during the scuffle, crushed underfoot."

The lock turned, Gladstone entered, and glared at Lee.

"Lt., is there anything you'd care to tell me as to just why two male ballet dancers are here with the cops, charging you with stealing their tights?"

"Maybe I should just stick to submarines," Lee said under his breath as Gladstone ushered him out.

***

"The dancers dropped the charges?" Nelson asked Bates who was leading the Admiral and Ensign to Haye's officer less than fifteen minutes later.

"Yes sir. Some kind of compromise..."

"Gentlemen?" Hayes began as they entered, "I've been ordered to release all three of you, no questions asked," he waved an official printout in their faces. "Code Clam Slam of all things! Straight from the SecNav himself! I don't suppose you'd care to explain in non essential terms why you rate the courtesy so that even I can understand?"

"Uh, no, not really," Nelson said.

"Very well. Now get out! And I'd appreciate it if I never see either of you again!"

"Aye sir. Er...where is Lt. Crane?"

"Said he had a date. And that he couldn't get to the cleaners fast enough..."

***

"You sure?"Jackson asked the clerk. He and Nelson were still picking bugs out of their hair and teeth from the furiously fast motorcycle ride.

"I'm sorry, nobody like that come by while I've been here. Could have before my shift though. But nobody's claimed the dancy thing yet."

"Well,we'll take it.."Nelson said.

"Do you have the claim check?"

"Uh, no we don't but..."

"Will this do?" Zilla sang out sweetly from the entrance, pulling a gun from her purse, as the claim check fell to the floor. Two burly men with her had aimed their guns at the three as well.

"Where's Lee?" Nelson demanded.

"By now, he's on a slow boat to China," she snorted.

"I hope she means that figuratively," Nelson whispered to Jackson.

"Okay, Joseph," she turned, "where's the damn dot?"she grabbed the costume and ravished the plastic bag to get to it.

"How should I know."

She slammed the gun against his cheek, "Cut the crap. I know you and Crane are ONI. He'll have to be re-educated of course...I'm not sure about you, though the Admiral would certainly be a bonus. All that scientific imput...As for you,"she indicated the clerk, "well, I'm sure we can come to some kind of..compension for your silence?" she pulled out a wad of thousand dollar bills.

"Go to hell you commie! I'm no traitor."

"Your loss. Waste him," she ordered her men.

"Owwww!" Jackson interrupted, wailing, bent double.

"What's the matter with you Joseph?"

"Bad clams..."he took some handkerchiefs and Tums out of his pocket, and accidentally dropped the small white disks.

"Duck!" Jackson roared as the Tums exploded into a powdery green gas....

***

....'It isn't exactly known' the TV reporter said, " just how the Naval officers managed to subdue their captors and relieve them of their weapons. Suffice it to say,the local diva and her friends were arrested and later turned over the federal government for other unrelated charges.. the clerk caught in the middle refuses comment...'

"Turn that damn thing off," Hayes ordered. "Anything?"

"I've tried every device we have, Jackson said, "the costume's clean."

"President on line one sir," Gunny's voice came over the desk intercom. While he was busy with the boss, Midge called Nelson over.

"That leaves us with three possibilities as I see it," Midge said." Either the Intel was way off, someone else already retrieved the dot, or it's..."

"...It's the wrong costume!" Nelson said with her. "What do you think Jackson? Would Lee have been able to get a spare from the dancers?"

"Let's find out," Jackson called for Bates.

"Miss Watson, Admiral," Hayes returned his attention to his 'guest's after his Presidential phone call, "our facilities are at your disposal though I believe too much time may have passed for that satellite of Dr. Fitzpatrick's to do much good.

"Bates confirmed it's not the same costume he took to the cleaners," Jackson said, entering almost at the same time.

"Then," Hayes said, closing the door, "If this isn't the same costume Crane wore..."

"Lee's got the microdot!" Midge said.

"Well, that's not encouraging. The enemy has Lee," Nelson said.

"They won't for long," Joe said running a hand through his hair.

"Is there something you're not telling us Mr. Jackson?" Nelson asked.

"It's an Agency thing..."he said, positively furtive.

"Ensign?" Hayes demanded.

"Cyanide," Joe said, eyes haunted. "We all carry it if we have to...er..."

"What?" Midge almost choked, "You mean he's got to....to...?"

"Standard operating procedures if captured and unable to escape..."

"Oh Harry!"

"You boys play rough.."Nelson said bitterly worried.

"Excuse me sir..."a female rating knocked, and receiving clearance entered, holding a FedEx acrylic bag containing white tights, green jacket and dancer's jock strap of Vicktor's costume, "aspecial delivery to a 'Skip' Nelson...is that you sir? You're the only Nelson here...or should I send it back to the cleaners? Looks a bit damaged.."

"I'll take care of it," he took the items.

"Well?" Hayes approached the trio as the girl left.

"Mission accomplished," Jackson showed off the miniscule dot on the tip of his finger.

***

"Well that's a relief at least," Jackson said, as the dot was safely stowed in Hayes's safe. "But Lee's still missing..and if he hasn't responded or contacted us by now...he might already be dead..."

"Don't go there yet, Ensign," Nelson said comfortingly, "If I know Lee Crane, he's probably got things well in hand...just...delayed a bit."

"Thank you for trying to make me feel better sir...but it's all my fault you know. I talked him into this caper...I didn't want it...some friend I am."

"Belay that kind of talk Mister," Hayes said.

"We have to think of something," Nelson said, "it's apparent he can't phone home."

"Say that again..."Hayes said, heading to the intercom.

"Sir?"

"Get me the deck watch aboard Ariel, have Captain Gladstone report to the boat on the double," then turning to the group, "Come with me. Ariel may be beached from sea duty," but she has excellent hearing.."

***

"It's only in it's initial testing phases, and as you've already observed, plagued with static and intermittent interruptions, but, when it's working properly, she can hear a pin drop from over 500 miles away," Gladstone said as the skeleton crew put the device through it's paces. Hayes, Nelson and Midge were with him, though Jackson had vanished in the way of secret agents before they'd even boarded. "Care to fill me in on why we've been drafted to do the Coast Guard's job, Admiral? There can't be all that many 'slow boat's to china along the Eastern Seaboard."

"Skipper?" a rating interupted. "Is this anything?" he turned the volume up....

 

"But how can he be worth anything?He's still wet behind the ears. So what if they have the microdot? We've already changed the launch codes. Why interrogate Crane at all?"

 

"The Lt.?" the Chief asked aghast.

"Quiet. Get a fix on the location," Gladstone ordered.

 

"Donít let his boyish face fool you. He may be a minor player, but he still knows a great deal. In fact, he's supposedly only one of a handful of Alpha Romeo's in the entire organization. He may even be one of the alpha team leaders."

"Well, he hasn't been very cooperative so far."

"We have other ways of loosening a man's tongue..."

Both men laughed as the signal was momentarily lost in static.

 

"I'm sorry sir...we can't track it..."the Chief said. "But I'd stake my eye teeth it's not coming from anything at sea. "

"Well, you thought it might be figuratively, Admiral," Gladstone said.

 

The sound of a heavy door opening interrupted...

"Lee? Oh, Lee, baby! What have they done to you?"

"It's Chastity!" Midge said, "They must have kidnapped her too!"

"Are you okay?" the girl was asking.

"I've been better," Lee gasped. "You?"

"I'm fine. Oh, Lee, you're bleeding! Your shirt's all torn and your..."

"It's nothing. I've been roughed up before..."

"Lee, what's going on? Who are these people?"

"Never mind that now. Chas..listen to me...I need you to do something for me..you have to trust me...it's vital..."

"Lee, you're scaring me."

"Sorry... I still wish you hadn't seen me at FedX..I'm sorry I got you into this..Give

give me your purse."

"My purse??"

"Yes.They gave it back to you didn't they?Well, there's just a little something I put in it before they shoved us into the truck. Take out the lipstick."

"It's not lipstick, it's Magenta lip gloss, but..."

"Look at it again...closer. See the bump in the tip? It's a pill I squished into it..

Chas...if we can't get out... if I'm unconscious...take it out, put it on my tongue. That's all you have to do."

"What is it? Some kind of super Vitamin?"

"Cyanide," Lee interrupted.

"Cyan..You want me- to- kill you??"

"Ifcan't do it myself, yes."

"Lee..."

"Promise me!"

"But..."

"Chas, I'm begging you! It's a matter of national security! I...I know too much...Navy...ahh...ahhh....gmpgh...."

"You're coughing up blood!."

"Promise me!! Or I'll do it... myself right now, and neither... of us... will get out of here!"

"All right.."

"Not- good- enough."

"Okay, okay, I promise."

"Good....I...feel funny...Chas...maybe you'd better give me that pill now...before..."

"Lee, please don't make me..."

"Quick, sounds like they're coming back.."

The door slammed open with the sound of men laughing.

"That won't be necessary Agent Connolly. Hand over the cyanide please."

"It all went rather well don't you think Tao?" she asked.

"Better than expected. This stupid loyalty. It's ingrained in them...Let's give him a few moments to contemplate his failure as a secret agent...and as a lover...Alpha 'Romeo' indeed..."

It could have been mice chewing on rope, as the door closed and the signal faded but Crane's whimpered 'Chas, Chas, Chas' scrapped that hypothesis.

***

It was no type of interrogation Nelson could identify while the crew and Captain tried in vain to locate just where Crane was being held. There had been no questions of real importance when Lee's captors had returned that they could tell. Regardless, Crane had kept silent.

"Now,Lt.,what is Code 'Morticia'?"

Nelson suddenly paled in response. This was not what he was expecting and he quickly grabbed Gladstone's arm, leading him aside with Hayes. Nelson had no time to sympathize as Lee was beaten again for his defiance.

 

"Admiral Hayes," Nelson said el sotto, "You have to locate him...I hope to God he is on a boat, because you need to destroy wherever he's being held...'Morticia's is the over-ride code for failsafe. I helped develop it. If Lee succumbs...if they learn or transmit even part of it....you can imagine... Hurry. I'm not sure he can hold out much longer."

 

"Again, what is Code 'Morticia'?"

"I...told you...Idon't know what it does."

"That's not what we asked you Lt. We know you don't know what it does. But we do know that you know what the code is."

"No."

"Lt., we're getting very tired of your stubbornness..."

"I'm sorry it took so long to get here," a new voice joined in with the sound of shoes skuffling, "the dock workers strike has everything blocked off."

"I should have known you had something to do with this, Chandler," Lee said.

"Truly, one's reputation does follow one years after....I see you recognize this? And to insure that you are fully humbled, Agent Connolly will administer it."

"Chas," Lee coughed, "you...realize, that when I get...out of...here..."

"You have a mighty high opinion of yourself Crane," the man interrupted.

"I was speaking to her... I'll have to turn you in Chas, maybe even...kill you. What...what did they do to you...to make you join them? Did they brainwash you? Re-educate or condition you? Did... they threaten you or your dad? "

"Get on with it girl!" Chandler ordered." You promised you would prove your loyalty."

"Of course," Chastity said, "I always keep my promises. You remember what 'promises' are don't you Lee?"

"Chas..."

"Wait! Stop her! That's not our mind drug, it's his! Cyanide!"

"Too late, he's already got it in his mouth!"

"Make him spit it out!"

There was the sound of something hard hitting the wall with a grunt.

"Oh, Lee, Lee!"

"Stop crying girl!"

The door burst open. Rounds of gunfire exploded, then..."Crane, you okay?"

"Nick! About time you showed up," Lee gasped.

"Took Joe awhile to convince the boss you were worth it..and to find you,"Nick chuckled.

"In fact, officially, we're not even here," Joe said.

"Where's Chastity. did you have... to..."

"Easy pal," Jackson said, " Looks like she only fainted. As for you, the concussion fairy struck again...some severe bruises, what I can see of them.... cracked ribs, maybe broken. What clawed you? Somebody help me get these cuffs off him."

"Lee?Lee?"the girls' voice wavered as she regained consciousness, "I thought...I thought...Let me see him!Oh Lee! I thought you were dead!"

"Never palmed... anything?Will have to.. teach you that...if you've really defected from them, that is..."

"Oh god, I'm so sorry Lee...I was so confused...I had to play along with them, they put a man on the yacht a couple of years ago...I don't know who, with orders to kill Daddy if I didn't cooperate..it's been mostly courier jobs....but thenyou came along and ...oh Lee..."she started to sob.

"Joe, I feel weird..."

"So, how did you two get into this mess Lee?" Nick asked, "Didn't you retain any of your Seal Training? I know you're bubbleheads but once a squid, always a squid..."

 

"Seals?" Gladstone gaped, along with his crewmen.

 

"Mr.. Connolly...may be in danger..."

"He's fine," Joe said. "Hang tight while the rest of the unit takes possession of our friends here..then it's Sickbay for you."

"Are you feeling any better Lee?" Nick asked.

"I'm sorry I ate all the cookie's, Mom..."Lee said weakly.

"He's a bit disoriented, control," Nick said into some kind of communication device.

"Copy that. "

"Roger. Seal team one out."

 

"Talk about the 'Nick' of time," Midge said.

"Is there anything more about Crane that I'm not privileged enough to know?" Gladstone hissed to Nelson, el sotto, "First we find out he's a secret agent and now it turns out he's also a Seal? I think I need to have a little talk with my third officer."

"Now wait Captain," Nelson said, "I'm sure there must be some kind of explanation or...ahhh. I thought he was your fourth officer?"

Gladstone simply spread his arms in surrender to the enigma that was Lee Crane.

***

"Well," Gladstone joined Nelson and Midge later outside Lee's hospital room, "All's well that ends well. ONI's convinced the Connolly girl was no Mata Hari. Simply blackmailed into it all. Turns out at real agent was the Butler."

The door wasn't closed and they were about to enter when they stopped dead in their tracks, a heated confrontation between Crane and Jackson was going on...

 

"Mine's the bigger one than yours," Jackson said.

"I beg to differ Ensign."

"You pulling rank on me Mister Crane? Besides, the nurses confirmed it."

The group outside was just about to turn tail when...

"Aw have a heart," Lee said. "I'm starving!"

"Won't work Lee."

"What won't work?"

"That'give me the biggest cookie please,' look, that's what won't work. I've known you too long. I'm immune, bro."

"Tyrant."

"You're really not supposed to have any anyway."

"I'm sick and tired of chicken soup and crackers."

"They haven't even fed you yet. Be grateful I brought you a cookie at all."

"They'll make me eat Jell-O...whenever I'm stuck in here, they make me eat Jell-O."

"Lee..."

It was clear Jackson's resolve was wavering.

"I saw my roommate's...he's down in post op...It was red...like blood..."

"Lee..."

"Almost made me puke and..."

"Okay, okay! Here! You happy now?"

"Mmmm,Heaven," Lee managed in between munching, "Room clean?"

"Yeah, I checked it out, the hall too..why?"

"Joe? You ever wonder about what we've gotten ourselves into? I mean it all began when we were in the wrong place at the right time...being a spook was pure duty...totally honorable...but now...I'm having second thoughts, shouldn't have joined at all..."

"You're just maudlin 'cause you were actually at a point we all trained for but never had to use, knock on wood..."

"I still didn't like the idea of maybe having to have killed Chastity, myself...and for what, I keep thinking. I donít even know what the damn code was for...probably some Admiral's secret pass code to useone of the executive toilets in the White House..."

"Lee, c'mon...I know you're a bit traumatized by it all...it happens. It's happened before to both of us but it never got you so down like this."

"It's a moot point anyway."

"What are you talking about?"

"Well what do you think? Our cover's blown. My whole crew knows...well, some of them anyway... the Office has no choice but to scrap us now that we're a liability."

"Well, there's blown and then there's blown. The boss isn't at all averse to our continuing in the Agency, but we'll have to accept a change in status."

"As what? Fourth class file clerks?"

"Me, well, yeah, probably. You on the other hand, I think I heard them saying something about a new handle."

"Yeah, as in 'go-fer'.

"No. As in James."

"James...as in..not 'him?" Lee whispered.

"Well, not 'him' exactly; wrong country. But how about a revved up Yankee version...they're thinking about it. Besides, Charm's already got the number...might as well have the name to go with it."

"I...I don't know...all my plans..."

"Lee," Jackson said wearily, "you can still become a sub captain. But you might not get another chance for this..."

"With the record I have I'll be lucky to retire at my current rank and manning skippering a desk. I think I've demonstrated how pretty darn useless I really am.."

"Now you're just arguing with yourself. Lee, you know you're still an asset to the firm. A big one."

"A week ago I would have agreed with you. Now... I just don't know if I can go through this kind of thing it again. And I'd still feel better if I knew I'd nearly laid down my life for something actually important. "

"I think I can remedy that, Lt.," Gladstone entered. "Forgive the eavesdropping and intrusion, but I think we need to talk. No, you can stay Mr. Jackson. You too Admiral Nelson, Miss Watson. It goes without saying that Mr. Crane and Jackson's conversation will remain under wraps? Yes, good... Now, I need to speak to Crane. And in front of witnesses."

"I donít understand, Skipper," Lee sprayed a few stray crumbs.

"I've misjudged you, Lt. Oh, I still find you arrogant, opinionated, and frankly irritating to work with, however, and I'm truly humbled to say this, you've shown ingenuity, and fierce loyalty that went far above and beyond. I doubt if our positions were reversed if I'd have had the balls to sacrifice myself like you nearly had to do."

"But you're a Captain, of course you would....."

"You think my position gives me any extra will power? Lee, it only gives me indigestion. I'd like to think I'd do my duty; however, we all have our breaking points. And no amount of mind power can overcome the more powerful drug power. There would have been no way to resist it. I guess what I'm trying to say Lee, is that I'm proud of you. So is the President," he handed Crane the official document, "a copy's been posted on the Airel's bulletin board, though most details, you understand, are not exactly forthcoming. Consider your stint at the Recruiter's rescinded. I'll expect you to report to duty aboard Ariel as our third officer as soon as repairs are complete and you're fit for duty..."

"Third officer? But Tyson..."

"Tyson will just have to get used to the idea. You're equal in rank anyway, so it's no reflection on him. Of course, I may have to make special accommodations regarding any future adventures you may have as a Seal."

"You know about that? Uh, well, if that's the case, maybe you can request Joe to be transferred aboard...we squids work better as a team..."

"Oh come on, Lee," Jackson interrupted, "I know you're a bit sore that I talked you into this one but.."

"He was speaking to me Ensign."

"Huh..oh...sorry sir," Jackson said.

"I'll discuss your request with Admiral Hayes right away," Gladstone said.

"I'll get you for this, Lee,"Joe whispered.

"Can I have the rest of the cookie that you didn't finish yet anyway?"

Midge had to laugh. There was something so boyish the way Lee had pleaded.

"Excuse me sirs, ma'am," Gunny entered the room, "Admiral Hayes compliments, Special Delivery for Lt. Crane."

"Just put in on the counter, over there," Gladstone said.

"Sorry sir. It kind of has a mind of its own..."

Just then Chastity rushed to Crane's side, and smothered him with kisses, including a rather noisy one on the mouth.

"Well, that's a relief," Jackson said as Gladstone ushered the group out to give them some privacy, "at least this is one cookie I can actually finish."

***

"Oh, she's turned into a lovely boat, Joe," Midge said lounging on Lucky Charm's deck a few months later as he took her through her paces in the bay.

"Yeah, we kind of think Mr. Connolly's over objecting to Lee trifling with his daughter's affections. He even helped with the sanding."

"It was very sweet of you and Lee to invite us down for the weekend. And the room at the Holiday Inn is lovely."

"Well, actually he doesn't know yet. I had an ulterior motive."

"Which is?" Nelson asked. What would these two boys dream up now?

"Oh, just want to surprise him. And show him just who's the real alpha dog."

All three laughed.

"Where is he right now?" Midge asked.

"Well, "he pointed to an area of calm water, "He should be oh, just about there." "I don't see anything."

"Oh, he's there all right."

"Scuba Diving?"

"That's an out of bounds area sir. The Coast Guard gets mighty picky about anyone diving or sailing in that stretch."

"Then.."Nelson laughed.

"May I ask what's so funny?" Midge asked.

Suddenly a dolphin popped up and out, joined by another, revealing almost at the same moment the surface wash of a sub rising up out of the channel.

"Ariel? Then.."

"Lee went out on a test dive with her last month.."

"I wouldn't think he'd be fit for duty yet," Nelson mused.

"He isn't, not really. He kind of talked the Skipper into it...if only light duty for the test."

Crane was a bit busy at the moment to acknowledge the small boats which honked or the passengers that waved at the returning sub and the men in the conning tower. But he did manage an enthusiastic wave when he spotted the Charm which had edged her way in as close as she dared.

 

It would take at least an hour before the boat would be secured at the base and Lee would be released from duty, so they just sailed awhile until hunger took over and reluctantly headed to Lee's slip to await his arrival.

"Wha..." Nelson began as they spotted the huge gift basket left at the slip as they docked. A monstrous fruit basket with the addition of cheese, chocolate, and even bags of pretzels and potato chips.

"Joe?" Midge read the card, "I think he beat you to it..."

Dear Admiral Nelson and Miss Watson,

Really looking g forward to seeing you when Ariel gets in. I'll be delayed a bit. Have an important errand I can't get out of.

PS. Joe is a terrible cook so here's a little something to help bide your time. Sam has the keys to the Tiffany Suite at the Hilton I've arranged for you. Hope you enjoy it.

Lee (that's Alpha Dog to you Joe; woof, snarl J)

***

It hadn't been a long wait before Lee had greeted them at the dock. Harry and Crane spoke so long over the bbq take out they'd ordered that Midge was surprised they managed to eat anything. She was also a bit surprised when Nelson agreed to go on another 'errand' with Lee. Crane uncrossed her worried fingers as they departed and said they wouldn't be long.

By midnight they'd returned, none the worse for wear; the only hint of trouble the strong scent of cigars from Harry. Well, maybe the boy bought him some and they lost track of the time..hah......even Jackson was giving Crane a dressing down, telling him he'd almost Gladstone and Hayes that he was missing, while she read Harry the riot act that he could have at least called and what the devil had they been up to.

***

Perhaps she'd been too harsh, Midge thought the next morning. Duly chastened, both had appeared the epitome of cowed and humbled men last night, though neither had actually come out and answered any of their questions....

Hah, she thought, while waiting to pick up some negatives from a roll of film Harry had told her Lee had dropped off at Walgreen's the night before. Apparently Gladstone had as well, as they made pleasant enough conversation. Then the sound of giggles came from behind the photo counter.....

 

"Whoa..."

"Umm umm. Sparkly tights and everything."

"And has a nice big package to boot."

"Ever see such buns?"

"Well, we'd better get these Crane photos ready for pick up."

 

"I'll take them," Gladstone interrupted and paid, "Come along Miss Watson. I believe we both need to get to the bottom of things."

Midge was reminded of a similar laughable pun, but thought it better not to mention as she meekly allowed the Captain to escort her to his office on the base.

***

Crane was quickly summoned by phone by one of the staff while Gladstone opened up the paper photo envelope and dumped the pictures on his desk.

"My god!" he said, appalled. "This is worse than I expected."

"Wait...look. It's not just pictures of Lee and Harry in ballet tights...it's..a rehearsal photo shoot! Of course, some of these are from behind the scenes..don't you see, it has to be part of Lee's compromise with the dancers."

"I don't understand.."

"It's done all the time for graphic publicity. If a client has a scheduling conflict stand in's are used...shading, color, etc to be studied...sometimes they simply past the client's head on the person who posed for the later artists. The real dancers must've been unable to attend or maybe they just wanted to go sightseeing or something...the troupe's back in town for a repeat performance you know."

"Hmmf... well, just so Crane doesn't actually fancy wearing the things."

"Captain. Is there anything in the character of Lee Crane that would make you think so? Of course not...and is he smiling? No, he's simply being posed... and I donít think Harry looks all that pleased either."

Indeed not. Nelson had posed in only one costume compared to Lee's several. She recognized it from the ballet. The baker with a wedding cake. The only problem was that it had a padded tummy. Of course there were compromises as she studied the tights.

Suddenly Gladstone began to laugh, shoving the pictures to Midge.

In one Nelson was picking up a box of extra large Cinnamon Buns that had gone uneaten, and Lee an industrial sized bag of potato chips. Must've been taken by one of the dancers. Of course, that's what the photo clerks had been cackling about...and Midge remembered she'd seen the boys bring those very items back with them but hadn't questioned it at the time, only thinking they had big appetites.

 

"Lt. Crane is here sir," Gunny said from the open door.

"In."

"Sir, you wa..oh."

"I take it you recognize these?"

"Uh, well, you see sir...it was the only way I could get Vicktor to drop the charges...fill in for him and Hans."

"They were out sightseeing I suppose?"

"No sir," Lee said mift, "defecting."

"Defecting?"

"I kind of suggested it, but they wanted to anyway. Didn't know how. More artistic freedom here. So we arranged it all ahead of time. It was tricky to find a time and place where they weren't going to be watched. By the time the shoot was over, they'd already been granted asylum and taken into protective custody...they're own people probably don't even know yet. It was urgent sir." "Very well, Lt."

"What? Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Did it ever occur to you I might have wanted to help?"

"Sir you were ready to make me bilge inspector for life at the time."

"So I was..."Gladstone began to laugh. "Next time, Crane, just tell me you're on a mission of mercy or something, anything. I won't even ask for details. Just so I avoid giving myself an ulcer."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"I'll fill him in Captain...have you had breakfast Lee? You look like you didn't have time to shave this morning."

"When Gunny called and woke me up I thought we were on alert or something. Uh, with your permission sir, I'd like to go back to my sailboat...I kind of left in a hurry and Chas..."Lee flushed, "uh..."

"Consider it a personal day, Crane. I'll take care of the paperwork."

"Sir. Thank you sir! Er..."he turned to Midge.

"I'll talk to you later Lee..."

"Ma'am."

In seconds he'd fled.

It was music to Gunny's ears asGladstone and Watson were laughing out loud.

***

It was crowded at the diner later that day and they'd had to wait for a booth. Finally settling in, Nelson and Midge heard familiar voices in the game room and focused beyond the beaded curtain.

"Aw c'mon Lee..."

"No."

"I have tickets to the hockey championships..."

"Do you really have a death wish, Joe?"

"Aw gee Lee, you're being a grouch again. It's for a good cause."

"Which one this time?"

"I finally managed to get a date with Ingrid next weekend. Then bam, I get file duty and."

"You're perfectly qualified to baby-sit the office file cabinets. Go away."

"I'll let you lick the bowl of my mother's homemade chocolate chip cookies the next time she's in town."

"Joe.."

"Toll House."

"I get to lick the bowl and have the entire batch of cookies. It's that or nothing."

"All of them?"

"Every last one of 'em. Call it a sacrifice on your part for conning me into it."

"What about the chocolate chippys?"

"You can pick out...thirteen."

"Thirteen? Why thirteen?"

"Because I just remembered that weekend begins Friday the thirteenth and I'm an idiot for agreeing to this. When my Skipper finds out I'll be spending an entire weekend shoving paper clips around..."

"Thatís all he had you doing anyway."

"Very funny."

"Here you go boys," Mabel handed them their jumbo orders of french fries.

"Ahh," Lee smacked his lips and took out a twenty, "Keep the change. Here's to junk food!"

"Oh get on with you," she laughed.

"I thought your ball and chain was into health foods?"Jackson was asking as they headed to the game room's exit.

"She is. But it's feed me or go hungry."

"But...oh...you mean something else," he snorted appreciatively.

"Sharp man. No wonder you work where you do."

"Lee, I..I really am sorry. If I didn't have that date..."

"It's okay."

"You really are the alpha dog, Lee."

"Just so you remember that," Lee cuffed him slightly on the ear, which Jackson returned in like. The good natured skuffle continued as they walked down the sidewalk...

 

Nelson and Midge were having a good chuckle at that when Mabel came to take their order. The defection had made all the papers, and Nelson settled back into the booth and read some of the articles about it. But the words simply danced on the page. He was a little worried about what new assignment Lee had just agreed to walk smack into. He made plans with Midge to take the boys out to dinner, or maybe fishing, before they had to leave. Nelson hoped he could see Lee in the Conning Tower again. It suited him, but Ariel wasn't scheduled to depart on patrol until long after he and Midge had gone. He promised himself that he'd have to talk with the boy, and the sooner, the better. Was he a submariner or a spy, or even a Seal? Where did his heart truly lie?As the meal came and the pair dug in he slowly accepted the fact that Lee probably really didn't know himself, and no amount of badgering would settle the matter. And so he left it to the fates. Only time would tell.

 

 

~