When the Cat's Away…
Carol Foss*Author's note: This is not a typical Voyage story. There are no monsters, aliens, takeovers by dictator wannabe's, etc. But if there is such a thing as fate, then our favorite fellas have their hands full! PS. This is based on a real situation.
The letter lay in a crumpled heap in the Captain's almost overflowing wastebasket. Kowalski had the dubious honor of paper pickup for the shredder, volunteered by Chief Jones, that was. Nothing classified would have been tossed away like this, at least Ski thought so. The Skipper was still a bit wet behind the ears for Seaview as far as he was concerned. While most hands had acclimated to him personally, even professionally, a few still had lingering misgivings about him, Kowalski included. In fact, Ski had asked a staff member to type up a letter reccomending that Crane be replaced.
Smoothing out the crinkles of the documents for the cardboard recycle box, Ski couldn't help thinking that the Admiral would someday figure out a way to convert it all to a new form of power.
He tried not to look at the letter that was on top. Never had he ever attempted to read anyone else's mail, but this seemed…well, different somehow. Lured by the fancy handwriting and the scent of perfume, topped off by the fact the Captain was already ashore, and that it was 0300, he allowed himself to make out the first few words, and found himself uncharacteristically eavesdropping….
I can't tell you how much I hate to break it off with you, before we've really even gotten started, but even you have to agree that it just won't work.
My relationship with Sammy goes back far longer than with you. Please don't make me decide between you both. I can't just shove him aside, or send him away.
We can still go out for dinner and a movie sometime, or to the library, or even to my folk's house. You know I'd like them to meet you. But that's as far as it can go.
"Hey! You got cobwebs growin'out of your ears?" Curley Jones hollered as he entered the cabin, effectively snapping Kowalski out of his reverie. "Why didn't you answer me? I've been calling you!"
"Oh, sorry Chief. I was just getting the crinkles out."
"That'd better be all it was. You…you ain't been reading any of this stuff, have you?" Curley raised an eyebrow.
"Of course not," Ski said lied, " I'm just finished up."
"Good, 'cause I want to get off this boat and go home. I suppose you're goin' to Smitty's like most everyone else. If you want to get there before they close, you'd better get a move on."
"Chief," Ski asked, hesitating. "The Skipper, is he…kinda' serious about any of his girlfriends?"
" His…it ain't any of our business! Now, get moving!"
"Very well, Ski, you can go now,"XO Chip Morton said from the empty control room, and signed the clipboard of dismissed crewmen.
"Thank you sir, oh, uh, sir?"
"Uh, nothing," Ski clambered up the ladder topside.
"What was that all about?" Morton asked himself.
"I don’t' know sir,"Jones volunteered, " though he did mention something about the Skipper's girlfriends…"
"The Skipper's girlfriends?"
"Yeah, he was wondering if the Skip was serious about any of 'em."
"Well,"Morton laughed, "if Ski has any sense, he'd do well to stand well clear. I wouldn't want him to be on the end of the Captain's fist again."
"I'm not sure if that's what it's about…I get the feeling Ski's worried for him."
"Kowalski? I thought Ski was still hoping the Admiral would get another Captain. I wonder what's going on?"
Kowalski couldn't get the letter out of his mind, as he entered Smitty's, one of the favored bar and grills of the Seaview's crew. Most of his shipmates had already gone home. A few stragglers and strangers were playing darts or pinball. Ordering a beer, Ski was quickly startled out of his reverie by the lowered voices in a booth behind him.
"I’m sorry, Captain," Doc Jamison said, el sotto."But there's nothing else I can suggest. I've heard of situations like this before; take my advice or break up with her. I know you like the girl, but if you're serious, this Sammy has to be taken care of, by you, and personally."
"But Will, I can't just…"
"It's your only hope for happiness with this girl. Don't worry, I'll have the iodine and bandages on the ready."
"I hope I know what I'm doing,"Crane rose."Wish me luck."
As the two rose and departed the bar, Ski did the only thing he could do. He paid his bill, called Jones at home, and followed the Captain out into the darkness, the Doctor having already driven away. Fuming that fate had sent him smack into the situation, Ski wondered if he was doing the right thing. After all, it was none of his business, but…well, the guy was a shipmate after all, and the Captain too. And Admiral Nelson kinda' liked him. So did most of the crew. And he had saved the world and all, among other things. It kind of made up for the punch to his jaw when their hot shot temp of a Captain at the time had decided to test their security by sneaking aboard. Ski chuckled at that. The Admiral had been none to pleased with the Captain for that, but new security measures were quickly put into effect just the same, and the two men had developed an almost instant raport. Why, Nelson was almost acting like his big brother or something. But then, the Skipper had been aboard Nautilus when Nelson was Captain…must be a shipmate thing. Ski understood that. The decision was made.
"He's going to what?" Morton hollered from Seaview's shore phone. He had the conn so to speak, or rather, the duty while she was being loaded with supplies, and maintenance crews worked on her in the wee hours. She wasn't due to ship off any time soon, but the Captain wanted her ready at a moment's notice. He may not be regular Navy anymore, but he treated her with the utmost respect.
"That's what Ski said sir," Jone's voice said on the other end of the phone. "The Skipper's gone off to take care of this Sammy guy. No, it's not a practical joke sir."
"I already tried to raise him, but he's not home or he's gone off on that fishing trip."
"Okay, round up anybody who's available to search for the Captain before he does anything he'll regret, or gets himself killed in the process.."
"It has to be some kind of mistake, Chip,"Nelson said, irritated. He'd only just gone to bed, despite it being 0430.
"Ski was certain, and search parties say he's not at his apartment, and haven't seen him anywhere."
Nelson ran a hand through his hair, "We have no choice. While I'd like us to find Lee before anything happens, check with the police department to see if they have any reports of a disturbance…no, that won't do. See what they have on all the Sammy's in their files, and that there might be an altercation…and find this Becky. I can't believe that Crane would actually pick a fight…. Goes against his nature. At least it goes against the nature of the Lee Crane I knew aboard Nautilus. Perhaps I've been mistaken about him the whole time."
"But Chip,"Angie spoke wearily into the phone. It was 0500. "I hardly know the man. How should I know who's in Crane's little black book, if he even has one? "
"C'mon, you and the other girls talk, don't you?Surely somebody's heard of Crane's love life?You were all agog when he signed on."
"I'm sorry, I don’t know, but I'll call Katie."
"Sure, but you owe me."
"Sammy….Sammy…."Kate yawned into the receiver, racking her brain. Why did everyone think she knew everything about the Captain. A couple of movies, a few walks on the beach, but that was all, "Look, I just don’t know…"
"Think! He could be in real trouble."
"Sure, like Lee and talked abou…wait… I think I do remember a Sammy…it was a while back. Lee did mention a Sammy, at least I think that was the name. Something about him being a savage beast…."
"I don't know sir,"Ski said, shamefaced, as they spoke to a detective at the Santa Barbara police headquarters. "I almost managed to tail him, but my motorcycle just couldn't keep up…I'm sorry sir."
"It's not your fault Ski. " Nelson looked at his watch. It was after 0900. He'd finally dismissed the Seaview's search parties, deciding to rely on professinal help.
"At least they're not in the lock up.…"officer Baker said, shuffling some papers, handing Nelson some glossy mugshots. "Sammy Corell, mobster,escaped convict. Sammy Sony, drug runner, we lost him while under surveillance. Sammy Stevenson, he's on the FBI's most wanted list. Armed assault, very dangerous…"
Sammy and Crane eyed each other cautiously in the early morning light. Lee nursed a black eye, a cut over his left eyebrow, a twisted ankle, and a bashed knee. Sammy sported nothing more serious than a bruised ego.
At an impasse, Crane heard his stomach rumble. "Well, we're not accomplishing much are we?"
Sammy just glared in response in their battle of wills.
"Have it your own way, but you're still not going to come between Becky and me, no matter what you do," Lee limped to the kitchenette in his apartment. Not trusting himself to open the fridge, cursing himself for not having cleaned out all non-sealed perishables before they'd departed on the last assignment, he opted for a can of smoked oysters and a few crackers.
Returning to the living room, he sat down in a well used chair next to a heavy coffee table. Well used now, that is. Sammy had well vented his frustration on it and all of Crane's possessions. It would take a long time to refurbish the place.
The animosity between the two continued in what was now a staring contest amid the heavy odor of hate.
"Suit yourself,"Lee said and ate his oysters, leaving the results to fate.
It was Sammy's stomach's turn to rumble, or was it a growl?
"Uh, sir,"Ski offered to Nelson at police HQ, "I was just wondering…has anybody checked the Captain's apartment again? Maybe he's gone home by now."
"The FBI's giving us some back up,"Baker returned to the office," just in case."
"Why don't we try his apartment again?" Nelson asked.
"Naturally…but we have to be cautious. If he's had a confrontation with Stevenson, well, it's usually a sure bet Stevenson wins. By the way, do you have any idea how many Becky's there are in this town? Sorry, but we can't narrow it down."
Nothing looked out of the ordinary to the four SWAT teams, except that Crane's car was parked at an awkward angle, as if he'd been drunk while driving, or hurt.
Ordered to remain well back, the team bashed the door open and barged in.
As the police car transporting Nelson, Ski, and Baker drove up past the barricades, and saw the flashing lights of the SWAT team vehicles, Nelson and Ski held their breaths. Had Crane killed a man, or had he been killed?
Most of the SWAT team had already filed out, some of them shaking heads and muttering.
"Wait here,"ordered Baker.
Nelson and Ski could only look through the car windows as Baker went inside the apartment. He emerged quickly with a paramedic and motioned to Nelson and Ski to come over.
"I think you'd better go in," Baker urged Nelson.
With his heart in his stomach,Nelson went in, followed by Ski, expecting the worse.
Lee was sitting on a chair, his ankle swathed in an ace bandage, his eyebrow sporting stitches. His shirt was ripped in a few places, and Nelson could see several band-aids through the rents. His meager furniture was torn to shreds, and stuffing was scattered on the floor, mixed with droplets of blood.
"Lee?'' Nelson asked nervously,"Are you allright? Did you…did you take care of Sammy?"
"That's a matter of opinion," Lee looked at Baker. Some message passed.
"Oh, Lee,"Nelson almost sank to his knees in weariness,"how could you…"
"Finally came to an understanding."
"That's no excuse for murder," Nelson said somberly.
"Murder? What are you talking about?"
"Then he's alive?"
"Of course he's alive. Granted, he still only tolerates me, but it's a beginning."
"What are you talking about? And what about this, and this?"he indicated Crane's wounds.
"I tripped over him when I was trying to pull him off me, and fell smack onto the edge of the coffee table, whacking my knee, twisting my ankle and hitting my head on the floor."
"Uh Lee,"Nelson insisted, "Now, we know you went off to confront this Sammy fellow and even though I'm glad you're all right, but you must realize that…what it is, what's the matter?"
Lee was having a hard time keeping a straight face, as was Baker, and began to laugh.
"Assault is hardly a laughing matter!"Nelson shouted.
Lee reached over to another tin of smoked oysters on the coffee table and used the creaky can opener to release the contents onto a plate.
Before the last oyster plopped onto the plate, Sammy pounced from the kitchen onto the coffee table and began to lick the plate. It was then that the men noticed the pet carrier peeking out from the kitchen entrance.
"Sammy is a…a cat! "Ski exclaimed, aghast.
"I should think that's pretty evident," Lee said as the cat gulped down the last oyster. Gentlemen,"Lee said,"I don’t believe you've been properly introduced. This is Samson, Sammy for short. He belongs to my girlfriend. I'm afraid we still don't get along too well, the cat and I that is. We'd hoped having him here, just us guys, well, that he'd be forced to learn to like me. But…observe, " he said and tried to stroke him, but the cat yeowled angrily with an outstretched claw .
Just then Becky appeared at the door. In a flash the cat jumped up into her arms and began to purr.
"What's going on? All the cops and…"she took in the scene. "I can see our plan didn't go very well."
"Just a little misunderstanding Miss,"Baker excused himself. "Oh, Nelson, we'll send you the bill," he said and began to laugh again as he left the apartment.
"What I can't understand is that Sammy's such a nice kitty,"Becky said." He likes everybody except you Lee. I just can't understand it," she knelt, still holding the cat, and gave Lee a peck on the cheek. At that Sammy made his displeasure known with a loud hiss in Lee's face.
"It's hopeless,"Becky said."I love both of you. How can I choose. Sammy's been with me since he was a kitten."
"If I may offer a theory?"Nelson said, trying to hide his relief that Crane was not a cold hearted killer and that he was still alive himself."By the way, name's Nelson. Harriman Nelson. I'm Lee's boss."
Introductions quickly followed.
"As I was saying, I have a theory. May I?"Nelson picked up the cat. It purred. "Ski, your turn."
Kowalski picked up the cat with equal success.
"Now you Lee."
Crane picked up the cat, or tried to; it yeowled, spat and only Becky managed to pull it's claws out of Lee's arms.
"Sorry, I'll buy you more band-aids,"Nelson said, "but I had to be certain. You see, it's all a part of biolgy. While my specialty is oceanographic, a few rules apply to most terrestrial creatures as well. Now, felines are very territorial. You, Lee, are simply a threat to his."
"But he hates me whereever I am …."
"Ah, but to him, Becky is his territory. He's…to put it simply, jealous."
"In effect, yes."
"Well, that's just swell. He thinks Becky's his girlfriend?"
"No, not at all, but it amounts to the same thing…he doesn't like the idea that she has affection for someone other than him. Cat's can be…well, picky. He's not the top cat when you're around, and he knows it."
"So what's the solution? I'm not giving up Becky. And she's not giving up her little monster, sorry Becky but…."
"I know Lee,"Becky said, "this is awful for me too, but I can't send him to the kennel everytime you're in port. It's a case of love me, love my cat, I guess."
"Uh,"Ski interrupted, "I have an idea…but it could take a little time."
Kowalski wearily sat down in the institute cafeteria. Snickers and guffaws greeted him as more and more of the crew had been informed of the recent fracas.
"What's the matter, Ski, cat got your tongue?" old friend Patterson said sat down next to him, his face all smiles.
"Okay, knock it off. For the last time, how was I to know Sammy was a cat and not some dude the Skipper wanted to kill or vise versa."
"Yeah, like the Skipper would really do something like that."
"Okay, okay. I know. I over reacted and…"
"Kowalski,"Chief Jones approached, almost casually, "the Skipper wants to see you, ASAP he said."
"Oh shit, first I get chewed out by Mr. Morton, followed by you and the Admiral. Now I gotta get chewed out by the Skipper!"
"So I'll issue earplugs!"Jones grinned, "and it's about time he chewed you out too. Go on, he seemed kinda anxious. I'll keep your grub warm."
"Ah, good, Ski,"Crane looked up from his desk, a smaller band-aid having taken place of the larger one over his eyebrow, and holding a bill in front of him. "Am I correct that you'll verify information before acting, shall we say, so hastily on assumptions?"
"Yes, sir, I've learned my lesson sir."
"Good. Now, it's not that I don't appreciate your concern for me and, what you thought was somebody else's welfare, but it doesn't look good for the Institute that signals could get so crossed. Especially now."
"Now sir?" Ski gulped, wondering how long it would take him to pay off the bill for services rendered by the police and the FBI.
"Ski,"Crane got up from his chair, "please don't get me wrong. It was a sound idea, getting another cat to try to distract Sammy from Becky and his distaste for me, but…"
"Miss Angie said Miss Becky told her that he even lets you kiss her now, well, okay, without actually spitting in your face, that is, but…."
"No, the cats never came to fisticuffs, or fisticlaws if you will, but…Ski? I thought you said the this new cat was spayed?"
"Yes sir, that's what the ad said and….oh no."
"I don't suppose you know anyone who'll want the kittens when they come? I don't know how many weeks yet."
"Becky doesn't want them abandoned or placed in the pound."
"Of course not, sir."
"Then I can depend on you to take care of the details, and find them all good homes in advance, for when they're born and weaned and ready?"
"Yes, sir. Will that be all sir?"
"Yes, that's all. And Ski?"
"Thanks for the suggestion about another cat. It has helped.
"You're welcome sir."
Lee lounged back in the lush sofa, Becky leaning against his shoulder. Dinner was over and lava lamps cast a romantic mood. Crane brushed a strand of hair back from Becky's face and kissed her, on the lips. It could have been a long kiss, but Sammy jumped up on Becky's lap and wheedled his way between them, finally resting on her shoulder.
"What's wrong with him?"he asked after nothing more happened than heavy purring. Did he dare try to stroke the animal? There was no response. "He's got to have a concussion or something."
Becky laughed, "Well, there's nothing like a female to soothe the savage beast, so they say."
"I never knew they meant it literally,"Lee grinned.
The joint exercises Seaview had been requested by NATO to join in were almost over. Everyone was tired, though elated they'd done well so far, and a mailbag had been delivered. Jones had been drafted to deliver the various letters and postcards. He was in the control room when handed a purple envelope to the Captain, the scent of which was unmistakably female. Everyone's nose sniffed appreciatevely.
Morton leered," would you like to read it in the privacy of your cabin, Lee?"
"Very funny,"Crane replied and opened it. "Now what do I do,"he muttered, as he ran a hand through his hair.
"Everything all right Lee?"Nelson asked from the spiral ladder he'd just descended. He'd seen Crane's nervous signal before. This was not a good sign.
"Just fine if you like hairballs and litter pans."
"Uh oh, do I hear a note of discontent?"
"Sassy had her kittens. Eight of them. Five males, 3 females. Both mother and kittens doing well."
"Congratulations! What is it Lee, it's not like they weren't expected."
"Read it,"Lee handed over Becky's letter…
Oh, I'm so excited! Aren't they adorable! And just look at how much they resemble Sammy and Sarsaparilla.
I can hardly wait til you get here, and you can see them up close and personal. I know you say you're not really a cat person, but I saw how you scratched Sassy behind the ears when Ski brought her over. She's really smitten with you.
Speaking of Kowalski, I do appreciate him finding the kittens homes before they were born but I've decided to keep them.
Oh, we can't go sailing like we planned when you get back, or really much of anything . The vet said it was very important to keep an eye on things while theyré so little.
So sorry. Hugs and kissies.
Nelson laughed, and Crane turned to Kowalski. "Ski, lay up to the nose. I have a…favor to ask of you."
Never, never again was he ever going to get himself involved in the Skipper's personal life, real or imagined Ski chided himself as he cleaned one of the litter boxes for the umpteenth time. Kittysitting? How'd he'd ever been talked into it? A favor, the Skipper had said. Well, okay, he'd asked, not ordered. But his whole weekend was shot, while the Skipper and his girl went off on some sailing trip,and he was reduced to this.He'd neve hear the end of it from his pals. He sat down on the floor next to Sassy's kitty bed and her kittens, and petted her. Just as she purred appreciatively, Kowalski found himself staring into the eyes of Sammy. Was it Ski's stomach that was growling or the cat? "Uh, okay pal, okay…"Ski moved away quickly, "I know better than to tangle with you, or your girl," and resumed his duties of checking on water bowls, food bowls and resolved never to assume anything ever again.
"Lee, C'mon,"Becky said from the moonlit beach, the sailboat safely anchored in the marina."It's such a romantic night. But you seem miles away."
"Becky, did you have to choose Catalina Island?"
"What's wrong with it? It's a lovely place."
"Oh, nothing's wrong with the place…it's the name. I'm being stupid, aren't I?"
"I hope Ski's okay."
"Lee! This was supposed to be a romantic get away, but you can't keep your mind on things. "
"I'm sorry, it's just…a feeling I have…that something is going to happen…"
"Scratch one romantic weekend, oops, sorry, shouldn't have used the word scratch. Come on then, let's sail back to Santa Barbara."
Lee took her chin in her hand. "Thanks, I'll make it up to you, I promise."
"I know you will."
"Ouch!" Ski's voice came from the bathroom as Lee and Becky entered her apartment.
"Oh no,"Lee said in dread as he hurried to render whatever first aid he could. He knew he shouldn't have left Ski with the ferocious feline.
"What the…"Crane took in the site.
"Oh, hiya Skipper,"Ski said, "I knew I should've brought my electric razor instead of these disposable things. These damn nicks, excuse me Miss Becky."
Before Crane could say anything, Sammy jumped up onto the bathroom sink, then just as quickly onto Crane's shoulder.
"Wait,"Lee ordered as Ski and Becky were about to pull the cat off him…"He's not growling. He doesn't even has his claws out…he…he's purring! Listen!"
"I don’t believe it, I know he tolerates you Lee, but he hardly likes you."
"Did you put a spell on him or something, Ski? Or is he under some kind of mind control?"Crane asked as the group went to see Sassy and the kittens.
"Damned if I know, unless it's a different cat."
"No sir, it's Sammy allright. Honest. Didn't let him outside even once."
"Very well then. Though I admit, I had thought about it…"
"Lee!" Becky said, mocking. "So did I! No, not really, but I really didn't want to loose you."
"So I'm forgiven for spoiling the weekend?"
"On one condition."
"Clean out the litter pans,"she grinned, handing him a scooper.
"Hey Ski!"Raymond Evans called the crewman over NIMR's south entrance a couple days later. "I finally got this letter of yours typed, you remember, your letter to Nelson to get rid of Crane and hire an new Captain."
"Oh go shove a sock in it, better yet, "Ski tore it from Evan's hand and ripped it into shreds, "don't you ever let me suggest any such stupid thing again!"
Fate had played a weird hand the last few weeks, but Ski pondered as he headed to the machine shop; could it be possible, actually for real, that he, Ski, had developed a professional fondness for Crane? Nahhh. Well, maybe…
*Click to meet Sammy aka Sampson the cat in person.*wav file, wear earplugs.
*No prize for the correct answer. Call it a test of observation. I know I didn't catch them till after posting. Could have used another dose of my famous red pen myself!