Triquel to ‘Secret Agent Man’
Seaview was almost home. The Christmas tree that the boy Prince, now King, had sent her crew glittered in the Observation Nose though the day was long past.
“Well, Ski,” Patterson said cheerfully in the aft crew’s mess. “I’m sure looking forward to seeing my folks and good home cooking! No offense, Cookie.”
“None taken,” Cookie grinned as he carried two carafes out into the corridor. “Man, the Admiral’s living on Joe this morning. I wonder what’s going on?”
“That’s for him to know and us to find out I suppose,” Clarke said. “As long as we still get all that back shore leave he promised us, plus that bonus.”
“I’ve been wondering,” Ski said, “was this really that important a mission? I mean to cancel our Christmas leave and all. And I hear,” he paused, “that we didn’t really have to take the mission at all; that the Admiral left it all up to the Skipper. I bet Captain Phillips wouldn’t have made us go.”
“You heard him,” Patterson said, “It was an emergency. And his plans got scrubbed too, don’t forget.”
“Okay, okay,” Ski said, “but that doesn’t mean he still can’t make a mistake. Or that he’s not quite the guy we kinda’ got to believe he was.”
“Well, keep me out of that ‘we’ business, Ski,” Patterson said. “Captain Crane’s done just fine this past year. Better than fine, even. And you know it.”
“But Ski’s right,” Malone said. “Other guys have been wondering if he took on this mission just to get in good with the State Department; maybe get recommended for the promotion he woulda’ got if he’d stayed in the Navy.”
“That’s a bunch of crock, and you know it,” Clarke said. “You have any idea what gumption it took for him to take on Seaview permanently? He knew damn well he’d probably never get that next stripe when he accepted Nelson’s offer. And don’t let Mr. Johnson of the State Department hear you say that it wasn’t an important enough mission to wreck our Christmas, because he just sent us an official ‘well done’, signed by the President as well. The Admiral’s posted it on the bulletin board.”
“Yeah,” Patterson added, “We’re all disappointed to have missed things, but if it was important enough for the government to ask us, well then it was important enough for Seaview to take it on. It’s not the Skipper’s fault he agreed to it.”
“Well, okay,” Ski said, “but it’s kinda’ hard not to wonder...”
“Enough already! Look,” Clarke said, “the mission’s over and we’ll be home today. I don’t know about any of you, but I don’t give a damn if it was all that important or not. We did the job. We did it well. And that’s what Seaview’s all about, in case you idiots have forgotten.”
“Maybe you should go to
“Look kid,” Clarke began...
“That’s enough!” Patterson said, “C’mon. We’re getting home today. So chill out, both of you.”
“I’ve pleaded, implored, and even threatened blackmail,” Nelson was saying meanwhile to the Captain in his cabin. “Bill Earhart may be a colleague, but even he has to set limits to a continued delay, and there is some media interest.”
“How long will we have after we dock before we have to get underway?” Lee Crane asked after a moment from his perch on the edge of Nelson’s desk.
“Four days,” Nelson looked up.
“You realize,” Crane said after a pause, “You’re flirting with mutiny.”
“That’s why you get to tell the crew,” Nelson grinned.
“Oh, the joy of command.”
“I thought you’d appreciate it,” Nelson laughed.
Ski and Pat were just getting back to their standard duty stations and like all hands were justifiably mift by the Captain’s ship wide announcement awhile ago of an ‘extended weekend’ instead of a real shore leave.
“You’re a qualified deck officer,” Crane said.
“Just take the boat in once we’re in the harbor, that’s all.”
“But why me? I’m communications, not a sub driver.”
“You did well enough in sub school. I doubt if you’ve forgotten how. Don’t you think you can do it?” he added gently.
“Of course I can, but...”
“Then there’s no argument. Don’t worry, you won’t scratch the paint,” Crane said with an encouraging pat to his shoulder, “See you back here at 11:00 ready to take the conn.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea Lee?” Morton asked.
“It’ll do him a world of good. As you know he’s a newlywed...”
“And,” Morton began to understand, “When she sees him in the conning tower bringing us in...Why you sly old devil you...”
“Nothing like a little hero worship to help sooth the brides’ ruffled feathers. I understand they had quite a row about him missing the holidays with her....”
“Well, if he does scratch the paint don’t come running to me,” Chip said with a huge grin, “I’m not giving up my four day weekend to supervise a paint job.”
As the Captain had expected
Kowalski, finally released by O’Brian to get his gear together, couldn’t help wondering about the enigma that was Captain Crane. It was still hard to read him sometimes. The man exuded confidence, and a genuine likeability, but at the same time he could be a brooding presence, even unyielding, over small and insignificant matters that Captain Phillips would have handled differently. But there was no doubt about the respect even Ski felt for his command abilities, even if the crewman wanted to push the Skipper overboard at times.
And as for Crane’s decision to
By the time Ski closed his duffle, most of the crew had already been checked off the boat by Lt. O’Brian, the more senior officer’s already having departed, including Nelson and the XO. Taking the shortcut through officer’s country, Kowalski just happened to pass the Captain’s open cabin, when he heard Crane on the phone....
...‘I know, Mom, I know. Things came up in the Navy too, remember...I’m sorry, but it just can’t be helped and...Please don’t cry.... It won’t be that long... When I get back from this one I can join you at.... oh. I forgot about that. Can’t you get out of it? I guess it can’t be helped... Me? This weekend? Just some Agency work. Yes, ‘Mother,’ he laughed, my shots are up to date...four days on assignment is hardly going to kill me and I know how to take care of myself... I really am sorry about not being able to get home for the holidays, and now....I love you too..Yeah, I won’t drink the water unless I check it first, unless they hold my head under it,’ he laughed. ‘I have to get ready, love you, bye...’
“Maybe you misunderstood him, Ski,” Patterson said as he met his friends in the employees’ parking lot.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Clarke said, “and it’s none of our business.”
“I’ve said this before, but since he’s the Skipper, it’s everybody’s business,” Ski said, “And it makes a heck of a lot more work for us if he comes limping back from an ONI assignment and gets the brass all irritated, especially the Admiral and Doc and....”
“Get over it, will you Ski? There’s nothing we can do about it anyway...” Clarke said.
“I wonder... I’m going back to the boat to ask him if I can go with him...”
“Are you nuts?” Patterson asked, “You’re not a trained operative! There’s no way he’d even consider it!”
“You’re too late anyway,” Clarke interrupted as they saw Crane speed away in his foreign red sports car. He was dressed totally in black, his preferred attire for his more dangerous covert operations with the ‘Agency’ as the crew called Office of Naval Intelligence.
“I wonder if the Admiral knows,” Patterson asked.
“Or Morton,” added Clarke.”
The three groaned in near unison.
“Well,” Ski said, “I don’t
know about you guys, but I’m going to the
“You mean that, for real? About giving blood?” Patterson asked Ski.
“Well, it wouldn’t hurt. And I am an Acting Corpsman when Doc or Frank aren’t available, so I guess I’m kinda’ obligated.”
“I’ll come with you,” Patterson grinned, “And don’t try to deny it, Ski. You’re just as concerned about him as we are, even if you’re still ticked off at him about the mission.”
“C’mon, then,” Clarke said. “Let’s get it over with, or we’ll be donating our spare parts too.”
“That’s not funny, Clarke,” Patterson said.
“Can’t a guy joke around? Look, we’ve already taken up some of our ‘extended weekend’ minutes just yakking about the Skipper, so let’s get a move on...”
“Then, no sooner than I get settled back ashore,” Nelson complained to Admiral Wilcoxon of ONI on his office speakerphone, “I receive a call from the Med Center here that half my crew is lined up to donate blood, because the Captain’s off on assignment and would I like to add mine to the bank!”
“But Crane’s not on assignment, Harriman. Perhaps somebody misunderstood.”
“My crewman did not misunderstand a phone call in which Lee Crane told his mother he’s taking on some Agency work for the long weekend!”
“Harriman, calm down...I’m telling you it has to be a mistake and...”
“Now look, I understand,” Nelson interrupted, “I really do, that your boys may have to call Lee up on occasion. As he’s a Reservist I have no choice but to allow it, but his little ventures are becoming an unwelcome habit especially since he volunteers his services as well!”
Wilcoxon hesitated, and then said wearily,” His mother doesn’t know he’s a field agent.”
“She’s never been cleared to know. If she does, even if she only guessed, Crane’s in deep trouble for not disavowing it. Even if he was joking about doing some Agency work this weekend, he could be court martialed for saying it. If this report from your crewman is legit, then Crane’s jeopardized his ‘cover’ as a field agent. He’s broken faith with the Agency, and his oath as a Naval Officer...Harriman, I have no choice but to get things rolling on this end and press charges...You know the rules. Whatever his side of the story, he’s worthless to us now. It’s a shame to lose him. He was as good as they get.”
“Where is he now?”
“I told you. I don’t know. Whatever he’s doing, it’s out of our jurisdiction. I just hope to God he hasn’t gone over to the other side.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“It happens. Even to the best of them...”
“I can’t believe that, and frankly I’m disgusted that you’d even think it!”
“Suit yourself. Just make sure he checks in with my office as soon as he gets back to Seaview, have your Communications Officer establish a top secret interface for the call, and have your Master at Arms stand by if we decide to prosecute. That’s an order, Admiral,” he ended the call.
“Damn! Damn! Damn!”Nelson fumed then clicked the intercom, “Angie, see if you can recall Morton before he gets too far down the highway. Tell him we have a ‘situation.’”
“But why?” Ski asked, rolling
his sleeve down after giving blood himself at the
“Probably just establishing more ‘territory’. Think about it,” Clarke said, “In the Navy he made all the decisions aboard, but on Seaview...”
“The Admiral sometimes gets in his way?” Patterson asked from his chair as the nurse prepped his arm.
“Well,” Clarke said, “how would you like it if you were in command and here comes Nelson waltzing in and changing your orders? It’s happened more than once you know. In fact, more than I’d like if I were in command. Is Crane the Captain or isn’t he? Sometimes all he can do is pick up the crumbs Nelson leaves in his wake. Maybe he’s starting to regret leaving the Navy. Total command, opportunity for advancement. Face it, when he was in the Navy he was climbing up the ladder pretty darn fast. Now...well...”
“Man, oh man!” Malone raced
in with the latest news. “You guys aren’t gonna’ believe this, but the
Skipper’s gonna’ be court martialed! Stop laughing! It’s the truth! I was
outside chatting up Miss Angie and I heard the Admiral on the speaker phone
with ONI...Crane’s in trouble, mighty big trouble...the
The long weekend was over all too soon for Seaview’s crew and the boat lay at the ready to depart for their next mission. There was just one problem. Her Captain was no-where to be found. Perhaps Wilcoxon’s suspicions weren’t as ridiculous as they’d all first believed. Morton had said that maybe it was all just a plot to take the heat off a real operation and the ‘suspicion’ about the Skipper was just a ploy for decoy purposes. To a man, the crew had hoped so, but now....
“Can’t we just go without him?” Earhart asked as he accepted a drink from Nelson in the Observation Nose.
“We may have to...” Nelson checked his watch.
“Captain at the gate,” Chip’s voice came over the PA.
“About time. Excuse me,” Nelson said and strode up the spiral ladder.
If Nelson wasn’t as concerned as the crew was about their errant Captain, he would have almost have laughed at the scene that was forming in the Control Room. Jamison and his corpsman Frank were at the ready with stethoscopes and emergency kits in hand, eyes glued to the topside hatch. Morton and O’Brian were gripping the ladder and crewmen not at station were squeezing into every available nook and cranny, ready to lend whatever assistance might be needed by their errant Captain.
Finally the topside hatch clicked open and two dirty, scraped and scabbed bare legs in disreputable sneakers descended the ladder.
Uh oh, everyone cast knowing glances to each other.
Then torn gym shorts appeared, followed by a mud stained, ‘Peppy L’Pew’ T-shirt.
Was that blood on it?
Crane himself bore a few dark areas on his face and arms, and his forehead sported a gash with lopsided band aid attached. Stubble sprouted on his face, and his hair was wildly tangled.
“Commander Crane I presume?” Earhart asked.
“Guilty. You must be Bill Earhart.”
“Dr. Earhart, if you please.”
“Of course, Dr.,“Mr. Morton, are we ready to get underway?” Crane asked.
“Well, we are,” Morton said, noting that Lee at least sounded okay as he roved his eyes over Lee for any apparent injuries.
“Very well, make all preparations to get underway and then take us...stop that! What are you doing Will?” Crane demanded as the CMO had begun to poke and prod his body.
“Just a preliminary check...”
Ski could have sworn even the boat groaned. No one had believed that familiar refrain anymore.
“Well, Chip, what are you waiting for? Crane demanded.
“Uh, Lee? Until otherwise notified, I have the conn. Orders. Navy.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me that won’t wash off,” Lee said batting the Doctor’s hands away. “What’s this all about?”
“Come with me, Captain,” Nelson said. “I’ll bring him to sick bay after he speaks to Wilcoxson, Jamie.”
“An undercover mission sir?” Lee looked pleased about taking on other cloak and dagger so soon after this one.
Nelson fought the impulse to bat him on the head, but instead prodded him aft. There was no way this man could be a turncoat or traitor. None whatsoever.
Nelson had left the Captain alone in his cabin at Wilcoxon’s express order. The secure interface allowed Crane and the head of ONI to discuss matters in complete security. By previous arrangement, the two Master at Arms stood nervously by, waiting for the order to arrest the Skipper, if Wilcoxon ordered it. Nelson paced up and down the corridor, his nerves on edge, waiting.
Suddenly the door flung open,
Crane muttering epithets about asinine admirals sitting on their cushy duffs in
Crane leaned against the corridor, more tired than he cared to admit. It had been a very long weekend. He looked at the two fully armed crewmen, and shook his head in amusement. Was he actually laughing to himself, they wondered as Crane sank to the deck still chuckling, then folded his hands on his knees and closed his eyes.
Suddenly, Nelson slammed out of the cabin, livid.
“You men won’t be needed,” Nelson said to the MAA’s. “And you have some explaining to do!” he scolded Lee.
“I’ll just bet. Very well.
You have an appointment in
“I’m fine!” Lee stood up, “Just let me take a hot shower and...”
Nelson nodded to the MAA’s who by ‘chance’ had not quite left the unfolding situation.
“Hey, there’s no need for that!”
Lee complained to Nelson before the men got too close. “Will you go to
“Okay, okay, Cheech. You’re getting paranoid. Are you going to get this emotional every time I go ashore?”
“You bet I will! Uh, Lee?” Nelson said as the two had begun to walk, “Sickbay’s the other way.”
“Trust you to have an unerring sense of direction. Very well, lead on oh, noble master to yon torture chamber.”
Nelson began to laugh and the two headed off, leaving the crewmen confused and relieved at the same time.
“I just can’t understand it,”
Frank said later as he picked his food in the crew’s mess.” I could have sworn
he was badly hurt, when Doc made him strip in
“That’s what he told you, Frank? And you believed him?” Clarke asked. “He doesn’t even have a dog. None of his girlfriends have dogs and...”
“What about the girls we don’t know about? Besides, Doc and I don’t have much choice not to believe him. His vitals have never been better. His blood chemistry is nearly perfect. The scrapes are clean, no sign of any septicemia. He’s never been fitter!”
“Damn, there’s gotta be a mistake,” Malone shook his head, amazed.
“Apparently, this time, he is fine.”
“You know what this means, don’t you?” Ski said after a moment.
“That he’ll make clucking noises whenever he sees Doc and me?” Frank asked.
“No, that we’re going to have to finish up all
that damn Jell-O Cookie made in advance for
“I’m just glad he’s not gonna’ be court martialled,” Clarke said as the laughter faded, “Anyone know just what the hell that was about anyway?”
“Who cares,” Ski said. “At
least the Skipper’s back aboard safe and sound. Gotta’ be a first.”
“What was all that ‘Dr.’ business about?” Nelson asked in the guest cabin as his old colleague tested the feel of the bunk. “I’ve never known you to be deliberately rude.”
“Just letting everyone know I expect the respect due to my qualifications.”
“My officers and crew do not need to see your degrees in order to acknowledge your qulaifications.Especially Crane. He’s in charge here, remember that.”
“Harriman, relax. I meant no disrespect to your Captain. Now, let me show you some of the correlated data that makes me believe we can find Amelia’s plane...”
“What? Let me see,” he read
the printout. “Is this some kind of joke
“That’s what I thought, but it came through all the proper channels.”
“Very well,” O’Brian clicked the mike, hesitated, then said “Attention all hands, this is Control. Will ‘Grouchy Old Fart’ please come to the Radio Shack for an official message from NIMR?”
“O’Brian!” Crane’s voice came across his intercom instantly, “What the hell’s going on down there!”
“That’s what is says sir.”
“I’ll be there right away,” Crane said.
“Well, Lee,” Morton’s voice followed, apparently unaware he was ‘live’ on Crane’s desk intercom, “that’s one way for a message to find you. Is that one of your code names?’
“No! I’m surprised at you Mr. Morton,” Lee said, the rustle of clothes behind him.
“Hey, if the shoe fits...speaking of shoes, you put the wrong one on your foot Lee.”
“Okay okay, sorrry.”
“It’s got to be a prank by the girls in Admin,” Lee said.
“Or?” Lee asked.
“Do you spend all your time with your head stuck in the sand? ‘Grouchy Old Fart’ sounds like a ‘handle’.
“Chip are you okay?”
“It’s a computer term. God, even my nephew knows that. In fact he has one. All his friends do. Instead of using a real name, you pick a ‘handle’”
“How on earth did you ever become a secret agent? You’re way behind the times.”
“Field Agent and we low life worms don’t as a rule use the monsters. We just steal information from them sometimes...”
“Lee? Just go find out what the message is? By the way, any particular reason you’re not wearing socks?”
“I knew my shoes felt funny....”
“Maybe you should have stayed
“Next time I just may. Sure will hekp to keep me from being distracted by all of those reports you insisted I sign when I was still in my bathrobe and dripping on my floor. Is it any wonder I put my shirt on backwards?”
“Hey, it’s not my fault I try to stay on top of things, and you’re supposed to notice little details like the buttons go on the outside.”
“There, all set?”
“Well, let’s go see what this Grouchy Old Fart, whoever he is, is up to.”
All hands in the Control Room eyed Crane as he briefly scanned the beginning of the message before handing it to Chip.
“’Never Fail Dating Service?’” Chip said, “Oh this has to be a joke.”
Lee took the communiqué back, and read aloud, “ ‘Dear Grouchy Old Fart, below find contact information for your perfect soul mate based on all submitted and correlated information fed into our computer from both parties...uh, oh, here’s the girl’s name-’’Mayflower’’? Sounds like she’s either a history buff or a porn queen.”
“I’m surprised at you Captain. Anything I should know about?”
“‘We hope,’” Chip read on, “‘you
will enjoy your all expense paid ‘Never Fail Date’ weekend at the
“Edith?” both men said in unified surprise.
“’Enclosed message: Merry or is that Marry? Christmas. Since you’re not very good at socializing Harry, I thought I’d lend a hand and use the ‘Scientific Method’ you’re always spouting. Have a good time! Edie.’”
After a pause Lee sighed, “Well, Mr. Morton, do you want to tell him, or should I?”
“Far be it from me to keep you from your Captainly duties. Sir.”
“All the better for giving my XO the time he needs for his endless task of keeping on top of things, such as correcting the procurement error he pointed out on form 8-14...”
“That’ll take days!”
“Of course, I can delegate or do it myself if said XO wants to make a special delivery communiqué to Admiral Nelson..”
“You,” Chip pointed his finger into Lee’s chest, “are too sneaky for your own good.”
“Hey, I’m the Captain, It’s allowed,” he handed Chip the printout with a grin, slapped Morton on the shoulder and hummed his way to the plot table and began to pester O’Brian about Seaview’s progress.
It was not known what Morton said under his breath as he shook his head and headed aft.
“You’re not really planning on going through with it, are you?” Chip asked Nelson in his cabin as Dr. Earhart had a hard time controlling his amusement.
“I don’t have my head buried in my microscope all the time,” Nelson said. “It might actually be of some scientific interest. I’m sure you’d agree Bill,” he said to his friend. “Of course,” Nelson continued, “I don’t know all the data Edie put into the thing...but she does know my likes and dislikes. Yes, this may be rather stimulating.”
“I think that’s the general idea, Harry,” Earhart said, no question about what he meant.
“That’ll be all Chip, thank you,”
Nelson said, slightly embarassed, “ Oh, have
“We’re searching for Amelia Earhart?” Ski asked mouth agape as he brushed his teeth. “That’s about it,” Clarke said.
“Damn, you’d think it coulda’ waited.”
“Maybe some of the guys were right about the Skipper,” Patterson said, “He shoulda’ gone to bat for us, talked the Admiral out of it. It’s not like its vital or anything. At least Nelson would’ve listened to that argument. Maybe Crane really does want that fourth stripe.”
“Got a minute?” Crane asked as he peered into Nelson’s open cabin. “Sorry. Am I interrupting?” he continued noticing the two men pouring over charts and old depositions.
“No problem Lee, what can I help you with?”
“I’ve been thinking about that dating thing...I’m beginning to wonder if it’s legit.”
“Why do you say that? I got another printout from them, and it sure looks like they’ve done their homework.”
“Oh, it’s not that...I’m sure Edith did a fine job submitting it, but...think about it. You’re a celebrity, a valued asset of the country...what if it’s ‘fixed’. Sounds like a perfect way for an enemy to catch you off guard. Maybe even drug or kidnap you. Maybe we should check out this ‘‘Mayflower’’ before you meet her. Do a complete FBI background check. I know the company doesn’t use names in the data bank but they must have other information the cops could use to identify someone in an emergency and...”
“Gee, Harry,”Earhart said, “I didn’t know Crane was your bodyguard and babysitter.”
“I think I have more experience in matters of national security than you, Doctor,” Lee said.
“He didn’t mean anything by it Lee,” Nelson said. “And Lee does have a point Bill. But, I already had the organization checked out. There’s no indication that this is anything other than what it claims to be Lee. A simple computerized dating service. Don’t worry, though. I’ll be careful.”
“Well, okay but I’m not sure I like it.”
“While you’re here...perhaps you can help. Apparently the woman is between 35 and 65, likes walks on the beach, ballet, and making her child home baked cookies when she can...”
“Doesn’t say. Maybe never married. Apparently healthy if she walks on the beach. Probably a working mother...I’ve been wondering if it might nice to get a gift for her kid. But there’s a problem.”
“I don’t don’t know if it’s a boy or girl, or how old...have you any idea on a gift where gender or age doesn’t count?”
“Gee, I don’t’ know. Maybe an afternoon at the movies, complete with popcorn and candy to spoil supper. Kid’s like that.”
“That’s brilliant Lee! A great idea. Thank you.”
By the time Seaview had approached the most likely areas to begin searching for the lost aviator’s plane, suggestions regarding a totally unrelated topic had poured into Nelson’s cabin. Everything from what or what not to do on a blind date, gift ideas for mother and child, even the importance of intimate protection (from Doc).
As the day’s turned into weeks, and the time allotted for the expedition was extended by Crane, everyone was getting heartily sick of the endless and fruitless dives and sonar sweeps by Seaview, Mini-Sub, and squads of divers.
“Finally,” the weary Kowalski muttered to himself as he unstrapped himself from the redocked mini-sub in the Missile Room.
“What was that Ski?” Crane asked as he got out of the small vehicle, and handed his scuba gear to a waiting crewman.
“Uh, nothing, Sorry sir,” Ski said.
“Captain, please,”Earhart pleaded as he crossed the floor to confront Crane.
“I’m sorry Dr., but as I said on the way back to Seaview after this sweep, I’m afraid we’ve done everything we can. If she went down anywhere in these areas, the plane’s either cracked up or disintegrated beyond any hope of finding it, or we’ve searched in the wrong areas entirely.”
“Damn, I know she’s here somewhere!” Earhart rubbed his jaw.
“Are you sure you don’t want Doc to check that sore tooth?” Crane stripped down to his swimsuit, “He’s not a dentist, but he can check it with an X-ray or something...”
“Look, Captain,” Earhart took his arm, “I’ll pay the Institute for more time; give it half of any profit from artifacts, media coverage.....”
“I’m afraid there’s just no option left, especially without any hard evidence to the contrary. Even Nelson has to set limits to Seaview’s availability.”
Just then another diving party returned to the boat and gratefully began to strip off their gear as the Missile Room crew began to refill the tanks and stow them.
Crane accepted a towel from the Chief and began to roughly dry his hair.
Earhart winced and rubbed his jaw again, his gold ring catching some light.
“You really should see Doc,” Lee said.
Crane picked up the mike, “Doc, Dr. Earhart will be dropping by for an oral exam, you’ll probably need to take some X-Rays....”Crane suddenly stopped in mid sentence, brooding, “hold a minute,” he returned his attention to Earhart, “You said your father gave her a gold medallion for luck...”
“Yes, but what...”
“Doc?” Lee clicked the mike again, “Can X-rays pick up gold?”
“They’ll show anything metallic and certain organic matter. Why?”
“I have an idea. Go ahead and treat Dr. Earhart. I have to see the Admiral about something, then we’ll join you,” he unclicked the mike. “Chief, get everything in order for another dive,” Crane didn’t bother to dress; he just headed forward through the hatch with Earhart.
“I hope that doesn’t mean what I think it means,” Ski said.
“Sounded like it to me,” Patterson said. “C’mon, at least we got a little down time before he puts us to work again.”
“I’m still not sure about it, Lee,” Nelson asked, as they both stood to the side as Doc gave Earhart a temporary filling.
“We’ve used all the standard search stuff,” Crane said, still moist. “Sonar, metal detection, visual, etc...”
“Gold would have shown up already in the sweeps,” Nelson said.
“Ordinarily, but maybe not something so small as a woman’s necklace. An X Ray however, would show something as tiny as a bullet, against a dark backdrop...isn’t that right, Doc?”
“I refuse to get any more involved in this discussion. All I know is that X-rays have proven invaluable in medical science showing metallic matter, including gold. I’ve never heard of it used in marine archeology, especially for something in sand.”
“Lee, it’s really a long shot and...”
“We can rig something to waterproof the portable machine,” Lee said, “and have divers take it out to zap the areas. If you think the idea has any merit...and if anyone could get it to work...”
“I thought you wanted to go home.”
“I do. But I’ve also grown rather attached to the woman, all the stuff I’ve been reading, and researching about her...just give me a couple of days if the damn thing works...we can test it with a gold ring first. If bury a gold ring and the X-Ray shows it up, then there’s a chance it will work and...”
“The crew will never forgive you. We’re already late, they deserve their promised leave as soon as possible, and next contract is with the Navy.”
“The Navy’s used to delays...”
“They won’t like it either, Lee. And your forth stripe will be in jeopardy.”
“What fourth Stripe?”
“The one that
“Of course, I should have realized...very well Lee, you go get changed, let me think about it.”
“I’ve told you before, my thick skulled Captain, my friends call me Harriman.”
“Well then, Harriman,” Crane flashed him a genuine smile of appreciation, “I’d better tell the crew we may be delayed getting home, pending your decision.”
“God help us,” Nelson said.
“He will, Admi..Harriman, he will,” Lee said and headed to the wall mike to make the announcement.
“Do I ever feel stupid,” Clarke said as he turned on the TV. Malone just as quickly turned it off. The marathon to raise money for needy children had been going on for almost a week now. It wasn’t that the men were heartless, just tired of the constant begging. Besides, didn’t they all contribute to the charities fund set up at the Institute?
“Don’t feel bad. We all thought he was after those birds,” Patterson said.
“Is it rigged yet?” Clarke asked Kowalski, joining them.
“Not yet. At least we don’t have to go outside for this one. Good thing the Admiral figured out a way to hook up that machine to the sonar unit and just let Seaview take the X-rays instead of us and....”
“Medical emergency!” O’Brian’s voice came over the PA. “Doc! To the Missile Room. The Skipper’s been electrocuted!”
As soon as the hatch was open, Doc was inside the escape hatch, checking Crane.
“Everything worked just fine with the first test, then pow!”Jones said, “I tried to get a pulse, but with these mitts,” he raised his hands, “I just can’t tell...”
“All right Curley,”Nelson said, “get out and give Doc more room.”
Doc suddenly began to give Crane cardiac massage and mouth to mouth resuscitation.
Nelson dove to Crane and took over breathing while Doc as he continued the rhythmic hard pressing of Lee’s sternum as Frank, without having to be told, prepared the electroshock paddles.
“Clear!”Doc yelled and Frank pulled Nelson back as the current coursed through the Captain’s limp body which jerked violently. One second, two seconds. “Again!”
No luck. Nelson began breathing into Lee’s mouth again.
Lee yawned as he woke to bright daylight. It was so bright he couldn’t see the children he heard laughing in the distance. He was leaning against a huge knarled tree whose limbs and leaves were gently stroking his hair. Wha....Oh, no, the the air mix... “Curley, I think I’m in nitrogen narcosis...Chief? Where are you? Chief, come in! Crane to Seaview, Crane to Seaview..Emergency. Emergency...”
The strawberries flanking the almost crystalline stream giggled.
“That’s not funny!” Lee shouted, Damn, I’m talking to fruit!
“Why not?” one of the strawberries asked.
“Stop reading my mind!”
“Well, excuuusseee me!”
“Seaview! Come in Seaview!”Lee shouted, pressing his throat mike..Only he wasn’t wearing one. He wasn’t wearing anything at all.
“They can’t hear you,” the tree said.
“Seaview!”Crane continued, “I’m hallucinating! Talk me back to the hatch! Curley doesn’t respond, he’s probably delusional too. Come in Seaview!”
“They can’t hear you Skipper,” a familiar voice said.
“I’m not mad at you anymore Skipper,” the voice said, “I know now you had no choice,” the dead man’s voice faded away.
“Oh God,” Lee said, confused and very very scared. If this was some kind of dream it was a whopper. If not, he’d be spending the rest of his life in an insane asylum.
The tree began to stroke its leaves through his hair again.
“Stop that! Why does everybody and his mother want to ruffle my hair!”
“Probably because you’re so cute,” one of the flowers that had been singing said, quickly ‘shhhshed’ by it’s grove of companions.
“I know I’m dreaming this, but since I am, maybe I should just play along until it’s over. Or maybe this is some alien encounter or...Oh God, this is just too weird. Hurry up and get me out of this nightmare!” he half pleaded, half prayed. “I just want to go home! Seaview!”Lee continued to call, pressing where his mike would have been if he were sane.
“Seaview’s crew can’t help you,” the tree said, its branches patting Lee’s shoulder comfortingly, “Only you can decide.”
“Decide? I don’t understand.”
“Observe,” the tree said and suddenly Lee found himself in a great valley, green and lush, where waterfalls dotted the mountains, and strange birds and aquatic creatures filled the strange blue sky. He saw mythical creatures and real ones, prehistoric and new breeds of dogs Angie had made him watch on TV. He saw men, women, and children of all races singing, laughing and without care. “Who are you?” Lee ran to them, “Where am I?”
The tree chuckled, the strawberries giggled, and the flowers which had been singing laughed as he suddenly found himself leaning back against the tree, which he barely noticed was soft as sponge.
“Oh God, where am I?”
“I think you know,” the tree said.
“There is no sense in denying to yourself what you know in your heart is true,” the flowers said in unison..
“You see,” the tree said, “you have been given a great gift not given to many. You may go ‘home’ if you wish, at least for a time, or stay here, where there is no time, no hate, no pain, no fear, and none of the heady responsibilities that have been wearing you down so.”
The sound of an almost gentle thunder rumbled in the distance but the weird sky was storm less, and so bright it hurt Lee’s eyes.
The flowers and strawberries bowed their heads; the tree bent its branches in obeisance.
“You must decide,” the tree said gently.
“Look, no offense, you’re all nice uh, things. And it’s real pretty here, even if I am totally delusional, but...I just want to get back to my boat.”
“He thought you’d say that,” the tree gently laughed with the flowers and strawberries and some other odd looking organic and animal life forms and a multitude of voices that Lee could not put any image to. Then the tree placed its leaves on Lee’s forehead and said, “Go in peace.”
The searing pain in his chest was only slightly less awful than the stinky breath that was forced into his mouth. He began to cough and retch violently hearing only Nelson’s voice asking, “Did we get him back in time?”
Even Earhart saw the wisdom of Nelson’s decision to head home. They were all on tinder hooks waiting to find out if those precious minutes without oxygen or a pumping heart before he had been resussitated had caused Crane brain damage. He lay comatose, each passing hour adding fear that his life, to all intents and purposes, was over.
The men not on duty idly played cards or watched the TV signal what was still showing the charity marathon. It was better than nothing to take their minds off the situation. Suddenly......
“Hey!”Malone exclaimed, “It’s the Skipper! On TV!” and all eyes turned to the wall unit.
There on the screen, on a small building, a man, sweaty, his shirt unbuttoned was nailing shingles as the boy with him saw the camera crew and said something to Crane. Lee said something, and the boy raised his arm in a body builders ‘look at my muscle’ pose, then climbed down the ladder. Lee, continued his work, but almost nailed his thumb, and blew on it a bit....
‘Volunteers come from all walks of life,’ the female narrator said, ‘ to contribute funding and labor to serve the various shelters around the world for orphaned and abused children under the auspices of The Zartarian Agency...’
“Ko-wal-ski!” Clarke said looking at an embarrassed Ski.
“Okay, okay,” Ski said contrite, “So it wasn’t ONI. Shut up will you? I want to hear...”
‘The shelters are sometimes the only refuge for children who fall through the cracks in our state and child welfare agencies. The staff and volunteers help the children lead as normal a life as possible...’
Crane finished the last shingle and climbed down the ladder with his accustomed skill, skipping the last few rungs. He ran his hand across his brow to remove some of the sweat running into his eyelashes. He was the epitome of health. Suntanned and hard muscled.
‘Assigned from a pool of volunteers, many helpers find themselves drafted to various household and handyman type chores...’
Crane, his denim shirt and black hair dappled in flour and batter splats, served a tray of food the busy breakfast table.
“Peanut Butter French Toast,” one of the female staff members explained to the woman reporter, “Good job Lee.”
“You seem to know your way around a kitchen...”the reporter said.
“I get by, Miss Woodmoat,” Lee said.
“I’m not sure if my Dad invented this for me, or if he got it from someone, but I’ve always liked it,” he handed her a plate and placed one of the offerings on it and poured maple syrup over it “He was a cook in the Navy then had a small diner. He called this the smacking lips special.”
Natalie’s rapt look after she took a bite confirmed it was good. “He should enter this in a contest.”
“He died when I was 11 and...”
“Uncle Lee!” a child’s voice wailed off-screen. “The toilet’s backed up again!”
“Sorry, duty calls,” Crane said then, “Todd,” he added to one of the older boys, “you have the conn, but remember what I said about bullying, and the dire consequences it engenders,” he said as he disappeared up the stairs.
“You’re using big words again Uncle Lee!” one of the children shouted after him.
“Don’t be such a dweeb!” Todd cuffed the smaller boy. Soon the two were in a slight tussle and the staffers were trying to separate them when Lee rushed down the stairs, plunger in hand.
“Enough,” Lee said.
“Uh oh, you’re in trouble now!” a little girl said, the other kids nodding happily in agreement.
“Who started it?” Lee asked.
“He did!” both boys said.
“Theoretically possible, I suppose but I doubt that’s the case here. Jennifer?”Lee said, to the staffer, “That valve has to be replaced or you’ll have to start building an ark. Sorry about the scuffle, Natalie. Todd, Mike, with me...” he said, setting the plunger on the bottom stair.The boys were beginning to hit each other again when Lee stepped in between them and a hand on each shoulder, and guided them to the facility director’s small windowed office and closed the door.
The scene they saw through the window showed Lee speaking with the boys, not shouting, but demanding responses. Then Todd started to hit Lee, but the man didn’t stop him. Lee said something and the boy began to cry. Lee took him in his arms, and let him bawl. Even Mike patted Todd’s shoulder. Soon both boys shook hands, and with a nod of dismissal they emerged, none the worse for wear.
“It seems as though Uncle Lee is a bit of a psychiatrist,” Natalie whispered.
“No,” Jennifer said, “but he does have an uncanny sense of leadership...and the kids made him an ‘uncle’ early on. Something not granted for most of the volunteers sent to us. We hardly ever get the same volunteer’s twice, and already the kids are complaining that he’ll have to leave soon.”
Todd looked up at Lee for permission to pick up the plunger. Lee nodded and the boy went upstairs.
“You can help, too Mike, if you want to,” Crane said.
“I’d help you anytime, Uncle Lee,” Mike raced up the stairs telling Todd to wait for him.
‘All volunteers are routinely screened, but some can bring with them a few surprises...’
The scene had changed and Crane, now in red flannel shirt and blue jeans, and was sitting with Natalie, Jennifer and Doug Stevens, the Home Director on the porch as the kids played in the mild day outside.
“So, why Zartarians?” Natalie asked Crane.
“Let’s just say I know what it’s like.”
“Ah yes, you were orphaned at 11 you said.”
“In truth I was orphaned the night I was born. Thrown away like yesterdays garbage. I was discovered the next morning in the Beauregard Dump. The watchdog had kept me warm and probably saved my life. Anyway, it wasn’t until 7 years later that I finally found a real home. And I’m still driving my mother crazy,” he grinned. “Like a lot of foster and adoptive parents, she had a hard time adjusting to being a mother, but,” he paused with a reflective grin, “I think I finally have her trained to my way of thinking. She still hasn’t accepted my career choice, though,” he laughed.
“Which is?” Natalie asked.
“Oh, I just drive a boat.”
“Some boat,” Jennifer said with a snort of amusement, “He works on a
submarine. In fact, the big one with the windows, in
“Seaview?”Natalie asked, surprized, “Surely our mother has to be proud of you...”
“Of me, sure, I guess, but of my job, no. She doesn’t like submarines. She and Pop and just about everybody hoped it was just a childhood phase I’d outgrow, but...”he spread his hands.
“You decided on a career a child?”
“Oh, I knew when I was 8 years old,” he smiled fondly, “I knew that that I was going to be the best damn submarine captain in the US Navy....I’m not exactly Navy now, and I’m still working on that ‘best’ part, but hey, you never know,” he laughed. “Mom’s never forgiven Stingy.”
“Stingfisher. She was an old
Navy sub, already antiquated, ready for the scrap heap actually but still in commission
when I saw her. We’d had a bad storm off the
“Hooky?” Clarke asked, surprised as the rest of the crew aboard Seaview and the onscreen reporter.
Lee chuckled. “Hey, I was fast becoming a normal healthy all American boy. I had to have some vices. It was one of those days just made for sailing. So I purloined Pop’s sailboat at the marina and away I went. Then I saw her, the Stingy. Oh, she was awesome, the most magnificent thing I’d ever seen!” he said excitedly, his memories giving away the luster of pure joy. “At first the crew tried to get me to move my boat away but how could I? This was a real honest to God US Navy Submarine! And she was in trouble. There was no way I was going to leave her alone when I could help her. It was my patriotic duty after all....”
“That’s our Skipper all right,” Malone laughed as the program continued.
“The fact that I was only 8 years old didn’t make the slightest difference to me. I pulled up the keel board before I’d get stuck too, and came alongside. As I heard them discussing their situation and the fact that they needed to uncog a stuck valve in a pretty inaccessible part of the boat, I told them I was the perfect candidate to squeeze in tight quarters, and that it was fate, that God sent me to them even, that I was there to help them!” he laughed, “I was just itching so hard to give them a hand, I probably would have paid them for the privilege if I had any money! Anyway, with some misgiving they allowed me aboard at all. Suffice it to say, they finally relented to my pleadings to help. I guess they just wanted to get me to quit pestering them! So they let me try and I actually managed to uncog the valve. I spent the next few hours having a grand time exploring the sub, playing with the periscope, eating spam with the crew and plaguing them to death with my enthusiasm and questions. They just couldn’t understand what I found so fascinating about her, I guess they were tired of being gritty, cramped, unappreciated, and rather smelly,” Lee sighed reflectively, “It was one of the best days of my life, but all too soon disaster struck,” he grinned. “While I’d been having fun and the boat was flushing out all the sand stuck in her tanks, my Mom had been informed by the principal that I hadn’t come back to school after lunch and if was I suddenly sick or something. It hadn’t taken Mom long to discover the missing sailboat; naturally she called the Coast Guard, visions of me falling overboard or something,” he said with undisguised annoyance.
“But surely she was justified...”
“Kids near the
The staffers and Natalie laughed heartily with him.
Miles away and via the TV show of the recorded visit, his crew laughed as well.
“Well, what did he do?” Natalie asked.
“Actually, I have to admit, I was scared. I’d been with the Crane’s less than a year and we were still learning about each other, adjusting. Neither of them had lifted a hand to me, scared to I suppose, but there comes a time when corporal punishment is called for...but all he did was to ask me ‘why?’ And the way he looked at me, well, it was impossible to wheedle my way out of it. That look made me feel as guilty as hell. But he was satisfied that I told him the truth and he asked me to promise not to take the boat out without permission, or to play hooky again. You’d think I’d’ve deserved a spanking, and in retrospect I’m sure I did. But he’d taught me that day, that even though I’d done something wrong and disappointed both of them, they still loved me and weren’t going to beat me up, starve me, or send me away. For someone with my sordid past, that simple revelation changed my life. Some victims of physical and sexual abuse never learn to trust at all. That’s why organizations like Zartarian’s are such a good thing. The kids at these shelters learn right away that it’s not their fault, the things that have happened to them. That real love is unconditional. They learn that in spite of the past, no matter how awful it may have been, there’s always a future. A good future. A future that has the gift of hope in it.”
Just then a Frisbee blew into the porch and hit the director.
A childish ‘ooops’ was heard and the camera panned to children starting to run off.
“I’ll take care of it Doug,” Lee said to the man mopping the slight cut to his forehead. Crane quickly gathered the children around him, but out of hearing range. The culprits shuffled their feet and looked at the ground, a most servile crew. Crane nodded toward the porch, but stayed behind with the dog while they trudged over to face the man.
“Sorry Mr. Stevens,” the boy who’d been with Lee on the roof said. “It was an accident. Honest.”
“Yeah, sorry, sir,” the others joined in.
“Are you married?” a little girl asked Natalie, ignoring the wounded man.
“Why, no, I’m not married.”
“She’s not married Uncle Lee!” the girl hollered and returned to Crane.
Crane flushed in embarrassment and was about to return to the porch to apologize, but was waylaid by the children and soon found himself helping toss the Frisbee around and being plowed under by kids and the dog. The children were laughing, Lee was laughing, even the dog was laughing....
‘Some volunteers become fully fledged staff members but most are simply in Agency’s volunteer pool and are sent to whichever shelter has a need as they have time off from their careers to help...’
“And I thought I was in shape!” Lee said as he walked up the steps to the porch, “Sorry about the Frisbee, Doug, it really was an accident, I’m sure. Coffee anyone?”
“Uh, no thank you Lee,” the director said, giving the reporter a warning look as he shook his head.
“Oh, c’mon, it’s not that bad!” Crane said.
“It could run a diesel locomotive!” Jennifer added.
“And you, a Navy Vet....”Crane said sadly as he entered the house.
“But the French Toast was very good....”Natalie began.
“Yes, but his coffee’s not,” said the director, “Try it, then, if you want to live dangerously...”
“That’s for sure,” Patterson snickered with the rest of the crew glued to the show but almost at the same moment they hushed, ashamed of their laughter. Crane lay in sick bay right now because he did live dangerously, even if that fact had become rather commonplace aboard Seaview....
‘One and a half sips later,’ Natalie voiced over the montage of images from the home and it’s daily activities, including one of Crane and other staffers in a water fight with the kids with lawn hoses. “I had to agree that Uncle Lee’s coffee was fit only for those with iron clad stomachs or the certifiably insane. Perhaps he’s both. Perhaps all the volunteers and staff of the Zartarian and the other Child Welfare and Fostering Agencies we’ve seen in action during this funding marathon are. In a world where there can still be found a callous ’ throw away’ attitude toward children, these men and women offer refuge, compassion, affection, even love, doing what they can. A ‘Gift of Hope’, as Lee Crane put it. Perhaps his own gift was a little late for Christmas, but no doubt welcome. So as you go about in the New Year, give a thought to the child’s laughter you don’t hear. A child who is in desperate need of someone to care. Someone to trust. Someone to love and to be cherished by. This is Natalie Woodmoat urging you to help finance the fine agencies we’ve seen in action, and if you can spare it, your time. Goodnight.’
With almost religious respect, Ski turned the TV off. Nobody said anything. The contrast between their Skipper lying comatose and the image of him healthy, vibrant and helping these poor kids...it was a very depressed crew that turned in for the night or went on duty.
Ski couldn’t sleep. He knew Doc and Frank had things in hand but he didn’t find himself in sickbay to lend assistance.
Crane lay, still as death under the crisp linen sheet and warm blanket. Instruments beeped comfortingly as Doc and his corpsman examined and discussed the inconclusive imaging scans in his office. Nobody would really know anything until the Captain awoke, if he ever would. Ski had only wanted to sit with Crane awhile, the Admiral having finally been shooed out to get some rest himself, but apparently Ski had fallen asleep, and was awakened by the soft sounds of Crane weakly tossing and turning in his sleep. Sleep?
Just as Ski was about to summon the medical men, Crane’s eyes opened...first in confusion, then surprise...
“Ski?” he reached out a hand, “Is that you? Is that really you?”
“Yeah, it’s me Skipper,” he said softly, concerned by Crane’s need to prod him a couple of times.
“You’re real,” Lee said gratefully and sank his head back down into his pillow.
“You okay sir?”
“I...I guess so...what happened?” he nodded to the tubes and monitors, wincing and uncharacteristicly not fighting the IV’s.
“You kinda’ had an accident. Curley’s okay, only a couple of burns when the thing shorted out but...you got zapped...electrocuted actually.”
“I...I don’t remember...”
“You sure had us scared. Couldn’t get a pulse and you weren’t breathing. Doc used Cardiac massage and the Admiral gave you mouth to mouth and...”
“So that explains it...Ski? I really had no heartbeat?” Lee asked quietly.
“Not for five minutes, or maybe more...what is it sir?”
“I think...I think maybe I was dead,” Crane said simply,” Or, I had the wildest psychedelic dream or narcosis you could ever imagine... some of the time anyway....”
“Tell me about it, sir,” Ski asked. He wasn’t an acting corpsman for nothing. He’d learned a lot from Doc. And it was important that Crane remember whatever he could before he forgot as was common to dreams. It could also be a good clue to the state of the Captain’s brain.
“I had just set the X-Ray machine for its second test then there was a flash of light. I woke up against this really old tree. It was ancient but it was soft as sponge, and...it talked,” Lee said, waiting for Ski to retrieve the straight jacket. He didn’t. “There was a strawberry patch,” Lee continued, “They talked too, and seemed friendly enough, but one of them was a little irritating, at first, anyway. The flowers, they sounded a bit like the Munchkins in that OZ movie, except they were singing in the most beautiful harmony you’ve ever heard. And there was this stream, and a valley, some mountains.... And the ocean was in the sky...whales were swimming it...” Crane stopped and wondered what Ski thought about his delirium or...
“Go on,” Ski said, not judging.
“I could hear things in the distance, but not see. I could see things but not hear. It was a little disconcerting. Confusing. I even thought I saw Farrell...The tree showed me people from all over, living together in peace. Nobody hurt anyone anymore. The tree said I could stay, but I said I just wanted to get back to my boat, so I guess...”Lee spread his hands. “Then I felt a tremendous pressure on my chest and and smoky air in my mouth....”
“Only that the tree and his friends seemed pleased with my decision.”
“So am I, Skipper.”
“So was the thunder...’He’ the tree called it....you don’t think I’m crazy do you, Tolliver?”
“No,” Ski said, surprised the Skipper had used his given name, “No, I don’t think you’re crazy at all.”
Lee relaxed at that and closed his eyes. Soon he was asleep.
“Doc?” Ski called Frank and Jamison over. He’d noticed through the corner of his eye that they’d been listening from the office doorway, Doc having decided it was better to observe at that point than to interfere.
“The brain can hallucinate when there’s lack of oxygen.”
“Maybe,” Ski said softly as he pulled the blanket up around Crane’s chin. “But maybe not.”
Doc ignored the implication that Crane had literally come back from the dead. Treat the symptoms, that was all he could do. They’d be doing more tests ashore to check for brain and muscle damage, but Lee seemed cognizant enough... it wasn’t for him to wonder if Lee had been dead. But if he had, well, that was between Lee and Him.
Seaview was almost home. Nelson had arranged for Woods Hole to take on Earhart’s expedition using Lee’s X-Ray Search theory. The Captain had, over the ensuing days, tried to make light of his experience, ‘near death experience’ or ‘simple delusion’, but some of the crew still whispered in hushed, even awed tones whenever he passed by, realeased from Sick Bay on Medical Observation, and no duty whatsoever.Doc had even insisted he stay in pajamas and thick terry robe.
“Hey, it’s not every day someone comes back from the dead, Lee,” Morton argued in the Wardroom as he plowed through desert, “They can’t help but to be impressed.”
“You okay?” Chip asked.
“I’m fine, but...”
“Skipper?” Cookie asked anxiously, “Is there something wrong with the Strawberry Shortcake?” It was the Captain’s favorite and he’d tried really hard to make it just the way the Skipper liked it.
“I...I’m sorry, Cookie, I just can’t...”
“Are they talking to you now Lee, the strawberries?” Chip asked gently and quite seriously in the now quiet room.
“Of course not, but...I know it’s stupid. But I can’t help feeling it would be a little like being a cannibal...go ahead and laugh. I know you all want to. I told you it was stupid. Here, to prove I’m not crazy or that I’m having a ‘divine vision’,” he popped one into his mouth.
The tense atmosphere in the room vanished and chatter began again about what everyone planned to do on the extra long shore leave the Admiral had promised, but it was noticed that Crane did not have another bite.
“Gentlemen,” Nelson said as he entered and sat down, “I’ve just received more information on ‘Mayflower’s profile. Her child is a boy.”
“Well, Admiral,” Lee said, “Since you that now, I’d go with a toy car myself. Red. And a convertible.”
Nelson laughed. Lee’s foreign red sports car was often referred to as his ‘toy’, next to Seaview that was.
“Have you set the weekend to meet her?” Morton asked.
“She’ll be arriving in
“You hate ballet,” Lee said.
“Yes, I find it a most ‘affected’ type of dancing, but I’d like to show an interest.”
“That’s a good idea sir,” Morton said, “good way to get to first base.”
“I still wish we could check her out,” Lee grumbled.
“Tell you what,” Lee, “After the Med Center releases you as harmless to yourself or to others, come on down and join us for lunch, you too, Chip, say oh, around on Saturday.”
“But by then...”Lee paused.
“Precisely,” Nelson said.
“Mr. Morton?” the OOD called out on the PA as Seaview was being secured at the dock. “Mr. Johnson from the State Department is here. Wants to see the Skipper.”
Morton grimaced, the crew on watch stations grimaced, and if Seaview were sentient, Ski thought, even she’d grimace.
Morton squared his shoulders, “Bring him aboard and show him to the Captain’s Cabin.”
The man came aboard with a closed box and a huge expandable folder. “Good to see you all again...”he said and followed the crewman assigned to show him aft.
“Chip?” Lee entered the Control Room a few moments later, clinging to the box as if his life depended on it, “Tell Doc I’ll be a little late for my appointment. I have an errand I just can’t delay. Haven’t you dismissed the crew for shore leave yet?” he asked, confused to see so many of his crew just hanging around.
“I was just getting to it...”
“What’s going on here,” Nelson asked as he came forward. “Mr. Johnson? I’m sorry, but we can’t.....”
“Oh, this has nothing to do with your services, Admiral,” Johnson said. “Come along Captain. I’ll give you a complete briefing about...”
“Lee,” Nelson implored, “you don’t have to do this. You’re entitled to decline agency work sometimes and you’re on the sick list...”
“Agency?” Johnson asked, confused, and Crane began to laugh weakly, leaning against the periscope railing.
“What the hell is going on?” Nelson demanded.
“Oh, just trying to find a place to put my...fourth stripe,” he opened the box a crack and just as suddenly slammed it shut against the mewing of a kitten. “Oops, woke her up.”
“I really appreciate this Captain,” Johnson said, “I knew I could count on you to find a good home for her. Be sure you register her with the breeder’s association,” he tucked the folder under Crane’s arm,” You’ll need these pedigree records.”
“You can’t seriously think of having a cat, Lee,” Morton said after he stopped laughing, “You’re never home! You don’t even like the little fur balls.”
“No, but I know a few children who might. What are you waiting for Mr. Morton, release us for shore leave.”
“Aye aye sir!”
Crane’s more extensive brain scans had all come back negative, much to the relief of Jamison. The Captain was fit, if a bit more contemplative than normal, but that was not totally unexpected. While half of Crane’s shore leave had been taken up by the necessary exams, he had seemed relaxed, even content in spite of the scrubbed plans of visiting his mother, not wanting to interfere with her own obligations. Will had started to form the habit of ‘dropping in’ on Lee as a friend, but even Lee had seen the ‘doctoritis’ in the visits and assured Jamison that he understood that the CMO just couldn’t help himself and never kicked him out. Had Lee gone through some kind of epiphany due to his ‘near death experience’ as some of Will’s associates had claimed it might be... Lee had never been this cooperative before.
Jamison was at Lee’s apartment when Morton was straightening Lee’s naval decorations. “Can’t I just go in jeans?”
“No, besides, you might think twice before spilling any blood on our dress whites.”
“C’mon, it was only a suggestion that she might not be what she seems.”
“Will you quit being a Secret Agent for once? Now, look, according to their agreement with the Dating Service, they’re not supposed to reveal any more personal information to each other until today, right? So when she finds out he’s an Admiral, The Admiral Nelson of NIMR, well, having his Captain and Exec show up in uniform, it’ll be like a bolt of lightening hit her. Impress the hell out of her.”
“I don’t think that’s the intent of the service, Chip. They’re already supposed to be ‘matched up’.”
“Think of it as honoring the Admiral, then. C’mon, we’ve got to get a move on. How do we look Doc?”
“Like a poster for the
“Too bad Skipper. The Boat’s sailed. Oh, I had your car washed and waxed...”
Just then phone rang. Doc picked it up...
“Lee? It’s the Admiral. He forgot the toy. It’s in his office...”
“Tell him we’re on it,” Chip called out and pushed Crane out the door.
More than a few eyes turned
their way as the two officers drove through
Almost as soon as Lee had parked the car in the ‘Reserved’ slot, he started unbuttoning and removing his jacket and cursing all the way up the elevator and into Nelson’s outer office. With nary a word to Angie as Ski ‘helped’ her with a large box, he disappeared into Nelson’s inner office.
“Skipper?” Ski asked, disturbed. What now? His eyes questioned Morton who entered the room, shaking his head.
“Where is the damn thing?” Lee shouted as they heard the sounds of books and papers and furniture shuffling.
“Angie?”Morton said, the picture of sublime calm, “The Admiral forgot the toy for ‘Mayflower’’s son. I don’t suppose...”
“Right here...all wrapped,” she took it out from her desk and handed it to him.
“Good, I’ll be right back,” he said and followed Lee.
“Oh,” they heard Lee’s voice a moment later.
“You can’t wear those!”
“Watch me!” Lee said dangerously.
“I hardly think they’d even let us in the front door of the Hilton if you insist on wearing a pair of Nelson’s old sweats that’ve been hanging in his bathroom for God knows how long!”
“Well, I’m not going to drive all the way to LA in my dress whites being propositioned all the while by one horny girl after another!”
“I was joking! C’mon, ease up a little, Lee. Cheech. C’mon, they’re only dress whites. Are you a man or a mouse?”
“A mouse,” Lee said firmly.
“And I’m the Easter Bunny. Lee, they’re only dumb comments. You look like every girl’s vision of Prince Charming in that uniform. They can’t help themselves...it’s...it’s a girl thing.”
There was a pregnant pause as Ski and Angie waited for the next installment.
“Okay, okay, you win, but so help me if I get one more ‘want a little action sailor’, you’ll be tossed over the side!”
“Comb your hair too, Lee.”
The two emerged a few minutes later, buttoned, combed, and immaculate. Ski felt almost like saluting. He’d never seen either man so resplendant.
“We’ll be at the restaurant at the Hilton,” Chip told Angie. “You have the number if you need to get in touch. C’mon Lee,” he led the way out.
Lee unbuttoned his top two brass buttons. “The things I do to keep you happy.”
“I heard that Lee,” Chip called out.
“Uh, Chip? Aren’t you forgetting something?” Lee said, leaning on Angie’s desk.
“Huh?” Morton poked his head back into the doorway.
“Something small, and red, and shiny?”
“Oh,” Chip realized he’d left the present on Nelson’s desk, returned, buttoned Lee’s jacket back up, “After you, Captain, sir,” Morton pushed Crane out.
The dining room was busy with the luncheon crowd and Nelson was enjoying the first course. His date was was still ‘‘Mayflower’’ but he had shed ‘Grouchy Old Fart’ last night and was using ‘Harry’ now. Maybe not within the guidelines of the dating services he’d agreed to, but his ‘handle’ was not exactly one that could be used in polite conversation. Though that wasn’t all they’d engaged in last night. As a man of science, he had to admit this service was right on the button. ‘Mayflower’ probably had her son at an advanced age, but those things did happen now and then.
The Matre’ D arrived and whispered to Nelson.
“Would you excuse me a moment?” Nelson asked and disappeared into the lobby. Before she had a chance to wonder what the problem was, he’d returned, and handed her a brightly wrapped present, “I thought your son might like a small gift. I’d left it behind...”
“Oh, thank you, you didn’t have to do this...”she opened the brightly wrapped package and lifted out the toy red car.
“I was going to get your child a movie pass, but this seemed more appropriate when I found out he was a boy.”
“But...”she began, a little flustered by the gift. Just then Nelson waved to a blond man in smart white uniform who strode over to the table.
“I’d like you to meet Lt. Commander Chip Morton, Executive Officer aboard Seaview.”
“Seaview?” she asked, stunned.
“Gets ‘em every time, Admiral,” Chip whispered, and accepted a menu from a waitress, equally impressed with both his smile and uniform.
“Then you’re in the Navy, Harry?” she asked.
“I was,” Nelson said,” before I went on to greener pastures,” he said,” Order anything you like Chip.”
“Thank you, sir,” Morton said. “I’ll have the Fruit Salad to start. Then the...oh, there he is, about time, won’t trust valet parking....”Chip said, indicating what their eyes could only see as a flash of white pants, stuck behind a new group of patrons being shown the table next to theirs.
“About time Skipper,” Morton said cheerfully as Crane finally emerged from behind the Matre’ D.
“May I introduce you to Seaview’s Captain,” Nelson said, “Commander Lee Crane.”
Lee just stood there, mouth agape, speechless. Chip rose and quickly took his pulse, thinking Lee was having a stroke or something.
“I....” The woman shrank down in her seat and took a deep breath, “I think this belongs to you, Lee,” she handed him the toy car.
Just then the clock bonged and broke the spell of shocked silence. Then it hit them all at the same time. Last night.
There was no need for Lee to verbalize his thoughts. His face said it all.But as he saw his mother look like a little girl caught in some kind of naughtiness and Nelson in something akin to shock, well, how could he say ‘eeeyooo’ to the two people who meant more to him than anyone on the planet...
“I swear I had no idea...”Nelson said.
“All right,” Crane said at last, “but if you so much as hurt a hair on head or make her cry, I won’t be responsible for my actions.”
“Fair enough, lad, fair enough,” Nelson said.
“Lee!” his mother scolded, “For Pete’s sake!”
“And as for you,” Crane turned to his mother, “well...”words failed him, so in the end he simply changed the subject, “at least maybe you can get him to stop smoking. C’mon Chip.”
“Uh, Lee, aren’t you forgetting something?” his mother asked ignoring Morton’s look of glee and Nelson’s snort of relieved tension.
“Oh, yeah, sorry,” Lee leaned over and gave her a gentle kiss, to which she replied by handing him the toy car.
“Do I still get my lunch?” Chip asked Lee as he settled in the driver’s seat.
“You know,” Chip said, “when I imagined my parents in the act I though it was pretty gross too...uh Lee? You know she couldn’t have realized who he was...The key goes in there...”
“Huh? Oh...”he put the key into the ignition but didn’t turn it.
“Out. I’ll drive. You’re still in shock. Can we stop for some ribs on the way home?”
“NO!” Lee moved to the passenger side.
“How about one of those farmer’s markets we saw on the way here. I could use some nice fresh fruit, watermelon, strawberries...oh, I forgot. You can’t eat strawberries...”
“If I’d known who you were...”Mae Crane said as the two sat in the ‘sitting room’ of the suite.
“You never would have agreed to this blind date...Me niether...but you know...thats’ a pretty darn good computer. I’ve never enjoyed anyone’s companionship as I have with you, even if you are Lee’s mother. Normally I don’t think that I’d allow that little detail to diswaid me from seeing you, but...I just keep seeing Lee scowling at me ready to cast me into irons or shove me out the torpedo tubes if I so much as touch you.”
“The look on his face,” she said softly. “Poor Lee, It’s really not his fault you know...He feels it’s his sacred honor to protect me. Especially since Edward died. I think down deep he just can’t help thinking of sex as something foul and dirty.”
“But he has an active sex life...as far as I know, that is...Shipboard scuttlebutt, but...well...now that you mention it...I haven’t heard about him in any long term relationships...”
“Things happened to him a long time ago, Harry. Bad things. Before he came into my life...you know Lee’s a regular volunteer for the Zartarian Agency? Well, they deal primarily with abused children and....”
“Yes, my crew told me about a special on TV,” he sat down with her on the plush sofa, “Lee was in it.”
“Well, they especially help violently and sexually abused children. Only they weren’t around when Lee needed their help...three years of hell he called it later.”
“Oh, Lord. I only thought he’d been roughed up a bit...”
“I won’t go into details, I’m sure there are some Lee never even revealed to the courts or to Edward and me, let’s just say the facility he’d been farmed out to from the county orphanage wasn’t what it seemed. Men, if you can call them that, paid the owner a lot of money to...to...”she couldn’t say the words, “he was only five when they first...,” tears formed on her face, “when they... they...”she began to cry.
Nelson held her tight and let her ramble on.
“He had nightmares about it all for years to come..There weren’t any shrinks or counseling services back then. It would have spared him something....we only fostered him at first when the scandal broke and the place was closed down...” her voice softened. “He was seven then.”
“It must have been horrible for all of you,” Nelson said.
“At least we were able to give him a little comfort afterwards...a home...”she smiled, brushing away her tears. “Lee’s the one who chose me as his mother.”
“Tell me about it,” Nelson snuggled closer to her.
“Well, he’d been with us
about four months. Ed was serving his last tour of duty in the Navy, and at sea.
Nothing grand. Just a supply ship. He was the cook. It was a Sunday and my
sister and I and Lee were at church. Just before the service was about to begin
Lee stood up, and asked the pastor’ if
God made mistakes’. Now, in those days, children did not speak unless they
were spoken to first, and certainly not in church. At least not in
“I can imagine. I’m Bostonian myself...”
“Then you understand...Anyway, the pastor told him ‘no, God does not make mistakes’ and was about to begin his sermon. Lee, however, left our pew and walked up to the podium, bold as brass, and said ’good, cause I want to say something.’ You could have heard a pin drop. Well the ushers tried to haul him back to the pew but he got out of their grip and said ‘NO! If this is a house of God then I have every right to speak, I have a soul too, don’t I?’ Well, even the pastor couldn’t argue with that.”
“Smart boy,” Nelson said.
“So he stood on the steps by the podium and talked. ‘A lot of you have been telling your kids I’m a mistake,” he said. ‘That my real parents must’ve made a mistake or done something wrong with each other to throw me away into a garbage dump. So my question is if God doesn’t make mistakes, what right do you have to call me one? He allowed me to be born didn’t he?’
“Nobody could deny that. Then he went on, ‘How can you tell the Cranes, two, no three, of the most wonderful people in the world that they’re making a mistake in taking me into their home? To turn away whenever they walk past you, to ignore them when you used to hug them...because I’m something bad?’
“Well by now a lot of ears were burning, I assure you...’Let me tell you about bad,’ he went on, ‘ Bad is hurting on purpose. Bad is ignoring someone or something that needs help. Bad is ignoring this book you all claim to believe in. So if you can’t believe what it says about’ love your neighbor’, then I’m taking my Mother out of here and we’re going downtown to the Baptist church where they do!....’
“He marched down the aisle and offered me his arm. I was too stunned to think, but I took one arm, my sister took the other and we marched toward the door. Suddenly the pastor comes running down the aisle saying, ‘Oh, Lord, out of the mouths of babes’, to which Lee replied, ‘I’m not a baby!’ ”
“Well, that certainly broke the ice in the place; it melted just about every heart there. Then the pastor advised the congregation to right any wrongs done to us, and said the sermon was over and to join us downstairs for milk and doughnuts,” she sighed. “They lost some of the congregation that day.... I guess they just couldn’t bring themselves to think of us as anything other than some low life trash as they called Lee, even to his face sometimes...some people are so stupid...Anyway, in the end, we did go to the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church, every church in town, even some synagogues. As far as Edward was concerned if they got the basic gospel right, it was okay by him for us to visit other denominations than the one we had been brought up in. But what really got to me that day wasn’t Lee’s message. It was the first time he called me ‘mother’. Well, we legally adopted Lee the very day Edward got home...and do you know something Harry? Years later, when my sister got into genealogy and asked Lee if he ever wondered who his biological parents were he looked at her square in the face and told her he thanked God that they’d thrown him away because if they hadn’t, he never would have found us, and if he had been given the right to choose any two people on earth to be his parents, he would have chosen us,” she said, tears in her eyes again, “My poor brave, wonderful boy....”
“He’s a remarkable man,” Nelson said after a few moments to let her compose herself, “I think you and your husband had something to with it as well...in any case, I’m very proud to work with him, and call him my friend.”
“Even if he can be a pain in the ass at times,” she added, wiping her eyes.
“Well,”Angie asked Morton the next day.” Was the Admiral’s date a porn queen? Or a secret agent?”
“Well, I guess you could call her a secret agent Mom.”
“Bad pun, forget it. Look, Angie, I think it would be for the best not to bring up the subject of the admiral’s date with Lee for awhile okay?”
“Thanks, so, I have a glorious two and a half more weeks of leave, so how about dinner and a movie?
It was a blessed relief for
most hands to know the Skipper was finally able to enjoy a vacation with his
mother, enjoying her company, showing her the sights.... He’d even showed her around
the Institute and brought her aboard Seaview. Nelson even took her to lunch
sometimes..’Keep the mom happy, keep the Captain
happy’ strategy, they thought while she was in
The Navy had already established it’s own experts aboard Seaview who were growing impatient at the Captain’s tardiness.
“Captain at the gate,”Security announced on the PA and the men responded like a well ordered drill, Doc, Frank, Morton, O’Brian and every other available man at the ready to render assistance. Just in case. This time Nelson had turned the topside viewer on.....
Finally Crane parked dockside. He was filthy and out of uniform.
He leaned wearily against the car.
Some things never change.
Crane opened the trunk and gingerly picked up one of the crates in it, but just as suddenly put it down. The XO took matters in hand and told the OOD to see Crane to Sickbay, the crates to stores, and that he, Morton, was going topside to take care of the Captain’s car.
“Just a sore back,” Frank explained to the anxious crew. “Shouldn’t affect him. He’s in his cabin, cleaning up. Denies he was on assignment though.”
“That does it,” Ski said, “He needs a keeper.”
“Agreed, but there’s blessed little you can do about it.”
“What is it Ski?” Crane asked, as Crane checked a pile of charts in his cabin. He’d changed quickly and was the picture of the confident, efficient Captain they were all so proud of.
“Uh, well, sir, how do I apply for ONI? To be a secret agent?
“Is this for real? Or is this some kind of joke you want to play on your pals?”
“It’s not a joke. I want to try. I really want to be a secr..Field agent, just like you sir.”
“Are you sure Ski?” Lee folded his hands on the desk, “You realize it’s a hazardous classification. Depending on the assignment, you might face death, dismemberment, torture, and...You even have to be willing to kill yourself to avoid capture...”
“I can’t say. But, if it was the right thing to do, save lives in the long run...yes sir, I’d be willing.”
Crane rose and clapped Ski on the shoulder, “I’ll get things rolling, then. If the Agency thinks you might fit the mold, they’ll get back to you...but even if you train and are certified, you could still end up in the mail room or as a file clerk, you know that, don’t you?”
“Well, okay, but...”
“And they could actually make you give up Seaview.. And I’d really hate to loose you.”
‘They haven’t made you give up Seaview sir.”
“Ah, well, I guess that’s 'cause I must have a few friends in high places,” Lee said light hearted, “like those guardian angels you all keep telling me are begging to get transferred away from me.”
“No sir. I think they consider it an honor to watch over you.”
Crane noticed that Ski wasn’t joking. So his ‘experience’ had affected the crewman too.
“Well, I don’t know about that, Ski, but thanks...here,” he finally found the appropriate form, “no hurry returning it. We won’t get a mailbag or hit a port for a couple of weeks on this one...then we’ll see.”
“Can you put a good word in for me sir?”
“Count on it.”
“Thank you Skipper...uh, sir?”
“I just wanted you to know I’m not mad at you anymore for making us take that Christmas mission or extending the Earhart one...it was the right thing to do, the Seaview thing to do...”
“Thank you Ski. Anything else?”
“Well, sir...there is one thing. Cookie said he kept Strawberries off the food stores list and...”
“Ahh, yes, Morton told me...already taken care of Ski. You’ll have your strawberry shortcake this cruise.”
“Thank you sir,” Ski said and then added, “Can I help you with the charts sir?”
“Actually I could use the help. Grab a seat...”
“Lee?” Morton interrupted at the door, “I uh...your car. It’s smashed up bad....”
“Are you okay?” Lee was up in a flash, and looked Chip over for any sign of injury as Ski called Doc.
“I’m fine, but it’s a total loss,” Morton said sadly.
“Forget it; I’m sure it was an accident Chip. Insurance will cover it...”
“I don’t think so, Lee,” Chip pulled what was left of the toy car from his pocket, and smirked, “‘sucker!’ Sorry, couldn’t’ resist. Anyway, oh go away Doc, false alarm,” he said the CMO who’d come running, “...it must’ve gotten stuck in one of the strawberry crate’s you brought from that Mission school in Fresno, and fallen out...I kinda drove over it...by the way, did you enjoy your time helping the good sisters of whatever it was?”
“Sisters of Charity and I had no choice. My mom visited the place before her flight back east, and since they needed some help, the roof was leaking all over the mosaics, I kind of got drafted....”
“And paid in strawberries,” Chip laughed. “Did they grow them themselves or buy them from some grocery?”
“I wouldn’t’ know, and I didn’t ask.”
“So, how’d you wrench your back?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Ohhh. Sounds interesting..”
“I know, I know, not in front of the crew. You can go Ski...”
“No, he can not go. We’re busy going over some details we need for the mission, and you, Mr. Morton need to take your mind out of the gutter..”
“Too bad, it was an interesting, if naughty place to wallow in...”
“Prepare to get get underway.”
“Aye aye, Skipper,”Chip grinned and got to work.
Halfway through the mission, Kowalski got a page to see the Captain in the Observation Nose. It was with a little trepidation that he climbed down the spiral steps to be met by Nelson, Morton, and Crane.
“I belive this is for you Ski,” Crane handed him an official looking message.
“You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, Ski, no one will think the less of you if you decline it. The decision’s yours.”
Kowalski took a deep breath and looked at the Captain, “I’d be proud to join the Agency sir. Damn proud.”
“Well, then, Secret Agent Man,” Nelson handed him a drink, “bottoms up, and congratulations.”
“That’s for sure,” Morton added, “we need somebody to keep an eye on Lee.”
“I’m sure Tolliver didn’t apply just to babysit me...but even if he did, I’m proud of you Ski, very proud,” Crane said.
“Thank you sir,” Kowalski barely managed to say, so overwhelmed by it all.
“Meet me in my cabin in an hour,” Crane said, “and we’ll begin going over the outline for your training...”
“I really do need looking after sometimes. Back up can be the difference between success and failure...I’ll be glad to have you at my side.”
“Thank you sir...”Ski found he couldn’t reallly say anymore, choked up more from the Skipper’s faith in him than the hard liquor, and quickly climbed back up the stairs.
“You think he’ll be able to handle it Lee?”Nelson asked.
Lee dusted off a little of the holiday glitter stuck in the log. There certainly had been a few very eventful events since the holidays, Lee pondered as he finished writing up the log later that night. They’d returned a king to his country to avoid a war; he’d patched two roofs that actually kept rain out. Fixed a toilet, given a cat a home, and been partially responsible for the creation of a new search method in undersea archeology. Had maybe glimpsed Heaven, and his mother, though hesitant about a real commitment with Nelson and vise vera would probably go ahead and get hitched if etiher got over the fact that it would make Nelson his step father. Seaview had new wiring job and a coat of paint. Ski might become a partner in special ops, or even go off on his own in the future with the Agency, Chip was his usual supportive and pigheaded self.....big things, little things, minor, major, all threaded together in the tapestry that was his life aboard Seaview. Lee’s mind suddenly went back to something he’d heard someplace....’where there is despair, sow hope’, ‘where there is evil, sow good’, and ‘where there is hate, sow love.’ Philosophies his father and mother had lived by. Words he knew he tried to live by. Word’s Nelson and Chip and his whole crew put in action by merely being aboard Seaview and doing their job. His mind wandered back to the valley in which he’d seen mankind at peace....Heaven or Earth, it would come to pass for real, someday...and Lee found himself dreaming of singing flowers, talking strawberries, and an old knarled tree and wondered when he’d return.
Note: The Zartarian Agency is ficticious. Any similarity to a real organization by this name is pure coincidence.