It was past midnight so I was surprised by
the call. Immediate fears were quickly put aside by the fact that I didn’t recognize the number on the screen.
“Sir? It’s Sharkey. Are you okay?”
“What? I’m fine. Are you drunk?”
“No sir…well, not much…it’s
just…Ski and the guys and I were havin’ ribs and beers and he got a call from the Skip to go over to his place,
right away he said. The kid said he sounded…nervous and upset. What could it be but that something’s happened
to you or Mr. Morton? We called him too, but he’s fine, so….”
“That left me. Well, I assure you I’m
fine. He didn’t tell Ski what it was all about?” I demanded.
“No,sir. Just that he had to see him,
a.s.a.p., he said. At his place. I don’t suppose you can call him?”
“You know me better than that, Chief.
If the Captain called Kowalski personally, it’s none of our business.”
“I’ll admit I’m curious,”
I acquiesced, “ But there’s a principle at stake here, Francis. You might want to pass that on to the rest of
the crew. Understood? Goodnight.” I ended the call. I know I’d been a bit curt, but I didn’t want the men
invading Lee’s personal space even though I sure as hell wanted to. He’d
never forgive us if we did.
‘His place’ , I pondered. Lee had kept his old apartment, for as much as he and Miss Hale pretty much lived
together at hers, he liked having a place to go to to unwind at times. Alone.
Away from any feminine distraction. But this? They’d had arguments before. And gotten through the night in spite of
them. (Of course, that was water-cooler gossip. I did not, as a rule, ask Lee any such personal questions) Was whatever this
was, some kind of irreconcilable difference?
And what had Ski to do with it? Of course,
my supposition might have been incorrect, but I was on edge.
I did the only thing I could. I dressed, and
drove to his place. My plan? A kind of stake out. Nab Ski when he came out and
ask him what it was all about. Sneaky? Yes. Ethical? No. But this was Lee. And I was worried.
Apparently Chip was too, if I recognized his
car parked near the all night convenience store on the corner.
In the end I joined him in his car, and we
waited. And waited. It was 0230 when Kowalski finally emerged and the lights showing from Lee’s apartment windows went
“Damn!” Ski yelped as we practically
accosted him at his car door,” You nearly gave me a heart attack!”
“What’d he want?” Chip demanded.
“Oh, the Skip? Uh…I can’t
“You- can’t- tell- us?”
Morton asked dangerously.
“I kinda’ promised not to say
a word, sir. In case Miss Lola found out...I mean…er..”
“Too late. Out with it,” Chip
“Oh shit, sir…I mean…if
he finds out I told you…if she finds out what I told him….”
“He can’t hold anything against
you if we ordered you to talk, “ I said gently.
so, in brief, Ski explained that his Skipper needed a course in FemThink 101, or ‘how not to get yourself kicked out
of your girlfriend’s bedroom’.
Flabbergasted that Lee hadn’t had a
clue about self- preservation in how to respond to her loaded question about body image, Chip just shook his head and started
“It ain’t funny sir,” Ski
came to Crane’s defense, “I mean, he may know all the right moves about getting’ to 3rd base
and such, but he’s kind of ignorant ‘bout how to stay there.”
“And you advised him what to do?” Chip asked, incredulous.
“Well, I know about dames, sir. I really
do. I told him that you always gotta’ answer a broad with what they want to hear, not what they should hear. Or you’re gonna’ end up in trouble.
Like tonight. She kicked him out…at least from the bedroom. Told him to
go play house with somebody else. He..well…he kind of asked me ‘bout some other stuff too…like when’s
it time to call it off or…”he hesitated.
“Or?” I prodded.
“Or like when it’s time to get married.”
“Hallelujah!” I actually clapped
“Shhhh. You want to wake him up?”
“Call me old fashioned, but it’s
about time he’s seriously thinking about it! Do you think he’s going to ask her soon, Ski?”
“Well, sir, he really doesn’t
know what he wants yet, sir. That’s why he’s gonna’ ask you what
he should do, tomorrow on the golf course.”
“He trusts your judgment, sir.”
“Am I correct in assuming you put that idea into his head, Ski? About asking me, not my judgment.”
“He kinda’ came to that conclusion
all on his own, sir. It’s gettin’ late. I gotta’ get goin.. Oh, and Mr. Morton? Remember Miss Angie and
Miss Lola are expecting you to treat them to breakfast tomorrow.”
“Long story sir. They’re going
to help with the contest. As chaperones.”
I nearly gagged. Angie, anywhere within a
hundred miles of a beauty contest? Lola? Well, perhaps…though she usually took Angie’s side on most things.
“It’s a PR thing. I had to use
a little bribery… a coin toss decided on the pancake place. They’re always open, so there’s plenty of time
before we have to be at the convention center. Don’t worry sir. I won’t bill it to NIMR.”
“Ah well, then, it seems as though you
have things well in hand.”
“Uh, sir?” Ski hesitated.
“Yes, Kowalski. Breakfast is on me too.”
“Yes sir! See you at 0700!”
“Chip, I’m not meeting Lee until
a bit later at the golf course…I don’t suppose…”
“No problem, sir. Come hungry!”
Three hours. Three hours and my alarm would
signal the start of a new day, though mine had begun some time ago with Sharkey’s call.
Looking forward to Saturday's pancakes, bacon,
and pure Vermont Maple Syrup, not to mention the anticipation of watching Chip as host judge on TV later that night , I knew
I was sure to fall asleep quickly.
I wasn’t sure if Lee would.