The Wetting Down
By R. L. Keller
Lee heard a long, low, pain-filled groan, but had no idea where it was coming from. Everything was dark and he could see nothing around him. He wasn’t even sure he knew where he was or how he got here – wherever ‘here’ was. It took another indeterminable period of time, accented with several more groans, for Lee to realize that he couldn’t see because his eyes were closed, and he struggled to rectify the situation. As light hit his brain there came the loudest groan so far, and slowly he determined that he himself had made it. He spent a horrible few moments trying desperately to remember where he was, what was happening, and why he had an incredible urge to distance the rest of his body from his aching head. Oh yeah, his fogged-in brain finally sorted through the murk and pulled up the answer. Jerry’s Wetting Down.
When Seaview had docked 5 days earlier, there had been a message waiting for him and Chip from Jerry Levin that Jerry’s promotion to full Commander had just come through, and the party was on. The three, along with Tim Hughes, had gone through Annapolis together in the same squad. They’d stayed in touch over the years, even though Jerry had joined JAG and Tim, after an injury, had left the Navy to run a Bed and Breakfast with his wife on the coast of Oregon. A gregarious man, always well liked wherever he was stationed, Jerry had made and kept a lot of friends over the years. Lee learned from Tim when he called that the Wetting Down – the unofficial celebration for friends put on by the person getting the promotion – was going to be huge. Jerry was stationed in San Diego at the moment, but from what Tim had heard, friends were flying in from all over to join the festivities. So many had RSVP’d that the party was threatening to get too big for the back room in the downtown bar Jerry had reserved for the night. Both Lee and Chip were already licking their chops at the chance to see all their old buddies – and harass their friend! Chip in particular had been stocking up on lawyer jokes.
It was decided that Tim would fly into Santa Barbara a day early and drive down with Lee and Chip. It would mean taking Chip’s car, since three in Lee’s small sports car wouldn’t work. But it would give Tim a chance to see Seaview and allow the three friends more time to visit.
Another groan escaped as Lee made the decision to once again open his eyes. He couldn’t remember a time his head hurt worse than it did right now – although, to be honest, right now he wasn’t remembering much of anything very clearly. Ever so slowly he turned his head and looked around him, trying to put the few fragments he could remember into reasonable order.
Tim had flown in Thursday evening and spent the night at Lee’s, then Friday morning Lee and Chip had given him a tour of Seaview before taking off right after lunch for San Diego. Tim had snagged the front passenger seat with a quip about "senior officers in the back, ‘driver’ and ‘security’ in front."
To which Lee had commented dryly as he settled in the back seat, "As it should be," and all three laughed heartily.
The three friends spent the drive down catching up. Warned the night before, Tim was prepared when Lee asked how Lacey was doing. The two shared a private grin as Chip demanded further information on who he, and everyone else at the Institute who knew the story, assumed was Lee’s new girlfriend.
"Come on, pal, give," Chip demanded. "Lee won’t introduce his new lady friend to anyone at the Institute, but shows her off to you?"
Both Tim and Lee burst out laughing, and Lee answered. "Down, Chip. She’s not my lady friend. Well," and he chuckled as he winked at Tim, "she is a friend, and definitely a lady."
"And you have to admit, Lee," Tim chimed in, "she is a looker," and both men sighed heavily. "Tell you what," Tim finally took pity on Chip, "you come up for a visit and Annie and I will introduce you."
"Really?" Chip grinned and snuck a peek at Lee. "You wouldn’t mind?"
Lee groaned dramatically. "I told you, Chip, she’s not my lady friend. If you can get her to go out with you, go for it," and he and Tim shared another knowing smile as Chip smirked.
Lee chuckled again at the memory, then grabbed his head as it threatened to shatter into a zillion pieces. Damn. I didn’t hurt this bad after ODing that night on painkillers at Tim and Annie’s place. Somehow he managed to sit up, and a few more pieces fell into place as he finally recognized where he was. With so many out-of-town friends coming, Jerry had scrounged up as many visitor accomodations as he could, and Lee, Chip, and Tim had ended up in a two-bedroom bungalow. Very carefully, trying to keep the pounding in his head to something under 9.5 on the Richter scale, he swung his legs around and sat on the edge of the bed.
The Wetting Down itself had been a rousing success, or at least that was the impression Lee was left with. Actual memories of the event were few and far between. All told there were almost 70 guests at the party. The alcohol and appetizers had flowed steadily – unfortunately! Lee’s head was living – well, sort of – proof. He vaguely remembered the Airedales in the group, the Navy pilots, organizing a round of "Carrier Quals" once a good part of the food was gone. A couple tables were pushed together end to end, lubricated with some cooking oil swiped from the kitchen, and the participants stripped down to shorts, socks and t-shirts. The object was to take a running start, dive onto the ‘carrier deck’, and glide safely to the end without falling off. Glancing down at himself, Lee decided he’d managed not to get suckered in. But he did think he had memories of a familiar blond getting up too much of a head of steam and go sailing off the end and into the wall. He’d better remember to assign Chip a refresher course before letting him take FS1 out again.
Speaking of whom, and Lee stood up – and immediately sat back down. Another groan escaped before he could gather enough determination to stand – slowly – and make his way to the head. Refusing to look at his reflection in the mirror, he somehow managed to strip without falling over, and levered himself into the shower. A cry drowned itself in the stream of cold water that hit him and he stood braced against the back wall of the shower stall, the only thing holding him upright, as a few more memories of the night before floated by.
At one point in the evening, as he’d wandered around the room visiting, he’d walked up to a group which included Chip and Jerry just in time to hear his XO apparently at the tail end of a story.
"The entire time we were at the Academy, the scariest three words to be uttered by one Lee B. Crane were ‘Now, that’s odd.’ Remember, Jerry? Next thing we’d all know we’d be up to our necks in tracking down some problem or another. And it hasn’t changed much. He’s still got a knack for finding trouble, and claiming it ‘isn’t his fault’."
At that point Lee had laid a hand on Chip’s shoulder. "Lieutenant," he said firmly, "and which two squad mates was it I had to cover for the night they decided that the new computer technician, Gunnery Sgt. Patricia Cheney, needed to have a nice bouquet of flowers on her desk, and we all got up the next morning to discover half of the Commandant’s wife’s flower garden had been decapitated?" He was pleased to see sheepish expressions on both Chip’s and Jerry’s faces.
But Chip interrupted the chuckles of the rest of the group. "Ah, Lee, that’s Lt. Commander," he corrected firmly.
"For the moment," Lee had commented in his best command voice.
Even memories of the resulting laughter made Lee’s eyeballs hurt, but he finally decided he might be alive – not totally sure, but willing to give it a try. He turned off the cold water, wrapped a towel around his waist, and headed for the kitchen to make coffee. Poking his head into the other bedroom just to make sure his friends had made it back with him, he was relieved to see that there was indeed a lump under the covers on the bed. Walking over to check, the lump turned out to be Chip. Yep, definitely a refresher course as he ran a hand across his XO’s oily t-shirt, and dropped the blanket back over Chip’s head.
There was another body sprawled on the couch in the living room. Its back was to Lee, but considering it was brunette, Lee assumed it to be Tim. But what the hell?… and Lee took a few steps closer. On top of Tim’s head lay something it took Lee a few foggy moments to recognize. I know I presented that to Jerry. How did Tim end up with it, and who used tartar sauce to frost it? At some point the previous night Chip had decided that a third stripe was not sufficient recognition of Jerry’s promotion, and had stuck three onion rings together with toothpicks and convinced an already fairly well sloshed Lee to preside over a presentation. Banging for the attention of the rowdy partygoers, Lee had made them form a double line with him at one end and Jerry at the other – shoved there by Tim. With ‘crown’ held high, Lee had motioned Jerry forward through the honor guard to accept his ‘jewels of the office’. At first reluctant, Jerry had finally acceded to the cheers of his ‘subjects’, giggled Ok, you’re the Skipper, and made his way to the ‘coronation’. But Lee was positive there hadn’t been any tartar sauce on it when he’d placed it on Jerry’s head. And how the hell did Tim end up with it? Shaking his head – and immediately regretting the motion – Lee grabbed the now soggy mess and headed once more toward the kitchen.
Once there he opened the cabinet under the sink and tossed the ‘crown’ in the garbage, at the same time spotting a can of bug spray among the other odds and ends stored there. That’s it! and he grimaced. He’d been trying to decide what the taste was in his mouth, and finally identified it. Ah, hold it, and he reached down for the can. He had a vague notion of having searched for a can of soda at some point – although he had no idea whether it was before the Wetting Down or after. No, the seal’s still on it - whew! and he put it back, beginning a search through the upper cupboards for coffee.
Halfway through his third cup – extra strong – Lee decided he might actually be alive. Maybe. Sort of. Suddenly there was a thump from the living room. Lee poured out a second mug of the dark brew and headed in that direction. Tim was sitting on the floor in front of the couch, apparently having fallen off. His head was clutched firmly between his hands. Lee could sympathize. Even the sounds of the coffeemaker had threatened to break his own skull in half. Lee pried one hand off the sufferer’s head and put the mug into it.
Tim looked up cautiously. "Thanks," he mouthed, and grabbed the mug with both hands.
"You’re welcome," Lee mouthed back, and headed toward Chip’s room. Time to wake the dragon.
Stopping first to exchange the towel he was still wearing for sweatpants and a t-shirt, Lee pulled the covers off his friend. Giving him a shove got absolutely no response. Lee tried his best command voice – at least, as close as he could get under the circumstances – and said "Mr. Morton, front and center!"
Chip raised his head a fraction, mumbled, "Ok, you’re the Skipper," and flopped back down, totally out again.
Heaving a huge sigh – and another groan – Lee picked Chip up and dumped him, clothes and all, into the shower. Turning on the cold water, he left Chip sitting on the shower floor and closed the curtain. Past experience told him Chip would surface eventually, but it was safer not to be too close when he did.
Tim was still sitting on the living room floor, from the angle of the mug just about in need of a refill, so Lee headed once more to the kitchen to start a fresh pot. Just as he passed the table his cell phone, which he had absolutely no memory of leaving there, went off, and he grabbed it as fast as he could before a second ring could shatter his eyeballs. It did, however, take several more seconds for him to get out "Crane", and in the meantime he heard a soft chuckle.
"Successful Wetting Down, I take it," Nelson continued to laugh softly.
"Yes, Sir," Lee croaked out. He was grateful the Admiral kept his voice fairly low as he continued.
"You know I’m a firm believer in the upholding of Navy traditions," Nelson said seriously.
"I’m sure you’d have been proud of us," Lee tried hard to sound his usual authoritative self.
"Chip and Hughes?"
"Present and accounted for – at least their bodies," and Lee heard a snort of humor on the other end of the line.
"Wouldn’t have bothered you, but Security just alerted me. Chip’s car was ticketed by San Diego police this morning, and towed."
Lee finally looked at a clock – 1440 hours. "Damn," snuck out before he could stop it. "If memory serves me correctly, the parking lot was full when we got to the bar so Chip parked on the street. I do know we took a cab back to the base – I think," he added hesitantly, and heard Nelson chuckle again.
"Do you need someone to come down and drive you home?"
"No, Sir!" Lee was mortified. He’d never hear the end of it if one of the crew had to come get the three of them. "I’ll take care of it."
Nelson said carefully, "I believe you mentioned not being back in the office until Tuesday morning?"
Lee remembered no such thing, but under the circumstances… "Sounds good to me, Sir," and listened to another chuckle.
"Ok, you’re the Skipper."
Lee heaved a huge sigh. "Sir," he admitted sheepishly, "right this instant, I don’t think I could Skipper a rowboat in a swimming pool." He hung his head as Nelson laughed heartily.
"Ahh," the Admiral finally got out. "That good a Wetting Down." Lee was about to respond when there was a screech from the direction of the head, which abruptly ended in a low moan. "What was that?"
"Sounds like Chip’s awake," Lee answered with another sigh. "I stuffed him in the shower a little while ago."
"Well, Lee. You’ve never let me down. I trust you to get yourself and your ‘crew’ home safely. See you Tuesday."
"Do my best, Sir." Shaking his head – carefully – he went off to check on his charges.