I’ve Got a Secret
By Carol aka Catfish Foss
No doubt Nelson would have his hide when he found out. And find out no doubt he would. Sooner or later, at least, Crane smirked at the helm of the Flying Sub on Christmas Eve. So much for NIMR and Seaview’s ‘increased security’.
It hadn’t been a test, but Lee knew he could use the excuse to his advantage. For borrowing the Flying Sub for a personal errand was not included, as far as he knew, on the list of perks for the Captain of the Seaview.
It had all been so simple. Only a skeleton staff remained at NIMR and aboard Seaview dockside during the holiday leave. The boat was pretty much shut down, only the coffee pot remaining ‘on duty’ for the few men of the shore watch assigned to baby sit her. Their meals were reduced to fast food they brought along with them, or sending someone to the reduced hours Cafeteria to supplement things.
It had been all too easy to sneak aboard when he’d arranged for a visit from a Dept. Store ‘Santa’ to make a surprise visit to the ‘men in uniform’. The Captain had arranged for his clearance weeks previously, so the jolly old elf’s stamped ‘visitor’s pass gained him immediate acceptance as he distracted the men with eggnog and brownies. Granted, they were packaged, but he knew about Grady’s passion for them, and O’Toole’s predilection for eggnog, even if it was nonalcoholic. Presents of pizza and hot chocolate augmented the specialties. So with the men otherwise occupied, Lee had found it easy to slip past them as they chatted with Santa dockside. Technically, by leaving the boat, they were guilty of dereliction of duty, but it was pretty doubtful anyone could sneak aboard past them, except for Lee that was.
So with an empty boat, Lee had climbed into the Flying Sub and ever so gently bypassed the controls that would signal an intruder up to no good. With the men ashore, they wouldn’t feel the vibrations of the nesting hatch opening and closing as he launched the vehicle, her exterior and interior lights off.
Creeping the Flying Sub away into the harbor on instruments hadn’t been all that easy as he scraped her starboard side against some of the ‘sea wall rocks’ that Santa Barbara had made using construction debris , an effort to stave off some wave damage when the weather got rough. Still, he’d never hear the end of it, the Captain of all people, scratching the paint. But perhaps he could use this to his advantage as well. He’d long ago told Nelson he wanted to see the Flying Sub in a bright Corvette Red. Nelson had been adamant that ‘no way in hell’ would that ever happen. Still, if she needed paint and all that was available in the paint shop was red…he’d have to figure out how to hide all the other cans…how could Nelson refuse? A stop gap measure for sure, but oh wouldn’t she be beautiful…
Brought back to the present, Lee checked the time. Yes, everyone back at Santa Barbara and elsewhere must still be snug in their beds with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, but not for much longer, as Lee headed the Flying Sub a bit closer to home, her mission accomplished.
Still in the fatigues he’d worn for the occasion, he could still hear in his mind the soft rendition of ‘Silent Night’ by the SEALS and the crew of the SSN Atlantis, welcomed as one of their own, not to mention by the sub’s Skipper, both pleased and confused as to how the Captain of the Seaview knew where and what they were up to, or that anyone cared, or why he’d bring any gifts. All ONI and ComSubPac had said when radioed by the sub’s Captain, was that Crane had the appropriate security clearance, and they’d deal with him later.
Along with a plethora of holiday goodies, the most cherished gifts Crane had borne were cards and letters from home. While most mail would normally have had to wait or be delivered by Navy chopper, Lee had apparently finagled his way into delivering the Atlantis’ mail in the Flying Sub. ‘Why’, the powers that be had asked. “Why not?” Lee had answered their question with a question.
Later one of the men aboard, at Lt. Cmdr. and not a Seal, but on assignment as a liaison with ONI, had taken Crane aside as he prepared to return to the Flying sub docked on the topside hatch.
“You didn’t have to do this.”
“Does Nelson know?” Joe raised an eyebrow.
“No. You going to tell him?”
“I wonder what your life expectancy would be if I did.”
“Thanks. I’ll tell him, but I’m not quite sure how to tell him, yet.”
“And Lee? Thanks. And Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, and to all a good night, ” Lee called out as he disappeared . In minutes FS1 was airborne, Atlantis and her mission just as ‘invisible’ to prying ears and eyes as ever, except to one Lee Crane , of course.
In the dawn’s early light, the lights of NIMR flickered closer and Lee wondered if he should make a stealth approach the same way he’d departed but the ‘welcoming committee’ with folded arms and tapping feet he saw on the magnification lens had apparently made secrecy a moot point. Not for him a few hours safely aboard the quiet Seaview to figure out what to tell the boss.
Making an smooth as ever water landing, Lee guided the Flying Sub to her special dockside berth, hardly ever used, but practical as he’d have to tell Nelson about the scratched paint sooner or later…
“Lee?” a voice cut through on the radio.
“You’re up early, Chip. What do you want?”
“Me? A good night’s sleep without being on alert as to a stolen Flying Sub. Did you know the police were involved?”
“Uh, sorry about that…”
“Then ONI contacted us.”
“They did, huh?”
“The SecNav wasn’t pleased either.”
“The SecNav’s never pleased.”
“Nelson wants to see you. He’s already in his office, waiting.”
“Yeah, and if you value your continued employment , you’d better get a move on. Er…did you scratch the paint? I’ve got a report here from the dock crew that you’ve got a great big scratch on her starboard side.”
“Oh that…well, you see…”
“Never mind. My orders are to get you to Nelson. Now hurry up. You can put in the earplugs I’ve got for you on the way.”
“What do you think!”
“I’ll be right up,” Lee clicked the radio off and powered down, “Do a little favor and and what do you get in return…”Lee sighed.
What staff and crew were on duty cast worried looks as Crane and Morton headed to the Administration Building. It was bad enough that Crane had apparently taken the Flying Sub out for a joy ride without approval, but worse, what if he’d been out on ‘assignment’ as the fatigues seemed to indicate? Nelson had already had a cow, as the saying went. What, oh what, was he going to do to the Captain?
“That’ll be all Chip,” Nelson said, “please, close the
door behind you.”
“Sir,” Chip answered and patted Lee’s arm sympathetically before retreating.
Nelson was in rumpled civies, and hadn’t bothered to shave. Lee wondered if he’d even been to bed and began to regret his secrecy about his little escapade.
“Remove the earplugs Lee. They wouldn’t work anyway, that’s how angry I am,” he said, dangerously quiet.
“Sir,” Lee removed them and placed them in the clean ash tray Nelson offered.
“Do you have any idea how worried we’ve been?”
“Yes, damn it!”
“I’d have thought upset, but worried?” Lee asked, confused.
“Well, who else could have taken her out? There are only so many people who know how to fly her, and they were all accounted for!”
“Let me finish, will you! The police nearly charged you with ‘grand theft Flying Sub’! But then we discovered you were seen at the gate last night in fatigues. What the hell were we supposed to think! To top it off we couldn’t trace FS1. You turned the tracker off, didn’t you. Even the launch signal aboard Seaview was over-ridden! A full scale little operation of yours wasn’t it? Involved Santa too! And then…then, ” Nelson glared, “we get a call from Jiggs Starke. He tells me that he got a call from the Atlantis! There you were asking permission to dock with her and come aboard! He didn’t know what to say. Except to verify who you were and left it up to the Captain.”
“Then,” Nelson ran a hand through his hair, “Then, we get a call from ONI. Seems the only thing they knew about it or so they said, was that your buddy Joe Jackson was on some operation with the Seals on the same sub! I was ready to ring the director and Joe’s neck involving you on some clandestine operation without so much as a please or thank you on my part!”
“I’m not finished! Then,” Nelson poured himself a generous helping of Scotch, “then, I get a radio call from Atlantis. Here, read it.”
The communique was brief and to the point. A simple thank you to NIMR for remembering them and the special air mail delivery of candy, brownies, fruitcake, tinned ham and their Christmas cards and letters by one Capt. Lee Crane and the Flying Sub.
“Now, I want to know, Lee. Is that all it was? It wasn’t some blasted James Bond operation with your brother in crime and the SEALS?”
“I just wanted to make their Christmas a little less lonely, that’s all. I swear I hadn’t planned it….but when everyone was gone for the holidays and I remembered he’d told me about being aboard Atlantis for Christmas, I figured…why not? I know you can fire me for this, but I used the time to put the Flying Sub through some diagnostics…we’d have had to do that soon anyway… I’m sorry about the subterfuge…I should have cleared it with security at least…I should have told you…asked you,” he corrected himself, “I’m sorry Admiral.”
“There’s something else, isn’t there, Lad?”
“Huh? Oh,” Crane took a breath and sat on the edge of Nelson’s desk. “I uh, kind of, well, er…I scratched the paint. Great big scrape along her starboard side..got it from the sea wall..I was on instruments….”
“You know, Lad, I might just buy that if it weren’t for the fact that you’ve flown instruments more times than I can count. Jack tells me she’ll need a new paint job. It’s not a simple patch job, is it.”
“No sir. It really was an accident....”
“Very well. I accept your version. There’s just one problem.”
“The paint shop inventory is down to one color. Apparently what we had in blue, and yellow, were already used to paint the children’s center at the Aquarium. Some time ago actually. I probably never got around to telling you…a lapse on my part, no doubt. Which leaves us only one color left.”
“Which is?” Lee asked, almost sadly. The only other color he knew of in that might be in the paint shop was black, which his baby wouldn't like very much, and certainly not him.
“Red?” Lee asked, incredulous.
“Yes, Corvette Red, I believe they call it….enjoy it while you can Lee. It’s only temporary. Merry Christmas!” Nelson rose to embrace Lee with a hug, “But Next time you want to borrow the Flying Sub, however, you will let me know about it, or at least Chip. He’s getting tired of buying earplugs. Now, how about some breakfast. I hear Perkins has a Christmas morning special. Morton’s paying.“
As the two headed out of the office, Lee noticed the quickly written RUSH stamps on the orders to repaint the Flying Sub and the aquarium. Both were dated this very morning.