I have a beta in the wonderful Liz Martin. She has helped me make this story much smoother. Any bad parts are mine; give Liz credit for the good parts as I give her thanks for all of it. I would also like to thank Carol aka Catfish for her tremendous help with the re-write. I felt like she gave me a writing lesson and thank her for it.
Lee Crane sat carefully erect in the straight-backed chair and concentrated on not fidgeting. He really wished he could get up and walk about the room. Anything to relieve the desire to tap his foot or run his hand through his hair. He knew he had only been waiting ten minutes, but it felt like an eternity. It was difficult not to look at his watch again. Only a minute or so had passed since the last time. Just relax, he told himself. This waiting was really no different then being on lookout Relax and let time pass through, keeping his eyes open, of course. This too will pass.
He had been so excited and relieved when he was accepted to the
Naval Academy. Everything had worked out according to his plan. Five years of
studying and thinking about how to reach his goal, and then this happened.
What was a ‘Supplemental Interview’ anyway? Could he lose his appointment if he failed it? The two weeks since he’d received the letter about this had been endless.
He’d talked to Captain Hughes about it at their March Trans-Pacific planning meeting. The Captain suggested it might just be a follow-up to his application and told him not to worry. So Lee had thanked him and kept worrying about it anyway. That worry had reached a crescendo of anxiety on this morning's seemingly endless train ride out to the Navy Recruiting Center on Long Island.
Time passed; five minutes and then ten minutes more. The door opened. Lee remained as relaxed as he could as he watched the naval officer enter the room, a Lt. Commander in khakis, not a dress uniform, so this was a fairly informal interview. No other applicant had left, unless there was another door into the inner room. So, why the long wait? This alone was disheartening.
"Mr. Crane, we're ready for you now," the officer said, giving the youngster a careful, neutral smile. "This way please."
Lee judged him to be in his thirties, but knew he was a poor judge of age. Not old, at least Lee decided, sort of a good age actually. Certainly, he carried the uniform well, naturally and with confidence. Lee had seen the Annapolis class ring on his finger. Something he had begun checking for on all of the naval officers he met, since he had decided to make the Navy his career. Yeah, the ring wearers knew how to carry the uniform.
Lee stood up, giving his tailored dark blue jacket a quick
jerk to settle it into place as he followed the older man into the inner
office. He tried to look relaxed while quickly scanning the new room, no reason
to start out by looking nervous, even if he was.
There weren’t any other doors, so he doubted if there had been other interviews ahead of him, and it had been a twenty-minute wait. Were they deliberately trying to make him anxious? Were they sitting around, drinking coffee and shooting shit while the Lee Cranes of the world melted into pools of anxiety. The War College guys had joked about him having to get used to the ‘hurry up and wait’ that was inevitable in the Navy if he was accepted.
This inner room contained a long table at which two other uniformed men sat. "Please sit down,” the man sitting at the center of the table said, indicating a chair set alone in the middle of the room facing the table. Lee's guide walked around the table to take the third vacant seat at the end as the speaker continued. "I'm Captain Nelson. This is Commander Weston and Lt. Commander O'Toole,” he indicated first a dark haired Commander and then Lee's guide, now seated at the table.
"I know this can be a bit intimidating, but please try and relax. From time to time we do post-acceptance interviews. The result of this interview will not affect your admission to the Academy. You have been accepted and will start in July with your Plebe Summer. We just have a few questions to clarify a couple of items in your application that caught the interest of the Admissions Department," Captain Nelson continued in a not unkind, albeit very business like voice.
"If you don't understand any question or wish us to
explain something more fully please ask for clarification." Nelson looked
at him as if a response was required.
"Yes, sir," Lee said, pleased that his voice sounded fairly normal. At least he managed to get the two words out without running his hand through his hair or tapping his foot. All was not lost yet.
He could see that each man had a single file folder open before him on the table. His application, Lee assumed. This certainly seemed like a high-powered group, a Captain and two Commanders. He wondered what was in his application that had caught their unwanted attention.
"I see that you received your Letter of Assurance in September. Congratulations Mr. Crane, nice job," Captain Nelson said attempting to put the young man at ease with a kindly bit of praise.
"Thank you, sir," Lee said careful to make eye contact as he spoke much as he would like to have kept his eyes firmly fixed on the floor. Don't fidget, he reminded himself; sit up straight; don't slouch.
"I see that you have also scored 800 on your SATs. Your academic credentials are certainly excellent. St. Alban's has quite a reputation as a prep school and you’re graduating at sixteen, likely as valedictorian. You’re fortunate that you’ll have reached the minimum age of 17 prior to July first. I’m sure you’re anxious to start this summer instead of waiting until next year. You could certainly have your choice of any Ivy League college. Now, can you tell us why you have selected the Naval Academy?"
Finally getting to a question, Lee thought, here goes. “Well, sir, I decided on the Navy when I was eleven years old. Naturally, the Academy was the logical place to start.”
“Naturally,” Nelson answered, but did not look amused.
Damn, what moron would apply to Annapolis if it weren’t logical?
"And why do you want a career in the Navy, Mr. Crane?" Commander Weston asked him.
Okay, good, Lee
though, a second chance to answer the
question. He decided on a longer answer, more personal information this time.
Captain Hughes had said to be sure and give full
answers, knowing Lee's penchant for sharing as little information as possible
about himself and his life. The Captain had told him that personal questions
would require personal answers.
"My family owns a summer home in Newport, RI. I learned to sail and dive there, and have spent the past five years crewing on various boats, including the last four crewing for the Skipper…er…Captain Hudson Hughes." Lee paused running the rest of his answer quickly through his head to make sure it wasn't too long or convoluted. It was a complicated question. Why did someone want to live his or her life in a certain way, why was it so hard to give quick answers? "Captain Hughes is an instructor at the Naval War College in Newport," Lee continued.
"I think we all know who Captain Hughes is," Nelson interrupted, a slight smile on his face.
Yes, Lee supposed they did all know. After all, he had skippered the winning Trans-Pacific yacht last two years, the only serving Naval officer to ever win the Trans-Pacific. Yeah, they knew who Hughes was, all right. Damn it, that was stupid, Crane. This obviously wasn't going very well.
"Yes, Sir," Lee said trying not to look up at the
ceiling for inspiration.
. Don't get distracted by specifics, keep the answer succinct, he
reminded himself. Now, how not to sound suck up, Lee
wondered. "We spent a lot of time sailing but swimming and diving, too. It
seemed to me to be a good way to spend your life, sir. Serving your country, doing something of
value. I’d like to do that."
"So you started crewing for Captain Hughes when you
were about twelve?" Commander O'Toole asked, with just a touch of
Lee hesitated, not sure how much to elaborate, "Captain Hughes doesn't just race the big blue water races, sir; he does a lot of inshore racing and just plain sailing as well. Sometimes on weekdays and weeknights it's hard to find crews. I was part of the crew pool at the Newport Yacht Club and got a chance to crew for the Skipper…ah Captain Hughes, when he couldn't fill his crew. I just sort of became a regular." Lee almost winced as that ’sort of’ came out. He wasn't sure why Captain Hughes had made him a regular part of his crew. But four years later Captain Hughes and the Thetis II were the center around which he had built his life.
"I see, so you've spent quite a bit of your free time sailing?" O'Toole asked.
"I usually go straight to Newport for summer vacation, and spend weekends there as much as I can, between September and when the racing season ends, usually in November." Yeah, he spent a lot of time in Newport. Anything to get out of the New York apartment, on the weekends; anything to get away from the Cranes. The long train ride to Providence on Friday nights got all of his homework done, and he sure never had any trouble sleeping on the trip back to school on Sunday after two days of hard sailing.
Most weekends he never even bothered to go to the Crane's empty summerhouse in Newport, just crashed on the boat with the Captain and any of the officers staying over for the next day's race. He often had dinner at the Beachcomber with them and several of the other crews, after which everyone, sated and tired, headed back to their boats, where they all sat and talked late into the night, the officers drinking beer but including him in their reminiscences and stories. Lee almost smiled as the answer reminded him of the best part of his life.
Lee briefly thought of the previous weekend's races, the first races of the season. The smooth operation of the boat; the coordination between the crew and the boat; the pleasure of the company of the men all striving for the same end; laughing and racing to beat the other boats and each other. They had returned to Newport late Sunday afternoon, cold and wet and victorious. The crew had thrown him into the harbor waters after they tied up, ‘to keep his plebian head from getting too big’. Lee caught himself actually smiling at that memory and quickly returned his face to a neutral look of inquiry.
"I see that Captain Hughes, Commander Winsted and Commander Leonard are listed on your application as references. They have all written very glowing letters endorsing your application. You certainly seem to have made a good impression on as much of the Navy as you have met so far," Nelson said, a bit dryly. Deciding that the remark was not a question and needed no response Lee said nothing.
"Are you still crewing for Captain Hughes?" O'Toole asked. "I understand he’s racing in the BMW/Trans Pacific again this summer; are you part of that crew?"
"Yes, sir. I am," Lee said simply hoping that he wasn't looking too proud but unable to prevent a small quirk of his lips. The Trans-Pacific. Two months of sailing in the Pacific. Yeah, it was hard not to think about that.
"You know that Plebe summer starts at the beginning of July?" O'Toole asked.
"We’ll be back by the middle of June."
O'Toole made no further comment but Lee could see him writing something on the pad in front of him. Was that good or bad?
"Certainly your sailing expertise is impressive Mr. Crane, but in as much as we don't rely much on sail power any more in the Navy, do you have any other skills you think might be useful?" Nelson asked with a touch of asperity as he glanced at O'Toole.
"I completed my certification as a Master Scuba Diver
"I see," Nelson made a small check on the application in front of him. "It seems you’ve make good use of your time at sea."
Guess that didn't impress them, Lee thought, a bit sadly. He’d worked hard for the certification; not only for his own enjoyment but also thinking it would look good on the application.
"Your application says you also box, Mr. Crane,"
"I’ve been competing in the Silver Gloves at the Brooklyn Boy’s Club and this year I'll be boxing in the New York Intercity Golden Gloves competition." Sure hope at least that sounded a bit manlier than I feel.
"You don't box at your school?" Weston asked.
"Ah.. no, sir," Lee hesitated, "I was boxing for my club before I went to St. Alban's and just continued to do so. My school doesn't have a Silver Gloves program."
Or much of boxing
program either. Don't go down that
road now, Crane, keep your eye on the main event, he reminded himself.
"What sport do you participate in at your school?" Weston continued.
Boxing, Lee thought sourly, thinking of all the fights he had had when he first arrived at St. Alban's, the new kid with the funny accent. "Track," he answered, "I run the 5000 and 10,000 meters."
"Are you good at it?" Weston asked.
"No very, but I compete and complete each race, sir.” All that upper body strength he needed for the boxing and sailing didn't make him particularly fast around the track, although the running certainly didn't do him any harm in the ring. Guess it’s a matter of priorities, he thought a tad snidely.
"Probably helps the boxing though," Weston said mirroring his thought so exactly that Lee almost smiled at him.
"Yes, sir. It sure does," Lee maintained his blank facial expression. These weren't his friends, no reason to be smiling at them.
"Certainly the athletic parts of your application are very impressive, Mr. Crane, and important in your success at the Academy. We are training men for a physical as well as an academic career," Nelson said. Again Lee couldn't quite read the tone of his voice. He didn't seem as open and pleased with Lee's answers as Weston and O'Toole had.
"I see on your application that you speak several foreign languages. I don't see them listed in your academic records from St. Alban's. It says on your application that you speak Spanish fluently. How is that? Nelson asked with a touch of disbelief.
Surely a lot of applicants spoke fluent Spanish without taking it in school, in this day and age. Lee almost sighed. They were going to get into this some how or other.
"I spent several years living in Sunset Park in Brooklyn with a Spanish speaking couple. The primary language in the area is Spanish, and my friends all spoke Spanish.” Lee feared this was not going to be the end of this line of questioning.
"Is that how you came to box for the 13th Avenue Boys Club in Brooklyn?" Weston asked. “A bit young, weren’t you?”
"I started when I was eight, so I guess so. I stayed with the club even after I moved to Central Park. It isn't that far from St. Alban's," Lee almost laughed thinking how far Sunset Park was from St. Alban's Academy. It only took 20 minutes on the trains to travel from one world to another, from one life to another.
"I see you also speak Pashto,” Nelson said, “Now I
believe you are the first applicant I have ever interviewed who claimed to
speak Pashto. Are you fluent in this language as well,
and how ever did you come to speak it at all?"
He thinks I lied! "I don't believe I would be mistaken for a native Pashto speaker, but the application form asked for any other language with which I was familiar, sir.”
"I see. Now, along with that, you also claim to be fluent in Arabic. You certainly have some of the languages most likely to intrigue the Navy," he finished dryly.
Yeah, he doesn't believe me, Lee thought. Maybe that was what this was about. Maybe it wasn't about the Cranes and all the foster homes. Maybe it was just curiosity about the languages. That would be good surely? But such an interest, a Captain and two Commanders to ask if he spoke Pashto? Don't think now, Crane, think later. Answer the question; don't be thinking about why they asked it; save that for later.
"I learned Pashto from our Pakistani housekeeper and her husband. I thought that a familiarity with this language would strengthen my application so I tried to learn as much as I could." Also gave me something to do, someone to talk to, Lee thought sourly, remembering all of the nights in Shamir's room talking to her in his rudimentary Pashto while the Cranes screamed and yelled down the hall in the living room, or reading the Koran in Pashto with Begar while Mrs. Crane drank herself senseless.
"You don’t believe you’re fluent, though?" Nelson asked.
"No, sir. I don't think so. I don't think I would be mistaken for a native speaker. I'm not familiar enough with the customs.”
Unexpectedly O'Toole asked Lee in Pashto if he could comfortably converse with a stranger in the language while appearing to be a native speaker.
Lee replied in the same language "Yes, sir. I believe I could, so long as the conversation was on a fairly casual basis."
"Your Pashto seems quite good to me," O'Toole continued in that language. "Can you read it?"
"Yes, sir, " Lee replied in Pashto. "I’ve read some poetry and the Koran."
"Is your Arabic as good as your Pashto?" O'Toole continued in Pashto.
"Better, sir. I’ve read more
Arabic and my cultural knowledge is broader.”
"How do you come to speak Arabic Mr. Crane?" O'Toole in English.
“My grandmother was an Egyptian immigrant.”
"I see," Nelson said making yet another short note in the file as Lee steeled himself for a follow up question. "Then you learned Arabic from her, then?
Lee knew this answer and carefully didn't think about it. He had been sure before the interview, that at some point, some how, this was going to be asked. They were going to want to know about this life. He had done the math so he wouldn't need to think about that day nine years ago. The day his grandmother had left him in the hospital lobby and told him he couldn't go home again. That he had to go away and never see any of them again. He didn't want to go down some old, dark avenue of memory in the middle of this interview so he answered quickly and tried to change the topic.
Lee ignored the who did he learn Arabic from question. He didn't want to go into the whole thing about his dead mother and living with his grandparents until his grandfather had sent him away. If they wanted to know about the Arabic he would tell them about the good parts and skip the sad parts, if they would let him. "I had pretty well forgotten it all until I spent a semester abroad last year in Cairo. I must have remembered quite a bit as I picked it up again pretty easily," pleased to think about what had been a very happy time for him.
"And how good is your Arabic?" Nelson asked in that language.
"Its pretty good, sir," Lee replied in Arabic.
"Would the people in Cairo mistake you for a native Arabic speaker?" Nelson asked again, but with a disbelieving edge.
Lee thought of all the nights in the coffee house with Hassan and his school friends talking about the problems of this world and their hopes for the next. Would they have mistaken him for a native speaker? "I think so, sir…," Lee hesitated and then decided he didn't need to elaborate, to say he spent a lot of time in coffee houses talking, he didn't want them to think he spent his time abroad hanging around and not studying.
"I see," Nelson said a bit skeptically in English now, "you realize that these skills will be tested?"
God, he really really thinks I lied. They all do. How can they think that?
"As I said on my application I am fluent in Spanish and Arabic. I can speak Pashto, but not as well.”
Actually, he thought dryly, they should be asking him about English. The first year he had spent at St. Alban's, trying to learn the English they spoke there, so different from the English he had learned in Sunset Park. What about the English the Cranes wanted him to speak? The English these men expected him to be fluent in. That was the strangest foreign language, rich people English. But he kept his features carefully blank. He spoke rich people English now; the English of no gestures; no expression, save a mild, disdainful interest. He could thank Captain Hughes and St. Alban's for that language. He thought he had learned all of the customs that went with this English. He thought he was now fluent in three languages.
"Any additional questions for Mr. Crane?" Nelson asked his two fellow officers.
When Weston and O'Toole shook their heads ‘No’, Nelson turned to Lee and asked. "Have you any questions for us Mr. Crane?"
"No, sir. Thank you, sirs."
"Thank you for your time, Mr. Crane," Nelson said.
Recognizing his dismissal Lee stood up and not knowing what else to say repeated, “Thank you." Then he turned and left the room giving his jacket a final quick jerk to make sure it had settled into place before turning his back on the officers.
The walk to the door seemed endless, the desire to sigh in sheer relief now that it was over nearly overwhelming. At least they hadn't gotten into the whole Egyptian mother/foster-care/adoption thing. When he had gotten the letter about the interview he was sure it was about his mother and his years in foster care. It must have been all the languages, he decided. He hadn't been going to list them all. It had seemed like bragging. But Captain Hughes had said it would look great on his application, when he helped Lee fill it out. So the languages were, apparently, a red flag to someone.
He'd spent time with Commander Winstead helping the Commander with his Arabic on the Thetis II last summer. The Commander told him the Navy would love his facility for languages. Lee figured with the Navy sailing everywhere surely an officer who could learn languages quickly would be an asset. These men made him feel like a terrorist.
The three officers remained silent as the young man left. After the door closed and they were sure the youngster was safely out of earshot O'Toole said, "So, he's sure a likely looking prospect?"
"We sure put the kid through the wringer," Weston said. "I hope we didn't scare him away."
"If Hughes couldn't scare him away I don't think there's much danger of that," Nelson said dryly. "Yeah. He looks good. At least as good as one can look at 16. My God, he's young. Were we ever that young?" he laughed and was joined by a chuckle from O'Toole.
"Cool enough head though, and if he's sailing for Hughes he can take quite a bit of pressure," O'Toole smiled knowingly. "I can't believe anyone enjoys sailing with that 21st century Bligh."
"As I recall you never seemed to complain," Weston said smiling slightly at the younger man.
"Well I was younger then," O'Toole returned a bit nostalgically.
"Nothing like a few good missions for Hunter to put a little grey in your hair," Weston said.
"He looks good to me, Captain." Weston said, "I bet Admiral Hunter was drooling when he saw the application."
"Yeah, it’s an interesting language mix," Nelson agreed. "How good was his Pashto anyway, O'Toole?
"Far more fluent than he gave himself credit for. Certainly better than mine but I don't think mine is good enough to determine if he could be mistaken for a native speaker, it wouldn't be hard to bring him up to native fluency and it sure would be easy for him to pass as a native with his dark coloring."
“The background check didn’t find any association with the Egyptian-American community since he was left with New York Child Services as a seven-year-old. Most of his time with Child Services seems to have been spent in a series of Spanish speaking foster homes and group homes. I guess they figured any foreign language speakers in Brooklyn were Hispanic," Nelson continued reading the Child Services file "was adopted by the Cranes when he was eleven. Quite a change from Sunset Park to Central Park West. Seems to have adapted well enough," Nelson paused and tapped the end of his pencil against the papers in his folder. "Seems like a nice enough kid. He's had a few tough breaks, but used them all to his advantage."
"I noticed he listed submarines as his primary area of
interest in his application,” Weston observed, “Would have been nice if he had
wanted the Marines or Seals or something a little closer to ONI."
"Well, we’ll have four years to change his mind," Weston said giving Nelson a broad smile. "With his language mix and athletic ability it would be a shame to let him sail away on some boat. Besides, just wanting submarines must mean he's a little crazy; should make recruiting him for a bit of cloak and dagger a little easier," giving Nelson a knowing smile.
Nelson laughed easily. "Now gentlemen, there is no finer services then the silent one."
The other two men joined in his laugher." All those languages,” Weston said, “we shouldn't have any trouble adding a few more to his list."
“Out of three thousand three hundred and ten applicants this year, we got four Arabic speakers and one who speaks Pashto," Nelson shook his head looking almost sad, "not good."
"By the time he graduates we'll probably be looking for native Swahili speakers," O'Toole said acerbically.
The three men laughed again.
"Well, thanks guys for helping out. I'll call Admiral Hunter with the good news on Crane," Nelson said, obviously bringing the meeting to an end as he stood and gathered his folder from the table.
"Certainly the easiest ONI mission I've been on," O'Toole said standing up.
The two Commanders handed their folders to Captain Nelson before leaving. Nelson absentmindedly put the files into a pocket folder, ready for ONI to file along with their notes. Be interesting to see how he matures Nelson decided. Sure has a cool head on him. Yes it will be very interesting indeed to see Lee Crane in a few years.