By Carol aka Catfish
Part of the Secret Agent Man series
Submitted as a non-voting entry for the Not too Hidden Assets contest
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Lee Crane, in his civies, held up the two swimsuits in Admiral Beckwith’s Washington office.
“No, Commander. These are your and Jackson’s uniforms, at least for the times you’ll be assigned pool duty. As team leader, you have first choice between the blue green or the red orange.”
“Why can’t I just use my NIMR trunks?”
“I realize you may be uncomfortable with this ONI assignment, but the ‘Pacific Princess’ prides itself on having a festive atmosphere. Black is not festive. Besides, your objective may just depend on your ability to attract the prime suspect with your not so hidden assets, so to speak. Of course, if you want to decline this mission…”
“I’ve only declined one assignment this past year. I’m not going to add to that number now, but good grief man, a pouch?”
“Cut the crap, Crane. You know the drill. Using whatever means you have at your disposal hasn’t bothered you before. Now, if I may continue this briefing…stop laughing Jackson; I didn’t mean that as a pun. Now, Captain Stubbing believes you two were hired by the cruise line as part of a trial job sharing program. The cruise line is being very cooperative with us but expects you two to tow the line as employees. You’ll be considered staff aboard the Princess, not crew, so you can easily fraternize with the passengers without a problem. Your ‘official’ objective is to make the passengers happy they spent all that money. There may be some rules about taking things too far, however, so you’ll have to be discrete if you need to. You’ll also have the freedom to decide when to switch jobs with each other, even in the middle of a shift. They don’t call them watches on the Princess, except for the bridge officers. It will probably be quite a refreshing change. Especially when you switch jobs with each other from bartending to pool boy…”
“Pool Master, there’s a difference,” Jackson interrupted.
“Semantics. Now, if I may continue? Good. Your monikers are Lee Black and Joseph Glenn. And as far as Nelson knows, Crane’s in Minnesota, painting your granny’s farmhouse and milking cows; presumably in an effort to get away from that estranged girlfriend of his…what…what’s wrong now?”
“They kind of got together again,” Jackson pursed his lips, “and if she finds out he went off on a cruise without her…”
“Well, that’s just dandy! I would appreciate it, Mr. Crane, if you’d keep us up to date!”
“My personal life is none of your business.”
“As an ONI field agent, even the toothpaste and tires you use is our business!” Beckwith rose, his hands on the desk, looming forward, “do you have any idea what an irate girlfriend could do to blow your cover?”
“She only knows I was recalled to Reserve duty during my leave from NIMR and that my orders were unclear at the time. She’ll be fine.”
“C’mon, Lee,” Joe said, “I heard that she was crying all the way down to the water cooler.”
“And that’s all you heard, water cooler gossip. She’s used to me having to go away. She was fine about it with me.”
“She’d better be,” Beckwith sighed, “I don’t need a lover’s quarrel to distract you from your real mission. Which is simply,” he handed the men a dossier, “to discover just who this ‘Yvette’ really is, and if she’s the spy that Intel suspects she is. Sorry, no one’s managed to find a picture or description. We’re also not sure if that’s her name, or if she’s a simple courier or a bone fide spy on assignment. If she’s up to no good, stop her. Any questions?”
“Why was I selected really?” Lee asked. “There are plenty of other agents.”
“Certainly there are. But, between you, me, and deep blue sea, we want you involved in this particular mission, Mr. Crane, because you’re prettier than the rest of them, satisfied?”
“You want me because of my looks?” Crane asked, irritated, “I thought you had a better opinion of my skills, sir.”
“You know damn well that we believe you’re one of the top agents we have. Gawd, you’ve told us that yourself enough! But we’re not sure what we’re dealing with here, so I need an agent who can wow the most frigid of women. And yes, if using bedroom skills are warranted to accomplish the mission, your orders are to use them. One last thing before you go. Make sure you don’t forget to stop by the ship’s sickbay before the ‘Princess’ gets underway.”
“You’ll request Cyclizine shots.”
“Lee, Lee, Lee,” Joe patted his arm, “it’s the latest in combatting seasickness. I don’t know about you, but I still start puking the moment I step aboard any kind of surface ship. Don’t you remember how miserable you were aboard that flattop after your last SEAL assignment?”
“Can’t I just take some Dramamine?” Lee pouted, “ I mean…sickbay….”
“Sickbay,” Beckwith ordered. “Jackson, as you’ve probably already guessed, I’ve assigned you as backup, but it’s also your job to make sure Crane comes back in one piece. If he doesn’t, Nelson won’t let me hear the end of it. I’m getting very tired of his pressuring me to release your bud from active status with us. Do you know how many sets of earplugs I’ve gone through? Crane, you really need to have a little talk with Harry about his interference. Now, back to business, your clothing for this assignment has already been selected, packed and is waiting downstairs, except these,” he put the swimsuits into a plastic bag and handed them to Jackson. “Your special gear’s been modified to escape detection by the latest security electronics, radar, and visual inspection. You’ll take a cab to the airport. Here’s the fare,” he handed Crane a wad of cash. “Divide it up unequally between yourselves so you can argue, loudly, about who’s paying more for what. When you get to the airport, be sure to act aggravated by the lines, and possible delays. Here are your boarding passes. You’re flying coach to San Diego, with connecting flights in Atlanta and Dallas. Share the complimentary bags of peanuts if the airlines still have them. No in-flight meals. You’re down to your last dimes as far as anyone can see.”
“Gee, thanks,” Lee muttered, “with those travel arrangements we won’t have to act aggravated at all.”
“Good luck Commanders. Make me proud.”
“Sir,” both replied in unison as they departed the office and headed to the elevator.
Little did they know that by a simple push of a button, Beckwith had a bird’s eye and ear view of them.
“Well, I think you ought to choose the red suit, bro,” Jackson waved the clear bag in front of him, “It’s the color of love… and you like red anyway.”
“I like red for the minisub and my car, maybe a plaid shirt, yes, but on me, er…down there, it will just emphasize things.”
“But that’s the general idea, isn’t it?” Joe grinned and punched Lee’s shoulder a couple of times.
“Do you really want me to toss you overboard, Mister?”
“Okay okay, Commander; you get the blue. Cheech. Well, I wish the old man at least had a photo of this spy. No last name or anything. You know, if we find her, you can always slip her a mickey if you don’t want to go all the way. Of course, if she’s pretty, think of it as a perk. I have some Trojans* in my kit. I’m sure you wouldn’t want you to make a second trip to sickbay for one.”
“Perk? Hardly. Any bedroom antics would be a sure fire way to get myself tossed out of Lola’s life forever if she finds out.”
“Look, Lee. Take some advice. That girl’s not right for you. Everybody knows it. She’s begun to treat you like a trophy , so, why not live a little, Mr. ‘not so hidden assets’.”
“Very funny. You remember the correct PH and Chlorine numbers for pool maintenance?”
“You forget I have a swimming pool of my own. I’d sure hate to be called up to Captain Stubbing’s bridge for turning his passengers’ hair green…do you remember the water aerobics routines?”
“Down to the last lunge and hop. Hardly a workout if you ask me. At least I get to teach snorkeling too. You remember the latest in mixing cocktails?”
“Yeah but I don’t know how you’re going to pull it off when you have the duty. Your only real experience with tending bar is twisting off the cap and pouring out the whiskey for your boss.”
“That’s not true. I make a mean Martini. Besides, I just so happen to have a Mixology Certificate from the Culinary and Hospitality Dept. at Daytona State, so there.”
“Well, excuuuse me, Lee! I’m almost afraid to ask.”
“The last time Seaview was offshore Daytona Beach, Agent Catfish talked me into joining her for the weekend.”
“Ooh la lah…”
“To join her in a non-credit course in mixology! There’s no romance involved. Yeech, it would be like coming on to your grandmother! For two days I learned how to shake, rattle, and roll, a mixing tumbler that is. And I really learned something about combining flavors and what alcohol’s all about. Cat, on the other hand, just giggled a lot.”
“Well, to change the subject, this elevator’s slower than before. I’m taking the stairs. You should too. Your abs are starting to lose some of their definition, though they’re still okay I guess. Must be all of Lola’s homemade brownies…”
“More like Cookie’s lasagna…wait up, I’ll race you.”
From Adm. Beckwith
To Adm. Cartwright
Re: Lee Crane’s Not So Hidden Assets
Agents Crane and Jackson will determine if our suspicions are correct about ‘Yvette’. Crane has orders to use whatever assets he has at his disposal.
From Adm. Cartwright
To Adm. Beckwith
Re: Lee Crane
I’m beginning to have doubts about this assignment. We’re not all that sure that this ‘Yvette’ is a spy or will even be aboard. In addition, the location for this undercover operation is in question. You realize, don’t you, that the ‘Pacific Princess’ isn’t called the ‘Love Boat’ for nothing. Our boys may be too distracted by the proximity of bikini clad lovelies to carry this one out.
From Adm. Beckwith
To Adm. Cartwright
Re: Lee Crane
Bikini clad lovelies? More likely turkey wattle and stretch marks. How many young things do you think can afford a cruise like this? Especially during the fall. Most of the passengers will probably be over 50. Besides, an agent of Crane’s caliber will have only one thing on his mind, to accomplish his mission. As for Jackson, well, I’m sure Crane won’t allow him to compromise the mission by drooling over any pretty girls that might just happen to be aboard.
As agreed, they’ll work in tandem on the ‘Princess’ as Bartenders and Pool Boys, which also entails instructing water aerobics and snorkeling. In fact, they’ll also supervise snorkeling day excursions the ship has assigned in certain ports of call.
By the way, Crane practically begged me to let him use his NIMR issue trunks instead of their special ‘uniforms’. I’ve attached a photo of said item.
From Adm. Cartwright
To Adm. Beckwith
Re: Lee Crane
Festive is one thing. Good god, man, it’s a pouch!
From Adm. Beckwith
To Adm. Cartwright
Re: Lee Crane
We did order him to use whatever means possible to accomplish his mission, didn’t we? This style will assist in just that.
From Adm. Cartwright
To Adm. Beckwith
Re: Lee Crane
Well, it should make for an interesting assignment at least, that’s for sure. Keep me posted.
“Well,” Jackson adjusted his bow tie in their assigned cabin just below the water line, “according to this list I got from the assistant purser; I had to convince him it could mean better tips if I could memorize their names; there are two passengers actually called Yvette aboard.”
“Oh joy,” Lee gazed himself in the mirror at the blue green swimsuit he’d just pulled on, in despair.
“Won’t be that hard to figure out, bro. One’s requested a handicapped cabin so she’s hardly likely.”
“That doesn’t mean she can’t still be a spy. In fact, could be to her advantage. You can check that one out.”
“Okay, well, another’s listed as age 87.”
“That one too. Either one could still be a courier,” Lee pulled on his short terry (and official Pacific Princess) robe and his flip flops.
“I also found out from the ship’s updated cruise brochure that there’s some kind of entertainer scheduled, ‘Yvette and her trained cats’.”
“Oh swell,” Lee sighed, “ I can just see myself covered in scratches and iodine. You should see me after Lola’s fur balls, as sweet as they are most of the time, sometimes decide to use me as a scratching post. And we’re not even sure about our Intel. What if there’s no Yvette after all?”
“Then we enjoy a cruise on ONI’s payroll. It’s not you to be such a pessimist, Lee. What’s wrong? We’re aboard a premier cruise ship with good food, sea air, exotic, well, okay, at least some scenic ports of call…why, it’s an adventure, man, worthy of the James Bond we all know and love.”
“I’ve never felt so…exposed, that’s what’s wrong! And Lola’s going to kill me if she finds out about me taking a cruise without her. Not to mention Nelson, if he finds out I took on another assignment on the sly.”
“Cartwright’s taken care of all of that. What makes you think either will find out?”
“Speaking of guts, you promised to save me some homemade cookies last time you were in port. Getting forgetful in your old age? You know,” he smirked, “that could be a problem, getting too old to get it up.”
“Mr. Jackson, my last birthday did not make me a senior. I’m perfectly capable of any bedroom activities that might be required. I just don’t relish the thought of it. ”
“Yeah, sure…well, how do I look in this tux?”
“Like a trained monkey. I wish we didn’t have to report to the Cruise Director for the new hire orientation in ‘uniform’. What’s his name anyway?”
“Her. Miss Julie McCoy, it says here.”
“Julie McCoy? Are you sure?”
“What’s wrong Lee?” Joe grabbed his arm.
“Damn, damn, damn!”
“Lee, what is it?”
“Well, if she’s the same Julie McCoy, I dated her. Several years ago. To get to her college roommate ….a suspected saboteur…only she thought I was Lee Delambre, a two timing Casanova who dumped her.”
“Standard operating procedure once the mission was accomplished.”
“Yes, but she was a sweet little thing. If there hadn’t been such a big age difference... I might have wanted to take it to the next level…”
“Be glad you didn’t! You took Lola to the next level as you call it, and she’s turned from a sweet girl into a green eyed monster if you so much as glance at another woman,” Joe snorted. “Wait! That’s why you can’t let go of Lola, isn’t it? I bet you feel morally responsible for her since you…well,” he snorted, “made a real woman of her.”
“Would you just drop the subject!”
“All right, all right. C’mon, then, Mr. Secret Agent Man. We have a little while to go get our shots and check out the boat before the orientation, so we don’t get lost and shame ourselves as sailors later on.”
“Who was that you just gave the Cyclizine injection to, the dark one?” Dr. Adam Bricker asked Gregg Corel, his physician’s assistant, craning his neck from his Sickbay office.
“Says here Lee Black. He and Joe Glenn are the new Pool Masters and Assistant Bartenders. They think they might get seasick so they wanted to prevent the possibility. Why?”
“I only caught a glimpse,” Doc shook his head, “but Black looked just like someone I knew in the Reserves. But I doubt a former SEAL would be working as a pool boy. He’s a dead ringer for Lt. Golightly. Worst patient I ever had! Couldn’t even get him to lie still long enough to examine him properly! Escaped when I wasn’t looking. Completely disappeared. Rumor had it that he must have jumped overboard and swum back to his sub to rejoin his team! And you know what? When I needed to look up his record for some paperwork, there wasn’t any Lt. Lee Golightly in the entire US Navy or Marine Corps! When I pursued it, I was told to shut up and ignore it. Orders straight from the top…had to wonder if he was some kind of secret agent…”
It was one of the most boring employee orientations Lee had ever attended, and he wondered if he, too, had come across as patronizing to his own staff and crew during the NIMR’s orientations that he’d had to conduct himself.
There had been a disconcerting moment at the beginning of the meeting when Miss McCoy seemed to recognize him, but her quick perusal of the new employee list reassured her that there was no Lee Delambre aboard and that this man was just a lookalike in a sea of new faces.
“Remember,” Julie concluded her orientation, “it’s imperative that you turn in your daily reports on time. To recap, I don’t have to remind you that theft of any materials, from the complimentary toiletries for the passengers to the paper cocktail umbrellas is cause for immediate dismissal. Believe me, it’s not a pleasant hike or bus trip from anywhere in Mexico back to San Diego. Tips, of course, will be entirely your own and you don’t have to report them. We have about 45 minutes before the passengers begin boarding. I expect you to be at your stations the moment the gangplank is opened. Any problems you encounter, be it between staff or passengers, report to me personally. Do not take matters into your own hands. Any questions? No? Good, well, then let’s adjourn. And welcome aboard. ”
As the assemblage began to exit, she began to brush past Lee without a glance. Until she saw his ring. Pursing her lips she continued on her way.
“Uh oh…” Joe hissed as they left the now vacant auditorium. “She suspects.”
“How could I forget about my ring? Delambre wore it.”
“Well, you’d better think of something, bro. And fast. ”
“As you can see, Lee, may I call you Lee? My name’s Jim,” one of the deckhands showed Crane the Lido Deck, and the supplies locker, “one of your duties as a Pool Master will be not only to insure the chemical safety and clarity of the water at scheduled times or as needed, but to make sure there are enough towels for the guests at all times, and to see the used ones are collected and readied for the laundry. Usually that’ll be about three times per shift. I’ll leave it to you to tell your job partner all this. You know, I’d like to learn how to snorkel. Maybe you can teach me when you’re off duty. I hear you’ll be taking groups out into designated areas…”
“I’m not sure I’ll have time…my schedule…”
“Yeah, mine too, oh well…”
The sound of a bell interrupted.
“That means the stampede’s about to begin…one thing…you gotta’ use kid gloves with some of these folks. Can be mighty picky, in my humble opinion…have a good day…”
“Are you sure, Gopher?” Julie asked the Yeoman Purser in his office.
“Of course I’m sure. The background check on the new hires we got from HQ proves it. From fingerprints to DNA, Black checks out. He’s definitely not your Lee Delambre.”
“But the ring…”
“Look, Julie, unless he made it himself, it’s probably one of millions out there. You’d have to be an artisan to make just one ring, even if you had the know- how and the supplies. ”
“Okay, so I’m mistaken…it’s just that he looks so much like him…even down to his eyes and the mole on his cheek, and the way he filled his pouch… Oh god, I can’t believe I said that.”
“Julie, maybe you’d better go take a cold shower or something.”
“Well, dear,” the plain, not quite senior spinster said to her grown nephew as they unpacked in their suite, “it says here that they offer snorkeling lessons too.”
“What about the sharks?”
“Timmy, Timmy, Timmy, I’m sure that the areas they’ve earmarked for us are completely safe, and I wish you’d change your mind and come along. I know it unnerves you, but think about the ideas you might get for your next book. It’s an adventure.”
“I’m not sure, Auntiebet.”
“Well, at least I know you’ll enjoy the ports of call and the sightseeing. It’s not often you actually get a real vacation.”
“That’s for sure. Tony nearly had a conniption that I was going on a cruise. He thinks the ship’s loaded with college girls, but all I’ve seen are…er….ladies your age.”
“I beg your pardon. I’ve seen quite a few even older,” she chuckled.
“You know, I don’t think he gets out as much as he claims…now, Gibbs, well, if he were here, he’d join you for some snorkeling or even cave diving in a heartbeat, if they offered it.”
“I’m just glad you can get away from all that cloak and dagger stuff for a while.”
“It’s not so much cloak and dagger, it’s pretty much just computer research.”
“So you say. Well, the first aerobics class is soon. I don’t suppose you’d care to join me? That is, if you don’t think you’re too grown up and sophisticated to join your old wrinkled auntie.”
“Well, okay,” Timothy McGee grinned. “See you at the pool.”
“It’s on the Lido Deck wherever that is. I think, though, I’d better go get one of those seasick shots first…..”
“I’ll just watch your style,” Isaac Washington, Chief Bartender, told Joe, both behind one of the bar counters. “Make me a Victor Bravo. You know what it is don’t you?”
“Of course I do…er…”
“Cheat sheet’s under the counter…just don’t be too obvious if you need to use it.”
“I assure you…”Joe retrieved the Vermouth, Brandy and Gin and shook the concoction with ice, pouring it into a Martini glass and garnishing with a lemon wedge..
“Proof’s in the pudding,” Issac took a sip. “Good job,” he dumped the rest of it down the drain.“Holy cow!” Issac spied Crane, who was checking a plastic coated ship’s floor plan near the exit, “ Jimmy! Jimmy Walker!” he called out and raced over, “don’t you remember me?”
“I’m sorry…you must have mistaken me for someone else, Mr.…er….”
“Washington…Issac Washington…I’m sorry, you look just like someone who helped drag a girl out of a very bad bar fight…Seattle…some years ago.”
“No problem. I get mistaken for other people a lot. Guess I have that kind of face…Lee Black,” Crane extended his hand, “new pool boy and assistant bartender…”
“Oh, yes, I’ve met your job sharing partner Joe. He’s already on duty, over there…I can’t believe how much you’re a dead ringer for Johnny…”
“So this guy’s name was really Johnny Walker*? Lee grinned.
“Yeah,” Issac laughed, “really. Look, when you’re off duty, perhaps we can get together and I’ll tell you all about him.”
“I’d like that. I don’t suppose you can tell me how to get to the Lido Deck…I’m a bit lost,” Lee tried his best to look confused. No one must ever find out that he really had been Washington’s ‘Johnny Walker’ or that he and Joe had already memorized the ‘Princess’ down to her last nut and bolt.
“I guess we’d better begin,” Lee said awhile later as he eyed the two women and one man in the water aerobics class. “I’m Lee Black. We’ll begin with the slower exercises and build up to the more strenuous if you wish. Remember if you start to get tired you can stop. This isn’t the Navy,” he laughed.
“Sorry that Auntibet, er..that’s my aunt, is late,” McGee said, eyeing Lee strangely.
“Well, I’m sure we can catch her up later.”
“What’s your name again, sonny?” one of the elderly ladies asked Lee as they followed his lead in marching in place.
“Lee. That’s it, now a bit faster if you want…start moving your arms, careful not to actually swim. What’s your name, ma’am?”
“Glad to meet you Alice Sweetie,” he joked as the women giggled.
“Anyone tell you that you’re a real cutie?” Alice asked.
“And I’m Mrs. Tolbert,” the other lady said. “But you can call me Mary, sugar.”
“Mary Sugar and Alice Sweetie…those are real nice names. And you sir?”
“Tim. Timothy McGee.”
“Are you okay?”
This is just great, Lee told himself, First I find out Julie and Issac are here, now one of Chip’s NCIS buddies…hope he won’t be able to put two and two together.
“I’ve never been so humiliated,” Lee pulled off the wet swimsuit and headed to the shower to rinse off the scent of chlorine from the last couple of hours. “I swear those old broads were ogling me. And….”he hesitated.
“Go on bro, we’re in this together,” Joe discarded his tux and pulled on his own pouch.
“Well, remember me telling you about Chip’s NCIS buddy? He’s here. At least I think so. Same name, at least. Not sure though, cause I’ve never seen him…here with his aunt, but she didn’t show up for class.”
“Well, that’s just swell…is there anyone on this ship you don’t know? I mean, Julie, then Issac, now what’s his name, oh yeah, McGee…”
“Occupational hazard, okay?”
“Okay, okay...brrr. It’s chilly in this thing.”
“Don’t worry. The old ladies will warm you up…”
“If any of them show, that is. There’s a Bingo game scheduled.”
“What will it be, Miss McCoy?’ Lee asked, freshly garbed in a white double breasted jacket with gold buttons, red carnation boutonniere, and black slacks, socks, and shiny patent leather shoes.
“A virgin Margarita. Don’t worry; it’s not a test.”
Lee prepared the drink expertly and slid it toward her.
“Your ID number?” he scanned the clipboard for employee purchases making sure his ring was in full view.
“Thank you…ow…”he twisted his ring… “I should have known better than to listen to Lee.”
“Lee Delambre…we went through high school together…they used to call us the twins…still, who knows…though you’re not supposed to think of that sort of the thing about your mother,” he chuckled, “besides, we’re all supposed to have a double someplace,” he spread his arms. “Anyway, Delambre talked me into buying his ring a couple of years ago, he needed the money, some sort of gambling debt. What could I do? And it’s nice enough, but it tends to pinch. He was right about it being a good luck charm though. Certainly charms most of the ladies aboard that I’ve met so far,” Lee flashed her one of his more intoxicating smiles.
“Oh,” she flushed in response, then got down to business, “How do you think you’ll like the job sharing?”
“Well, it’ll mean smelling like chlorine, and showering several times a day and night, but I’m looking forward the snorkeling, especially when we reach Acapulco. Do you know how to snorkel?”
“No, but I think I’d like to learn…”
“But I’m telling you, Boss,” Tim called from the phone in his cabin, “it has to be Commander Crane…no, I’ve never met him, but I’ve seen him in pictures with Chip often enough. So, why’s the Captain of the Seaview posing as a cruise line employee? Yes, I know it’s none of my business, but Chip, well, kind of insinuated that Crane does covert ops sometimes… keep out of it? But…yeah Boss…but…”he hung up the phone after Gibbs had cut the call, “Gee, thanks,” he muttered.
“Timmy, what are you still doing here?” Betty Harmon entered the suite, “I’d have thought you’d be relaxing in a deck chair, or hitting the slot machines.”
“Aerobics class lasted longer than planned. The old bid…the ladies kind of demanded personalized instruction from the instructor. Is everything okay? You never showed up.”
“Long line for the shot. By the time I got mine, well, I didn’t think going to the class for just a few minutes would be worth it. So, he’s a good instructor?”
“Let’s just say he knows how to bring the best out of his pupils. The next aerobics class this afternoon has a different teacher. But Black’s doing another later tonight, followed by those snorkeling lessons you want.”
“You seem distracted, Julie,” Doc Bricker squeezed a bit of lemon in his ice water some hours later as they waited for the chosen passengers to join them for dinner at the Captain’s table.
“She’s been distracted ever since she got a look at our new pool boy,” Gopher smirked, “ reminds her of an ex- boyfriend.”
“The term, as you well know,” Julie said, “ is Pool Master. And in his case he’s also an Assistant Bartender. And he only looks like Lee Delambre.”
“Ouch,” Doc said, “I’ve sure heard about him.”
“Well, this Lee’s nice. Completely honest.”
“Julie,” Doc said, “I don’t mean to interfere, but you only just met him…looks can be deceiving. Has he asked you out?”
“Give him a chance. He’s been busy…oh, there he is…”Julie pointed.
“Prince Charming lives,” Gopher said of the still tuxedo clad man who was checking something on his clipboard by the galley doors.
“Good evening,” McGee approached before anyone could comment, “I’m Timothy McGee and this is my Aunt, Miss Betty Harmon. Is this Captain’s table?”
“Indeed it is, “a man in spotless white uniform appeared, pulling out a chair for the lady, “I’m Captain Meryl Stubbing. Welcome aboard.”
“Will Lee be joining us?” Betty asked, nodding in Crane’s direction.
“You’ve already met Mr. Black, Auntibet?” Tim asked.
“Mr. Black?” she whispered, confused, then, “ um, excuse me, I just remembered I forgot my insulin…Tim, be a dear and help me back to the suite…”
“No need, sir. I can assist her,” Bricker said.
“No dear, I’d rather Timmy helped.”
“Right away, Auntiebet,” McGee said quickly. He knew dam well she didn’t use insulin. And when had she had a chance to see the guy yet? Something was wrong. “Please excuse us, Captain…we’ll be back shortly.”
“Of course, “Stubbing rose along with Gopher and Doc as their guests left.
“That is becoming a weird cruise and we’ve hardly been underway, ” Doc Bricker sighed, “I’m a doctor and she turns down my assistance flat. Not to mention that Black not only looks like Delambre but also a Navy SEAL I treated once. Or at least tried to.”
“I’ve had people tell me that I look like some actor on a TV show,” the Captain said. “There are all sorts of look alikes. But it’s rare that they all show up at the same place at the same time.”
“Yeah,” Gopher said, “and Black’s credentials check out. Nothing of any interest except a couple of speeding tickets and an allergy to Penicillin.”
“Lt. Golightly was allergic to that too,” Doc said, furrowing his brows.
“Just unusual coincidences, that’s all, ” Stubbing said. “Still, perhaps we should keep an eye on him…there are ways to fake credentials…by the way, where’s Issac?”
“Something about stores,” Gopher said… “maybe that’s what Black is checking for him. I think it was a problem with the Vodka not meeting Yvette’s standards.”
“Yvette? I don’t recall…”
“Substitute performer we picked up in Diego,” Julie said. “Yvette and her trained cats…”
“Of course, now I remember. How are the cats holding up?” Stubbing asked.
“No complaints so far,” Gopher said, “but then I haven’t actually met them.”
“Well, check on them before her performance. I don’t like the idea of them puking hairballs on stage or prowling about no sooner than her back is turned…”
“Okay, Antiebet,” McGee asked as soon as they’d returned to their cabin, “let’s hear it.”
“Lee. He’s not Lee Black. He’s Lee Crane. Commander Lee Crane, Captain of the Seaview. We…well, let’s just say he got into a little trouble in Venice and I helped him out…it’s a long story…you’re not surprised it’s him,” she raised an eyebrow at the revelation .
“Not exactly,” Tim sighed, “I thought he looked familiar from the pictures I’ve seen, that he’s Chip’s CO. Are you sure, Auntie? I mean, really sure it’s him? Not a doppelganger…that means…”
“I know what it means, Tim dear. And yes, I’m sure. Now, if he’s using an alias, then the government has to be involved and we don’t dare expose him.”
“So, just what kind of trouble did he get into in Venice?”
“Later, sweetie. We’ve got to get back to the Captain’s table. We don’t want tongues to wag about unappreciative guests.”
“Okay, but if Crane needs help to accomplish whatever he’s up to, orders or no orders, then we…”
“Then we’ll just butt in anyway, that what you mean? Okay by me, ” she grinned.
“What’s wrong, Harry?” Admiral Jiggs Starke asked as he downed the last of his whiskey over dinner in Nelson’s Spartan apartment ‘above the shop’, “you’ve been a bit out of sorts all day. I hope I haven’t outstayed my welcome.”
“Sorry. I just can’t help wondering how well Lee’s been doing, milking cows.”
“With your aide in Minnesota.”
“My aide? Joe Jackson?”
“That’s what Lee told me. That he was off to help Joe’s grandmother on her farm.”
“Harry,” Starke paused, “Jackson doesn’t have any grandparents, at least not on this side of Heaven.”
“I suppose he doesn’t have any other relatives by the same name in Minnesota either.”
“None that I know of. Kansas boy, born and bred.”
“I think,” Nelson gulped down his drink,” I’ve been had…what?”
“Harriman, ”Starke paused, “ I don’t mean to be unkind but…perhaps Crane just wanted to get away from big brother for a while; you do tend to hover, you know.”
“If he felt like that, why didn’t he just come out and tell me?”
“Probably didn’t want to hurt your feelings. The boy likes you, Harry. A lot. Why, of course, is anyone’s guess,” Starke snorted with a grin. “But then, maybe it’s some kind of adopt a grandparent or something in Minnesota and the name’s the same. I know both our boys do a lot of volunteer work with various agencies.”
“Maybe, but I think I’d like to check this out.”
“Well, be careful, my friend. Crane will have a fit if he finds out.”
“Well, I’ll have a bigger one if I find out he’s traipsing off on some kind of clandestine assignment again.”
“He’s still with ONI? I thought you settled all that.”
“Not to my satisfaction. They can still call him up without informing me until after the fact. But they did agree to cut down the number of assignments. And I told Lee again that I was unhappy about him keeping that part of his life so private…he can tell me when he’s going undercover, you know…I do have the security…”
“Cut him some slack. You don’t own the boy. Can’t he do as he wishes when he’s off your leash?”
“You know, I suddenly remembered that I need to call ComSubPac…check on the duty roster,” Starke smiled. “We’ll get to the bottom of this. Jackson may be Lee’s buddy, but he’s also an Admiral’s aide, and I’m the biggest bad ass Admiral in the fleet,” he chuckled. “He’ll tell me all he knows, never fear.”
“Well, about time, Mr. Washington,” Captain Stubbing chided the chief bartender as he joined the group at the Captain’s table. “So, how are your newbies doing?”
“Glenn’s more than adequate, and Black’s even better. Both up to date on all the latest in mixing drinks. In fact, when Black heard that one of our entertainers complained about the Vodka, he volunteered to go backstage and fix Yvette a special drink for after her show, even though he’ll be off duty, ”he paused.
“Uh oh,” Gopher said, “out with it.”
“It’s weird, but…would you believe that at first I thought Black was Johnny Walker? Don’t laugh, it was the guy’s name, some years ago and…why’s everyone shaking their heads?”
“Not now,” Stubbing said, “our guests are returning…”
“About time,” Starke huffed on the speaker phone, then under his breath, “never should have switched to civilian operators at ComSubPac,” then returned to the matter at hand, “ Well, go on.”
“It says Jackson’s on Reserve Duty.”
“And just when did that happen?” Starke complained.
“It has to. The whole thing’s computerized, isn’t it? You do know how to operate the damn thing properly, don’t you?”
“Does it say where he is?” Nelson intervened gently.
“No, but there’s some kind of code number next to his name.”
“Code number? Code number?” Starke yelled…
“May we have that number, my dear? Nelson asked.
“Well, at least you’re a gentleman…it says 007-2.”
“Does that mean anything to you, Jiggs?” Nelson asked.
“How the hell should I know what it means? Jackson took care of all those pesky computer details… Operator, put in a request to the Navy Reserve to recall him. Have him report to me at NIMR. You do know how to do that don’t you?”
“And that’s it,” Lee explained the nuances of how to snorkel to his 9 PM evening class. This time the lighted pool was crowded, primarily with ladies of questionable ages desiring to gaze at the ‘pool god’ they’d heard about.
“Now, remember, don’t bite the mouthpiece, just rest your teeth in it or you’re liable to get a really sore jaw. Any questions before we stick our heads in the water?”
“Yes,” one of the younger women (in her mid to late 60’s) raised her hand, “ you married?”
“You want to be?” another of indeterminate age giggled.
“Ladies, I’m flattered, but…oh, hello Mr. McGee, will your aunt be joining us tonight?”
“I’m sorry, no, something’s come up, ” he looked around. They were the only two men on deck.
“Okay, now, let’s begin….”
“As we’ve already explained, Miss Harmon,” the NIMR operator told her over the phone in her cabin, “Admiral Nelson is unavailable. We’ll be glad to take a message.”
“But it’s vital that I speak with him…a matter of national security….”
“National Security? One moment.”
“No! Don’t transfer me to…”
“Oh good grief! I wanted Admiral Nelson.”
“There’s no Admiral Nelson here. Why don’t you try the Navy.”
“He isn’t Navy! Well, not exactly. He owns Seaview. It’s urgent I speak to him!”
“One moment please..”
“No..don’t transfer me to…”
“NIMR. What may I help you with?”
“Look, I know you’re only doing your job…but…”
“Oh gawd, not her again…”the operator said under her breath.
“Oh gawd, yes! And you transferred me to Homeland Security and they transferred me right back to you but never mind that now. Isn’t there anyone there I speak to? The…oh what do they call it …the Officer of the Deck?”
“That term’s only used aboard Seaview…”
“Well, put me through to it then.”
“Seaview is in dry-dock…and the submarine is referred to as a ‘she’.”
“Don’t get snippy with me, Missy. Get me one of her officers, then. Surely there are few roaming around!”
“I’m sorry, but almost all officers and crew have been released for shore leave…”
“Anyone then, it’s about Captain Crane.”
“Captain Crane? Why didn’t you say so?”
There a few clickity clicks, then an anxious voice answered.
“Jamison…where is he? Does he need an ambulance? A Tetanus shot? What’s your nearest medical facility…what…”
“Captain Crane’s not hurt, you idiot! I need to talk to Admiral Nelson about something regarding him. Nobody will put me through!”
“Well, I’m not sure I can, but I can see you’re distressed…can’t you tell me this ‘something’, Mrs…er…”
“Harmon. Betty Harmon…and it’s Miss.”
“Betty Harmon? The same Miss Harmon who helped us out in Venice?”
“The same…I’m afraid I don’t remember your name.”
“You probably only knew me as Doc.”
“Oh, of course. Well, at least that explains about the ambulance…please…something’s going on…I need to know what to do if he gets into trouble again…he doesn’t know I’m here…but I want to be ready.”
“The Love Boat.”
“Lee?” Joe asked as Crane was changing into his jeans and pullover after his shower. “You sure you know how to make that drink?”
“Yes mother hen…what’s that?” he indicated Joe’s laptop.
“One of the more popular social media sites…”
“Ohmygod! That’s me! In…in…”
“In your pool uniform I believe, is the correct term…”
“You mean those pictures of me are out there?” Lee waved his arms.
“C’mon Lee, you should be familiar enough with cyberspace by now.”
“Well, I don’t have to like it.”
“Up to 1500 hits so far…that means…”
“I know what it means! Did you post that picture?” he glared.
“You know me better than that. But don’t get all hot and bothered. This shipboard net might be just the ticket to draw out the real Yvette if the one with the trained cats isn’t her. It was negative on the other two…”
“Then that picture’s just on the ship…”Lee said, relieved.
“No, bro. This is the shipboard website, but it’s also available ‘out there’ to anyone who uses the keywords to get to it….”
“Well, that’s just great. If Lola sees that…she’ll know it’s me…”
“Okay, then, you’re screwed. Actually, that’s not quite right. You won’t be able to screw when you get back, will you…”
“Okay okay…we’re to use all the resources at our command, aren’t we? You got your allergy pills with you? You don’t know what kind of cats Yvette has…”
“Like I told you, I’m not allergic to cats! I’m allergic to the flea dip Lola uses on them. Now, where’ s that bottle of vodka and the cranberry juice Issac loaned me…”
“You know, Harry,” Starke frowned the next morning in Nelson’ s office, “you really need to stock up on something more substantial than Pop Tarts.”
“I like them, okay?” the man in question tossed the paper plate into the trash and dragged a hand through his hair. He hadn’t had a good night’s sleep and he didn’t need this right now.
“I’m sorry Jiggs…I just can’t help feeling that Lee’s in trouble…”
“Good god, man, keep him on a leash this tight and you could lose him altogether…better for the Navy of course, still….”
“I thought you were as concerned about him as I.”
“I’m concerned that he lied to you and…”
“Commander Jackson to see Admiral Starke,” Angie’s voice came over the intercom.
“Well, about time,” Starke opened the door to reception and stopped dead in his tracks.
“Sir!” the female officer snapped to attention, “ Lt. Cmdr. Jackson reporting as ordered, sir!”
“But…but…you’re a girl!”
“There seems to have been some kind of mix up,” Nelson emerged and extended his hand, “Admiral Harriman Nelson, and the rude bear impersonating the Commander of Submarine’s Pacific is Admiral Jiggs Starke.”
“We were expecting Lt. Commander Joe Jackson,” Starke said.
“I thought my orders here were too good to be true,” she sighed, “ My name’s JoEllen. I guess headquarters got our names mixed up. And I was so looking forward to seeing Seaview…and Captain Crane.”
“Oh,” Nelson grinned, “you know Lee?”
“I wish…er…I mean, no sir. But I’ve heard plenty about him, and I’ve seen his picture…um…I am wondering though, sir, if it’s not too personal, I mean, there’s been talk. Does he really have a lover?”
“Not any longer, he doesn’t!” Lola stormed in, “and you’re welcome to the two timing, double crossing…”
“Not here, Lola,” Angie, behind her, took her arm.
“A moment, Angie… Miss Hale, what’s this all about?” Nelson asked.
“Lee’s not on Reserve duty! He…he’s on the Love Boat!” she answered in tears.
“The ‘Pacific Princess’,” Angie explained. “
Tish was surfing the net for a fun getaway, typed in a few keywords and…well…I
guess you’d better see for yourself…
she hurried to her desktop computer and brought up a page.
“Ohmygod,” Nelson said as the picture of Lee on the pool deck, in ‘uniform’ popped up.
“Oh yeah,” JoEllen said appreciatively.
“Watch it, sister,” Lola said.
“I thought you said you were through with him.”
“Not until I tell him to go jump in a lake! Then he’s all yours!”
“Have you read any of these…er…”Nelson tried to remember the word.
“Posts,” Angie said, “not yet, sir…let’s see…wha….oh….Lola, hon…this is Lee Black…”
“Lee Black?” Starke stared, “good god, could be his twin. Well, they do say everyone has a double someplace.”
“Do women really say these things?” Nelson asked, reading the posts, dumbfounded and embarrassed.
“Let me see that picture again….”Lola hovered over Angie and enlarged it, “why that…I don’t care what it says. It’s Lee, all right, unless this Lee Black got the same hickey I gave him somehow!”
“Miss Hale,” Nelson said, “please wait for me in my office. Angie, would you please show the Commander to the visitor’s quarters until we can make arrangements to transport her back to..er…”
“Washington, sir,” Jackson snapped to.
“Yes, Washington. Maybe some breakfast at the cafeteria first. I know how I feel after a long flight. Come along Jiggs…this may involve you…” Nelson headed to his office, leaving behind a bewildered Angie and JoEllen.
“C’mon Lee, wake up,” Joe nudged Crane. He hadn’t heard Lee come in overnight, and wondered if he’d ‘gone all the way’ to discover if this Yvette was their spy.
“Go away…” Lee responded groggily.
“Don’t you have class or something?”
“ Can’t you take it?” he looked up blearily, “I don’t think I can stand any more old biddies ogling me…”
“It was only one day…how much did you drink last night, bro?”
“Had to test the concoction didn’t I? You won’t believe this,” he giggled, “ but the cats are robots.”
“Yeah, only they meow, purr, stretch, leap, and everything, even motion detectors. Yvette has a remote control on her earing that she presses…showed me how it works.”
“I’m not interested in the damn cats,” Joe sat on the edge of Lee’s bed. “Is she our spy?”
“She’s more statuesque in person than on stage…voice is a little husky but…”
“Answer the question. Is she our girl?”
“Hope not,” Lee sighed, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. “I kind of like her….made a date with her for tonight. Don’t look at me like that…it’s so I can finish bugging her cabin. Wasn’t able to complete the job last night. There was a cigar still smoking in an ash tray, so I knew she was expecting someone. Didn’t keep her from accepting the date, however,” he winked. “Would you believe it, she wouldn’t hear of a midnight swim. Hates the water…I guess she has a phobia…Joe, I think I like her. Even if she’s not my usual type. Good kisser too.” Lee stood up and just as quickly sat down and winced, placing his head in his hands, “I don’t suppose I can call in sick?”
“I don’t think hangovers qualify. Besides, you have to get the ship’s sawbones’ approval to take off work for any reason. You know better than to let yourself get soused undercover.”
“Don’t scold Joe; it wasn’t the whole bottle, I swear. I had to have a couple of drinks, though, to gain her confidence.”
“To get her believe that you’re a drunk?”
“No. To get her to think that I don’t have any self– control; that I’m harmless. Reduce any suspicion that I’m investigating her. You know, she actually called the Assistant Purser, whatshisname, oh yeah, Gopher, to return me to my cabin and pour me into bed. Where were you, anyway?”
“If you must know, I was puking in Sickbay. Damn shot didn’t do me any good. Had to get something else.”
“You know what?” Lee looked up, “I wish I could just let myself enjoy my date tonight.”
“I know, I know, never get involved….not to mention it would feel like cheating. Really cheating on Lola…I don’t feel like waiting to bug Yvette’s cabin though…you know, I really don’t feel well, Joe,” he winked. “ In fact, I should probably go to Sickbay, pj’s and all.”
“Well, I’m sure Dr. Bricker won’t mind.”
“Yeah, Adam Bricker, he’s the…oh, swell, Lee, don’t tell me you know him too?”
“Okay, I won’t tell you…”
“Here,” Nelson handed Lola a box of tissues from the office coffee table, “I’m beginning to believe you may be right about that picture.”
“But Harriman,” Starke said.
“Let’s look at this scientifically. It’s a million to one chance that Lee Black could have the same…er…marks of…er… affection, on his person, and that means that Lee is either moonlighting on a cruise ship during his shore leave, or two, he’s using an alias for some kind of clandestine operation..”
“You mean…ONI?” Lola perked up, “what a relief…oh, not that he’s off on assignment again, but that telling me he was doing some Reserve time wasn’t really off the mark…”
“Take over for Angie until she returns,” Nelson ordered her, “ and contact Admiral Cartwright for me. Admiral Starke and I want to speak with him personally.”
“At first I thought Black was simply hung-over, ” Bricker joined his shipmates for breakfast, “but he has all the symptoms of food poisoning or a viral infection judging from the vomiting. The roommate had come in last night too, but that was only for seasickness. No passengers have reported anything. Glenn can take over Black’s aerobics and snorkeling classes.”
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” Captain Stubbing said, “he’d have to forsake his bartending duties. A lot of the additional income on these cruises is from the consumption of alcohol. The pool classes will just have to be cancelled for today, postponed indefinitely if necessary…”
“But the aerobics and snorkeling classes are booked solid,” Julie said, “at least Lee’s were.”
“And mostly by women,” Gopher snorted.
“What’s wrong with that? Not his fault if he’s the most gorgeous man in creation…”
“Julie,” Stubbing warned.
“I know what you’re going to say…that I’m setting myself up for another Delambre fiasco. But I’m not. I’m sure of it. Doc, do you think a little hot chicken soup would help?”
“Wouldn’t hurt,” Doc said, “though I doubt we have anything so simple aboard.”
“I have some of those just add hot water kind cups in my personal luggage. Maybe he’d like a bagel, too, “she scooped one up and departed.
“Probably likes doughnuts better,” Bricker said snidely.
“Why do you say that Adam?” Stubbing asked.
“Just a hunch,” Bricker said, remembering Golightly munching the things down like they were going out of style before Bricker tried to examine him.
“Tim?” Betty whispered to McGee, poolside, “I’m worried.”
“You saw the sign, Crane’s out sick today that’s all,” he hissed back.
“What if Crane’s hurt..what if…”
“ Look, you stay and enjoy the pool. I’ll go find out if the excuse is legit.”
“And tell him what? That we’re on to him?”
“I’ll think of something.”
“Well, while you do that, I’ll go see if there’s any nice hot chicken aboard that I can take him.”
not sure they’ll release his cabin number to you.”
“Then you’ll just have to find that out for me, sweetie.”
“Morning, Will,” Chip yawned over the phone. He’d partied a bit too much last night at his cousin’s bachelor party in Reno. “No, Lee told me the same thing, that he was going to be painting Joe’s grandmother’s farmhouse, milking cows, and whatever else they do on a dairy farm….why, what’s wrong?” he asked, instantly alert. “Miss Harmon? Lee’s where? As Lee Black? Damn! Yes, I’ll catch the first flight back. Alert what crew that you can that as of now we have a standby situation…Does Nelson know? Well, yeah, it might be better if you tell him as he might start hyperventilating. Thanks for calling…see you in a few hours.”
“Careful!” Joe scolded, having returned to the cabin on his mid- morning break, and scooped up the laptop out of the bedridden Lee’s hands, “you want to fry the keyboard?
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to toss my cookies on it. I was cleaning it up the best I could. Probably used too much Ipecac this morning.”
“What was that green ooze this morning anyway?”
“Had to look legitimately sick in Sickbay, didn’t I? Did you know the cruise line has a newsletter? I’ve been researching. You know, I was surprised yesterday that there wasn’t a picture on Yvette’s poster or on the brochures. How many entertainers do you know of that don’t at least have an 8x10 glossy ready to autograph? I can’t find her anywhere online either. Intel may be correct. Look, I’m just about over throwing up. You’d better get back to work before anyone gets a reason to start worrying. Remember, as far as you know I still miserable and potentially contagious. Yvette has a show in a little while, so I think I’ll just mosey on down to her cabin and do a little snooping. Plant those bugs. I just hope the owner of the cigar’s not there.”
“Well, if they’re an item, he’s probably going to be in the audience. Or…”
“Or your new girlfriend smokes cigars…it’s not unheard of…”
“Not too feminine either, and trust me Joe, Yvette’s as feminine as they come.”
From Special Agent Jethro L. Gibbs
To Adm. Cartwright
Re: Keeping us in the loop
Sir, I’m requesting, again, that you keep NCIS informed.
I have an agent aboard the Pacific Princess (on leave) who’s demanding to know when, and if, his skills as a Special Agent may be required. Please advise. Apparently Cmdr. Lee Crane of the Seaview is posing as Lee Black, ship’s pool boy and assistant bartender! That, or Nelson’s fired him. Wouldn’t surprise me if he has; I hear that things are sometimes strained between them.
Whatever his mission is, it hasn’t helped NCIS in that Crane’s semi erotic photo, now on several of the more popular social media locations as Abby calls them, is inducing heavy panting and drooling all over various staff keyboards.
This is distracting to our own investigations, not to mention a hazard to our hardware. I remember spilling coffee on my computer keyboard and it was unsalvageable.
From: Adm. Cartwright
To: Special Agent L. J. Gibbs
Re: Keeping in the loop
Crane knows how to take care of himself. Don’t worry, we have another ONI agent with him. Permission to assist denied. (Please indicate which of your agents is aboard for our records)
As for the heavy panting and drooling on your equipment, you can always install keyboard shields. As for Crane’s attributes distracting your staff, well, that’s your problem to deal with as you see fit.
“So you recalled the crew and put Seaview on standby without speaking to me first?” Nelson pouted from behind his desk as Jamison stood before him.
“I was following Commander Morton’s orders. It’s just in case anyway. And even if Lee completes whatever his mission is unscathed, my services may still be required to stitch him up once his girlfriend’s finished with him. She hates him going off on assignment as much as you.”
“I used to want them to get married,” Nelson rose and looked out the picture window over the private beach, “I still don’t like the idea of them living together. Call me old fashioned, but, that’s how I feel…or rather felt, until recently. She used to be such a nice girl! Now, she’s paranoid.”
“Yes, we’ve all noticed, ”Jamie said, “ the problem is that Lee doesn’t know what he wants. He may have loved her once, maybe he still does, but does he like her? It’s nobody’s business but theirs, but their relationship affects us all…. Well, I’d better get down to the boat to insure that Sickbay’s fully stocked for whatever our James Bond might need, that is, if you approve of Morton’s Operation Babysit?”
“Yes, yes, go ahead…besides, I’ve already ordered extra bandages. Just in case,” Nelson chuckled.
“I’ve been wondering, what do you think ONI will say when they find out we’re heading out, spending thousands of dollars just to spy on Lee?”
“My boat. My money. My prerogative. And what they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
“Harriman?” Starke entered without knocking, “Oh, hello Jamison…guess who’s with Crane on that damn ship?”
“Let me guess. Joe?”
“The one and only…there’s a picture of him on that website as well…doesn’t have as many what do you call them…oh yeah, hits, but it’s him, I’m sure of it. He’s going by the name of Joe Glenn…why are you groaning, Harry?”
“Long story…. at least Lee has keeper until we get there.”
“Then you are going after him?”
“I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
“Oh yes you do. You go after him, because you think he can’t do his job, and he may just decide to cut the leash and come back to the Navy.”
“I’m not that bad,Jiggs. And it’s for his own good. Damn it, what if…things go wrong. ”
“He knew the risks when he became an ONI Field Agent…and he was one long before you and Seaview came into his life. He didn’t need your help then, did he?”
“But he usually comes back hurt! Badly hurt!”
“That’s between him and ONI. Not you, unless it affects his position aboard Seaview.”
“But it does! I can’t count how many times Chip’s had to take up the gauntlet as Acting Captain because Lee’s stuck in Sickbay with a concussion or broken ribs or something.”
“Then you’ll just have to give him an ultimatum. ONI or Seaview. Not both.”
“I did that before, but he wheedled me out of it. Jiggs, I can’t force it again. I just can’t. He looked so…so crushed when I wanted him to choose. ”
“I want to come along with you on this one, Harry.”
‘You realize that Lee won’t appreciate Seaview harboring his nemesis.”
“Nemesis? Is that what he thinks of me?”
“Better than Capt. Bligh.”
“He’s called me that too,” Starke laughed.
“Admiral?” Morton barged in, “ I got here as soon as I could. Is Seaview ready to sail? How many crew are on standby? How..”
“Calm down, Lad. Will has it all arranged…and welcome back.”
“Actually,” Will chuckled, “ I had O’Brien to do all the dirty work.”
“Here’s the Love Boat’s itinerary,” Nelson handed Chip a brochure. “We want to shadow her from below the surface. We don’t want to spook our spooks out from their cover. We don’t know what kind of equipment they and this Yvette may have…no doubt the Princess has sonar… Oh, and prepare one of the guest cabins for Admiral Starke.”
A momentary look of disgust flashed across Chip’s eyes but if anyone noticed they said nothing about it.
“Jiggs, Jamie, will you both give the Commander and I a moment alone?”
“Uh oh,” Starke raised an eyebrow. “That means trouble. C’mon Doctor. Let’s get your stethoscopes and syringes in order.”
“Sit down, Chip,” Nelson said when they were alone. “ You’ve heard enough that Cartwright’s admitted Lee’s undercover, but…”Nelson showed off the website on his computer .
“Now, that’s what I call going way beyond the call of duty.”
“Chip…I wanted to ask you…and I want you to be honest with me…do you think Lee…well…that he’s taking on all these extra assignments to…get away from me?”
“Out with it.”
“Well, “lately he’s been kind of anxious to have some ‘space.’ Hasn’t taken me up on golf game or a boy’s night out. You know, pizza, a good game on TV, and beer…I thought it was due to his wanting some time with Lola, but…just before Seaview got home this last cruise, I overheard him mutter something to himself... I was sure he didn’t mean it, but now…”
“Um…well…oh shit, sir…this is hard…”
“Was it that he needed to get away from me?” Nelson asked again, gently.
“It’s just…”Chip hesitated, then in a rush to get the damn thing said, “he said hoped he’d finally get some time to himself without being constantly interrupted …he might have meant me, sir…”
“No, Chip,” Nelson sighed, “even Jiggs says that I’ve been intruding too much in his private life. No wonder he accepted the assignment outright.”
“Maybe he really does just need some space. He really does like spending time with you. A lot. He’s told me.”
“It’s okay, Chip. You don’t have to make excuses for him.”
“But it’s the truth! He…okay, here goes. You must know that he idolizes, loves you, like a son would his father. He’s told me. Well, maybe not in so many words, but I got the drift well enough.”
“Yes, I know,” Nelson ran a hand through his hair, “it’s no secret that I cherish Lee as well. Perhaps that’s part of the problem… me butting into his life just like a real father.”
“But he likes you butting into his life! I mean…er…”
“I should have realized it long ago. He certainly doesn’t need me tagging along so much…well, enough of this…let’s get Seaview ready.”
“C’mon Harriman, out with it,” Starke demanded, sipping coffee as Seaview plowed through the depths, “what’s happened between yesterday and today to make you so miserable?”
“I’ve simply realized how right you’ve been all along, okay? That I’ve let my personal feelings for Lee get in the way of my better judgment. He has a right to his own life…and I’ve been butting into it,” Nelson shook his head sorrowfully.
“But he likes you butting in.”
“Apparently everyone thinks so but...”
“Harry, the boy loves you. I’m not happy about it; neither is the Navy, however, it’s normal for a son to want to get free of the paternal leash now and then, isn’t it?”
“I been that bad?”
“How many times have I called only to hear you tell me, ‘I have to go with Lee here, there, I want do this, do that with him, etc. etc’. You may be a proud papa, if only a surrogate, but even I’ve seen that he needs a little privacy sometimes.”
“I know, I know,” Nelson stood and shook his head sorrowfully, leaning against the viewport, “it’s just…he could have told me, Jiggs. I would have understood.”
“You sure about that?”
“I guess I’ll just have to make myself. I just hope it’s not too late.”
“Listen to me, Harry. You can go ahead and wallow in self-pity all you want, but I’m betting that when Crane’s little assignment is over, he’ll be begging you to go to a ball game with him or sailing or something to get in some quality father/son time. Or….”
“Or he might simply use you to get away from the little woman. Can’t be easy for her being Lee’s girlfriend. Just think of it. Always being a second banana to his love for Seaview, and his duty to ONI.”
“I’ve never thought of it like that before…she’s…not really a shrew, she’s jealous…and rightfully so, I’m afraid.”
“Lee?” Betty knocked on his cabin door... “Lee?” she tried again… “Commander?” she whispered. “Commander Crane?”
The door opened a crack as Joe looked out. “Who are you?”
“It’s Betty. Betty Harmon.”
Joe pulled her in, closed the door, and locked it.
“Where is he? I brought him some soup.”
“So you’re the famous Miss Harmon from the Venice fiasco. So, how did you know where his cabin was?” Joe shook his head and returned to the various electronic devises snuck into double bottomed suitcases and shaving kits.
“Never mind that now. Am I correct in assuming he’s on some kind of…job for Uncle Sam? And who are you?”
“Yes, and it’s Lt. Cmdr. Joe Jackson aka Joe Glenn. We’re ‘job sharing’ between pool boy and assistant bartender.”
“What can I do to help?”
“I’m not sure either of us can do anything, yet. He’s supposed to be in Yvette’s cabin to do a bit more recon while she’s performing her matinée.”
“What does that mean?”
“It was cancelled,” Betty interrupted, “I thought it was because of the man overboard drill that’s been scheduled..”
“Damn, I should have realized. Well, at least he can try to woo her if he hasn’t had a chance to plant the bugs.”
“Standard operating procedure…get the broad to loosen up. Still, Lee hopes she’s not our spy. He kind of likes her. Can I get you some water…you look pale.’
“Commander,” she hesitated.
“Call me Joe…”
“Joe…have either of you seen Yvette’s show?”
“No… and that’s something that was praying on Lee’s mind, too, wondered why an entertainer wouldn’t at least have a photo to put on the poster…what…”
“Oh my dear, I would never have believed it of any red blooded American male, but this is Lee Crane we’re talking about. I can’t help feeling that he’s a little blind about some things. Joe, I hate to tell you this, and it may have nothing to do with your suspicions, but…this Yvette and her trained cats? Well,” Betty took a deep breath, then, “ she’s a female impersonator.”
“Lee?” Julie’s voice interrupted, while knocking on the door, before Joe had a chance to react to Betty’s revelation, “I have some nice hot chicken soup for you…”
“Quick, under the covers!” Betty hissed at Joe, who grabbed his laptop and hid under the covers while she closed up the shaving kits and suitcases.
With a glance back to make sure Joe was completely encumbered, she picked up her own cup of soup and opened the door a crack to squeeze through and close it behind her.
“Shhh! I guess you had the same idea as me. He’s sound asleep…I guess we’ll have to try later. Actually, I’m glad we bumped into each other,” she dragged Julie down the companionway, “now, what can we mere passengers do for this man overboard drill?”
“It’ll be quite a while before we catch up to the Princess, sirs,” Chip headed to the Wardroom’s lunch laden sideboard, “ but we’re already starting to pick up general shipboard chatter, including hers. They’re conducting a man overboard drill.”
“Your acoustic snooping’s that good?” Starke asked.
“It’s a prototype,” Nelson said proudly, “still has a few kinks to iron out, electronic interference, certain kinds of metal alloys and of course, sound congestion interferes far too much to make it a decent weapon of war.”
“Mr. Morton?” Sparks voice came over the PA, “we picked up the Skipper’s acoustic pattern. But it didn’t last long.”
“Wonderful, let’s hear it,” Starke clicked the mike.
“It was kind of personal.”
the damn thing Mister!
“Go ahead Sparks,” Chip took the mike out of Starke’s hand, “play it back.”
“Nobody kisses like you, Yvette,” Lee was saying in a very sultry manner.
“Good thing, too, because it’s the last thing you’ll ever do!” an unidentified voice lisped.
“Damn! Lee is in trouble!” Nelson glared at Starke.
“That’s it?” Starke demanded.
“Sparks, was that all?” Morton clicked.
“Yes sir. There’s just too much acoustic interference to pick up the Skipper’s signal or anyone close to him. Sorry. Sir.”
“Very well. Thank you Sparks,” Chip said.
“Wait,” Nelson took the mike, “can you identify the other voice as being male or female?”
“No way to know, sir.”
“Very well,” Nelson clicked off.
“ What now, Admiral?” Chip asked.
“I think we’d better clue ONI in.”
“So, Miss Nightingale, you never got to deliver poor Lee Black his soup?” Gopher asked Julie at lunch.
“No smarty pants, Miss Harmon was there already.”
“What?” Captain Stubbing asked, looking up from his Overboard Drill report.
“Not in his bed! She was there with soup herself. Only he was already asleep.”
“That’s a relief, means there’s still hope for you,” Gopher winked.
“Enough, ” Captain Stubbing said, “cabin numbers of staff and crew are never to be given to passengers.”
“I asked her about that. She said Lee gave it to her himself. Her nephew had a few questions he wanted to ask. Research for a book.”
“McGee’s an author?” Bricker asked.
“Of course!” Gopher slapped his forehead. “ I knew I’d seen him someplace before. There’s a picture of him on the back of his latest book, I forget the pen name. It’s a spy story…part of his ‘Deep Six’ series.
“Never heard of it.”
“Never mind about Mr. McGee,” Stubbing said, “Black will have to be disciplined.”
“But not until he’s feeling better, I hope?” Julie asked coyly.
“We have a problem,” Betty whispered to Tim, trying hard to relax on the deck chair. It wasn’t easy balancing his portable typewriter on his lap.
“Yeah, like how to combat the boredom. You know, Auntibet, despite all the hype, there’s really not much to do on a cruise. You’re stuck in a hole in the water with nothing to do but eat, drink, maybe gamble, see a show, go parasailing with one of the speedboats, or get seasick.”
“Our cabin, five minutes.”
“But I’m in the middle of a chapter! And I have a deadline!”
“Never mind your stupid story! C’mon!”
“I wonder what that’s about,” Issac mused, standing next to Julie, watching the two passengers argue, “ anyway, as I was saying, Glenn’s late and hasn’t responded to my shipboard announcement to report to my office. I wouldn’t have thought it of him.”
“Thanks for letting me know,” Julie sighed. “I hate it when I have to write up employees. Maybe he didn’t pay as much attention in the orientation as he should have.”
“Okay, Auntibet, what’s so damn important?” McGee began as soon as they entered their suite and she shut the door and locked it.
“I went back to Lee’s cabin to give him some soup.”
“Uh huh…wait. What do you mean ‘back’ to his cabin?”
“The first time I went below he wasn’t there, but his roommate was. Lt. Commander Jackson. Joe Glenn to the Princess staff. They’re here on assignment with ONI. But when I tried to find Jackson later during his shift…”
“Watch. In the Navy it’s a watch.”
“This isn’t the Navy! Anyway, he was late for his bartending duties and Issac was mad as hell. And now there’s no answer from either of them in their cabin. I’m worried Timmy. We need to see that he’s all right. Captain Crane, too. Can you get their door open without a keycard?”
“They might just be off snooping.”
“Yes, Jackson said they’re investigating Yvette. They think she’s a spy.”
“Yvette? With the trained cats? The female impersonator?”
“At least you noticed that little detail.”
Tim snorted. “He hides it pretty well…maybe he’s had a sex change operation…”
“Do you have some kind of special agent gadget to unlock their doors? I can keep watch..”
“I don’t have a demagnetizer on me! I’m on vacation. And what do you mean their doors?”
“Well, we may have to check Yvette’s too, depending on what we find when we go below to check on Lee and Joe …”
“Look, this could be dangerous. You’re staying here.”
“Captain Crane didn’t think it was too dangerous for me to get involved in Venice. ”
“I’m not Captain Crane!”
“ Were you this much trouble in Venice? Okay, okay…let me hack into the ship’s manifest…should have every soul aboard listed with their assigned cabins… staff, passengers, crew, officers, and entertainers…here it is…Yvette Wyndom’s. Okay, I have to over ride all magnetic controls. I can’t be too specific with this program. Let’s go.”
“But damn, it, Cartwright!” Nelson fumed over videophone in his cabin, crowded with Starke, Morton, O’Brien, and Chief Sharkey, “You heard that other voice! Something’s gone wrong!
Don’t you care that our boys might be lying dead or dying someplace on that ship or maybe even overboard!”
“Of course we care! We just don’t want to blow their cover. And don’t you go getting any ideas about storming the Princess, understood?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Nelson said sarcastically and ended the call, “officially,” he added.
“You know, we could be mistaken about all this,” McGee said as they headed to Yvette’s cabin door.
“Just because ONI’s bugs Crane may have managed to place didn’t pick up anything doesn’t mean we are.”
“I’ve heard about these cruise ships. Staff do fool around. For all we know Crane and Jackson might be otherwise occupied in a little ménage a troi with someone.”
“Crane’s the Captain of the Seaview!” Betty hissed, “an officer and a gentleman. Besides, have you seen any pretty girls aboard?”
“No. Mostly old ladies like you…er…”
“Wait out here,” Tim knocked first, and not hearing a response, opened the door a crack, entered then called out, “nobody home.”
For a few moments they searched the room and bathroom, finding nothing out of the ordinary.
Suddenly Tim picked something up. “Looks like a piece of a motherboard…it’s a computer thing.”
“What’s that brown stain?”
“Looks like blood…over there…that part of the carpet looks burnt,” Tim ran a hand over the fibers. “If I were a betting man, I’d say these could be Taser trails. Something this strong can incapacitate a man, even kill him. I’m calling Gibbs.”
“And Seaview,” she added.
“C’mon, let’s get out of here before she gets back,” he hid a few small items around the cabin, …at least NCIS bugs will work.”
“I thought you said you didn’t bring any of your little gadgets along.”
“Never hurts to be prepared. I remember a vacation I had in Hawaii and…never mind. ”
“My nephew the boy scout, always prepared. You know, I think Captain Crane would like you.”
“No. I’m sorry, Harry,” Cartwright continued on the inter-agency conference call through the Observation Nose intercom, “Contacting the Princess would just compromise things. And I know, better than any of you, how Crane operates. He and Jackson might have had their bugs disabled on purpose.
“You don’t believe that! And what the heck happened to their transponders?”
“We decided not to activate them this trip, okay?”
“Damn! Why the hell didn’t you say so to begin with!”
“I don’t like your tone Nelson, besides, there’s too much electric interference anyway from all that shipboard crap for them to work properly. Now, look, if Crane doesn’t want them to be found, you can bet your bottom dollar they won’t be. I’m sorry your man got stuck in the middle of this, Gibbs. Have him stand down. I know waiting on the sidelines is hard for all of us, but give my boys a chance.”
“They’re not your boys! They’re Harriman’s and mine!” Starke shouted.
“Not while they’re on active service with ONI. And if any of you interfere with this operation in any way, I’ll have you all up on charges!”
“All right, all right,” Nelson said, “we’ll stay out of communication.”
“Auntibet and I can still at least search for the Commanders, can’t we, Boss?” McGee asked Gibbs.
“Auntibet?” Nelson asked.
“My aunt. Betty Harmon…”
“Betty Harmon? Of course,” Nelson slapped his forehead, “Jamison said she was aboard, but I had no idea she was related to you…I’m not sure you should allow her in on this….”
“I’m sorry, Admiral Nelson,” McGee interrupted, “ but my aunt pretty much does as she pleases. As will NCIS, right boss?”
“You heard Admiral Cartwright,” Gibbs said. “I wish we didn’t have to follow orders, but…there’s nothing we can do. Just like Mike Franks would remind you if he were here.”
“Uh, yeah, okay boss,” McGee answered. The message was loud and clear. Mike Franks, a former NCIS agent, like Gibbs, often busted orders if he had to in order to get the job done.
“Let me tell you, Cartwright,” Nelson growled, “ if Lee’s hurt in any way, I’m holding you personally responsible. That goes for Jigg’s man, too.”
“Being maimed or dying is the risk one sometimes has to pay for being a field agent,” Cartwright ended the call.
Lee awoke, blind, disoriented and to a severe headache. His skin felt as if it were on fire, his heart was palpitating, and he discovered he was sealed in some kind of heavy plastic crate. Great. Just great, he chided himself. As his mind cleared, he remembered that he’d gotten so caught up in discovering the bomb in Yvette’s cabin that he’d been discovered red handed. It had been a short lived scuffle as her companion had kept tasing him on maximum power, while Yvette was screaming for him to stop.
“Like hell,” Corel had slapped her, knocking her wig off. “Not only is he a spy, you like him!”
“We don’t know he’s a spy! He was probably only after my jewelry.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter now. By the time he wakes up, if he wakes up, the Love Boat will have already gone boom. We’ll get off the boat during the planned parasailing I’ve signed us up for. I’ve rigged it to capsize just before the bomb goes off. Nobody will be paying much attention to us… the re-breathers I tucked inside the seat will take us all the way to the sub. They have orders not to surface. Now, get out of here and make nice with your fans. I have a little unfinished business with your boyfriend before I pack up.”
Lee didn’t remember too much after that except the further beating of his paralyzed body. He had a couple of bruised or cracked ribs at least. Possibly a concussion.
Then the other thing struck him, a mission detail his semi- conscious mind hoped Chip would never hear about. That Yvette was actually a guy, and that Lee had kissed him. He may have been unaware of it at the time, but that wouldn’t stop Chip from badgering him about it. Then his mind returned to the matter at hand. How to warn Captain Stubbing that his ship was in mortal danger. But how? No amount of bashing the crate made it budge an inch. Yelling sure didn’t seem to help. Was Joe even looking for him yet?
“Anything?” Morton asked Sparks.
“I’m sorry, sir. There’s so much electronic interference on the Princess, I’ve only picked up a few folks complaining that Mr. Black hasn’t shown an appearance on the Lido Deck lately.
“Very well, Sparks, keep trying.”
“It’s got to be around here someplace!” ‘Yvette’ complained when she returned to the cabin. “The show can’t go on without the remote.”
“Go back to your comedy routine,” Gregg Corel said as he closed the jewelry box.
“The passengers are expecting them.”
“Tell your audience that they fell overboard or something.”
“That’s really in bad taste. Only you and Black know they’re robots. I have a reputation to think of.”
“Reputation, hah!. You gave that up long ago, you whore. I should have tossed Black overboard like I did his snooping roommate.”
“If you think they’re both spies, why didn’t you crate him up with Black?”
“Because unlike Black, he died right away.”
“As physician’s assistant, I think I should know how to tell if someone’s dead or not.”
“You’re a PA on paper only. I don’t remember you actually getting a diploma. And I still don’t think you had to hurt Black that hard.… he was such a good kisser…”
“Very funny. Now, let me take this damn thing to where it will do the most damage.”
“My god, McGee,” Starke said on the emergency conference call the NCIS agent had requested, “are you sure?”
“The bugs I’d placed came in loud and clear. There’s a bomb aboard. Commander Jackson’s dead. Crane’s either dead or soon will be. He’s been hurt and sealed in some kind of container.”
“Were you able to find out what kind of bomb it is?” Gibbs asked.
“No, and we don’t know where the PA took it. I took the liberty of contacting Captain Stubbing about the entire situation. Turns out the PA is a Bob Corel and was a new hire like Crane and Jackson were. He’s gone to ground. So’s Yvette. Stubbing’s put out an Abandon Ship.”
Morton began to use the shipboard mike order full emergency flank to the Princess, a call for search and rescue volunteers, and Sick Bay to be on standby.
“ My question is,” Cartwright mused, “ why target a cruise ship. A harmless, helpless cruise ship…”
“Obviously, it has to be something more than a simple bomb,” Nelson said.
“Okay, but what?”
“That’s what we have to figure out before…”
“Before she goes boom.”
Lee was having a difficult time breathing. No doubt about it, that his air was running out. Then he felt something small and hard…from the shape of it, it could be the earring that Yvette had been wearing and apparently lost during the scuffle. What was it about the earring? Oh yeah, it was the remote control for the robot cats. Maybe…just maybe he could get somebody’s attention with the cats…
“I just can’t believe that Black is actually the Captain of the Seaview,” Julie after she’d assisted Betty Harmon, at the insistence of her nephew, remaining aboard, into one of the lifeboats and set it to lower away.
“I knew there was something shady about Lt. Golightly,” Doc said, moving to the next lifeboat station with Julie and Gopher.
“A man of many faces, er, names, that’s for sure,” Gopher said.
“ I have permission from the Captain to stay aboard with the Alpha team,” Doc said. “I may be needed if Black is found alive.”
“But if they can’t find that bomb…” Julie whispered, as if by doing so it wouldn’t make what Captain Stubbing had said real.
“Almost half the crew’s volunteered to remain aboard and search for both the bomb and Black..er…Commander Crane. There’s a good chance they can find both.”
“There’s no chance!” Julie cried. “And he was so nice…Glenn too…and now…he’s out there, “ she indicated the waves, “dead.”
“McGee wasn’t sure about that,” Gopher said, “Seaview should get here before anything else does. The Coast Guard’s and several military ships from both the US and Mexico have been scrambled and are on the way as well. I’m staying aboard too.”
“So will I,” Julie said.
“No, Julie,” Doc patted her arm gently. “Your job’s to make sure no one panics. Bad enough the passengers have to abandon ship, it will be ten times worse if they think there’s a bomb or..”
“Or see her blow up, with you aboard!”
“Go on, Julie, you need to check on the remaining passengers and staff that need to get away, then yourself.”
“Oh god, oh god…”Julie was crying as she headed toward the remaining lifeboats to help oversee the evacuation.
“We’ve scoured her stem to stern,” Stubbing told Admiral Cartwright on the ship’s radio, frustrated, “no bomb, no Yvette, his real name’s Yvon by the way, no Corel, or Captain Crane. We’ve gone through all our security videos, but nothing indicated anything out of the ordinary or a body dumped overboard within the past 24 hours. I know what you advised, but as far as my officers and I are concerned, just like your man McGee did, we refuse to abandon ship when there’s still a missing passenger aboard.”
“You can’t risk your life for a dead man,” Cartwright said.
“Admiral,” Nelson warned.
“Captain!” McGee raced in, “look at this,” he sat the robot cat down on the deck.
“My aunt said that Yvette used a remote control for the cats…and Yvette told the audience she’d lost it. So how’s it working?”
“Could be our bomb?”
“Possibly. But doubtful. A mobile bomb wouldn’t necessarily do the damage you wanted it to, than if it were placed in precisely the right place, especially if you just wanted to sink the ship. Look, it keeps trying to go one way, no matter how you turn it… I’m thinking that somebody wants us to follow it. Somebody who probably knows how to use it.”
“You can’t mean Captain Crane?”
“He’s pretty resourceful from everything I’ve heard about him. And he was up close and personal to Yvette, so he may know how to use the remote.”
“Very well,” Stubbing said, “Gopher, Bricker you follow it. I want you here, McGee, ready to disarm the bomb once it’s found.”
“If it’s found,” Bricker muttered and followed Gopher out.
“How soon will Seaview be here?” Stubbing returned his attention to the call.
“About two hours,” Nelson said, “don’t even bother to ask how fast we got here. Just make sure those lifeboats move away from the Princess as far as possible. We’ll shield them best we can if we can’t get there before the bomb explodes. Now, Captain, what’s the most volatile cargo you have aboard?”
“Volital? I’d say the ordinary. Cleaning chemicals, solvents, fireworks, some medical stuff….”
“Medical?” Nelson asked, “wait, if the explosion was set to release some kind of toxin, who better than Corel to plant it there. He would be above suspicion…”
“ Bricker!” Stubbing ordered on his PA, “Get to Sick Bay! We may have a biohazard in addition to a bomb!”
It was difficult to stay awake. All Lee wanted to do was go to sleep. But something, call it instinct, warned him that if he did, he’d never wake up, so he started to manipulate the remote again with his fingers while trying to remember more about the bomb and the sub he remembered hearing about as his captors spoke thinking him dead. Or maybe he had been. His increasing memory loss was frustrating and this was a damn humiliating way to die. Alone and forgotten, in a box that would soon be his coffin, stuffed someplace in the bowels of a cruise ship, for Pete’s sake. Waiting to suffocate or be blown up.
That’s all that Nelson would know, Lee pondered, that he’d died in a shipboard incident, and probably without even any kind of body part to recover. And that irked Lee. It really did. He’d had friends who had died in the line of duty, and no remains were even left to bring some kind of closure. Lee knew that would be the hardest for Nelson to cope with despite words to the contrary. They’d spoken of life and death together on more than one occasion and expressed their feelings that the body was, after all, secondary. Still…these thoughts gave him strength to continue pounding and yelling, his voice almost gone. Maybe he should stop; he was using up valuable air. ‘Yell, Lee, Yell’, he though he heard someone…no, it was only his imagination. He wondered what the funeral would be like. His mother would be there, of course, Nelson, Chipee…Chipee, he giggled at the nickname he’d first used for his friend and XO when he was drunk. Why the hell was he giggling? Then he remembered when Morton and the Control Room crew had surprised him acting as if they were drunk, or high on something and it had turned out to be hypoxia…lack of oxygen. He remembered that some fighter pilots actually experienced it when systems malfunctioned, claiming it was a kind of euphoric feeling. Strange way to die, he thought. Where the blazes was the tunnel and halo of light he was supposed to see? Where was everybody? He didn’t want to be alone in the dark…so alone…
“Lee, please, somehow, some way, lead them to you,” Nelson leaned against the strut, his hands on the Observation Nose viewport, whispered as if it were a prayer, yet again. He didn’t know how many times he’d urged, unseen and unheard by the man in question, to “shout…yell, Lee, yell, scream! We need to find you…please, son, before it’s too late…”
“Well?” Stubbing asked as Gopher returned to the bridge.
“Cat’s died,” he sat the toy on the deck. “What can I do to help now, sir?”
“McGee’s still in Sick Bay searching for the bomb with Bricker.”
“ At least they’ll have some help. Seaview’s surfacing over there, protecting the lifeboats…sending out zodiacs with their own search teams to help out.”
“C’mon Lee,” Chip urged to thin air, as the rubber boat, one of several, filled to capacity, bounced up and down toward the Princess, “don’t give up…”
“Crane, give up?” Starke said, “no way, Morton. Not in his vocabulary.”
“Sir,” Ski, at the helm, pointed, “ over there! Looks like a body…”
“Your call Morton,” Starke said, “but…”
“As soon as the rest of us are aboard, Ski,” Morton ordered, “ you and Admiral Starke go ahead…I hope it’s your man, sir. And that he’s alive.”
“God I hope so to. Good luck Morton. Kill that bomb and bring Crane back to where he belongs.”
Lee was having a weird dream. Just who was Lee? Where was Lee? Who was he? What the hell was he holding in his fingers? Not that it mattered, being blind . Had he always been this blind? He was so cramped…was he waiting to be born? What were the raised dots on the earing he was holding..was it an earring?
“C’mon, c’mon, is it Jackson? Is he alive? ” Starke ordered as he and Ski started to haul the body aboard their zodiac.
“Unconscious, but alive,” Ski said as began to examine him. “What’s this anyway? Some kind of weird shirt? It’s a bit inflated.”
“Well, whatever it is, must have saved his life. No time for that now, we have to get him back to Seaview.”
“Sir, if you don’t mind, I’d like to join the search for the Skipper. Can you drop me off on the Princess and take the zodiac back to Seaview by yourself?”
“I may be the Commander of Submarines Pacific but I think I can handle a little boat like this. You go on, son,” he said as they pulled up to the Princess, “go find your Captain. I’ll join the teams later.”
“We can’t find anything remotely looking like a bomb,” Morton reported to Captain Stubbing and the conference call from sickbay.
“And none of the other search parties have reported anything either. From medical stores to lockers, nothing out of the ordinary.”
“With your permission, Captain Stubbing, I’d like to join my teams on the other decks…”
“Of course Commander. Admiral Nelson? Since none of our teams have come up with the bomb or Captain Crane, I’m going to request that your men return to your submarine within ten minutes. I don’t want any of them added to the casualty list, if there is one.”
“But..” Morton began.
“I’m sorry, Chip,” Nelson said. “Captain Stubbing is in command of the Princess, not us…if you haven’t made any headway in ten minutes, abort the mission and return to Seaview.”
“Hey,” Betty Harmon furrowed her brows and pointed. “What’s that?”
“It’s one of our speedboats,” Lt. Wayfair, at the tiller said. “We use them for the parasailing. It’s probably been launched now to help out in this emergency. Hey, that looks like Corel. He’s our Physician’s Assistant….”
“He’s headed away from us!” a man yelped. “That sneaky bastard! He took it without me!”
“You! You’re Yvette!” Betty grabbed the man’s arm.
“Don’t touch me!”
Suddenly the speedboat capsized.
“Oh lord,” Betty exclaimed.
“Oh shut up! He’s not dead!”
“What do you mean?”
“No, you meant it…why. Why isn’t he dead?”
“Look, lady,” the officer in charge took control, “enough already…”
“You don’t understand. This person is a spy. They probably planned their getaway during the parasailing, this interfered. Spill it Yvette…it’s true isn’t it. Captain Crane and Commander Jackson were onto you…so you and your partner in crime tried to kill them.”
“Who?” the officer asked.
“Black and Glenn.”
“Were those their real names?” Yvon asked, “ I thought they were just thieves…Corel thought they were agents. I guess he was right. And I didn’t want him to hurt Black! Er..”
“Lee Crane, Commander Lee Crane, Captain of the Seaview,” Betty said.
“Whatever! We couldn’t let him find out about …”Yvon stopped himself.
“Find out? Find out about what?” the officer demanded.
“Like I told you,” Betty said, “ Yvon and Corel are spies. My nephew is a Special Agent with NCIS, that’s Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Captain Crane and Commander Jackson were undercover for the Office of Naval Intelligence.”
“I’m no spy!”Yvon said, “not a real one!” he began to whine. “We were paid to plant the bomb! That’s all.”
“Bomb? Aboard the Princess?” the officer asked as his passengers began crying and wailing.
“I’m not saying anything more unless I get a deal.”
“I think you’d better signal the Seaview,” Betty told the officer. “Calm down, all of you! It’ll be all right. Seaview will see to that.”
“What the hell?” Gopher exclaimed as he stood in front of the wide open loading bay. Only a little water splashed up over the ramp. “One of the speedboat’s gone!
“Am I correct in assuming that unloading a speedboat when abandoning ship isn’t procedure?” Morton asked.
“No, it’s not…”Gopher pressed a few controls and the bay doors began to close.
“Probably your missing spies…now, Patterson, your team’s searched all four cargo bays except one?”
“Yes sir, cargo hold B, says here it’s the waste disposal bay.”
“Mr. Smith,” Chip asked Gopher, “just what happens to the garbage?”
“Well, with all the new ecological rules, we crush it, pack it up, and dispose of it when we reach port.”
“McGee said Lee…Captain Crane was in a sealed container…”
“The only sealed containers would be soiled diapers, spoiled food, or medical waste….”
“Medical waste? And Corel had access…sounds like a good place as any, hiding him in plain sight! Let’s go.”
“His real name’s Yvon,” Betty allowed Admiral Nelson to help her aboard along with the prisoner and passengers from their lifeboat.
“O’Brien, please escort the passengers and Lt. Wayfair to the Wardroom and let Captain Stubbing know we have them safely aboard. Miss Harmon, Yvon, if you’ll follow me.”
“Skipper! Skipper!” Ski and Pat were already calling down into the hold.
“Lee? Lee!” Morton yelled and didn’t bother to use the ladder, sliding down the side of it, into an Aladdin’s cave of crates. “Lee! Lee! Answer me buddy! Are you in here? ”
Their voices echoed but there was no response.
“How the hell did you get here,” Gopher noticed the toy cat on the precipice.
Suddenly it walked over the edge to fall below and right itself and saunter into the maze of crates.
“Crane! Answer me! That’s an order!” Starke shouted down to the hold, having returned to the Princess, as more men assembled at the edge and clambered down.
It was dark down there, and it took a moment for Gopher to turn on all the lights. Crate’s were neatly stacked, those full and those empty awaiting to be filled. The cacophony of yelling for Crane echoing though the hold was loud enough to wake the dead.
His ears hurt…someone was calling for Lee. Who was Lee? Someone he knew, maybe? What was in his hand? Impulsively he pressed it.
“Attention all hands,” the loudspeaker blared, “this is Captain Stubbing. All Seaview personnel will now abandon ship. Repeat. All Seaview personnel will now abandon ship. All Princess personnel will now abandon ship. No exceptions.”
“Lee! Lee! Damn it Lee! Answer me!” Chip cried out, “I don’t want you to die alone!”
“We have to go!” Starke yelled. “There may be no time left!”
“We don’t know that!” Ski yelled.
“ Lee!” Chip wailed as Starke grabbed his arm and dragged him away as the crewmen sadly followed.
“Chippee…Chipee?…” Lee’s voice, tired and husky with thirst, tried, though he didn’t know what made him call out the name. Who was Chippee?
“Captain? Captain Crane?” Starke ordered the voice.
“Lee? Lee?” Morton shouted returning to the crates.
“Chipee…Chipee…” Lee gasped barely audible.
“Over there!” Ski pointed, “it came from over there!”
“Captain Crane,” Gopher ordered, “keep calling!”
“Lee! Lee!” Morton tried again, desperate.
It was staggering drunkenly toward the corner and stopped in front of the red and white crate labeled Hazard-Medical Waste.
“It’s locked!” Morton tried to open it.
“Captain Stubbing,” Gopher used the mike on the wall, “we think we found him! We need a key! It’s a Medical Waste Container! He sounds…pretty weak.”
“On the way!”
“I guess that abandon ship order’s been cancelled,” Ski said, relieved.
“Lee…Lee…”Jackson gasped from his sickbay gurney aboard Seaview, ‘where’s Lee?”
“Easy Commander,” Jamison hovered, “you’ve got a whopper of a bump on the back of your head and you’ve been in the water…”
“Yes we know they hurt the Captain and there’s a bomb aboard.”
“Zepher?” Frank asked.
“Beats me,” Doc clicked the mike. “Admiral, Commander Jackson’s rousing, a bit disoriented. But he did mention something about a Zepher if that means anything to you.”
“Zepher?” Nelson replied, confused.
“Yes sir, that’s what he said…he’s passed out again.”
“Very well, thanks Doc.”
“Here,” Captain Stubbing himself tossed the keys down to save time before climbing down the ladder himself, McGee following.
“You’d better all go back topside, ” McGee said, “you realize they may have put the bomb in here with Crane. If so, freeing him might trigger it.”
“I’m not leaving,” Chip said. “Open it.”
With a scrunch, the latch unlocked for Gopher and the men pryed the lid open and looked in upon Crane. He was cramped, disheveled, drenched in sweat and had trails of dried blood from his hairline, onto his shirt. And was gasping gratefully for air.
“Chipee…”Lee barely managed, and squinted against the light after all that time in the dark, surprised he wasn’t blind anymore, “are you Chippee?”
“Damn,” Starke said, as the men helped pull him out. Collapsing to his knees, unable to stand, Kowalski helped him lie down as McGee checked the crate for any sign of a bomb.
“Lee?” Chip asked. “Do you know where the bomb is?”
“Bomb?” Lee replied, confused, furrowing his brows, “Ow!”
“Sorry, Skipper,” Ski said as he poked and prodded. “I think his ribs are cracked… pupils are dilated…looks like a probable skull fracture and definitely a concussion…”
“Is my Daddy here?” Lee suddenly asked, childlike, “ I heard him calling. Telling me to yell.”
“Damn, how the hell can we find that bomb now,”
“Bomb? ” Lee found himself asking without really understanding what a bomb was, only that it was important somehow, but began to cough up blood before he could ask what it was.
“Crane’s not all there, Harriman,” Starke radioed in as Crane was brought into the Princess’s sickbay, “Bricker’s got him in Sick Bay and says he may have a concussion, perhaps even hairline skull fracture, cracked ribs, etc., but is definitely the victim of severe electric shock and hypoxia. Maybe you can get more out of him…Chippee sure can’t.”
“Chippee? Lee only called him that when he was drunk.”
“Probably the hypoxia. Even so, Lee doesn’t really appear to know who Morton is, or who he is. Maybe you can get through to him….”
“Lee? Lee? Can you hear me?” Nelson’s voice came over the sickbay intercom.
“Daddy?” Crane looked around the room
“Lee, it’s Nelson.”
“Where are you? Are you an angel now?”
“Never mind that now. Lee…”
“Is that my name?’
“Mom sure was mad when you died.”
“Yes, every right to be…Lee, listen to me. This is very important…do you know where the bomb is?’
Again Crane furrowed his brows. Again this bomb, whatever it was, was important.
“ Lee? Lee?”
“Enough,” Bricker said. “This isn’t helping. You or us….”
“Damn,” Starke said, “Looks like you’re on your own McGee. Too bad we lost Jackson.”
“Jackson….Jackson,” Lee muttered, “….Joe! His name is Joe! Music box!”
“Lee?” Chip asked, “is the bomb in a music box?”
“Oh good grief,” Starke said, “you can’t count on the ramblings of a man with a head trauma who thinks he’s a child.”
“It’s better than nothing,” McGee said.
“Corell had some musical jewelry boxes!” Bricker said suddenly, and began to pull them out of a locker, “said he brought them to sell in Acapulco. Could any of these be the bomb?”
“None of them look big enough to do much damage,” Starke said.
“Boom!” Lee pointed to one with a sticker of a black cat on it. “Pretty lady,” Lee smiled as a little ballerina popped up and began to twirl when Chip opened the box.
“Lee?” Chip tried, “is this the bomb?”
“Boom!” Lee giggled.
“It’s an ordinary jewelry box,” Stubbing said. “Okay, we’ve tried. Everyone off the ship.”
“Could have a false bottom,” McGee said.
“I have a cute bottom. Lady said.”
“Got it,” McGee revealed a false bottom, revealing a computer motherboard and attached to it a white canister with a skull and crossbones on it. And the counter was ticking down. 7 minutes.
“McGee? ” Captain Stubbing asked.
“I don’t see any way to defuse this, ” McGee said.
“It’s hopeless,”Starke said, “we all need to get out of here. Morton, help me get Crane back to Seaview.”
“Sea-view? Seaview,” Crane wrinkled his brows, “is she my mother?”
“No damnit!” Starke couldn’t help himself. “She’s not your mother. She’s your damn submarine!”
“I don’t like you!” Lee shouted, then turned to Morton, and whispered, “Chippee, what’s a submarine?”
“’C’mon. Move it! Off the ship!” Stubbing roared.
“Ship… this is a ship?”
“The Pacific Princess,” Bricker said, as he helped Lee into a wheelchair.
“The Love Boat,” Crane said softly, voices and images returning to him in painful wave after painful wave of remembrance, “the Love Boat! Bomb…bomb on Love Boat…stop boom…air…can’t breathe… Zepher…Zepher. New nerve gas… enough to wipe out…half the world… Chip? McGee? Where’s Joe?”
“He’s safe aboard Seaview, Captain,” Captain Stubbing said as Bricker began to wheel him out of Sickbay. “What are you waiting for McGee. You can’t disarm it. You said so yourself.”
“Wait…Earring. The earring, fits in there,” Lee pointed to a slight niche in the box next to the motherboard.”
“What’s it do, Captain?” McGee asked.
“Don’t know…important…Corel had it with box... I…came by it… somehow…remote for the cats…”
“We didn’t find any earring on you,” Bricker said.
“Must still be in the crate!” Gopher ran out.
“Yes, Mr. President,” Nelson said toward the video monitor conference call. “Any time now. According to Captain Crane there’s a device that might stop the countdown Meanwhile, the ship’s lifeboats are safely several miles away behind Seaview which we’ve positioned as a shield from any blast. The thing is, while it’s a small bomb, and the explosion would be confined to a small area, the toxin, something new called Zepher Gas, may kill us all outright, this close to it and the prevailing winds…well…if they can’t stop it, things are going to get bad.”
“I see. How much time is left?”
“3 minutes, sir.”
‘God help us.”
“Tony’ll kill me if I don’t get out of this alive,” McGee said.
“Lee, I really wish you’d abandon ship,” Morton told Crane, who had taken the box, staring at the ballerina.
“58 seconds,” Stubbing said reading the counter.
“I don’t think any of us can get off and away in less than 1 minute, anyway, ”Lee said, squinting. His eyes hurt from trying to see if there was another way to defuse the bomb.
“Is this it?” Gopher entered, panting, holding the earring.
“Here!” Lee took it, “ is this something?” he pointed out a fine groove.
McGee then tried to insert it into a similar groove in the box.
“It won’t fit!” McGee said.
“Oh god,” Nelson’s voice intoned.
“The cat! Give me the cat!” Lee ordered.
“What good…”Chip said as Gopher handed it to Lee.
“I remember them talking about a fail-safe…Yvette called it purrific…get it, purrific? Has to be something in the robots…maybe this very one.”
“There’s nothing in the battery chamber but batteries,” he tossed them to the deck, searching, feeling the robot’s insides.
“17 seconds,” Stubbing intoned, “if anyone feels like praying, now’s the time. By the way, I’m proud of you Adam, Gopher.”
“Same here, Merryl,” Bricker said.
“Crane, I many not have ever said it,” Starke said, “ but even though you’ve been a royal pain in the ass, it’s been a pleasure making you squirm at times. Even the way you glare at me.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“Glare…glare,” Lee mused, then “the eyes! Chip! They’re motion sensitive! They could be other things too!”
“There…and there!” Lee said popping out the glass eyes, “see they have notches…”
“Yeah, but which one?” McGee asked, “the other could be booby trapped. If it’s from the right robot even.”
“God help us,” Lee said as he settled one of the fake eyes into the notch.
“See if you can turn it, Lee,” McGee said.
The globe turned in the recess.
“Say that again?” Starke ordered.
“Two seconds,” Stubbing repeated himself looking at the still counter.
“Damn, I think you did it, Crane!” Starke clapped him on the back, “er, sorry,” he added as Lee winced.
“No. We all did it,” Lee grinned.
“I still don’t understand the People’s Republic involvement,” Starke said over coffee in the Nose, Seaview docked in Acapulco, next to the Pacific Princess.
“Their plan must have been to poison the western seaboard, making it easier to penetrate our defenses. Nobody would suspect an accidental explosion and resulting fires aboard a cruise ship.”
“It’s got to be more than that…why not just send up an exploding missile?”
“I’m not sure, but I think maybe there was a mole in ONI.”
“Excuse me, sir,” Sparks approached handing Nelson a communique. “Presidential unit commendation for our assistance in the Love Boat incident. NCIS got one too, at least
Special Agent McGee did. And this here’s for the Skipper. Man, he sure was cool under fire.”
“Par for the course for Captain Crane,” Starke said.
“Are you feeling all right Jiggs?” Nelson asked, “I’ve never heard you compliment Lee, except once.”
“I might not like the boy, Harry, but he’s a good commander.”
“I’m sorry I seem to keep interrupting your vacations, Miss Harmon,” the bandaged Lee was saying as she wheeled him, in his khaki’s, toward the Nose, McGee and Jackson in tow.
“Nonsense, and it’s Auntibet to you,” she kissed him on the cheek. “I’m just glad you’re going to be okay and that you didn’t have a cracked skull.”
“I don’t know what we would have done without your help.”
“Don’t be silly, between all of you, I’m sure you would have found a way. Admiral, what’s going to happen to the culprits?”
“Well, Yvon’s agreed to a plea bargain, now that he’s agreed to testify about it all. As it is, Corel might be seeking the same deal, now that he’s been picked up by the Coast Guard, no sub in sight. And we certainly didn’t pick up anything profiling like a sub.”
“So they were nothing but pawns,” McGee said, “not secret agents or spies at all.”
“Unlike two I know,” Chip said, approaching, clipboard in hand, from the Control Room. “You know, Lee, I still find it hard to believe that you really thought Yvette was a girl.”
“Now Chip. Don’t kid him,” Nelson said, “she kissed awfully well, I seem to recall the audio we picked up.
“You’ll never let me never live that down, will you?” Lee shook his head and checked his watch. “Well, Auntibet, I think we’d better get moving if we’re going to escort you and Tim back to the Princess. I’m glad the Bomb Disposal experts gave her a clean bill of health. Must have been irritating for you and the other passengers having to be ferried to Acapulco to stay a few days while she was inspected, just in case.”
“Actually , it was one of her ports of call anyway, and we were very well taken care of,” Betty said. “I also think Timmy was more than ready to call it a day, cruise wise.”
“No fun?” Chip asked.
“Boring as hell.”
“But he’s agreed to accompany me for the rest of the cruise. He’ll probably spend all his time writing,” she sighed.
“Absolutely. I have tons of ideas now. You really don’t have to see us to the ship, Captain,” McGee said.
“Oh, I have an ulterior motive. After all Lee Black and Joe Glenn have to pick up their pay vouchers.”
‘”This is awfully embarrassing, Mr. Glenn, er…Commander Jackson,” Julie McCoy said at the cruise line’s office in Acapulco, “ but I don’t suppose you might consider continuing the cruise with us? We’re in a bit of a bind without anyone else to fill in for the water aerobics and snorkeling classes. And your paychecks were already made out for the full amount…would save a lot of paperwork…”
“I’m sorry,” Jackson said, “my boss is already hyperventilating that I’ve been away too long.”
“Mine too, ” Crane mused, “but as team leader I can promise you that the Princess won’t be doing without a pool boy.”
“Are you insane?” Joe hissed as Julie departed to take care of some paperwork, a happy blush on her face. “I wouldn’t put on that damn swimsuit again if you gave me hazard pay!”
“Who says either of us are going to have to?” Lee wheeled himself to the automatic doors. “
C’mon slowpoke. Let’s say our goodbyes to the Princess crew and get back to Seaview.”
“Well, it was your own fault, Chip,” McGee said as he lounged in the pool on the Lido Deck, “you didn’t have to needle Lee about it. Not his fault Yvette looked and acted so much like a she.”
“But he’d kissed her..er..him!”
“How’s the suit feel?”
“This damned pouch is embarrassing.!”
“Lee said the same thing…but it has a few fringe benefits…like your first class gathering over there.”
“They’re mostly old ladies…and they’ve got cameras!”
“Welcome to the web, pal. You’ll be famous.”
“I’m bored,” Lee sighed, over coffee and cookies in the Observation Nose. Nelson had ordered the accordion pleats closed to give him and Lola a little privacy as Seaview continued home.
“After all that’s happened?” Lola asked, looking up from her laptop. “How can you be bored when I got permission to come aboard Seaview in Acapulco. Nelson himself said it would be good for you, even it my appearance there was a surprise to him.”
“It’s not you…”
“I know, Mr. Secret Agent Man,” she sighed, “ Now, I have a 100 percent cure for your boredom.
“Promise? No more lurking on that damn laptop?”
“Lee Crane, it’s not lurking…but it’s very interesting. Did you know that Chip’s got over 7000 hits so far and he’s only been a pool boy…”
“Pool Master for one morning…listen to this… ‘this Greek God has every much in the way of sex appeal as the former pool boy had…will bring you more pictures tomorrow.’ Who’s that with him? She has a uniform.”
“That Julie? The one you told me about?”
“She’s not a flibbertigibbet anymore, you know.”
“I suppose…well…you know the drill. Headache? Nausea? Difficulty breathing?”
“I’m fine! And smarty pants, I was cleared for…extracurricular activities as long as I let you do most of the work.”
“You actually asked your corpsman if we could…” she asked, aghast.
“No. I asked Bricker, the Love Boat’s doctor, after I picked up my pay voucher.”
“Well,” she ran her hand through his hair, “if that’s the case, perhaps we should start calling Seaview our Love Boat.”
‘Look, Lola…we have to be discrete if we…I mean here… there are over 125 men aboard…”
“They all know we’ve been living together…so what difference does it make?”
“You’re ashamed of me?”
“No! But…they’ll…talk…you know…that kind of stuff…besides, it’ll remind them of what they’re missing…a sub full of horny men is not a happy boat. And they’ll think it’s unfair. I mean, I get to roll around in the hay and they can’t…and…and…” he lost his train of thought as she sat on his lap and kissed him, hard.
“Skipper, I…er…”Ski stopped himself in time and retreated, making sure to reclose the accordion pleats to the Control Room.
“You give him the message?” Nelson asked.
“Er, no sir…he’s kinda…busy.”
“ONI’s waiting for a response,.” Nelson opened the pleats only to find a deserted Nose.
“Guess they must’ve….er…gone,” Ski flushed.
“Oh. Very well, Ski. I’ll take care of ONI. Carry on.”
From Adm. Beckwith
To Adm. Cartwright
Re: Lee Crane’s Not So Hidden Assets
I’ve been trying to get in touch with Crane after his Mission Accomplished. Nelson refused to interrupt him.
We can’t resolve this assignment as complete he returns the blue-green swimwear.
Jackson’s already turned his red-orange in. Did so as soon as he and Starke returned to ComSubPac via that chopper we sent to pick them up off of Seaview.
The problem is that Crane seems to have given the pouch to Commander Morton, who is serving aboard the Pacific Princess in the capacity as Crane’s replacement for the remainder of their cruise. Apparently Nelson doesn’t mind his officer’s moonlighting for a little extra cash.
Hoping you can put a little fire under Morton to return the suit as soon as possible so we can close the file.
From Adm. Cartwright
To Adm. Beckwith
Re: Lee Crane’s Not So Hidden Assets
Of course, as soon as the Princess returns to San Diego after her cruise. Good thing these ‘uniforms’ were designed for the job sharing program, and there were only the two of them.
By the way, Morton has the same attraction to the female sex as Crane has. My female staff, as Nelson’s, have been drooling over their keyboards when they visit the damn ship’s internet site. Something about his baby blues matching the swimsuit. This makes me think that perhaps we can use him for any future assignments that require baiting a female. Will have to put him through some operative training, however. See to it that he’s approached with our proposition about joining the agency. Nelson’s bound to object, however. We’ll need something to bribe him with.
From Adm. Beckwith
To Adm. Cartwright
Re: Chip Morton’s Not So Hidden Assets
Negative. As soon as Morton received my call aboard the Princess, he flatly told me he’d be damned if he ever volunteer to work for us. Then he told me to leave Lee Crane alone, and would gladly return the pouch but not before asking if he might purchase it. While he probably hasn’t seen much action aboard the Princess, he has received a deluge of comments from several Santa Barbara ladies hoping to make his acquaintance.
Perhaps we should consider a franchise for these kinds of swim trunks just as JoEllen suggested. After we retire, of course. Conflict of interest otherwise.
Nelson leaned back in his chair, a contented man. Seaview had returned to port a few days ago. Lee had Lola to look after him and his last checkup showed that he was improving. It was late and most of the Admin staff had gone home, and all was well with the world. No bio hazard air to breathe, and no horrible accident at sea.
And as Starke had believed, Lee had indeed asked Nelson over for a boy’s night out when Lola was out busy someplace.
Pizza, beer, a baseball game, and a long talk. Apparently Lee didn’t feel pressured at all at Nelson’s ‘interference’ in his life. Or maybe he just didn’t want to hurt the old man’s feelings. In any case, Harry decided to be a bit more introspective on just how he compromised his son’s time in the future.
There was one thing left to do before retiring to his apartment ‘above the shop’. According to Angie he had a visitor. Some kind of salesperson, she’d said.
“How do you do, Miss….”Nelson began, “Commander Jackson?”
“Actually,” she bent her head and flushed, “It’s just JoEllen. Joe asked me to well, pretend to be in the Navy. Oh he was on the up and up. ONI approved our little subterfuge. Sooner or later we knew you’d figure out that Commanders Jackson and Crane were working together on assignment. We just wanted that knowledge to be a little…later.”
“I appreciate you letting me know.”
“That’s not actually why I’m here. I’m a sales associate for a swimwear company, and well, after seeing pictures of Joe and Captain Crane in ‘uniform’ on the Love Boat…well, I thought NIMR could use a new look in your swim attire,” she pulled out a yellow set of trunks.
“That’s a pouch,” Nelson pursed his lips.
“Brilliant powers of observation. Yes, just the thing to show folks that NIMR is right on top of things. Current. I’m sure you don’t want other oceanographic institutes continue to believe you’re behind the times.”
“I beg your pardon!”
“Common knowledge. Did you know, Admiral, that more than half of the world’s oceanographers are now female? What better way to attract the attention of universities and institutions by showing them you’re not adverse to a little fashion flair.”
“My dear young lady, I don’t for a minute think this kind of reasoning is warranted or appropriate. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
“But Admiral. Just think of a fashion spread…the publicity…’Admiral Nelson, CEO of his own oceanographic institute and the submarine Seaview, emerging from one of the several rehabilitation aquariums, in a brand spanking new yellow paisley swim trunks from Fun Wear’. People will be sure to notice.”
“People will laugh at me!”
“No they won’t. At least, not the women. Here, why not try it on? If you don’t like it, or if it doesn’t fit comfortably, I’ll just go away and never bother you again…how about it…pretty please? ”
“Oh, good grief,” Nelson pouted and clicked the intercom. “Angie, would you get our guest a cup of coffee while I change? It appears it’s the only way I have to get rid of her.”
In minutes Angie appeared and escorted JoEllen to the outer office for some coffee.
“Well, Chip, how’d you enjoy the Love Boat?” Lee asked as they both entered NIMR’s office wing the following week.
“Actually, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
“You sound disappointed. But don’t worry. I learned my lesson. The next time you kiss a guy, even if it’s by accident, I won’t rib you about it.”
“Fair enough…say, what are all the staff hovered around the water cooler?”
Almost as soon as they noticed Seaview’s two senior officers, they’d scattered, a single page drifting out of one of the glossy magazines Tish had been carrying.
“Tish? Tish?”Lee called.
“Forget it Lee, she’s halfway to Timbuktu by now,” Chip picked up the page and shook his head.
“What is it?”
“A fashion layout. Here, at the Institute.”
“The Admiral’s in it, here, listen, ‘Just as NIMR boasts the latest in oceanographic technology, it’s CEO can boast some rather interesting assets, such as his Fun Wear swim trunks, the latest in fashion and comfort.’
“So where’s the picture?” Lee asked.
“Been cut out I guess.”
“Uh, no…”Lee pointed to a spot behind the water cooler, and picked up the full color layout, and strangled, ‘ohmygod… d...do you think he knows about this?”
“Of course I do,” Nelson approached, “after all,” he wrapped his arms around their shoulders, leading them to his office, “if you were willing, or as in your case, Chip, semi willing to wear the damn things in the line of duty, well, so I am I. And as someone recently informed me, think of the publicity. Besides, while I may be old enough to be your father, but I’m not without my own ‘not so hidden assets’.
*Trojan= A brand of condom
*Glenn= Lee used the moniker of Lee Glen when searching for Zeraff's city under the sea. So I used the last name of Glenn in this story for his friend Joe. Only Nelson would see the similarity.
*Johnny Walker= A whiskey very popular in the US.
*The Love Boat= TV series about the experiences of crew and passengers aboard the Pacific Princess. Used some literary licence in propelling these characters into the same time frame of this Voyage story which is also morphed into the present than it's original airing.
*NCIS=TV series (fiction) about the Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agents and their solving crimes and preventing them.
*Betty Harmon= Spinster school teacher Crane depended on to help him both escape from the bad guys in Venice and accomplish his mission by singing a little song later on. For this story I made her NCIS Special Agent McGee's aunt.