Basket Case

By R. L. Keller


“What are you doing here?” Cdr. Lee Crane was challenged by Angie Pearce, Admiral Harriman Nelson’s PA, as he headed for Nelson’s office for the senior staff’s usual Monday morning strategy session.


Lee merely smiled at the growl in her voice.  “The last I knew I work here,” he told her affably.


She sent him a glare.  “That’s not what I meant and you know it, Commander.  You’re still on medical leave.”


“Not anymore.  Doc released me to light duty.”


“Against my better judgment,” came in Dr. Will Jamison’s familiar grumble as he, too, walked into the open area in front of Nelson’s office that was Angie’s personal domain.  “Couldn’t stand listening to him whine any longer.”  Lee turned to send Seaview’s CMO a nasty glare but found himself also looking at his boss, as well as Lt. Cdr. Chip Morton, his XO and best friend.


“Don’t do it, Lee,” Chip warned him with a broad grin.  “You’d lose anyway.”


“And besides,” Will continued to Angie, straight-faced, “Mrs. Crane left yesterday.  At least if he’s here, someone will be keeping an eye on him.”


“Harrumph,” Lee did his best Nelson impersonation, causing everyone else to chuckle.


Lee had been on extremely restricted duty following injuries suffered during a run-in with smugglers.*  Forbidden to even come on NIMR grounds he’d stayed at home, allowed to work on a minimum of reports and paperwork while Seaview sailed without him.  His mother had been drafted to keep an eye on him during the CMO’s absence, which had led to its own set of interesting circumstances.**  Finally on the mend, Lee was anxious to get back to work.


Lee had no misconceptions about how the next couple of weeks would go.  He knew that he would try the patience of those closest to him – in particular his CMO.  Jamie would do his best to slow down his workaholic CO, to allow Lee’s body to continue to heal as much as possible before Seaview’s next cruise.  Lee had seriously ticked off the doctor following the injuries, and was doing his best to comply with the restrictions Jamie had imposed.  But he knew himself far too well; now that he was actually back to work he’d do everything he was allowed to do, and as much more as he could get away with before Nelson, Chip, and Jamie ganged up on him and tossed his tail back off the grounds.  Today, his first day back, he figured that that would be about noon or shortly after.  And he’d give in – almost graciously.  But starting tomorrow he would try to push at least an extra hour each day so that by the end of the week the others would surrender, give up the battle, and leave him alone.


He also knew that at least this first week he’d be restricted to desk duty, but wasn’t totally bothered by that.  After his years here at NIMR he was all too familiar with the mounds of paperwork not only his own job generated, but the little extras that he’d slowly been led into as Admiral Nelson had him tackling more of the managerial end of things – requesting his input on staff hirings for the Institute as well as just Seaview herself, keeping himself familiar with budget requests, department reports, all the little ins and outs that kept the Institute functional.  It had a decided tendency to fill his ‘In’ basket a good deal faster than he could dump it in his ‘Out’ one.  But he did, actually, find himself enjoying it.  Most of the time, anyway.  Occasionally, when there was an overly large amount of it added to his own load, he had to remind himself that he was giving the Admiral more time to concentrate on his research projects and military interfacing.  This week it would give Lee a chance to catch up on everything that had happened while he’d been banned from the grounds, convalescing.


He still frowned when Chip clapped a hand on his shoulder and said WAY too jovially, “Not to worry, Angie.  As many refit reports as I dumped in his office, he won’t be doing anything more strenuous for the next month than lifting a pen.”  That caused more chuckles for everyone except Lee, and the four men headed into Nelson’s office.


The meeting was fairly short.  Seaview was expected to be in port for the next two weeks at least.  Most of the crew had been given leave.  Nelson would be working with several department heads on ongoing projects.  Chip had a number of computer upgrades to install and test this week, and then he was taking off for his parents’ place outside Chicago for a week.  He teased Lee about going with him.  Lee knew that he always had a standing invitation to show up at the Morton’s place.  But the others figured that Lee would be so buried, trying to catch up with everything, that he wouldn’t want to leave any time soon – hence the teasing.  He just gave a noncommittal shrug, and the other smiled.


Once the meeting broke up Chip accompanied Lee to his office, chuckling again when Lee let out a groan at the door.  As anticipated, his desk was piled high with a jumble of file folders and computer printouts.  After a quick hand to Lee’s shoulder Chip headed for his own office.  Lee took a deep breath and waded in – somewhat literally.


He started by stacking everything on one end of his desk, the overflow ending up on his chair high enough to almost reach the headrest.  Then he sorted everything into stacks by content: refit status reports, resumes for potential new staff, departmental updates, requests for NIMR’s services, as well as a myriad of other odds and ends.  He was just getting the final handful into their proper stacks when there was a rap on his open door and he looked up to find Chip leaning casually against the doorframe.


“Hallelujah!”  The blond sent him a broad grin before continuing.  “My organizational skills are finally starting to rub off on you.”


Lee sent him the expected glare.  “Did you come by to gloat?  This mess is going to take me forever to get through.”


Chip shook his head.  “Came to make sure you eat lunch.” 


Lee glanced at the clock and involuntarily shuddered when he realized that it was already 1230 hours.  “Eesh,” he muttered, and Chip’s grin spread.


“I gather you’ve been having so much fun that you haven’t kept track of time.”


Lee sent him another glare before it morphed into a look of chagrin.  “Something like that,” he finally admitted.


Chip shook his head, but his grin stayed.  “Well, come along, junior.”  He instantly frowned when Lee hesitated, giving the mounds a wistful look.  “Don’t even think about it,” Chip growled the warning.  Lee sent him a quick through-the-lashes glance, along with a small grin, and left peacefully.  He was pretty sure that this would be the end of his first day back to work; Chip would find some way to talk him into going home until tomorrow.  But that wouldn’t be so bad – Lee would scoot back to his office long enough to stuff his briefcase full of the most pressing reports, and work on them at home.


It didn’t quite go as planned.  When they were done eating, instead of heading from the cafeteria back upstairs to the offices, Chip herded Lee toward the side door.  Once outside, Lee found his car, jacket and briefcase on the passenger seat, car keys – which Lee had left in his jacket packet – laying on the dash.  Lee turned an absolutely nasty glare on his best friend. 


Chip turned palms up and shrugged.  “Just following orders,” he told his ticked-off CO.


Lee was tempted to ask whose orders, but decided fairly quickly that he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.  He gave Chip a quick smile and a nod, admitting defeat. Tomorrow I just have to get sneakier than they are, he told himself, and grudgingly headed home.  Once there, he changed out of his uniform and took a leisurely stroll down the beach.  He was a little surprised not to find Chip at his place when he got back – he’d half-expected the blond to show up either with pizza and a six-pack, or a suggestion of burgers at BZ’s.  Instead, Lee fixed a salad, reheated some chicken his mom had fixed the last night she was there, and ate in the livingroom watching a baseball game.  He’d never admit it to anyone but himself, but an early bed felt really great!


He hit his office early the next morning but was just standing a few steps inside the door, staring at his desk, when Chip walked in behind him.  “What’s wrong?” the blond asked, a bit of worry creeping into the usually cheery voice.


“Did you take some of the folders off my desk yesterday?”


“Moi?”  Chip gave Lee a look of total incredulity.  “You know I hate paperwork.  Especially yours.”  He grinned.  “Why?”


Lee shrugged.  “I could have sworn that the stack of applicants was higher than that.  I had it sorted by position – there’s the opening in Engineering on Seaview, a lab position in Biometrics, and a couple in Security.  I criss-crossed the folders, and the whole stack looks a lot shorter this morning that I remember.”


“Losing it, buddy,” Chip teased him.  “Can’t remember diddly from one day to the next.”


Lee reached out a hand and gave his friend a quick slap on the shoulder, but they both grinned and chuckled softly.  Chip headed for his own office for a quick check before heading to Seaview to oversee work on the boat’s computers, and Lee tackled the seemingly shortened stack of applications.


It still took him most of the morning.  NIMR was a popular place to work; they paid well, supplied great benefits, and did their best to maintain a congenial atmosphere in which to work.  Because of this, there was always an abundance of applicants for the infrequent staff openings.  But they also required high standards for employment, and there were usually quick ways to weed out at least half of all applicants simply because there were others more qualified.


Today, however, each position had half a dozen equally appealing prospects.  Lee found himself spending extra time with each application, having to get extremely nitpicky narrowing the choices.  He was just finishing the final list of recommendations for interviews to the various department heads when Admiral Nelson poked his head in the door.


“In the middle of something?” he asked once Lee noticed him.


Lee shook his head with a grin.  “In need of a break, actually,” he admitted.  He glanced at his clock as he reached for his long-empty coffee mug, and shuddered when he realized that it was just after noon.


Nelson grinned.  “Been a bit involved, I take it?”


“Apparently more so than I realized,” Lee admitted.


“Then its good I stopped by,” Nelson told him firmly, and Lee sent him a sheepish grin.  Nelson’s expression softened.  “Come along – we’ll go have lunch at Visconti’s and you can tell me what’s kept you buried.”  Lee gave his desk another glance, but surrendered peacefully and grabbed his jacket.


The pair had just reached the bottom of the steps in front of the Admin building when Seaview’s senior rating, Kowalski, along with one of her younger crewmen, Riley, passed by in a NIMR jeep.  Nelson gave a whistle and Kowalski braked, looking expectantly at his bosses.  “May I inquire as to where you’re headed?” Nelson asked him genially.


“Into town to pick up some spare parts, sir,” the rating answered.  “Something I can pick up for you?”


“Actually,” Nelson started, then stopped and turned to Lee.  “Got your car keys in your pocket?”


“Yes, sir,” Lee said, starting to frown.  Nelson held out a hand and Lee reluctantly dropped the keys into the palm.  Nelson immediately tossed them to Kowalski.  “Could you drop Cdr. Crane’s car back at his place first?  We’re headed to lunch, and that will save him a trip back for it.”


“No problem, sir.  Sirs,” he amended, slipped out of the jeep as Riley took over the driver’s seat, and jogged off to where Lee’s little red sportscar was parked.


Lee sent his boss an only slightly muted glare.  “I think I smell a conspiracy,” he muttered.


Nelson’s face split into a wide grin and he chuckled openly.  “A little one,” he admitted.  Lee muttered a few things too softly for Nelson to hear actual words, causing the Admiral’s grin to increase.  He gave Lee’s shoulder a little nudge.  “Coming?”


“Do I have a choice?”


“Not really.”


“Thought so,” Lee continued to mutter with a frown.  But he went along peacefully.  He did enjoy the relaxed meal with Admiral Nelson, refrained from grumbling when dropped back at his beach house, and spent the afternoon and evening much as he had the day before.


Wednesday started with a bit of gentle harassment from Angie.  Lee sent her a grin as he walked past her area on the way to his office.  She grinned back.  “It’s nice to see you looking so well-rested, Commander,” she told him all too innocently.  She snickered at the momentary glare sent her direction, and Lee continued walking.  He knew perfectly well that, having put up with Nelson all these years, he didn’t stand a chance against the ultra-competent PA.


Lee realized that he was going to have to get sneakier than his friends if he was going to put in a full day’s work.  They had proven all too effective at ousting him by mid-day.  To that end he piled as many of the departmental reports into his briefcase as it would hold, figuring that he could read those at home, and started in on the mound of requests for NIMR services.  Some were for projects that would be handled in the various labs, and Lee had little to do with them.  What got passed on to Lee were those that required Seaview’s use.  He evaluated them for feasibility – did it really require the giant submarine or could other ocean-going vessels handle it.  And if they needed Seaview, what were the risk factors, if any, and/or extra crew requirements – did they need to carry more dive specialists than normal, or maybe extra lab technicians.  Lee had given the stack a critical glance when he first walked in the door, but it looked no smaller than he remembered it being.  What he did discover, as he opened the first one, was a detailed summary of the request – what Lee would usually do and pass on to Admiral Nelson was already done, merely needing a quick read to keep him up-to-date.


It was the same with the next folder.  And the next.  And all the way to the bottom of the stack.  He was muttering dark threats against whoever had beat him to his morning’s work when his phone rang, and he answered it none too pleasantly.


“Bad morning, Skipper?” Will Jamison asked way too cheerfully for Lee’s foul mood.  “Hopefully you’re not doing something not on your list of approved duties, and that’s causing pain.”


Lee muttered a particularly nasty retort – thankfully only to himself.  Out loud he was almost under control.  “No, Jamie,” came out with only a mild growl.  “Paperwork only.  And not even much of that,” he added with a slightly more noticeable grumble.


“Good,” Will told him firmly.  “For once I’d like to see you completely healed before you once more mangle yourself.”


Lee briefly closed his eyes, and finally said with half a smile in his voice, “I don’t do it on purpose, Jamie,”


Will snorted.  “If I thought you did I’d send you off to the Funny Farm so fast you wouldn’t know what hit you.”


It was Lee’s turn to snort, but it ended in a chuckle.  While it was rarely spoken of out loud, he’d come to enjoy his sparring matches with Seaview’s CMO.  And despite the grumbling, he had every reason to believe that Jamie did as well.  “Fat chance,” he growled, but could be fairly sure that the doctor still heard the humor in his voice.


He was sure when Will chuckled.  “Don’t suppose I could get you to wander this direction about 1100 hours, Skipper?”


“Why?” came out with a huff, and more loudly than Lee had intended.


Will chuckled harder.  “You’re not the only one who is expected to keep detailed reports, Skipper.  I have to account for all the time and resources you cost NIMR, and that means keeping closer tabs on you than anyone else under my care.”


“All the doctors in the world, and I get stuck with a smart-aleck.”  But both men once more chuckled, and Lee promised he’d come over.


Lee was pretty sure that, what with the previous days’ happenings, Jamie would find a way to kick him off NIMR grounds for the rest of the day.  But at least today he was prepared.  He took the precaution of putting his loaded briefcase in his car before walking over to Med Bay.   He still walked in the medical center’s front doors with the expected scowl on his face – he figured that if he ever came in for an appointment actually smiling, he’d scare the receptionist half to death.


He had a feeling that, despite the frown, Jamie still read some of the sparkle in Lee’s eyes when Lee semi-stomped into the CMO’s office.  “So, if it wasn’t pain, what did have you grumbling this morning?” Will asked amiably.  “Besides me,” he added with a grin.


Lee squashed the one that instantly threatened to replace the frown on his own face out of sheer habit.  “Having most of the reports I’d planned to work on this morning already finished.”  He pointed a glare at Will.  “You have anything to do with that, by any chance?”


“And what reports would that be?”  When Lee explained, Will sent the younger man his own glare.  “And how, pray tell, would I know anything about any of that?”


Lee was forced to shrug, along with a bit of a sheepish grin.  “It was just a thought.”


“Well, think again,” Will told him firmly.  “Come along to the exam room.”   Lee went back to frowning – mostly because he knew that it was expected.  But he went along peacefully.


The frown quickly became all too real.  The doctor seemed intent on not only checking the original injuries that had led to Lee’s latest recuperation period, but also doing a complete physical.  Lee’s increasingly frustrated mutterings went totally ignored.  He rarely had any effect sidetracking Jamie unless circumstances warranted the doctor stepping back and letting Lee deal with whatever crisis was happening.  It didn’t keep him from trying, however.


Lee very carefully buried a grin when, finally finished, Will reminded Lee that he was still on limited duty and ordered him home for the rest of the day.  It wouldn’t have taken much for the supremely competent doctor to catch the fact that Lee, who was anticipating all the work waiting for him in his briefcase, didn’t put up the usual arguments.  He finally let the grin out as he exited NIMR’s gate.  He made a quick grocery stop, fixed a light lunch, and then settled into his favorite chair in the livingroom, his briefcase on the small table at his elbow.


It was a good thing that he was alone.  With a few notable exceptions, NIMR’s entire complement of employees would have been shocked at the string of epithets Lee let loose when he discovered that all of the reports had been read, evaluated, and a summary sheet attached to the top sheet of each.  Within an hour Lee was totally caught up.  And was immediately bored out of his skull!  He seriously considered returning to NIMR and checking in with Chip, working aboard Seaview, but quickly dismissed that idea.  Even if Jamie hadn’t ordered the gate guards to refuse him entrance once he’d left for the day, Chip would no doubt throw him out anyway.  After muttering a few more words he figured most of his crew didn’t know that he knew he went for a long, decompressing walk on the beach.


Apparently he didn’t dissipate as much of the previous day’s frustrations as he thought he had.  Admiral Nelson was just getting out of his car when Lee drove in the next morning, and waited for Lee to join him for the walk up the steps into the Admin building.  But the smile on his face died as Lee walked up to him.  “What’s wrong, Lee?” he asked, worry evident in the carefully asked question.


Lee grimaced but was unable to hold it, and sent his boss a small smile.  “Don’t suppose you had anything to do with all of the departmental reports I stuffed in my briefcase to work on at home yesterday afternoon already being digested and summarized?”


Nelson’s grin came back twofold.  “Not guilty,” he told Lee.  “Although, can’t say I’m displeased that your flaunting of orders to rest got outmaneuvered.”


“I would only have been sitting and reading,” Lee muttered, albeit softly in deference to the Admiral’s authority.


“Harrumph,” Nelson did his own bit of muttering, before the grin once more took over.  “Come along.  I need coffee, and it sounds like you do as well.”  Lee nodded his agreement, and the two spent half an hour discussing odds and ends in Nelson’s office before the Admiral had to leave for meetings with a couple of Department heads.  Lee headed for his office and the final mound of folders.  He’d left it until last, knowing that it would take him the longest since it was filled with all the little intangibles that got tossed his direction – Fit-reps to read, approve, and sign off on; leave requests to be worked into Seaview’s schedule; the next several cruises to refine orders and staffing for, and pass on to Chip any extra supply requirements he thought that they might need.  While Seaview’s XO usually had that well in hand, he appreciated Lee double-checking him.  Major grounds or building maintenance requests were kept separate from Departmental reports and had to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  Lee understood why Admiral Nelson wanted Lee to be at least familiar with all of NIMR’s workings, and appreciated the fact that Nelson valued and trusted his input.  But Lee still felt a bit overwhelmed at times.


Today turned out to not be one of them.  Once again, every folder he opened had been previously summarized, and recommendations made.  By barely 1000 hours he had all but a couple tossed into his ‘Out’ basket, and had decided to risk all-out warfare with Jamie by spending the rest of the day puttering aboard Seaview, when Angie tapped on his open door frame.  Lee sent her a glare.  “I’ll just bet you had something to do with all of these reports being done,” he challenged her.  “It would be just up your alley – you know as much about running NIMR, if not more, than I do.”


Admiral Nelson’s PA sent the glare right back.  “And when would I have time to do any of your work, Commander?” she growled.  “Trying to keep up with the Admiral is a full-time job, and then some.”


Lee’s frown morphed into a sheepish grin and he sent her a nod.  “I know, Angie,” he apologized.  “Just frustrated that everything I planned to work on this week is all pretty much done.”


“Well, when you identify the culprit send him my way – I could use the help.  In the meantime,” her voice softened and she set several folders in front of him, “here’s some requests for Seaview that came in today’s mail.  You can concentrate on them for the next couple hours until you leave for the day.”


Lee pointed an eyebrow at her.  “And who said I was only working half a day?” he half growled.  Whatever she was going to say was interrupted by his phone ringing.  Never taking his eyes off Angie, he reached for it and said firmly, “Crane.”


“Ouch.  Bad timing?” came over the receiver, in a voice Lee instantly recognized as belonging to his lady friend from Portland, Oregon, Becca Radiwan.


Both Lee’s expression and voice instantly softened.  “Just spent the last few days having all my plans screwed up,” he admitted.  Angie sent him a grin and beat a hasty retreat, partially closing Lee’s door behind her.  Lee momentarily wondered why, but was distracted as Becca continued.


“Ah, sounds like me,” she said with an almost purr in her voice.  “I was all set to attend a four-day seminar in Los Angeles.  Boring, but it would get me out of the office for a few days.  Just got word that the whole thing’s been cancelled – not sure why.  It’s left me with an airline ticket, a nice hotel room, and four whole days with nothing to do and no one to share them with.  Any takers?”


Lee chuckled.  He was often amazed at how things just happened to happen around him.  All his life.  Not long before his grandfather had passed away he and his mom got new neighbors, an older couple that filled a major hole in his life.  The fact that he grew up close to the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., that had a very active Sea Scouts program gave a huge boost to his future career.  He’d worked hard for a lot of what he’d gotten over the years, but even Seaview and NIMR had basically fallen into his lap.  It was purely by chance that he’d met Becca, and found someone he could relax with, talk to; someone who enjoyed him for who he was, made no demands on his time as most women seemed to want, and happily shared those moments that the two could find in their equally busy schedules.


“I think I might just know a frustrated sailor in need of some distraction,” Lee answered, the chuckle evident in his voice.  Becca returned it.  “When do you get in?”


“Six-ish this evening.  Humm, that’s 1800 hours to you if I remember correctly.”  She added the flight number.


“Meet you at LAX,” Lee answered, and the two rang off.  He glanced at the folders Angie had just left on his desk, called Security to let them know that he was going to be out of town until Monday morning, left a note for Chip, and told Angie that he was leaving.  He frowned at her “Hallelujah,” sent her a glare when she merely chuckled, and headed home to pack.


Admiral Nelson watched out his office windows as Lee started down the front steps to the Admin building.  With him were Chip, Will, and Angie.


The first to speak was Chip.  “I can’t believe we got away with it.”  His voice was filled with amazement.  “I don’t know how I kept a straight face when he accused me of having trimmed down the list of applications.”


Will sent him a glare.  “And if anyone ever suggests that I do that again, there will be major repercussions come next physical time.”


Nelson sent his CMO a grin.  “But you did a great job,” he told the ticked off doctor.


Will’s frown softened.  “Actually, it wasn’t too hard.  Because most of the applicants were well trained, I could weed out any that had iffy health issues – smokers particularly.”  He sent a pointed glare at Nelson, who ignored it as usual.


“I had the same problem when he asked me if I’d had anything to do with the Departmental updates.”  He turned to Angie.  “You did a terrific job with those, by the way.”


“While my work sat,” she told him with a grumble.  “But all in all, it was worth it.”  The others nodded.


“But please don’t ask me to do anything like those extra reports again, sir,” Chip pleaded to Nelson.  “If Lee had asked me point blank, I don’t think I could have lied convincingly.”


Nelson nodded.  “I know exactly what you mean, Chip.  We’re lucky that he chose to question each of us on what we didn’t do, and not what we did.”  The others nodded agreement.


“So, sir, he’ll be gone until Sunday evening?”


“More likely Monday morning.”


“He’ll be a lot closer to recovered by then,” Will said to no one in particular.  “I might even let him go back to full time duty.”


“You’d better, Doc,” Chip told him with feeling.  “I don’t think we could pull this off again – at least not any time soon.”


Again there were heartfelt nods of agreement, and a few shudders.  Chip turned to Nelson.  “May I ask, sir, how you got Dr. Radiwan suckered into the conspiracy?  Ah…” he realized too late how that had sounded and didn’t continue.


Nelson sent him a fond grin.  “Let’s just say that she seems to have a soft spot for a certain dark-haired Commander.”


“Hurrah to that, sir.  We gotta get him to keep this one.  Even if it is only limited to the occasional few days at a time.”  There were more nods of agreement, and Chip’s wasn’t the only smile that was a bit more on the smirk side.


“Just so long as we don’t get caught,” Will added quietly, and they all watched as Lee’s car headed out the gate.







  * see “Dragon of the Sea”

** see “Out of the Action” by