The New Guy


By R. L. Keller


Chief Francis E. Sharkey, just about to start his second cruise as COB aboard the giant submarine Seaview, ambled into the Control Room, head bent over a clipboard.  He stopped just inside the aft hatch to make a couple more notations before giving the paperwork to the boat’s XO, Lt. Cdr. Charles P. “Chip” Morton.  Sharkey had been supervising the loading of supplies.  He was only too aware of how picky Mr. Morton was, and wanted to make sure that there was nothing the XO could find fault with.


Sharkey was still finding his way with his new crew.  He’d been excited when Admiral Nelson, with whom he’d served briefly several years ago, had contacted him about taking over after the death of her first Chief of the Boat, Curley Jones.  When he’d seen the roster he’d been a bit concerned to note how many men had been brought in from non-Navy positions.  But it hadn’t taken him longer than halfway through his first cruise to realize how well each man meshed into an incredibly tight, hard working, extremely competent crew.  Sharkey was impressed that, while there were a lot of strong-willed temperaments present, it was rare that everyone didn’t pull together – didn’t all work toward the common goal of a successful cruise.  Sharkey was quick to note that a lot of the smooth running was because of the Command Staff.  While the XO might be a little anal – as far as Sharkey was concerned, anyway – there was no doubt that his focus was on keeping everything running smoothly.  As for the Skipper, Cdr. Lee Crane, well…  Once Sharkey got past the fact of how incredibly young the man was, there was no denying the man’s competence.  Nor, the crew’s devotion to him.  Sharkey was still coming to terms with the fact that CO and XO were such good friends – had known each other since their first days at Annapolis.  But for whatever reason, Sharkey quickly realized that they were a good balance for each other.  Oh, the Skipper demanded competence in his crew.  But his usual style was much more laid back and relaxed than his XO.


As Sharkey put the finishing touches to the stowage report, someone came down the boarding hatch ladder.  So far, only the XO and CO were in the Conn since it was still several hours before sailing time and the crew was just starting to report in.  Sharkey quickly identified, even before his face came into view, Seaview’s cook.  That had been another surprise for Seaview’s new COB.  While the man was the backup reactor technician aboard the sub, he was also an excellent chef.  Sharkey had never eaten so well on any other vessel he’d served aboard.  Of course, he’d also figured out early on that if he wasn’t careful he’d have to buy bigger uniforms.  A smile crossed his face as he listened to the two senior officers greet the man.


“You’re aboard early, Cookie,” Morton commented as he checked the man in on his crew list.


“What with being out of town all week, sir,” Cookie answered, “I wanted to spend a little extra time getting the galley squared away.”


“Don’t you trust Higgins?” Morton asked, naming Cookie’s assistant.


Before the chef had a chance to answer, Cdr. Crane jumped in.  “Of course he does, Chip.”  Sharkey knew Crane was teasing his XO, from the broad grin on his face and the quick wink he sent the chef.  “He just wants to make sure that you didn’t raid the candy he ordered, since we’ll be out over Halloween.”  Sharkey knew, from Crane’s instant laughter, that Morton had sent him a hard glare for that crack.  Once more, before Morton could think of a comeback, Crane spoke.  “So,” he asked Cookie, “how did you enjoy Boot Camp?”


Sharkey could only see the side of Cookie’s face, but the chef’s expression changed from trying not to laugh at Seaview’s XO – nothing was guaranteed to tick off Mr. Morton faster, even if he wasn’t the one who had initiated the comments – to one that Sharkey could only translate as pure joy.  “Oh man, Skipper.  That CIA is incredible!”  Cookie’s voice was filled with awe.  “I learned more about using knives than I ever thought existed, and that was just the first day.”


Crane sent him another grin.  “I look forward to your report, Cookie,” was, however, all he said, and Cookie headed back toward where Sharkey was standing, to go out the aft hatch and head for the galley.


Sharkey let him pass, totally confused by what he’d just heard.  Seaview’s chef spending time at the CIA?  What was he doing there?  It hadn’t taken long for Sharkey to learn that Cdr. Crane still ran the occasional errand for ONI.  But what was Cookie doing at the Central Intelligence Agency?  He finally walked forward.  Here’s the supply forms, Mr. Morton,” he said as he stopped at the chart table where the two were standing, working on clipboards of their own.


“Thanks, Chief,” Morton answered.  Crane was still grinning, and Morton frowned before his expression softened somewhat as he turned to accept Sharkey’s report.


“Ah…”  Sharkey was still so new, he hadn’t yet quite figured out how much he could question the senior staff.


“What’s up, Chief?” Crane asked, sending the easy grin Sharkey’s way.


“Couldn’t help overhearing Cookie,” Sharkey told him.  “Just wondered what he was doing at the CIA?”  He glanced at Morton as the XO couldn’t totally smother a snort.  Crane’s grin momentarily broadened, but he answered the question seriously enough.


“It’s a program the Admiral authorized Cookie to take.”


“Wasn’t that all in the P-5 memo?” Morton asked, barely looking up from the clipboard he was working with.


“I believe that you’re right,” Crane nodded back.


“Ah…oh,” Sharkey stammered.  He’d seen no such memo, but he wasn’t about to admit it.  No way!  Not to these two.  “If there’s nothing else, sirs…”


Crave waved a hand in his direction, already back to studying his own clipboard.  “Carry on, Chief,” he said nonchalantly.


Sharkey almost saluted, remembered just in time that Crane preferred to ignore that kind of military discipline – on a day-to-day basis, anyway – and turned and left.  Just as he stepped through the aft hatch he thought that he heard snickers from Mr. Morton, and turned just in time to see Crane punch him lightly on the shoulder.  But he hustled out before they could notice that he’d seen.


Now that the extra supplies were loaded and stowed, Chief Sharkey had several other lists of pre-cruise duties to see to.  He thought about heading for the Crew’s Mess to grab a cup of coffee – he knew that that would be Cookie’s first chore once he’d gotten to the galley.  But the man’s volatile temper made Sharkey hesitate.  He’d seemed happy enough while talking to Morton and Crane, but the cook was one of the first people that Sharkey had crossed swords with when he took over as COB.  Man, all he’d done was question why the Crew’s Mess had run out of hashbrowns before everyone had a chance to finish breakfast and he’d gotten a two-minute tirade about how, if the crew wasn’t such pigs, there would have been plenty for everyone.  Sharkey figured that the comment was directed at him personally, since he’d taken a huge portion first time through the line.  And then, no sooner had the man stopped yelling when he’d pulled another tray of potatoes out of the warming oven.  The smirk he’d sent his new COB had definitely been intimidating and Sharkey had, since then, kept his mouth shut around the man, except to extend the occasional compliments on the quality of the menus.


But the more he thought about the man’s conversation with the two senior officers, the more confused Sharkey got.  And the more confused he got, the grumpier it made him.  He did not like not knowing what was happening on his boat.


One of the items on his checklist was to see how repairs were coming to one of the torpedo racks in the Missile Room.  When he entered, he saw Patterson and Kowalski apparently just sitting on the deck, talking.  “Hey,” he growled, “what’s the big idea?  Do I have to stand over your shoulder constantly just to make sure you don’t goof off?”


Kowalski sent him a sharp look, but it was Patterson who calmly answered.  “Not goofing off, Chief.  We’re just rebuilding this bracket.”


“Rebuilding,” the Chief continued to bluster.  “Just get a new one.”


“Can’t, Chief,” the mild-mannered seaman continued to try and placate him.  “The Admiral designed these especially for Seaview.  The company he had make them has been bought up by some congloberate…”


“That’s conglomerate,” Sharkey automatically corrected.


“You describe it your way,” Kowalski, the senior rating aboard Seaview, finally spoke, “and we’ll describe it our way.”


“Anyway,” Patterson broke in before Sharkey could say anything more, “seems the new owners are doing away with the less profitable programs.  Admiral Nelson is looking into finding a local company to make these, and several other parts for Seaview that aren’t standard issue.  Until he does that we have to make do with what we have.”


“Oh.”  Sharkey immediately deflated.  He thought that he saw Kowalski send him a self-satisfied grin but chose to ignore it.  Instead, he had the two men show him what was so special about the bracket as opposed to the standard variety, and watched as they repaired it.


As the two got ready to reinstall the bracket, Sharkey decided that he’d better get back to his list.  But he took a moment to ask them, “Ah, I seem to be missing a memo the Admiral sent out.  Something he labeled the P-5?”


The two seamen looked at each other, and then back to him.  “Sorry, Chief,” Kowalski, now a good deal more calm then when Sharkey had first challenged them, said.  “Never heard of it.”


Patterson nodded his agreement.  “Might have been something for just the officers,” he added.


Sharkey had his own opinion of officers keeping secrets from the COB.  How was a man supposed to do his job if he didn’t know what was going on?  “Either of you know,” he tried to sound like he was changing the subject, “why any of the crew would be sent to take basic training with the CIA?”


This time the two shared a grin before Patterson answered.  “Not unless it was the Skipper.”


“And he’d probably want to do it behind Mr. Morton’s back,” Kowalski added, before both men chuckled.


Even Sharkey smiled.  It hadn’t taken him long at all to find out just what Seaview’s XO felt about the Skipper’s occasional extracurricular activities for ONI.  He could well imagine the fireworks if Cdr. Crane had gone off for extra training in anything related to those missions.  Although, he was sure the yelling would have been done where the crew couldn’t see or hear it.  Mr. Morton was always perfectly proper around the Skipper on duty.  Well, most of the time anyway.  Sharkey finally shrugged, let the men get back to their job at hand, and headed to check the next project on his list.


He was standing in the corridor outside the reactor Room when Lt. Chris James came toward him from the direction of the Conn.  James, who hadn’t been aboard much longer than the Chief, had his head bent over the requisite clipboard and almost didn’t see Sharkey in time to avoid a collision.


“Oh, sorry, Chief,” he stopped and apologized.  “XO Morton sent me to track down a box of spare microchips for the navigation computer, and I was trying to figure out where they were listed on the cargo manifest so I knew which cabinet they were stored in.”


“Cabinet B in the aft stores locker,” Sharkey told him automatically.  “At least, that’s where Mr. Morton stores most of his computer components.”


“Thanks, Chief,” and James started to walk off.


“Say, Lieutenant,” Sharkey stopped him.  With James being so new himself, the Chief took a chance.  “I’ve misplaced my copy of the Admiral’s P-5 memo.  I’ll just take yours and make a quick copy.”


James sent him a puzzled look.  “I’m sorry, Chief.  I don’t know which one that is.  What was it about?”


Stuck in his little charade, Sharkey had to think fast.  “Extracurricular training schedules for personnel.”  He remembered the Skipper’s comment, and tried to sound convincing.


But James just gave him the same shrug that the two seamen had earlier.  “I haven’t seen anything like that, Chief.  But I’ll ask the XO as soon as I get back to the Conn.  He grinned.  “I don’t know how he does it.  The XO, I mean.  Just seems to keep all those details in his brain.”


The last thing that Sharkey wanted was for Morton and Crane to find out he had no idea what they had been talking about earlier.  “No, no,” he quickly stammered.  “I’ll take care of it.”


“Oh.  Okay, Chief,” James told him, and once more headed aft.  Muttering to himself about barely shaving junior officers, Sharkey went back to his checklist.


He’d actually managed to forget the whole thing by the time Seaview was ready to sail six hours later.  Well, almost.  He still had no idea what the sub’s cook had been doing at the CIA.  He’d casually mentioned it to several other seamen – judiciously avoiding doing so where he might have been overheard by any of the officers – but no one had any more ideas than he did.  Riley was actually excited by the idea, and wondered out loud if anyone could volunteer for the extra training. 


Sharkey tried to squash the young seaman’s enthusiastic ponderings on the subject by reminding him of the usually top secret goings on of that organization.  Unfortunately, he realized too late what he’d started when, passing one of the locker rooms later, he heard several of the crewmen talking about it.  “If you guys haven’t anything better to do than gossip like a bunch of old women,” he blustered, sticking his head in the door, “I bet I can find you something.”


“Sorry, Chief,” the half dozen men told him, and immediately tried to look busy.  Sharkey continued down the corridor, shaking his head.


He knew that he’d screwed up big time by not keeping his mouth shut when, the next morning, he entered the aft hatch of the Control Room and was greeted to several quick grins and a couple of snickers, before all duty crew turned back to their stations.  He was just about to walk back out, not sure if he wanted to face anyone, when Sparks hailed him.


“Chief, a message just came in for the Admiral.  He’s in the Wardroom.  Would you take it down to him?  He’s expecting it.”


“Sure thing,” Sharkey readily agreed.  At least it got him out of the Conn for a little while.


But he regretted the decision instantly when, walking into the Officers’ Wardroom, he found not only the Admiral but also Morton, Crane, and Dr. Jamison sitting with him, all just finishing their breakfast.  CO and XO almost instantly buried their faces in their coffee mugs, but not before Sharkey saw the total merriment written all too plainly on their faces.  Jamison’s back was to Sharkey so he couldn’t see his expression, but the doctor’s shoulders briefly shook with what Sharkey figured was silent laughter.


Nelson himself was trying desperately – and failing miserably – to keep a straight face as he turned and sent a pointed eyebrow at the Chief.  Sparks sent me down to give you this,” Sharkey sputtered.  He walked in just far enough to hand Nelson the folded sheet of paper before trying to make his escape. 


But the Admiral stopped his retreat.  “Come sit down and try one of these scones Cookie made,” Nelson waved him toward a seat.  As Sharkey hesitated ever so slightly, Crane and Morton quickly stood with comments of having to get to the Conn.  Dr. Jamison also got up and left.  It was only too evident that all three were struggling to control their hilarity, and Sharkey was just as glad to see them go.  As he started to sit down, Nelson continued.  “These are one of the recipes Cookie brought back from his five-day training session with the CIA.”


“Huh?”  Sharkey looked up wearily from starting to reach for one of the tempting baked treats.


“Surely you’ve heard of the Culinary Institute of America?” Nelson asked nonchalantly.


“Ah, oh sure, Admiral,” Sharkey stumbled to get out with equal nonchalance.  Nelson once more struggled to control his expression, but made no other comment as Sharkey bit into the still warm quick bread.  He couldn’t stop the moan of utter delight that came out as he savored the subtle flavors of peach and coconut baked into the scone.


Nelson took a long swallow of coffee before continuing.  “Cookie wanted to test the recipe out on Cdr. Crane before he decided to make enough for the whole boat.  There will no doubt be more later in the Crew’s Mess.”  Sharkey only nodded as he took another big bite.  “Speaking of whom,” Nelson continued, “Lee was so pleased with how easily you went along with his and Chip’s teasing about the P-5 memo.  Sometimes, when a person takes over for someone as well respected as Curley was, it takes awhile to settle in.  He said he knew that you understood all along that he was referring to the old phrase, ‘Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance,’ and then went on to spread the joke around the rest of the boat.  I’m sure it helped put the crew more at ease around you.”


“Ah…” Sharkey tried to get out around another big bite of scone, “oh sure, Admiral.  Knew it all the time.”


Nelson nodded.  “Just his way, you being the new guy and all, of helping welcome you into the crew.”


“Appreciated.” Sharkey mumbled.  Nelson sent him another grin, finished off his coffee, and left.  Sharkey sent a frown at his back.  And hopefully I won’t be subjected to that kind of appreciation again, he growled to himself, before reaching for another scone.