Rusty Hinges

By R. L. Keller


His head buried in the top folder of the stack his boss, Admiral Nelson, had just given him, Cdr. Lee Crane was headed back to his own office in NIMR’s Admin building when he heard a loud snort of laughter coming from Lt. Cdr. Chip Morton’s office.  Lee was under the impression that his XO aboard NIMR’s research submarine, Seaview – and his best friend – was neck-deep in next year’s proposed budget for the sub so the laughter seemed decidedly out of place.  Lee sent Chip’s secretary a raised eyebrow.  But he only got shrugged shoulders in return so he walked over and poked his head through the partially opened door.  Chip was leaning back in his chair looking at the computer screen, a mug of coffee in his hand and a broad smile on his face.


“If you’re done with the budget,” Lee called across the room, a faux-growl in his voice, “I’ve got a dozen or so project proposals you can work on.”  He took a step into the office and held up the stack of folders he was carrying.


Chip, knowing the stern tone was in jest, waved Lee the rest of the way into his office.  “Fat chance,” he growled back before the grin reappeared.  “Just needed a break and thought that I’d check how the pre-entries are looking for Saturday’s 10K Fun Run.  Looks like, from the registration site, that it’s going to be a great fundraiser for the local Boys & Girls Club.”


“Great,” Lee told him.  He dropped his stack of folders in one chair, poured himself a mug full of dark brew, and collapsed into another chair.  “They can sure use the money.  Their athletic field needs a total reworking after the storms this winter.”


Chip nodded.  “Even with Admiral Nelson volunteering NIMR grounds workers and extra manpower to do the labor, the entry donations to run the race will be a big help toward taking care of the supplies needed.”


Lee took a big swallow of coffee.  “What’s the entry so far?”


“Just over 150, and this is only Tuesday.  There should be entries right up to Saturday morning.”


“Terrific.  So…” Lee sent Chip a raised eyebrow, “what caused the chuckles just before I came in?”


Chip’s grin broadened.  “I was scanning down the list of names – there’s a lot of NIMR staff running.”  Lee nodded.  “In the 45-50 year age bracket there’s someone running by the name of Rusty Hinges.”


Lee choked on the swallow of coffee he’d unfortunately just taken.  Once back under control, he joined Chip in grinning.  “Gotta love the sense of humor,” he agreed.  “Wonder who it is?”


“No way to know from the entry if it’s someone from NIMR.  Could be a local, or even someone coming from out of town for the event.”


Lee polished off the coffee and stood.  “We’ll just have to make a point of figuring it out.”  Chip grinned his agreement.  Lee retrieved his stack of folders and headed toward his own office as Chip got back to his budget.


* * * *


Saturday dawned clear and cold, much colder than had been predicted.  Lee and Chip were happy to note that it didn’t seem to have affected the turnout, but Chip still complained that the organizers should rename it the “Freeze-your-buns Run.”


Lee laughed and gave Chip’s shoulder a slight punch.  “You’ll just have to run faster to work up more inner heat,” he teased.


“You mean, beat you by 10 minutes instead of 5?” Chip teased right back.


“Fat chance,” Lee grinned.  “I jog a lot more often than you do.”


“The operative word being ‘jog.’  When I exercise I run.”  Chip’s grin spread.  “A holdover from Annapolis, running away from defensive tackles and cornerbacks.”  Even Lee chuckled.  His former roomie at the Academy had been a premier tight end on the football team as well as a long distance runner on the track team.


“Yeah,” Lee agreed, “but that was a looooooong time ago,” he drawled.


“Harrumph,” Chip snorted with a frown, but it didn’t last long.  “We’ve got about 10 minutes before the start.  What say to an easy couple of blocks to loosen up?”


“Works for me,” and the two old friends set off side by side, joining others warming up for the start of the race.


As they returned to the main body of runners at the starting line for the fun run that wound it’s way through town to finish at the beach they called greetings to the people they knew.  Seaman Mickelson and his wife were pushing a double stroller, their two-year-old twins securely tucked inside looking like tiny Eskimos.  Lt.’s James, O’Brien and Keeter were jogging in place, kibitzing with Seamen Kowalski and Riley.  Lee knew that Seaman Patterson was helping out at the finish line.  Chip wandered off to say something to a quartet of NIMR secretaries.  Lee grinned as whatever Chip told them had them laughing openly.  He almost didn’t recognize Lu-Tsi Jamison, decked out in runner’s spandex, a bright orange watchcap covering her black hair.  He let fly a leerish wolf whistle and grinned as he watched her look around for the source.  As she spotted him he waved, and grinned more broadly as she shook her finger at him.  Lee glanced around for Jamie, figuring that he’d see his wife off at the starting line before taking the shortcut to the finish line, but didn’t see him.  She was warming up with a group of NIMR wives or Lee would have walked over and asked.  But then he thought that perhaps Jamie was helping man the first-aid station.  He knew that Nurse Hale was, and didn’t plan on going within fifty yards of the place!  His track record with the retired Marine was borderline at best.


Chip rejoined him as the starting time for the race drew near and by easy agreement the slightly over 200 people sorted themselves into a starting pack that had the fastest runners in front and everyone else settling in to where they felt comfortable.  Admiral Nelson raised the starter’s pistol, all the runners tensed ever so slightly, and the race was on.


Lee and Chip started about a third of the way from the front.  While they both kept themselves in excellent physical condition, neither was interested in pushing themselves that hard no matter their earlier teasing.  They kept a steady pace that gave each a good workout, so well matched that they ran most of the race shoulder to shoulder.


But as they hit the beach for the last kilometer their competitive natures got the better of them.  Chip was the first to speed up.  Le was caught off guard and it took him a few strides to respond to the challenge.  As he caught the blond he reached out and gave Chip’s shoulder a small shove before it was his turn to sprint ahead.  With a laughing shout Chip turned on the speed.  He caught Lee about twenty yards from the finish and the two pushed and shoved each other all the way to the line, ending up in a heap in the sand just past the Officials’ table, laughing their heads off.


They were picking themselves up when Lee’s pager, unseen until then clipped to his waist, went off.  Chip instantly glared and was just working up a head of steam, razzing Lee about wearing the thing even on a relaxed day like today, when his own pager went off.  Lee returned the glare before both expressions morphed into sheepish grins.


Lee returned to a grumpy glare, not made any happier by Chip’s snickers, when they read their messages.  Lee’s was from Admiral Nelson, asking him to head for Nelson’s place to start setting up for the barbeque the Admiral was hosting for all NIMR staff who had either participated in or helped with the benefit race.  Nelson was being detained by the sponsors to help pass out the awards.  While Lee had no problem with the request, it was Chip’s message that had him mumbling under his breath.  Nelson had asked Chip to make sure Lee didn’t “just get sidetracked” as he was wont to do, and end up working at NIMR instead of enjoying the rest of the day.  But Chip’s continuing teasing finally had Lee grinning as well, and the two headed for Chip’s SUV.  They’d only brought one rig as they figured that with all the participants, as well as the spectators, parking would be at a premium.  As they pulled out of the parking lot Lee thought that he spotted Lu-Tsi Jamison’s bright orange watchcap crossing the finish line, but then changed his mind.  Whoever it was, they were taller than Jamie’s diminutive wife.


They made a quick stop at both their places for showers and clean clothes.  Lee tried to tell Chip to just drop him off and they’d meet back at Nelson’s.  Chip, however, refused to allow Lee out of his sight in case Lee headed for NIMR for some reason, thus getting Chip in trouble with Nelson.  Lee sent him a speculative look as if giving the thought serious consideration, but both finally burst out laughing.


Because of the still cool weather they were going to be happy for the warmth of the Admiral’s large house.  Once there they got busy setting up the big gas grill on the back deck just off the kitchen, along with a slightly smaller one that was usually kept in storage and only brought out for larger gatherings like today.  Nelson’s housekeeper had the kitchen under control so Lee and Chip stocked the wet bar with soft drinks as well as the usual staples, and brought in folding chairs and scattered them around.  As they finished getting things in order and no one else had as yet shown up Lee hesitated, gave Chip a soft grin, and said that he thought that he’d run over to his office for an hour or so.  Chip was sending him a glare guaranteed to have any other member of Seaview’s crew running for their lives when the sound of cars arriving outside changed both men’s expressions into grins, and they headed for the front door.


The party was in full swing by the time Admiral Nelson finally showed up.  Lee at that point was manning the bar.  He took one look at the hard expression on his boss’s face, poured a double scotch, and quickly walked over to where Nelson had stopped next to Will and Lu-Tsi Jamison.  He kept a benign expression on his face as he held out the drink, but flushed slightly as Lu-Tsi giggled and told her husband, “It’s a wise Captain who knows how to anticipate his Admiral’s needs.”  Even Nelson grinned, accepted the drink with a nod to Lee, and explained his slightly grumpy mood.


“I got tapped to hand out the awards,” he told Lee, “or I’d have been here ages ago.”  He took a swallow from the glass.  “I didn’t realize just how many different categories there were.”


Will chuckled.  “All the age groups are broken down in five year increments, and all divided yet again between men and women,” he explained.


“Weren’t the first prizes dinner certificates to some of the local restaurants?” Chip asked, joining the group.  In one hand was a plate loaded down with a hamburger, with all the trimmings peeking out of the bun, as well as chips, potato salad, and jello salad.  In the other hand he carried a bottle of beer.


Lee grinned.  “Leave it to Chip to keep track of those kinds of prizes.”  Even Chip was forced to grin as the others chuckled.


“Yes,” Lu-Tsi finally answered him.  “Will and I will be hitting Visconti’s one night this week.”


“Hey,” Lee sent her a bright smile.  “Congratulations.”


“Don’t look at me,” she responded.  She patted Will’s arm.  “It was all Will’s doing.”  She frowned ever so slightly.  “I came in third in my group.”


“Jamie?” Lee and Chip asked together, shared a quick look, and Chip continued.  “I didn’t see your name on the entry lists.”


It was Will’s turn to frown.  “It’s all Lu-Tsi’s fault.  She remembered that I used to do track in college and sent in my entry before I had a chance to stop her.”  He sent his wife a bit of a glare.  “I’ll be stiff for a week!”  The grumble in his voice was, however, overshadowed by the sparkle in his eyes.


“But you won your group,” Nelson told him.


Will’s frown deepened.  “Once I got going my competitive juices got the better of good judgment.”  That caused everyone else to grin.  Will finally shrugged.  “Turned out I wasn’t as rusty as I thought I was,” he admitted, a note of triumph replacing the grumble.


The others were smiling and nodding, but Lee suddenly sent his CMO a speculative look.  “Rusty…” he mumbled almost under his breath before bursting out laughing.  “You’re the one,” he announced brightly.


“One, what?” Chip asked.  Will was looking embarrassed, Nelson was beaming, and Lu-Tsi was sending her husband a loving grin.  It took Chip another second to catch up before he and Lee said together, “Rusty Hinges.”  They both burst out laughing.


Will glared at them briefly before turning it on Lu-Tsi.  “Thank you, wife, for that bit of silliness.”  He turned to Nelson.  “I’m never going to live this one down.”


Lu-Tsi shrugged and told the others, “Under the circumstances, it only seemed appropriate,” she defended herself.


Nelson clapped Will on the shoulder.  “Seems perfectly logical to me, too,” he said.  Nodding toward Chip’s plate he added, “What say we hit the food line?  The bounty looks appropriate to take your mind off of the pun.”


“Harrumph,” Will did his best Nelson impersonation.  But everyone, including him, chuckled, and they headed to join the party.






Lu-Tsi Jamison used with permission of her creator, Cris Smithson.


This story was inspired by my oldest brother.  Last year, at age 69 years young, he rode his bicycle 4000+ miles across Canada.  This year, as he’s just a few days short of 70, he’s spending this spring and summer competing in a statewide series of runs sponsored by one of his state’s governing groups.  He’s having a ball, and as you have probably guessed by now, runs under the alias of Rusty Hinges.  As of this writing, he’s also first in his age bracket – and no, he’s not the only one in that bracket J