Special Delivery


By R. L. Keller



Cdr. Lee Crane, placed just a few weeks previous in command of the submarine Seaview, ambled down one of the wide corridors, head buried in a clipboard full of engineering notes.  Not paying a whole lot of attention, he was headed in the general direction of the Control Room after spending the last couple of hours puttering around the aft portions of the boat.  He wasn’t really needed to help monitor the survey they were doing for the Cousteau Society in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, and was still spending as much time as possible familiarizing himself with his new boat and crew.


The smell of fresh bread baking invaded his memorization of Seaview’s screw statistics, and he looked up to find himself outside the Galley doorway just as Chief Curley Jones, Seaview’s COB, lumbered out, a look of frustration and hurt on his craggy face.  He mumbled a low “Sorry, Skipper” after nearly running into Lee, and continued on without waiting for a reply, his head down.  Lee was caught so off guard by the unusual attitude from the normally fairly gregarious COB that he momentarily stood there and just watched him go.  The Galley door had been left open and Lee finally pointed a quizzical eyebrow at Cookie, who was watching from the far side of a long food preparation table.


Seaview’s chef dropped his head back to whatever he was mixing in a large bowl.  Lee glanced at Chief Jones’ slumped shoulders and entered the Galley, coming to a stop on the other side of the table.  “Problem, Cookie?” he asked with a respectful quality in his voice.  He was still feeling his way with his new crew and the temperamental chef was proving difficult to get to know.


“Nothing you can do anything about, Captain.” Cookie answered, never lifting his eyes from the bowl.  Lee carefully kept a benign expression on his face at the formal mode of address.  So far it was about half and half with the crew, between the correct ‘Captain’ and the more relaxed ‘Skipper.’


“I’m just not used to seeing Chief Jones that…discouraged,” he finally settled on, unwilling to give up without making an effort to find out what was going on. 


Cookie didn’t say anything for so long that Lee decided that he wasn’t going to answer, and was turning to leave when Cookie finally looked up.  “Tomorrow is the third anniversary of his wife’s passing,” the chef said quietly, seeming to study Lee’s reaction to that blunt statement.


Lee nodded.  “I was told that’s what brought him out of retirement to work on Seaview – that she’d died suddenly and he needed something to take his mind off of it.”


Cookie seemed to ponder Lee’s quiet, respectful response before continuing.  “His wife’s favorite dessert was carrot cake.  Curley makes a point of having a piece, in remembrance, each year on that date.”  He looked hard at Lee, waiting for…  Lee figured that he was expecting Lee to scoff at the frivolous sentimentality.  When Lee merely nodded, Cookie took a deep breath and continued.  “I just had to tell him that I can’t do anything to help him this year.  At least, not until we make port.  You know we lost some of our stores when we had that generator problem last week?”


Lee nodded.  “But you assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem.”


Cookie shook his head.  “Not for regular meals.  I’ve got that under control.  But we lost some produce.  I don’t have any carrots – not even canned ones – to make the cake with.”  Lee frowned.  “I’ll take care of it as soon as I can.  We’re still set to make Palermo the end of the week?”  Lee nodded.  “He’ll have his cake, just a few days late.”


Lee nodded again, thanked Cookie for sharing the story, and returned to his quiet amble forward, his head once more bent over the clipboard.


Just prior to first light the following morning Lee entered the Conn, ordered the boat surfaced, and scurried up the ladder to the Conning Tower.  He told the Watch brusquely only that he wouldn’t be long, and didn’t want company.  When he came back down shortly after, carrying a box lowered to him by Sea King chopper, he ordered the boat submerged and put back on her listed cruise parameters, and headed aft.  Shortly thereafter he got busy with a series of proficiency drills in several areas of the boat, and the slightly unusual incident was for the most part forgotten.


Lee was in his cabin that evening doing paperwork when there was a knock on his door.  “Enter,” he called out absentmindedly, continuing to concentrate on the reports in front of him.  When he looked up it was to find Chief Jones standing almost at attention.  On his face, however, was a huge smile, and in his hands a covered tray.


“Pardon the interruption, sir, but since you didn’t make it down to the Wardroom for dinner, I told Cookie that I wanted to deliver this in person.”  He set the tray on Lee’s desk and removed the cover.  Underneath was a plate with lasagna, green salad, creamed corn, and a whole-wheat roll.  On the corner of the tray was a smaller plate with a huge chunk of carrot cake on it, slathered with cream cheese frosting.  “Thank you, Skipper,” he told Lee, if anything his grin widening.


Lee grinned back.  “Just looking out for my crew,” he told his Chief.