A Minor Inconvenience
By Carol Foss
( with apologies to ‘The Private War of Major Benson’)
The rain splattered against the window as the light shone from inside the Institute apartment. It was well after midnight and while Seaview was ‘tucked in’ for the night at her home base, her owner, captain, and executive officer were not.
Sudden assignments were nothing new, but this situation was a little different. Lee Crane and Chip Morton finished helping their boss pack.
" I really do appreciate this, gentlemen," Admiral Nelson closed the latch on his suitcase , " but I’m sure it will only be a minor inconvenience to you both."
" It’s a pleasure, sir," Chip lied through his smile, " how often do I get a chance to spend time in Connecticut? People pay good money just to visit the place in Autumn."
"Well, remember, the Junior ROTC midshipmen are technically children, even if they’re only just a few years away from college. So, don’t bellow too loudly!" Nelson laughed. Ahh, it was good of Chip to pitch in, Nelson mused, Better him than me.
Harriman had only received the call from Edith an hour ago, just as he was preparing for a flight to a Washington gala. She’d almost begged. It seemed she had a friend on staff at a secondary school who needed a liaison officer to fill in for their regular ROTC instructor until a permanent replacement could be found. And Edith had promised that her big brother couldn’t possibly let them down. She’s getting a bit lenient with my services, he grinned to himself, though proud of his ‘little’ sister for her sheer tenacity.
"And Lee," Nelson continued, "don’t forget to feed my specimens. That’s really all there is too it, all the aquariums have the new auto oxygenation-gas-waste filtration system, so you won’t even get your hands wet."
"But I thought you said ‘Spotty’ needed to be petted twice a day."
"Well, she likes it, but I didn’t want to pressure you. She is a squid after all. And I know you must be a little uneasy around them after having been almost squished to death by one, even if it was a while ago," Nelson teased.
"Admiral, I’ll be happy to pet the little monster, as long as she stays eight inches long," Lee laughed, "and behind glass".
"Admiral," Angie called from the bedroom doorway, " the taxi is here. Are you sure you don’t want your limo sent for?"
"Positive. Eats the gas. I’d take my Volkswagen itself, but don’t want to entrust her to the airport parking lot for a month. Rev her up for me, now and then, okay Lee? I don’t even know if the red bug still runs! It’s been, how long? More than eighteen months since I drove her?"
"Longer than that, I’m afraid, sir," Morton grinned. It was more like four years since the admiral had driven anything himself, let alone his prize ‘classic’ car. Classic? Chip thought asked himself, ironically, for the thing was rusted, worn out, and not worth one red dime. It had to be sheer sentiment that made the ‘old old man’ keep the, uh, ‘antique’.
"Well, gentlemen," Nelson continued, " take care of yourselves. Chip, good luck, and thank you. Lee, I’m sorry I need you have to keep ‘holding the bag’, but I need you here, just in case. You have full authority should any emergency arise. I’ll be staying at the Hilton for a week after the White House gala this weekend. Angie has phone links , if you need to get through to me."
Thunder boomed and a new wave of rain splattered the window.
"Going to be a bumpy flight if this doesn’t let up," Lee mused.
"Well, I’ll be sure to ask for a pillow to sit on," Nelson grinned.
Chip Morton took a deep lungful of fresh air in the morning mist. Ahhh, this Connecticut air tasted better than chocolate. Fresh unadulterated,uncirulated, unfiltered, unscrubbed air. Not cold, but brisk enough to make him grateful for his ‘Nelson issue’ jacket. Similar to old fashioned Naval ‘pea’coats, Nelson’s had a few inventive things, like bullet proofing, rain repellent, and battery operated ‘warming’ wiring. Better than an electric blanket.
He’d only packed a few essentials, but Angie must have tucked in a few extras, judging from the battered suitcase’s weight. He smiled to himself as he remembered Angie and Lee putting things together while he made his travel plans.Good friends were hard to find.
As he hailed a cab from the almost deserted local airport, he wondered about the sudden departure of Lt. Manners from the Willow’s Academy. There hadn’t been time to gather much info. Not even on the men he was soon to meet. Men? Well, Morton thought, I was only eighteen at Annapolis, these kids aren’t much younger. ROTC was a highly respected and legitimate officer’s training program. Junior ROTC couldn’t be that much different.
"So, the admiral’s gonna’ be stuck in Washington with a bunch of stuffed shirts?"Chief Sharkey commented as he set a stack of papers on Commander Lee Crane’s desk at the Nelson Institute.
If one could call it a desk, thought Sharkey.Looks like something thrown away from a flea market, he mused. The skipper’s office was little more than a storeroom, probably a former linen cupboard, with a teensy security-barred window that looked over the garbage bins. Even pipes lined the room. They were noisy too, as water and air mingled now and then, with the accompanying sound of clanking valves and a ‘ whooshing’ noise to boot.
Okay, so the small room had the heavy security status that Nelson insisted on, and Crane was hardly ever there, but still, the skipper didn’t even have a name plate on the desk, and the only other piece of furniture were a wastebasket, and a makeshift wall safe. It didn’t seem right. You’d think the boss could do better than this for the skipper. His second in command. His own best friend even! But the skipper didn’t seem to notice.
"I’m afraid he’ll be there for the entire weekend and into the next week, Sharkey. But try not to be too upset. Remember, the Admiral gets some of our research project funding from special interest groups, a lot of them fellow guests of the President. And remember our Naval Reserve status, so be careful of what you say," Crane ‘suggested’ with a grin.
"Aye, sir. Oh, uh, how’s the refit going?"
"What’s the matter Chief, miss keeping the crew in line with your firebrand tongue?" Crane was proud of Sharkey. Not only a top rate CPO, while all other hands had been dismissed for shore leave, he’d remained behind, unbidden, at the Nelson Institute to ‘catch up on a little paperwork’, he’d said. But it was a lame excuse. And Crane knew it.
"Well, skip, it’s just kind of hard letting those knuckleheads work on Seaview. I mean...I’d rather our own team did the job sir."
"The contract was signed by the Admiral himself, Chief...or would you like me to forward a formal complaint?" Crane asked with a smile. But he knew just how Sharkey felt. He’d be far more comfortable with his own men working on the old girl as well. Nelson probably felt the same, but the Newton Shipfitters Association had offered such a ‘good deal’ in cost and labor that it have been foolish to allow sentiment to sacrifice excellence.
The President’s gala weekend gathering was to include food, drink, music, glamour, and the nonstop clamor of idle talk that Nelson usually abhorred. Not that it wouldn’t be good for him, Lee thought. Nelson needed a little change once in a while, even if he had to put up with puffed up celebrities and politicians. The extended charity weekend was in all the news, and proceeds were to go to the newly formed Newton-Scott charity fund. With the famed Nelson there, the rest of the world wanted to follow. Nelson regularly attended society events as a matter of course for NIMR to remain visible and ‘pull in’ commercial projects. But he hadn’t really been looking forward to it.
Harry’s probably bored out of his wits just now, Lee thought as he glanced at another request for more toilet paper. Well, at least he won’t be wearied with the likes of this, Lee chuckled, or upset with the power failure.
Ordinarily, procurement was not on Crane’s agenda. Nelson’s secretarial pool usually took care of such mundane institute matters, but Katie was off to some seminar, and the rest of the pool were on vacation, except for Angie, whom, as executive secretary, had been ‘drafted’ for the duration to remain. There was no way Lee was going to leave her stuck all alone with this mess of paperwork.
Willows Academy was protected from nosey neighbors by a huge stone wall and plenty of acreage. Morton adjusted his uniform and opened the squeaky iron gate. Strange that there was no one there at the ‘gatehouse’. This wasn’t a military secondary school, but even so, Chip was surprised at the lack of security. Chip scrutinized the property. Several brick buildings, a chapel, a breathtaking garden of flowering shrubs and vegetables, a rose garden, and several flowers vying with each other for prominence along the many pathways.
One such pathway led to the river-front. A few one and two person sailboats bobbed up and down at the wooden pier, while a pontoon boats and several pedal boats kept them company.
Off to the left, was a large flat area ideal for marching, or lawn sports. But no-one was in sight. Chip checked his notes, and set off to building 4, where he was to report in.
"Well then, I’ll fix it!" Crane slammed the phone down in Nelson’s office. He dragged a hand through his hair, and Angie knew from experience that this would not be a good time to talk to him about his long overdue library books.
"What is it Lee?"
"Let’s just say I’m not cut out to be a diplomat. I’m sorry Angie. I didn’t mean to disturb your work."
"Oh, it wasn’t all that much, thanks to all of your help. In fact, with the Admiral gone and the Seaview on hiatus, there isn’t really much more left to do around here, and I really did get caught up on some special things the Admiral wanted...what is it Lee? You look positively frazzled."
"Oh, it’s nothing really, just a burst water pipe in my ‘office’." Lee began to laugh. Everything was so much easier on Seaview. In the real world, getting the job done wasn’t so easy. " I don’t suppose you know any certified plumbers who’d like to work this weekend?" No, that would be too much to ask for. "Care to give me a hand?" he held up a soggy document in one hand, and a screwdriver in another.
"Well that all depends," Angie fluttered her eyelashes in a tease, "if it’s hazardous duty."
"Messy, but not hazardous..oh, " he noticed her smile and grinned back pausing, "though, it could be hazardous. I have a reputation to uphold you know."
Building 4 of Willows was a strong, well built building, but showing its age. There were rusted drains, and it looked like some roofing tiles were loose. Room 112, Morton checked his notes. There it was. He knocked. And waited. He tried again. No response. He slowly opened the door and entered the room.
It was a nice office. Spartan, immaculate. The desk was of heavy sculpted wood with a high polish. The bookcase behind the desk was neatly stocked with titles ranging from World History to Household Toilet Repair for Dummies.
He did have the time right, didn’t he? Chip checked his notes. He heard a giggle, and turned around. No-one there. Not even outside the door….
Chip returned to the office and sat down. The early afternoon sunshine was streaming through the bowed window and he suddenly felt weary. It had been a long overnight flight, with delays in his transfer in Atlanta, and he’d gotten scant sack time. He closed his eyes for a moment and grinned at the thought that Nelson would have been irate at the lack of greeting. His thoughts drifted and he was soon dozing.
"Skipper? Miss Angie?" Sharkey called out. The Institute sure seemed deserted Without the Admiral here, or his shipmates, Sharkey felt a bit isolated. It was just a quirk that the institute mail distributor saw him meandering around absently, while waiting for the maintenance team, and shoved an envelope in his hand to take to Miss Angie. She’d noticed some files had been left by ‘accident’ in the Admiral’s apartment, and had gone to retrieve them.
Francis Sharkey enjoyed a pleasant walk, even though it was a rather short one. And the fresh air still smelled good, especially after that heavy storm last night and this morning. Sharkey saw repair crews finishing up and loading their tools away. A powerful lightening bolt had struck the Institute’s power-plant last night, and had wiped out the current over the entire property for awhile. Generators had kept the Command Center lights and computers operational, so Sharkey doubted if Crane and Miss Angie had even noticed when the power came back on this morning.
Hearing no response from Nelson’s apartment, Sharkey was about to turn when he heard a loud crash and Miss Angie moan in distress. In less than a minute he’d broken the door in.
Crane was sitting on the floor, almost surrounded by a tangle of wiring and glass while Miss Angie plucked the shards of glass from Crane’s face and hair. There was a huge puddle of water standing on the carpet, and a round ‘display’ aquarium was shattered. One of the admiral’s wall sized aquariums was flickering and sparking, while various water- filled containers held his prized roommates, from ‘Spotty’ to an oriental goldfish.
"Sharkey!" Crane called out, "Quick, pick up the Piranhas and put them in a sink or something. But be careful."
Sharkey did as he was told, and quickly emerged from the bathroom with a few towels, handing them to the soaked Miss Angie and skipper. Angie was still plucking glass from Crane’s hair.
"Uh, what happened?"
" The blasted tank exploded!" Crane exclaimed wearily. " I was trying to reboot the computerized autocontrols back on-line but you can see the results…at least I’d gotten the admiral’s other ‘roomies’ safely stowed before they were electrocuted in the other aquariums. This tank was on a different line and I swear the line was detached when I tried to reset it."
"Uh, I don’t underst…"
"Without a properly functioning aquarium," Angie explained, " Nelson’s roomies could have died soon from lack of oxygen."
"But, well, Chief," Crane continued, " I hadn’t even thought about the Admiral’s specimens during the blackout, and when I finally remembered about them , some had already died and we only got here in time to save a few of them," Lee indicated the glasses, bowls, and other containers holding Nelson’s prized pets.
"Then the whole electrical and oxygen regeneration system must have gone haywire when the power came back on. Some of the fish actually exploded."
" It was awful," Angie continued, " and even though the power’s back on, none of the controls are working yet. Nelson’s going to be so disappointed." Angie sighed. "Lee even tried artificial respiration...but it didn’t work. If any of the specimens had to die, why did it have to be the glulumporkie?"
Sharkey knew all about the admiral’s newest baby. It was all over the news. It was about two feet long. A strange species of fish that lived at various pressures without so much as batting a gill at the changes. It was the ugliest thing Sharkey had even seen, like a cross between a fish and an elephant. And after a great deal of research, the admiral had taken the thing out of the specialty lab and put it in his own apartment. He’d even made a special mixture and fed it himself. He’d really be upset that it had died. At least ‘Spotty’ was okay.
Then her words dawned on Sharkey. The skipper tried artificial respiration on the ugly G fish? Now, that’s loyalty, he pondered. He’d never kiss a fish, let alone breathe into it’s mouth, or gills, or whatever.
" Is that him?" a soft feminine voice whispered, in the wood paneled office.
" Of course it is," another soft voice replied, " look at that uniform…oh, he’s sooo handsome…I wonder if he’s married or anything."
"Probably ‘anything’. He’s a sailor, after all."
"I don’t care, I wish I was in his class."
"You can still sign up, you know, anyone can join in."
"Yeah, sure, me a middie? I had enough trouble with the paddleboat! Remember how I tipped it over?"
Both girls giggled as they continued to gaze at the new arrival still asleep in the deep leather chair. A bell sounded and the girls fled, anxious not to be caught staring at the new instructor when he woke up, nor in the head office, where they shouldn’t really be at all….
"Commander Morton?" a voice of authority asked, "Commander Morton?"
Startled from his sound sleep, Chip looked up, somewhat groggy, and focused on the woman behind the desk. She seemed to be amused, but with an underpinning of unquestioned authority. The Principal, Chip knew, right away, but there was a problem here. Good grief, why didn’t anyone tell me she was a nun!
Nelson had napped well on his flight, and had been allowed the luxury of a ‘sleep-in’ by his host. It was a new administration, and the rookie President was still a tad overawed by it all. Admiral Harriman Nelson was his guest of honor, and it wouldn’t do to make too many waves. It was hours before he allowed himself to ring Nelson up on the Lincoln Suite extension.
"Nelson here. Why yes, Mr. President, I’d be delighted to join you for lunch. Casual? Yes, that would be fine…no, that’s not a problem. I may disagree on a few points, but …I see. Well, it should make for rather interesting conversation, shouldn’t it…yes, I can be there in just a moment. Thank you, I know the way…yes, yes, the last few administrations…yes. That will be fine…thank you for asking…."
It was still difficult to turn a blind eye. Charles Allen could be a pain in the a…and the chef had probably informed the President of Nelson’s dietary ‘not on your life’ list, but diplomacy was diplomacy, so the great Harriman Nelson decided just to grin and bear it. Lobster or not.
"This is a convent school!?" Chip gulped, trying to decide whether to run for cover or accept the challenge.
"Yes, Commander. I’m Mother Margaret. I know it seems a bit unusual, but we at the Willows try to be right on top of things, you know, and equal opportunity is paramount these days.We had hoped to obtain Army Junior ROTC status, but were turned down when we applied. And the girls did seem to like the Navy uniforms better anyway, so it was Divine Intervention, if you like, that the Navy offered us Lieutenant Manners and official approval.
But poor Manners had a…dreadful case of food poisoning…wild mushrooms some of the girls had put in her salad. Oh, the Lieutenant is fine now, but won’t be available for a week or so, and the Navy can’t send us a replacement for such a short time…that’s when dear Edith came to the rescue and asked Admiral Nelson to help out. She’s a treasure, you know, but we had been under the impression that Admiral Nelson himself would take over, but I see he sent a representative. Now then, just what kind of Naval experience do you have, Commander?"
"What is it Chief?" Crane asked, rubbing his eyes wearily, and leaning against the Command Center. The hot sun beat down through the sky as Crane finished checking off yet another request from the procurement office. It wasn’t easy being ashore. There was more to the smooth running of the institute than he had imagined, and he had only just decided to walk down to the dock, for a bit of relief, when he’d been hailed by an underling for approval of a microwave in the science lab, and more toilets for the visitor’s center.
"Uh, we have a problem, skipper." Sharkey was clearly hesitating.
"Well, uh, one of the maintenance guys punched a wrong button on the robotic heavy loader dockside. It went wild and pushed the crane through the boat’s observation nose at full force. Some of the transparent hull plates are smashed, and there’s some bow damage."
"Is everyone okay?" Crane asked, aghast.
"Yeah, they moved pretty quick…but, uh, the admiral, uh, well, he’s sure gonna’ be upset, ain’t he?"
"Upset?!…Vesuvious was less upset than he’ll be when he hears about this! Of all the khuckleheaded, irresponsible…" Crane took a breath and forced himself to calm down.
"Chief," Crane ran a hand through his hair absently, a sure sign of weariness, "so far Seaview needs needs new ballast tanks, complete rewiring, a new rudder, refrigerator, sail camera, a paint job, and the foreman just informed the office that she needs a new port screw as well … and now this!"
Sharkey didn’t add a new washing machine, as he saw Crane trying very hard to control his emotions, caught between weariness, anger, and exasperation.
It was past lunchtime and Chip was hungry. He didn’t dare voice his desire nor need for a little sustenance, as he certainly didn’t want to upset Sister, er, Mother Margaret or her staff. He had to represent not only the Naval Reserve but Nelson as well.
He was on a ‘grand tour’ around the academy, inside and out. Only once or twice did he notice any of the inmates. A quick glance here, a long look there. He couldn’t help but feel that he was being scrutinized. By the nuns, by the girls lucky enough not to be in class, an on some errands or some such thing.
"Now then, Commander, you will join us for lunch after you stow you gear, as you call it I believe? The housekeeper has already taken your things to your quarters, but perhaps you’d like to freshen up?" she couldn’t help but to smile at the boyish face, which had just a hint of stubble. He must have come directly here.…
" You’ll hear the bell ring," she continued, "the dining room is just left of the grand staircase. I’ll introduce you to the staff and the girls just before we eat," she nodded, and left Chip alone just outside the gated corridor leading to his private quarters, and off limits to religious staff and all students.
It was still only early evening but the noise was getting to be irritating. The clinking of champagne glasses and the live band, mingled with all of the President’s guests was a bit loud for Admiral Harriman Nelson. It was also getting to be cramped.
While used to the confines of his submarine Seaview, Harry felt trapped in this vast hall. Of course he was trapped, self-compelled to mingle with the president’s guests. Compelled to be sociable. It had been difficult enough earlier, when he’d been served lobster for lunch. The President’s family had chattered amicably while he found himself staring into the eyes and antennae of a creature he’d rather not associate with. Not that he didn’t enjoy seafood once in a while, but he couldn’t help but to remember a rather large variety that had wrecked havoc aboard. And now this.While familiar with the empty talk, flattery, and gossip of the political winding, he found it and the incessant Wall Street tips he’d had to endure stiflingly boring.
He’d much rather be examining that newly discovered species of dolphin, or continuing a rather important biochemical experiment he’d had to postpone so many times it might never be completed.
"A necessary evil, isn’t it, Admiral?" Congresswoman Angela Beecham interrupted his thoughts, handing him a glass of champagne. "Strange isn’t it?" she nodded, observing a dispute between noted philanthropist Walter Newton Scott and a Wall Street miser William Walker. "They’ve been at each other’s throats so long now, they’ve forgotten what their argument was even all about...by the way, you ought to wear a tux more often. You look quite distinguished in one, you know."
" And I’d like to wring the neck of whoever invented the thing," Nelson tugged at his collar, "damned uncomfortable."
"Why didn’t you wear your dress uniform? All those ribbons and medals and things,"she teased as she brushed her hand across his chest.
"Flattery will get you everything," he teased, as he escorted this luscious lady to the dance floor. If it hasn’t already, he thought, with a mental note of how her green eyes contrasted so beautifully with her thick red hair and deeply cut blue velvet dress which left little to the imagination. While professionally the woman represented a lot he despised, he couldn’t argue with his hormones. She was just too lovely to ignore.
It was only 9:30 and most of the nuns had gone to bed, or someplace. The students had to observe a campus curfew at 10 and frankly Chip was more than ready to get rid of them. Only a few remained, keeping him busy with a pile of suddenly appearing applications from more girls, and answering ridiculous questions that had nothing to do with ROTC. Was his hair always blond and wavy, or did he surf; how tall was he, was he married, did he have a steady girlfriend, etc.
More than a little surprised at his chauvinistic attitude, that he was weary of their non-stop chattering, and missed the all male joking and camaraderie with which he was far more familiar. He liked girls, of course, and was considered a bit of a ‘wolf’, but these were boisterous, noisy kids. One or two had almost swooned when he’d been introduced. Some of his ‘charges’, he’d been informed later. It seemed as though he was the only male in the place besides the janitor, and was regarded as a strange sort of alien presence, by nun and student alike.
He was not looking forward to tomorrow.
The sunlight streamed through the White House window and Nelson snuggled into his pillow in deep contentment. Last night had been wonderful. Angela was witty, charming, and a knockout. That, he, a crusty old salt had been singled out by her, was a very needed boost to his male ego. These political windings might be a pleasant interlude, after all.
Lee was pacing. The refit was a nightmare. Nothing was going according to plan or schedule. The only good thing about it was that it was still under budget.
"Chief, I thought I told you to go on shore leave!" Crane bellowed at Sharkey, and ran a hand through his hair.
"Ahh, Skipper, I am."
"Oh, sorry Chief. I just …" Crane looked at Sharkey. The chief was smeared with grease, blotched with paint, and looked happy as a clam.
"You’re supposed to take your shore leave away from Seaview," Lee spoke gently, grinning.
"Well, sir, it’s my shore leave and I figure if I just happen to be around when those bozo’s mess up, well, it doesn’t hurt to uh, well,…"
"You realize that I might just hold you to that," Crane extended his hand and grasped Sharkey’s arm, "thanks."
The brigade stood at attention in the late morning sunshine. Most of the girls must be newcomers as they giggled, wore their ‘blue bag’gym suits, and didn’t appear to have the slightest idea of what standing at attention meant.
The regular midshipmen, if they could be called that, thought Chip ironically, seemed well enough versed in the naval terms, and their uniforms, though clean and pressed, seemed to fit terribly, and he wondered if they had been borrowed from previous owners. Morton was about to throw caution to the wind and yell at the girls like a marine drill sergeant, but caught sight of one or two curious nuns, and thought the better of it. These were not really midshipmen. Just a bunch of kids that he was to teach discipline, self reliance, and responsibility. And so the Morton plan began.
"I’m terribly sorry Admiral," the first lady began, entering the breakfast nook, " but we had a call from…" she looked at the message slip, "from a Francis at the institute. I’m afraid one of our pages let it sit overnight."
"Thank you, I’m sure it’s not…." Nelson appeared to groan inwardly.
"Is everything all right Admiral?" The president asked, concerned.
"Well, that’s a matter of opinion. It appears as though Crane smashed his nose. It doesn’t say how…may I use your phone?"
Chip had a huge audience as he demonstrated the intricacies of ropes, lines and sailing basics, even if the ‘boat’ was no more than a makeshift board and pole he and the janitor had rigged on the smooth lawn playing field. Unlike the little one-two person sailboats bouncing at the pier, he showed the intricacies of multi lines and ‘sheets’, and explained some of the old ancient terms he’d found so fascinating back in his own school days at Annapolis. Repeating the terms by rote over and over, the girls soon had the terms mastered, and Morton was pleasantly surprised at their enthusiasm. Why they practically glowed when he praised them with a ‘well done girls’.
"Now, since we only have two tiny boats and one has a bad leak, I have permission from Mother Margaret to lease the Aquamarine from Robbie’s Rent a Boat. Since there is only room for 14, names will be drawn from lot.7 girls from the group of trained middies, and 7 from you new girls. We’ll be taking her out tomorrow, bright and early at 0700. The names will be drawn today at lunch. I’d like to add, that for a bunch of ‘swabies’ you’ve done quite well in learning the ropes, but the real thing will be a lot different, and the first hour or so will at dockside reviewing procedures. Since the weather forecast is for the 70’s, clothing will be your choice of ‘blue bags’, shorts, or swimsuits. That is all."
Squeals of delight echoed in Chip’s ears for the entire afternoon, and while the girls were enthralled with the idea of sailing around with this ‘Greek god’ as they called him behind his back, Morton was increasingly wary. And not just of the responsibility of his skippering a boat with his charges in tow. Alone with 14 adoring adolescent females? Hmm, perhaps he really should have agreed to the ‘suggestion’ of a chaperone. But he’d insisted to Mother Margaret, that the girls wouldn’t be able to concentrate with such a hovering presence.
"Lee? Lee, are you all right?" Nelson voiced loudly over the phone.
"I’ve been better." Lee groaned, " You wouldn’t believe the problems with the refit and just when things were going bad they got worse and …what was that sir? Hu? I don’t understand…what was that? How’s my nose? What are you talking about sir? I did what?? Oh,…"Crane started to laugh. A hearty laugh.
"Lee, what the blazes is going on!?" Nelson demanded.
"Everything’s just fine sir," Lee tried vainly to stifle a giggle, " it seems our line of communication got crossed…a loading crane smashed into the observation nose…I see, it’s really not that funny, yes sir, I see sir, no sir, not a nice way to start the day, visions of my face in plaster…I know its not funny, but I can’t help it…" Crane’s laughter bubbled over and Nelson gave up, and hung up, in a mixture of frustration and relief.
Just as Nelson was about to re-enter the breakfast nook, he noticed Angela. She was patting a dog when she was swept into the arms of Major Connors. Turning from the intrusive vision, Nelson felt like he’d been stabbed in the heart, and he wearily trudged off, a grumpy old man.
The bell rang, and Chip was grateful for small favors. First aid class for his middies had been embarrassing. The standard ‘recussi-annie’ plastic foam mannequin was naked, and smirks and whispers had followed his every move in demonstrating mouth to mouth and heart massage recussitation on it. He’d tried very hard not to listen. But it was impossible not to overhear the ribald comments among the girls. He had to grin when he thought of what the sisters would say if they knew their girls had volunteered for ‘live demonstrations’.
"He can give me mouth to mouth anytime," and "He’s already massaged my heart," whispers were just some of the more polite observations he was not really supposed to overhear.
Instead of racing out of the room when the ‘hobby class’ bell rang, these girls seemed to be in no hurry to leave. Some asked further legitimate questions, whilst others pleaded with Morton to show them how to take a pulse again. Though flattered, Chip could see feminine wiles for what they were, and delegated any further questions to Sister Ann’s health class.
There was only one more ‘hobby class’ period, and he was glad it was the simple mathematics of navigation. Picking up his ever present clipboard he exited the room through the throng of girls vying for a glance or two from him, and emerged into another even larger throng of girls waiting in the corridor and down to the great auditorium where the sisters had set up the projector and slides he’d requested, along with two blackboards, and some equipment from Lt.Manner’s storage cabinet.
Just about the entire school population wanted to learn advanced Navigation, it seemed, but Chip noticed thankfully, that several of the nuns were in the auditorium. Perhaps they did realize a thing or two about their girls, and he began to regret his ‘no chaperone’ rule about the sailboat for tomorrow.
He had 15 minutes to set up and organize his notes before his lecture, and was glad at least his older middies knew something about navigation, and had set them to work setting out a sextant, a mariner’s compass, a watch, a globe, and a lithograph of a 13th Century painting about the ‘flat’ earth and ships falling off the edge of it. He always got a chuckle out of those types of pictures and wondered how Lee was doing with his own ‘baby’.
Chief Sharkey hummed a tune in the late afternoon as he checked off a line on his clipboard and headed to the captain’s office. A look from Angie at the water fountain warned him of an in-progress altercation. He could hear the captain’s raised voice and the phone slamming down. Taking a deep breath, Sharkey entered the small alcove and was about to knock when Crane opened the door and almost ran into him.
"Oh, sorry Chief. Have a moment?"
"Yes sir, those bozo’s just needed a little inspiration, I think I can leave them for a while…what’s up skipper, you look really pis…uh..upset."
"That’s an understatement….I asked one of the motor pool to give the bug a quick check and rev her up for the admiral, taking her for a quick spin, or what you’d call a 5 dollar tune up on the old back road, when he sees a beach bunny. The human kind. The driver takes his eye off the road for a moment or two to ‘appreciate the scenery’, and wham! Right into the Institute tree."
"Miss Edith’s tree?" Sharkey gasped.
"The same. And the bug is going to be in the shop for repairs, and the manufacturer said it could take 4 months for parts, will need a new paint job, and could they interest the admiral in the new style of bug or better yet , one of their new Roll’s .
Thankfully the engine’s in the back or it would have been a complete write off. Chief…the admiral’s going to kill me," Lee sighed. " And so is Edith. I just thought I could delegate it, a simple little revving up of the engine, I’ve been so busy, and Edith planted that tree for her fancy ecology ceremony….I’m dead meat Chief."
"Uh, skipper," Francis looked at his skipper with a grin, " persona non-gratis, maybe for a day or two, but never dead meat sir."
Lee’s spirits visibly lifted and of all of Crane’s accolades or ‘well dones’ in the past, Sharkey was never as pleased as now, as his skipper patted him on the back and gave him a huge smile of cheer.
"Harry,"Angela asked, " are you avoiding me?"
"Not at all," he practically snorted, " I just didn’t want to intrude. If you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment at the Hilton."
"What about our date?"
"Just what do you take me for?"
"Harry, I don’t understand. Have I done something wrong?"
"My dear, it’s not nice to string an old man along for political favors."
"What are you talking about?"
"Miss Beecham, sporting with two men at a time is not condusive to …." Nelson couldn’t help himself, he grabbed her and kissed her, then let her go. "I…I’m sorry, I had no right to do that. No right at all. Forgive an old man…goodnight."
"Well, Angela," Major Connors interrupted, " keeping secrets from me?"
"It’s not her fault."Nelson quickly interceded, " I’m sorry. It won’t happen again."
"Well I’d say its about time it did. About time somebody interested her. You know Admiral, the family’s been trying to get her to date again ever since her heartthrob went and married someone else. You’re heaven sent."
"You…You’re not her..beau?"
"Her What??…good grief man, sir, I’m her cousin! Yuk, what a gruesome thought! I just came by to see if she still wanted to come to the family picnic. You’d be welcome too sir, especially as I see you’re more than a little interested in our congressional cousin."
" What do you think Harry, please, please come." Angela wooed.
"I..I’d be flattered."
Chip couldn’t sleep. The best and worse of times he’d never had a problem sleeping, but tonight he was uneasy, plagued with visions of his troops falling overboard, capsizing the boat, or mobbing him with questions as the boat foundered. Would he ever fall asleep? Grabbing a robe and slippers, he meandered down the corridor and carefully opened the iron gate into the ‘nether’ quarters. He’d grab himself a sandwich. That might help. The food was good here.
It was almost midnight, but he heard singing. Beautiful, haunting singing. He followed the melody and peeked into the slightly open door. Oops. It was a chapel. He saw nuns singing and praying and candles flickered. Some of the old women actually looked beautiful. He’d never understood candles or any of it, being of a different religious persuasion, but he did understand deep faith when he saw it. And actions in life always spoke louder than rote words uttered without meaning. And these ladies were always kind, soft-spoken, and hard workers. He was more determined than ever not to let them down. Especially as he heard them pray for ‘that dear boy Commander Morton’.
Nelson was having a wonderful time at the Beecham family picnic. Fried chicken, corn on the cob, ice cold watermelon, and buckets of beer. Not normally a beer drinker, he did tuck into the iced tea with enthusiasm. Children were fascinated to discover that he was THE famous admiral of the Seaview, and teased him about Angela, warning him that she burped after eating beans, couldn’t tolerate answering machines, and looked like a porcupine when she rolled her hair. He found the kids utterly charming.
It was as though he’d been transplanted to a different time and planet, far away from the cares and obligations of the world. There was peace here.
There was no peace aboard the Aquamarine. The girls were handling things okay, but Chip had warned them, he was a stern master aboard, as they soon discovered. But instead of the loss of idolization, it made him even more attractive to them. Women! He thought to himself, as they practically oozed sentimental ‘aye ayes’. Most of the girls had chosen to wear the school swimsuits. Dreadfully ugly black one- Pierre’s that actually showed off rather than concealed blossoming womanhood. In fact, some of the girls could compete with Ski’s girlie pictures in his locker. Wondering how Ski would react to Morton being surrounded by the girls, he almost failed to notice the regatta begin. They were just outside of the marked area and watched the other boats zig and zag as he explained the moves to the girls. Soon they’d talked him into joining in. Unofficially, of course. In time, managing to keep well out of the designated area, the Aquamarine was gaining distance, but Chip decided enough was enough and ordered a change. Soon they were in a choppy sea, and some of the girls were sick. Reluctantly, the non-seasick girls turned the boat around and began their journey home.
It was just when another dolphin hopped up and out near the bow that the mast suddenly cracked and smashed into Morton , taking him to his feet like a limp rag doll, unconscious. The girls screamed, and only a few tried to remain calm, and began giving orders to lower the sails, and radio for help.
As the boat bounced, one of the ‘sea gals’ as Chip had nicknamed one of the more versed middies, took his pulse and couldn’t find it. Was he even breathing?It was impossible to tell. Not taking a chance, She took a deep breath, moved his head back and breathed into his mouth as he’d demonstrated. Again. He coughed, and began to rouse. He wanted to get up, but his crew wouldn’t let him. He could have been seriously injured and the coast guard was on the way. That’s what he’d pounded into their skulls wasn’t it, they convinced him. He tried to give the girls a smile of reassurance but fell into oblivion.
Sunlight streamed into the hospital room as Chip awoke, groggy, as if still dreaming.
"Well, about time you woke up. You okay Chipper?" Lee asked, eyes sunken, and concerned.
"I..I…the girls…the girls…"
"All present and accounted for. And the Aquamarine hadn’t been cleared for lease. Seems you were scammed. The mast was still due for repair of a major hairline crack down her length, but the owners just plastered it over with wood sealant. So you’re out of the doghouse for command error," Lee grinned, "now, how do you feel?"
"Like I’ve been trampled by a heard of elephants on my head."
"Well, a concussion can do that to you. Seems your head hit the deck before you did. Two cracked ribs, and a few nasty bruises.You were lucky. Good thing you trained your crew in first aid. You didn’t appear to be breathing. Oh, by the way, you have some visitors, if you’re up to it."
"Not yet, Lee. I don’t think I can handle it," Chip barely managed to say.
"Okay Chip. I’ll pass the word. The flying sub is here to take you home whenever the doc says, so rest easy."
"Refit complete, and has a clean bill of health…sure could have used your help…it was a nightmare Chip…one problem after another, and then…Chip?"
"He’s asleep," the attending nurse said softly, as she checked the patient, "Please don’t worry. He’ll be all right in a few days. You, however, look positively frazzled. Are you alright?"
"Oh, I’m fine, just a long flight, that’s all. I’ll be checking in on Admiral Nelson at the Hilton to give him the word, if you need me."
"That won’t be necessary Lee. She’s right you know, you don’t look well either, I’ve spoken to the attending physicians, he’ll be out of here in a day or two."
"Harry? How is he? Oh, hello, I’m Angela Beecham. You must be Commander Crane. I’ve heard of you."
"Uh oh, I think I’m in trouble," Lee grinned.
"Come on Lee, lets let him sleep," Nelson said softly, " I have a lot to tell you."
"And so, I’m sure we’d all like to thank Commander Morton for filling in for Lt. Manners and wish him well," Mother Margaret spoke at the podium in the great hall. Applause greeted Chip’s ears as he rose and thanked the sisters, the students, and his 'crew' for a very enlightening time, and he’d be happy to come back at any time.
The girls stood and cheered and Chip waved to them as he joined Nelson and Crane at the door. With a grin at the girls and a wink at the ‘sea gal’ who’d rendered first aid, he departed.
"Well, Admiral," Chip commented, "I bet you’re glad that winding is all over".
"Oh, it wasn’t so bad," Nelson grinned to himself. He’d better not let on he really enjoyed himself during his ‘ordeal’.Especially with Angela. He’d only told Lee about the new projects coming up, and nothing was even hinted at about his new love, and that he felt like a zillion dollars and as young as Riley.
"How about you Lee," Chip continued, " I’m afraid I wilted away while you were telling me about some problems."
" Oh, nothing the Chief and I couldn’t handle, how about you Chip, other than your little accident?"
"Oh," Chip related , grinning to himself and trying not to chuckle at the pun, as he boarded the flying sub, " it was just a minor inconvenience."