"Well," XO Chip Morton handed his captain a clipboard, and eased into a cushy leather chair in the Observation Nose, "We should be home in about a half an hour. Then maintenance can get their greedily little hands on her. You know, Captain, I that was a close call. I thought we’d never get out of that vortex alive… I’m glad you had the conn. I could never have figured it out…"
"Chip, don’t make me out to be some kind of SuperSkipper, I was guessing there…we were just lucky the crash dive did make us top heavy and pushed us down and out of it..and you can call me Lee you know."
"Well, I still think you did a great job…and," Chip wisely changed the subject. He’d learned that this captain still had difficulty accepting praise, even when it was warranted, "you know, I could get used to this new chair of the Admiral’s."
"So could he, "Nelson’s voice preceded him from the spiral steps.
Chip shot up to attention.
"Relax Chip. Everything in order?" Nelson took over the vacated chair and stretched out his legs.
"Yes sir, pretty soon it’s wine, women, and song," Morton grinned, moving to the sideboard to pour out Nelson’s traditional rum toddy upon completion of a mission.
"If you’ll excuse me Admiral, Chip," Crane said, " I have to make a final round."
Nelson ran a hand through his hair, and grinned knowingly, "certainly captain, I understand you need to satisfy yourself that’s all well," he lied, and Crane grinned in repsonse.
Nelson knew perfectly well that Crane had an ulterior motive, but kept his thoughts to himself, even though it was fast becoming an open secret that this Captain preferred a little time alone with his ‘best girl’ before departing on shore leave.
Rumor had it that Chief Jones had even glimpsed him patting the bulkhead and talking to it. Nah, that couldn't be true, but Nelson couldn’t help but laugh at the image in his mind. He loved his submarine , but not to that extent. He’d never imagined such a ‘Navy’ Joe as Crane had been could be capable of such…affection to nothing more than a titanium tube. Of course, Lee’s ‘Navyitis’ had pretty much disappeared over the past few months as Crane had acclimatized to the more relaxed way of doing things aboard Seaview.
"So, you gonna' come to the Turkey Day party the Admiral’s holdin?" Chief Jones finished checking his clipboard as Kowalski tightened a bolt on the support frame of the mini-sub.
"Sure am, including my folks, they’re looking forward to it. Came all the way out here to visit for the holiday, it’ll be a treat, Mom won't have to cook and we’re all looking forward to the big game. "
"Tell you the truth, kid, I know he’s only trying to be nice and all that, but we’ll still have to be on our best behavior…at least till the game! Good, you got it. I thought we’d never get these repairs finished."
"How’s it going men?" Crane interrupted from the hatchway.
"Oh, just fine Skipper, we just finished," Ski smiled.
Crane came over and inspected the work, nodding in satisfaction, "very good, well done, you can hardly tell it was damaged at all…we’ll be docking soon. Dismissed from the detail, oh, and have a good shoreleave, er, Holiday."
"You comin’ to the Admiral’s Thanksgiving Day bash sir?"
"Wouldn’t miss it for the world," Crane fibbed. While he’d heard about the Admiral’s annual party, he had already decided he would not really enjoy it.
Nelson poured himself another rum, and returned to his overstuffed leather chair. "Chip, I know you’re meeting your brother and his family for the remainder of the holidays, but I was wondering…"
"I’d be delighted to have you join us…"
"No, no, not me, I’ve been drafted. Edith insists on checking on her big brother and redecorating my living quarters," he sighed, not at all enthusiastic, " not at all my idea about Thanksgiving vacation… but I don’t think Lee has any plans…"
"Actually I tried to include him in mine, but he seemed almost…furtive. He said he had to attend to a few things…but he will be at the party."
"You know anything about his family?"
"Hmmm. Neither do I…not really. Weren’t you at the academy with him?"
"Well, he was already an upperclassman when I entered, but I never met him. I saw him, sure, when he was Brigade Commander, and when he dressed down some errant middie, and even," Chip laughed, "when he himself got into trouble…boy I remember one time, it must’ve been a doozy, even Washington got involved, but no amount of pressing our collective ears to the Super's doors or some of the guys bullying Crane ever got any info out of what was going on…though rumor had it that it had something to do with ONI."
Both men winced and Chip continued, "he was on Nautilus with you though, wasn’t he sir? He didn’t mention family at all?"
"Not even when he was injured and the Navy offered to ship him home for a little R&R. Very private man, I think."
Ski heaved his duffel into the crew’s mess. It was getting crowded as those men off duty had gathered here and were playing cards, chatting, and waiting for the all clear to depart when the boat finally docked.
"Oh, Ski, here," Patterson handed his friend a card, "for your mom, it’s her birthday tomorrow, isn’t it? "
"Yeah, thanks Pat," he looked at the name on the envelope and laughed, "only, you got her name wrong… it’s not Kowalski, it’s Ivanovitch. Mom uses her maiden name, always has…something about defeating antiquated traditions… even when she taught school, it was Miss Ivanovitch…"
A sickening thump and clatter of metal just outside the corridor interrupted the conversation.
"Skipper! Are you okay?" Clarke’s voice came through the open hatch. All hands had perked up at the mention of the captain. Now what had happened to him?
"It was an accident, Captain, I swear it sir!" Clarke exclaimed.
"Of all the idiotic, clumsy oafs!" Chief Jones was glaring at Clarke. His duffel bag was wavering in a heap on the deck, some of its contents spilling out as Crane sat amid the mess, while the intercom mike dangled from the wall.
"Here skipper, let me help you up, I’m so sorry sir," Clarke extended his hand to help the captain off the deck. "I just wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t mean to plow into you."
"He don’t need no help from you," Jones bellowed, pushing Clarke out of the way, and extending his own helping hand.
"Uh, I’m fine Chief,"Crane replied, " no problem Clarke, it was my fault," both men helped him up, " I wasn’t looking where I was going. Carry on."
"Uh, maybe you’d better get Doc to look at you," Jones asked, nervously, noticing the dent in the wall.
"I’m fine," Crane insisted, "now go on, you both must need to get ready for shoreleave."
"Skipper, are you sure you’re all right, you look a bit pale," Kowalski asked amid the nods of assent from the gathered men.
"And there’s blood splatters on your collar." Patterson added.
"And you hit that bulkhead pretty hard, Skipper," Clarke insisted. "You did, you know you did, sir and…"
Crane rolled his eyes heavenward. This crew seemed bent on looking after him. Like baby-sitters, some of them, "Look, men, thanks for the concern, but I’m fine, really, just a bump…now, we should be docking in a few minutes…I’m sure we all have a few things left to do…" he strode purposely away.
"You buyin’ it Chief?" Clarke asked, concerned.
" No broken bones or nothin' like that but…"
"Yeah," Ski added, to the grunts of assent.
Crane was in his cabin, changing into a clean shirt, when there was a knock on the door.
"In," Lee called out.
The door opened.
"Oh no, not you. Out. I’m fine!"
"Just let me take a look, Captain," the Chief Medical Officer took grip of Crane’s shoulder.
"How bad is he?" Nelson entered the cabin.
"Oh now this is ridiculous!" Crane pushed the new sawbones away; " I bumped into Clarke’s bag, lost my balance and fell backwards against the bulkhead and the mike, that’s all…"
"There’s blood on this collar," Nelson held up the evidence.
"It’s just a little nick!" Lee insisted, but unable to prevent the assigned doctor from poking about his person, especially running his fingers through Lee’s hair to check for cuts and bruises.
"Stitches," Doc said.
"What????" Crane exclaimed.
"Stitches, you need about two of them. Why you’re not bleeding like a stuck pig is beyond me, usually scalp wounds are quite a mess," he shone a penlight into Crane’s eyes.
"Let me see," Nelson insisted, and made his own examination of Crane's scalp.
"Hmmm," Doc continued, "no apparent concussion, did you loose consciousness at all?"
" No! Now see here!" Crane objected to his ministrations.
"Captain," Nelson showed Lee his bloody fingers, "you are injured, and you will allow the ship’s doctor to examine you; thoroughly, Wilbur. It may be as minor as you seem to think, Lee, but we’re taking no chances. Especially after…well…you gave us one hell of a scare the last time you were hurt and…you will cooperate this time, understood? "
"Aye…sir," Lee replied, pouting.
"Man oh man, was the Skipper ever p.o.’d!" Ski said almost gleefully as he departed the sub, "good thing we got Doc to him and alerted the Admiral, even if it was just a teensy little cut after all."
"Yeah, oh boy, Clarke you’re in for it now!" Patterson added to the woebegone crewman behind him.
"Just leave me alone okay…I feel bad enough as it is…I could have sworn I didn’t even see him."
"Okay okay, hey, Mom! Dad!" Ski quickened his pace. The visitor’s center must have given all family members clearance to greet their loved one's dockside.
"Well, finally released from Sickbay, Skipper?" Chip smiled up as Lee picked up the XO’s clipboard from the observation nose table.
"Very funny," he scratched the back of his head. Small flakes of blood showed in his fingernails, "just a nick that’s all…"
"Yes, that's true," Nelson approached, dressed in green slacks and yellow sweater, "but as it is, I’m glad the men alerted us…that cut could have gotten infected you know, and you could have had a concussion…and after…well, after the IBIX cruise…"
"I swear I'd only thought it was a bruise." Good grief, wouldn’t anybody let that past mission rest?
"Sure you did," Chip replied, "you actually thought it was only a bruise when you were rammed into the edge of the chart table in the explosion? Sorry, sir, no matter what you say, you knew your ribs were cracked. Do you have any idea what it’s like to know your Captain is at death’s door because he was, begging your pardon, sir, foolish enough to go on as if nothing had happened? Lacerated spleen, internal bleeding from bone fragments…massive inflammation…need I go on?"
"Are you both going to haunt me with that incident forever?? It happened more than two months ago!"
"Enough gentlemen," Nelson intervened. "I’m sure the Captain will alert sickbay if he sustains any future injures, isn’t that correct Captain?"
"Yes sir," Lee replied wearily.
"Chip, is everything in order?" Nelson asked, taking another swig of rum from the sideboard. He’d better get off this boat soon, or he was going to be soused by the time he greeted his sister.
"All buttoned up, ready for the Captain’s permission to disembark…Skipper?"
"Well, that depends," Crane responded. " I could announce a surprise inspection, you know, or I might have a drill planned , " he winked, " but… permission granted. Have a happy Thanksgiving shoreleave gentlemen. I’ll join you tomarrow for the party."
They were all gone now, off to their own lives. It had only been a few minutes. But Lee breathed in the heady air of solitude. Not usually welcome, as he generally liked being around people; after 45 days under, where the only seclusion was the toilet in his cabin, it felt good to be alone. Especially now.
"Thank you for bringing us home again," Lee patted the observation nose window, not really caring anymore who might know of his need to be in ‘touch’ with the ‘old girl’ as he called Seaview now and then.
Taking his fingers to his lips, he kissed them, then applied the two fingers to the window and departed.
"Oh Harry," Edith Nelson hugged her big brother, "it’s so good to see you again! It’s been awhile hasn’t it!"
"Too long, far too long," he kissed her cheek. "And how is my little princess?"
"Hungry! And you're late! We have reservations at the Happy Clam, actually Joe’s, they changed the name of the place after your theory! Anyway, no clams there, but fabulous steak and seafood…and don’t look at me like that, they have a most wonderful salad bar! Just the thing for starving submariners!"
" I’m hardly dressed for an evening out and I…"
"No buts…you look fine…it’s very casual…you’ll love it… Oh, you’ll never guess, I finally met Kowalski’s parents…they’re very nice…."
Nelson chuckled and let her ramble on, the stress of the last few missions melting off him as if they’d never happened. The warmth of her charm and the warmth of the last round of rum, was making him feel very good indeed.
"Well, here it is, my home away from home," Ski opened the door to his apartment. It was a bit stuffy, and he quickly turned on the air conditioner. " Needs a bit of filtering…"
"That’s fine dear, so nice you live in a climate that demands air conditioning in the fall!" his mother said.
"Yeah, well, it gets cool here in January! He picked up their suitcases; "you sure came prepared!"
"Now, don’t scold," his father said, " Stan does, all the time, He was delayed, but should be out in time shortly after Thanksgiving.
"What are these?" Ski held up several aged 3 ring binders and scrapbooks.
" Some mementos," his mother answered.
"She's writing an essay on her life as a schoolteacher! It's a big contest. There’s a prize too. A trip to Disneyland."
"Am I in here?" he held up a faded scrapbook.
"Why of course, love, come over here," she patted the leather sofa and all three Kowalski’s began to peruse the memories.
Lee tossed and turned in his sleep his first night back ashore. The images flashed in his mind with their brutality. The screams of sheer terror echoed through the walls. Soft hands, soft voices, mingled with harsh hands, harsh voices…he woke bathed in sweat. This was ridiculous, it had been so long ago. It was over with. But now…well…what would be would be.
"Hey Ski," Jones smiled, "over here! Lots of grub! Pat’s here already, Clarke, Baker, and Frank’s gonna be here soon. Some of the guys couldn't make it, or they’re kinda busy," Curley chuckled at the ribald joke "Here, Mrs. Kowa..I’m sorry, you prefer Miss Ivanovitch is it?" he patted the cushy sofa, "hey you bozos, the Kowalski’s are here!"
The Kowalski's found themselves surrounded by Ski's shipmates and their families as Nelson's party began to get into full swing.
Several of the women exchanged pleasantries, and many of men began talking football and started making bets on which team would win the big Thanksgiving Day football game.
The guard checked his keys and sighed. While he’d be paid a bit extra, it was no fun missing out on the party. He'd be able to join in later for the game at least. He was about to begin his hourly rounds when he heard something. From behind a closed door. The captain’s office? He readied his gun, and knocked, just in case.
There was no answer. Readying his pistol, he tried the door. It wasn’t locked.
He frowned and shook his head, then cleared his throat. Twice. Becoming alarmed, he neared the figure bent over the cluttered desk. He recognized the man, why on earth….
"Uh, sir? Commander Crane? Commander Crane??" he shook the man’s shoulder.
"Huh? What???" Lee Crane woke up, startled from his doze. His eyes were red from lack of sleep or something…he was dressed in sweats and sneakers, and had face stubble.
"I knocked sir, there was no answer…I heard you…uh, snoring…I couldn’t tell what it was from outside…"
"Oh, uh, sorry."
"You got the holiday watch sir?" the guard asked incredulous. Usually the ranking officers left those kinds of details to the underlings. One of the perks of rank.
"Uh, no…I just had some paperwork to catch up on…all finished though…I guess I’m late for the party…" he hurriedly turned off the computer and locked the desk, as if he had something to hide. Well, he probably did, thought the guard. NIMR was full of top-secret stuff.
" I’m sorry if I startled you…"Crane departed.
Tim pursed his lips, and turned to shut off the desk lamp. The desk was spotlessly clean. Tim grinned to himself. He knew Crane was a stickler for tidiness. Evidently the Captain had not noticed the edge of a printout peeking out from the secured drawer. A printout from a State Board of Education from someplace. A list of teachers?
The party was in full swing now; Crane could hear the groans and cheers as the guests watched the pre game festivities and parades on TV. He didn’t have to stay long, he knew. Just make a courtesy call, and depart and leave the men to enjoy themselves. Like all captains, he knew his presence would make the men unrelax a little, even if they were enjoying the Admiral’s party. He'd showered and changed and looked almost normal.
"Skipper! Come on in," he was ushered in by Clarke, " Hey fellas, it’s the Skipper!"
Crane was greeted to gutsy hellos’ and ‘hi there’s by the assemblage, and was promptly handed a beer.
"Over here Lee," Nelson greeted him, "You're a bit late, oh, by the way, have you met Mr. And Mrs. Kowalski?"
"How do you do," Lee offered as he nodded to the two seated with Ski. Mr. Kowalski nodded in turn and Mrs. Kowalski gave him a beautific smile.
"Oh, please, Captain, join us, our son has told us so much about you."
"Good, I hope…"he valiantly tried to grin.
"Yes Tim, thank you," Nelson put down the phone.
"What is it Harry?" Edith asked, nodding her thanks to the caterers, now finished clearing away the mess.
"I’m not really sure… Earlier today, security found Lee asleep at his desk …catching up on paperwork he said…Edie, he didn’t have any paperwork, I’d made sure of that before we docked. I had the staff handle it all. It’s just…odd… Tim said he looked like he’d slept there overnight…"
"Why no sir," Morton answered Nelson’s phoned questions, the next morning, becoming concerned. Crane hated paperwork and it was doubtful he’d spend his first night ashore in his office! "No,"Morton responded to Nelson’s prodding, " he didn’t go into details, just said he had things to attend to…though…he did seem a bit…preoccupied."
"And this," Mrs. Kowalski held up the faded photo, for some of Ski's friends to see on the overcast day , "is from one of my 6th grade classes, one I’ll never forget," she mused almost affectionately.
"Oh, Mom, don’t remind me…"Ski groaned.
"It wasn’t that bad…"
"Well, I sure didn’t enjoy it."
"You were only in 3rd grade, son, you didn’t have all the details." She took a sip of her iced tea and continued her reminiscing, " It was November, and we were all making plans for the Thanksgiving holiday…
"But couldn’t it have waited until the semester break? It’s difficult enough for children to be suddenly switched into a new classroom, but in the middle of…"
"Kate," Principal Angela Roman handed over an official looking document, "it’s necessary…to save his life perhaps…"
"The Witness Protection Agency?" she read the header.
"Yes, evidently the child saw something…and they believe his life is in danger, at least until after the trial…now…he’s been given a new identity and will be in your class. He may be a little…confused to say the least, but he's bright, and understands the situation is only temporary and for his own good. Kate, I don’t have the details, but…he may have some emotional problems…. Use your own judgment if he gets out of hand…here’s a picture of him, taken last year, he’s filled out and grown a little bit since then, and his voice is changing I’m told…. 11 years old is a difficult time in any boy’s life, but I’m sure you’ll cope."
"When does he arrive?"
"Day after tomorrow. He’ll be living at the YMCA."
"The day after tomorrow? The day before we break for vacation? That seems a bit cruel don’t you think? Get him into a new school, all his classmates will be hyper for fun and family, then he has to spend Thanksgiving and the next few days all alone?"
"There’s no choice. The shelters are absolutley swamped and a foster home is out of the question due to the circumstances. I can’t tell you anymore than that. Don't worry. Officer Grumpe will check in on him regularly."
"Poor little boy…you know he looks almost like those gypsies that come through here now and then."
"Yes, he does, now that you mention it… make sure his classmates think so too…it will help with the new identity…"
"Class. Class! Quiet please…now, that’s better," Miss Ivanovitch said firmly, as she walked to the door from her desk, "we have a new pupil who’ll be spending some time with us. Over here, that’s it," she spoke to the boy in the doorway, standing next to Roman. She noticed that he made a point of shrugging off any helping hands.
" Class, this is," she read the enrollment paper; it wouldn't do to make a mistake, "Bobby Bates, he’s 11 years old and comes to us from that gypsy encampment you may remember from a few weeks ago…" she turned him to face the class.
There was a class wide gasp of gleeful astonishment and downright envy. Giggles from the girls who viewed the newcomer with appreciation for his good looks; envy from the boys who saw him as a new competitor in the bull pen. Apparently clothes had nothing to do with it. This…gypsy was dressed in black jeans, white T-shirt and black leather jacket with a hole in it. His hair was a mass of tangled curlicues and he looked- scruffy.
"Bobby?Bobby?" she repeated herself, realizing the boy was still unused to this name, ‘just take that empty seat over there, by the window…"
"Kinda stupid ain’t he?" one of the boys whispered, as some of the boys laughed.
Glaring at his tormentor, ‘Bobby’ simply sat.
"Class! That’s enough…now, if you’ll open your history books to page ten…"
"He was a good boy," Ski’s mom mused, lost in fond memory.
"Good?" Ski exclaimed, "Mom, he was a juvenile delinquent! It was bad enough you had to have him in your class but to bring him home for turkey dinner, and…well, I know what you told Aunt Bess…. Stan told me."
"Aunt Bess? What are you on about?"
"You told her if …if he hadn’t been 11, you’d have taken him up on his offer…"
" What offer?"
" What are you talking about?"
"We all knew what it meant."
"No, apparently you all did not know, I certainly don’t know what you're talking about. You were 8 years old, love. You must have imagined or misunderstood something Stan or Aunt Bess and I were talking about…"
"Yeah okay Mom," Ski closed the subject, embarrassed in front of his friends, but he knew better. She had been twisting her ring. A nervous habit that told on her. She was hiding something.
"Which one is he?" Jones asked, as he eyed the photo.
"Oh, yes, here he is…the children gave me a surprise birthday party that day…. In the back row…second from the left."
"Looks like a real scrapper! Whatever happened to him?"
"Four days before Christmas vacation he was withdrawn from the school…we never heard of him again…." She said sorrowfully.
Lee was weary, and bone tired. Some holiday. He hadn’t managed sleep for two days now. His mind was far too active. Dreams, nightmares…they just wouldn’t quit. And his suspicions had proved true. The situation, if revealed, could prove to be awkward, to say the least. For him, for his crew, for his boat, for Nelson.
Nelson hated to intrude. He knew now that shoreleave was in full swing, many of the men would be here. He was right.
It was a small bar, and a very popular gathering place for many of Seaview’s crew. "I’m sorry to intrude Chief, but have you any idea where the Captain may be?"
"Uh, no sir, hey guys? Come on over sir, some of the guys are here…any of you see the Skipper?"
"No’s and voices of growing concern answered.
"Is there an emergency sir? Or a problem?" Ski asked, as the men crowded by.
"Well," Nelson fumbled with his watch, "I’m not sure. It's the Captain. It could be nothing, but…we can't find him. Not at his apartment… Even security doesn’t know where to reach him, which is against regulations and highly unusual, and his pager’s not responding…something about an invalid number…we even wanted to check with his mother back east, but her answering machine says she's out of the country and nobody knows anything. . I even checked with," Nelson hesitated, "ONI."
The assembled group groaned in unison. Their Captain had maintained his ‘operative’ status with that elite intelligence organization and had given them the shivers whilst he was off on assignment at times.
"Oh shit sir…" Curley expressed his concern. "Come on guys, we can help the search…"
"Dad, want to help?" Ski asked his father.
"Of course, son…Admiral, you don’t think he’s in any kind of trouble?"
"Mr. Kowalski? Glad to see you again, "Nelson extended his hand in greeting, " Yes, actually I do…the Captain has a way of..well…lets just say he has a uh, knack for it…trouble that is, I’m sorry to break up things here. I’ll make up the day to all of you somehow."
"I'll just call Mom to let her know we'll be late," the elder Kowalski told his son.
He sat in the semi-dark. Alone. It was comforting to be here in the dark. Like a wounded puppy, he thought, as he finished the bottle. He knew better than to wallow in self-pity, but it wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t fair at all.
"Any luck sir?" Morton asked as the snowflakes began to settle on his eyelashes on the grounds of NIMR.
"I assume you haven’t had any either, then. All search teams report negative. Grounds, Town, even the Highway Patrol. His car is locked and parked at his apartment. No forced entry, the landlord is sure of it and even checked for us. Security has no indication he ever returned here."
" I’ve spoken to all his friends from here to Timbuktu and back. Nothing…are you sure ONI is telling you the truth? About not knowing anything…they could have him off playing spy again…and with his mother gone…well…."
"Blasted snowflake!" Nelson brushed the thing off his eyelash, " No, they assure me he’s not on assignment…its not supposed to snow here."
"I'll be sure to tell the weatherman…sir…this is unlike the Captain…I mean…"
"I know…I know…."
"Uh, Admiral Nelson?" the elder Kowalski approached the men, as the teams had gathered to pool reports, "I was just wondering…when I spoke to my wife on the phone again, she had an idea…did anyone check the submarine?"
"Security would have notified us had anyone boarded and…."Nelson stopped midsentence.
Nelson and Chip exchanged glances. So did the younger Kowalski and several of the other crewmen. They well remembered how the Captain had eluded security the first time he’d boarded.
No words were needed. The group hurried to the boat pen
A tangle of legs hurriedly descended Seaview’s spiral steps. There, in the shadows, a lone figure, feet propped up on the table, sat, facing the windows.
The figure turned…taking in the sight, and hiccuped.
"Uh oh…busted!!" Crane grinned, raising his bottle. "Hiya boss! Game over?"
"He’s drunk!" whispered Patterson, dumbfounded. The Skipper was never drunk!
"The game's been over for a day and a half! Where the devil have you been?" Nelson raised his voice. "We’ve been worried sick!"
"Sickbay to s’ nose! Where does it hurt admi admi…"he leaned forward trying to focus, "who are you again?"
"Lee," Chip noticed two spent bottles rolling on the table. "Have you been here all day? "he asked gently. "Maybe even the whole time since the party?"he mused.
"Hole? We have a hole? You heard’ im men, damage control!"
Morton turned Crane to himself and pulled him up, "Lee, we’re going home."
"Home? Home? What’s that? " he asked innocently.
"Well it’s not here…come on skipper, upsy daisy."
"Upsy Daisy upsy daisy skupsie upsy…who are you again?" he asked, confused.
"Admiral, I’ll take him home with me. Give us some room, men," Chip said firmly, noticeably chagrined that anyone had seen the Captain, of all people, so inebriated.
Crane stopped suddenly, and pointed at Ski, still on the spiral steps.
"S’don’t you remember me, Fievel Meinert Ivonovitch? You weren’t very nice to me you know… you or your brother," he pouted, "…it wasn’t my fault they stuck me with your family for Thanksgiving Dinner…I..I feel sick," he said, surprised, and felt himself being turned to a corner as he was.
Nelson paced, puffing away on his cigarette, as he watched Crane being tucked into the bunk in Seaview's sickbay. Nelson found himself upset, concerned and angry. He didn’t know what to think. It was not good for the Captain’s image…it made him falible. And Seaview’s captain was not fallible. At least not according to her crew. Until now. "Well?"
"He’ll have a whopper of a hangover, but that’s all," the Institute duty medic announced. "Oh, Wills said to let you know he'll be here shortly. Seems as though he has dibs on this patient."
"Fievel? Your name's Fievel?" Patterson asked, incredulously, in the observation nose.
"Yeah, it is. Wanna make somethin of it?" Ski answered.
"How come you never told anyone?" Clarke prompted, as he sat on the edge of the wide table.
"Would you like a name like that? Sorry Pop" he turned to his father, " but…anyhow, nobody's supposed to know."
"Well the Skipper does," Patterson added.
"Of course he does, stupid," Ski retaliated, "he’s the Skipper! Besides, its on my personnel file…still…he's never used it, not even when he chews me out…only…" Ski sat, weary.
"Out with it kid, what's going on." Jones asked.
"That's what I'd like to know," Nelson entered the nose and sat, waiting for an explanation.
"Well," Ski took a breath, " it was Thanksgiving, and Mom felt sorry for this gypsy kid in her class and brought him home…
"Children, this is Bobby, and he'll be having dinner with us and staying overnight. Thank you Officer Grumpe, for bringing him over. Bobby, this is Stan, and this is Fievel. Say how do you do."
"Hi," Bobby said, without enthusiasm.
"Hi," the boys said equally without eagerness.
"Boys, why don't you show Bobby your room and play for a while before supper."
"Look," Bobby spoke up; " you don't have to go through all this fuss. I can just sit here or go back to the Y…"
"It’s no fuss at all…Stan, take him upstairs. Show him your new train set, why don't you? Go along with them Feivel."
"So," Stan Kowalski leaned on the door," how'd you end up here? Your mom put a curse on you or somethin?" he laughed. "What's it like bein' a gypsy? You read palms or something? I heard gypsies steal things and kill animals. People too. You ever kill anyone?"
"Bobby, you like trains?" the 8 year old asked, holding up a caboose.
"Yeah, sure kid…what's this supposed to be?" he glanced at a crayon drawing.
"Fievel's submarine! Or a spaceship or something," Stan took the primitive work and held it sideways and upside down," looks like some kind of bug."
"Give it back!" the little boy demanded.
"Gonna make me?"
Bobby grabbed Stan's arm and tightened his grip; "the kid said give it back."
"Like I said to squirt here, how you gonna make me?"
"Boys, supper!" Mom called, "Boys!" she demanded as they began to troop downstairs.
"Hmmm. Sure smells wonderful," her husband gave her a kiss then gave a short gasp of surprise.
"Stan!? What happened?" his mother rushed to his side.
"He fell down and hit his eye," Bobby explained, "isn't that right kid?" Bobbie poked Stan's brother.
"Yeah, that's right Mom!" Fielvel said, eyes sparkling, holding his drawing up proudly.
"He’d punched Stan right in the eye," Ski reminisced, " and it served him right. Stan was always a bully…but…"
"You never told us that,"Mr. Kowalski interupted, surprised.
"Go on Ski,"Nelson prodded.
"Well, we got along fine at first, the gypsy kid and me. That night, we switched the salt and sugar shakers when Mom wasn't looking; looked at Stan's dirty pictures, uh, the ones he'd kinda borrowed from Uncle Ned; and we even looked up at the stars and made up stories about Martians and stuff…we were good friends, at least I thought he was."Kowlalski paused, " After school started again, he'd come over after school and he played with me, even if he was a lot older. He helped Mom sometimes too. He even helped me get even with Stan by putting some food coloring in some water and making him think he'd wet the bed…that was fun," Ski chuckled, then suddenly serious, " but then…he betrayed me, and you too, Pop."
"I don't understand, son."
"Well, you gotta understand pop, he was 11. You know what that age is like…hormones and all. And…he…he…kinda had the hots for Mom. Stan said it was as clear as the nose on his face, and…and he kissed her…"Ski hesitated then continued, "on the lips."
"The Skipper!?" Patterson exclaimed.
"Yeah, the Skipper, when he was Bobby, I'm sorry sir," Ski turned to the Admiral, then to his father, "Pop…she didn't encourage it. It was all his own idea…so Stan and me beat him up. We beat him up pretty good, well, not really good, but we tried too. I mean he had some pretty mean moves himself, but two against one, well…we got a few punches in anyway…"
"Ski," Morton asked calmly, "Did you see it? This…kiss?"
"Stan did. He told me and…"
"You believe him? What he said?"
"Of course I do, he's my brother! "
"Fievel…wait," Mr. Kowalski interrupted, "Stan…sometimes exaggerated things…sometimes he even lied…. Are you sure about this?"
"Look, Pop… Bobby, I mean the skipper, I mean, well he never denied it! Not once! And then when Mom told Aunt Bess that she would have taken him up on his offer if…well…"
"If this was not a childish prank, I think I need to have a little talk with your mother, and then I just may go and punch your Captain's lights out!"
"Wait, gentlemen," Nelson intervened…"if this incident is true, I said IF, it took place decades ago…lets not get hasty."
"Hey, what's goin' on down here," Stan Kowalski descended the spiral steps into the nose, "no sooner than I phone Mom from the airport, she says Seaview’s Captain's gone missing. I hustled over here as soon as I could…Ski, Pop, Admiral? What's going on? Did you find him? Was he kidnapped? Is Captain Crane all right? "
"Stan," Ski pouted, "did you lie to me? About Mom and the gypsy kid?"
"What? The gypsy boy? What's he got to do with anything?"
"Answer your brother," Mr. Kowalski demanded.
"Uh, look, care to fill me in?"
"Didya lie about the Skipper kissing your mom?" Jones insisted.
"The Skipper? Crane?" he asked, visibly shaken, "What are you talking about? Did Crane accost her or…"
"The gypsy boy, Stan….Bobby" Ski interrupted, …he's the Skipper..You said you saw him kiss Mom and proposition her."
"Oh hell…yeah, yeah I did."
"Oh no…"Ski sat wearily.
"Man I was pissed at the little punk…such a good boy, as Mom kept saying, just cause he took a shine to you, played those stupid games with you…and he always took your side when we got into a scrapple…well, what'you expect me to do, let him get away with kissing Mom? Of course I told you. I needed you to help me get even. We did too…I bet he needed stitches after we belted him."
"Did Mother encourage him? To kiss her? To…proposisiton her?" the elder Kowalski asked.
"Nah, he …wait…oh hell, wait a minute…you think…you think…."Stan began to laugh.
"I don't find this matter at all funny!" Mr. Kowalski fumed. "I liked the boy! And he abused that trust!"
"Pop, Pop!" Stan put a hand on his father's arm. "Calm down! The kiss! It was on her cheek for Pete's sake, like a kid gives his mother! That's all!"
"What??" Ski exclaimed.
"Yeah, I told you didn't I…didn't I…Uh oh, aw shit, I guess I didn't. I was going to, after he'd gone away. I guess I forgot…I was gonna tell you, honest…but I needed to you to help me, so I’d exaggerated a bit."
"Stanislav Kowalski!" the woman’s voice permeated the observation nose. "How could you!"
"Mom!" all three Kowalskis rose and faced Miss Ivanovitch.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, all of you!"
"Uh, Mom…how long have you been standing there?"
"What about the proposition?" Mr. Kowalski asked her.
"Proposition??? What? Oh, that…for your information, was when he simply offered to show me how to cheat at cards so I could beat my sister when I met her for Christmas! How could you even think what you were thinking, any of you! Of him, of me…and now I find he's the captain of this submarine, your submarine Fievel. You owe him an apology, all of you. And to me as well."
"Nothing was ever said to the captain." Mr. Kowalski offered.
"Well, its going to be now, where is he?"
"Sick bay," Ski offered.
"You put him in the hospital?" she asked, aghast, the vision of her husband and sons beating her beloved Bobby into pulp.
"No, Mom, no, not at all," Ski took her arm and urged her to sit. "he uh, well, he was drunk, and we had to take him to sickbay…the guys'll vouch for me…not a hair on him was harmed in any way…"
"Well, that's a relief…"she sighed, "my little Bobby…so…his real name is Lee Crane…you know Fievel, Stan,"she paused for effect, "he might have been your brother had things turned out differently. We had been thinking of adopting him…never mind. It was a long time ago."
There was a sort of hush aboard Seaview. While not in service, and technically in maintenance, the vessel found herself rather crowded. Muted voices and quiet conversations filled her corridors and cabins.
"So, Ski?" Patterson whispered, "Didya find anything out?"
"No, couldn’t get anything out of her…maybe she doesn't know."
"Just think…wouldn't that be something? Having your Captain as your brother?"
"I don't think it’d make any difference, do you Kid?" Stan appeared at the crew's mess."Little Bobby… man I don't know whether to be pissed or relieved! The gypsy kid punches my lights out and ends up as Seaview's captain… Mom's acting like a strutting hen, all gooey and mushy over him. Pop’s with her too, in sickbay….
"Well?" Mr. Kowalski insisted, his arm on his wife’s shoulder.
"Well what?" she gently ran her fingers through the Captain’s hair as he slept.
"What do we do now?"
"I don’t know…our poor little Bobby…"
"Moma, he has his own identity now, he’s a very important man…the past is over."
"He…he was so alone…he had no-one…. He..he..had a crush on me too, I think."
"Most of your boys did. No, not Bobby. I think he simply needed a mother and you were there."
"Yes, yes of course…I wonder whatever happened…and why…"
The wide table in the nose was laid with a crisp white sheet acting as a tablecloth, and the elder Kowalskis were a bit nervous, despite the exchange of pleasantries with Nelson, Morton, Edith and O'Brian, who'd been lucky enough to wheedle his way into the group…they were waiting, they all knew it. It would be any time now…
"Admiral? Doc said I was drunk and…"Crane's voice appeared before he did. He was still in his sickbay pj's and robe. He was almost on the deck when he noticed the others.
"Please Lee, come and join us, I believe you know Edith, and the Kowalskis," Nelson called out.
It was an awkward moment. No one had warned him about anyone else being in the nose. "I'd like to apologize Admiral…" he turned to make a hasty exit.
"Nonsense Lee, nonsense, come, sit down, we're having brunch. All your favorites I believe…"
"Please…its been a long time Lee," Edith extended her hand.
"Edith…or do you prefer Miss Nelson now?"
"Depends on her mood Lee,"Nelson laughed, " I've never been able to understand it…come on now, food…you look as though you could use some."
"That's right…,"Miss Ivanovitch said."'Come, sit here."
"Please…"she pulled his face to look up at hers, "My little gypsy boy?" she kissed him on the cheek.
"You know? You know??"
"Of course I know…how could I not…I should have seen it before, at the party, but it took a little something Stan and Fievel said for me to realize it …now…tell Ivan the Terrible all about what happened to little Bobby…"
"Ivan the terr…you know about that??"
"My dear boy, for a gypsy you are lacking in psycic talent, of course I know, I also know how you tried to put a stop to that horrible nickname…now…we have never known…what was it you saw that made the authorities so…afraid for you?"
"I saw.." Crane looked quite pale, paused then spoke, "I saw my mother kill my father."
"Man oh man," Ski shook his head. Rumors were flying. "Musta been sheer hell for him. All of us yakin about home and mom and…and all the time he tired to act as if nothing had happened, or pretend it hadn't. "
"Lee?" Nelson asked, as the two men walked toward the institute office. It was a nice day, the sun was out, and whatever snowflakes had fallen had vanished. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, sir, just a bit embarrassed. It's not easy waking up finding I was so soused that I didn't even recognize any one but Ski and that…I do apologize sir. It won't happen again. Ever."
"Lee, stop that, it's not your fault, well, all right, it is your fault you got drunk, but…I mean about…hell Lee…"
"I'm all right Harry, it was a long time ago and wounds do heal. He…I do remember the way my father was before…before the drugs…I try to think he didn't know he was trying to kill me or my mother. I doubt if he really saw us at all, he was screaming so wildly…but…the doctors think he knew exactly what he was doing…they didn't have all the fancy drug testing stuff they have now…"
"How did your mother cope? "
"At first she didn’t. Couldn’t. Oh, she knew she’d managed to wrench his knife away from him and use it in self defence , but still…she cried a lot. Spent some time in a Sanatarium…most of the time she didn’t know who I was….
They were all scared for me, the good people of Pliney Hills, first because of my mother and then…my father had had a lot of friends…in very bad places…They wouldn’t have hesitated to kill us to keep their racket a secret. Later, after Mom was aquitted ," he grinned, "I think she was actually a bit jealous…of Miss Ivanovitch…I’d told her how nice she was…and I guess it made things worse…she still had…problems, and well, it took a long time for things to get back to normal…oh, she’s fine now, but Thanksgiving is one holiday niether of us is very fond of…too many memories. Bad ones…"
"Lee, I am so sorry,"Nelson found it difficult to bear. While he had been enjoying things, Crane had been reliving some of the worst events in his life.
"It’s okay Admiral…we survived it…we’re fine now, very close…perhaps even better than many families. Mom’s on an archeological dig right now in Egypt and has probably taken no notice of the season…I…I apologise that I felt so sorry for myself and jealous of Kowalski and his family at this time of year that I…well…came unhinged. I’ve never been that drunk before."
"Perfectly understandable…again, I’m sorry Lee…I should have realised something was troubling you and…"
"No, Harry. I…sometimes I can be pretty stupid. I should have flown out to join her."
"By the time you’d have said hello, you would have been due back here…wait… Seaview’s going to need a new paint job, you said so yourself…but with the blasted delays…why not take a little bit of extra shoreleave…"
"Admiral! We have that Soney expedition and the C9S charting mission and …what delays?" he added suspiciously.
"I could make it an order…go on Lee. Go home. Visit your Mom."
"I may just take you up on that Admiral!" Lee grinned, "And thank you…oh, by the way, look at this…"Crane took out a crumpled old crayon drawing, "I've kept it all these years, I don't know why Fievel - why Ski gave it to me. I guess it just looked special. Something to call my own. It was a present."
"It looks like a blue squished bug!"
"Yes, but see here and here? Windows. And here, a periscope, and here, …kind of hard to make it out but there it is …Seaview. It's a bit weird. Kind of like de-ja-vous or fate even…a submarine with windows he named Seaview…"
"Lee, even Jules Verne's Nautilus had windows and several seaside cottages are named Seaview, and…even you had a sailboat once named Seaview, so…"
"I know…but wouldn't the Kowalskis like to know that his being here was…meant to be? "he grinned.
"You know Lee, sometimes I get the feeling that maybe you are a little bit of a gypsy after all! Oh, uh, did you have the hots for Ski's mom? Her Gypsy flame as the men are calling it? It’s still a matter of some conjecture, despite the denials by those involved."
"I won't lie to you, I cared for her. She was, is, a very wonderful woman. But I was a normal healthy pubescent boy…"
"Lee Crane! You…didn't? "
"No,"he laughed, " just a quick little peck on the cheek , from the 'good little boy' that I was. Though I did daydream a bit at times about some of the things I'd seen in Stan's girlie magazines…wishing I were older…"he laughed.
"I assume that there's no chance of.... rekindling anything?"
"Not in a million years sir, Ski would kill me!"
"So, did you have a nice time, my dear?" Mr. Kowalski placed his carry on luggage in the overhead rack of the plane.
"Oh, it went too fast, too fast!"
"Well, that's how holidays are…. but Christmas is just around the corner! And both boys will be coming out to visit us!"
"I wish all three would."
"Well, some things are not meant to be, besides, Bobby…Captain Crane has his own mother back. But of course, if you think he may still have the hots for you after all?"
"Oh stop it you silly old goat, the very idea! Besides, Fievel would kill me!"
"Ski? May I see you for a moment?" Crane asked the crewman before he took his post. Seaview had been underway for a couple of days now on a new assignment and conversation between the two men had been non-existent, as if each didn't want to admit that they had once been friends. Undue familiarity between officers and crewmen bode no good on a submarine.
"Yes sir," Ski replied obediently and followed Crane to the chart table.
"I uh, just thought you might like to have this back…"Crane handed Ski the crayon drawing.
"Hey! My submarine! You kept it? After all these years? Even after I decked you?"
"I know a good design when I see one," Crane laughed, "and after all…look around you sometime…windows topside…a periscope…and over here…even the name's the same so…I think this should belong to you," he indicated the drawing.
"Nah, it belongs to all of us, Skipper…and…well…I'm sorry Stan and I hit you and.."
"Ski, if our positions had been reversed, I would have done the same…how are your parents? Well I hope?"
"Yeah, waitin’ for Christmas vacation with their boys…uh, Skipper…you know, uh…you're welcome to come out to join us…"
"Thank you Ski, but I have plans."
Ski wisely held his tongue.
"Honest…I'll be with my mother in Cape Cod. Give your family all my best will you, and give your mother this," he held out a small pewter pin in the shape of a candle.
"My own Mother always places a candle in the window when I'm not there, to light the way home for me, sort of a silly habit she took up after reading a romance novel, and..well, your mom, Miss Ivanovitch… well, tell her it’s from her gypsy flame…to thank her for…being there…when my own home was in turmoil."
"Gee thanks Skipper, she'll really like this…she kinda likes you, you know…"
"Well, I suppose that's because I knew how to keep her little Fievel in line,"Crane said gently, "we were quite a team."
"We still are Skipper! We still are," he gave Crane a half salute and returned to his post.
The new charting mission was almost over, and to the relief of Nelson and most hands, the normal working relationship between Kowalski and the Skipper had remained in effect as crewman and captain.
While there might be a chuckle or two about a past incident, neither had sought to rekindle the closer, albeit short friendship, they had shared so long ago. The past would simply remain the past.
As for Miss Ivanovitch, she had written her essay. Coming in third, it was published and Ski proudly showed it off. It contained a photo, and began…..
It is a known fact that a house is not a home. But home is not a place either. Only people can make a Home. By way of example, I remember one of my 6th grade classes, the year of the Gypsy Boy…