“I’m sorry Admiral,”
Coast Guard Lt. Connors replied to
my rather hurried inquiry, still standing as per protocol, as Will Jamison and
I removed our Navy issue raincoats at the Flotilla #44 in Daytona Beach,
“ Commander Crane is
still aloft,” he continued, “ and Commander Morton’s unavailable
until his watch.
If it’s an emergency, though....” he
turned toward the radio.
“That won’t be
necessary,” I searched for someplace to
sit, and found a rather Spartan sofa, “we’ll wait.”
pondered, confused, “I didn’t see any helipad
“We’re just an
auxiliary branch, sir,” Connors explained,
“we answer to the Ponce De Leon division;
that’s a little south of us. They’ve got the heavier equipment. In
fact, both the cutter that Commander
Morton took out yesterday and the
Jayhawk that Commander Crane is aboard
right now are both berthed there. He also put
in a little time earlier this morning with an SPC-LE. That’s a Law Enforcement
Special Purpose Craft...like those docked just over there," he pointed out the window at the small dock.
“Admiral Nelson knows
what they are!” Doc said, irritated.
I could only guess that having a junior officer ‘explain’ what various
classes of vessels the Navy and Coast
Guard used was, in his mind, insulting. The fact is, though, I’d never heard of them, hadn’t
recognized them for what they were, or
didn’t remember the memo. But Lee aboard a Law Enforcement craft? Now that
sounded bad. Very bad.
“He’s been chasing
down drug runners?” I had to ask.
“Called me at 0230 this
morning. Said he’d gotten some
good Intel while he was off duty, didn’t exactly reveal how or where, but he insisted
we go and ambush them at first light.
I’m not sure Division Headquarters was all that impressed, but by the time we
reported what we’d already done, they couldn’t exactly scold us for not waiting for a
Special Ops, well, not much anyway. Commander Crane took full responsibility, and
told Admiral Baker that as senior to me, that it was his decision and if we’d
waited, we wouldn’t have been able to take one of the kingpins into custody. ”
“I bet the Admiral enjoyed
being told off,” I said
“So was chopper duty
later a punishment?” Doc asked.
“Heck no, Crane requested
it! But word is, he sure got a tongue
injured or anything?” Doc asked.
yourself....” Connors tuned the static wall monitor on and tuned it to
the interior of a helicopter. It was a
bumpy flight, or more correctly, hover, as below the open hatch a
capsized boat was floundering in the heavy swells.
third rescue this morning,” Connors
sighed, “I wish boaters
would take the small craft advisories
“My dog! My dog...”the rescued boy wailed, wrapped in a
blanket and with protective earphones, huddled next to whom I assumed was his
“Cheech, give us a chance, kid,” one of the crew, a Master Chief,
sporting headphones (which I presumed must be standard equipment as everyone
was wearing them), muttered to no one in
particular, “we’ve already tried to get the mutt a gazillion times.”
“Don’t worry,” a dripping wet Lee in a heavy one piece
wetsuit approached the boy, accepting and putting on a set of headphones from
the chief, “ we never leave a man behind, even if it’s a dog.”
“We understand if you...if
you...can’t,” the woman said. “You’ve tried and tried....”
“Would I lie to you?” Crane said. “Besides, this is just
day to us...I forgot to ask the dog's name,” he patted the child’s shoulder.
“Skipper,” the boy said.
The entire crew laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Inside joke, kid,” the Chief said, “the Commander here’s
the Captain of a submarine! Hey, I’m not joking. So he’s a ‘skipper’
too! Commander,” he returned
his attention to Lee, “ the hoist is ready again.
Even if Lt. Wixon,” he nodded to the cockpit, “is spitting tacks about us
staying out much longer. He wants to get this wrapped up before that line of
thunderstorms gets here. Looks like a bad one coming.”
The woman began to cry and hugged her son, “I’m sorry, baby,
sorry if they can’t save him...”
“We can,” Lee stressed,
“and we will, right Master Chief?”
“Aye Aye, sir!”
Lee returned to the hatch, returned the
headphones to the chief, reattached his rescue
gear for what was probably the umpteenth time, and gave a thumbs up with a huge
grin. I couldn’t help thinking that despite the relative danger, Lee looked for
all the world to me like a ten year old playing with a favorite toy. Then he
jumped from the chopper into the churning seas below. Okay, so they weren’t
exactly churning. But I
tend to be a bit anxious where Lee’s concerned. But in my own defense, the seas
were bad enough to swamp your average cabin cruiser. So I felt justified by
For the next fifteen minutes
or so, I resisted the urge
to bite my fingernails, as I’d been told outright that there was a non- smoking
policy inside the station, so I couldn’t
even calm my nerves with a little nicotine!
Lee was desperately trying
to reach the panicked dog,
which disappeared and reappeared from under the waves until it vanished and
didn’t pop back up. Lee dove under and after what felt like a year, at least to
me, emerged, only to take a breath then dove right back under. After two more
unsuccessful attempts the pilot told the crew to signal Crane that the rest of
the mission was a bust and get his bubblehead butt back to the rope. (His
words, not mine.)
“One more time,”
Lee responded to the through his throat
mike, “I think I’ve got a chance now.” It was a lie of course. He didn’t have a
chance in Hades of rescuing the kid’s dog. But if you don’t want to quit, one
excuse is as good as another. I could almost hear the pilot cursing about
submarine commanders in general.
took my pulse after Lee ducked
back under the waves and we waited. And waited. It looked as if the chopper’s
mission might now be to rescue Lee!
But Lee, well, being Lee,
surprised everyone by popping
back up, the dog under his arm, and managing with some degree of difficulty to
grab the rescue ring with his other arm. In seconds
the chopper began to reel him and his
precious cargo up, swinging in the wind.
Just then we heard the god-awful
racket of a motorcycle
and saw just outside the window that it was an old fashioned bike with a
sidecar. For a moment I thought it was Lee’s.
As the driver undid the tarp
from the sidecar and took
out a couple of rather crushed looking boxes, I recognized Lee’s friend and
part time spook buddy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Jackson, my friend Admiral Jigg's Starke's aide. So that monstrosity he’d driven
one of Lee’s bikes.
“Hey Connors, got something
for you Lee said you'd appreciate...Admiral
Nelson?” he acknowledged, surprised, as he entered and closed the door against
the rain, depositing the boxes on Connor’s desk,
“What are you doing here, sir? (I could tell by his tone that he wasn’t
very pleased about it.) Hey, that’s Lee!”
“Skipper...Skipper...oh Skipper!” the boy was trying to hold on to his ecstatic
dog, which was shaking off its soaked
fur getting water droplets over everything and everyone.
“Thank you,” the
woman was saying reaching out to take
Crane’s hand, “thank you all...”
“Can we go home now,
Commander?” the Chief asked Crane
wearily, as he handed Lee the headphones to protect his ears again and closed
the hatch .
“What’s the matter
Chief, it’s just a little wind and
water,” he chuckled and bent down to pat the dog. “He’s a very brave dog. You
must be very proud of him.”
“I think we’re
prouder of you,” the woman said. “Of all
of you brave, brave men.”
“Mom, Dad’s gonna’
be so pissed that the boat sank.”
“I pretty much
doubt that,” Lee said as he unzipped his one piece wetsuit and let the Chief
help him out of it, revealing standard issue spandex swim trunks.( I couldn’t
help noticing that Will’s eyes were searching for any signs of bruising or
wounding.) “As long as you’re both okay,”
Lee said, “I’m sure that’s all that matters to him.”
Chief said, as he helped Lee climb into
a flight suit, “we got the all clear to return to base. Wixon says you’re
welcome to take another crack with the
joystick if you’d like,” he nodded toward the cockpit. “
“I’d be honored. Not every day I get to copilot a Jayhawk.”
“Aye sir,” the
Chief smiled as Lee went forward and out
of sight. “Not every day we get to have the Captain of the Seaview prove he’s
every bit a Coastie as we are, either,” the Chief added to himself.
be returning here after his debrief, Admiral,
”Connors said as he tuned the monitor off,
“they’ll probably bring him back on a
“Hey, it’s an
“UTB?” I asked,
knowing Will would want to throttle me
for revealing my ignorance.
“Its’ a 41 foot
utility cruiser, and considered a
workhorse for moderate weather conditions, speed, and maneuverability.”
moderate weather conditions?” Joe asked as another wave of sideways rain pelted
“Cheech, I hope Lee’s
got some Dramamine with him. Chip
“There’ a tire
track on this box!” Connors complained as he
opened the end of the box that wasn’t crushed.
“Sorry,” Joe said.
“We were lucky to get them. Lee had a
whale of a time convincing the police department to release them from the
evidence locker. ”
“What?” I demanded,
“then he was in that little altercation I heard about? Lee’s been
“No, no, no sir,”
Joe was quick to explain. “It’s just
that when he saw all those boxes of doughnuts spilled all across the street from
“Then it was
his mangled bike we saw on TV,” Doc began. “Did the hospital release him or did
Lee’s fine...he wasn’t
in any brawl and he wasn’t in any accident...besides
those reporters made things look worse than they were...”
“Then I don’t
suppose you’d care to explain these?” I waved
my hand over the doughnut boxes trying very hard to remain civil.
“Well,” Joe retrieved
one, “seeing all those boxes all over the road made
him hungry for some. Now, he could have simply gone to one of the local
doughnut shops, but he figured that the company would consider these damaged goods
and he could get a real bargain, you know, free! So...since he figured, and
correctly as it turned out, that
the clean-up crew took all the boxes to
police headquarters for their accident
investigation, he claimed that instead of
disposing of them, as they were going to do eventually, that as long as the
cellophane in the boxes was
intact, that it would be more ecologically practical especially- since they’d
already taken pictures of the accident scene- to let poor starving weekend
wonders like us have a couple of the less damaged boxes.” Then he grinned, “didn’t
hurt that the Deputy Chief of Police on
duty at the time was a woman. In fact, Lee’s got a date with her
tonight at the dirt track.
She’s a biker too, apparently. So even if the race is called on account of mud if the rain doesn't stop,
they’ll still have a lot in common to er...enjoy with each other.”
“I see,” I said
wearily and sat back down after having paced during his explanation and rubbed my head.
“Doughnuts will help. Only some of them
were squished,” Joe said as Connors used a pen knife to slit the box open instead of having to
struggle with it, and showed off 6 that were somewhat intact,
the others a crushed mess at the other end.
“Might help that headache,
fine, really,' Joe said. "Lee already
scarfed down half of the other box in
same condition as this one this morning.
And you’ve all seen for yourself, he’s fine. I’m fine, Chip’s fine...”
“All right, all right...just
don’t give us any with tire
tread on it.” Doc joked.
As Will, Joe, Connors
and I consumed the assortment of relatively intact doughnuts and coffee, Joe took a breath
and looked me in the eye.
“You know sir, If I
didn’t know any better I’d swear you
came here to check up on Lee.”
“Is that so?”
Doc said snidely.
“And you know how much
he hates being mother henned.”
“Oh he does, does he,”
I said, unintentionally spraying forth a few sprinkles. I had to admit though, that my doughnut didn’t
taste much like asphalt
or burnt rubber. Well, not much anyway.
“He um...might not enjoy
being distracted when it’s apparent
to everyone that he’s having a great time...and you’ve always told him he needs
a little R&R....”
“Serving time with the
fine men and women of the Coast
Guard is not R&R! He's doing his patriotic duty!”
Jamie said... “he did look...happy...relaxed even...and...”
“I know, I know,”
I admitted, “undamaged. Well, I can see
our trip was unwarranted. Thank you for your hospitality Lt. Connors. I don’t
suppose we can call for a cab...”
“No need,” Joe
replied, “I’m headed to Embry Riddle to torment
Air Force and Navy officer wannabies with my spiel about how officers need to
do their duty, even from behind a desk....I can drop you off at Agent Catfish’s...that’s
where you’re staying isn’t it?
“Um, we haven’t
exactly called her yet...”
“I’m sure she’ll
welcome you with open arms,” he made the call then turned to us sadly, “sorry, she’s...uh....”
“She’s rented out what spare bedrooms she has...you know, for a little extra cash? Most of the hotels
are booked for Bike Week. But..er...you can always bunk with us. I’m sure the
hotel won’t mind a couple more guests in the room. For a bit extra,” he
“I’m good for
it, “I sighed. “I just don’t feel like a
turnaround flight after we just got here,” I wearily explained to Will.
“Lee’s going to
skin us alive!” Doc hissed, “first for checking up on him, then sharing his room!”
“Rooms,” Joe corrected,
“since Chip joined us, we got two
but they’re not on the same floor. You’ll have to toss I guess about who’ll bunk with
him, and who gets to sleep on the chair with Lee and me. Unless you don’t mind
sharing one of the double beds with one of us. No, I can see that doesn’t
appeal to either of you.”
After Lee kills us first, that is,” I
“Well, if we’re
going, we’d better get going before the
storm hits. I can drop you off at the
hotel before I have to teach a seminar
for Navy and Air Force officer wannabes
and Embry Riddle all about how duty behind a desk is just as important as in
the field. But,” he spread his arms,” I’m not sure I believe it myself.... Now,
who wants to ride pillion and who wants the sidecar...”
As the rain pelted my cover
, I realized the sidecar was
a better bargain. At least I had the benefit of the tarp which Joe had
stretched and helped cover me and our duffels with. I’m afraid rank does indeed
have its privileges. Doc sat astride the bike, his raincoat not doing a very
good job of keeping him dry as we drove through the increasingly flooded roads.
It' wasn't long before we
were checking into the hotel. As Joe escorted us to the elevator, I wasn’t sure if I
should have pulled rank and chosen to
bunk with Morton. After all, I was the ranking officer. I should set an example
of ‘any port in a storm.’ But when the clerk had said that there were no
rollaway beds left, and the rooms didn’t have anything but straight back wooden
chairs, well, I decided it would be far easier for Lee or Joe to accept Will
as one of their
And so, as we changed out
of our sodden clothes (and
shoes in the case of Will) in our two different rooms, having agreed to meet
downstairs at the hotel’s beachside restaurant, I had to wonder if the
gift shop had any earplugs for sale. For
rest assured, I knew I was surely going to need them when Lee arrived.
I bought an extra
pair for Will, too.