By Carol Foss aka Catfish
Note: This story is in no way connected to any of my others, as names, events, and circumstances will indicate.
He couldn’t even remember what the argument was about now. All Lee Crane knew was that he’d had enough. Enough badgering. Enough blame. Enough of the Nelson Institute. Enough of Nelson. Enough of Seaview. No, scratch that, he’d never have enough of Seaview. Why, she was more of a lady than any of the women the Admiral and Chip and everybody everywhere had tried to set him up with for the past five years. And now, now after a particularly trying mission, why couldn’t everybody just leave him alone?
"Penny for your thoughts, Lee?" a soft voice asked gently.
"Huh, oh, sorry Mom. I was just ‘woolgathering’."
"Um hmm. Lee…what is it? I can’t believe you simply decided to come home for no good reason."
Elaine Crane shook her head and grinned. Lee would never change. Still broody, introspective, and sometimes, to quote his boss, a pain in the…"
"Mom," Lee interrupted, "do you need anything from the store? I thought I’d take a walk and can stop by one if you like."
"A walk in the park, Lee? It’s 20 below. And your blood’s still too thin from that warm California weather."
"Ah, but my boat’s a constant 72 and…my boat was a comfortable 72."
"Lee. Give the admiral a call at least. He might be wondering where you are. I can’t believe you just left without a word to anyone."
"Security knows how to find me…now, anything on your list?"
As her son, all bundled up in decades old foul weather gear, trudged off, Elaine couldn’t help thinking that something dreadful had happened. Lee had assured her that all was well, he hadn’t been fired, his leg was only sore from a bruised bone, a ‘side effect’ as he called it from his last mission, but a walk in the park? As a child he’d only done that when he wanted to think. About something serious. Away from distraction, from outside influence. Oh, now what had Institute business, Naval Intelligence, the Secret Service, or Admiral Nelson himself done to Lee? He’d come home so suddenly, out of uniform, with no luggage to speak of but a small tote bag. He had circles under his eyes and looked a little too thin. Didn’t they ever feed him on that sub? Why did he talk about Seaview in the past tense? Stifling her motherly impulse to place a long distance call to the great Admiral Harriman Nelson herself, she returned to baking the peanut butter cookies that she knew Lee loved so well. Something to cheer him up. Hopefully.
It was colder than Lee thought it would be. Perhaps his blood was too thin. It was hard to think. He felt numb. The last six months had been grueling. That wasn’t uncommon. Or unexpected. Seaview was often drafted for dangerous and heart wrenching missions. He was used to it. But he was sick and tired of being treated like an errant little boy by Doctor Jamison whenever he got hurt in the crunch. He couldn’t even nick himself shaving without sickbay hovering by with a stretcher. Well, maybe that was an eggageration but he was tired of it. And he was no hero, despite Nelson’s and his entire crew oozing syrupy sentiment. Granted, alone, he had accomplished the extremely dangerous mission to find Dr. Walberg and sneak him out of the corrupt Count Cozinxki’s clutches, but did everyone have to treat him like…like, ‘Superman’?
"Hey mister, look out!" the redhead crashed into him, "Why don’t you watch where you’re going?"
"Sorry," Lee helped the young woman up off the snowbank. " I didn’t see you."
"Well, if you’d…oh, I’m sorry, are you blind? I didn’t see the cane."
"No, I’m only blinded by your presence M’lady, it’s just to help me walk." Lee grinned at the girl, thinking he really must have been blind not to notice her. Even if she had dashed into him from behind the great tree at high speed.
"I…I’m sorry," she pouted, " It’s just that I’m late and coach is going to kill me!"
"Yeah, as in IcePick of the Ice Rink," she held up her white figure skates, " I’m supposed to practice my triples…it’s what I live for." She sighed mockingly. "At least it’s what my folks live for…I just like to skate, they want the medals!"
Lee couldn’t help but to grin at the girl, she was spunky and a breath of fresh air especially after his months at sea surrounded by non stop ‘yes sir’s, ‘aye sir’s’, ‘anything you want, sir’s.
"Here, let me give you a hand," Lee offered to take the bulky carryall, but being a sensible girl, and wary of strangers, she refused and hurried off.
Who knew what kind of man he could be, she thought, even if he was tall, dark, and handsome? Out of towners usually were. He was far too tanned to be from New England, even if he sounded like he belonged here. Oh, where were all the boys next door that her mother kept talking about?
"Have a nice walk, dear?"
"Uh, Mom, do you still have my old ice skates?" Lee plopped down on the edge of the kitchen table and took a cookie off the cooling rack.
"Good grief, no, Lee. Those old things were so worn; I tossed them out years ago. And that table’s made for sitting at, not on, and be careful with those cookies, they’re still hot! You want a stomach ache?"
"Not particularly," he grinned at her tease, " but how about some milk? Unreconstituted and fresh from a cow, that is." Lee flashed her a great smile that made Elaine forget all her fears, at least for a little while.
"Thinking about skating? With that leg still sore?"
"I thought the excersise might help it. I hardly need the cane anymore. And it would be kind of fun…after all," Lee picked her up off her feet and twirled her around in a circle, "I used to be pretty good at it."
"And so you mean to tell me that Lee Crane just ‘vanished’?" Nelson paced in his lush office.
"Well, like I said, sir, the computer’s still down, and we have to wait for it to reboot to see if he left security his whereabouts on the call up file."
"Don’t patronize me!" Nelson exploded at the aide, just as Sharkey entered the room.
"Uh, excuse me sir," Sharkey nodded to the loaned Naval attaché’, who was grateful for any excuse to scram, "scuttlebutt says you’re lookin’ for the skipper?"
"Well, what do you think?" Nelson glowered.
Cheeze, the old man’s been really pissed off overtime,Sharkey thought, I wonder what happened. "Uh, well, maybe he left word aboard Seaview."
"Chief," Nelson dragged a hand through his hair, "security checked the gate, the shipboard computer, every square inch of Seaview, including his cabin, my cabin, Chip’s cabin, the broom closet, etcetera etcetera, his institute office, his apartment, his apartment manager, and every damn airport and bus station we could get through to! Any other great ideas?"
"Uh, well sir, there’s Mr. Morton and…"
"Chip Morton is already speaking at a Naval Academy Seminar and has no idea where Lee is. Neither does Commander Jackson, in Paris, Admiral Starke in Honolulu or Admiral Allen, in Washington!" Nelson sighed, worry etched across his face.
"Another ONI assignment maybe?" Sharkey whispered.
"No, thank goodness, no, first place I checked. I’ve even faxed all 50 highway patrols and the FBI. With our computer systems crash its slow going, but some of the national phone lines still work, and the satellite links weren’t affected. But… no luck."
"What’s up sir?" Sharkey asked, fearing the worse.
"What’s up that we need to get a hold of the skipper so fast?"
"Nothing’s up Chief!" Nelson exploded, "You make it sound like an emergency or something…ahh," Nelson grinned, sheepishly self-rebuked, "I have been acting like it is one haven’t I?… Sit down …you must know, Francis, I’m sure you realize… just about everyone does, that Lee and I have been having… words lately. Oh, we’ve argued before, that’s nothing new, but this time…it’s just that he’s been so very broody since that latest mission, surely you’ve noticed, and, well, I may have overstepped the line. I won’t go into details, but instead of answering back, like he usually does, he just turned on his heel and left…and I let him…and he never reported back. I may be an old fuddy duddy, but I know Lee would have left some word. I’m worried something may have happened to him. You know how trouble just seems to jump out at him, even if he’s not on a mission, and you also know how valuable he’d be to kidnappers. So, yes, damn it, it is an emergency, to me anyway."
To all of us, Sharkey thought. "Uh, sir, what about his girlfriends?"
" So far, Angie, Lola, Patricia, Katie all swear they haven’t heard from him," he answered wearily, as much as they’d like to I’m sure, he thought, " but they’re asking around, which is surprising. They all claim they’re not exactly his girlfriends as much as friends that happen to be girls, but anyway the female grapevine is working overtime to see if he’s been spotted anywhere."
"Patient registers, morgue lists, and John Doe descriptions, nationwide, all negative"
"Arrests, drunk tanks negative."
"Uncooperative as usual."
"You can say that again, Chief, you can say that again."
Lee was only able to rent one hour at the ice rink. And the leased skates didn’t fit as well as he would have liked. But it felt good to glide along the ice, even if he stayed pretty close to the wall. He would have liked the placebo support of the cane, but the whole point of dishing out admissions money for the rink was to strengthen his leg , wasn’t it? And then he saw her. Jackpot.
"Well if it isn’t Sir Galahad."
"M’lady!" Lee smiled, "How did the triples go yesterday?"
"Well, one was a single, another was a double, and coach is threatening me with a career in ice hockey!"
Both laughed as she took his offered arm, and the two glided slowly along the outer rink.
"So, which team will you be on?" he asked with a chuckle.
"Hmm. whichever has the cutest goalie!" She laughed. "Now, really, if I don’t come in at least in Second Place, I’m out. Nobody pays money to go see an Olympic looser."
"Yeah, and it was hard enough to be selected for the team, Mom’s going to be really peeved if I don’t come home with a medal and a multi million dollar contract with a Ice Show company or an advertising icon. She used to be in one…but only the Olympic stars got any attention, or the moolah….so…."
"You’re doing all this for her, then."
"Well, yes and no. I like it, but I just can’t get all gung ho on the competitions. I used to have a partner, but he quit on me, so it’s Ladies Singles for the big gig."
"Ah, so it’s triple Lutz’s and all the rest."
"You got it…say, you know a fair bit about skating then."
"A little. But as you can see, I’m woefully out of practice."
"Oh, you’re not so bad for an invalid," she teased.
"I’ll be sure to tell my mother," Lee laughed.
"What do you do anyway?"
"Oh, this and that on a a boat."
"Aurora! What are you doing!" the shrill and determined voice boomed.
"Let me quess," Lee asked, as the girl winced, " Ice Pick?"
"Yep, well, gotta go…uh…"
"Call me Lee…mind if I watch?"
"If you like," Aurora lowered her eyes. ‘Sir Galahad’ was really kind of nice.
"So Chip, you still have no idea where he may have gone? You don’t remember him mentioning anything? No one’s seen or heard from him?" Nelson shouted over the phone’s bad connection.
"No sir," Chip practically shouted, " Sorry sir, the line’s pretty bad…no sir, yes sir, of course I’ll contact you if I find out anything. But if he’s on a month’s shore leave, he could be in Timbuktu for all I know. I’m sure he left word sir, but that computer crash probably wiped it out. It’s only been the weekend sir, I’m sure he’ll get in touch with you, he’s probably been trying to all along…yes sir, no sir, understood sir." Chip hung up the phone, more than a little concerned. Lee would move Heaven and Earth to contact the ‘Old Old Man’ if he knew about this latest level ‘no fail’ systems computer crash. And if he didn’t know, then…the possibilities were many and just too awful to contemplate.
"Well Harry, I still think you’re jumping the gun but since there is a remote possibility your boy could be in trouble, is there anything I can do?" Admiral Jiggs Stark asked as he sat down in Nelson’s office.
"Not much anyone can do!"
"Harry, now calm down, you’re acting like a mother hen…we don’t even know for sure that he may have been kidnapped, and it’s not the first time you and Crane had a , well, major argument, judging from the way he stormed out of here, I gather…care to tell me about it, or is it none of my business?"
"We’ve had… ‘differences’ before, that was no reason to….you think he just stomped out of here as an act of defiance?"
"I wouldn’t put it past him…I understand the last mission was pretty rough Maybe he just has to get away by himself to let off some steam."
"I wish it were that simple…I must tell you Jiggs, he was seriously considering…leaving."
"To quote an old bard, Harry, Bah Humbug! Crane wouldn’t even think of it. He’s too much in love with his lady of titanium!"
"I only hope you’re right Jiggs, I only hope you’re right"
"Really, Lee, you’ve been spending all your time at the rink. There is such a thing as overdoing things."
Don’t I know it, Lee thought to himself, of his last mission. I really should have insisted on back up like the admiral wanted. But it would have jeopardized everyone’s lives. As for the present, well, how can I overdo watching a vision of loveliness?
"Huh? Oh, sorry. What was that?"
"Never mind," Elaine sighed, as she tried to tune in the TV. "Blasted thing’s been on the fritz for two days!"
"Mom, your language!" Lee teased, " I must be a bad influence!" he grinned, " here let me try, did you call the cable company?"
"Of course I did, but they’re having all sorts of problems, something about a sub-systems crash, it should be fixed by Wednesday. As for being a bad influence, well, you can be a headache at times…. Lee? Would you like to talk about it?"
"About my language or the ice rink?"
"About why you came home to pout, like…like a naughty little boy…Lee, if you can’t talk to your mom, who can you talk to? I won’t spill the beans. Your secrets are safe with me. Unless this is all top secret or something."
He smiled at that, but shook his head, kissed her on the cheek and pulled on an old thick, if hole worn sweater. " Gotta run."
Really, Elaine thought, he might as well be in the CIA!
"Uh, admiral sir?" Kowalski approached Nelson, who was obviously depressed, deep in thought as he looked out of his great picture window overlooking the bay.
"Hmm? Oh, Ski, yes, what is it? You’re supposed to be on shore leave aren’t you?"
"Oh, yeah, but…well…I just couldn’t enjoy it knowing the skipper’s been kidnapped by some sleaze bag country, and …maybe hurt or something…"
"Ski, we don’t know that he’s been kidnapped…we just can’t find him, that’s all."
"Well, it’s either that or he’s gone home."
"We’ve already checked his apartment Kowalski, Nelson replied wearily, "Twice."
"Yes sir, but, did you check his Mom’s?"
"His mother’s?? I really doubt that he’d…" Nelson suddenly laughed and geared into action, ".Ski, get Angie to ring up Mrs. Crane, right away, I’ll pick up in a moment. Move it man!" He can’t be, can he? Nelson thought, as he quickly walked to his desk phone.
"Well M’lady, you did mighty well," Lee swung the girl around pleasantly. And on the ice, it was delicious!
"Oh, Sir Galahad, you do lay it on thick. I’d have four deductions for those mistakes. And before you can say otherwise, just look at old battle britches. Plug your ears."
"Mr. Crane," the matronly coach approached, " while I’m sure Miss Swenson appreciates your encouragement, may I remind you that she’s the competitor here, not you…now if you’d kindly leave her to practice alone, we’d both appreciate it. The games will not wait for straggler who need a little extra time to practice. Come along Aurora."
"Sorry Lee, duty calls," she smiled with genuine sadness, as she departed to the reserved practice rink.
Duty, duty, duty, I’m so sick and tired of duty!, Lee couldn’t help thinking, immediately sorry for even considering anyone’s duty as a chore, especially his. What was the matter with him anyway? Lately he’d bristled at everyone’s concern, and had even slammed the door on Nelson, something, no matter how angry he’d ever been with Harry before, he’d never done. Maybe Nelson had been right. Maybe he did need a vacation. A steady girlfriend even. Something to take his mind off all the pressure, stress, and the loneliness of command decisions he’d had to endure so much of lately. Boy was he getting maudlin! He decided right then he’d take both Aurora and his mother out to dinner and behave like a gentleman. Well, he’d try, anyway.
"Lee, oh I’m glad you’re home. Admiral Nelson called."
"What about?" Lee answered bitterly.
"Well how should I know? Really, Lee, stop acting like a wounded puppy and talk to the man!"
" Wounded puppy!? That’s hitting below the belt Mom. Did he say that?"
"No, Lee, he was a perfect gentleman, but he sounded anxious. And so am I. It’s high time you spoke to him."
Lee was about to pick up the phone when there was a knock at the door.
Saved by the bell, Lee thought.
"Mr. Crane? Baker, FBI," the man flashed a badge. "This is Salto, OSC, may we come in?"
"Lee?" Elaine asked, concerned.
"It’s okay Mom, please gentlemen," he motioned them into the small sitting room, followed, and closed the door, leaving her out of earshot and eyesight.
Quick as a flash, Elaine fumbled with the phone and managed to leave a message for Nelson with one of the secretaries…but all she managed to whisper before the door opened was, "The FBI’s here for Lee! Help!"
"So that’s all I know Chief, I tried to contact Harris at the FBI headquarters but blast it, they won’t tell me anything…Lee’s in trouble…I need to be there. Get the flying sub ready. With all that traffic in the air for the Olympics in Lee’s home town, we’ll have to berth in the river. And it’s only a short flight to Washington from there."
"You’re not paying attention Aurora!" coach Abernathy scolded, " Now try that spin again!"
"You can too. What’s the matter with you??"
"Leave me alone!"
"The games start in two days! You’ll never have another chance! Do you want to throw everything away?"
"Don’t you understand??? He’s missing!"
"Oh piffle! So he didn’t take you out to dinner last night. Big fat hairy deal! He’s just a sailor boy looking for a good time and must have found it. Get your mind of tall dark and handsome and back to the rink where it belongs."
"Never, for as long as I live, I’ll never forget him."
"I’m going for breakfast. When I get back, I expect you to have done at least four triples and seven spins without falling on your backside. And remember, I have eyes in the back of my head," she indicated the security cameras placed about the ice rink.
"So, you have absolutely no idea what the FBI wanted with Lee?" Nelson asked Mrs. Crane gently, as he sipped the hot tea she insisted upon. He hated tea. What he needed was a good swig of rum or better yet, brandy! But he was treading on dangerous ground. Lee was missing, snowflakes were melting off his eyelashes, and this woman was Lee’s only living relative, and his mother to boot!
"He didn’t seem worried," she replied, "but he’s a good actor. Could have made a career of it. He didn’t even take anything…He said it wasn’t anything serious and he’d get in touch with me when he could. But there hasn’t even been even a phone call. Nothing. He’d simply told me not to worry, he had to take some tests and then he left with the two of them."
"Thank you. I’m sure he’s alright…we’ll keep in touch."
"You’re a terrible liar Admrial.You’re worried too, I can tell. Why won’t the FBI tell you anything? You’re supposed to have more clout than the President himself!"
"That’s what I’d like to know…but Lee does get drafted now and then for special assignments, I’m sure that’s all it is, or…"
"Or what? Please tell me."
"Or it wasn’t the FBI that took him."
"I don’t think I can go through with this!" Lee moaned wearily.
"Nonsense. Try again Crane."
"I feel ridiculous!"
"You did agree to it didn’t you?"
"Okay okay. But I really have to make a phone call."
"Well, alright. But make it quick. There isn’t much time."
"How many times must I tell you Nelson, I have no idea what you’re talking about!" snapped the FBI official in the Washington office, as he paced about in his office. "If he was taken , it was not by our department…now, Mrs. Crane, did you see the badge and ID up close?"
"No. Not really. It was silver, like yours, and the other man was from something called OSC. Lee seemed to know what it meant, and didn’t seem surprised at all. But he only said he had some tests to attend to and would get in touch as soon as he could…but it just didn’t seem right to me. What tests, what’s going on?"
"Well, ma’am we’re certainly going to find out. I’ll have the CIA on it right away as well as the police. But with the Olympics starting in Great Creek tomorrow, we’re all going to be shorthanded in our search. I’d advise you go home and wait. We’ll bug the phone and I’ll assign someone to accompany you for your protection…Madam, I must tell you, it could be an assassination ring."
"Oh Lee!" Elaine almost swooned.
"Sorry ma’am, but there’s a good possibility he may be part of a drug ring or kidnapped for ransom or a double agent of some sort…just giving you the options."
"For the record," Nelson rose, " I trust Lee Crane far more than I do you! …there now, Mrs. Crane…we’re taking you home. Come on Chief, let’s get back to the flying sub."
When the foursome arrived at the small house, it was not a happy homecoming. Elaine Crane tired to be nice to her FBI assigned bodyguard, but as Nelson and Sharkey prepared to leave her, Nelson regretted ever having told her anything. He hated it when women had to act strong when they’d rather cry on someone’s shoulder. She needed a friend, not a cold nosed bodyguard who seemed to take his duties as an unemotional puppet.
As she hung up her coat she suddenly stopped, confused.
"What’s the matter?"
"I’m not sure… it just looks different in there."
Suddenly serious, Nelson motioned the bodyguard over to inspect the closet. Taking Elaine to a chair, he told Sharkey to stay with her.
"Well, the place is clean," Nelson returned, "no trace of , what is it?" Nelson asked the woman quietly, seeing her suddenly realize something.
"Beauregard’s uniform! It’s gone!"
"Your late husband’s uniform…what kind of uniform?" Sharkey asked.
"Oh, his sailor suit…the one he had when we first met…I made him keep it as a remembrance…he hated it…you know, those old fashioned bell-bottom trousers and cute square collars , and his little round cap too, I just noticed…why on earth would any burglar or agent or someone want something like that? " she stifled a tear.
"I’m sorry," she continued, " it’s just that it’s all we had to remember him after he…Lee was only just 8," she whispered, "When Beau had gotten out of the Navy some years before, he went into business, leasing out his seagoing sailboats for the tourists. Skippering some of the cruises to wherever they wanted, Nova Scotia, the Bahamas, anywhere. This time he didn’t really want to go…Lee was going to be 8 years old that week and Beau had promised him he could take the largest boat out all by himself on his birthday and would give him his Navy uniform as a symbol his mastery of it, but the clients offered so much money, that he felt he had no choice…he took them on a cruise to Bermuda…He never came back…. They never found his body after the shipwreck, and what with all the sharks…" she took a calming breath. "Lee accepted it, but insisted I put his old sailor suit in the entryway closet, pressed, and ready for when he returned, because his father had insisted that if we kept the ‘damn’ thing, Beau’s words, no offense intended, it should be kept ‘shipshape’. And there was always hope, Lee insisted, and.." she turned her face away, tears forming in her eyes.
‘Damn!’Nelson thought, first her husband and now her son…poor woman. I really opened a can of worms… Shouldn’t have said anything till we had more to go on. What are you waiting for? Give her your shoulder to cry on… she needs it, Nelson ordered himself, as he tried to comfort her.
"Well, ladies and gentlemen," the TV reporter grinned, " here we are at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games. These games are already beleaguered with controversies, ranging from inadequate catering services, to bickering between competitors about accommodations. In addition, there is an undercurrent of unease in the People’s Republic camp about undue American influence, and the lure of ‘imperialist capitalism’. Some things never change do they…meanwhile, back in the news, the Dow Jones averages were up again and …"
Elaine turned off the TV and poured out another cup of tea for Sharkey. She noticed how he poured in the sugar and cream. Beaugregard had loved his tea all creamy and sweet too. It had taken her husband a while to get used to it, though, claiming drinking tea was a ‘sissy’ habit reserved for spinster aunts. But she’d finally brought him around to it. Men could be so pigheaded at times. Especially Americans steeped in Yankee traditions. Not that she wasn’t from old New England stock herself. But she loved the British for introducing the far eastern beverage to the world so long ago. As for Lee, well, he still hated the stuff, preferring black coffee, loaded with enough caffeine to fire a pistol!
"Oh, I’m sorry Chief, what was that again?"
"Uh, Francis, please ma’am, Chief’s kinda’ formal for here, ain’t it?"
"Why Chief, whatever would the neighbors say," she teased, " no, don’t worry, I’m not after you…they all told me to remarry, you know," she spoke softly, "But I never found anyone like Beau. And never will."
"Look, uh, I know we’re all worried about the skipper and all, but maybe, well, uh, maybe you’d kinda’ like to go see some of the Olympic stuff, just to take your mind off things…"
"Skating!" Elaine suddenly exclaimed. " Chief, I forgot to tell the Admiral, Lee was spending an awful lot of time at the rink! Do you think maybe that could be a clue to what happened? Oh, no, of course it isn’t, it couldn’t be, how stupid of me…I just….never mind. More tea?"
Chip Morton welcomed Nelson to his quarters at the Naval Academy more with concern than friendship. Nelson looked tired and was visibly upset. Small wonder, thought Chip. He was worried too. The CIA had insisted Crane was not involved in anything just now and ONI had balked at the suggestion that Lee was on an undercover assignment. But then, they’d done that when Lee had been on assignment as well.
"No word, sir?"
"None," Nelson replied sitting in the straight-back wooden chair, trying not to notice the very little comfort it gave. Chip’s accomodations were rather spartan. Not exactly the VIP accommodations Nelson would have expected due one of his officers.
Nelson’s discomfort did not go unnoticed by Morton.
"I’m sorry about the room, sir, it’s not exactly the Hilton."
"Still, I think old ‘Gusto’ Gardner could have done better for my executive officer! How long till the seminar is over?"
"That depends, sir…they’ve asked me to conduct another one…they seem to like me," Chip answered, rather surprised the ‘brass tacks’ of Annapolis were impressed with him.
"Just so you don’t let it go to your head, Chip, I won’t have them luring you away from me. Now, you go ahead and impress them, lad, but be available if I need you, okay?"
"Absolutely sir! I’m worried about Lee too."
It was nearly midnight when Nelson returned to Elaine Crane’s home. The lights were on and there was a great deal of noise coming from the inside. Surfing music, and arguing, in fact. Mrs. Crane had given him a key, for the convenience, and he hoped the neighbors wouldn’t draw any undue conclusions. He knew first hand how these New Englanders could gossip, just like anybody else. He opened the door and stood unnoticed.
"I’m tellin’ ya Ski, its gotta be that creepo Cosinksi…Admiral!"Riley exclaimed.
"Riley, Kowalski, what are you doing here?"
"Uh, well, uh, we kinda figured you might need help…and uh, well…"
"You gave up your shore leave to help out, is that it?"
"Yes sir." Both men replied.
"Where’s Mrs. Crane, don’t you know you may be an inconvenience?"
"Oh, there you are Admiral," Elaine appeared from the kitchen, " I was just whipping up some hot chocolate. Would you care for some? It’s so nice of some of Lee’s friends to come by to help out, don’t you think? The others are in the basement drawing straws for who gets the sleeping bag."
"Others?? Just how many of Lee’s , er, ‘friends’ are here?"
"Oh, I’ve lost count, quite a few, I’m sure. Isn’t it wonderful that he has so many?"
"Yes, yes indeed," Nelson tried to suppress a hint of amusement that Lee’s ‘friends’ were actually his crew. Well, why not, he thought. I am.
"Oh, Admrial, your secretary called, she gotten a call, but was just as quickly cut off by all the static, but was sure it was Lee’s voice who said her name, and she said he didn’t sound nervous. She tried to get you at the academy, but the lines were tied. That’s a relief, anyhow, about Lee not sounding anxious. It was only traceable to the general area. Right here in town."
"But he didn’t call you."
"Well, I don’t have an answering machine, you know, we could have been in Washington if he did, our lines were all jumbled up too. It’s a little hopeful, isn’t it Admiral?" she almost pleaded.
"Yes, I’m sure it is, my dear. Well, gentlemen, lets make some plans."
"Why didn’t you tell me sooner!" the President bellowed at the group of weary persons in the Oval Office. "Crane’s expendable but not insignificant! The man has access to vital information! And you say you don’t know anything about it?!"
"I’m sorry, Madam President, but those are the facts. We have no idea where Crane is. Or what may have happened to him."
"You do realize, don’t you, that I have to order all military codes changed? All current activities cancelled, and rearranged? Because of your negligence?"
"Amy," interrupted the Vice-President, " we’d have had to change them anyway, even if Crane had been an operative on assignment."
It was true, she knew, but President Amy Harris was in a sour mood. Worse than her maiden aunt on a bad hair day, and she knew it. Taking a deep breath, she faced the Naval Chief of Staff.
"And you have nothing to add, either?"
"Madam President, we’ve been stumbling over ourselves trying to find out anything ever since Nelson called us. Nothing, I’m afraid."
"Full scale silent yellow alert. Be ready for anything," she said grimly, " This could be a prelude to attack. We must be ready. Contact Nelson, have Seaview placed on active status. No arguments from Nelson…"
" Uh, sir, just what is a silent yellow alert?" Riley asked Morton, as the cramped men flew back to Santa Barbara on a drafted Hercules C-130.
" Same as yellow alert, but we don’t exactly advertise it…that answer your question?"
"Well, uh, yeah I guess so, but a lot of communications are still out, except for television, how do we get all our guys back, and what about the skipper?"
" I think you know that as well as I do, Riley, he’s part of all this, I’m afraid. We may never see him alive again…the Admiral’s arranged for all TV stations to carry ‘call back’ notices for a ‘special zebra excersise’ for all active and reserve units…it won’t scare the public, but our fighting men and women will know what it means. That is, if most of the broadcast stations can sort out the remaining interference…"
" Well, ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to our coverage of the Olympic games. We do apologize for the many fuzz-outs we’ve been experiencing nation-wide and hope we are up to snuff again. We will be showing you videotapes of some of the completed events, as we continue to bring you the latest news…including Mr. Lu Cho’s defection from the People’s Republic. .."
"No, Chip," Nelson ordered as Morton was about to turn off the TV link up on the monitor, " leave it on, lets get a little news from home."
"We really have little new information to report,"continued the reporter, " but the star figure skater defected to the US with the help of one of our own competitors, who took him under wing, so to speak. Referred to as ‘the Old Man’ by his fellow skaters, Beaugregard Crane, 15th in the standings, was influential in the surprise defection, and Lu Cho has claimed he could not have escaped to the west without Crane’s help…"
Chip looked at Nelson and Nelson looked at Chip, incredulous. "Turn it up Chip, all monitors."
"Details are sketchy," continued the reporter, "but according to Miss Aurora Swenson, fourth in the Ladies Singles, Crane, who was a last minute entry from the Olympic Selection Committee, smuggled Cho away from the locker room with the ruse of a fire alarm and into a nearby convent. ‘Better than a locked and padded cell’, Crane is reported to have said. Crane then whisked Cho off to the Lejun Marine Base in a rented helicopter, and the rest is history. It is not known if Beaugreard Crane will be able to compete in the Men’s Singles Finals, as he is known to have slipped on the pavement in their escape from the arena.
All Miss Swenson could say when asked for more information on our gallant lad, was that Lee, as he was known to her, worked on a boat, and had been a great help to her morale as she practiced for the competition. According to the OSC records, Crane’s occupation is listed as a boat-walker, whatever that is…and he did spend a few frenzied days with Coach Miller at the Frozen Assets Resort to satisfy himself as to meeting the selection committee’s minimum standards.
Mr. Learner of Ferrett Boats Incorporated , told us that Crane was a real ‘trouper’ and had no doubt that we will see Lee Beauregard Crane on the ice tonight…competitor Russel Everett said Crane was a lousy skater but he knew it, although he was a real pro when it came to laughing at himself and Everett hopes to see Crane tonight as do all the competitors…we hope to bring you not only the competition, but an interview with our very gallant Olympic skater…we have been unable to speak with Mrs. Elaine Crane, who is said to have been quite noticeably flustered in her confrontation with her son ...meanwhile in other news…"
The silence in Seaview’s control room only lasted a moment as Nelson and Morton wearily leaned against the plotting table, staring at the monitor. With a loud guffaw, Nelson motioned the monitor off and began to laugh, joined by Chip.
"Sir," Sharkey asked, " It’s him? The skipper’s Lee ‘Beauregard’ Crane?"
Nelson was unable to speak, but his eyes said it all. The skipper was alive and well. Within minutes the entire boat’s compliment was in a state of utter relief, laughter and cheering; the radio shack was alive with official inquiries, and Nelson made a mental note to take Doc along for any necessary repairs to Crane’s person once he and the President and everybody else who was anyone had finished chewing Seaview’s captain out for lack of communication.
What communication? Nelson suddenly thought. Lee hadn’t been negligent, they had been. Hadn’t Crane tried to contact them? It was the blasted computer-satellite-phone line crash that was to blame! Hadn’t they all been warned about the electronic virus years ago? But still, Lee could have tried harder. Still breathing heavily, Nelson asked for a line to Mrs. Crane. It was impossible. Those lines were down again. Well, he thought, she probably already knows. Her TV was working when they’d left.
"Chief! Get the flying sub ready! I’m going to Great Creek. Sparks! Contact the Olympic Committee. I need some tickets! Morton! Draw straws for two men to accompany me to the competition. We have to give our ‘gallant lad’ a little moral support, now don’t we! Too bad Seaview can’t fly! 15th in the standings! Ohhh. That hurts."
"Well, is it on?" the President asked.
"Ahh. Here it is, a few minutes yet…they said earlier they’d be sure to show him…you know, they only usually air the top ten contenders on the broadcasts."
"Well, I have a feeling there’s going to be far more interest in this one, don’t you think? Pass the pretzels and champagne. I’m going to enjoy this."
"You’re not upset with Crane?"
"Upset? I feel like having him keelhauled, made to walk the plank, and what is it you call it Admiral Baker, stuffed into a torpedo tube? Believe me, he hasn’t heard the end of it…but it can wait….he’s a hero just now. It doesn’t do to upset the public without a good reason, so I’ll just have to wait until I get him here in private. After Nelson, after you gentlemen, and then I’ll put my own two cents worth in the woodshed believe me!"
She chuckled. How on earth to chastise a man you wanted to give a medal to? On his own, without any help, to avoid discovery, Crane had single handedly given them a prize jewel. It had been unintentional, just a passing conversation in the locker room, when Crane decided to help the skater defect. Secrecy was imperative. ‘Damn’, Crane ought to be an ONI operative instead of a sub-driver, she thought. Well, she had some clout, and after Nelson chewed him out, she just might be able to persuade him, after all, Crane had been thinking of leaving him anyway…
"Admiral! What are you doing here?" Elaine rose from her front row seat at the arena. " I tried to contact you , but I couldn’t get through to anyone important, even my bodyguard tried."
"I know, my dear, I know…well, I believe you know Riley, this is Patterson, Sharkey’s getting us something to drink, and Commander Jamison is trying to get into examine Lee…ahh, here he is…any luck Jaimie?"
"Stubborn as a mule, and very embarrassed. He shooed me out of there. Everybody laughed."
"That’s our skipper!" Riley exclaimed.
"Knock it off you guys, it’s coming on now…" Ski adjusted the monitor in the crew’s mess, as the events were being monitored ship-wide.
" Back again, ladies and gentlemen," the buxom reporter began, " to the Men’s Singles Finals. There is usually very little coverage of non-contenders but there has been so much interest lately we are bringing you the entire event…we have discovered a few exciting tidbits about one of the competitors, ah, there he is on the ice in the practice warm up. In the old fashioned sailor suit, Lee Crane…a good Samaritan…but he’s more than that folks. We’ve found out..oh that’s a nice leap… through reliable sources that Crane is not only a ‘boat walker’ as he called it, but the captain of the submarine Seaview! On shore leave, he just happened upon the situation and took charge…nice spin don’t you think, but hardly the calibre of a medal winner, I suppose we should call him the skating skipper! Is his crew here, do you think?"
"Well, I don’t know about Seaview," the tuxedoed commentator answered, " but his mother is here, and , oh it can’t be, yes, with her is the great Harriman Nelson himself! And if I’m not mistaken, that’s a chief petty officer, and those jumpsuits look like uniforms of some kind..well, perhaps Crane’s crew is here to lend a supporting hand…though I agree Crane’s skating abilities leave a lot to be desired. When is Crane on?"
" He’s drawn number eight of this grouping, so he’s got the pressure on."
"But as 15th in the standings, even if he aces it, he has no chance at a medal."
" Probably, but, to quote somebody from someplace, it ain’t over till it’s over."
"I wish those bozos would quit yakkin’ and let us see the skipper! Did he look okay to you guys? Ski asked, turning around.
Wolf whistles answered.
"Huh? What happened," Ski turned back to the monitor. There on the TV for the entire world to see, Lee Crane was kissing a very pretty girl on the sidelines. It was a long kiss too.
"Whoa sailor!" the lady reporter exclaimed, "who is that, Aurora Swenson?"
"It sure looks like it, maybe it’s a kiss for luck."
"I’ll take that kind of luck any day from tall, dark and handsome…ladies, he’s not married. Yet… Certainly is a long kiss."
" Ahh, well, he’s in a Naval uniform, after all. He has to maintain the honor of it you know..a sailor…on shore leave…"
"Lee Crane is an officer and a gentleman."
"Yes, but he’s also known as ‘Casanova Crane’ by his former Annapolis classmates."
"Oh, dear. Girl in every port?"
"Oh phooey….now, seriously folks," she continued, " the competition will begin in about two minutes, so now is a good time for station identification and a word from our sponsors…"
It was taking to ‘damn’ long to get to Lee! Nelson fumed to himself. He was so bored he could spit. But he had to at least look interested, for Lee’s sake, for his mother’s. Finally, Lee’s spot was coming up. Nelson couldn’t help thinking how very boyish he looked in his father’s uniform, his hair curling wildly under the glued on cap, to keep it in place. At least that’s what he’d been told…he hadn’t had a chance to talk to Lee or even see him that closely. He was just now coming onto the ice. The crowd quieted down. The music began and Lee began his routine.
He wasn’t even trying to be serious, Sharkey noticed. The skipper looked like he was simply having fun. Okay, so he didn’t land all the jumps quite as sharp as some of the younger hot bloods, but he landed them. He played to the audience, grabbing their attention with his grins, his mocking sailor’s dance and a little drunken sailor song to boot. Hey, some of those jumps were actually pretty good! Really inventive. The oohs and ahhs increased as the difficulty increased. Good thing the skipper was normally athletic, some of those moves looked awesome! And those spins! Wow, how did he do that? And then the skipper’s little joke by holding his head and shaking it from side to side afterwards. The crowd loved it…hey, the ‘skip’ was pretty good, and he wasn’t in the running? Hah! The skipper’d come in for a medal! They’d see! He was great!
Nelson couldn’t believe he was watching Crane with so much interest. As the routine progressed, the great Harriman oohhed and ahhhed and gasped with the rest of the crowd. As Lee’s double somersault ended with him landing on a single foot into another jump, and he completed the dance with a jaunty sailor’s pose, Nelson found himself upright along with the rest of the crowd in a standing ovation.
Lee seemed a little bewildered by the response, but grinned, waved, and as he passed the American flag in the middle of all the others under the dome, he saluted as he skated toward the edge of the rink. Aurora was there. He grabbed her and lifted her off her feet as he spun around before they stepped onto the waiting platform. If the crowd had enjoyed his routine, they also enjoyed this little bit of romance even more.
"Lee, wake up, it’s after 3. You have an live TV interview, remember?" Elaine tried to rouse her son.
"Mmmphhhh," was all the response he could muster as he snuggled back down into the feather pillow.
"Having a problem, ma’am?" Sharkey asked, as he peeked around the doorway.
"Like trying to wake Rip Van Winkle…I told him not to stay out too late, but did he listen? No. It was past 4 this morning when he finally got home."
" Well, uh, it was a busy night, ma’am."
"Yes, I know, but he didn’t have to take the girl out to dinner at 0100! Soft music, candlelight, dancing. The restaurant manager said they were the only two patrons left at closing."
"You, uh, checked up on them?"
"Of course I did, Lee may be your captain, but he’s my son, and after all we’ve been through lately, I wanted to keep an eye on him."
"What’s going on here?" Nelson’s voice asked, as he entered the room, taking in the situation. "Ahh. Excuse me. I think I may have a solution to ‘Sleepyhead’s slumbers. Ahh, a glass of water."
"Admrial! You can’t!" Sharkey whispered.
"Can’t what chief," Nelson answered softly as he placed two fingers in the liquid and placed the wet fingers over Crane’s cheek to drip onto it.
Two drops later, Crane awoke with a start, dazed, concerned.
"Never fails," Nelson winked at the surprised group. " I call it the Captain’s cure for rousing layabouts. Well, now, Lee, are you awake? You have an appointment I believe, Barbara Blair no less…how hurry up. I had your uniform sent in. The President insists. No sweatshirt and jeans to represent the Naval Reserve, nor the Institute or Seaview. No arguments."
" So you were simply on vacation," Miss Blair spoke directly to Crane, decked in dress whites, medals on his chest, in a full close shot.
"Shore leave we call it actually…I bumped into Auror…Miss Swenson, literally. Neither of us was looking where we were going…and the rest is history," he chuckled.
"But I thought you started up skating again to help a sore leg…"
"Ahh, but when you really want to do something, one excuse is as good as another…just kidding, well, maybe a little of it is true, she’s really wonderful, she’s great company, and my leg actually improved with all the skating strolls we took…"
"Now about the defection, there had been no government involvement? It was all due to you?"
"He was in such emotional trauma. It was really tearing him apart, he was little more than a slave in his own country, and wanted out. The way he was watched, any official request would have been stopped before he could even put one in…so I helped him. Wouldn’t you?" Lee smiled beguilingly. "Just because he was a lieutenant in the Army wouldn’t have made any difference."
"Of course. Of course….now, hmmm, about the FBI..what was all that about, word has it that Washington was in a real tizzy."
"FBI? I don’t know anything about the FB…oh wait a minute," Lee began to laugh, "of course, FBI, …only the FBI that I dealt with was Ferrett’s Boats Incorporated. I was inquiring about a new sailboat design I wanted them to examine. I wanted to see how much it would cost to build if the design was sound."
"Your mother didn’t know if you were dead or alive. And your boss was upset too."
"Ahh. Well, as I’ve explained to them, I tried, I really tried to call them, but I was so swamped …that really doesn’t hold much water, does it…I could have contacted both of them if I had really tried hard enough. Through others even.
Well, I’m still in the doghouse you know. Mom refuses to bake me any more cookies and the Admiral has me on the carpet for everything from a shot calibrator on the flying sub to a dent in one of the crew’s lockers….and" Lee spoke with true contriteness, "the whole ‘missing’ mess could have been avoided if I hadn’t acted like a spoiled brat, and simply told Nelson to his face where I was going…but at the time I didn’t know. Not really. I was really pissed…I mean, uh, well, I was upset about something, and behaved badly, I’m sorry to say. I truly am sorry for all the aggravation I’ve caused. And it won’t happen again. Ever."
"What were you upset about?"
"Uh, I’d really rather not say here."
"Oh, dear, I take it that the subject is a private matter?"
"No, but, well, oh shi…since I’m barring my soul here, I might as well say it. I’d only been back a short while from a pretty hair raising experience I’m not at liberty to talk about, and in addition to the past 6 months of one disas…problem after another, the whole crew was beginning to treat me with kid gloves.
Believe me, it isn’t easy when you can’t even be a few minutes late for breakfast without sickbay sending a stretcher to see if I’m okay. Or if I’m hemorrhaging from shaving too close. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but they hovered over me like I was made of glass or something….I know they all only acted out of caring, but I just couldn’t take it anymore, and especially from the Admrial.
He actually wanted me to take shore leave in Kansas! ‘Away from any large body of water, including puddles’he said! And then he wanted me host the ‘MissAmerica’contest to get my mind on things other than Seaview or related Institute business. He wanted me to forget I was ever in the Navy, the Naval Reserve, or aboard Seaview for a time. I guess I just snapped….I said some things about leaving Seaview and going back to the regular Navy, but I didn’t mean them. And when he reacted, well, instead of taking it like a bull by the horns, I just left. I ran away. Just like a spoiled kid. My mother was right on to me. She said I was pouting like a wounded puppy." Lee looked up and out at the camera. "I was, too. And for that…, Admiral, Chip, Madam President, and Mom, I’m deeply sorry."
"Ahmmm. So you are still with Nelson, then?"
"As far as I know, he made me wear this," Lee fingered the golden Seaview crest on his uniform collar, and grinned sheepishly.
"So what will the ‘skating skipper’ do once his shore leave is over, and he has no ice rink to play on?"
"Skating skip…" Lee laughed at the revelation, " well, we could always take a trip to the arctic! Lots of ice up there. Only…" Lee bent over and stage whispered conspiratorially, " Santa doesn’t like me to mess up his ice rink when I fall on my keester. Puts too many dents in the ice, and the elves keep falling in them," Lee’s eyes twinkled.
Even the stagehands in the studio began to laugh.
"Ah, well now, how do you feel about coming in Fifth place after such an outstanding performance? Will you accept the offer to go on tour with the major ice shows? When you’re on shore leave?"
Lee grinned. " No. I don’t think I could keep it up. And as for a medal. Well, I have enough cluttering up my uniform without having to add another…besides, if you can’t skate for the fun of it, you shouldn’t be in competition at all. At least that’s how I see it."
"Will you be watching Miss Swenson tomorrow?"
"Wouldn’t you like her to win a medal?"
"I just want her to be happy, medal or not."
" She has a good chance for one."
"Yes. She’s really first class, on and off the ice."
"You really don’t want to say do you?"
Crane paused. " I want her to have fun. To enjoy the camaraderie, the joy of the dance. If she wants the medal as a symbol of that, a token of her ability, then, yes, I want her to have it, but if its just something her folks want in order to sell her off to the highest bidder, then no. She’s a good enough skater to be a star in any company, but is that what she wants? It’s something she has to come to terms with herself. And no-one should interfere with that decision."
"You’re quite a philosopher Commander. I suppose that goes along with the job of submarine command?"
Lee snorted. "The only philosophy allowed aboard is do what the Admiral or President asks. Or at least try to."
"Well said, Commander…we’re out of time, thank you so much for speaking with me. Ladies and gentlemen, Commander Lee Beauregard Crane, Captain of the Seaview, and known from now on, I’m sure, as the ‘skating skipper’. Good Afternoon."
"Cut!" boomed the heavy voice off stage, but the camera was still rolling, as the cameraperson was distracted by a little girl racing toward her reporter mother and flinging herself onto Crane.
"Do you really know Santa??"
"Sure do." Lee smiled.
"Wow. Will you tell him I want a pony?"
"It may be awhile before the sub visits the North Pole again, but when we do, I’ll tell him…have you been a good girl?"
"Well, I think so.."
"You know , ponies take a lot of love and care, and having one is a big responsibility. For a very long long time."
"I can try."
"Well, that’s the kind of answer Santa likes…I’ll tell him, but you mustn’t be disappointed if he decides the pony would be happier out in the meadow someplace else…alright?"he asked seriously.
"All right." She smiled, as her mother shot Lee a grateful glance and the studio shut down, including the camera, but not before a burly voice was heard to say, " Hey Captain, can you take a message to Santa from me too?" amid guffaws and laughter.
Nelson was at the flying sub’s controls and Sharkey was fidgeting as Riley, Patterson, and Jamison endured the flight back to Santa Barbara. Nelson was moody.
"Sir?" Doc asked, as was his right as chief medical officer, " Is everything all right?"
"No, damn it, it’s not. I realize Lee’s entitled to a little shore leave with us leaving him in peace but I don’t like it, not one bit."
"I don’t understand sir, Lee’s never been happier. At home with his Mom, all the peanut butter cookies he can eat, Aurora won the gold and will be a headliner with a touring show in a few months, and is incredibly happy, and…"
"It’s not that! Of course I’m happy for him. Mom, home, apple pie, romance and all that. I could use a shore leave like that myself! It’s just that…that blasted sailboat! Ferretts gave him that monstrosity after all the publicity from the interview, in exchange for Lee’s designs..but"
"But what, sir, the Captain’s an experienced sailboat skipper."
"Ahh, when he has his mind on it…not when he’s busy staring into a pair of luscious green eyes and a redhead in a bikini!…He’s asking for trouble! Sailing is a serious business. I’m worried about him. What if he zigs when he should zag? What if he hits a sandbar, or is swamped by a huge wave, because he’s too smitten to pay attention to what he’s doing?!"
"Oh, I’m sure he’s paying attention to what he’s doing sir." Sharkey interrupted, not realizing the double meaning, until too late, and trying to stifle a snort of laughter.
"I’m acting like an old fuddy duddy, aren’t I ?" Nelson laughed.
No-one dared answer.
"Admit it men."
"Uh, uh," Riley tried to say something, but found he couldn’t.
"I’ll take that as an affirmative, men. Now. We won’t have the Captain back for another few weeks. Some of you need to take time off as well. The President’s released us from yellow alert and Reserve status, so I order you all to have a good shore leave…but each and every one of you will wear the new microchip locator device like the one I had Doc insert into the Captain’s toenail. That way, nobody ever gets lost again.
Now, Sharkey, why don’t you fly us nice and easy and let the old coot like me take a little nap."
It was a dark and stormy night as Commander Crane descended into his submarine. The men would be returning from shore leave tomorrow and Lee wanted to personally inspect the craft ahead of time, as was his custom. Bobbing up and down in the swells, Seaview was determined to fill her role as a submarine, bouncing like a cork topside, as most subs loved to be terribly unstable on the surface.
Lee grinned, loving every minute of it, as he slid, and jumped from the conning tower hatch to the deck below. The Control room was deserted, and lit only with the dim red ‘houselights’ as the Admiral called them.
As much as he had enjoyed his shore leave, Seaview was as much his home as his mother’s. More so, even.
Caressing her bulkheads, he casually inspected corridors and compartments before he came to the wardroom. There was always a pot of strong coffee ready aboard, even on secured status, for the security team.
As Crane entered the room, the lights suddenly went on and Lee stared in amazement at the sight. Squeezed into the room were several of his officers and crew, all wearing huge grins, a big cake lit with candles emerged, and he was treated to an uneven and possibly tipsy rendition of ‘what do you do with a drunken sailor’ by his singing crewmen. As the song ended, Chief Sharkey came forward with a cheap plastic medal.
"Okay you knotheads, knock it off, I got somethin’ to say," Sharkey ordered, more that a little tipsy with the Admiral’s private stock of family rum. Nelson only smiled indulgently. He’d evidently opened the normally locked liquors for all hands.
"Skipper, we guys, all of us, well, you didn’t get no medal for that really great performance, so we pulled together and want you to have this," he draped the ribboned medal around the captain’s neck and saluted. They all did.
Lee tried to read the inscription but was no good at reading upside down. Sharkey noticed soon, but is was an effort.
"It says, To Our Skating Skipper, all our es, es…"
"Esteem, Chief," Nelson offered, as Sharkey was beginning to sway.
"Thasss right boss, esteem , from your crew…we couldn’t fit all our names in, so’s its from all of us…yer gold medal. "
The men cheered.
"I don’t know what to say."
"Welcome home skipper!" Ski said, as the crew clustered around Lee, shaking his hand, patting his back, and breathing heavy fumes laced with beer, rum, brandy, vodka, and goodness else what they’d indulged in, Lee thought.
It was with some difficulty that Lee escaped the Wardroom and took the Admiral aside, as the party continued.
"Did you plan any of this?" Lee whispered.
"Who, me? No. But when I was invited to the surprise party, I felt I ought to contribute something."
"They’re raving drunk!"
"Don’t worry. Doc’ll fix them all up a hangover cure when he gets in tomorrow. And our departure is for the day after tomorrow. So your crew will be shipshape and raring to go on schedule."
Lee took the medal from around his neck. It was gold tinted plastic and bent as if it had been manhandled. He read the inscription again and smiled.
"What a wonderful crew," he mused, " and a wonderful boat."
" Just so you remember that, Captain," Nelson led Crane away to the observation nose.
"Don’t worry, Admiral, I will," Lee said earnestly as if he were swearing it, "and I’ll never let you down again Admiral, not ever."
" Let me down? Why Lee, the Skating Skipper has never let anyone down, not even Santa," his eyes twinkled, " now, lets see, what’s on my Christmas list…"