By R. L. Keller
(This will make absolutely no sense if you haven’t read my ‘Minor Encounter’ RLK)
Lee gave half a salute as COB Sharkey pushed the little zodiac away from Seaview and headed for the speck of land not all that far away. The island was so small that it only appeared on the most detailed maps of the area, but this would be Lee’s fifth visit in just over 16 months. He had no idea what he was going to find, so instead of the small craft being loaded with boxes of supplies as had been the case the other times, this time Lee took only himself. If he needed to make a second trip it wouldn’t take him long, but the strange message he’d gotten from Admiral Jones had him on edge and he wanted to reconnoiter present conditions first.
Lee sighed. Even the last trip, almost 3 months previously, had been a little…different. Besides supplies of food and survival materials, the lone man living on the small island had requested a few small jars of paint. Black, white, blue and red, specifically. The man hadn’t said why, and Lee wouldn’t ask. Lee never said much at all. Milt Minor, the former Navy SEAL, had isolated himself on the island for reasons that were his own, and his privacy was totally respected by both Lee and Admiral Nelson. Admiral Jones, who knew Minor was living here, had been extremely hesitant, almost nervous, when he’d called to ask when Lee’s next visit was planned. He didn’t explain why, nor did Lee ask. Jones played by his own rules, but his apparent nervousness had Lee on edge.
As Lee approached the only place where the island could be accessed, a small beach covered with wave-smoothed stones and several large blocks that at one time seemed to indicate a building of some sort, Lee noticed something that hadn’t been there before – a small tower made of eight flattened stones of diminishing size, until the top one was almost round. Lee had seen things like them before but couldn’t right at that moment remember what they were called; some kind of monument or marker that people would put up for various reasons. He grounded the small boat, pulled it up far enough that the tide wouldn’t shift it in the short time he planned to be there, and headed toward the center of the island where the entrance to the extended cave system, remnants of the volcano that had formed the island, had become home to the ex-SEAL.
As on his other visits the few chickens and pigmy goats that Minor had somehow managed to get to the island announced his passage through the dense wooded area. Not so dense anymore, Lee noted to himself. The goats had done a good job of munching away a lot of the underbrush. As he approached the cave, he saw Minor sitting quietly on the stone seat he’d carved in the side of the entrance and let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Alive, he told himself. Jones’ call had made him think of worse possibilities.
“Crane,” came out in a flat voice as Lee got near, and Lee re-evaluated. The voice was almost devoid of emotion. And Minor hadn’t moved; just sat still, elbows on knees, holding what looked like a small flat stone in his hands.
“Milt,” Lee answered back, finished walking up, and took the seat Minor had carved on the other side of the entrance. Nothing more was said for several minutes.
“Been thinking,” finally came softly from Minor.
“Lots of time to do that here,” Lee responded.
That got a short snort from the former SEAL. “Yeah,” he agreed. Again, they were both silent for a bit. Then, “Seaview headed in or out?”
“Home. Just got finished setting out a bunch of sensors for NOAA.”
More silence. “Got room for a passenger?”
“That can be arranged.” Lee silently let out a deep sigh, then added, “not sure about the goats and chickens.”
That earned him an actual chuckle before Minor’s voice went flat again. “I was fighting myself; trying to be some empty version of what I was before…” He paused and looked at Lee. “I’ve decided that I need to try and find a way to be who I am now.”
Lee nodded. “Lotta good people willing to help. Including me,” he added sincerely.
Minor’s turn to nod. “Already have.” He stood, entered the cave, and came back with a large duffle bag and a backpack. “The person who brought me out will come get the livestock.” Lee nodded and started to reach for the duffle. An almost unnoticeable shift didn’t go unnoticed and Lee merely lead the way back to the zodiac. He hesitated shoving the craft back into the water as Minor walked over to the small rock shrine and placed next to it the stone he’d been holding. Lee now saw that one side had been painted with red and white stripes, and on one corner a blue patch with white stars. Overlaid on the American flag was the back part of the head and torso of a soldier, helmet on, right hand in salute. Lee sent Minor a nod and a small smile, and the pair headed to the waiting Seaview.