OLD FRIENDS ARE BEST
Morton looked up from his computer screen as Lee Crane rapped at the open door of Chip’s office at the Nelson Institute. “Yeah, Skipper?”
“You, maybe, got some free time tomorrow?” Lee shifted his weight from one foot to the other – a tad nervously, Chip thought – which had him straightening his posture in the chair, his perception sharpening.
“Sure, Lee. You need a meeting? Is it the new Sonar refinement? Cos I can assure you ….”
“No. No. That’s fine! It’s, em, something else actually.” The captain coughed slightly, hiding it behind a fist hastily raised to cover his mouth. “It’s …ahh… personal.”
Chip’s eyebrows rose to meet his hairline as his antenna twitched uncomfortably. He waved his friend to one of the chairs in front of his desk. A cold finger of fear wend its way down his spine as Crane carefully shut the office door behind him, effectively sealing them off from the Institute staff.
“Personal, Lee?” Concern edged his tone as Chip’s thoughts raced ahead to a myriad of potential problems and the fingers of his left hand unconsciously trawled towards the desk phone, Jamie’s pager number popping unasked into his head.
“Yeah!” With a sigh, his friend dropped heavily into the indicated seat. A second, deeper sigh preceded his next words. “God, I don’t know if I can do this.”
Skin now crawling with terror, Morton moved around the desk to sit facing his oldest and best friend. “Lee, you’re scaring me, buddy. What’s up? Come on, you can tell me anything.” The blond officer had to swallow a lump of morbid dread, a knot of tension forming between his hunched shoulder blades as he leaned towards the dark haired man.
Crane ran a distracted hand through his black curls, which immediately sprang into an unruly mass, making him look younger than his given years. His thoughts were evidently far from the present and Morton laid a firm hand on his captain’s khaki clad arm, worry making him a shade rougher than usual. “Lee! Please! What’s wrong?” Then, decisively. “I’m calling Jamie!”
“Jamie?” The note of patent curiosity mingled with abject disbelief went a long way towards reassuring Seaview’s XO. “What’s he got to do with this?”
“You tell me, pal!” The exec was nearing the end of his patience.
“There’s nothing wrong with me!” Snatching his arm from Chip’s grasp, the captain leapt adroitly to his feet and began to pace the spacious office, stopping occasionally to level an accusatory glare at his XO and friend. “Sheesh! You and the admiral! You think I can’t take care of myself!”
Cautious now in the face of Lee’s irritation, which could so easily escalate into outright anger, Chip played the role he was born to – super efficient XO and supportive friend all meshed into one - and silently evoked his skipper to give!
“Well, Lee, sometimes, you know…”
Crane rolled his eyes theatrically. “There’s nothing wrong with ME!”
“Not who! WHAT!”
“It’s the CAR!”
“The Cobra?” Morton was visibly shocked. Lee’s prized red Shelby Cobra was the one constant besides Seaview in his friend’s life. Caution reigned, BIG time! “I’m not sure I understand, Lee. Is something wrong with the car?”
The NIMR motor pool treated the skipper’s treasure with equally as much reverence as her owner did. Chip couldn’t fathom ANYTHING being wrong with the well-honed, much-toned convertible.
Lee practically squirmed. “It’s not so much that there’s anything wrong with her, Chip.”
“Then WHAT?” Chip’s legendary stoicism was getting a decided workout. His heart rate was beginning to subside as his ire rose in response to his previous fright. “WHAT?”
“I guess … she’s just … getting a bit old.”
“The Cobra? Getting old? ARE YOU NUTS?” Morton’s temper, a well-hidden rarity, decided now was as good a time as any to let loose. “She’s a Classic! A Beauty!”
This from the man who drove a top of the line ultra-practical SUV! His eyes gleamed like blue-flecked ice chips (no pun intended!) in defence of the number two lady in Lee’s life. Knowing how Crane felt about the car, Chip knew there was more to this than met the eye.
His azure eyes narrowed speculatively. “Someone’s put you up to this. You love that car. No way are you gonna let her go voluntarily. GIVE! NOW!”
Lee exhaled in defeat. He should have known he couldn’t fool his best friend, the one man who knew him better than any other single individual in this life – and there were plenty, both in and out of the Navy, who thought they knew Seaview’s captain and sometime (all too frequently in Chip’s book) ONI agent.
“OK. Lynda’s been getting at me about changing the car. She thinks I should trade her in for something more … contemporary.”
Morton snorted with a singular lack of finesse, betraying his feelings for Lee’s current lady friend and causing Crane to glare warningly at him.
Chip raised his hands, palms outstretched in mock surrender. He knew there was only one way to handle this.
The amber eyes shot sparks of pure gold. “And your point is?”
“The words “hook, line and sinker” spring to mind, my friend.” Chip shook his blond head dejectedly. “I didn’t think things had progressed that far with Lynda.”
“They haven’t!” Crane was adamant!
“Don’t sound that way to me, pal!” And Chip was nothing but an upright, honest friend. “Lee, you love that car!”
“Yeah, but she’s not new – or modern.”
“She’s not meant to be! She’s a Classic! Probably worth more than any of the latest BMW’s or Mercedes’ out there! She’s been hand tooled and had the attention of every mechanic worth his salt in the motor pool ever since you’ve had her! They keep her running like a fine tuned racehorse! I think they spend more time on her – marginally – than on the admiral’s limo! It’s a labour of love on their part.”
Slyly Morton played his trump hand. “You gonna tell them you’re selling her?”
Then came the mortal blow. “Can I be there when you tell Ski?”
He saw Crane visibly cringe. And doubt creep in. Then Chip played his ace.
“Tell you what, Lee, if you’re selling, I’m buying. Name your price.”
And saw Lee collapse completely – in theory of course, not reality! No way could Lee bear to see his ever practical, too pristine XO owning the number two love of his life. Oh, he had no problem with Chip driving her, had implicit faith in his skill - after all he trusted his friend with his first love, Seaview, on a regular basis. In fact, there was no one he trusted more. But to grant ownership of his beautiful little red Cobra elsewhere – even to his most faithful friend – caused him to swallow hard! And maybe re-evaluate his decision. He really didn’t want to do this.
So why was he doing it? Not for any of the right reasons – was the answer that immediately sprung to mind.
Impulsively he whirled towards his friend, snatching Chip’s cover from the coat stand inside the office door and, tossing it like a Frisbee, watched Morton’s startled gaze connect with his as he caught it reflexively.
“Wanna take a ride?”
Chip’s slow but incandescent smile almost split his face. “In that baby? Any time, pal.”
“Feel like telling the admiral we’re bunking off for the afternoon?”
“I will if you will!!” Chip knew first hand that Nelson would welcome his work-a-holic captain taking some well deserved down time.
When Chip stood back to allow his senior officer to precede him out the door, as protocol demanded, Lee caught his arm. “Thanks, pal!”
“For what?” Morton was genuinely confused.
“For making me see what’s what! And if not, what should be!” And so saying, Lee bumped his friend’s hip and pushed them both together into the doorway causing a push/shove scuffle reminiscent of their Annapolis days – brought to an immediate halt (sort of) at the sight of Chip’s wide eyed secretary, who had a thousand and one urgent tasks to complete but professionally managed to stifle her giggles – at least until the two members of Seaview’s and NIMR’s command staff had successfully manoeuvred their way out the door.
Hitting the button for the hotline to Nelson’s suite she gave the Institute’s Deputy Director a two-minute heads up. “Angie, they’re primed – and unfortunately, my love, headed your way. Oh, and I think it’s got something to do with Lee’s car.”
A loud groan was her only acknowledgement.