Note: Prequel to ‘Secret Agent Man’. This story takes place just after ‘Eleven Days to Zero’.
In the nearly deserted offices of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, Admiral Harriman Nelson finally realized that most of the newspaper he’d been reading or the TV channels he’d been flipping, hadn’t even registered on his brain. It was all just probably catching up with him; the loss of John, his three other employees, and the hazardous mad dash to the Arctic to save mankind from a multitude of natural disasters.
This was the first weekend since Seaview’s return to Santa Barbara and Nelson, as usual, was in his Institute office. As he rose to stretch out a few kinks, he noticed from the large fourth floor window that the new Captain had just pulled up into the parking slot reserved for Seaview‘s Skipper. One of the maintenance crews was just finishing stenciling Crane’s name on the bumper guard.
As much as Nelson liked Lee Crane, as a former subordinate, and now as Seaview’s Captain, he still felt a lump in his throat as he couldn’t help but to remember the first time Captain John Phillips had pulled into the same slot two and a half years prior. They had both planned on it being a very long and prosperous association. And now John was dead. Such a waste. Gunned down in transit, along with a driver, and two motorcade escorts. Only Nelson had survived to present his outrageous plan to Washington. The mission had been fraught with danger but the nuclear blast had worked to break the backs of massive earthquakes that would have destroyed much of the world.
A great deal of the mission’s success had been due to the then temporary Captain, the Navy’s own Lee Crane, their very top submarine commander. Had it been simply fortunate or some kind of divine intervention, Nelson wondered, that had made Crane available for Seaview’s emergency mission at all? His Navy sub had only pulled into her home base of Pearl Harbor a few days prior to the attack on Nelson’s party.
Crane was a bit of a paradox to Nelson‘s mind. His memories of Ensign Crane aboard Nautilus had been somewhat limited. He remembered the officer’s abilities and some of the crew‘s almost paternal fondness toward him, but that had been long ago and Seaview’s crew certainly didn’t share the same feelings. Some of the men really didn’t care for him at all. Even Nelson had to admit that he’d been irritated at Crane’s test of their pre-departure security, a test unbidden by Nelson or the Navy. It had been his own little evaluation prior to the top secret mission he’d been drafted for. That brusque first impression sneaking aboard, striking Kowalski, and chewing out the crew for their lapses had not exactly welcomed him aboard with open arms.
But Nelson, who, more than any of his men, also saw Crane’s more familiar gregarious nature come to the fore as well. In time, perhaps the Captain’s new crew would see it too.
At least there had been a memorial service for the lost men when Seaview had come home. The sense of loss was still pretty strong, and no doubt would haunt them all for a while, except for Crane. He certainly owed no loyalty to John’s memory, or the other victims in the attempt on Nelson’s life. Lee tried to show his sympathies, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that he could not actually share the grief that Nelson and all his employees still felt….
“Admiral?” Crane peered into the Admiral’s office and whistled in appreciation, “Sure beats the Fleet Commander’s office. Have a sec?”
“Come on in Lee. You’re back early. Good flight?”
“I guess, but I was asleep for most of it. Tying up loose ends didn’t take too long. Said goodbye to by boat and crew; arranged for my car to be shipped over. It’ll be a relief to get rid of the rental…so, how about joining me for a day out on my new sailboat? I just bought her and…”
“New sailboat? You have been busy. Thank you, but I really have far too much to do.”
In response Lee he looked rather pointedly at the Saturday paper strewn over Nelson’s desk in response. Nelson at least had the good grace to turn a little red in embarrassment.
“You still prefer to spend all your free time alone? Can’t be all that much fun to just sit around in an empty office with nothing better to do than flip TV channels and read the paper.”
“Let’s get one thing straight right now, Captain,” Nelson said as he turned off the set with a remote, “what I do with my time is still my business. And I may just have been taking a break from working in one of my labs. This is primarily a research institute you know. ”
“Yes, sir. Sorry sir,” Crane said stiffly, was about to turn and leave, then added with a dangerous gleam in his eye, “were you?”
“No,” Nelson said with a grin,” I have to admit I wasn‘t.”
“So,” Lee said gently as he sat on the edge of Nelson’s desk, “wouldn’t you rather help me put my new boat through her paces than just sitting here?”
“You’re determined to be a pest about this aren’t you?” Nelson asked, a little surprised at both Lee’s familiarity and the sheer gall of his unusual seating arrangement. He’d never attempted quite that much as an Ensign…
“I thought you might enjoy it, that‘s all…”
“It’s been a long long time since I’ve had my hand at the wheel,” Nelson sighed.
“Tiller actually. She’s just a day sailer.”
“Just how’d you decide on this sailboat anyway?”
“She looked lonely.”
“Oh god, Lee, not another one,” Nelson said then came to a decision, “Should I bring along a bucket to bail with?”
“Perhaps,” Lee winked.
“Far be it from me to let you drown alone.”
“Well, that’s what I heard,” Kowalski said as he grabbed another barbequed chicken wing from the bar and grill frequented by of most of the crew. “No sooner than he gets back from Pearl Harbor than he goes and buys himself a sailboat. Man, he’s got to be rolling in dough.”
“Well, why not?” Chief Jones said, “He doesn’t have any ball and chain dragging him down after all. I was lucky just to get away from mine to join you all for the game today.”
“Man, ain’t it the truth,” Connolly said, “women! Why do they have to give us a rough time about coming here to watch the game in peace?”
“You boys want anything else before the game?” the waitress asked as she passed by.
“Yeah,” Ski said, “but I can’t mention it in polite company.”
“You’re incorrigible Kowalski! If I weren’t married, I’d nab you myself. Enjoy the game, boys. I can‘t say I really like that wall TV.”
“Well, are you coming aboard, Admiral?” Lee asked from the boat.
“Wouldn’t my life expectancy be greater if I just stayed ashore?”
“She only needs a little work. And a name. None of her former owners ever gave her one. Any ideas?”
“Why don’t you just call her the SS MINNOW?”
“Well, if I do that I’d have to call you my ‘Little Buddy’, sir.”
Both men laughed heartily, and Nelson said. “Joking aside, what did you call your other boats?”
“Holes that I poured money into...”
“Seriously, Lee, you don’t have to give her a name,” he climbed aboard.
“That would be sacrilegious....and ‘Minnow’s kind of appropriate, her size and all.”
“Lee! I was joking. You can‘t seriously think that…”
“Well, I’m the ‘Skipper’ aren’t I, and....”
“If you even so much as dare to call me ‘Little Buddy‘, you will find yourself doing Chip’s ‘in’ box after a month long cruise.”
“You sure you don’t mean a three hour cruise?”
“Lee, seriously. It’s bad luck to use a wrecked craft’s name. I know it’s only an old TV show, but still...”
“I never knew you could be superstitious.”
“I’m not, “Nelson grimaced, “but now I‘m not so sure…”
“After I scrape her down, I’m going to paint her red. With white stripes….Hey!” Lee suddenly shouted toward a woman walking past, “You have just what I need!”
She raised her eyebrow with a snort of contempt and kept walking, fast.
“Wait, please!” Lee jumped off the boat onto the dock, but was waylaid by two spotlessly uniformed men from the yacht in the next slip. “Look, it’s not what you think…I need to christen my boat and she has a bottle of champagne…please,” he pleaded with the woman who had already begun to walk up the yacht’s gangplank, “I can pay for it and it’s, well, it’s just got to be fate that you happened by and….”
“I don’t waste Don Perion on trash.”
“Okay, so she’s not much to look at…”
“I meant you, but now that you mention it…”
“Okay, point taken…look, she still needs a better name than the one I was going to give her.. Can we use yours? Boats like being called girls’ names…what’s yours?”
“None of your business.”
“Well, even if you don’t like your own name, it’s got to be better than ours. He called her the SS Minnow.”
“Good!” she huffed up the rest of the gangway to the yacht.
A very deflated Lee needed no escort to walk down the gangway and return towards his boat, “Well, that went well,” he said sarcastically.
“Loosing your touch, Lee?” Nelson chuckled.
“Excuse me,” a young woman wearing some kind of school uniform intervened, “I couldn’t help overhearing...I may not know much about nautical traditions, but...” she pulled something from her tote bag, “will 7-UP do?”
Lee twirled her around in his arms.
“I take it that’s a yes?” the girl asked, “The old man wasn’t really going to call her the Minnow was he?”
“Old man indeed,” Nelson said under his breath.
“Well, no, not really, he wasn‘t, but she has to be called something …” Lee said to the girl, with a silent look of apology to Nelson, “how about your name? Would you do us the honor? Especially since you‘ll be christening her?”
“Me? You want to name her after me and whack her like in the history movies at school?” the girl said, blushing as much from the idea as the proximity to this hunk of a guy. "My name's Irene."
That’s nice. Yes, will you?”
“I’d love to…I even know what they say. I got an A in my last final.”
“Well, Miss Irene, normally you whack them on the bow, but but it’s too tight to turn her here. I guess it’ll have to be arse first. Not exactly kosher but I guess it‘ll do in a pinch.”
“Be careful you don’t break the boat with the bottle, dearie,” the woman from the yacht said as she and her companions observed the spectacle below.
“Go ahead, lass, ignore Cruella,” Nelson said encouragingly.
“Nobody at home’s ever going to believe this...okay, here goes…‘I christen this boat Irene. May God bless and protect all who sail aboard her.” Then she hit the boat with the bottle, spilling the contents as her friends and teachers told her to hurry up or they’d go on the excursion of the Santa Barbara Channel without her. Crane gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek in thanks before she ran off.
“Sorry about the ‘old man’ business, Admiral,” Lee said, “I mean, at that age, even 21 is venerable.”
“No need to apologize for her, Lee,” he said as he waved along with Lee to the departing tour boat.
“She seems like a nice girl. I wish I’d gotten her phone number…”
“For Angie! It was you wasn‘t it who told me she wanted some high school interns for the aquarium tours.”
“Ah, of course. Sorry. Well then, Skipper, are you going to cast off or not?”
“Aye aye sir.”
“Technically that’s my line on the SS Irene, Lee.”
“So, how was the field trip?” Irene‘s mother asked her daughter hours later.
“Oh it was okay I guess. Long and boring through.”
“Yeah, sure!” her younger brother Timmy said. “She and her friends couldn’t keep from yakking about some guy on the dock who kissed her. Gross.”
“Irene? What‘s this all about?”
“He named his boat after me,” she said proudly. “There was an old guy with him. Well, not that old I guess, about the same as you and daddy.”
“Darling, I know you’re flattered that a grown man might show a little interest, but…”
“I wish! He was drop dead gorgeous! The other one wasn’t bad looking, just not my type.”
“Neither of them are your type! I’m going down to the dock to find out just who these men are. Don’t you understand? They could be predators!”
“Well, maybe they’re not,” Timmy said, “but Irene sure is. Said she wished she could get into the cute one’s pants.”
“I’m not a child Mom. What’s wrong with wondering what he looks like naked? All the girls do and….”
“You march upstairs right now young lady! We’re going to have a little talk.”
“Beautiful view of Santa Barbara from here,” Lee said, enjoying the feel of the little boat. Both men had taken turns at the tiller and it was his shot again.
“Certainly is. I have to admit I’d forgotten….she’s handled herself rather well,” Nelson added, surprised.
“Can I pick ‘em or can I pick ‘em?”
“All right, all right, you win. She just looks like a wreck.”
A sudden splash announced the arrival of a pair of dolphins.
“I‘m not sure if that’s a good omen or if they’re hanging around in case we need help,” Nelson said, “they’re known to render assistance to sailors in distress.”
“And you not superstitious,” Lee laughed. “I don‘t suppose we‘ll have much time for this sort of thing though…any word from Uncle Sam yet about our next mission?”
“Nothing pressing, fortunately, so it‘s a toss up between an expedition with Woods Hole or the Cousteau’s unless of course…what’s wrong?”
“Cruella’s Yacht…no, over there, on the far horizon…she’s been a bit erratic, like she keeps looking for someone…” he frowned. Coming to a decision, he took off his left shoe and sock.
“What are you doing?”
“Just a little snooping,” Lee said as he unhinged the toenail on his big toe and retrieved a small device.
“What the hell is that thing? “
Lee simply turned up the volume and they found themselves eavesdropping on a conversation aboard the very distant yacht. An illegal conversation.
“Drug runners,” Lee said disgusted and turned to boat toward her.
“Now wait a minute…we have no authority…You can’t possibly think you can catch up with them. And in this? That yacht’s nearing blue water. Irene’s not designed for…”
“By the time we’d be able to notify the DEA it’d be too late. We have no choice. I heard one of those behemoths saying something about his share of the payoff before we set sail, but I thought he was talking about a bet on the big game today.”
“You really live a sheltered life don’t you, sir.”
“At least I don’t keep deep dark secrets. Spy ware isn‘t exactly standard equipment for Submarine Commanders,” Nelson said, no doubt expecting an explanation.
Crane said nothing as he peeled back another toenail, lifting out a small device that suddenly inflated. He placed it over the stern, and it revved to life as a pseudo outboard motor.
“Good heavens! Who are you, James Bond?”
“Sometimes,” Lee said matter of factly.
“God help us…”
“Just a field agent actually. ONI. At least when I’m not on patrol, or when…well, at least I still think I am,” he corrected himself. “I’m not sure if I was scrapped from the Agency when I was switched to Reserve status with Seaview. But, I haven’t been ordered to turn in my gadgets yet and well, we are in the right place at the right time…”
“The last I knew, ONI was not a department for the Drug Enforcement Agency. And I‘m supposed to have your complete Naval record.”
“It didn’t seem important to tell you; especially as I was going to check with the Agency about my status before I mentioned it if were still assigned to them or…”
“I do have the security clearance you know,” Nelson said mift.
“It had nothing to do with your clearance. I just didn’t see what difference it would have made if they tell me I’m out.”
“Well, I don’t agree with you but it’s a moot point now…remind me to install one of these contraptions on Seaview. Might come in handy if we ever need to get out and push…uh, Lee? Just what are you going to do?”
“Get ourselves invited aboard. But, first, I suggest we get rid of these,” he pulled out his wallet, removed his driver‘s license, military ID, and NIMR ID and flung them overboard. “Don‘t worry, I saved the coordinates on my watch…you really don’t want them to discover who you are do you? I know about these types Admiral. Trust me. They can be ruthless. You‘d better toss the whole wallet over if your name‘s engraved on it like that.”
With irritation, Nelson complied then watched in horror as a massive Halibut swallowed his wallet, ID and all. “Well, Captain?”
“I guess we’ll have to do some fishing later…okay, gonna’ get bumpy now as we get into blue water,” he said as he retrieved the device, deflated and flung it overboard. “Use the bucket….no, not to bail with, to add some water…then start waving your arms and yell for help.”
“And to think I could have stayed in my nice comfy office switching channels.”
“Look, lady, I’m just a dock clerk. But that guy sure got suckered into buying the damn eyesore. Wouldn’t surprise me if she’s foundered already. I warned him that…”
“I’m not interested in his taste or common sense! The man kissed my teenage daughter!”
“Well, what can I say, he’s a guy. Call the cops if you‘re that upset. They can find out who he is from the boat’s registration number…you sure your daughter told you the truth? That she‘s not…well, imagining things?”
“My daughter does not imagine things!” the woman huffed off.
“Ow!” Lee yelped as he and Nelson were shoved into the yacht’s dining salon by the same uniformed men who‘d manhandled him on the dock. “Is it our fault we were swamped and asked for some help?”
“Swamped, my ass,” Cruella turned toward them, “You two are up to something. No ID even.”
“So I’m not that good a sailor and not everybody has a driver’s license. Look, our boat was going to sink! There was water in it, you know, the wet unbolted stuff out there.”
“Don‘t be such a smart ass! I can‘t believe you‘d be so stupid as to bring a day sailer out this far from shore…”
“It’s the damn Santa Barbara Channel! Some weird current grabbed us and we couldn’t get out!”
“Sounds like a bad story to me. What’s the real reason you followed me out here? I saw the way you looked at me on the dock…was the plan to get me in the bedroom while he cases the joint and steals from me?
“Can’t blame a guy for trying,” Lee said, as he rubbed his ring and leaned against the decorated bookcase. “And you’re very attractive, even if you are a bit of a bitch.”
“Then you admit you were lying about your boat about to sink?”
“No, but your reason sounds a heck of a lot better,” he winked.
She walked toward him seductively, appraising him, “Pity I have to kill you. Don’t worry. It’ll look like a simple boating accident and that you both downed.”
“What you gonna’ do with your winnings, Ski?” Curley asked as the bar cleared of the game patrons.
“Oh, this and that…wish it was enough to buy a nice fat expensive boat…complete with an all girl crew…that’d show the Skipper.”
The exhausted men half swam half dragged each other towards the weather buoy, Irene having been sunk and the yacht having disappeared, the clouds darkening ominously against the twilight sky.
“I can’t believe our luck,” Lee gasped as he flung himself accross the buoy with Nelson.
“Luck? Luck? We’re tossed into the drink, we’re 12 miles out to sea clinging onto a buoy, the sea is getting rough, there’s probably a small craft advisory out now, and I am NOT amused!
“Relax will you, the DEA will be stopping Cruella anytime now from the bug I planted on that hulk, if they haven’t already. It’ll only be a matter of time before they call the Coast Guard to rescue us….uh, Admiral? I don’t suppose this would be a good time to ask if you have any trained dolphins in your employ you can whistle for or something? You know, the kind of porpoise that scares sharks away…like them?” he pointed to the ominous fins a few hundred yards away.
“Lee, if we ever get out of this alive I’ll….I’ll…”
“I’m sorry, I really am. I only wanted you to have a good time.”
Nelson snorted in derision.
“I guess you’ll want me to go back to the Navy now…”
“Don’t tempt me,” Nelson squeezed himself closer to the center unit of the buoy.
“Careful!” Lee said, “Dent or damage a weather buoy and you’ll trigger a hydrogen explosion!”
“I know all about weather buoys and their dangers Captain! I think our more pressing need just now is to avoid being eaten!”
“Well, sorry! I’m just trying to protect you.”
“You should have thought of that before dragging me off on this stupid stunt of yours!”
“There wasn’t any choice! Admit it; you’d have done the same!”
The buoy chose that moment to curtsy sharply in a heavy swell; Crane lost his grip, fell off and was hit and dunked under by it before it returned to a more upright position. But he did not return to the surface. Nelson slipped off, dove under, trying to find him, but the man had vanished. Nelson returned to the buoy reluctantly and with difficulty, then looked in horror as he saw a feeding frenzy and blood stained water about 500 yards away in the increasingly high waves. “Oh god…oh god…Lee…”
“We’ll continue to search,” the cutter’s Captain said as her crew draped the just rescued Nelson in a warm blanket a few hours later, “but if you saw sharks get him…”
“I told you, I don’t’ know if it was him, it was just…”
“Sir?” a rating interrupted, “Sparks just got a call from a shrimp boat four miles north. They picked up a guy hanging onto to a couple of dolphins. He says he‘s okay, but he has a bump on the head, his scalp’s bleeding and he’s pestering them like there’s no tomorrow about the Admiral Nelson here,” he grinned and handed the man the mike.
“Lee? Lee? Are you all right, lad?”
“Admiral? You okay?”
“Cold, wet and hungry, but I’ll live; you?”
“I’m fine…huh? Oh, they want to talk to the Captain.”
“He’s not that fine,” the shrimper‘s master said, “I’m getting him below; he might need stitches for that cut…no, Mr. Crane, I will not give the dolphins a treat! Now will you please go get some hot soup in you and dry clothes on? No, I will not pat them for you and…”
“Admiral?” Crane interrupted, “I think they were the same ones…”
“It’s possible Lee, we’ll discuss the mysteries of the deep later, now go on, get below and warmed up.”
“It seems as though your Commander Crane can be quite a handful,” the cutter’s Captain said, before telling the shrimper they’d arrive soon. “Why’d he leave the Navy to join you at the Institute anyway?” he added to Nelson.
“Let’s just say he found civilian life here a bit more…interesting.”
“Must be, if he’s got connections with the DEA. They told us not to bug you for details…”
“Must be the DEA, wanting to speak to us,” Lee said as the cutter’s launch pulled into the Marina that night. Police lights were flashing, but there wasn’t much of a crowd.
“Lee Crane?” one of the officers asked of the two men as they stepped ashore.
“You’re under arrest.”
“I told you, there’s got to be a mistake,” Crane said sitting across from Officer Ann Smith in the busy police station. He was damp, his hair wet and curly, and he had a small sterile bandage just under his hairline.
“Where is he? I‘ll kill the bastard!” Irene‘s father yelled as he barged in, but suddenly stopped in his tracks, “…Skipper??”
“Curley? Thank god! Now someone can tell these idiots that somebody’s jumping to conclusions. They won’t even let me see my accuser…”
“Just what are your intentions toward my 15 year old daughter Irene?” Jones demanded.
“Your daughter…?? Absolutely nothing chief!” Crane said aghast, realization dawning.
“That’s why you kissed her?”
“On the cheek! Ask the Admiral, he was with me! You can’t think that I’d actually…There was nothing sexual about it! I swear it! I told the cops there was nothing to it, but they think I’m some kind of predator! Cheech! Look, I‘m sorry if the kid might have gotten carried away with the idea, bragged about it maybe, but…”
“Irene?” Jones turned to ask his daughter just now joining him with her mother, “Is that all it was? A peck on the cheek?”
“I never said it wasn’t!”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Mrs. Jones asked, grabbing the girl’s arms.
“You never asked,” she escaped her mother’s grip, “and you wouldn’t have believed me anyway; you were so upset about me wanting to see him naked!”
“You what?” Curley exploded. Now you could a pin drop as everyone‘s attention was geared to the scene, including an embarrassed Crane.
“Lee,” Nelson suddenly appeared at the door, “I got you a lawyer and…Irene, good, you’re here. You can tell them what happ…Curley? Mrs. Jones.. What are you doing here?”
“Admiral,” Lee said, “I don’t believe you’ve met Irene’s parents.”
“What? You’re Curley’s little girl?”
“If you’re Admiral Nelson,” Irene asked, “who’s your dreamboat friend? And I ‘m not a ‘little girl‘! I‘m a woman!”
“He’s Commander Crane!” Jones said, “And I’m going to lock you away in your room until you’re 35!”
“Am I correct in assuming nobody is going to press charges?” the officer asked. “How about you, uh, Miss Jones, you’re sure he didn’t suggest something he shouldn’t have? Either of them? Or give you a naughty look or…”
“Oh for Pete’s sake. I’m not a baby! He was the perfect gentleman. Though I sure wish he hadn’t been! Then maybe my Mom and Dad would realize that I‘m almost 16 and…”
“That does it!” Jones interrupted; temper blazing, “You’re going to a convent! Even if I have to bribe ’em to take a protestant! Skipper, I sure am sorry about this…I…”
“That’s the second time you’ve been called ‘Skipper’,” Anne mused, “I thought you said you weren’t in the Navy anymore.”
“It’s hard for the many ex Navy men I employ to forget Commander Crane skippered submarines before joining us,” Nelson stretched the truth easily, “Nicknames tend to stick…”
“I see… well, if there are no charges, Mr. Crane I’ll have you released. Your car was impounded but you’ll hardly be able to drive without your license. You’ll have to apply for another, but that office won’t be open until Tuesday due to some building repairs…I’m off duty in twenty minutes. I’ll give you a lift home gentlemen…if only to protect the Commander from the unbridled imaginations of adolescent adoration…Mrs. Jones? I trust the next time you have suspicions regarding any young men your daughter encounters that you make sure of all of the facts before making an official accusation. And you, young lady, don‘t withhold important information like that again or you‘ll be in trouble for wasting taxpayer‘s money.
“I thought the Journal was a legitimate paper, not a tabloid!” Nelson shouted into the phone in his lonely office Sunday morning. “Yes, we were arrested, but…I see, but…” he flung the incriminating article complete with mug shots of he and Crane into the trash, “how the hell should I know what he looks like naked!” he yelled into the phone before slamming the device into the cradle.
“Ta dah!” Crane suddenly interrupted from the door, flashing a conspiratorial grin and waving his soggy Driver‘s license in victory, “I used the institute launch and uh, am I interrupting something?” he nodded at the blinking lights of the phone.
“Idiots! And they call themselves reporters!”
Lee saw the crumpled paper in the trash, retrieved it, and turned a shade of green. “Want me to handle this?” Lee asked.
“Excuse me sir?” Angie said from the doorway, “I thought you might be here…need any help?”
“Reinforcements, thank God. Help yourself,” he indicated the phone.
“I’ll take them in my office,” she said, trying very hard not to appraise Crane‘s physical appearance. She’d only met him once, just after Seaview had docked from their mission, but now…even with a noticeable bruise and stitches on his forehead, well, it was no wonder the kid had had dreams about him. Curley must be livid though, she thought as she closed Nelson’s door to give them a little privacy.
“Well, if she’s got things under control,” Lee said, “ c’mon, we‘re already a bit late.”
“Late? I wasn’t aware I had any plans for today.”
“Ah, but you do, at the Marina. “
Nelson groaned, “You didn’t buy another boat?”
“No, I didn‘t buy a boat. I‘ve rented one, a cabin cruiser. A big one. Just for today. We‘re going fishing,” he said proudly.
“Fishing? Whatever for?” Nelson asked.
“Oh, just for the Halibut…“ Crane said with a gleam in his eye, “If you get my drift, pun intended.”
“No. Absolutely not! We are not going on a wild goose chase for the big one that got away…”
“It ate your wallet! Don’t you want it back?”
“It’s hardly worth it.”
“That fish is a security risk, isn’t it? What if somebody else catches it and tries to use your ID?”
“The police have been informed. So have all my credit card companies as well as the Navy and the Social Security Administration. The cash was hardly worth considering.”
“Then why not just show those weekend fishermen a thing or two…”
“I haven’t fished in a decade!”
“No, but who’s more of an expert on marine life, you or those other contestants?”
“I…uh, sort of entered us the Santa Barbara Fishing Contest. I’m only brawn. You’re the brain. I bet you have all sorts of bait ideas that’ll lure our suspect in and…. “
“Why? What’s the harm in it? You might even have fun….The winner of the biggest fish gets a trophy and their picture in the paper…might come in handy for NIMR public relations…put it in the aquarium or fry it up for charity or something or….”
“And just what convinces you that I’ll catch anything? Let alone our ugly thief?”
“Because I want to believe it…” he opened the door, but stopped as he saw Angie, desperate for a polite excuse to give the caller on the speakerphone. Nelson listened in horror as the paper’s editor requested Crane do a full nude layout.
“Persistent..” Nelson said disgusted.
Crane took over, “Hello? This is Commander Crane. I’m afraid my schedule is just too busy…but I do have a photo I can send you, if you don‘t mind an old one, black and white. ”
“Relax, it’ll be okay,” he whispered, and then returned his attention to the caller, “On a white rug…It’s yours if you guarantee that you won’t bother Admiral Nelson or the Institute anymore…good, yes, you can publish it, no problem. Goodbye.” he ended the call “Oh, Angie? You might want to ask maintenance to clear a spot for the trophy the Admiral’s going to win.”
“Oh, you’re so sure of that are you Lee?” Nelson asked.
“Angie, thank you for stopping in…but I guess Captain Crane has taken care of the situation…”
“Would you like to come along Angie?” Lee asked. “It’s a big boat. Has a sun deck..”
“Thank you but…I could really use the time to take care of some leftover paperwork…”
“A pretty girl like you shouldn’t have to spend any of her weekend doing paperwork…if I’m allowed to say that…I’m still a bit unused to all these business ‘sexual harassment’ rules.”
“You can call me ‘pretty’ any time you like Captain and I‘d love to come along.”
“Are you sure they like this stuff?” Angie asked as she put some more cut up octopus on his line, as the chartered cabin cruiser gently rocked in the designated fishing area, “we haven’t had so much as a nibble; those other fishermen are having a field day.”
“Ah, but their fish are juveniles,’ Nelson said, “Octopus is an acquired taste. Normally, halibut feed on clams, shrimp, even other halibut, but this is their pie’ce de re’sistance…a delicacy they find hard to resist.”
“I had octopus once,” Lee said, “tasted like old tires to me, same texture too, glorified rubber.”
“That’s because it was overcooked. Prepared correctly octopus is rather delicate, especially Giant Pacific Octopus like this…my sister dragged me to a five star Japanese restaurant in Tokyo. They prepared it all from scratch…kind of messy, but the results were…illuminating...
…..’And there’s the one hour warning bell,” the TV reporter said “ Anyone checking in after 5 pm will be ineligible for the contest,” the sportscaster said, ‘ We’ve seen some pretty big fish come in. the last one, a bass, weighed in at 150 pounds. Admiral Harriman Nelson of the Nelson Institute has not yet returned to shore, giving some cause for concern as one of his fishing partners is the same Commander Crane who’s boat sank with Nelson aboard yesterday….’
“Maybe I bought the wrong kind of octopus at the store,” Lee mused. “They all looked the same to me,” he began to remove his bait and replace it with balled up wads of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“Well, it’s too late now to do a forensic test,” Nelson said, “Wait a minute, Lee…what‘s that on your fingers?” Nelson examined them, then laughed.
“What? It‘s just octopus goop.”
“And I’m supposed to be the expert, “Nelson laughed, “These are marinated octopus pieces. No wonder they’re not biting.”
“Don’t worry sir, we won’t tell,” Angie said, pulling her empty line back in and replacing her own bits of octopus with sandwich balls.
Lee had just left his line in the water and returned to the cooler for a can of pop when Angie cast her refreshed fishing line with a backward flick of the wrist.
In the future they might find the incident humorous, but there was nothing humorous about the way Lee was rolling on the deck clutching his crotch, groaning, snagged by Angie’s hook.
Nelson and Angie stared in horror.
“Lee,” Nelson was at his side in a second, “let me look son.”
Lee removed his hand, stared downward, and unzipped his pants the best he could but it was Nelson who fainted.
“Admiral? “the familiar voice roused the man from his foggy brain.
“Lee? How bad…” he asked, noting Crane’s blood stained pants.
“I’ll live, but I’m not sure about Angie. I had to ask her to help cut the hook with your Swiss Army knife so I could pull it out…it hurts worse than it is, though…we were getting worried about you though. You‘ve been out a few minutes.”
Just then the boat lurched.
“You got something, Lee!” Angie called. “Something big!”
….’If you’ve just joined us for the Fishing Contest news, there’s been some excitement aboard Admiral Nelson’s boat. The observation team’s trying to get a closer view for us…Commander Crane’s snagged a shark…not a great white, but a shark is still a shark…and the young man appears to be injured in some way by the way he’s limping to grab the grappling hook…it’s putting up quite a struggle…now Admiral Nelson seems to have caught something…it’s so heavy it’s pulling the boat up and down as he tries to reel it in…the girl’s caught something too…I think it’s a bass…yes, not a giant, but a reasonable size…she’s got it aboard…the shark is trying to attack the halibut Nelson is still trying to reel in!…my god it’s a monster…what do you think….yes, it looks like a 400 pounder…I think we have our winner, if they can reel it in and return to the weigh in station before the deadline…he’s not known as an expert in marine biology for nothing…but I doubt if he’ll reveal his baiting secrets…’
“No!” Nelson shouted on his office phone the next day, the trophy on his desk, as Lee pouted. Angie was frazzled and already in tears from the lewd jokes of her colleagues. She didn‘t need any more phone calls like these. “My staff are not sex crazed Amazons or Stud Muffins! It was an accident that Crane was hooked! And the other incident was a misunderstanding…No, I will not ask them if they’d like to speak to you….”
“This is Commander Crane,” Lee took over, “Look, we’ve tried to be polite…no, it won’t affect my bedroom activities!” he slammed it down. “At least the corpsman didn’t think so..”he added to himself.
“I…I’m so sorry Captain,” Angie said.
“It’s not your fault…and anyone who thinks differently is a complete idiot,” he accepted Curley’s ice bag and sat down placing it on his lap. “You can still call me Lee, you know…”
“But mom!” Irene whined the following Friday.
“What is it honey?” Chief Jones asked, just as he was getting home from work.
“We’re not even going to open this…this filth!” Mrs. Jones said.
“The Journal?” Curley asked, confused as he saw the pristine newspaper still in it‘s rain proof bag.
“Your Commander Crane has a funny way of not being a sex pervert! Look,” Mrs. Jones read the heading, “Commander Crane of NIMR bares all…see section C for a full nude layout! What kind of men is Admiral Nelson hiring? I don’t care if he only kissed Irene on the cheek, he’s dangerous!’
“Sir?” a panting Curley asked as Nelson was just preparing to leave his office, paper tucked under his arm as he grabbed his hat.
“Are you aware that the Skipper’s posed nude in this evening’s paper?”
“Aren’t’ you upset?”
“Upset? Chief, have you seen the paper?”
“Well, no, but …”
Nelson opened up the section and handed it to the man, who suddenly turned red, then furious.
“It’s…it’s a baby picture!”
“Well, it is a full nude layout on a white rug isn’t it? Captain Crane didn’t actually lie to the Journal…he just stretched the truth a bit to get them off our backs when they were bothering us so much after your daughter’s comment got into the paper…anything else?”
“Uh, no. No sir. Sorry sir.”
“Chief, did you really think he’d do something as lewd as to expose himself as an adult?”
“I…I’m sorry sir….oh, shit…“
“What is it Curley?”
“Excuse me Admiral,” security came over the office intercom, “the police are here for Captain Crane.”
“I’m sorry sir, I really am,” Jones said, “I just didn’t…“
“Stop Crane at the gate,” Nelson spoke into the intercom, “Don’t let them do anything until we get there. Come along Curley, I think you have some explaining to do to the Captain.”
Using one of the Institute’s electric transport buggies the two men were appalled as they neared. Crane was being frisked by one of the cops, a woman, the other a male, shaking his head. Suddenly something was withdrawn from Lee’s pant’s pocket. The lady cop raised it in victory, spun around and then embraced her prisoner in a delighted kiss.
“That doesn’t look like an arrest to me, “Nelson said, “of course, I recognise her now. It’s Officer Smith…she and Lee have been seeing a lot of each other this week…”
Just then the security guard pointed Nelson and Curley out. Crane motioned Smith into his car and walked toward the approaching buggy.
“Is something wrong?” Lee asked.
“No, Lee. Apparently not…well, in truth, when we saw the cops…”
“Ah, I guess it did look like I was in trouble again. Did you know somebody called them to complain about me again? Well, they sure didn’t do their homework…it was all about my little picture in the paper… You’d think they’d have had the sense to take a look at it before calling me a bastard pervert…Chief, you okay? You look like you just swallowed something foul.”
“Oh, he’s fine, a little peeved though Lee. He‘s drawn the bilge installation watch for the weekend. It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it. But I can’t think of anyone who can supervise it better…“
“Of course, I’m glad you were on the roster for the duty, Chief. I’ll make sure you get the next two weekends off…that is, if we’re not off someplace…well, if you’ll excuse me, Annie just got off duty and I promised I’d be taking her to that show in town…just so it keeps her from pinching my behind anymore asking me if it’s as cute as in the picture! Women can be so weird sometimes…” he waved and in a moment the car had vanished, followed by the police car..
“But he went over the roster with me earlier…Ski was scheduled…maybe he forgot?” Jones asked hopefully.
“No, Chief. He didn’t forget.”
“Man, he’s got to be incredibly forgiving.”
“Perhaps…or it’s that he simply understands.”
“I’ll never sit down again for a month,” Lee said from the door on Saturday morning, “C’mon, we‘ll be late,” he clicked off Nelson’s TV remote. “We’re taking my new boat out through the Channel Islands, maybe do some cave diving and…”
“We?” Nelson groaned.
“Annie’s already at the dock to christen her. I’m going to call her ‘Felicity’ after my Mom’s cat. No irate parents to get the wrong idea this time and...”
“Lee,” he groped for the words, “I realize you’re only trying to get me out of the office, you seem to have a compulsion to try to make me relax. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ll go with you this time, but next weekend, if you’re that desperate to get me out of here, just treat me to a game of golf?”
“Well, okay I guess…you don’t play golf,” he added after the realization struck.
“I’ll learn,” Nelson grinned, slapped Crane on the shoulder and followed him out of the office.
She was a beautiful sailboat indeed, the Felicity, large, blue water capable and worthy of a small crew…Nelson relaxed at the wheel and wondered why he’d been so nervous…he had even enjoyed the short stop at one of the island’s open air markets. He’d been busy examining some of the ceramics his sister might like when he noticed Lee haggling with one of the seafood vendors…the Halibut was big, probably over 200 pounds, alive in a huge tub. Lee had grinned in triumph when he led the fishmonger to his boat, carting the thing in a wheelbarrow, tub and all….
“What’s going on Lee?” Nelson
“I guess you could call it a citizen’s arrest,” he winked. “I mean, I’ve heard of burning money, but grilling it…”
“A citiz…wait a minute,” Nelson examined the fish closely. “It can’t be…the odds would be like winning the lottery! Or the Publisher‘s Clearing house sweepstakes…”
“Then move over Ed McMahan,” Lee said, showing off a hard square outline in the fish’s stomach.
“Lee, it’s got to be coincidence, perhaps a building material of some sort…”
“There’s only one way to find out. Let’s get him back to the Institute and x-ray him.”
“Her, it’s a female…a breeding female…you want to damage the eggs just to prove it’s our thief? And what then? A month’s supply of filets?”
“He, I mean, she’d make a nice addition to the big aquarium wouldn’t she?” At least your money’d be safe. Safely digested…in time at least.”
“Well, C’mon then ‘Skipper‘, let’s go home. We have a medical interrogation to conduct.”
“Anything you say ’Little Buddy,” Lee had dared to say…
And so it was, a few weeks later as Nelson hung the now famed and framed X-ray of his wallet on the wall that he had a feeling of de-je-vou. Crane had pulled up in his parking spot, this time in his own car and Nelson realized without a doubt that he and Lee really were in effect ‘buddies‘. Friends, partners, sometimes antagonistic towards each other ashore and at sea, but more often than not they had begun to share a special kind of kinship…as brothers.
The Halibut was happy too.
The End"SS Minnow", "Skipper" & "Little Buddy" from the TV classic "Gilligan's Island"