It was nearing 0300 and I just couldn’t
sleep. Too much stress. Come later this morning I’d be donning my runner’s ‘bib’ for the Santa Barbara
Marathon. My number? 003, picked at random yesterday, to the chuckles of the
crew. ‘Gotta’ be fate’, Sharkey’s grinned as I am actually
number 3 on Seaview’s totem pole, so to speak. That grin which Sharkey
shared with most of the crew watching to the news broadcast at NIMR soon turned
into dumbstruck awe as the number for Lee came out as 007.
I could almost hear Doc groan in absentia
when that was announced. He wasn’t
happy about Lee running. Even if Lee had trained well enough under my tutelage
before, during, and after Seaview’s latest cruise, his BP, pulse, electrocardiogram, well, everything Doc had put us
through just ‘one more time’ to make sure we wouldn’t drop dead, boded no good. Lee Crane just wasn’t normal if he wasn’t getting
himself hurt in some way at least once a month, or a few times a cruise, whichever came first.
Lee hadn’t been abducted by aliens,
terrorists, bumped his noggin on the plot table, been shot, tortured, or even morphed into something outside the norm in over
three months…he was overdue. And this Marathon wasn’t a simple little run. Doc cut short his seminar and returned
post haste to Santa Barbara to be here for when his CO collapsed, got stung by bee, or hit on the head by a piece of space
junk falling out of its orbit.
Yes, sometimes it was good not to be Lee Crane.
We’d become a familiar sight to the
community s we ran on the golf course, around NIMR, and along some of the less trafficked roads of Santa Barbara. Sometimes
we were greeted to a few cheers and even a few friendly jeers as it became clear that the locals had begun to place bets
about ‘Nelson’s boys,’ as they called us. Could two bubbleheads that spent most of their time underwater compete, really compete, with men and women that
had been running forever?
That remains to be seen. One thing’s
for certain, though. Harriman Nelson has never been or will ever be a coach. Though
I’m still Lee’s trainer, Nelson took to riding shotgun on the golf cart along the golf course perimeter
we ran, and even used his own when we ran all about NIMR. But he just couldn't bring himself to holler at us like I did
at Lee, without adding an almost contrite ‘please’ .
Anyway, back to the present. I needed to do
something if I couldn’t sleep, so I donned tennis shorts and headed to NIMR. Nothing like
a bit of paperwork to take my mind off things.
Lee must have had the same trouble sleeping
as I noticed his little red car already parked in his assigned slot.
But he wasn’t in the office. That meant
he was either aboard Seaview, (he wasn’t) or on the outcrop looking out over the ocean.
There he was, sitting,
his knees to his chest, in a set of some rather disreputable sweats, looking out over a black sea. Hey it was night, and one
couldn’t see much except the harbor lights, the moon and stars.
“Couldn’t sleep either?” I asked and sat down beside him, not
caring if my tennis whites would be stained by the dew.
“Not a wink…Chip?” he hesitated,
looking for the world about ten years old.
What if I come in last? What if…what if I don’t finish at all?”
he barely managed, deathly quiet.
For a moment I was stunned. This was Lee Crane,
Captain of the mighty Seaview. A man who stared danger in the face without batting
an eyelash. A man who’s courage was without question. A man who didn’t
know the meaning of the word quit.
“Everyone’s counting on me,”
he continued, “the crew, you, Harry…what if I disappoint them? There’ve even been some bets I hear,”
he began to pluck at his sweats.
“Lee,” I said, “nobody could ever be disappointed in you. Even if you don’t win or aren’t even able to finish the race.”
“You mean that? You were awfully hard on me the day before yesterday. Told me I might as well not start…”
“I didn’t mean for you to take
it literally! Besides, it was your own fault I had to chew you out. You asked me to be your trainer you know. Not my fault you pigged out on doughnuts and got a sugar high
that came crashing down on you, not to mention a belly ache in the process. ”
“You didn’t let me have any coffee
either,” he complained, but before I could, yet again, defend my no caffeine rule, he looked at me with a little grin,
“you’re a good friend Chippee. Even if I don’t say it as much as I should.”
Lee had first used the childish nickname when
he’d been drunk several months, or was it years ago, and I’d had
no choice but to put up with it. Now, however…I was about to complain but decided against it. Seemed to help him, using this apparent term of affection over ‘bro’ or ‘slave driver’
depending on his mood.
“Gentlemen?” Admiral Nelson was
suddenly upon us, “apparently I’m not the only one with insomnia…you both okay?”
We replied in the affirmative, then he placed
his hands on both our shoulders.
“C’mon, lads, I’m
not letting you sit out in the evening damp. With me…”
He took us up to the apartment ‘above the shop’.
“Sit,” Nelson ordered as soon
as we entered the door , “nothing like a little chicken soup for what ails you…er…that is allowed on your regimen isn’t it Chip?”
“That's an affirmative, Better than
doughnuts, anyway, sir,” I tried to joke.
Lee just glared at me.
we spent the next few hours reminiscing about this or that, letting the boss regale us with stories of his past and of course,
he had to talk shop, all about plankton, while we waited on the balcony for the sunrise light up the bay (while he fed us
soup and toast and some kind of herbal tea.) Suddenly I realized I wasn’t stressed out anymore. Lee certainly wasn’t. He’d fallen asleep, sprawled out on the lumpy sofa and Nelson draped
him over with a granny square afghan he said had been in his family for so long nobody remembered who made it, his grandmother
or great grandmother. It was a bit threadbare, and a bit musty, and some of the colors had run, but it had a warm homey look,
so I guess that’s why he kept it. And it came in useful, we could both see, as Lee slumbered underneath it.
The next thing I knew, Doc was gently nudging
my shoulder telling me to wake up from my seat on the balcony, and to get ready. He’d already gone to our apartments
(he had our emergency keys) for a few incidentals, running gear and ‘bib’s. Then he told me that he was going
to drive us to the sign- in table.
Nelson had already left to go do whatever
it is official sponsors had to do, so ‘in loco parentis’ (Everyone
knows he’s more of a father to Lee than a brother or boss) Doc took over that job.
After breakfast, and we were ready to go,
I patted Lee’s shoulder as we got into the car (there’d be no time for a public display of affection later) and
wished him ‘good luck’…and that I’d meet him at the winner’s