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Chip Morton's Journal

Twisted Tail

Twisted Tail

By Chip


“How did last night’s passenger transfer from NCIS go?” I’d asked absently as I checked the present charts, prior to relieving Lt. O’Brien from the evening watch.

“Fine sir, only…’


Frank had never looked much like a frightened rabbit or  a deer in the headlights before. But he did now.

“It wasn’t one of them NCIS guys, sir. It was the Skipper….


Lee? Count to ten Morton. Count to ten. Don’t let them see that you’re ready to toss him overboard.


“And..er…” the man seemed to be having a problem speaking.


I knew it, I just knew it, had to be something more. There’s always something more where Lee’s concerned.


“He was wearing a tuxedo…” Frank turned a shade of red, “and..er…”.

‘Go on.”

‘Yes sir. Well, he had some lipstick on his bow tie…looked like there was some under his collar too. He didn’t look damaged, but  I think he was a little drunk. Didn't smell it though. Well, he leaned his face on the bulkhead and..er…well, kissed it and  asked her if she missed him…”


It was no secret Lee had a  kind of ‘marriage’, I guess you’d call it, with Seaview, but aside from a few loving pats and sweet nothings, he’d never been inebriated enough to kiss the damn boat!


 “I see,” I regained control of my emotions, “thank you for the update. I have the conn, Lt.”

“Aye sir, you have the conn.”


I’d have to have a little talk with Special Agent McGee from NCIS. He’d led all of us to believe the passenger pickup from a cruise ship would be him.  I’d been looking forward to seeing him again and talking computerize. He’s even shown me how to animate pictures which I’ve placed on my blog.


What a letdown. Not that I wasn’t pleased that Lee had returned from what was supposed to have been shore leave, unscathed, but how was I going to tell Nelson? I mean, it’s bad enough Lee’s an ONI Field Agent. We’ve learned to put up with that. Sort of. He’s also a SEAL but the Navy hardly ever uses him for that, thank goodness. But did  he have to go get his feet wet with NCIS now too?


Just as I was ready to bang my fist on the chart table, one of the Mess Specialists paged me about an emergency in the Galley. Of course,  I was ready to punch the klaxton and surface the boat, when he added that it wasn’t a fire.


Leaving the conn to Sparks (Well, he had to get some command time in sometime) I ran aft, all the while trying to figure out what could possibly be an emergency in the Galley. No call had gone out for Sickbay, so the images of an industrial accident with cleavers, knives, and heavy duty mixers were pretty much null and void.


So I began to think of other things. Had one of the coffee percolators quit? Even if we had to use the horrid half- caffeine stuff the Navy had forced on us, was that truly an emergency?  Or God forbid, were we out of cereal? It was one of the few items that hadn’t been tampered with by the Navy for this cruise. While we were pretty well stocked with the whole grain stuff, somehow, (don’t ask me how, ha ha) we still had the sugary stuff, like Rice Krispies, Trix, Lucky Charms, and some other kid’s cereal I don’t remember the name of). You see, submarine crews gain on average, about 10 pounds  during a normal cruise . That’s on Navy subs. We’re a bit different and we sure can burn the excess calories off with all the weird things that happen to us! But still, we’re a Reserve vessel and as such, didn’t have much choice in the matter.


“Just a little test,” Admiral Starke had said before we’d shoved off, “ I promised Harry that you wouldn’t starve, and I always keep my promises.”


 Well, he was as good as his word. Our pantry, freezer and fridge were crammed full of healthy foodstuffs. Tofu, soybean and olive oil butter, egg whites, meat substitutes, etc. And if that wasn’t bad enough, everyone was limited to only 10 oz. of  the makeshift coffee  a day! We had to sign clipboards  to keep track of the coffee consumption.  And I, as ranking officer (Nelson was in Washington), had to enter it all into the computer which relayed the info daily to ComSubPac. But I digress.


When I reached the galley, Cookie and some of his Mess Specialists  were in various states of panic, some having taken to stand on the countertops.  It took a moment for my brain to register that the large walk in fridge was open, and that Cookie was waving a cleaver at something inside it. But the snake next to the butter substitute didn’t appear to be all that impressed. In fact, it wasn’t moving at all.

“Where the hell’s the Master At Arms?” he was yelling.

“What’s he going to do, arrest it?” I responded calmly, “It’s just a snake and probably dead.”

“You gonna’ take that chance, sir?”

“Reptiles are dependent on temperature, and it may have already been asphyxiated if it’s been in there awhile,” I closed the door. Why nobody had done that already was anyone’s guess. “Still,  somebody go get me a broomstick, wire and duct tape.”

“Yes sir,” he nodded to one of his crew to get them, “er..why?”

“To  lasso it with the wire, twist,  and break its neck, of course. We need to get rid of this castaway before it disrupts the meal schedule, including the Skipper’s.”

 “He’s back?” Cookie seemed distressed, “oh gawd, sir. No disrespect sir, but all this substitute crap … he’s gonna’ go ballistic.”

“He’s a big boy, Cookie, he can handle it.”

“Yes sir. But…he’s mighty partial to coffee, the real stuff. And doughnuts. Not these  fake kinds…”

“We don’t know that…ah..good,” I accepted the materials at hand to make my impromptu snake killer.

Well, the reptile was still on the same shelf, we noticed as soon as we reopened the door, and I managed to ‘kill’ the thing without a struggle.

In minutes Cookie was unhappily mixing together the ingredients for the Skipper’s doughnuts.

I, of course, had resumed my post in the Control Room when I was summoned back to the Galley. For a moment I had visions of more snakes, or worse, maybe a rat or two…

I was practically abducted at the doorway by the Mess crew and dragged in, to see Lee,(apparently he hadn’t bothered to change clothes the night before, for he was still in the rumpled tux, though shoeless),  standing in front of the open fridge, pointing at the empty shelf. The shelf the snake had been on.

Uh oh.

“What seems to be the problem, Skipper,” I tried to ask casually.

“Where’s my snake?”

 Your snake, Lee?”

“Snake, Chip, snake.  You know, the creepy crawlie things, reprobate reptiles, slithery serpents, Satan’s alter ego…I left it right there! And now it’s gone! And nobody here will tell my anything! For some reason they insisted I speak with you.  Why is that?”

Why is that? The phrase used  by superiors to make one feel all of ten years old. Not that Lee uses it often. I guess he kind of picked it up from when he’d been on the other side during one of Starke’s visits.

“Er, well, you see, Lee…I umm. I killed it.”

“You killed it.”

“Well, I thought it was already dead. Anything would be after a time in the fridge, but to make sure, I had no choice but to twist its neck…it was holding up everyone’s meals and….”

“All right, all right. Where is it?” he began to look into the waste receptacles.

“It’s not here. I  fired  it out a torpedo tube.”

“You what?”

“I fired it out a torpedo tube…the men made me…didn’t want it around even if it was dead…”

“Reverse course! Flank speed! Get a diving party ready!”

“Lee um… isn’t that going to a bit too much trouble for a snake steak? I mean, you didn’t exactly leave a note on it or anything.”

“I don’t want it for dinner! It swallowed a microchip, okay? “

“A micro….then you admit you were on special assignment, weren’t you!” I raved.

Of course, I already knew he’d been, or NCIS wouldn’t have arranged things. But sometimes, one needs to rub Lee’s nose in it. Nelson’s not too good at that and leaves it to me to dress him down for such ‘off Seaview’ infractions (when it’s not a national security thing-after all, Lee’s still my CO)

 “You promised no more spy jobs for a while, didn’t you?” I continued,  “ when the Admiral finds out he’s going to kill you!”

“You um, you’re not going to tell him, are you?” Lee looked at me like a kid who’s favored toy had been taken back by Santa, then headed to the percolator and poured himself a cup of joe.  You could hear a pin drop, the Mess Specialists holding their breaths, then,  “Not quite up to your standard, Cookie….”

“Sorry Skipper,” Cookie handed him clipboard.

“What’s this?”

“Everyone’s restricted to 10 ounces a day, Skipper. Admiral Starke’s orders…initial there, sir.”

“You’re kidding!”

“It’s a trial program, Lee,” I explained, and handed him my pen. “You remember, the new guidelines the Navy was trying to find a boat to experiment on…”

“Oh damn, I completely forgot about that…why us?”

“Why  not? I don’t know, Lee, but Nelson approved and…well…”

“Here you go Skipper,” Cookie handed Lee a jelly filled doughnut on a plate. “Just finished ‘em a minute ago.”

Lee took a bite, and furrowed his brows.

“It ain’t my fault, Skipper! Honest, sir!” Cookie whined.  “It’s all that substitute stuff we gotta’ use…and…I’m so sorry…”

“It’s okay, Cookie,” Lee patted his arm, “I’m sure you tried your best….”


It wasn’t until after Lee and I had vacated the galley that Lee leaned against the bulkhead and moaned,” We’re going to die!”


By the time we reached the area where I’d jettisoned the snake, all sorts of theories were being cited as to the how’s, why’s and wherefores of the Skipper’s special assignment. Even I got a ‘later, Chip, later’, from Lee when I pressured him into revealing the snake’s penchant for eating a microfilm.


Of course, Lee went out with the one of the seven diving teams, and returned later, after an extensive grid pattern search, snake less.

 “Bad luck, Lee,” I told him as he removed his gear.

“Well, that leaves only two alternatives. One, the damn thing’s been eaten by something higher up on the food chain, or got caught in a fishing trawler’s net. Now, we can’t exactly go out and ask Jaws or Charlie the Tuna if they ate it,  but we can request any fishing boats that were in the area recently , if we can inspect their catch.”


I was going to argue, but he had one of those ‘Captain’ looks on his face, which translated into,’ don’t you even think of arguing with me’.


And so, an hour later, I had the log of surface vessels that had been in or near the area and had Sparks begin to transmit our inquiries. Apparently Lee figured that if Seaview, from a noted marine institute like NIMR, ‘had reason to believe something in their holds might contaminate the rest of their catch’, well, most of the trawler’s captain’s would be more than willing to let a HASMET team board and investigate, giving said captain’s a clearance certificate (nonexistent, but Sparks whipped up official looking documents) ‘should the FDA get involved’. Yes, Lee hasn’t been a secret agent all this time for nothing.


The problem was that we only had a few HASMET suits aboard, and it was going to be a long couple of days, as trawler after trawler allowed us to pull up alongside to let us wade through the heaps of fish in their holds, while waving our metal detectors around them. Oh, the teams eyeballed things too. But to no avail.



It was a disheartened Captain, when Lee contacted NCIS to report a Mission Abort. I was with him in his cabin when he reported to their Director, that yes, he’d retrieved the microfilm, but lost it.

“We sent you in, Crane, as a French millionaire,  because Mrs. Wi  would be attracted to you and that damn language and that you could get past her husband!”

“Mrs. Wi?’ I couldn’t help asking, a shiver up my spine. The new Ambassador for the People’s Republic? Hated for her brutality, and political corruption, it was easy to see her being used as a kind of courier for her government’s underhanded schemes. She was also pretty much universally regarded as one of the ugliest women in the world.  “You had to seduce her? You had to…eeeeyyoooo!”

“I slipped her a mickey before things got too..personal, okay? Look, director, I  got the microfilm. She kept it in her jewelry box like the informant had said, but then, it slipped out of my cummerbund as I was making my way out of the Embassy, and the damn snake swallowed it. I tried to get it back, but…”he opened his arms apologetically.

“That wouldn’t have stopped the Lee Crane I knew!’

“Er, excuse me, Director…”I said, “it’s my fault. Lee got the snake and brought it aboard, only we didn’t know it at the time. Vermin do get aboard sometimes when we’re in port…I’m afraid I disposed of it…shot it out a torpedo tube. Lee tried everything to get it back. Diving teams, inspecting fishing boats…metal detectors.”

“Metal detectors?” McGee’s voice interrupted.  “Chip, metal detectors won’t work on that kind of Microfilm casing…the alloy’s impervious.”

“Well, you could have told me! Er, told Captain Crane…”

“And since when are you involved with NCIS, Commander?” the Director hissed.

 “Well, he should  be,” Lee came to my defense,” since Seaview was drafted to pick me up.”

“Well, it’s no sense arguing about it now. Your services won’t be required again Crane. NCIS out.”


“Damn,” I muttered, “I’m sorry, Lee. I might not like you going off on assignment, but…”

“I know, bro, I know…”

“Why a French millionaire, Lee?”

“Money talks. As for the language,  well, it’s ‘Z language of love, est-ce-pas?” he grinned. “Besides, it was the only language class I took in school that I got an A in. Well, I don’t know about you, Chip, but I’m going to have some coffee.”

“You’ve already maxed out. Another doughnut? You said it wasn’t too bad once you got the after taste out of your mouth.”

“You know, as much as none of us like this menu, we’re sure to shed some pounds for the simple fact of not eating the damn stuff! I wonder how Harry’s doing in Washington…he’d mentioned something about dinner at the White House…maybe he can bring us some doggy bags, say, oh, 124 of them.”

“You forget, he’s returning from the committee meetings  to Santa Barbara, not Seaview. By the time we return to port, they’d be soggy or he’ll have finished them off. No, I’m afraid we’re stuck for the next couple of weeks.”

“Well,” Lee sighed, “at least ole’ Starke’ll be happy when we weigh in.”

“What do you say one of the first things we do when we get home, is try out that new restaurant in town. The  one that brags about the finest in exotic fare.”

“I’m game if you are,” Lee said, “After this menu, well, I’m open to just about anything. As long as they include doughnuts on the menu.”

“Doubtful, mon capitaine,  but we’ll stop at Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Doughnuts first.”

“Better than that, tell Angie to get somebody to go get some an hour or so before we’re due. Enough for the whole crew...dozens and dozens of them. Assorted is fine, but make sure there’ll be enough jelly filled ones for me.”


And so it was a few weeks later, that Lee and I, after having reached port and put Seaview to bed, he sated with jelly filled doughnuts and I with apple cinnamon, headed out to test the waters, so to speak, of that new eatery we’d agreed on, though we weren’t really hungry anymore.


There were items we’d never heard of, or really cared to know what they were. But Lee, being Lee, decided on grilled snake, in honor, I supposed of his failed mission. A kind of revenge, I guess.

Me, I decided on  sea urchin. The same kind the harbor seals enjoy so much. I’d seen these prepared on some TV cooking show, so they couldn’t be that bad.


We were happily enjoying (well, that’s a matter of opinion) our meals, when Lee reached for my hand and placed it on the table, as with his other, he used his napkin to spit a mouthful  of chewed food out of his mouth and examined it.


“Is something wrong, gentlemen?” the waiter asked.

“Er, no, nothing,” Lee quickly wadded up the napkin, “ just forgot we have an appointment . Here,” he handed the man some cash, “keep the change.”

He half dragged, half pulled me out, after placing the napkin in his pocket, before I could even ask for a doggie bag.


“Chip,” he hissed as soon as he poured me into the driver’s side of his car, “we’ve got to get the hell out of here…now.”

At times like this it was best not to ask questions, just do as he asked.

“Anyone watching us?” he asked.

“Just some girls. They’ve gone in now.”

He picked out his napkin and showed it to me.


“Not the snake…it’s the microfilm, Chip…I’m sure it is…”

“You sure it’s not a filling or something?”

“Chippee, if it looks like a microfilm, and acts like a microfilm, it probably is a microfilm…’sides, if it were a filling, I think I’d know it.”


I think we made it to NIMR in record time, if one didn’t stop to consider the traffic ticket I got after being pulled over for speeding. Normally, we might have enjoyed lingering with the lady cop, me, because she was a kind of novelty. Most motorcycle cops in Santa Barbara were guys, who knew why. And Lee, well, because he still enjoyed speaking to pretty women even if was  on Lola’s ball and chain, sort of. They were still an item, but it had cooled a bit recently. And of course, Lee also liked motorcycles. He can spend a great deal of time talking shop over them. But we were on a mission, so as soon as we were released, and I’d driven  us, (just under the speed limit) to NIMR, we disappeared into  one of the labs and used a pressurized air cleaner to rid the little piece of technology of half chewed snake and saliva.


“Yes! Yes!” he almost hugged me.

“But is it the same microfilm?”

“Have no idea…but…”

“You realize, Lee, that the restaurant must not have done a good job cleaning the thing…I mean…it should have been down the drain or the garbage with the entrails…”

“So, we’ll inform the Health Dept. that we have suspicions about the place…Chip, it’s a ‘mission accomplished’! A ‘mission Accomplished’!” he was practically dancing now, waving the thing in the air like a trophy.

“Only if it’s the same one…”I tried to calm him down. “When you think about the odds…”

“Stranger things have happened,” he grinned and headed to his office to make a call to NCIS.

I was about to tell him, as I followed,  that this microfilm had as much chance as being his microfilm (after all, there had been decades of  a lot of cold war stuff any old snake could have eaten over the years)  as we had winning the lottery or picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby, when I decided, that one, if it wasn’t, let NCIS tell him. I was his faithful XO, good friend, and it was my job to support  him, even when wrong. And two, if he was right, well, it was better to just let him ride the wave of success.


Turned out it was his microfilm after the NCIS labs confirmed it. Sometimes the fates can be kind to Lee. Not often, mind you. Most undercover missions return Lee to us in varying states of physical and mental distress. But this time, well, I wasn’t going to argue with them.


It still remains to be seen what Nelson will think of the whole thing. As for NCIS, well, I can only hope their Director won’t renege on their not using Lee again.


But I wouldn’t count on it.