We only had a couple more tests left to perform
for the Navy before we could head home. If the crew had found my indisposition yesterday amusing, they gave no sign of it.
Heading to the plot table, I noticed a garish
drawing in full color. It was so childish, I knew it had to be Lee’s. The
spider was hairy, green and yellow, with huge fangs dripping blood. But that wasn’t what was unsettling about Lee’s
“Why is this spider smiling?”
“Probably bit Starke,” Ski snorted.
“All right, pipe down,” I ordered
at the crew’s laughter, trying hard not to laugh out loud myself, and hoped
upon hope that the man in question wasn’t walking down the spiral steps at that very moment. But I was wrong. He already
“I’ll be in the Observation Nose,
Commander…by the way, the Skipper” he practically spat, “ wants more drawing paper and is having trouble using the automatic sharpener for the colored pencils. He’s in the lab now. Trying his hand at drawing some of Harriman’s specimens. I wouldn’t want to upset the delicate balance making sure
Crane’s feelings aren’t hurt by a delay vs. completing our tests on schedule.”
“He’s in a real snit,” O’Brien
whispered as Starke headed to the Observation Nose and poured himself a drink.
I decided to take Starke’s little test
to heart, after all we were Navy Reserve and the mission was always supposed to come first, though I really wanted to say
to hell with Starke’s timetable. If Lee needed help with his pencils, I
didn’t want to stand in the way. But until the watch changed, which was in a few hours, I decided to keep all hands
My musings were interrupted as Nelson sauntered
in, and saw the picture in my hands.
“One of your Chameleon Spiders, I
presume, Mr. Morton?” he laughed.
“I didn’t describe how they looked,
“He tells me know that the coral in
one of the specimen tanks is actually hibernating and when the lights go out it will start to walk
around in the tank looking for a victim to eat.”
“I’m sorry sir…I guess I kind of started something…”
“Mr. Morton?” Sharkey’s
voice came over the intercom. “Can you come to the Missile Room? The Skipper’s acting kind of weird.”
“Weird?” I clicked the mike.
“What could have compelled him to
go down there,” Nelson mused.
“What do you mean ‘weird’,
Starke grabbed the mike from me.
“Well, he’s kind of… hysterical,
sir. Claims Seaview’s hurting and demanding to know why we’re not
doing anything to fix her.”
“Hurting?” I asked.
“Yes sir, that’s what he’s
saying…he’s crawling around the deck on his hands and knees, telling anyone who’ll listen that the boat’s
hurting… like he’s trying to find out exactly where…”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake!”
take care of it,” Nelson said resignedly, “you’d better come along Chip. Sorry, Jiggs, your tests will
just have to wait.”
We found Lee just as Riley had described
him, desperate, tears running down his face.
“Harry! Harry! Something’s wrong
with her! She’s hurting! Fix it! Here…down here!”
“Lee,” Nelson knelt beside him,
near the belly hatch, and Lee clumsily placed his hand on the deck.
“There, can’t you feel it?”
“Son,” Nelson hesitated, “there’s
nothing down there but water.”
“But she’s hurting!” Lee
yelled, and began to crawl around a bit further afield, patting, listening, in the hopes of discovering the problem.
“Stop imagining things, boy, ”
“I’m not making it up!”
Lee rose, then turned to Nelson, “it’s not like the spid…”he stopped himself, then, “I had to
imagine what the spiders looked like, cause’ he (Lee pointed to me) didn’t
tell me! This is different! Harry, please…do something! It’s getting worse!”
“Control Room,” Nelson clicked
the mike, ‘run a full diagnostic of all electrical systems..and anything else the sensors may indicate a problem with.
Chief Sharkey, send out a team of divers to check the exterior of the boat. Concentrate on the belly hatch.”
have to be kidding, Harriman!” Starke first glared at the Admiral, then
at Lee, who had taken to crawling around the deck again, feeling along the deck, almost like a lover, with his palms, whimpering.
“You’re as crazy as he is!”Starke
“I’m not crazy!” Lee whined,
then got up and moved toward the man, “I’m not!” he pushed Starke with his hands, “ I’m not!” he pushed him again, “Tell him Harry! She’s your boat! Can’t you feel it?” he began to sob, and slid to the deck again, near the torpedo rack,
curling up, looking a bit like cat, at least in my imagination.
When he got his memory back, I had to think,
he’d be so embarrassed. Captains might show various shades of emotions,
but they don’t blubber like that.
“He just wants attention Harriman,”
Starke insisted, “why go through all of this?”
“Ordinarily I wouldn’t, but
this is Lee…..”
“Lee?” I knelt down beside him.
“It’s going to be okay, see? Over there? The divers are ready to go out and I’m sure O’Brien’s
already begun his tests.”
“Too late…too late, go away!”
his arm batted me, and he curled up against the aft bulkhead, his face away from us,
touching her, stroking her.
Two and a half hours later, the divers reported
not so much as a pin leak and Control confirmed all systems were optimal.
Lee was leaning against the port bulkhead now, grabbing his knees, staring at nothing, rocking himself back and forth, manic.
Doc had been called some time ago, but had thought it best to observe first, before administering any kind of sedative.
Nelson knelt down beside him, touching his
shoulder. “Lee, lad, look at me. There’s nothing wrong. ”
“No! Harry, you’ve got to believe
“I’m sorry, Lad…you saw
the divers go out to check. You heard Lt. O’Brien…there’s nothing to believe except that Seaview is fine.”
“Enough, now, “Nelson rose,
pulling Lee up with him. “Go with Doc to sickbay. He’s going to see
what’s wrong with you. “
“I’m not sick!”
“And,” Starke ordered, “keep
him there until the series of the equipment tests are concluded. Otherwise he’ll only be in the way. Right, Morton?”
I had no choice but to answer in the affirmative.
Lee looked at me as if he’d been slapped.
“I don’t need a babysitter!
And I don’t need a Doctor!”
“Go on Lee,” Nelson ordered
firmly, “ Now.”
After about a year, or so it seemed, Lee
glowered at Nelson, “I hate you! And you too!” toward me, adding,
“I hate all of you! And Seaview hates you too!” he huffed out, Doc scurrying after to join up with him and taking
his arm which Lee easily batted away .But at least he didn’t run away from Jamison as they disappeared from sight.
As the divers concluded divesting themselves
of their gear, and Starke happily returned to the Control Room, with me in tow, I took a backward glance at Nelson. I had
to wonder what had made his eyes moist. Lee’s little outburst against him?
Or the fact that our friend was in further need of psychiatric help.
Suffice it to say over the next few hours
both the ballast and torpedo firing systems tests passed with flying colors . I’d already given the order to return
to Santa Barbara when Seaview suddenly
lurched to port.
Klaxton ringing, the Damage Control parties
reported that we were taking on water…from an aft hull breech. In the Missile Room.
It was shored up in a timely matter and
there were no reported casualties. I was about to check on the repairs personally when it happened. A desperate call for Doc.
“For Gods’ sake, hurry!”
Riley screamed, “corridor 34! The Skip’s fallen down the ladder!”
“No, Riley!” Patterson’s
voice was next, “don’t move him…could have a broken neck.”
“Just like last time…”Riley
muttered. “Hurry up Doc!” he bellowed into the mike again, “he’s bleeding all over the place!”
Skipper!” Pat shouted.
“Ohmygod, Pat,” Riley whispered,
“is he dead?”
Nelson was there before I was, and had to
be restrained from touching Lee, first by the crewmen, then by Starke. For once I was glad he
Doc was still checking Lee’s vitals,
and Frank sprayed on some special hardening foam around Lee’s neck, a precaution
until they could take X-Rays.
“You were supposed to keep him in
Sickbay!” Nelson roared.
“This isn’t the time, Harriman,”
Starke pulled his friend away, “let the men do their jobs. Come along to my cabin,” he added as Lee was placed
on the stretcher and taken away.
“I’ll keep you posted sir,”
I said. As Acting Captain, I’d be the first Doc would inform of Lee’s condition, and waited until the Admirals
had left before ordering the blood cleaned up off the deck.
“Did anyone see it happen?”
I asked the crewmen.
“No sir,” Riley said, “I
was just going on an errand and there he was.”
“I know Frank said they’d let him go to the lab to finish some drawings,” Pat added, “ after the equipment
tests were over. I guess he was coming down here to get himself more color pencils
since he was having a problem with the sharpener. Ski keeps them in a box right over there in Storage Closet B17….do
you think the Skip’ll be okay, sir?”
“I don’t know, “but I do know that even minor head wounds can bleed profusely…let’s get this deck cleaned
“it’s been almost 38 hours,” Admiral Starke said as soon as I entered the Wardroom, “Why the hell doesn’t he
wake up? Harriman’s an immovable object where Crane’s concerned.”
How well I knew that. I’d been to
Sickbay as frequently as duty allowed. Nelson had barely moved in all that time, in his self-imposed vigil at Lee’s
bedside. Starke and I had both seen him running his hands through Lee’s hair and holding his hands, muttering so softly
nobody could hear what he was saying.
“Remember what Doc told us, sir. Head
wounds are funny things, even though the X Rays don’t show any additional
swelling of the brain from this concussion.”
“Meaning he could go on in a coma
“Possibly, but…his vitals are
good, in spite of re-injuring a few things like his ribs, and needing over 25 stitches in his scalp…I bet they’ll
itch like crazy.”
he wakes up. “Morton? I can’t help thinking…the breach was in the Missile Room. How the hell could he know, and before it even happened?”
“Because he’s the Skipper,”
Cookie said as he brought over another container of Parmesan Cheese.
“If one more man tells me it’s ‘because he’s the Skipper’,
I’ll puke! There has to be a legitimate reason for it.”
“Just one of those unexplained phenomenon’s,
sir,” I offered.
Normally I enjoy Spaghetti and Meatballs, but it was a dismal dinner, partly due to other things on my mind, partly due
to my dinner companion. I barely noticed when the man left, presumably to urge Nelson, yet again, to at least shower and shave,
and maybe have some food. The outcome, of course, was pretty doubtful.
As soon after I’d managed to finish
my meal, I headed to Sickbay, and was well and truly surprised to see, disheveled and rumpled, Nelson being accompanied by
his friend out the door. Doc was leaning against the frame watching them go,
so I suppose he’d had a hand in it.
“Not you too,” he warned me,
“And don’t think I haven’t noticed you sneak down here in the middle of the night to sit vigil too.”
“Can’t help it…besides,
part of my job description.”
“So it is…go ahead. In fact,
I’ll let you keep an eye on things while I go stretch my legs. Frank’s getting a bit of rack time and should be
returning to duty shortly. Page me if Lee so much as twitches.”
In seconds I found myself in Nelson’s
still warm chair. I think it was haunted, for I began to reach for Lee’s hair and ran my hands through it as well, in
an attempt to at least let him know that I, too, cared. I couldn’t imagine life without our friendly banter…our
bond of brotherhood….
“Mfff…”he began to awake,
“Chip? What..owww…”he grimaced and plopped back down into the pillows, realizing that trying to sit up hadn’t
been an ideal thing to do, and looked at me quizzically. “What’s happened? Why am I in Sickbay? What’d you
do to my boat? She feels…sore…”
“First things first, Lee,” I
forced myself to take command of the situation, “last thing you remember?”
“You asking me for the last thing
“No smarty pants. The last thing you
remember before you woke up here…”
“I was…I was,” he ran
a hand through his hair, and furrowed his brows, “on an errand…yeah…on
an errand …frame 47 I think…to speak to Sharkey about his leave request…or
something like that…do I pass? Chip? You okay?”
It was difficult to keep from jumping up
and down. Lee was back! His old self! He was home! At last! At last!
“Yeah, yeah…I’m fine…”
“What’d you do to my boat?”
“It’s kind of a long story,”
I moved toward the bulkhead to click the mike, “Doc? Something’s happened down here.”
“I want an answer Morton,” he
swung his legs over the edge of the bunk, “ and I want it now…owwwww,” he rubbed his forehead and with the
other hand his ribs.
“Well, it wouldn’t hurt so bad
if you stayed put,” I pushed him back down.
In seconds Doc was back and at Lee’s
side. Checking heart, respiration, blood pressure and using the pen light to examine his eyes.
“Pupils still uneven…”
“You said that was to be expected
even now,” Starke said from the door.
“Lee?” Nelson panted as he too
entered, hair damp, and only partially shaved, in clean pressed khakis and pristine white t-shirt.
“Finally,” Lee said, “now
maybe I’ll get some answers. Why’s Seaview sore?”
“He remembers!” I couldn’t
help exclaiming, “Well, not that part maybe, but he’s himself again!” I grabbed Starke’s arms and
swung him around.
“Has everyone around here gone loco?”
Lee shouted, “ now, what the hell’s happened?”
Nelson looked at Doc, Doc looked at me,
and Starke took over.
“You had an accident and had amnesia…thought
you were a kid of 7 or so…”
“You didn’t remember any of
the bad stuff from back then, Lee,” Doc added.
“A blank page, so to speak,”
“What’s happened to my boat !”
“It, um, it’s a long story,
Crane. I think perhaps Nelson here’s the best person to tell you…c’mon Morton, let’s give them a bit
of privacy. You too, Doc. Oh, uh,” he removed a crumpled colorful drawing from his pocket, “Don’t forget
to show him this, Harry.”
I wish I’d been a fly on the wall
to witness the entire reunion, but I did see Nelson first embrace Lee, even rock him a little, muttering, “Lee, Lee,
oh my son, welcome back.”
Lee of course, looked a bit embarrassed
by Nelson’s fatherly attentions, at least in front of us, and Jiggs rolled his eyes heavenward before he pushed Doc and I out of Sickbay.
They’re still there. Word is from
passing crewmen that they were laughing about something from inside those closed doors. Laughing…Lee’s laughing.
Just the thought of it has lightened everyone’s mood and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear reports of Seaview singing
Oh, Lee will still have to satisfy the experts
that he’s fit for command (it’s a Navy thing), but of that I have no doubt. And it may be a few weeks before I
can officially return to being the XO. But it doesn’t matter to me if I have to linger as Acting Captain and maybe even
put up with Admiral Starke for a little while longer. Lee’s back. And that’s the only thing that matters.