“But it’s gotta’
be the real reason, Ski!” Pat handed me the screwdriver. We were stuck with the repair detail while just about everybody
else got to go on shore leave or have shore duty in places other than the sub’s
bilges. Not for us the machine shop or goffering for the Admin Staff.
“Maybe the Admiral just wants to go cheer the Skip racing
one of his motorcycles.”
“You don’t believe
that. And not with Doc tagging along?”
“Yeah, I got it straight
from the motor pool. Miss Angie requested a driver to take them both to the airport. And when Smitty got back, he said they
hadn’t been acting or talking like a couple of guys heading out for a vacation
in hog heaven either.”
“Shit, ” I couldn’t
help groaning, “if I had a dime for every time the Skip gets himself into
trouble or hurt or something, even on vacation, I’d be a rich guy soaking
up the sun in Daytona myself with a couple of babes on my arms...”
“He isn’t on
vacation...” Pat interrupted, “he’s got a cushy Reserve assignment
right there during Bike Week. With the Coast Guard no less. I mean, how hard can it be?”
“Hard enough to worry
Doc, or maybe he got smashed up on his bike....”
“You bozo’s done yet?” Chief Sharkey suddenly loomed over us, “I want to get going.
“Hey Chief, we’re
free to go when this is finished, right?” I asked.
“Yeah, so hurry it
“All fixed, “
I handed Pat the screwdriver.
Sharkey said and turned to head forward, toward the Control Room and the ladder to take him topside. To freedom. Two long weeks of doing whatever he wanted. Two long weeks for me, well...now I was torn between
what I wanted to do, what I’d planned on doing, versus what I was starting to feel compelled to do.
“Uh, Chief,” Pat interrupted my thoughts as he ran after Sharkey, after tossing me the screwdriver
leaving me to return it to the tool kit and stow it.
By the time I’d showered
with some really strong disinfectant soap, (somebody in Washington ought to make the stench from submarine bilges a lethal
weapon) I made my travel arrangements, packed up my gear, signed out with the
security watch, got stuck in traffic, and finally reported to the airline counter to check in only fifteen minutes late.
Thank God for fog delays.
“I’m sorry sir,”
the clerk said sweetly, though she reminded me of my third grade teacher, “there’s been a slight change in your
“But I requested an
aisle seat,” I began. Cookie’s meals sometimes come back to haunt me, especially when airborne. I mean, well, okay, to be honest, I get airsick. I can handle it aboard the Flying Sub (currently in refit),
in fact I don’t get sick aboard her at all. But airlines? I always study the seating plan and try to get a seat with
the least amount of steps to the head.
Good thing I always request
extra puke bags.
“Oh, you have an aisle
seat. Hope you don’t mind first class.”
“Yes, those gentleman
over there, when they saw you, they indicated that they knew you, that they’d
pay the difference, what with your Claustra...er... medical condition.”
I turned where she pointed
and saw just about everyone not on shore leave wave.
“Hey knucklehead,” Sharkey approached. “You forget what Doc said about you not being squished
in Coach...”and dragged me away from the counter. “Don’t say a word,” he whispered as we approached
the rest of the guys, “we had to come up with something. And none of us wants to spend all that time in the air with
you puking in the vicinity. Now, you can vomit all you like with space to spare. Man I feel for your travel companions up
“Gee, very funny. And
I don’t stay sick the whole time.”
“No, sometimes you
don’t get sick at all. This is just a little...insurance.”
Later, I wondered just what
I was going to ‘owe’ the guys for the privilege of puking in First Class instead of Coach. Fortunately I only
had the dry heaves, and managed that in the privacy of the head. Still, I decided to err on the side of caution and only have
a ginger ale instead of the complimentary Gin and Tonic the overly solicitous flight attendants offered. Apparently they’d
dealt with claustrophobic passengers before and weren’t taking any chances of this one going ballistic. I noticed them
taking my window seat passenger aside ‘to visit the cockpit’, but actually saw them whispering something to her
and pointing to me. She nodded, and bored me for the next half hour with tales and pictures of her grandkids. Something I
guess the staff deemed necessary to keep my claustrophobia at bay.
I wanted to tell them that
I only suffered from airsickness. But they guys had actually paid for my seat, sort of. Still the difference between a coach
and first class fare was substantial even if it was divided between practically the entire coach section. I had to wonder
if they’d gotten a group rate.
As I put on the headphones and
tuned to the aircraft’s library of live and taped audio and video selections, I happened to tune in to the CNN report.
There on the scroll bar was news from Daytona Beach. Seemed the local Coast Guard had been involved in a ‘slight’
altercation with some drug runners. Oh damn. Then it scrolled about how Bike
Week had been marred by a brawl sending more than 50 to the hospital or jail. Double
Damn! Lastly, it scrolled on about a very bad accident during a heavy thunderstorm between some bikes, an 18 wheeler carrying doughnuts (the report now started to show live video of the pile up, with
boxes and boxes of gooey goodness spilled all over the road,) and a couple of cars, including one of them with a horse
trailer (the horse was okay, the report said, though they’d had a hard time catching it) and a couple of broken surfboards
from the other smashed car. And then it closed in on the mangled bikes in between
I think I fainted ‘cause
the next thing I knew, one of the flight attendants had Sharkey in tow and was
gently trying to revive me while another took my pulse.
demanded, “you okay?”
“Oh gawd. The Skipper....the
Skip...Chief, did you see it? Look, right there, it’s playing again.... that’s the Skipper’s bike....”
or what was left of it.
“Lot’s of guys
have red bikes, kid...”
“You know damn well
it’s his...has to be...”
“Should we declare
a medical emergency?” the plane’s captain came forward, asking the
Sharkey said, patting my shoulder, “ sometimes his meds do that,” he added. Should be nominated for an Oscar for
that little act.
”You gave us a bit
of a scare, young man,” the Captain said. “Perhaps you Doctor should prescribe something different for next time. Make a note of it for the corporate office,” he told the attendants, “you know
the drill. Doctor’s permission for his passenger...”
the first attendant said.
“For Mr. Kowalski,”
he continued, “ to fly, names and dosage of medications and any side effects. So we won’t have a recurrence.”
Then he smiled at me. “Just a couple more hours before we land in Orlando. Hope you brought your raincoat. “
“Perhaps you should
sit with him for the rest of the flight,” he told Sharkey. “I’m sure the lady won’t mind switching
seats...with full refund and free ticket for next time.
What she felt about that
is anyone’s guess, but as one of the attendants removed her carry on luggage and escorted her to Sharkey’s old
seat, I figured they wouldn’t have allowed her to complain.
“You uh, aren’t
worried about the Skipper?” I asked, incredulous. I’d seen for myself that Sharkey tended to act like a faithful
hound around Crane, especially when he was worried about him.
“Shhh. Of course I
am, you idiot! But we don’t want the guys to get into a panic...’sides, we’re not sure yet are we.”
“Look kid,” I’ll
put in a call to the hospital, damn I hate these cell phones.....they got a list
of patient names that ain’t privileged
But the same line of thunderstorms
that were infiltrating Daytona Beach were interfering with reception. So we have to wait.
Of course, the Skipper might not be in any trouble at all, Sharkey kept trying to convince
himself. And it might not have been his bike I saw smashed and twisted, I admitted. And he might not be in jail or the hosptial
or the morgue or recovering from an altercation with drug runners.
But one thing’s for sure. He’s
gotten himself in trouble somehow. I just know it.
It’s...it’s a Lee Crane thing.
At least we'll be there for him. And if by some quirk of fate we're mistaken, then at least
we can enjoy the beach, look at the babes, and in my case, even rent a bike for one of the big events.
But I doubt it.