For Curley

 

by Sue Kite

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

Now Curley laughed.  Despite the circumstances, he was feeling comfortable around his commander.   “You thirsty, sir?”

“Yes, I am.  I got a little to drink out of the forks of the trees, but haven’t been able to get enough.”

“I bet you’re hungry, too.  I do have a candy bar I brought with me from the boat.  Probably kind of squashed by now, but still good.”

“No, just the water.  Just thirsty.”

Curley was concerned.  If Crane had been on the run for the last twenty-four hours, probably more, he doubted that the skipper had had anything to eat.   He handed Crane his canteen and listened as his captain drank avidly.   When the skipper handed it back, there was only a little water left in it.  “You get enough, sir?”

“Didn’t want to be totally greedy, Chief.”  Crane groaned again, this time a little louder.   “Sorry.  Just do what you have to do to shut me up if anyone approaches.”

“I will, Skipper.  But I think Kidseri will return and then we can get back to Kalipur.”

“If someone isn’t watching for us.” 

That was a sobering thought.  “How did you find Kidseri?  He’s, uh, interesting.”

“I was told to contact him.  He is a good guide.  He’s discreet and he doesn’t like what’s going on in the hills anymore than our government does,” Crane answered and then fell silent for a few minutes.  “Curley, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course, Skipper.”

“Why did you, uh, where did you get the name Curley?”

He thought he knew what Crane was really going to ask and he felt some gratitude that the skipper hadn’t asked.   “Well, when I was just a little kid, I had long hair.  It was curly and blonde.  My mother and both my grandmothers thought it was cute.  My father thought it was sissy, but I was almost five before my mother finally allowed it to be cut.   After I had gotten used to all my older brothers and sisters calling me Curley, I kind of thought it was better than my real name.”

“Rupert Eddington?”

Curley winced.  “Skipper, you are one of the few people who has used that name since I got out of boot camp.”  He paused.  “And the only person to use it since then that didn’t end up with a few knocked-out teeth.”

“Fair enough, Curley,” Crane said softly.  There was humor in his voice, but it sounded distant. 

“You okay, Captain?”

“Just tired, Chief.”

Curley was trying to remember if it was dangerous to allow a poison victim to sleep.  No, he didn’t think it was.  “Why don’t you just get some sleep?  I think we’re perfectly safe here for now.”  He was silent for a while and wasn’t surprised when he felt the skipper’s head sag against his shoulder.  Curley still felt tired, too, but was not about to fall asleep this time.  With Crane using him for a pillow and the gun ready for any intruders, he kept watch.  Another rain shower came and then dissipated.  After an indeterminate time, he felt the captain stir and sit up against the rock wall. 

“Curley?”

“Yes, Captain?”

“Thanks.  I don’t know how long I was out, but I appreciate you watching out for me.”  There was a brief pause.  “And for being a pillow.”

“No problem, Skipper,” Curley said, shifting positions and trying to get the circulation back in his arm.  “I bet you want to know why I volunteered to come and rendezvous with you,” he said suddenly.  He berated himself the moment he had finished uttering the words.   The skipper had declined to ask, so why did he feel obligated to bring it up?

“The thought crossed my mind.”

“Because I’m old and fat?” Curley asked sarcastically. 

Crane sucked in a deep breath and then slowly let it out.  “Chief, I’m not going to BS you.  This is a land job.  I would have expected Kowalski or Franklin.  If this had been an undersea assignment, I would have been surprised if you hadn’t been here.  You’re the best underwater man in the Navy.  Or out of it.”

“Thanks, Skipper.  Sorry I was so rude,” Curley said penitently.  “May I ask you another question?”

“Shoot.”

“Why did ONI give you this assignment?  Why did you take it?  It’s not been that long since the Republic worked you over.” 

“Two questions, Curley, but I’ll try to be as straightforward as I can.”  He paused so long, the COB began to wonder if his commander had fallen back to sleep.  “I can only guess that the ONI wanted to see if I still had the ability to do these assignments.”  There was another pause.  “I suppose I wanted to find out the same thing,” Crane added in a softer, introspective voice. 

Curley said nothing for a moment.  He really couldn’t.  Finally he said, “I guess I volunteered to come here for the same reason.”  The chief sighed lustily.  There was several minutes’ silence where the only sound was water dripping and birds calling to each other outside of the cave.   “I’ve got the damned annual physical coming up and I’ve been feeling my age lately.”

“You?  Age?” Crane asked, incredulous.  “Curley, you’re ageless.  You’ll be able to swim circles around me when you’re a hundred.”

Curley just snorted.

“I just hope that hauling me around didn’t hurt you any.”

“Nah, Skipper,” he lied, still feeling muscles protest.  “You’d have done the same for me.”  Then he stopped and thought a minute.  “Well, you’d have tried.”  And then he chuckled.  After a moment, Crane joined him. 

“Curley, you’ll live forever.”

The chief knew that statement was a lie, too.  But he felt a kind of comfort in hearing the skipper say it.  It was silent for several moments.  Then Curley heard a soft rustling at the entrance.  Even before he could raise his gun, he heard Kidseri’s soft voice. 

“Kidseri,” Crane said in the darkness. 

The native made no more comment, but a soft sound near the chief’s side was supplanted by the equally soft glow from a stubby candle.  Kidseri set it down in the tiny cavity of a rock and motioned. 

“Well, it seems we’re safe for the moment,” Crane said. 

Curley had picked up the same thing.  “But they’re going to wait at the village,” he added. 

“Then we leave a different—ah!  What the….?” Crane cried out sharply. 

Kidseri was examining the captain’s wound, pushing and prodding.  He mimed a snake and Crane nodded.  Curley knew it was easier for the skipper to do so than to try and explain what really happened.  Kidseri made more motions, then left. 

“Thankful the other symptoms seem to have gone away, but that hurt,” the captain said.

“What did you mean, ‘by a different’?  You mean we’ll leave the island a different way?  I thought the only way on or off was by the special ferry boats or excursion boats.”

“Part of a pre-arranged plan, whether I had gotten away Scot-free or not.  Kidseri has one of the larger canoes in his village and he goes out to fish when he’s not guiding tourists into the hills.   He is going to sail us beyond the reef and the Seaview is going to pick us up.”

“The Seaview?

“Yes, presumably on their way through the Bay of Bengal from Thailand toward the states, the boat is going to pass by the Andaman Islands.  Discreetly, of course.  The only one with any kind of sophisticated radar equipment on this island is the person I was spying on.”

“Oh,” Curley said. 

“Chief,” Crane began, his voice suddenly serious.  “Just in case something happens, I need you to get the microfilm I’m carrying to the Seaview.  He reached inside his shirt. “Make sure the admiral gets it.”

“You hang onto whatever you have, Skipper.  I’ll make sure you get back.”

“Curley, if it becomes necessary, you will take my package,” Crane repeated.  “And that is an order.”

“If it becomes necessary,” the COB replied somberly.

“Packet’s strapped around my waist,” the captain said softly as Kidseri suddenly seemed to materialize in front of them.

“How the hell does he do that?” Curley whispered to Crane.  The only reply was a shrug. 

Kidseri worked deftly and quickly on the captain’s ankle, cutting into the wound and then cleaning out the infection that had already begun to set in.  Curley held Crane’s leg, while the native worked.  To his credit, the skipper made very little noise.  Only the ragged hissing of his breath and occasional soft moaning betrayed his pain.  The native applied poultices, tied on with long strips of leaves.   When Kidseri was finished, the captain sagged against Curley; asleep or unconscious he didn’t know.  The Andamanese gestured and Curley understood enough to know they would start out first thing the next morning. 

Throughout the night, whenever he awoke, Kidseri gave the captain something to drink, either water or fruit juice, and then Crane would drift back to sleep again.  Shortly before dawn, the skipper awoke, blinked groggily and then focused on the candle; a replacement to the one Kidseri had first lit.  “What did you two slip me last night?” he asked sleepily. 

Kidseri nodded in satisfaction and stole out again.  Curley just shrugged.  “I didn’t have anything to give you, sir, so it must have been Kidseri.  How do you feel?”

“Other than like I’ve been drugged?” he replied.  “Surprisingly, the leg feels much better.”

Kidseri reappeared, a stout, freshly cut pole in his hand.  He handed it to Crane and gestured that they needed to leave.  The captain nodded and with Curley’s help, got up.  He held tightly to the pole for a moment, but as he regained his equilibrium, he walked cautiously toward the cave entrance.  Kidseri pulled the vines from the entrance and Crane limped through.  The forest glistened from the sunlight reflecting off drops of water on the leaves and branches.  As soon as their eyes adjusted to the bright light, the men began their hike down the hillside.  Curley kept a close watch on the captain, but the injured man seemed to be holding his own fairly well.  It was slow, but their progress was steady.  By late afternoon, they had reached an overlook point above a beach area that Curley wasn’t familiar with.   Below them lay deep blue waters.  He guessed it would take another fifteen or so minutes to traverse the trail. 

“Kidseri,” Crane said.  The native turned and watched the skipper, who made gestures for the guide to go ahead of them and get the canoe ready.  With a nod, the Andamanese turned and slipped into the forest.  Crane sat down at the edge of the escarpment and reached inside his waistband, pulling out a small package.  Opening it up, he drew out a small signaling device.  With it, he tapped out a message.  When Crane was finished, he handed the device to Curley.  “You know the codes.  If another message has to be sent, you can do it.”

“Aye, sir,” Curley replied.  The two submariners began their descent again, staying in the shadows of the trees.   

 

 

Chapter Three
Chapter One
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents
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