by Sue Kite
Now Curley laughed.
Despite the circumstances, he was feeling comfortable around his
“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.
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
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.”
“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
“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.
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
“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
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.”
Sorry I was so rude,” Curley said penitently. “May I ask you another question?”
“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.”
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
“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,”
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
“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.”
“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
“Packet’s strapped around my waist,” the
captain said softly as Kidseri suddenly seemed to materialize in front of
“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
“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.
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