For Curley

 

by Sue Kite

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

Lee and Curley reached the end of the trail and gazed over the narrow beach.  Kidseri was nowhere to be seen.  Crane had a bad feeling about this. 

“Don’t like it, Skipper,” Curley said.  “Too quiet.”

Lee glanced back at the chief.  Curley seemed a bit pale to him.  The captain was worried that this mission had been too much for the older man.  In fact, he’d been a bit concerned about Curley for several weeks, even to the point of suggesting a check up by Doc.  That had fallen on deaf ears.   He shifted and felt a twinge in his ankle.  For that matter, neither of them was in terrific shape.  Lee was astonished, however, at how quickly he was recovering from that poison.  Definitely fast acting as was the curative that Kidseri had obviously given him.   “I don’t either,” Crane concurred.  “I don’t see Kidseri.  He should have been out there in his canoe waiting by now.”   They continued to wait.  Still nothing seemed to be out there.  Including their guide….

“Look, Skipper,” Curley said softly, pointing.  A simple dugout canoe bobbed on the water, coming toward their position.  “Is that Kidseri?”

Crane couldn’t tell who it was in the canoe.  Still he hesitated.  Why had Kidseri been so long?  The small man was very quick in the forest and should have already been out there when they had reached the edge of the beach.  Somehow, he was beginning to think it wasn’t their guide out there.   It had all the makings of a trap.  However, the Seaview was just beyond the reef, perhaps no more than a half-mile.  Maybe a lot less.  Definitely swimmable even if this canoe out there was some kind of a trap.    Seaview’s out there, Curley.  I think we’re going to have to make the move soon.  And we can’t count on that being Kidseri.  We may have to swim the whole way.”

“Aye, sir.  I believe you’re right.”  Without any further word, he crept out of the brush and sprinted across the beach. 

A voice floated from the trees to the right of them.   “Halt or we’ll shoot.”  It was clipped, as though English wasn’t the speaker’s first language.  Then without waiting, he began shooting. 

How did they know? Crane asked himself savagely.  But then Murphy always said there was no such thing as a simple mission.  Lee streaked out from the brush, ignoring the pain in his leg.  He crouched to present as small a target as possible, deviating slightly from Curley’s path.  The chief was also crouched low, but hadn’t stopped running.  They both zigzagged, sprinting as fast as they could across the fifty-foot span of the beach.  The gunfire made a constant popping rhythm in their ears.   The water mocked them and seemed to recede as they ran.  And then, suddenly, they were there.  Lee splashed into the oncoming waves, then he dove in.  Just ahead of him, he saw Curley do the same and they were both swimming smooth easy strokes, working in the same cadence as the waves, diving through the larger ones.  Occasionally he saw the spurting of water near them as the shooters on the beach still tried to hit them.  We were lucky, he thought.  I don’t think these jokers could hit the broad side of a large barn.  Then he decided he’d better not congratulate their success yet.  They weren’t anywhere near out of the woods.  When Lee glanced over at Curley, he saw a grimace of pain and swam closer to his companion. 

Finally the shooting from the beach ceased, but the thunder of the waves on the reef brought his mind to a danger that was just as deadly.  They would have to find a way through the reef.  Kidseri would be able to do that.  If that was Kidseri and not one of the near-sighted assassins who had been chasing him.  The canoe was fairly close.  “Curley, you okay?” he called out. 

The COB nodded. “Just a bit tired.” 

And Lee figured he would be, having stayed awake practically all night on guard duty.  By the look of the sun it was late afternoon.  He gestured that he would check out the canoe.  There had been no movement; absolutely no indication that Kidseri was in it.  Lee swam closer and a head rose up, leering at him.  It definitely wasn’t Kidseri!

A gun pointed directly at his head.  Lee dove even as he heard a sharp report.  There was a burning along his left side, but he continued swimming below.  He turned and reached up out of the water with one hand.  With a quick motion, Lee grabbed the gunwale and tipped the canoe, spilling his would-be assailant. 

Curley swam beside him.  Kicking the flailing gunman out of the way, he said,  “Idiot!  Come out in a canoe and not even know more about swimming than a dog-paddle.”  

“Dog-paddle will get him back to shore,” Lee said tersely.  “We have other problems to worry about.  Get in, Chief.”

“No, sir.  I think they could still hit us from shore if they wanted to.”  As though to punctuate his comment a couple of bullets splashed alongside. 

Crane gazed back at the beach and saw several men hauling a larger canoe with a motor to the edge of the water.  He gazed back at the reef and would have cursed if a wave hadn’t splashed him in the face.  “Well, you’d better hang on and paddle!  We have company behind and the reef ahead.”

“I’d rather take my chances with the reef, Skipper.”

Lee felt the same way.   The reef boomed nearer and nearer.  Kidseri would know the best way through, but the Andamanese was not here to show them.  “To the port,” he shouted, seeing the configuration of the waves to support a break in the reef.  He sincerely hoped he was right in his guess.  He had seen the damage a coral reef to do to a man’s legs and feet. 

Curley nodded and they guided the canoe further to the left.  The waves lifted them higher and pushed them back.  Lee paddled harder.  On the other side of the canoe, Curley did the same.  The waves were demented creatures, grabbing and jerking at them.  Lee clung to the overturned canoe and continued kicking.  The canoe was jerked away and still he kept swimming toward the open ocean.  His chest burned and his eyes stung, but he continued.  It was the only thing he could do.  Crane felt the pain of coral scraping against his foot, but he ignored it and then another wave lifted him up and over the reef.  The waves were deafening.

Suddenly he felt a hand clutching his arm and he saw Curley grabbing at him while still clutching to the overturned canoe with his other hand. 

Crane grabbed the canoe.  “Thanks, Chief.”  Curley nodded wearily.  Exhaustion and pain was etched in his face.  “You okay?” he mouthed over the beating waves.  Again the chief nodded, but Lee knew it was a lie.   He hoped the Seaview wasn’t too far out there.  

Then they were beyond the reef.  The waves were still high, but not so frantic.  The two men continued to paddle, clinging to the battered canoe.  Crane kept stealing glances at the beleaguered COB.  He also listened for the sound of a boat motor.  At the moment he could hear nothing, but that didn’t mean a thing with the beating of the ocean behind them. 

Suddenly, Curley’s grip loosened and he slipped beneath the surface. 

“Curley!” Lee cried, grabbing for the chief.  His hand came up empty and he released the canoe and dove under the waves.  There!  Crane grabbed the chief’s arm and kicked toward the surface.  That had been too close, Crane thought as he broke the surface of the water and gasped for air.  “Curley!” he called again, right in the COB’s ear. 

“Just slipped,” Curley answered, choking and coughing. 

“Yeah,” Lee replied, sputtering as a wave slapped him in the face.  “Just kick a little and let’s find the Seaview.”  He continued to hang onto Curley’s arm while the chief kicked, propelling them further and further out to sea.  Crane knew that he had received the confirmation that the sub was in the area when he had signaled them on the cliff.  They were still too close to the reef, though.  They had to swim out further.  He heard the sputtering of an outboard motor behind them and felt the pang of despair in his chest.  They were definitely in serious trouble now.  

“Skipper!  Chief!” 

It couldn’t be, but it was!  That had been Kowalski’s voice.  The despair flew away and was supplanted by complete relief and joy.   “Chief!  Get the lead out!”  He jerked Curley around and began a breaststroke to watch the approaching rescue craft.  He heard gunfire and the whizzing of bullets over his head.  Kowalski was returning fire.  The chief swam easily beside him now.  Lee grinned at Curley as they neared the rubber raft.  “Custer didn’t buy it this time!”

“No, sir,” Curley said wanly. 

Eager hands pulled them on board and soon the skiff’s little engine gunned to life and they were heading toward the Seaview.

 

                                              ========

 

This time when Crane sat in sick bay waiting for his exam, he felt relief.  Not so, the COB, and Lee figured he knew why.  “Doc, unless you have a reason not to do it, can you give me the once over so I can report to the admiral and give him the information ONI wanted,” he suggested.  He figured Curley would rather be alone with the doctor rather than having an audience to his misery.

Doc nodded and checked his ankle and then his foot where he had grazed the coral.  After dressing those, he examined and dressed the grazing bullet wound on his side.  Lee winced at Doc’s handling, all the while realizing he was in much better shape than he had been the night before. 

The CMO gazed carefully at his face.  A nice, dark bruise was manifest next to his left eye.  “Someone really nailed you this time, Captain.”

“Uh, yeah, Doc.  Curley and I had to battle it out back there to get away.  Those were tough hombres,” Lee said glibly, glancing at Curley.  Not a lie, really, he thought. 

“Oh, you’ll need to stay off that foot as much as you can, Captain.  Light duty for the next few days.  Now, you’d better report to the admiral before he calls down here,” Doc said with a slight smile. 

“Aye, sir,” he said smartly and then slid off the exam table.  

“Canes are in that locker, Skipper.  Use one for a day or two to help the foot.”

Lee grimaced as he did what the doctor had directed.  “Have fun,” he told Curley sourly and limped out of Sick Bay.  The chief looked a little depressed as Crane left. 

The admiral was indeed waiting impatiently in his cabin.  Lee gave him the tiny camera that he had worn just above his waist for the past couple of days.  The admiral himself would develop it in Seaview’s small darkroom and the photos and Lee’s report would be encoded and transmitted ultra secretly to Washington.  For his part, Crane was glad to be rid of it.

“Did you find out what happened to Kidseri?” he asked Nelson. 

The admiral nodded.  “Ski found him bound and gagged near the beach where he had been keeping his canoe.”  Nelson chuckled.  “He vowed never to guide Americans again.”

“I hope he was well compensated for his trouble, as well as his lost canoe.”

“Enough to buy ten canoes,” the admiral said with a bright smile.

 

 

 

Chapter Four
Chapter One
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