For Curley

 

by Sue Kite

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

Lee Crane was finishing his report when someone knocked on his door.  He glanced up at the clock and saw that it was almost eleven.  “Come in,” he said, curious as to who might be wanting to see him at this hour.  

“Skipper?”

Crane figured the last person up and about now would have been Curley, but there he was in the doorway, an official looking paper in his hand.  The chief still looked drawn from their latest venture.  “Come on in, Curley, and pull up a chair.” 

The chief came in but didn’t sit down right away.  He handed the paper to Lee, who quickly opened it and read it.  Then he reread it.   Lee laid the sheet down on his desk and gazed meaningfully into the chief’s eyes.  He motioned him to sit down. This time Curley did.  “You sure you want to do this?”

“Yes, sir,” Curley said.  “I always vowed I wouldn’t leave the service when some doctor said I had to, but when I decided it was time.”

“Doc…?”

Curley shook his head.  “But he ordered tests.”

“He’s always ordering tests, Chief.  You know that.”

Again, Curley shook his head.  “Skipper, I know what I felt on that island.  How I felt.  With your help, I made it, but the next time someone may die because I wasn’t able to do my job.”

“You saved my life on that island, Curley,” Lee said softly.  “They would have found me and killed me if not for you.”

“Maybe, maybe not, sir, but when I slipped from the canoe….”

Lee nodded and pointed to his chest.  “The first time?”

“No, sir, but the worst.”

“You know, there are procedures that will fix various heart problems, Curley.”

“But not for submarine service, Skipper.  You know we have to follow strict regulations, even on Seaview.

Lee nodded again, then cursed under his breath.   Curley was invaluable. 

“Uh, sir.  I, uh, brought something.”

Crane looked back up.  Curley had a bottle of what appeared to be very good Scotch.  “That looks like something you would want to save for a retirement party when we get back to the Institute.”

“The thought crossed my mind, but, uh, Skipper, I would like to share a private drink with you.  Then the rest?  Well, that can be later, with the others.”

“Why me?”  Indeed, thought Lee, as much as they had worked together, Curley Jones had always seemed to be a bit stand-offish toward him.

“Well, Captain, let’s just say I learned something on that island.”

“I think we both did,” Lee said meaningfully.  He dug around and found a glass; couldn’t find a second glass, so he wiped out a coffee mug.

Curley poured a finger of the Scotch into each container.  “I bought this when I was in Glasgow a couple of years ago.  When I heard I’d been tapped for the Seaview.  Figured it would be for the inaugural voyage, but it just didn’t happen that way.”

“Just makes the Scotch better, Chief.”  Lee’s emotions were of sadness tinged with something else.  He couldn’t quite lay a finger on it. 

Curley raised his glass.  Lee did the same.  With a grin, he pronounced, “To the best twenty-five years a man could ever hope for.”

They clinked their glass/mug together and downed the Scotch.  Lee poured another small amount.  He had his own toast to make.  “To the best damned COB in the Navy . . . or out of it,” he said solemnly. 

Curley blushed, then drank. 

Lee downed his as well.  While he normally didn’t drink the stronger stuff like whiskey, this slid down smoothly.   Then Crane recognized the other emotion.  It was gratitude; intense gratitude to have been lucky enough to be on this boat and to know men like Curley Jones and the rest of the crew. 

“Thank you, sir,” Curley said.  “Would you keep this until we get back to Santa Barbara?”  He put the cap back on the bottle.

Lee nodded. 

I appreciate that, sir.”  Curley stood there for a moment and then said, “I, uh, better hit the sack.”

“Yeah, tomorrow we’re back on duty.  I will get this to the admiral in the morning.”  He stood up.  “I’m going to miss you, Curley,” he said softly. 

Curley grinned.  “I’ll be here until we get back to the Institute, Captain.”

Lee returned the grin.  “Indeed you will.”  Curley left and Crane gazed at the resignation request.   Finally, with a sigh, he got ready for bed. 

 

Crane woke up to banging on his door.  He jerked out of his bunk, almost hitting his head as he jumped to his feet.  Ignoring the twinge of pain in his foot, he pulled on his pants.  The banging continued.  “Come in,” he called. 

Kowalski, eyes large and face pale, rushed in as Lee grabbed his shirt.  “Sir, Chief Jones….”

Lee felt his heart squeeze in horror. 

“Curley is dead, Skipper!”

“When, how?” Crane asked.  But he felt he already knew the answers. 

“Doc says he had a heart attack while he was sleeping.  He’s in sick bay, sir.”

“I’ll be right there,” Lee answered, following Ski out the door, buttoning his shirt as he rushed down the corridor.  Curley had known.  Somehow, he had known.  Even though he had tendered his resignation, he had beaten it and died in the service he loved so much….

 

After the funeral, most of the crewmembers took over the largest bar and grill in Santa Barbara—Lucky Joe’s.   Crane brought the bottle with him that Curley had left him that night.  It wouldn’t go around to all the men here, but the toast would be viable nonetheless.  The bartender gazed in shock at the 100 men crowded into his establishment and then called into the back room for the waitresses to bring out all the glasses they had.  He saw Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane, who ordered a dozen bottles of the same type of whiskey that the captain had in his hand. 

When the glasses had been passed around and a small amount of whiskey poured into each glass, Lee gazed at the admiral.  He had not told Nelson about Curley’s visit, nor had he mentioned the resignation.  That piece of paper had ended up shredded in his garbage can.  Somehow he felt it was Nelson who should give the first toast.  However, to his surprise, the admiral deferred to the captain of the boat.  Lee raised his glass and the others did the same.  He was about to make the same toast he had voiced in his cabin, but then he hesitated, lowering his arm.  The men gazed at him expectantly, the admiral looked concerned, but still the words stuck in his throat.  He looked over the assemblage.  Most of these men had known the chief far longer than he had. 

Then he saw a figure move at the fringes of the crowd of men, a man he recognized, and he stared for the briefest of moments, incredulous.  Oh, Curley, you left too soon.   The figure smiled and half saluted, half waved and then wiped his hand over his face, in a move that Lee found so characteristic of the chief.  He couldn’t help it, he grinned at the spectral figure and raised his glass in Curley’s direction.  And in a voice hardly more than a whisper, Lee said, “To Curley Jones—what greater privilege than to call you friend.” 

Only the clink of 100 glasses broke the respectful silence.  The figure waved again and was gone.

 

Rest in Peace, Henry Kulky and CPO Curley Jones

 

 

 

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