Foam on the Large Wave

 

(Fisi 'o e nauaoam)

 

 

 

  Chapter 11

 

Neither of them said a word for several minutes, but her hand continued to linger on his.  He felt her eyes traveling down his lean frame, and remembered how, when he was growing up, she had always said that he needed to fill out.  The ticking of the little cat-faced wall clock was the only sound breaking the silence.  Her hand pulled away slightly and Lee looked up to see her eyes still on his face.  “At least your father had the good sense to stay on the surface, for all the good it did him.”

Lee smiled, but it was short lived. 

“I didn’t even have a body to bury,” she went on and Lee’s heart chilled. 

Only witnesses could verify that Benjamin Crane had died when the larger boat had slammed into his.  The body had been swept away in the under currents of the bay.   “I know, Mom.”  His voice was soft; Lee was remembering his own grief.  That had haunted his dreams for several years.  They had a memorial service with an empty flag-draped coffin, his father having been a veteran of World War II, as well as a fifteen-year veteran of the fire department.  Lee had not cried then; he couldn’t, guilt had squeezed his heart too tightly to allow tears.  

“I still feel the hurt that you went against my wishes, Lee, and got that appointment to Annapolis,” she said, almost repeating what she had said only a few moments ago.

It was the never-ending argument.  So old, no winner.  “I know, Mom,” Lee had said, laying his own hurt on the table.  “And it hurt that I had no one by my side at the Mother’s Reception when I graduated.”

Nora started but didn’t say anything.  Lee glanced at her and almost imperceptibly shook his head.  She had offered to take Allison’s place, but Lee, in his stubborn pride, had refused.    Lee sighed.  “Please, Mother, we both hurt.  It was painful, still is painful, for both of us.  But somehow, because . . . because we love each other, we have to come to some kind of understanding.  We have to accept and go on.  Even if it’s partial acceptance, that’s okay.”  He paused.  “I need to know that you are praying for my success as well as for my safety.”

She stared into his eyes; eyes that he had been told were so much like his father’s.  “But I do pray for you, Lee.”

“To find something safe to do,” Nora had said dryly.  His mother had glared at her, but Nora didn’t flinch.  “Allison, it’s time to accept the fact that Lee is more like his father every day.”   Allison nodded.   “Yes,” Nora added.  “And he’s courageous, stubborn, determined and . . . and very happy where he is and with what he’s done so far in his life.”  She looked apologetically at her nephew, but he stayed silent.  “Do you know that with this command, Lee’s the youngest submarine captain in U.S. Naval history?” Nora went on.

His mother looked startled and then studied Lee again.  “No,” she said weakly.  “You are?”

Lee nodded, feeling self-conscious. 

“And you truly want to go down underwater in that kind of ship?”

Lee smiled.  “Not a ship, Mom.  Submarines are ‘boats.’”

Nora had suddenly burst out laughing, breaking the tension as nothing else could have.  “He told me the same thing when he was assigned to the Nautilus,” she said, still laughing. 

Allison Crane studied him with new eyes, as though she hadn’t really seen him since before he had gone to the Naval Academy.  

And in reality, she hadn’t.  He had only come by occasionally after his appointment.  Kind of a familial duty at holidays when he couldn’t get out of it.  His mother’s hand encircled his; the one with his father’s ring on it.  She nodded.  “You are so much like your father.  You look like him; enough to make me wonder if I had gone back in time.  And your eyes have the same intensity, the same conviction to do what’s best.”  She looked away and another tear escaped from beneath closed eyelids.  “I have to learn to live with your choices.”

“Mom, I would like you to not just live with my choice,” he said softly. 

She studied him again.  “The youngest submarine commander?”  He nodded.  “I am proud of you, Lee.  I always knew that whatever you chose, you would excel init,” she whispered.  “But I will never, ever stop being afraid.”

Lee pulled back enough to take a sip of the now cold coffee, but he continued to look deeply into his mother’s eyes.  He laid the cup down.  “Let me include you in a secret, Mom,” he said.  “Sometimes I am, too.”

She nodded.  “Your father used to say something like.”

“He did?”

“Yes.  He so worried that he would make a wrong decision and cause an injury or death to one of the men on his watch.”

Lee remembered how startled he had been at that moment.  He felt the same emotions.  Oh, God, how he had felt the same emotions!

“I see, by your face, you have the same concerns, son.”

“What did you tell him?” Lee asked softly, leaning forward.

“I told him to always listen to his heart and do what is right.”  She smiled.  “And I give you the same advice.”

“Thanks,” Lee murmured, feeling a peculiar contentment steal over him.  The rest of the day had been filled with laughter and casual bantering.  And he had, after all the years in the Navy, finally had a chance to get some of the cooking that he had remembered fondly as a kid. 

When he had left the next day, dressed in his stiffly pressed khakis, she perused him top to bottom and then made him and Nora wait while she ran back into the house.  Quickly she came back out, a camera in her hand.  Motioning Nora out of the way, she took Lee’s picture.  Then she had almost literally thrown herself into his arms.   “It took too long, Lee.  Please don’t wait so long to see me next time.”

“I won’t, but don’t wait so long to invite me, either,” he said with a happy smile. 

“I’m still not totally reconciled to this, but I accept your choice and I am proud of what you’ve done with it,” she whispered.  When she drew back, she added, “And I know your father would be proud as well.”

He had nodded, unable to speak.  The next time he had visited, the picture she had taken was next to Dad’s in his fireman’s dress uniform. 

A needle’s prick jerked that dream/remembrance away.  “Memories of home, eh?” Mendon’s voice mocked.  “Enjoy them.  You won’t have them very long.”  He laughed and Lee felt his blood rising hotly to his face.  It boiled past his fear and raged beyond his endurance.

Without opening his eyes, Crane struck, his right hand grabbing fabric and jerking it close.  Mendon spluttered, beating him with fists that were ineffectual against Lee’s rage. 

He said quietly, but very succinctly, “Mendon, wherever you go when you die, I will follow you.  Even to the bowels of hell.  And if I die first, I’ll be waiting for you.”

Then as strong hands grabbed at him, Lee shoved Mendon away from him.  His breath was in panting gasps, his insides roiling with sudden pain and nausea, and this time he was unable to control it.  Heaving until there was nothing left, Lee sank back into the depths of semi-consciousness.  Again, there were the monsters and the demons, but interspersed there were glimpses of his father.  “Courage, son.  Hang in there.”  And he remembered no more. 

 

Lee awoke to someone cleaning him up.  The cool cloth felt refreshing against his face and chest.  Through slitted eyes, he saw that it was Teva and Na’alu.  “Careful, guys,” he murmured.  “I may be contagious.” 

They looked apprehensively at him and then at Mendon, who simply laughed coldly.  “Maybe in time, Captain, if you live that long.  You see, that is my next step after I get the information from you that the Leader wants so badly.  To make this agent self-replicating.  I am so close, so very close.”   Mendon stroked his goatee and laughed as the two Polynesians visibly relaxed.    “You tried to goad me by comparing me to Dr. Mengele.  You have no idea who I am, Captain.  Dr. Mengele was the most audacious, forward thinking scientist of his day.  He dared to do things that no one else had the drive or the courage to do.”

“He was a slipshod scientist at best.  He was only interested in sadistic and barbarous torture,” Lee shot back.   Mendon’s stinging slap across his face didn’t surprise him, but it had his ears ringing for a few minutes.   Crane ignored it.  “He breathed misery, his cologne was the stench of burning flesh.  His pleasure was….”

Again, Lee was struck with a blow that left him only half conscious. 

“I will do things that Dr. Mengele only dreamed of, Captain.  Not even the Republic allowed me the freedom to continue his experiments as I have been able to do here….”   Lee finally slipped into a blessed, pain free unconsciousness.  

 

                      ================================

 

Harriman gazed at the specifications on his desk for the new propulsion unit, but he wasn’t really seeing them.  He kept coming back to the idea that one of the two men they had brought on board was an agent of the man ONI had set out to find.  Chip had questioned his sanity on having either man on board.  But there had been no time for Prandjit to train him on the use of the machine that would extract the information from Lee’s mind.  And Ajaamil?  Well, if the men were on board the Seaview they couldn’t be sending information to Bomar. Their cabins and their belongings had been scanned and triple scanned, and each man had been subjected to a strip search upon boarding the sub.  Each one also had a shadow, day and night.

There was a knock on his door.  Sighing, the admiral set the pencil down, rolled up the blueprints and placed them in his wall safe.  The knock came again.  “Come in,” he said.  It was Chip.  He looked exasperated as well as anxious.

“Admiral?”

“Sit down, Chip,” Nelson said.  “What’s bothering you?”

The exec dropped into the chair with a sigh.  “Prandjit.  He’s driving everyone nuts.”

“In what way?”  Nelson was puzzled.  That was not the complaint he expected.

“Looking everywhere.  Asking questions.  Making suggestions.”

“Making suggestions?”

“Mainly Cookie and Doc, but the CMO is ready to put the sick bay off limits to him.”

Nelson pondered.  He had been offered some of the Nepalese man’s tea and assumed that others had been introduced to the brew’s merits as well.  “Been around the radioman a lot?”

“Like wanting to send a message?” Chip asked.  Nelson nodded.  “No,” the exec answered.

Nelson rubbed his chin in thought.  “What about Ajaamil?”

“Been very quiet, stayed in his cabin most of the time.  He did ask to send a message to his brother a couple of days ago, but that’s it.”

“Request his presence here in my cabin,” the admiral said, feeling a great sense of predatory satisfaction.  He had suspected the Indian from the beginning and this morning he had received information that confirmed his suspicions.

“Ajaamil?”

“Yes.” 

Chip’s eyebrows raised in surprise.  “Why him, Admiral?”

Nelson smiled.  “Prandjit acts more like someone who is genuinely curious, kind of like a typical tourist.  And I recently received other information that leads me to Ajaamil.  I also just wanted to watch him a while.  I have been getting regular reports from Riley.”

Chip nodded.  “Aye, sir.  I’ll have Mr. Ajaamil here shortly.”

 “I think it’s time to get some information from our government courier.  See whose paying him the most.”

Again, Chip nodded.   Within a short time, Ajaamil was being escorted into the cabin.  Morton was about to leave, but Nelson motioned for him to remain. 

“What can I do for you, Admiral?” the Indian asked pleasantly.  A slight sheen of sweat on his brow seemed to belie the easy greeting.

“You can help me to clarify a few things, Mr. Ajaamil,” Nelson leaned back in his seat, his eyes boring into the dark ones across the desk from him.  “For instance, I am curious as to why you have two bank accounts—one in New Dehli and the other one a highly secret account in Switzerland.”

Ajaamil sucked in a quick breath, but then smiled softly.  “That is illegal?”

Nelson smiled and leaned back in his chair.  “No, of course not, but you are an employee of the United States government.  I used to be.  I know about pay scales.”  He continued to look steadily into the Indian’s eyes. 

“You are mistaken, Admiral,” Ajaamil said, his voice slightly unsteady.  “It is money from home.”

Without saying a word, Nelson tossed an envelope to Ajaamil.  It landed on the edge of the desk, teetering precariously.  The agent stared at it, but didn’t touch it.

“Take it, Mr. Ajaamil,” the admiral said softly.  But there was nothing soft about the tone.  Like the suddenly ice blue eyes, Nelson’s voice was steel hard.  “Take it.”   Ajaamil took the envelope.   “Open it,” the admiral ordered.

The Indian glanced for a letter opener, but there wasn’t one.  He tore the letter open with his fingers and then pulled out the contents.  He stared at the letter transfixed and then looked up at Nelson with terrified eyes. 

“I have very competent people working for me, Mr. Ajaamil, especially when they know what they are looking for.  I got this information this morning.”  Harriman paused a few moments before he continued.  “Who are you working with now?  Bomar?” Nelson queried.  Ajaamil shook his head.  The admiral leaned forward.  He was like a cobra ready to strike.  In all of this, he had felt helpless, but now, before him, he had the means to answer many questions.  And if it didn’t do anything to help Lee, at least he could find out why.   “I am authorized to use any method I need to get the additional information.  And I am in the mood to do just that,” he said quietly.  It was a voice that had made anyone from the newest seaman to the most grizzled old-timer quake in his shoes. 

That, along with the letter, seemed to shake Ajaamil deeply.  “Bomar provided my payment,” Ajaamil replied quickly.  He appeared deflated.  “But my contact is Paul Mendon.”

Nelson started in surprise and felt the fingers of horror creeping in his guts.  “Dr. Paul Mendon?”   Ajaamil nodded.   “He’s working with Bomar?”

“Yes.”  Ajaamil looked desperate.  “You will protect me from him?  He would execute me if he knew I had told you.”

“I know that,” Nelson said quietly, his voice deathly cold.  “Consider yourself lucky that I am a civilized man.  Or I might be tempted to tear you apart with my bare hands.”  He lit a cigarette and took a drag, watching as Ajaamil unraveled.  It was not unsatisfying.  “As long as you are on the Seaview you will be safe.  But who, Mr. Ajaamil, is protecting Captain Lee Crane from Mendon?”

 

 

Chapter 12
Foam on the Large Wave Prologue
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents
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