by Helen H. 








It’s a good thing Admiral Nelson couldn’t see the guy whose reflection stared back from the bathroom mirror.  Lee Crane almost didn’t recognize himself. 


The gash across his left hairline was healing nicely, and, with his hair combed in just the right direction, barely noticeable.  It was the two black eyes that were hard to overlook, being puffy and purple, with green edges to the bruises.  In a way, it was funny, he thought, pushing on the skin on his forehead, wincing.  Never in a million years could he have expected the cook who wasn’t a cook to grab the first thing that came to hand as the ONI team burst through the door of the cantina: a very large and very full can of pinto beans.  It had caught him right across both eyebrows.  A half an inch lower and he’d have a broken nose.  That hadn’t occurred to him until much later, more occupied with stumbling backwards in pain and slamming into the busted door while his team grabbed the guy before he could find some other kind of missile to throw. Luckily, the admiral wasn’t due back from Washington for a few more days.  Most of the damage would be gone by then.  Nelson didn’t need another reason for fighting to get him off ONI duties. 


A back muscle contracted, and unthinkingly he twisted his torso, immediately regretting the movement and the resulting ripple of pain deep in his right side. He was black and blue there, too.  At least no ribs had been broken in the ensuing fight with the other members of the gang they’d surprised.   A fist-swinging bruiser had attacked him while he struggled to get upright from what was left of the door.  Ducking the punch, he’d slipped and fallen again, bashing his ribcage and wrenching his knee against the side of a metal cook table.  Probably when he’d twisted his left wrist, too, he figured.  The mission was all pretty much of a blur, first from hitting his head on the hatch of the ‘copter as it hovered over the beach they’d picked for the drop zone, and then the decking by a can of beans.  Stitches from the one, and painful, discolored skin from the other.  Just his luck.


He tugged on the black t-shirt, pulling it down over the heavy bandage around his torso, tucking it into the black pair of swim trunks.  He probably should have told Jenny there was no way he was going to make it to her department’s Halloween party, but he knew how disappointed she would be if they weren’t part of the costume contest.  She had picked his costume out especially for him, saying that since he was as skinny as a beanpole it would be perfect.  They were going as a skeleton bride and groom.  He hoped she didn’t get any ideas.  That was never going to happen.


Removing the costume from its box, Lee sat down on the edge of the tub and began pulling it over his feet, wincing and grunting.  The scratches on his shins were healing nicely, he had to admit.  The poison ivy he’d brushed against while tramping through the jungle had only found a couple of spots on his legs.  That wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t torn his pants coming off that damn helicopter.  The thing was out to get him that day, definitely.


Pulling the hood over his face, he contemplated his skeletal self.  The eyeholes were perfectly aligned with the bruises.  Jenny wouldn’t have to use the makeup she’d bought.   He pulled down on his chin and rotated it a bit, grimacing.  The crack he’d taken to his jaw from one of the other ‘kitchen workers’ barely hurt anymore, but it still hurt.   The guy had packed quite a punch.  Luckily, it hadn’t loosened any teeth.


Picking up his keys, limping just the littlest bit, Lee headed for the door.  He smiled broadly and then grimaced, still aching in many places.  From head to toe, there were reminders of every scrape, bruise, and scratch he’d received on this mission.  He sure hoped they’d pick up some kind of prize from the costume contest.  That would make Jenny very, very happy.  What he had to do, to have a good time!