Loloa Fononga:
The Long Journey

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

 

“Sorry, Admiral,” Lee replied contritely.

“Sorry, my deep six!  You meant it and in hindsight, you were right to do it.”  Johnson sighed and leaned back in his chair.  “By the way, I’m fine.  This is your executive officer’s blood mostly.”   Lee gazed at him and started to ask about Chip when the admiral started talking again.   “Lee, if anyone owes an apology, it’s me,” he said softly.  “I heard enough of that tape to make me deeply ashamed to think that I had any part of such a heinous activity.  I am so sorry about your mother.”

“You didn’t know he was a double agent, sir.”

“No, but he was part of my staff.”  The admiral took a deep breath.  “If it’s any consolations, I would be almost positive he wasn’t part of an enemy regime when he joined ONI.”

“You’re right, sir.  No consolation at all.”  Johnson frowned, but didn’t say anything and finally nodded.  “How is Chip—Commander Morton?” Lee ventured.

“Asking about you before they loaded him up. Things were happening so fast, but I think that the bullet he took would have been in my chest if he hadn’t barged out of that elevator first.  Just pushed me out of the way,” the admiral said.  “They assured me he would be all right and able to resume his duties in a few weeks if the surgery goes all right.”

“Good,” Crane replied, relieved. 

“Captain, while we’re here alone, I would like a preliminary, bare bones report of this afternoon’s operation.”

“Operation?”

“You may not have been doing anything official, but you came out here with a specific purpose.  All the makings of an operation to me.”

Lee nodded and gave the admiral an overview of what he and Chip had done since arriving in Maryland.

Johnson rubbed his chin in thought for a couple of minutes.  “Harriman didn’t see fit to contact me because he felt communications within the office would most likely be compromised.”

“Yes, sir.  Otherwise, he would have briefed you.”  Seeing Johnson’s contemplative look, he added.  “He told me he trusted you.  I felt the same way.”

“You two may have trusted me, but not my staff.  I’m going to have to call in all our agents who are in dangerous assignments. Hartsfield compromised our whole operation.”

“I would suppose so, sir.” Lee pondered his promise to Hartsfield and his feelings that he hadn’t done enough to prevent the traitor’s escape. How could he make good his pledge?  Not only was he not a part of ONI anymore, but his future with the Navy was still in doubt despite reassurances from Admiral Nelson.  “Admiral Johnson?”

“Yes, Lee?”

“If I get a re-evaluation on my fitness report and I pass, I would like you to consider reassignment on ONI’s call up list.”

“Like before?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You do realize that future assignments won’t necessarily get you within reach of Hartsfield,” Johnson pointed out.

“But I would have a better chance than if I wasn’t part of the intelligence community.”

“And you can’t let revenge become your mantra.”

Crane nodded.  “Justice, Admiral, not revenge.”

Johnson smiled knowingly.  “Lee, that always was your watch phrase. That and honor.”  He gazed into the eyes of the man who had been one of his best part-time operatives. “All right, Captain, consider yourself back on board, but you have to know that anyone who can take on stairs like you did back in the ONI building would certainly be considered fit enough to captain a boat.”

“I hope so, sir,” Lee said, relieved at how the conversation had gone. 

Several other people came in the waiting room, led by the nurse who had brought him. They sat down nervously, trying to be as unobtrusive in their perusal of the two military men as possible.  Lee assumed that they were related to the woman Hartsfield had gunned down. His appearance would startle the most unflappable and he wished he had something to change into.

As though having read his mind, the nurse approached him, a bundle in her arms.  “Captain, I brought you something to change into, since your clothes are in such bad shape.  They’re only scrubs but should be comfortable anyway.”

“Thank you, Nurse….”

“Lynnea Morris, and you’re welcome.”  She turned to the admiral.  “I can get you a shirt if you’d like, Admiral.”

“No, thank you, Ms Morris, I’ll be leaving as soon as I find out how my people are.” 

She nodded and carried the clothing to the men’s restroom where she left them on the edge of the sink.  “Do you need help changing?” she asked.

Lee shook his head.  “But thanks anyway.”

She smiled and left.  When he returned to the waiting room, a doctor was talking to the others.  “Ensign Romero is still in surgery, but so far everything is going as well as it can.  Her head surgeon will come out and talk to you when the operation is over.”  He turned to Lee and the admiral.  He acknowledged Admiral Johnson and then turned to Lee.  “You are Captain Crane?”

Lee nodded.  “Chip?  I mean, Commander Morton?”

“I was his surgeon, Captain.  Commander Morton is in recovery and should be waking up soon.  His operation went very well.  The bullet did a minimum of damage and we are very optimistic about a full and speedy recovery.”

“When do I get to see him?” Lee asked anxiously. 

“When he is conscious enough to recognize you, Captain.”  The doctor paused.  “I was told that none of his family is here.”

“No, Doctor.  Chip and I flew in together from the Pacific.  His family is mainly in the Midwest.”

The doctor nodded.  “A nurse will let you know when he can have someone with him.” 

Lee thanked him and sat down with a relieved sigh.

“You want me to contact the admiral?” Johnson asked.

“No, sir.  I would like to call him myself, if you don’t mind.” 

“Of course, Lee.”

 

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

 

Nelson made his second “walk through the boat” and then tried to relax in the observation nose with a cigarette.  Doc, sitting next to him, frowned in disapproval but said nothing. 

“I’m worried, Doc.”

“I can tell,” Jamieson said dryly, taking a sip of his coffee.  He looked at his watch.  Eight o’clock.  That would make it midnight on the east coast. 

“You, too.”  The admiral had a knowing smile. 

“Yes, Admiral, me, too.”

“Admiral.”  It was Sparks on the intercom.   “Incoming call from Maryland.  Through the Institute and non-scrambled, sir.”

“Pipe it down here in the nose, Sparks.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Admiral?” It was Lee.

“Are you all right, Lee?”

“A bit the worse for wear, but all right. Package has been lost, though.” He sounded disheartened. 

So Hartsfield had gotten away. Nelson wasn’t sure, for his captain’s sake if that was good or bad.  “What do you mean, worse for wear?”

“Chip just got out of surgery. He was shot in the upper chest. I just got winged. My leg. They said Chip is doing quite well.”

Nelson and Doc both let out sighs of relief. “Good,” Harriman said.

“They haven’t let me see him yet. Admiral Johnson is here, too. He’s waiting to hear what the doctors have to say about one of his staffers who had been shot.”

Nelson figured that he and Johnson would need to do some serious talking, but now was probably not the time. 

“Just do what they say, Captain,” Doc said solemnly.

Crane’s voice sounded a bit more upbeat when he answered. “Of course, Doc. There’s too many of them here for me to do otherwise.”

The admiral had to suppress a smile. Lee was going to be all right, he decided. “Well, please let me know more later, Lee.”

Aye, aye, sir. I have to go now. I think they’re going to let me see Chip now. And I still have to call his family.”

“Tell him we’re all rooting for him,” Nelson replied. 

“I will, Admiral,” Lee said and then signed off.

 

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

 

When Lee walked into the recovery room, Chip regarded him sleepily. He said nothing for awhile and then, “I . . . I was beginning to wonder about the medical care around . . . around here.”

Lee was puzzled for a moment, then it dawned on him.  He was in scrubs.  On crutches.  “Ha, ha, Mr. Morton.”  He stood by the bed.  “I, uh, got a hold of your mom before I came in.  She’ll be arriving tomorrow.  She and the rest of the family send their love.”

Chip just sighed. “Next time you do James Bond stuff, count me out.”

Lee grinned.  Chip’s complaining about the spy work was getting to be a routine. “You chose your friends, pal.”

Chip smiled but didn’t say anything else. After a couple of moments, Lee knew he had gone back to sleep. Finding a chair, Lee made himself comfortable near the bed. About a half an hour later, Chip roused again. “What happened down there?”

The question took Lee a little by surprise. Apparently he had been dozing himself. “Hartsfield grabbed a hostage, used her to get to his car and take off.” Lee decided that he could give more details later when Chip was more aware.

“But not before he got you, too….”

Lee snorted. “I got the better deal, although it’s of small consolation. He about killed the woman he had grabbed.”

Chip didn’t answer, but roused enough in another half hour to answer the doctor’s questions.  They transferred him to a regular room and Lee sedately followed.  Several hours later, Chip woke more fully, demanding his bed be raised so he could more easily talk. 

“How bad?” he asked, gazing at Lee’s leg. 

“In and out.  Simple.  If there weren’t so many nurses around, I wouldn’t even be on these things.” 

Chip began laughing, but thought better of it. “So he got away.”

“Yeah.”

“But you nailed him.”

“Yes, don’t think he’ll be doing any watch repair in the future.”  Chip smiled. “You had me worried, Chip. Took forever to find out that you were even still alive. Hartsfield said he’d killed you. Admiral Johnson said you took the bullet meant for him back there.”

“I don’t know about that, but Hartsfield was in the lobby when the admiral and I went down the elevator.  We figured he’d be heading there when the guard called and said he’d shot it out with you in the garage.”

“Well, it’s over now.  You just concentrate on getting better.” 

“He doesn’t stand a chance, Lee. You couldn’t have done him more damage if you had bound and gagged him. Killing him would have been merciful,” Chip said. He yawned and went back to sleep. Lee pondered that last bit of Morton philosophy while his friend slept. 

 

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Two weeks later, Lee Crane sat comfortably in the Admiral’s cabin nursing a mug of fresh coffee.  He and Chip had returned on the Flying Sub only a few hours before.  Climbing aboard the Gray Lady had thrilled him more than he could have imagined.  It had been a very busy two weeks while Chip had recovered, with a great deal of it in debriefing with ONI. There had been a new physical, with Doc’s input, of course. Except for consideration of his rapidly healing leg, Lee had passed with flying colors. He had to be very grateful for the time he had spent on Hikeru.  It had toughened him up considerably. 

Sipping his coffee, Lee thought about La’ani; thought about his feelings toward her and also thought about and then dismissed Teva’s words.  What he pondered the most was how easy it had been for the enemy to kill a member of his family.  With all that swirling around in his mind, he wasn’t sure what to do.  He also had to consider Meeka who had seen only a negligible part of him these past seven months.  His first duty; his first need, was to protect her.  There was also the boat, now that he had received his command back.  How could he even pretend to give La’ani anything?  Maybe if she lived stateside.  But that, too, was wishful thinking.  La’ani had her own obligations, her own ‘crew’ she was duty bound to serve. 

Lee sighed.  He felt himself torn, but still he knew where his path led.  Until he had found Hartsfield, until he and Meeka had become comfortable with their relationship….  He couldn’t try to do any more than what he was doing now.  Everything else, God willing, would follow. 

Harriman gazed at his newly returned captain, who was so deep in thought he was letting his coffee get cold.  He had noticed immediately that Lee wasn’t wearing his ever-present ring.   Somehow, he thought he knew what Lee was thinking.  “Well, lad, how does it feel to be back home?”

Home, Lee thought.  Yes, he was indeed home. “Great, Admiral.”

“Oh, by the way, this came for you a few days ago.” He tossed the small parcel to Lee, who deftly caught it. He brightened considerably when he saw the return on it. “From La’ani?” he asked hesitantly. 

“Yeah!” Lee exclaimed without thought and tore open the package. Inside he found his wallet, keys and a note.  ‘I thought you might need these.  You noticed that I did not make you come back for them, although I wanted to.  I have been very worried about you since you left Hikeru.  Please, do not forget to write. You know that you are welcome anytime, as is Seaview. I love you, La’ani.’

“Good, I see that you’re now legal to drive the boat,” Nelson said sardonically as he watched the play of emotions on Crane’s face. It gave credence to his suspicions. 

“Captain,” a voice came over the intercom. It was the radio shack. 

Lee leaned over and pushed a button. “Yes, Calloway?”

“I have an incoming call for you, sir. Uncoded, private.”

“Go ahead and pipe it down here to the admiral’s cabin,” he said. 

“Yes, sir,” Calloway replied. “Go ahead, ma’am.”

“Lee?”

Lee’s eyes widened as La’ani’s melodious voice came through the communicator and then he grinned, all previous conclusions forgotten. “La’ani, you got a radio system!”

 

 

Fini.....  for now.

 

 

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