Loloa Fononga:
The Long Journey

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

With a growl of irritation, Harriman studied the copy of the paper that had been sent to Lee.  He assumed that Doc’s copy also included a more detailed copy of the physical.  “Do you recognize the name of the doctor in charge of the physical?”

Doc shook his head.  “No, but I do know some very highly placed doctors in Washington.  They would most likely know.”

“Good.  Check into it, Jamie.  I think I’ll see if Jigg’s might know anything.”

The other two men gazed at him expectantly.  Nelson sighed, knowing Chip felt damned awkward right now and no wonder.  The XO was placed right in the center of this maelstrom.  “Chip, I think you and the chief need to supervise the preparations for our next mission.”

“But what about Lee?” Morton asked.

“I don’t think this is going to be straightened out before we sail.  And even if it is, we haven’t a clue as to where the captain is.  You will simply assume command just as you have anytime Lee’s been off ship.  I would suggest, though, that the less said to the crew about this, the better.”

Chip nodded.  “Fine with me, sir.”  He paused, not knowing exactly what else to say and certainly not how to say it.  “Admiral….”

“Commander Morton, would you meet me this evening at the Dragon Pagoda?  I might have news and I think there are some things we need to discuss more deeply.”

“Aye, sir.”  Chip was grateful.  He did want to talk to the admiral alone.

Soon the admiral was left alone with his thoughts and they weren’t in the least pleasant.  All he could think about was where was his captain?  He wished Lee had stopped to talk to him, but he understood very well why he might not.  What irritated him the most was the fact that Lee might feel he approved of this action or had been aware of it.  Anger flared more hotly and Harriman pressed the intercom.  “Angie.”

“Yes, Admiral?”

“Get Admiral Starke for me.”

“Yes, sir.”

Doc wasn’t around anymore, so Harriman opened a small drawer and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.  He looked at them and paused.  Then with a muttered, “What the hell,” he pulled a cigarette out and lit it.  He hadn’t taken more than one puff when Angie announced that she had admiral Starke on the phone.  He stuffed the cigarette in the ashtray by his elbow and pushed the button.  The speakerphone came to life with angry static. 

“I’ve been hearing some scuttlebutt for the past couple of months that I don’t like, Harry,” Jiggs Starke’s voice boomed into the room.  “What’s going on?”

“What have you heard, Jiggs?” Harriman countered. 

“About you or your captain?”

Nelson’s eyes widened in surprise.  “Me?” he asked.

Starke snorted.  “Actually, we are talking about almost the same thing.  You came back from Alaska without all your memory-slash-faculties and can’t run the Institute.  And Captain Crane is having health-slash-mental problems since his stay in the South Pacific and isn’t fit to command.”

Harriman paused in shock for a moment before speaking.  “Only a kernel of truth in the whole thing.  However, after his last physical, Lee was declared unfit to command the Seaview and was relieved of duty.”

“And I assume that Jamieson wasn’t the medical officer in charge of the examination process.”  The voice was almost strident with anger. 

“Of course not, Jiggs.  Jamie would have insisted that Lee take some R & R and then he would have reexamined him if it had been necessary,” Harriman declared. 

“Don’t bite, Harry.  I’m on your side.”

Nelson sighed.  “To be honest, Lee’s done quite well in his recovery after Hikeru, but the one, two punch of my disappearance and then his mother’s sudden death stacked on top of each other….”

“Yes, I heard about that.  Damn shame.”

“Well, he just needed a little time.  I honestly didn’t know about this fitness for duty exam until after it had happened.”

“I have a source that’s saying someone was mighty peeved that Lee up and quit ONI,” Starke suggested. 

“Actually, Lee told them to go to hell.  But yes, I was wondering about that,” he said.  “It just seems so . . . well, just so….”

“Petty?  I don’t know.  I think the term blackballing comes to mind.”

Nelson took a deep breath.  “Yes, so what do we do about it?  Morton is feeling guilty because Seaview has been put in his lap and Lee is gone to heaven only knows where.”

“I will put out my tentacles and we’ll get to the bottom of this.  By that time Captain Crane will have had that serious R & R and will be ready for a real physical—one that will show more accurately his ability to command Seaview.  And believe me, someone will hear about this bucking of protocol.”

“Jiggs, I have no question as to his ability to command.  He was simply gut-punched by ONI and then by real life.  Even the active duty services have a contingency for those kinds of situations.”

“Yes, at the very least Captain Crane should be able to request a review and re-exam in a month,” Starke mused.   “But I can’t help but believe that someone behind all of this knew our captain rather well.”

“I agree, Jiggs. If it had been one of the crewmen, Lee would have been bouncing off the bulkheads to make sure all avenues were considered.  But for himself?  No, he would just feel that it was for the best and that the crew would be better off.”

“Especially considering the latest developments,” Starke added sourly.  “Crane is a fighter.  I think when some time has passed and we find out what really happened to knock the foundation out from under him, he’ll come up ready to scrap.”

“We have to find him first,” Nelson reminded him.

“Left no clue as to where he was going?”

“No.  He didn’t talk to anyone except Chief Sharkey and his foster daughter, Meeka.  He only told Francis he might go someplace he’d always wanted to go. He told Meeka he’d call her when he got where he was going.”

“Hmm,” Starke murmured.  “Not much info there.”

“No, I thought I’d contact his aunt, although I doubt he’ll visit family this time.”

“Well, Harry, I will contact a few friends and bait the hook.  We’ll see what rises to bite.”

“I appreciate that, Jiggs.  I only want my captain back.”  He paused.  “And my friend.”

“So do I.  Lee’s a good man and belongs at the helm of your Gray Lady.”  He paused for a long enough period that Harriman thought Jiggs had quietly broken the connection.  Then his friend spoke again, “He’s done too much; given too much to be treated this way.”

Nelson could say nothing—there was nothing else to say.

 

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

 

Dr. Will Jamieson scrutinized the doctor’s report.  Yes, he had seen the signs of increased hypertension, he had seen the evidence of appetite loss, was not surprised at the low iron level.  To think that the recent loss of his mother wouldn’t affect his psyche exam was ludicrous.  The visual acuity was off slightly, too.  Jamieson assumed that Lee had not used the eye drops Wilkie had prescribed following the captain’s abuse at the hands of his torturer earlier in the year.  Nothing on the exam figures deviated greatly from the minimums.   The iron count was only a half point below what was acceptable.  The blood pressure should have been taken more than once.  In fact, Doc wondered if the BP had been near the end of the exam, after the questions that he knew would have irritated Lee.  And another ugly thought came to him; could this doctor have taken the blood pressure more than once and only used the higher reading?

He looked more closely at the figures and notes and then shook his head.  Lee had been blind-sided by someone consciously looking to scrub him from sub service.  Was it the examining doctor himself or was it someone else who gave the directive?  There was only one way to find out.  Doc reached for his phone and then stopped.  If this was a sort of plot as the admiral suspected, perhaps a less traceable phone call would be in order. 

Doc unlocked a special drawer and pulled out the modified wireless mobile phone the admiral had been working on.  It was based on designs developed by another man, but this was strictly for Institute use.  He put in the access code and then dialed the number.  Conventional phone surveillance devices would be unable to trace this phone.  Smiling grimly in anticipation, he plugged the phone to a tape recorder. 

“Hello, Commander Marcum’s office.  May I ask who’s calling?” the receptionist asked. 

Without missing a beat, Jamieson replied, “Surgeon General’s office.  I need to talk to Dr. Marcum.”  Lee wasn’t the only one who could dissemble.

“One moment, please.”

Doc waited.  “Dr. Marcum speaking.”

“Yes, Dr. Francis Marcum?  I have the physical report for Commander Lee B. Crane, Captain of the SSRN Seaview in front of me and I’d like to go over a few points with you.”

There was abject silence on the other end for more than a few heartbeats.  Even the static was quiet.  Then, “Who is this?”

“Commander Will Jamieson, CMO of the Seaview.  I think if you cooperate, sir, we can make this a pleasant experience.  If not, I may have to start malpractice proceedings.”

Another silence.  “On what basis would you charge malpractice, doctor?”

“Is this a secure line?”

“I believe so.  Why?”

“Just being paranoid, but then the future of my captain is on the line, too.”  Jamieson took a breath, at the same time quickly gathering his thoughts.   “I base conclusions on the fact that you didn’t consult with his regular physician—me—before submitting your recommendations.  That you didn’t request background.  That you based your conclusions on such slight deviations.  I could go on, Doctor.”   Doc paused for effect.  “I guess malpractice is rather ugly, but I certainly could lay groundwork here for an ethics charge.”

There was a deep sigh on the other end.  “I didn’t put down anything that wasn’t true.  The man isn’t fit to command a tuna boat much less the largest research submarine in the world.”

“Doctor, how much of Captain Crane’s background did you know before this physical?”

“I didn’t, Dr. Jamieson.  I was told to proceed without it.”

“Did you know that the captain had buried his mother just one week before the physical?  No siblings; father dead twenty-five or so years.”

There was a long pause on the other end.  “I had been told he was coming from a funeral, but wasn’t informed that it was a close family member.  I asked about it, but he pretty much clammed up on me.  More or less told me to just do the physical.”

“Yes, that would be typical.  The captain doesn’t take much to opening up to strangers.”  Jamieson paused.  “Just what were you told, Commander?  And didn’t you think it was a bit strange that you were asked to do a physical on a reserve officer from a west coast duty station?”

Marcum sounded a bit defensive.  “I was ordered to do the physical, Doctor Jamieson.  I was told the captain had been successful in hiding some serious conditions that had the potential of endangering everyone on his submarine.”

“Shows how little you know about Captain Crane.  Of course, that’s probably why you were chosen for this task.  If you knew anything about Lee Crane, you’d know that while he does take risks, it’s in behalf of those men.  If he thought his fitness, or lack thereof, would bring harm to his crew or the submarine, he would be the first to back off.”  Well, most of the time,” Doc amended mentally. 

“I was told to do a thorough physical—one that would determine his fitness to command a very dangerous and delicate mission,” Marcum said, his voice a little more unsure.

“What delicate and dangerous mission?” Doc demanded. 

“I wasn’t given details.”

Doc rubbed his chin.  “Sounds to me like you were used a little bit, too,” he mused aloud.  “Who ordered the test?”

“Not at liberty to say, Doctor.  But it came from the Department of Defense, Naval Command.”

Doc’s eyes widened.  “Can you give me a phone number?”

There was a long pause.  “Are you saying Captain Crane hasn’t failed a fitness physical before?

“Yes, I am.  The captain has been put on administrative or medical leave when he’s been hurt, but I have never blind-sided him with an official physical when he’s still recuperating from injuries.”

“Injuries?”

“If you had requested his records, you would have known of those, Doctor Marcum.”

“I did, and there was nothing on the records to indicate anything from the past year that would have been cause to delay a physical.  In fact it was those records that showed deficiencies on previous exams,” Marcum said stoutly. 

“From whom did you request those?”  The alarm bells were sounded furiously.   This definitely was a setup job.

“Nelson Institute of Marine Research, Doctor Jamieson.”

“I was never notified.  I think someone has pulled a fast one, because the captain was seriously injured during a covert operation about five months ago.”

“Regardless, Doctor Jamieson, I was told to do the physical cold—to determine fitness now!”

“What did you do with those records when you finished the exam?”

“I returned them as requested, of course.”

Damn! Doc thought.  If he had those in his hands, he would have all that he needed to not only show some kind of devious plot, but to allow Lee to have the physical redone immediately.  “I would still like that number, Doctor Marcum.” 

“I will have to think about it, Commander.”

“Please don’t think too long, Doctor.  I might be tempted to check into making a report to the medical review board.”

There was an audible gasp at the other end.  “You wouldn’t dare!”  And then the phone went dead.

“Oh, yes, I would,” Doc muttered to the dead line.

 

 

 

Chapter Four
Chapter One
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