A Matter of Time
Doc (Lt. Commander Will Jamieson)
“How ‘bout you sit in a comfortable seat
rather than on the cold deck,” Chip said with a smile, standing up. He held his hand out for Lee.
“Gladly,” Lee took the extended hand and
allowed the exec to pull him to his feet.
Immediately, he stumbled and almost fell.
The strength was gone, especially in his injured leg.
“Whoa, lean on me.
That swim had to have taken quite a bit out of you,” Morton said.
Then he noticed just how much Lee was favoring his right leg.
“You pull a muscle or something?”
“Or something,” Lee said as he sank into the
nearest chair. The
blanket still around him, Lee buckled the harness and heaved a deep sigh. He was surely going to sleep well tonight.
And the thought of doing it in his own bunk was even more enticing.
Chip said nothing else,
but concentrated on the short trip to the sub.
“Seaview,” he called.
“Yes, Mr. Morton,”
“The skipper would
appreciate a dry uniform when we arrive.
And have Doc bring it.” He
had been very much aware of the scars on Lee’s back, although he
hadn’t said a word. However,
he knew Lee well enough to know that the captain wouldn’t want the crew
to see that part of his ordeal.
“Not necessary for Doc
to bring my clothes, Chip,” Lee answered automatically, but even as he
said it, he knew that Doc would be instantly aware, even as Chip had been,
that there was a problem.
“We’ll let the CMO
determine that one, Lee,” Chip said solicitously.
He eased the Flying Sub into its cradle in the belly of the
submarine. When everything
had been shut down, Chip unbuckled his harness and swiveled around to meet
Lee’s gaze. “How long
were you here?” he asked bluntly.
He motioned to Sharkey to open the hatch.
Lee did a bit of quick
figuring. “Right about six
months, give or take a day or two.”
“We are up on you a
couple of months. Took the
admiral about three months to get that damned watch put back together and
tested, and then a month of searching.
You don’t know how lucky you were.
This was the last jump we could make on the fuel we had.
And the scuttle-butt was that we wouldn’t have been able to come
“It expended that
much?” Lee asked incredulous. Somehow
he was surprised that the admiral had been able to devote that much time
to a rescue attempt. Then
he realized something. “Where
“He went on shore with
Rojas and Morales to inquire after you.
He evidently found someone with some information, because he sent
us toward Santa Rosa Island.” He
cocked his head slightly in thought.
“Why didn’t you signal us?”
No means of starting a fire on the beach, even if it hadn’t
stormed and gotten everything wet. My sailboat wrecked in the storm. I thought this might be my only chance. I think I misjudged the distance Seaview was from
“I think you did,
too,” Chip said with a smile. “But
that was quite a swim you made with a bum leg, Lee.”
It was a statement, not a question.
“Figured either that or
you had a major muscle cramp, and you didn’t act like you had that.”
Remind me to tell it to you when I’m dry, had some sleep and
gotten past Doc.”
It felt good to laugh. It
felt good to just sit and banter. “First
two are easy, the last is a bit more difficult.
And speaking of the devil….”
Doc descended the ladder
with a bundle in his arms. He
handed it to Lee, then pulled out his stethoscope, his face devoid of
emotion. But he didn’t do
anything, just stared at the captain.
“Look, Doc, I know I
need a hair cut, but, uh….”
“Skipper, you can’t
imagine just how wonderful it is to have you back on board,” Doc said,
his voice breaking slightly before he got down to business.
“Yes, I can,” Crane
answered fervently. Suddenly,
he was eager to get out of the Flying Sub and up to see the men. Doc motioned him to sit still while he used his
“Lungs are excellent,
despite swallowing sea water and swimming that distance. You’ve been doing a great deal of free diving, haven’t
“What other kind would
I do in this time and place?” asked Lee with a chuckle.
As Doc pulled the stethoscope away, Lee pulled on a tee shirt and
then his uniform shirt. He
paused as he buttoned his shirt. This
was his shirt, pressed and ready, with his insignia on the collar. It had come from his small closet in his own cabin—on board
his Gray Lady. How often had
he dreamed of doing the same thing, the mundane things that he had never
thought about before? Dressing,
walking the corridors, feeling the vibration beneath his feet, the cool
wafting of recycled air on his cheek.
Lee ran his hand down the front of his shirt, tried to control the
slight trembling of his fingers as he did so; tried to control the
emotions that threatened to topple his slight hold on decorum.
Then he examined the shiny leather shoes at his feet, the pants on
his lap. So mundane and yet
so important right now.
“I want you directly in sickbay for a more thorough examination,” Doc ordered, bringing the
captain out of his reverie.
Lee only nodded as he
pulled on his pants. He
easily got the sock and shoe on his left foot, but struggled with the
other foot. Chip and Doc watched, but said nothing. It was as though they realized the importance that this small
event was to the former castaway in time.
When Lee was done, he carefully stood up and limped to the ladder.
“You negotiate that?”
Lee frowned, and then
just nodded. Sharkey, he
noticed, had already gone above and was waiting.
He eased his way up, letting his arms do most of the work, and then
he took the chief’s outstretched hand for help the rest of the way.
He was speechless when he saw the control room packed with men, and
almost overcome when they burst into spontaneous cheers.
Quickly swiping an arm over his face, he accepted Sharkey’s
salute with one of his own. Then
he laughed in gratitude as well as relief.
“Since we’re doing this all backwards, do I have permission to
“Of course, Captain,”
Starke said from among the crowd.
Lee turned and gaped at
him in astonishment. “Admiral
“I came along for moral
Crane nodded and turned
back to the crowded control room. “You
can’t imagine how good it is to see all of you,” Lee said to the
assembled men. “There
wasn’t a day I didn’t think about this beautiful boat and all of your
lovely faces.” That elicited a laugh. “Now,
I think Doc has something in mind and you know how the CMO is when he’s
kept waiting.” More
He began to limp through
the sea of men. He received
many claps on the back and words of welcome.
When he thought he couldn’t go any further, he suddenly found
Kowalski by his side. “Use
my shoulder, Skipper.”
Lee nodded and draped his
arm over Ski’s shoulder. “Carry
on,” he told the crowd with a smile.
He was beginning to think, as they left the control room, that all
of the men were forward. By
the time they reached the corridor leading to sickbay, he was also
beginning to think that he wasn’t going to make it.
He was totally wrung out. Finally,
they entered the room and Chip helped Kowalski get him to a bunk.
He leaned back against the bulkhead and felt the sounds of the boat
lulling him into somnolence.
“Not yet, Captain.
I want to enjoy this moment before you peacefully and without fuss,
sack out on me,” Doc said sardonically.
“I know you just got it on, but would you take off your uniform.
I want to do a more thorough exam.”
“I can’t believe all
the men back there,” Lee said, his voice barely above a whisper. He appeared not to have heard the doctor’s instructions.
“Most of the men have
been working without pay this past month to save the admiral money in the
search,” Doc told him. “Just
thought you should know that, Lee."
Lee sat quietly for a
moment. Everything was so
overwhelming. “I, uh,
don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything,
Lee,” Chip replied in a soft voice.
“We all know you would have done the same for any one of us.”
When Doc reminded him of
his previous directive, he began to unbutton his shirt. He was slow, but this time it wasn’t because he was
savoring the moment. Chip
helped him and Lee didn’t protest.
Doc examined his knee, bent his leg, felt up and down his thigh.
Crane sucked in his breath a time or two, but otherwise sat
quietly. Doc frowned as he
checked his back, but made no comment.
All that could be heard in the room were the muted sounds of the
sub in full operation. Finally
Jamieson handed Lee a pair of comfortable scrubs, stepped back and leaned
against his desk. Chip sat
quietly in a nearby chair.
“Now, Lee,” Doc
asked. “Tell me what
happened to your leg. Without
an X-ray, it appears like a very badly healed break.”
“It is.” Lee explained what had happened as he pulled on the clothes.
He ended with, “So while you went to all the trouble to rescue
me, this time on Seaview is just a temporary respite, I’m
“Don’t give up yet.
You are the man who just swam a mile with a bad leg to get here.
We’re not out of options yet.
Now let me get a blood sample.”
“While I get back to my
watch,” Chip said, getting up.
“Coward!” Lee said with mock derision, using Doc’s optimism to push aside his previous dark thoughts. Chip just laughed as he and Kowalski walked out of the sickbay.
Zorro was amazed at the
craft in which he was sitting next to the American admiral. It was all he could do to keep from reaching out and
continually touching the pliant sides of the little boat.
The soft muttering of what the admiral had called a motor was even
and propelled them forward through the dark waters with apparent ease.
The man beside him had
been silent since they had left. Finally,
though, in Spanish, “Are you comfortable, sir?”
“Yes. This is an amazing craft.”
He responded in English out of respect to the admiral.
“Wait ‘til you see Seaview.”
“Lee has told me so
much about your marvelous submarine.”
“And I am curious,”
Nelson began. “As to
whether the rest of the mythos is true.”
“You mean as to who I
am?” Zorro remembered the
shock of Lee knowing who he was and realized that everyone on Lee’s ship
would also know and for the same reason.
He pulled off the mask. “Yes. Diego de la Vega at your service.”
“Intriguing,” was all
Nelson would say. The other
two men silently manned the little boat.
A light began to flash
ahead of them, winking in a precise, timed pattern.
They drew closer and closer, and muted windows appeared in the
front of a dark, looming object in the water.
If he had not been told about the windows, Diego would have thought
he was being guided into the reach of some kind of baleful sea monster.
As they drew closer, Diego saw men on board the large object, Seaview,
waiting for them. Morales threw a rope to the waiting sailors and the little
craft was quickly secured. Outstretched
hands helped them aboard the ship, and Diego stood on the metal deck and
stared in the almost complete darkness with something akin to awe tinged
with a little fear.
“Admiral, Captain Crane
is aboard,” one of the sailors announced.
That explained their
proximity to San Pedro. Seaview
had returned to rendezvous with them as soon as Lee had been rescued.
“How is he, Patterson?” Nelson asked.
“He looked exhausted,
but then he swam about a mile or so to meet us. Other than that and an injured leg, he seemed to be doing pretty
In sickbay?” the admiral asked his voice suddenly filled with
“Yes, sir,” Patterson
Nelson turned to Diego.
“Would you care to come below decks and see what we have?”
Part of him wanted to
flee this dark metal tomb, but the other, more intellectual part wanted to
make sure that Lee was all right. And
he was curious as well to see what it was for which Lee had such an
affinity. “Yes, I
would, Admiral,” he responded, pulling off his gloves and pushing the
hat back. The mask was stuffed inside his shirt, the gloves in his
waistband. The sword would
remain by his side unless it got in the way.
“All right, come aboard
then,” Nelson said.
They entered through a
doorway in a part of the submarine that Diego remembered Lee describing
and calling the conning tower. From
there they went down a ladder into a room that was crowded with all sorts
of blinking, winking lights, noises and men—the control room, he named
quickly. Things whirred,
buzzed, muttered and tapped. He
wondered just how they managed to work this vessel under such crowded,
noisy conditions and then Diego remembered that Lee said this submarine
was roomier than most such ships.
Several of the men turned to peruse him, but didn’t gawk, for
which he felt duly grateful.
“Follow me, Señor de
la Vega,” the admiral beckoned Diego, pointing to an open, narrow door.
They followed several other corridors and down a staircase and were
soon in a room that Diego knew was similar in function to Dr. Avila’s
office. Lee sat on one
of the narrow beds, leaning wearily against a wall.
When he saw Diego and the Admiral he straightened up, smiling.
Nelson strode over to his
captain and stopped right in front of him.
He reached out and laid a hand on Lee’s arm.
At first it was like touching a ghost, then the admiral reached to
grasp Lee firmly, drawing him fiercely into a welcoming embrace.
Crane reciprocated and Harriman felt the strong beat of the other man's
heart. He remembered that he had an audience and slowly
pulled back. “I . . .
I was beginning to think this reunion would never take place.
Thank God I was wrong. It’s
so good to see you, Lee.”
Crane laid his hand on
the admiral’s arm, he, too, rejoicing in the reunion.
“I thought it never would either, Admiral,” Lee replied, almost
shyly. He looked toward the
floor. “I kept hoping, but
I also felt it was unfair . . . to expect so much.
I . . . uh, appreciate everything you’ve done to find me. I know it couldn’t have been easy.”
“Maybe not, but it was
worth every minute and every penny. The
idea of you stuck somewhere in the past was . . . truly unbearable to
me.” He saw the exhaustion on Crane’s face.
“Right now, though, you need to get some sleep.”
Crane gazed over the
admiral’s shoulder into Diego’s face.
“Yes, Admiral, I’m tired, but I know that Diego will need to go
home before daylight.”
“I left Tornado hidden. The
longer I am away, the greater the chance that he will be discovered.”
“I figured as much,”
replied Lee. “And I refuse
to be asleep when you leave.”
Doc started to protest,
but Nelson waved him off. “Maybe
it would be more comfortable in my cabin for a while.
Cookie can send some coffee up and you can relax on my bunk if you
get too tired,” he suggested to his captain.
Doc sighed and then
nodded. “A couple of hours
aren’t going to hurt anything. But
I want you on crutches, Captain. Until I can examine that injury more closely, I want you off that
With that pronouncement,
Lee started to protest, but a look from Nelson stopped him before he
opened his mouth. Immediately,
Crane saw the wisdom of discretion right now. He accepted the crutches that Doc handed him. They didn’t need to be adjusted, he thought wryly.
They were ones he had used before. “Diego, why don’t you take a tour of the sub? Then you’ll see what I have been boring you and your father with
for these past six months.”
“But not with you as
the guide, Skipper,” Doc declared.
This time Lee knew that no one would overrule him.
“I would be happy to
take you around the Seaview, Diego. That way, Lee can get settled in my cabin and we can all talk for a
while when we’re done,” Nelson said diplomatically.
Suddenly Lee began
laughing. Everyone in the
room gazed at him in puzzlement as the laughter continued for another
moment. When he had
gained control, he simply said, “It’s so good to be back home.” With that he headed toward the door. Diego and the admiral followed him.