A Matter of Time

 

 

 

Doc (Lt. Commander Will Jamieson)

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

 

“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,” Sparks replied.

“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 back.”

“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 is the admiral?”

“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?”

“With what?  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 shore.”

“I think you did, too,” Chip said with a smile.  “But that was quite a swim you made with a bum leg, Lee.”

“You noticed.”   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.”

“Long story.  Remind me to tell it to you when I’m dry, had some sleep and gotten past Doc.”

Chip laughed.  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 stethoscope.

“Lungs are excellent, despite swallowing sea water and swimming that distance.  You’ve been doing a great deal of free diving, haven’t you?”

“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?” Doc asked. 

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 come aboard?”

“Of course, Captain,” Starke said from among the crowd. 

Lee turned and gaped at him in astonishment.  “Admiral Starke?”

“I came along for moral support, Captain.”

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 laughter. 

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 afraid.”

“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.

Nelson chuckled.  “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 good, sir.”

“Excellent!  In sickbay?” the admiral asked his voice suddenly filled with joy. 

“Yes, sir,” Patterson answered. 

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.”

Diego nodded.  “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 leg.” 

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. 

 

 

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