A Matter of Time

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

 

Lee stood at the edge of the beach, wishing he could simply go out and enjoy the waves.  The walking cast chafed and even though he could easily get around almost anywhere now, including conducting inspections on the Seaview, he couldn’t negotiate sand and wasn’t going to begin to incur Doc’s wrath.  Besides, he was more than eager to follow directions so that he could get back to work.  Despite the fact they had arrived back home slightly earlier than they had left due to the anomalies of the strange timepiece, it had been almost eight months for him since he had fully captained his ship. 

He let the wind ruffle his hair and tug at his uniform.  It was freshening, building, becoming more insistent.  There might be a squall passing through this afternoon.  After his time in the past, he wasn’t going to even begin to outguess the weather anymore.  As though reading his mind, Chip spoke from behind him, “Clouds are building, Lee.  I think maybe we’d better head back to the Institute.”

“Yeah, I know.”  He watched the clouds galloping like dark stallions and was reminded of Zorro and Tornado.  So long ago, and yet just like yesterday.   When he had awakened after his friend had left, the admiral had already seen Diego safely back on shore, been able to get some readings, recover a few artifacts that Seaview had detected and had transferred the sub back to the present day.  At the time, Lee had been rather put out, but it all passed in his quest to regain the health needed to do what he loved most.  Occasionally, though, he wondered how Diego had fared, how long he had continued in his role and what had become of their land. 

He had done a bit of genealogical research into Church and civic records right after Doc had worked on his leg and discovered that Diego had finally married and had a couple of children—a boy and a girl.  The girl had married and inherited the land, a vast holding as he had suspected.  A lack of information on the boy told Lee that he had most likely not lived to adulthood.  That was as far as he had gone.   Perhaps he should do some more research.  He would have time, since Seaview was going on a shakedown run day after tomorrow and Doc most likely would veto his presence on board. Or probably it would be easier to just hire a genealogist to do the job. There were excellent ones in the area, people who knew what they were looking for and wouldn’t be spinning their wheels like he might.

Mentally shrugging, he limped back to Chip’s car and got in.  That was something else he missed—driving himself.  He couldn’t wait.   Lee watched the roadside scenery in wonder, just as he had for the last two months that he had been back. Something about being stranded in a more desolate, wilderness time zone did that, he thought sardonically. 

"Only another week or so, eh, Lee?" Chip asked, misinterpreting his gaze. 

"I hope so."  He paused.  "I was just thinking how wonderful all of this is—and how good it is to be back home."

Chip nodded.  Lee had given him complete details of his six-month ordeal and Chip got the intense impression that most of his friend's emotions dealt with the fact that he had felt keenly the despair of being stranded.  Chip could not get over the fact they had found him by virtue of a chance drop of a pen.   Their stop at the beach hadn’t been far from the Institute and the two men were soon riding the elevator in the administration building to their adjacent offices.  Tish was waiting for them with a strange look on her face. 

"What's up, Tish?" Lee asked. 

"A lawyer is in the admiral's office waiting for you, Lee," she replied. 

"Me?"

"Yes, you.  And she wouldn't say what it was for either, just that she would only speak with you."

"Well," Lee began, picking up on Tish's 'she'.  "I guess we shouldn't keep her waiting."

The three of them walked into the admiral's spacious office where a beautiful, dark-eyed, auburn-haired young lady was chatting with Admiral Nelson.  Both stood up when the trio arrived. 

"Lee, I would like to introduce you to Marguerita Herrera," Nelson said.

"Pleased to meet you, Ms. Herrera," Lee said politely, extending his hand.  His curiosity was overwhelming, but he wasn't going to say anything until she gave some clue as to her reason for being here.  His mind tried to go back to anything in his past that might have angered someone enough to want to sue him.

"Ms. Herrera is the daughter of Tomás Herrera," the admiral continued.  "He was the owner of various businesses and no small amount of real estate."

Still didn't ring a bell.  "What can I do for you, ma'am?" Lee asked. 

"Captain Crane, my father died recently," she began.

"My condolences," Lee responded immediately, but sincerely.

"Thank you, Captain.  One of the things that he left in his will was a request that I deliver a special document and a box to you.  It was a dated request.  Ironically, his death corresponded to the date within a few months."

"Maybe we should sit down, Ms. Herrera," Lee suggested, his curiosity building like a prairie storm. 

"Yes,” she said, studying him intently.  She was very carefully schooling her emotions, so Lee couldn't tell if she was curious, irritated or . . . something else.   She sat down on the couch; Lee sat down across from her, slightly frustrated at how awkwardly he was doing it.  Chip and Tish found seats nearby.

"Please, just call me Lee," he said, studying her as well.  She held herself with an almost instinctive or natural grace.  There was something familiar about it, and intriguing.   He pulled himself back to the matter at hand.  “Why would your father leave anything to me?”

"I really don’t know, Captain.  I’m afraid that I’m not aware of the purpose of the document, either, so I am as puzzled as you are.   My father told me a few months ago, when he knew he was dying, that it had been passed down for five generations in our family," she said with the barest hint of a smile, ignoring his request.  “I had heard rumors of it, but had never seen it.  Really, I think no one but my father and mother had since my grandfather died.”

Five generations? Lee started to do some quick math, but didn’t finish.  Everyone was gazing at him in abject curiosity.  Only the admiral appeared unruffled.  He had figured out something—put two and two together and discovered the answer to another of the universe’s little problems as he often did.  "I would be lying if I said I wasn't curious," Lee simply admitted. "Why a dated request?  I am not aware of anything special about today."

"It was a general date, Captain Crane," she said.  "Basically it was a 'do not open until after a certain month and year' type of thing.  Perhaps I should give you the document and that might explain a great many things to both of us.” She reached into her attaché case and pulled out a manila envelope. 

She handed it to Lee and he opened it up.  Inside was an over-large envelope that was yellowed with age.  It had a wax seal and had his name and rank written in flowing handwriting on the front, along with the words, ‘Submarine Seaview, Santa Barbara.’  The ink was a bit faded as well, and he realized in shock that it was probably the same age as the envelope.  There was only one person….   He simply stared at the envelope for a moment.

“Do you understand what this is about, Captain?” Marguerita asked him, breaking his reverie. 

“I think I might,” Lee said, his voice low and distant, his memories carried back more than a hundred and fifty years ago.  He opened it and saw the flowing, although somewhat shaky script of his friend, Diego, reaching out to him from across days and decades.  It had only been two months, and yet . . . and yet, it was several lifetimes.  He looked back up and gazed at the admiral, who simply nodded.   He turned his gaze to the woman still studying him.  “You are about to enter a strange and fantastic history, Ms. Herrera.  I will try to explain as best as I can, but let me read the document first.”

“Marguerita, please, Cap . . . uh, Lee,” she said and then nodded for him to continue. 

Lee turned back to the document and began reading.  He noticed the date.  Diego had had a long life, he noted.  That pleased him greatly as he had been worried that his friend’s clandestine activities might cut his life way too soon.  “April 25th, 1855.   My dear friend, Lee.  As you warned, there did come a time when hardship would ride on our shoulders.  It came with your own people.  With your warning and the treasure that you left with us came the solution.  The right people were bribed, the land grants changed to allow us to keep our precious land.  My daughter and her husband now continue the job of working the land that my father began.  My grandchildren will continue after them.  The rancho prospers and has even increased in size.  You cannot imagine my gratitude.   The land is the lifeblood of my family just as the sea is ever yours.   Please accept my thanks in words as well as in the box that has been set aside for the time I have instructed my children and their children’s children to give it to you. Know that my good wishes for your continued service to your magnificent Seaview follows you through the years. Your devoted servant and friend, Diego.”

He looked up and saw Marguerita studying him intently a variety of emotions crossing her face, including shock.  He leaned toward Tish and gave her whispered instructions.  The secretary left.   “Marguerita, I told you it was a strange story, but I knew your ancestor, Diego de la Vega.  I was a guest in his house for about six months in 1825.  That’s where I got this,” he explained, pointing to the cast.  “And you do know that this is in confidence.”  She still looked shocked but she nodded slightly for him to continue.  “Such a device like the one that sent me back to old California would be dangerous in the hands of an enemy.”  He smiled softly.  “In fact it was an enemy that sent me back to that time and place.  It took Admiral Nelson a great deal of hard work to find me.  I owe Diego and the admiral a great deal for saving my life.”

Her eyes looked as though she had a million questions, but she simply asked, “This seems totally unbelievable, but this treasure my great, great, great grandfather mentioned?”

“The treasure was what I found when I was free diving around Santa Rosa Island—it was something I did because it was the only thing I could do then.” 

“Which treasure, Lee?” she asked, her voice low.  

“You have no idea what’s in that box Diego spoke of?” he asked.   She shook her head.  “The treasure of the Orbe de Oro.

She gasped.  “The instructions over the years were that the strong box was to be kept safe, locked and never opened until it was handed over to the person whose name was on the document.”  She then indicated a non-descript, portable file-sized box that was sitting on a wheeled luggage carrier.

“And being honorable like Diego, you followed the instructions to the letter,” Lee stated.

“Yes.  But even had we known exactly what was in it—and believe me, my parents and I knew it was something valuable—we wouldn’t have done anything different.”

Lee believed her.  That Diego would have some of the treasure left over astonished him.  He didn’t think it had been that much.  Then he thought of the value of something that had been missing that long and he sucked in his breath. 

She smiled.  “Would you care to open it?” she asked, handing him an old-fashioned key.

“Yes, although I know what is in it.”  He moved to a chair next to the box and stuck the key in the lock.  It had been oiled and opened easily.  Inside was most of the treasure he had pulled from the ocean with Diego’s help.  He reached in and took out the largest necklace, the one he, Diego and Alejandro had determined was the most beautiful and probably destined for the governor’s wife in Monterey.  When had he pulled it from the ocean floor?  Only two months ago?  The dive came back in exquisite vividness. 

“If the rest is like that, Lee, you could buy the Seaview with that treasure,” Nelson murmured.  “That was quite a find.”

Lee shook his head.  “No, not buy Seaview, but fund her.”  He carefully laid the necklace back down on top of the small pile of jewelry, gold and silver coins, and ingots.  He turned to his mentor.  “You risked everything to find me and I know you are still dancing with the bigwigs over the ‘lost missions’ of the past few months.”  He turned back to Marguerita.  “Would you be able to draw up something bestowing this to the Institute?” he added, gesturing to the box.

She nodded.  “Yes, with the dividends of any sale of the artifacts going into an account for you, Lee.”  When he began to protest, she added.  “You really should have something from this, and dividends would be enough to take care of anything you might need in the future.”

“What I need is to get back to work,” Lee growled good-naturedly.

The admiral and Chip were staring at him in shock.  Nelson shook his head.  “No, Lee, please do not feel obligated to give this away….”

“Obligated?” Lee countered, deadly serious. “Admiral, there is no obligation.  This is what I want to do.  I don’t need this, or the attendant headaches that would come of owning this much wealth.   I have what I want, need and desire.   I want the Institute to have the revenues.   I want you to be able to do some of the private research you have wanted to do for years, but haven’t been able to because of obligations to the government, think tanks and private organizations.  I want this to be under your direct auspices.”   He sat back and folded his arms over his chest, his look defying the admiral to come up with any more argument. 

The admiral said nothing for several moments, only studied his captain intently.  “If you’re sure, Lee….”

“I’m sure.”

“It will be put to good use.”

Lee suddenly laughed.  “I know it will be.  I’ll be there to share the results, thanks to you.” 

Tish returned with a sheathed sword and handed it to him.  Lee turned to the lawyer.  “This was Diego’s sword.  He left it with me when Seaview found me back in the past.” 

Marguerita took it and gazed at it in rapture, pulling the sword out part way.  “We have one at home identical to this.”  She looked back up at him.  “This is incredible.  I will be happy to make all the arrangements for the transfer of the . . . funds.”

Lee picked up the cup of coffee that had sat neglected when Tish had given it to him after he and Chip had arrived.  He held it up.  “To Seaview and to all who serve her.”  Everyone raised his or her cups.   “And to Diego de la Vega.  Vaya con Dios, mi amigo.”  Again a heartfelt salute.  Thank you, Diego,” he added mentally.  I should have known that Zorro could make anything happen, even more than a century and a half later.

 

 

 

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