The following story takes place after the events of "Terror from Dinasaur Island"
Too Close For Comfort
Lee Crane entered the Control Room, quietly walking towards the chart table. Chip Morton, the Executive Officer, had just gone off duty, leaving the con with Bob O'Brien. Crane had managed to avoid Morton and knew that O'Brien would have no idea that he had been around the Control Room for most of the last shift. Even if he knew he would not presume to mention it to the Captain directly.
“Status, Mr. O'Brien.”
“Ship’s maintaining standard speed, on the surface, heading 180 degrees relative.”
“Very well, Mr. O'Brien. Maintain course and speed.”
The Captain walked over to the nose, staring solemnly into the night’s darkness. He had told Morton that he would retire to his cabin an hour earlier, which he had done. However, sleep was elusive. He had lain awake for most of that time, unnamed thoughts flitting around in his mind. He was aware of a vague uneasiness that had started on the island days ago which he now could not shake.
Chief Sharkey, hobbling on his broken leg, approached the Captain. “Begging the Captain’s pardon, sir.”
Crane turned towards the Chief. “Yes, Chief, what is it?”
“Sir, the compartments between frames 34 and 37 have been pumped and are tight and dry.” The chief paused. “We recovered Grady’s body.”
Crane blinked , momentarily confused. “Tight and dry? I...I had almost forg...”
He stopped and ran his hand over his face. Taking a breath he continued. “Very well , Chief. It’s noted.” He turned back to the window.
Grady. The seaman had been trapped in one of the compartments, a compartment that Crane had ordered sealed. Crane was suddenly aware of the reason for his uneasiness. Lives had been lost. Lives that he was directly responsible for losing! When he had ordered the hatch closed Seaman Benson had forcibly tried to stop him, accusing the Captain of killing Grady. At the time, Crane had dismissed that thought, more concerned with the job of locating and rescuing the Admiral and Sharkey. Later, on the island, Benson had held him , Patterson, and Kowalski at gunpoint, saying that he was going to kill them all because Crane had killed Grady. Kowalski had intervened but Benson ran off, heedless of the Captain’s warnings. He ran into a steam geyser and was killed. Immediately after, they found Nelson and Sharkey and had hurriedly returned to Seaview, shoving off as the island exploded.
The uneasy feeling came over Crane that first night and he had not slept since. Now, with the feeling identified, a dark fog seemed to descend over him as the weight of responsibility made its presence known. He stood by the window for the rest of the shift, only peripherally aware of the activity behind him in the Control Room.
“Skipper?” Morton touched the Captain lightly on the arm. “Skipper . . .Lee?”
Crane turned towards Morton. “Oh, yes, Chip.” Noticing that the sun was up, he added, “Good morning. What is it?”
“Nothing. I’m just surprised to see you here this early.”
”Oh, I woke up early and decided to come down here .”
Crane walked away from Chip and towards the chart table. “What’s our status?”
“Still proceeding towards Santa Barbara. When exactly did you get down here?”
“Oh, not long ago.”
Crane did not see O’Brien shake his head at Morton behind the Captain’s back.
“I see. Have you had breakfast?”
“No, actually, I haven’t. That’s a good idea!” He said heartily, turning and walking briskly out of the Control Room. He slowed down when out of Morton’s sight and, instead of heading to the Officers’ Mess, he walked to the corridor which held frames 34 and 37.
In the Control Room, Chip Morton relieved O’Brien of the watch, then settled down to the business of the boat. At the sound of footsteps on the spiral staircase, the Exec looked up from the log he was reading.
“Good morning, Chip” the Admiral said cheerfully.
“Admiral. Sleep well?”
“Better than I have in a long time! Nothing like crash landing on a prehistoric island to give you a good night’s rest! Have you seen Lee this morning?”
“As a matter of fact I have. He just headed aft for breakfast.”
“Oh? I didn’t see him. I just came from there.”
Nelson headed aft, stopping when Morton called. “Sir. Mr. O’Brien gave me an odd report before he left.”
Nelson headed back towards the Executive Officer. Morton gestured for him to join him in the nose.
“When I reported for duty, Lee was standing here in the nose. Mr. O’Brien told me that he had been there all through the watch.”
“Oh, what was he doing?”
“Nothing. Just standing.”
“Did you ask him about it?”
“Not exactly. He said he woke up early and came down.”
“That’s not so strange.”
“O’Brien said he came in at the beginning of his watch...six hours ago. Lee said he just came down. I’ve heard from other crewmen that he has been seen around the ship at all hours!”
“Hmmmm I see. All right. I’ll speak with him.”
Nelson headed aft towards the Mess. Not finding him there, he picked up a mike.
“Sparks, this is the Admiral. Please page the Captain and have him report to my cabin when he’s available.”
The Captain, helping with the repairs in frame 35, ignored the intercom. The seamen working with him looked surreptitiously at him while he tightened bolts along the beams, working grimly and silently. When they finished there, he walked through the ship looking for more jobs to do, ending up in the missile room where he began to recalibrate the gauges for the air tanks.
It was there that the Admiral finally located him.
“Lee! Didn’t you hear the intercom? I asked for you to come to my cabin.”
“Sparks said when I was available. I’ve been busy.”
“Busy? Recalibrating gauges, tightening bolts?”
“Yes.” Crane stood, returning the tank to the rack. “I’m finished now. What is it you wanted?”
Nelson looked closely at the Captain, noticing the circles under his eyes, the tightness around his lips, the general weariness about his shoulders.
“ I’ve been hearing unusual reports.”
“Oh? About what?” Crane said, avoiding Nelson’s eyes.
“You, actually, that you’ve been prowling around the ship at all hours, doing odd jobs around the boat, standing watches that aren’t yours.”
“So? I’ve been busy. That’s not unusual.”
“There’s busy and then there’s keeping busy. Why are you keeping busy and not sleeping?”
“Not sleeping? Who’s not sleeping?”
“Look in the mirror, that’s who’s not sleeping!” Nelson said, growing impatient.
Crane turned away from him, straightening out the remainder of the tanks.
Nelson decided to drop it for now. Changing the subject, he asked, “Have you written the report about what happened on the island?”
Nelson did not see Crane’s grip on the tank he was holding tighten.
“No, I haven’t. I’ll do it right away.” He abruptly left the Admiral. Instead of going to his quarters, he searched for Kowalski and Patterson.
After speaking with them, Crane went to his cabin to write the report. When he finished he felt numb, exhausted. Lying down on his bed, he waited for sleep to come. Instead he heard Benson’s voice, Grady! Grady! You killed him!
In his mind’s eye he saw Benson dodging toppling trees and screaming as the steam engulfed him. Crane arose from his bed, splashed water on his face, then headed back to the Control Room.
In his quarters, Chip Morton sorted through the in box of duty rosters, medical reports, and the other details of running the ship. As the ship’s Executive Officer, the day to day details of running a ship fell across his desk first. Shaking his head at the Doc’s report of who had visited the Sick Bay that day, he poured himself a cup of coffee. The next item was a sealed envelope addressed to him with a note from the Chief.
“This was found in Benson’s belongings.”
Puzzled, Chip opened the envelope with the letter opener. In the envelope was a single sheet of paper which read, “ Mr. Morton, in the event of my death, I wish to make it clear that I personally hold Captain Crane responsible.” It was signed by Benson.
“What the...” Chip exclaimed aloud. “Of all the...”. He stood and left the cabin, heading towards the Captain’s quarters.
Knocking quietly, he stuck his head in and saw that the room was empty. Cursing under his breath he walked to the Admiral’s cabin.
“Come in!” the Admiral called when he heard Chip’s knock.
“Excuse me ,sir, for interrupting at this hour but something has been brought to my attention that you should know about. I was about to tell the Captain, but he’s not in his cabin and, well, it’s actually about him so ...”
“What is it, Chip? You’re talking around in circles!”
The officer held out the letter. Taking it, the Admiral read it quickly. “Lee? Responsible for Benson’s death? That’s ridiculous!” Pressing the button on the intercom, he contacted the Control Room. “Lee? This is the Admiral . Are you in the Control Room?”
After a minute, the Captain acknowledged, “Uh, Yes, sir. I am, sir.”
“I’d like to see you in my quarters right away, please.”
Crane sighed. “Yes, sir. Right away, sir. O’Brien, you have the con.”
Thinking he was going to be reprimanded for being in the Control Room, Lee tried to think of plausible reasons. He thought to himself, I’m the Captain! I can be anywhere I want!
As he opened the Admiral’s door he heard,
“All right, Chip. I’ll handle it.”
Chip left the room, closing the door behind him.
“Admiral, if it’s about being in the Control Room, I just went down to check...”
“No, Lee, it’s something else.” The Admiral walked around the desk and sat down.
“It’s about Benson.” The Admiral was surprised to see Lee turn pale. He continued.
“Mr. Morton gave me this letter that Benson wrote.”
Nelson handed it to Crane who read it silently. Nelson frowned as the Captain’s shoulders dropped and his hand began to tremble slightly.
“Now, I’m sure we can straighten this out. We’ll start with your report then...”
“No, Admiral, there is nothing to straighten out.” Crane stood up slowly, laying the paper on the desk. Looking the Admiral in the eyes, he said, “I am responsible for Benson’s death.” Turning, he left the room with a bewildered Nelson staring at the closed door.
Nelson took immediate action. Slamming his hand down on the intercom, he contacted Morton and told him to report to his cabin. “And bring all the paperwork on the island with you!” he ordered gruffly. Chip, hearing Nelson’s tone, thought briefly that he had had a feeling that Benson’s letter would not be easily dismissed. He grabbed the folder and double timed it to the Admiral’s quarters. Upon entering, he was surprised to see that Lee was no longer there.
“...doesn’t seem interested in clearing his own name” Nelson said curtly.
“WHAT!?” Morton exclaimed, louder than he intended.
“He said, and I quote, ‘I am responsible for Benson’s death’ and walked out. We’ll have to get to the bottom of this ourselves. Did you read the report?”
“I skimmed it. The only thing it says about Benson is that he was separated from the group and when Lee next saw him, Benson had fallen into the steam rupture.”
“You know, Chip, I was a little surprised to learn that Benson was on that island to begin with. He wasn’t exactly the volunteer type. From what I remember he spent most of his time avoiding work!”
Chip nodded. “ I thought so too but he requested it...from me! Said that he wanted to help find you and the Chief.”
“Hmmmm. Well, this report doesn’t tell us anything. Something happened on that island! Round up Patterson and Kowalski. I’ll see what they have to add.”
“Right away, sir!” Morton left the room quickly. Nelson picked up Benson’s letter, folded it, and put it back in the envelope. Putting it in his desk drawer, he put his head on his hands, his mind racing with unanswered questions.
Presently there was a knock on the door.
“Come!” Nelson called out, looking up as the door opened.
Seamen Patterson and Kowalski walked in, standing at attention in front of the desk.
“Mr. Morton said you wanted to see us , sir,” Kowalski said.
“Yes, I do. At ease. It’s about what happened on the island...what happened to Benson.” Nelson did not miss the look that passed between the two crewmen. “The Captain has written the basic story here but it’s missing some details. Perhaps you can enlighten me more about them.”
“Sir? What details do you mean?” Patterson asked.
“Well, the Captain says that Benson got separated from you. How did that happen?”
After a few long seconds, Kowalski broke the silence. “Sir, we’re not at liberty to say.”
Nelson stood up, his palms on the top of his desk. “You are not at liberty to say?” he said, drawing out each word.
Swallowing hard, Kowalski continued, “No sir, we’re not.”
“Captain Crane ordered us not to speak to anyone about what happened,” Patterson clarified.
“He ordered you to be quiet? Why would he..” Nelson did not finish the question. Instead he walked slowly around the desk, his eyes moving back and forth between the two crewmen.
“You are aware, I assume, that I can just countermand that order.”
Both men nodded, their eyes looking straight ahead. After several minutes, Nelson continued, “I won’t....yet. Dismissed!”
The crewmen left Nelson’s quarters. Walking towards their duty stations, they quietly talked about what had happened.
"Ski. What do you think is going on? First the Skipper gives us a gag order, then 30 minutes later the Admiral’s asking us the very questions we’re not supposed to answer! What gives?”
“Beats me, Pat, but, what ever it is, I think the Skipper’s gonna be in hot water! Why did he report that Benson “got separated” from us when we all know that he ran like a scared rabbit!”
“All I know is I don’t like this one bit!” They reached the Control Room and resumed their posts.
Chip Morton was standing by AMRAC waiting for the weather report. Reading it, he frowned. For the past few hours the seas had been getting steadily heavier, making it difficult for the sub to maintain trim. The computer did not give good news about the weather front into which they were heading. The decision to dive would have to be made soon. Even with the weakened hull it would be safer to dive than to try to stay afloat. Chip picked up the mike.
“Skipper. I have the most recent weather conditions. Can you come down here?”
“I’ll be right down.”
Crane put the mike down. It was odd. When he left the Admiral’s quarters he thought he might feel relieved to have it over, to face the consequences for what had happened. But no. He felt the blame, but he still felt the crushing responsibility for everyone else on board. It felt like he was losing air...suffocating. He continued his tour of the ship, looking for things that needed to be fixed, details that needed to be looked after so that the ship would get home in one piece...so that everybody would get home in one piece. He was in the Reactor Room when Chip called. Heading to the Control Room he ran into Nelson. Neither one said anything as they entered the room, both heading for the plot table.
“What’s the situation, Chip?”
“We’ve been traveling in pretty heavy seas for the past two hours. The weather satellite indicates that the storm front will worsen within the hour with seas over 20 feet. It’s been wrecking havoc with the automatic pilot.”
“Well, we can’t stay up here much longer. What does engineering say about the frames?”
“We can go down to 90 and maintain standard. Any deeper would be hazardous.”
“Lee? What do you think?”
The Captain, having worked on the frames himself, was less optimistic. “You’re right. We can’t stay up here. I’d rather not go standard, though. Let’s keep it one third to see how she takes it.”
As Chip gave the order, Crane left the Control Room and headed for the weakened frames.
“Planning on babysitting them till we get home?” Nelson had followed Crane to the section.
Running his hand along the beam, Crane murmured, “If I have to.”
Nelson decided to feel Crane out about the Benson situation. “Is that what this is about? Feeling responsible for everyone on board?”
“I am responsible for everyone. It’s not just a feeling. Chief, I want three men on watch here. If it so much as sweats, sound the alarm.
Admiral, may I speak with you?”
Nelson followed Crane out of the room and waited for him to speak.
“About Benson....” Crane paused. Nelson waited.
“Do you want me to step down now or can I wait till the end of the cruise?”
“Step down? What are you talking about?”
“You’ll have to relieve me of command sooner or later. I would prefer later, but I’ll abide by your decision.”
For a rare moment, Admiral Harriman Nelson stood speechless. He turned on his heel and left Crane in the corridor.
Two hours passed as the Seaview made it’s slow and steady progress towards Santa Barbara.
Chief Sharkey, coming off watch, stopped by the Mess for coffee. There he saw Patterson and Kowalski quietly having their own coffee.
“Hey, you chowder heads hear about the Skipper stepping down?”
"Stepped down?!!" Ski spit out his coffee as he sputtered, “Chief, that’s not funny!”
“I heard it myself right outside the damaged frames. Skipper asked the Admiral if he wanted him to step down right away or wait till we docked. Man, I never saw the Admiral so steamed! What I don’t know is what happened!” Sharkey looked at Patterson who looked down at his coffee, Kowalski following suit. “All right, cough it up. What do you guys know about it?”
“Nothing, Chief. Nothing at all.” Both men looked decidedly unhappy.
The Chief decided to let it alone. He’d find a way to get it out of them. He left them alone in their gloom.
In the Control Room, Captain Crane worriedly read the newest weather report. “This storm isn’t letting up!” he grumbled, crumpling up the paper and throwing it on the plot table. In that instant the alarm sounded. “Damage Control, report.”
Anxious voices answered him, “Frame 36 has completely collapsed! We’re shipping water fast.”
“Get everybody out!” he yelled, then turned and ran from the Control Room. He heard Morton yell, “We’re losing trim!”
As the door at frame 36 was being sealed, Crane felt a momentary sense of panic as his mind flashed back to Grady being closed in. He shook his head as he realized that Sharkey was speaking to him, “...going to have to send welders out. There’s no way to fix the ballast tanks from inside and without pumping water, we won’t be able to stay afloat.”
“We’re already losing trim” Admiral Nelson said, joining the others outside the room. “10 feet a minute. At this rate we’ll...” he did not have to finish for the others.
“Engine Room, all stop!” Crane ordered then headed towards the Missile Room, taking his tie off as he walked.
Nelson followed, saying, ”Where do you think you’re going?”
“To take a team out to weld the frame.”
“You’re not going!” The Captain stopped. “Someone else will lead.”
Crane turned to Nelson, his eyes flashing with panic. “I can’t let someone else go!”
“You’re not...I am! You are in no condition for a dive. I’m ordering you to stay on board.! Turning to Sharkey, the Admiral said, “Now, who do we have to make this dive? It may take some time which means it may go too deep for conventional tanks.”
Their voices trailed off as Crane leaned against the bulkhead. In his head he heard, You killed him. You killed Grady! Crane pushed off the wall and headed for the open well. “No one else is dying on this trip!”
The divers left the Missile Room with two tanks, one set for the shallower part of the dive. When the Seaview sank further, they would switch to the more helium rich mixture. Hopefully, the job would be done before they had to switch.
Nelson and Morton watched from the Control Room monitors. The Admiral briefly wondered where Crane had disappeared to but dismissed the thought as the divers came into view. As the clock ticked away, all eyes were divided between the monitor and the depth gauge as it inched slowly towards crush depth.
As the needle approached 1500, Nelson warned them, “ Gallagher, we’re at 1500 ft. How is it coming?”
“Sir, only a little while longer!”
“You’re going to have to switch tanks in one minute.”
“Aye Sir. Getting ready to switch tanks.”
“Ready? Switch.” The Control Room waited for a response.
“Tanks switched. Continuing with the welding. Tell Sharkey he can...” Gallagher gasped. “Can’t breathe!”
Nelson called to Simpson, “Gallagher’s in trouble! Can you get to him?”
Simpson started to swim towards the stricken diver when a third diver came into sight. Waving Simpson away, he swam over to Gallagher and pulled him back into the ship. Closing the hatch, he swam back to Simpson and helped with the rest of the welding.
Inside Seaview, Morton asked, ”Who is that?” leaning closer to the monitor.
“You have to ask?” Nelson said, his voice as cold as ice. Morton turned and saw pure fury on the Admiral’s face. Thirty minutes later, when the divers finished and headed back into the boat, the men in the Control Room heard,
“I’ll be in the Missile Room.”
No one looked up as the Admiral stormed out of the Control Room.
In the Missile Room, Crane, still in his wet suit, was on the radio with Sick Bay.
“So there’ll be no lasting effects?”
“No, sir. Gallagher should recover nicely. He was brought on board in time.”
Crane took a slow, deep breath. “That’s good news. Thanks, Doc.”
Looking up, he saw Sharkey looking at the Missile Room door. Turning, Crane looked at Nelson, who quietly said, “My cabin. Now!”
Nelson turned and left.
“Uh, Chief, see to the pumps for frame 36, will you? Inform Mr. Morton when it’s completed.”
“Not now, Chief, all right?” Lee slowly walked out of the Missile Room.
Stopping to change into a uniform, Crane headed towards Nelson’s room. Knocking, he opened the door.
“Are you satisfied now? Have you got it out of your system?”
“I assume you went out, against my orders I might add, to banish whatever demons you’re fighting.”
Crane stood silently.
“Listen Lee, I’d like to help. What is it about Benson that has you so shook? We’ve lost men before.”
Crane shook his head, disbelieving. “Lost men? That’s good. Lost men! Like losing a wallet .” Crane began to pace. “What are they to you... just equipment, like test tubes and lab specimens? You forget that they had lives and families and...”
“Captain Crane, you forget yourself!”
Both men remained silent for several minutes.
Crane broke the silence, “If there’s nothing else, sir.”
Crane stopped at the door, not turning back.
“I’m going to get to the bottom of this.”
The Captain walked out of the room.
After the Captain left the Missile Room , Chief Sharkey went in search of Kowalski. Of the two crewmen, he was the more hot headed. Sharkey would be able to goad him into saying something revealing. He didn’t have to go far. He found him in the gym, pounding the stuffing out of the boxing dummy.
“Hey, Ski! Whoya beating up?”
The Chief hung on the side of the treadmill. He decided to jump right in. “Well, after the Captain’s latest stunt, I guess the Admiral will really be looking for a new Skipper!”
Ski punched the bag harder.
“I guess he was getting tired of the Old Seaview and wanted off. It’s just as well. Who needs a Skipper who’s got a screw loose. I mean, come on, leaving the boat against orders!”
Kowalski lunged at the Chief, grabbing him by the collar. “He left the boat to save Gallagher and he wouldn’t be acting screwy if it hadn’t been for Benson.” Kowalski stopped abruptly, loosening his hold on the Chief’s collar. He stepped back. “I’m sorry, Chief.”
“What about Benson?”
Kowalski turned away. “I can’t tell you.”
“That’s all right. I didn’t hear anything,” Sharkey said, slapping Ski on the shoulder.
Sharkey headed right to the Admiral’s quarters.
“Excuse me, sir.”
“It’s about the Skipper. I don’t know exactly what’s going on with him and you or anything but something happened on that island that has Kowalski and Patterson shut up like clams.”
“You’re right, Chief. It does have something to do with the island but no one’s talking and all I have is a letter from Benson saying that if anything happened to him the Captain was responsible.”
“A letter, sir? I think we’re looking at this all wrong. Benson had to have written the letter before ...”
Nelson interrupted, looking excited. “You’re right. Something must have happened before they got on the island!” Nelson hit the intercom. “Sparks, have Mr. Morton report to my quarters, on the double.”
After speaking with the Exec about the events that preceded the Seaview’s arrival at the island, Nelson called for Kowalski and Patterson.
Both men stood uncomfortably before him, wondering if the Admiral was going to order them to tell about the incident on the island. They both wished he would but being Navy men they would never disobey the Captain’s order intentionally.
“Relax men. I’m not going to countermand the Captain’s orders. I’m not fond of pulling rank. As you know, we have a situation here that I think you can help with without compromising your positions. Now, when the Captain gave you your orders, did he specify talking about the island only or did it include events leading up to the island?”
The Admiral watched the two men think and was pleased when both appeared to become relieved.
Patterson said, “He said not to discuss what happened on the island.”
“All right then! Mr. Morton said he broke up an argument between you two and Benson. What was that about?”
Patterson started, “Benson was giving us guff about how it was the Skipper’s fault that Grady had died.”
“That was after Pat made a comment about how Benson must be feeling since he traded watches with Grady.”
Nelson added, “Right after that Benson volunteered to join the search party, correct?”
“Yes, sir!” both men said simultaneously.
Nelson nodded, smiling humorlessly. “Thank you, men. Dismissed.”
The Admiral sat at his desk, wondering what step to take next. Although he had a pretty good idea about what had happened, he was at a loss as to how it could be fixed. They were nearing Santa Barbara and the Captain appeared to have every intention of resigning his command. After several minutes of contemplation, he threw his pencil on the desk and left the room, determined to take the bull by the horns.
Heading to Crane’s quarters, he loudly knocked and entered without waiting for acknowledgement.
“All right, Lee. Let’s have it.”
Crane looked up from the file he was holding. Reading was not exactly what he was doing as he hadn’t been able to concentrate on the words printed on the page.
Sighing loudly, Crane stood. “I told you before. I have nothing to say.”
“Fine, I do. Sit back down while I play out a little scenario.”
Crane sat warily, eying his commanding officer with suspicion.
“The Seaview is hit by a large object, a large lizard, I believe it was. There is flooding in several compartments. The Captain of the ship must order the sealing of the water tight doors even though there is a crewman still in one of the compartments. That crewman is Grady. But wait, that crewman should have been Benson but he traded watches.”
Crane started to rise, protesting, “I don’t want to...”
The Admiral pushed him back into his chair, not too gently. “So now, we have a dead crewman with some guilty consciences. You, because you ordered it, Benson because he traded watches. Benson, not wanting to take responsibility, decides it’s your fault that Grady is dead. This much I got from Patterson and Kowalski.”
Crane’s hazel eyes smoldered.
“Before you explode, remember you ordered them not to talk about what happened on the island, not about what happened before the island.”
Lee broke eye contact with the Admiral. He pushed his chair away from the desk, standing without resistance from Nelson. “So? I felt guilty about Grady? That’s not new for me, and you know it.”
Nelson spoke quietly. “I do know it, Lee, but this isn’t about Grady is it? It’s about Benson.”
Crane stopped, one hand nervously playing with the signet ring on his other hand.
Seeing the gesture, Nelson tried to hide a smile. Lee’s nervous tic! Luckily, Crane did not see the smile. Nelson continued his monologue.
“Everything from here on is pure conjecture. Feel free to correct me as I go along!”
Crane smiled bitterly. “Whatever you say, Admiral!”
“Now, you find yourself on a tropical island about to erupt. Benson, against all probability, volunteers for this very hazardous duty. Why? He has vengeance on his mind. But Benson being the coward that I knew him to be, probably does not confront you right away. He probably is waiting for the right moment to perhaps ambush you...make it look like an accident. But the search goes on and you are running out of time. Maybe you decide to turn back. Your report did say you were searching for several hours. The island is rapidly deteriorating. Benson, in his anguish, decides to confront you after all. Something goes wrong and he runs off, right into that steam geyser.”
Nelson stopped when he saw the look of astonishment on his Captain’s face. Silently congratulating himself, he moved towards Crane. “I guess I’m pretty close.”
“Admiral, how did you...” Crane stopped. His face became hard. “It doesn’t matter. I’m still responsible.”
“What??!!” Nelson cried out in utter amazement.
“I appreciate what you are doing, but knowing the circumstances does not change the result. I should have been able to read Benson better, recognized what he was feeling. I knew he had traded watches. I should have recognized that he would be feeling guilty. I also should have realized that he blamed me! He said it loud enough at the time. But I was too concerned with finding you...making sure that you were safe that I ignored the emotional well being of one of the crew...one of that same crew that I am always spouting off about being responsible for! I missed the signs and for that reason, and that reason only, Kowalski and Patterson almost died ....and Benson did. This crew deserves a Captain who really looks after them and doesn’t just talk about it.”
There was silence in the room. Crane went back to the desk and wearily sat down.
Equally tired, Nelson sat down opposite him.
Crane started talking very quietly. “I used to think that the Navy’s rule of having to give up your ship after one tour was unfair and, frankly, unproductive! After all, you had to waste time getting used to a new crew ! But you see, it keeps you from getting close to anyone.” He looked up and caught the Admiral’s eye. “... too close. You know, the best thing that ever happened to me was getting Seaview. These two years have been without parallel.” Crane sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. “But all good things must end.”
He did not hear the Admiral leave several minutes later.
As the Seaview docked in Santa Barbara, Chip Morton wondered, again, where both the ship’s Captain and Admiral were. Neither had been seen for several hours. He was reluctant to call, almost afraid to hear about whatever it was that was keeping them out of the Control Room. The whole ship was on edge with the latest rumor of the Captain having resigned. Several crewmen had approached him about its veracity, saying that they heard that the Skipper felt that he was unfit for command, but he could only shrug his shoulders in puzzlement. Chip kept looking towards the spiral staircase hoping that both would come down and things would return to normal.
Standing on the bridge the Exec spotted Seaman Riley coming out of the hatchway.
“Riley!” Morton had sent him to scout around the ship for whatever info he could get.
“Mr. Morton. The word is that the Skipper resigned because he felt he had been derelict in duty.”
“Derelict?” Morton thought of Benson’s letter.
“Aye sir. Something about Grady and Benson and not caring enough to save them.”
“The Skipper not caring?” Kowalski piped in. “That’s it. I can’t take this anymore! If the Skipper resigns over this, then I resign to!”
“Me too!” agreed Patterson, then Sparks, then Romano, and everyone else on deck.
Word traveled throughout the ship and soon there were 121 men standing on the deck of the ship, hats in hand.
Chip Morton picked up the mike. “Skipper. This is Morton on the bridge. Uh, we have a problem here. Can you come to the bridge?”
“What is it, Chip? Can you handle it?” Crane sounded annoyed, wanting to leave the ship without seeing anyone.
“No, sir. It’s a major problem.”
“Be right there.” Crane rubbed his hand through his hair, then finished zipping up his duffel bag.
He wondered at the quiet of the ship as he headed towards the bridge. Everyone couldn’t have left already. They had just docked!
Dropping his duffel bag at the foot of the ladder, Crane made his way up. Squinting at the sunshine as he walked out onto the bridge, he took a breath of the fresh air as he stopped in front of Morton.
“What ‘s the problem, Chip?”
Morton waved his hand in the direction of the crew lined up on the deck of the ship.
“What’s going on, men?” Crane asked, more sternly than he intended.
Kowalski stepped forward. “Permission to speak, sir!”
“The crew of the Seaview does not wish to serve under any other Captain, sir! If the Captain resigns, so do the men, sir! No disrespect intended to you, Admiral, sir!” Kowalski took a step back.
Crane whirled around to see Nelson standing behind him, hands behind his back, rocking slightly and whistling silently.
“What did you do?” Crane asked, wander struck.
“Me? Not a thing! What makes you think I did anything?”
Crane glared at the Admiral , then slowly shook his head. “I guess I can’t fight it.” He turned to the men. “Don’t you all have something you should be doing? The sooner you do it, the sooner we get shore leave!”
The men of Seaview cheered, throwing their hats in the air.
The bridge officers could hear Chief Sharkey berating the men, “All right you loafers, get moving! And pick up those hats!”
Watching the last of the men leave the ship for a well deserved liberty, Seaview’s Admiral and Captain leaned against the Conning Tower wall.
“You know, Lee. It’s pretty amazing how word travels around a ship. All I did was mention to the Chief about how you were resigning, and why, and to set the paper work in motion.” Nelson waited a beat. “ Of course, Riley was standing there at the time.”
”Riley! You might as well have put it over the intercom!”
“But then you would have heard it , wouldn’t you?”
“You know Admiral, it’s going to come up again.”
“Captain Crane...We’ll deal with it when it does! We’ll deal with it when it does! Now I’ve got to go requisition a new flying sub!”
He gave the Captain a pat on the back and walked down the gangplank, whistling merrily.
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