It was a routine mission. Seaview had been ordered to visit all the Pacific Sea Labs to deliver supplies and check on the personnel. They had been at sea for two days and the officers and crew were enjoying an unusually relaxing and uneventful mission.
Admiral Nelson was in the observation nose of the submarine with his Executive Officer, Commander Chip Morton. They were plotting the course to the next sea lab. It was almost time for the day watch to begin. Captain Lee Crane descended the stairs to the control room and came to join the Admiral and Morton in the observation nose.
“Good morning, Lee,” said Nelson.
“Good morning Sir,” replied Crane, wearily.
Nelson noticed that Crane looked tired and a little pale.
“Are you feeling alright, Lee?” he asked.
“Just a little tired, Admiral. I was up late going over some of the sea lab reports.”
Morton looked over at the Captain and saw that he didn’t look well.
“Lee, why don’t you go back to your cabin and get some more rest.”
“I’ll be fine, Chip.” He loosened his tie and looked around the room. “It seems a bit warm in here, don’t you think?” He was perspiring a great deal.
“Temperature is normal, Lee. Why don’t you . . . . . .” Morton suddenly grabbed for Crane as the Captain started to sway and then slumped to the deck. Both Nelson and Morton leaned over Crane to see what was wrong with him. Nelson checked his pulse.
“Chip, get the Doc in here right away,” ordered Nelson.
Chip picked up the microphone. “Sickbay. Doc, report to the observation nose on the double!”
In the Sickbay, Captain Crane lay unconscious on the examining table. Doc Jameson was examining something under the microscope.
“What’s wrong with him, Doc?” asked Nelson.
“I don’t understand it, Admiral, but according to these blood tests, Captain Crane has been drugged.”
“Drugged?” replied Nelson, increduously. “But how? And what with?”
“Do you know if the Captain has eaten anything or had something to drink that wasn’t served in the Officers’ Mess? Nobody else is affected so it must be something that only he has injested. . . . I don’t know what else to think,” said Doc. “I do know that he has a very high level of toxin in his bloodstream.”
“Is he going to be alright?” asked Nelson, obviously very worried for his friend.
“Yes, I’ve managed to isolate the drug and I have given him an antidote but it will be a while before the toxin is out of his system and he’s going to have quite a headache when he wakes up. I’d still like to know how it got into his system and he’s not about to tell us anything for quite a while.”
The Admiral reached for the microphone. “Kowalski, report to SickBay on the double.”
“Aye aye sir.”
Kowalski entered Captain Crane’s cabin as ordered by Admiral Nelson and looked around for any clue as to what had happened to the Captain. He noticed a coffee cup on the Captain’s desk and walked over to examine it. He immediately called for the Admiral on the intercom. “Admiral, this is Kowalski, could you please come to the Skipper’s cabin right away!”
Nelson looked to where Kowalski was pointing. Next to an almost empty coffee cup was a single playing card. It was a Joker.
“What do you think it means, Admiral?” asked Kowalski.
“I don’t know, Kowalski, but I want you to take the coffee cup to the Doc for him to examine the coffee that is left. It may give us a clue. If this coffee has been drugged then I think someone has left his calling card. It looks like someone may be playing a very dangerous joke on Captain Crane.”
Back in Sickbay it didn’t take Doc very long to confirm the Admiral’s suspicions about the coffee. It contained very high levels of the toxin.
“I suspect that the card was placed on Lee’s desk after he left his cabin this morning,” remarked Admiral Nelson. “I have checked with the crew and no one remembers who delivered the coffee to the Captain’s quarters. We will have to wait until Lee wakes up and maybe get some answers from him.”
Lee Crane began to stir. He heard voices that seemed very far away. He couldn’t seem to focus on what they were saying. He tried opening his eyes but they seemed very heavy and he struggled to battle through the heavy fog that seemed to be everywhere.
“Skipper, Skipper, can you hear me?” Lee recognized Doc’s voice but it seemed to come from so far away. “Skipper, wake up.” Doc shook Crane’s shoulder gently, trying to rouse him from his drugged sleep. Lee finally managed to open his eyes slowly and then he began to feel the awful pounding that seemed to be coming from inside his head, like a big drum that kept echoing and echoing inside him. He quickly closed his eyes again and drifted off into an uneasy sleep.
A few hours later, Lee Crane finally woke up and was able to recognize that he was in SickBay. He had no idea what had happened to him. Admiral Nelson and Doc tried to find out who had given him the drugged coffee.
“All I remember, Admiral,” said Captain Crane, “ is the coffee was on my desk after I came out of the shower. I often ask for someone to bring me a cup of coffee in the morning but this time the coffee came before I even ordered it.”
“Did you see anything else on your desk, next to the cup of coffee, Lee?”
“Like what, Admiral, I don’t remember anything else being there.”
“Lee, when we searched your cabin, we found a playing card next to the coffee cup.”
“A playing card?” asked Lee.
“Yes,” said the Admiral, “It was a Joker.”
“A Joker?” remarked Lee. “Does that mean this is somebody’s idea of a joke?”
“If it was a joke, it was almost a deadly joke, Skipper,” said Doc. “If you hadn’t received the antidote in time, you wouldn’t be here discussing all this. Now I want you to get some rest, Skipper.” Lee started to protest. “And, if you behave yourself, I might let you go back to your cabin in a couple of hours.” Crane knew better than to argue with Doc and he had to agree that he still felt very tired. He lay back and was soon fast asleep.
Admiral Nelson and Chip Morton were in the Control Room discussing the Captain’s situation. Obviously, someone had drugged the Captain’s coffee and nearly killed him. Someone on the Seaview was capable of murder. Chief Sharkey had gone through the roster and found there were five new members of the crew on this voyage. They had eliminated all the other men of the crew who had sailed with them many times. Sharkey said as far as he knew, every man who had served with Captain Crane was loyal to the Skipper. He couldn’t think of one man who wouldn’t do anything for Captain Crane. Crane had proven many times over that his men came first and he had won the respect and loyalty of every man who had served under him. So Nelson decided to concentrate his attention on the five new men. He had Sparks radio to the Institute to have the records of the five men looked into to see if anyone could possibly have a reason to murder Captain Crane.
When Lee Crane woke up in Sickbay three hours later he felt much better. His headache was gone. He managed to convince Doc that he felt well enough to return to his cabin. He promised to go straight there and would report back to Sickbay in the morning for another checkup before Doc would certify him healthy enough to return to duty.
Captain Crane left Sickbay to return to his cabin. He had just reached the top of the stairs leading down to the passageway where his cabin was located when he thought he heard a noise behind him. As he turned, he saw a blur of red and then something hit him on the back of the head and he felt himself falling and then there was nothing but black.
Nelson picked up the microphone in the control room. “Sickbay, this is the Admiral.”
“Yes, Admiral.” said Doc.
“Doc, I’m posting a guard outside Sickbay. I don’t want anyone going into Sickbay without authorization from me. Tell Captain Crane he is to stay there until further orders.”
“I’m sorry Admiral, but you are too late. Captain Crane left here a few minutes ago. You’ll find him in his cabin.”
The Admiral sighed, “Thanks, Doc. I’ll post a guard outside the Captain’s cabin instead.”
Nelson spoke into the microphone again, “Kowalski, report to the control room on the double.”
“Aye, aye sir.”
Kowalski had been given his orders. He was to report to the Captain’s quarters and stand guard there until relieved by Patterson on the night watch. As he headed toward the top of the stairs leading down to the Skipper’s cabin, he couldn’t help wonder who would want to kill the Skipper. As he reached the top of the stairs he looked down and gasped. The Skipper was lying unconscious at the bottom.. Kowalski quickly ran down the stairs and knelt by the Skipper. There was blood seeping from the back of the Skipper’s head. Kowalski reached for the nearest microphone and called for help. Admiral Nelson and Doc Jameson arrrived at almost the same time. Doc checked Crane’s vitals and ordered a stretcher. The Admiral looked on with concern and then noticed something in the front pocket of the Captain’s shirt. The button was undone and something was sticking out of the pocket. Nelson reached down and pulled it out. It was a card. A Joker!
For the second time that day, Lee Crane struggled to regain consciousness. The headache had returned with a vengeance. He felt slightly nauseated and he felt a weight on his left arm. He slowly opened his eyes and tried to focus on the faces around him.
“Welcome back, Skipper,” said Doc. “This is becoming quite a habit of yours, waking up in Sickbay.”
Lee couldn’t believe his eyes. He was back in Sickbay. He tried to sit up but Doc stopped him. “Take it easy, Skipper and lie quietly. You have a nasty cut on the back of your head, quite a few bruises from falling down the stairs and your left wrist is fractured. I’ve given you some pain killers so just relax and try to rest.”
Lee looked at the cast on his left wrist and shook his head. He couldn’t even remember what happened. “You say I fell down the stairs?”
Nelson leaned over towards Crane and shook his head. “No, Lee. At first we thought you may have fallen but you didn’t. You were pushed down the stairs. And we found this in your pocket.” He held the Joker in his hand. “Do you remember anything that happened? Did you see anyone?”
Lee thought for a minute before answering. “I’m not sure. I remember walking back to my cabin and then I heard a noise behind me and then nothing. Oh, wait a minute. I did see something. It was just a flash of red, something red. I think it was somebody wearing red.”
“Like a seaman’s uniform?” asked Nelson.
“Yes, it could be,” said Crane wearily, “but I’m not sure. It’s all a little hazy.”
Doc interrupted, “That’s enough questions for now Admiral, I want my patient to get some rest. And this time, Captain, you are staying right here where I can keep an eye on you!”
“I agree, Doc,” said Nelson. “Kowalski has been ordered to stand guard outside Sickbay. He is to stay with the Captain at all times until we can get to the bottom of this. Somebody on this ship is trying to kill Captain Crane and I intend to find out who he is.”
As Nelson returned to the control room he was deep in thought. Obviously someone was trying to kill Captain Crane and Nelson intended to find out who it was before this person succeeded. Sparks handed him the information from the Institute about the five new members of the crew. He perused the information but found nothing unusual about the men. They all came highly recommended and had passed security screening with no problems. He did not recognize any of the names but planned to talk to Captain Crane in the morning to see if he was able to recognize any of them. Meanwhile he hoped that posting a guard at the Sickbay door would be good enough. He felt a strange uneasiness and he knew that Captain Crane would not be safe until this person was caught, whoever he was.
It had been a long day and Doc Jameson was ready for bed. He checked on Captain Crane again and was pleased to see that he was sleeping peacefully. He had given Crane a strong sedative to keep him calm. He wished he could prescribe a sedative for himself but he knew he had to stay alert in case of any trouble. Doc went to the Sickbay door and opened it. Kowalski was still on guard.
“Any problems, Kowalski?” said Doc.
“Everything is quiet out here, Doc.” said Kowalski. “My watch is up in ten minutes and Patterson should be here for the rest of the night.”
“Good,” said Doc. “Good night.”
“Good night, Doc,” said Kowalski.
Doc returned to his desk to finish up his paperwork. He was soon fast asleep at his desk.
A few hours later, although it seemed like only a few minutes, Doc woke up suddenly feeling a sense of foreboding. As he got up to go and check on his patient he felt a sharp pain as someone hit him hard on the back of the head, then he felt nothing.
“Wake up, Captain Crane,” said the voice.
Lee Crane stirred as someone shook him roughly. He opened his eyes and saw a figure standing there wearing a black mask. He tried to get out of bed but the figure held him down and then brought out a gun and pointed it directly at his head.
“You are a difficult man to kill, Lee Crane,” said the man. “I wasn’t sure if the coffee would do the trick and it didn’t but when I pushed you down the stairs I hoped that would do it but I didn’t have time to finish the job so I just left my card. But this time we won’t be interrrupted. Your doctor won’t be waking up for a long time and the guard outside has no idea I am in here. Those air ducts on your submarine make an excellent hiding place.”
Crane was now fully awake. “Who are you? And why do you want to kill me? Take off your mask so I can see who you are.”
“All in good time, Captain Crane. Now that I can talk to you face to face I am rather enjoying this. You don’t recognize me, do you? Of course not, this mask . . . . perhaps I should remove it or maybe I will keep you in suspense for a while longer. You and I have met before, Captain Crane and when I am ready I will reveal my identity to you.”
Lee Crane was trying to think. The guard was still outside the door. All he had to do was call out and the guard would come rushing in but then the attacker may shoot the guard the minute he opened the door. Crane had to be careful. He had to wait for the right moment.
“What do you want from me? Where have we met before?” asked Crane.
“As I said before Captain, all in good time. I have a job to do and that is to kill you but I also plan to get off this submarine without being found out. So, my dear Captain, if you don’t want any of your men to get hurt, you had better cooperate. You and I are going for a ride in the Flying Sub. Unfortunately, you will be found dead at the bottom of the ocean in your Flying Sub and by the time your Seaview reaches you, I will be far away.”
“You’re crazy!” yelled Crane. “You’ll never get off this submarine!”
“Be quiet!” And the man hit Crane viciously across the side of his face with the gun butt. Captain Crane fell back into the bed, dazed and in pain, blood streaming from a cut in his cheek.
“I told you I expect you to cooperate or the first man I kill will be the doctor over there.”
He pointed to Doc who still lay slumped over his desk. “And the next man will be the guard at the door.”
“Alright,” said Crane. “I’ll cooperate but first tell me who you are and why you are doing this.”
The man stood and thought for a while. “Yes, I want you to know who I am.” He turned toward Crane and slowly removed his mask. Crane looked at the man’s face but had no idea who he was. He was almost positive he had never seen him before or was there something familiar about him after all?
“Well, Captain Crane, except it wasn’t Captain Crane the last time I saw you, it was just plain Lee Crane, the star of the basketball team, the captain of the football team, the guy who could have any girl he wanted in high school, yes in high school. Do you remember me now, Crane, do you? I wasn’t in your league, no, I couldn’t have my pick of girls. Everybody called me the nerd, the geek. They all laughed at me or they didn’t even know I was there. Except for Laura. You remember Laura, Crane? Yes, I can see from your face that you do. She was my girl, Crane, she was supposed to be all mine, until you took her away from me. That’s why she had to die, Crane. You remember the car accident? It was no accident. She wanted you and not me and so I made sure she couldn’t have anybody. Is it all coming back to you now, Crane? I bet you don’t even remember my name, do you? Nobody else does either.”
“The Joker!” gasped Crane. “I remember now. You used to follow Laura around all the time and she didn’t want anything to do with you. She and I went out a couple of times and she told me that she was scared of you. Everyone called you the Joker because you played these mean practical jokes on people. After Laura was killed in the accident you left the school. You killed Laura?”
“Does that surprise you, Captain? Yes, I killed her and I vowed that I would kill you someday. Laura was the only girl that truly loved me and you took her away from me. When I found out where you were, the Captain of the Seaview, I swore I would come and get you. It took me a long time but now I’m here and it’s time to finish the job I’ve started. You don’t die easily, Lee Crane but I’ll be sure to finish the job properly now!”
“You are insane. Laura wanted nothing to do with you, she. . . .”
“Shut up!! I don’t want to hear it! Now get up and walk slowly over to the door and call your guard. Have him come in.”
Crane knew he was dealing with a madman and a killer. He had to be careful. He didn’t want any of his men to get hurt. He was trying to think of a way to catch the Joker off guard. It wasn’t going to be easy. He would have to go along with him for a while and wait for his chance. As he got up he staggered slightly, he wasn’t in very good shape to fight it out with this madman.
“Call the guard in. Now!!”
Crane walked toward the Sickbay door and opened it slowly. Patterson was standing there.
“Patterson, would you come in here a minute,” said Crane.
“Aye, sir,” said Patterson.
As Patterson started to enter the Sickbay, Crane quickly grabbed Patterson’s gun from his hand and shoved him down. He then turned and fired at the Joker but not before the Joker yelled and fired at Crane, hitting him in the shoulder. Crane’s bullet had grazed the Joker in the side but it hardly slowed him down. The Joker fired again and missed as Crane quickly moved to one side and this time Crane’s second bullet hit the mark. The Joker fell to the floor and did not move. Patterson quickly ran over to the Joker and grabbed his gun, he then turned back in time to see the Skipper sliding to the floor, his eyes closing.
Two days later, Admiral Nelson and Chip Morton were enjoying a cup of coffee in the observation nose of the submarine, Seaview, when Captain Crane slowly made his way to join them.
“So Doc let you out of Sickbay already?” asked Morton.
“Well, let’s say he encouraged me to get some exercise,” said Crane. “Actually he mentioned something about me giving him more of a headache than he got from being hit on the head with a gun butt.”
“You never have been his favourite patient,” remarked Nelson. “And lately you have spent quite a bit of time in Sickbay. How are you feeling now?”
“Well, Doc says I am making a good recovery and should be ready for light duty in a few more days. How are things going with the mission?”
“Everything’s going as scheduled. How about a cup of coffee?”
Crane smiled and shook his head. “You’ve got to be joking!”
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