Authorís Note: This story is dedicated to my sister, Donna Sherland, who unwittingly supplied me with the idea for this, my first literary endeavor. I would also like to acknowledge all the wonderful friends who I have met because of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and who have been the source of continual encouragement. I especially want to thank them for not listening to me when I vowed I had no inclination or time to write a single word.

RIDING THE RAILS

By Carol A. Sherland


It had been a long mission and Admiral Harriman Nelson was tired. Iím getting too old for this cloak and dagger business, he thought. They should leave it for the younger men like Crane, or better yet, others not connected with Seaview. But once again, the U.S. government had needed Admiral Nelsonís expertise to determine whether the foreign agents were truthful in their boasts. The mission had taken place almost entirely on a slow, arduous train ride across country ending up in Norfolk, Virginia where authorities were waiting, after being signaled by Nelson, to arrest the two spies.

After an exhaustive debriefing, Admiral Nelson proceeded to Washington, DC where he joined his long time friend and colleague Lucius Emery. He and Emery would return home to Santa Barbara, California after meeting with members of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) and the US Navy regarding further development and modification of SOSUS (Sound Surveillance System) for the new Whale Acoustic Research Project (WARP). As it turned out, two weeks worth of conferences were cancelled. The US Navy and NMML had decided, after all, to give Nelson their support both financially and technologically. This meant that he and Emery had more than fourteen days before they were due back at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research.

***************

Sitting in a back booth in Washington, DCís well-known Kinkeadís restaurant, Admiral Nelson and Lucius Emery discussed their next course of action.

"Well, Lucius, are you in any hurry to get back? You know, Iíd love to just take it easy for a change," Nelson said in a wistful tone. "I canít remember the last time I had a vacation. This trip took more out of me than I realized."

"Huh, did you say something, Harry? I was just wondering about the rate of bubbles surfacing in this glass of beer. I would imagine itís inversely proportionate to the..." Emeryís voice trailed off as he stared intently at the object in his hand.

Nelson chuckled to himself. Once again Lucius was lost in thought about a scientific phenomenon that would be unimportant to anyone but Lucius. Patiently, he continued, "I was saying that I called the Institute this morning and Angie advised that Seaview was still in dry dock for the annual check of all systems including a thorough examination of the hull. She assured me there was nothing new to report. All was going smoothly." Nelson paused briefly to take a sip of his scotch and water. "Then I talked to Lee and he actually seemed bored, saying it was all routine. When I told them the good news regarding SOSUS and WARP, they both wanted me to take some time for myself... something about sounding tired." Regarding his friend curiously, Nelson asked, "Do I sound tired to you, Lucius?"

"If you go by my second hand, the rate of bubbles rising to the surface is four centimeters per second. At that rate, making an estimated calculation as to the volume of liquid, all the carbonation would dissipate out of the beer in six point eight hours."

"Well, I guess that means that instead of studying your beer you had better drink up before it goes flat. Sometimes, Lucius, I wonder about you." Then with a sparkle in his eye, Nelson added, "Besides, that bottle costs $7.95."

Emeryís head popped up. With eyes opened wide, although his eyes were always somewhat cow-sized, he looked at his companion. "I didnít realize it was so expensive! Iíll finish it right now and I wonít let any of it go to waste." True to his word, Emery savored every last drop of his Alsasian beer. As he smacked his lips in satisfaction, he said, "By the way, you were saying something before about the Institute and taking it easy. What was that all about?"

"I was just wondering." Nelson hesitated slightly. "How would you like to travel back home in a nice relaxed atmosphere and see this country like youíve probably never seen it before?"

"Okay, Harry, I give up. What are you talking about?"

"My dear Lucius, I am suggesting going home by train. I havenít ridden cross-country that way since I was a boy and, as I remember it, I enjoyed it immensely." Nelson suddenly smiled. "But, then again, my parents may not have had such fond memories of the trip. Nothing like vacationing in a confined space with two wild Indians running around. You know, Iíve traveled around the world more times than I can count and Iíve visited just about every port. I think it would be fitting to see this nation, one that weíve both defended and worked to make a better place, in all her majesty." With undisguised eagerness, he leaned forward on his elbows. "What do you say, Lucius? Are you game?"

"Harry, I thought you just arrived here by train? Why would you want to do it again?"

Nelsonís answer was deliberately cryptic since his missions were secret. Trying unsuccessfully to mask a scowl, he recalled the troublesome journey. "Iíd rather not include the trip out here as part of the equation, Lucius. It was, uh, letís say it was all business and no pleasure." Then Nelsonís expression softened. "Besides, itís much more fun traveling with a friend and Iím curious as to what observations youíll come up with."

Emery laughed at Nelsonís joke and inwardly knew that his old friend was trying to reveal as little as possible about the train ride. He had read an article in the newspaper regarding the two men arrested in Norfolk. Undoubtedly that was Harryís work. It seemed that Harry was always working.

Admiral Nelson finished the last of his drink and started to rise, taking out his wallet. "This oneís on me, Lucius. And Iíll even pay for the train tickets, all right?"

Lucius Emery stood up and followed his colleague out the door, wondering how this adventure would turn out. He had learned that nothing was ever simple with Harry. Despite his apprehension, Emery smiled. Well, at least itís free. And, my dear friend, he thought with great satisfaction, youíve finally learned to take a break from it all!

***************

Reservations having been made on Amtrakís Cardinal and Southwest Chief, Emery had readily agreed to Nelsonís suggestion of going in civilian attire. Lucius was never the typical Navy man and he knew how Harry hated wearing those uncomfortable uniforms. Luckily Harry owns his own boat and can wear whatever he wants, Emery thought. Being somewhat of a rebel, Nelson didnít make it a habit to blindly follow someoneís idiotic orders. Emery was happy that it was especially true when it came to such foolishness as choking collars and neckties, which, according to Nelson, 'markedly restrict the flow of oxygen to oneís brain'.

On the train platform, amongst numerous families and couples, stood two men. One was a stocky redhead and the other was a short, if not plump, fellow who was obviously not paying much attention to anything else except what he was reading. As the crowd made its way to the train, Lucius Emery was constantly bumping into people and things. He would have tripped over a cluster of suitcases if his friend Harriman Nelson hadnít effortlessly guided him around them. He even had to remind Emery to grab the railing and walk up the steps. Nelson could see various passengers, as well as the conductor, shaking their head at what appeared to be a somewhat dim-witted individual. If they only knew his IQ, Nelson mused, and all the many strides heís made in the sciences... or maybe it would just reinforce their image of the absent-minded professor.

Nelson led the way down the corridor to their first class accommodations. He had been assigned suite number six and Lucius was in seven. He wondered if his friend would remember that number and how many times he would try to enter one of the other cabins. Donít worry about that now, Harry my boy, just relax and enjoy. Ten whole days of nothing but sightseeing and rest. No worries or responsibilities. Lee and Angie had the train schedule and would certainly be able to reach him should an emergency arise. Nelson wished he had used a videophone when he told the two about his plans to travel home by train. The look on their faces would have been priceless! His captain and secretary were probably thinking the 'Old, Old Man has finally flipped his lid' or else 'this must be another mission'. Nelson had just left them guessing and had emphasized that he was to be contacted only if necessary. It was, after all, his vacation.

Once inside his suite, Nelson began to relax. Hung up in his garment bag in the tiny closet were his uniforms. They and his ID were the only items that identified him as the famous four-star Admiral Harriman Nelson, founder of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research and owner and builder of the world-renowned submarine Seaview. For now, Admiral Nelson would be Harry Nelson, just a tourist, a man with no particular responsibilities. Wearing a comfortable pair of slacks, a button-down shirt and a sports coat, he certainly did not appear to be someone who often carried the weight of the world on his shoulders or engaged in missions to save that world. Nelson looked in the mirror, ran his hand along the side of his head and sighed. It felt good to be just a common Joe. He was surprised that in this day and age of television interviews and news programs, no one had recognized him and he was glad. Not one for grandstanding, he enjoyed the anonymity. A personal friend, a police officer, had pointed out to him that people often see just the uniform and not the person inside.

At that point, Nelsonís stomach growled. Iím starving. Letís see... what time is it? Better get Lucius before he buries himself in one of his huge whale books. I pity the poor porter who had to carry his luggage.

Harriman Nelson knocked on the entrance to suite number seven. It took several raps before Lucius Emery finally answered the door, book in hand. When Nelson brought up the subject of food, Emery smiled broadly and rubbed his stomach. He had forgotten how hungry he was mostly because the phrase 'human consumption' was not mentioned in his new bible, "Cetacean Bioacoustics" by Dr. Patricia M. Cook. Extracting the large volume from Emeryís grasp, Nelson escorted his colleague out the door. "Come on, Lucius," he prodded. "Letís go eat."

The two men walked through the swaying train. When they arrived in the glass-domed observation car, Admiral Harriman Nelson stopped abruptly. His poor friend ambled smack-dab into his back. As if unaware of the collision, Nelson stared up at the windows above. His mind flashed back to a time many years in his past...

Young Harry Nelson was about eleven years old or so and was on vacation with his family aboard a different train. Edith was about five and was meandering behind her brother. Harry had stopped abruptly, as he had on this day, and she ran into his elbow. Edith started to whimper, a sound that he knew usually preceded a crying episode. Harry picked up his sister and simply said, "Look." Edith wiped her eyes to see what her beloved big brother was talking about. There, above her head, was the sky with clouds and mountains and everything. The Nelson family had entered a more primitive glass-domed car that year. For several minutes, Edith and Harry just looked around in awe of the panoramic view, their mouths opened wide.
Thinking back, Admiral Nelson wondered if that experience was responsible for his subsequent vision of a glass-nosed submarine. It had never occurred to him that the idea for his concept of a clear, high-tensile plastic plate had come from a train ride during his youth. He was now even more grateful for his slow passage home because it would give him time to dwell on this interesting revelation.

"Harry?"

"Hmmm. Yes, Lucius?"

"Where did you go? I thought staring into space for minutes at a time was my favorite pastime. In fact," he conceded, "I thought I had a monopoly on it."

"Huh? Oh, itís nothing," stated Nelson. Then, wanting to change the subject, he added, "Besides, Iím famished. Iíll be happy to see a menu where seafood isnít the main theme."

Nelson and Emery sat down to the first of many meals aboard the train. The clanking, rumbling and swaying were distracting at first and then hardly noticeable.

At the end of the meal, Nelson pushed his chair away from the table, crossed ankle over knee and said, "You know, Lucius, this train ride is like our very first assignment. We didnít think we could ever get used to the noise and the roll of good olí Bowfin and then before long, we had forgotten all about it." Harry quietly swirled the amber liquid in its snifter before he continued. "I wonder if itíll be same way as on aboard Seaview when, at the first hint that somethingís wrong, weíre suddenly aware of the sounds and pitch of the boat again. So, whatís your opinion?" When he realized no response was forthcoming, Nelson gently tapped his glass with a spoon. "Lucius, are you there?"

"Uh, sorry, Harry. I was just thinking about the domed ceiling. Oddly enough, it reminds me of Seaview and your front porch."

"Yes, ... I know," said Nelson with a slight grin. Lucius Emery may be a little out of step with the rest of the world but he certainly doesnít miss much.

***************

The days passed leisurely and Admiral Nelson could feel the tension slowly slip away from his body. His energy level was on the rise and fatigue was no longer a constant rival for his attention. This was a great idea, he thought. I should have done it sooner. Not only do I feel about ten years younger but Iíve also gotten to see parts of this nation that Iíve never seen or heard of before and therefore never really appreciated. We do live in a truly beautiful country and, up until now, Iíve only really seen it from her coasts and from high in the sky. Riding the rails and making stops in the various one-horse towns, Nelson experienced the true feel of the 'Heart of America'. It would be something he would long remember. Watching Lucius read his Cetacean book while a few of the children on board played around him, brought Admiral Harriman Nelson to a different time... aboard a different train...
"Harry, slow down this instant! I will not have any son of mine running around like a ruffian. Really Harry, I know youíre trying to behave but you are too high-spirited for me. Sean, talk to your son," said an attractive woman to her husband. Maureen Nelsonís striking blue eyes were clear and warm as she lovingly stroked her sonís unruly red hair.

Sean Nelson had been sitting beside his wife, enjoying his family and puffing contently on his pipe. After hearing Maureenís request, he gently squeezed her hand and motioned for his son to come stand next to him. "Harry," Nelson explained, as he absently stroked his neatly trimmed, ginger-colored beard, "there are many people who have paid good money for this trip and I am sure they do not appreciate your behavior."

Young Harry Nelson obediently listened as his father spoke until a shimmering object caught his eye. Over his fatherís right shoulder, in the far corner of the railroad car, sat a rather eccentric-looking old woman. Perched proudly on the top of her head was an intriguing emerald green and turquoise hat, accented with an iridescent peacock feather. The woman was obviously listening to his fatherís lecture too. She smiled at Harry and gave him a wink. I wonder if sheís remembering the same speech given to her when she was a young girl, he thought. Harry smiled back at the woman and then tried to pay closer attention to his fatherís words. It was apparent that Sean Nelson hadnít noticed his sonís momentary lack of concentration or the presence of the lady, with the strange hat, behind him.

"You have to slow down, son. I will not tell you again." Knowing that Harry was only behaving as any boy would on such a trip, his father tried a different approach. "Why donít you take Edith for a walk with you? I know sheíd love to come along. Sheís getting bored with us old folk." The handsome man smiled and put his hand on his sonís shoulder. He knew that Harry was trying his best. He was a good boy but his exuberance often got the better of him.

"Yes, Father," he said. Then Harry grabbed his sisterís hand and exclaimed, "Come on, Edith, letís go explore! Maybe thereís some wild beasts lurking at the other end of the train."

"Harry, you are not to frighten your sister," Maureen Nelson cautioned. "Make it fun, not scary."

"Okay, Mommy." Combining his natural talent for storytelling with his knowledge of the animal kingdom, Harryís words began to paint a delightfully different picture for his sister. "Edith, there are some nice wild ponies and monkeys loose on the train and we have to try and capture them."

As Harry continued to weave his tale, Edith followed her brother out of the car. Her deep green eyes grew wide with wonder. Ponies and monkeys! Harry always took her to the greatest places and introduced her to the most interesting animals. What was he saying the other week when they were at the seashore? Giant creatures under the sea! Edith had started crying because she wanted to go swimming that day, but not with those horrible things waiting to grab her as she entered the water. But then Harry told her about the seahorses and smiling dolphins that she could ride and her fears disappeared. Harry always took care of her and made her feel safe.

The two children had passed through several cars when, all of a sudden, they were confronted by another boy. Maybe a year or two older than Harry, the youth was a good foot taller. "Say the magic word and Iíll let you pass," the stranger taunted.

Keeping Edith behind him in case this boy wanted to start trouble, Harry calmly answered, "I donít know the magic word but I bet I could think of a pretty good one."

"No magic word? Then itíll be a penny... a penny apiece!" the boy demanded as he poked his head around Harryís back and saw Edith shrinking, trying to stay out of sight.

Ignoring the boyís aggressive attitude, Harry decided a wee bit of recruiting was in order. He knew there were far too few children on board the train to dismiss this one from being a potential playmate. "Weíre going to hunt some wild animals at the other end of the train. Do you want to come with us and help with the roundup? Edith is a little small so we might need an extra hand."

"I guess so. What kind of animals?"

At that point, Edith peaked out from behind her older brother and whispered, "Ponies and monkeys."

"Nah, ponies and monkeys arenít much fun. How about lions and tigers and bears?"

Intent on keeping peace in the ranks, Harry had a proposition. "I think there are some of each. How about you and I capture the lions, tigers and bears and Edith can catch the ponies and monkeys? By the way, Iím Harry Nelson and this is my sister Edith. Whatís your name?"

"Eric Parker," stated the bigger boy as he pushed aside the stringy blond hair that hung over his eyes.

"Hey, what was the magic word anyway?" Harry asked.

"I donít know. I hadnít made one up."

Harryís lips began to form into a tight line and for a moment the other boy cringed. "So, no matter what I said, you would have made us pay a penny each."

"No, not you! Weíre friends and I donít charge friends. Anyway, I donít know any magic words." He forced a grin hoping to appease the smaller boy. Although Eric was a bully by nature, he didnít want to get Harry mad. He had a feeling that he didnít want to tangle with this boy. Maybe itís the red hair, he thought. Ericís father had talked on occasion about the numerous brawls that he been in at the local tavern. OíSheaís it was. Eric had listened in fascination when his father had described how those 'redheaded Irish bastards' could really fight.

Harry shook his head at the other boy and scowled. "What were you thinking?" Then, with a wave of his hand, he seemed to dismiss the incident from his thoughts. "Never mind. Maybe later weíll think of a great password but we wonít charge anyone. After all, this isnít our train. Right now, we have a mission. Come on, letís go!" Harry knew he would have fun playing these childish games but deep down he hoped to accomplish his own mission. He desperately wanted to see the locomotive with its engine and fascinating machinery.

The three companions made their way through the never-ending string of railroad cars when, without warning, Eric stopped in front of a large door. "Baggage Compartment," he slowly read aloud, having trouble pronouncing the big words. Then he smiled a wicked smile. "I bet this is where they keep the animals. I can get this lock open. Itís easy... youíll see!"

"Uh, I donít know. I donít think weíre allowed in there."

"Look, Harry, if we werenít allowed in, theyíd have a sign saying 'No Trespassing' or something." The older boy eyed the lock. He had encountered this kind of obstacle many times before and had almost always managed to spring the mechanism found within. His parents had said that he had no talent but Eric considered himself quite an expert when it came to 'breaking and entering'. Anyway, if he got caught, he would blame the redheaded kid and his squirt sister. There were no cops on this train and, even if there were, they wouldnít know him like the ones back home.

Harry was apprehensive about this new turn of events. He was just about to voice his opinion when the lock popped open in Ericís hand. A look of satisfaction spread across the older boyís face and then suddenly he was in the compartment dragging Harry and Edith inside. Eric immediately shut the door behind them. The three children held their breath as their eyes grew accustom to the dim light that filtered in from the small, high windows.

It was Ericís voice that finally broke the silence. "See. I told you it was easy. Now we have a great place to have some fun and over there are our animals."

"You mean those chickens? What do you expect us to do with them?"

"Quit your grumbling and letís play!"

The three romped for what seemed like hours in their own private wonderland. It was filled with everything from bicycles and large spools of copper wire to a dressmakerís dummy. Best of all, there was not a grown up in sight. Once Harry got over the fact that they were probably not allowed in the room, he had a ball. He played commodore on his pretend boat, made up of suitcases lined up together with a hatbox as the shipís wheel, a game Harry often played with his sister. This time, his challenging opponent was a blond-haired pirate. A few stray umbrellas served as the boysí trusty cutlasses and it wasnít long before Harry had Eric at a disadvantage. With much ceremony, a dumbfounded Eric Parker was forced to walk the plank. Then, Edith squealed with delight as Harry took her on his back for a pony ride and again when he scratched the top of his head and under his arm pretending to be a monkey. She shied away from the strange boy, not liking his roughhousing, although he and Harry tumbled and rolled on the floor together apparently having the time of their lives.

That all stopped when the door opened with a bang. "Harriman! Edith! What the devilís going on in here? I want some answers and I want them now!"

Harry could only stammer at his father. He knew he was wrong. He knew that they had no right being in the room and blaming it on Eric was not the answer. Harry stood quietly and then said with a quivering voice, "Father, itís my fault. I brought Edith in here with me. We were just playing."

It was at that point that Sean Nelson spied someone attempting to hide behind a mountain of steamer trunks. The boy was rather large for his age and, if first impressions could be trusted, he looked like a juvenile delinquent. "And who are you, young man?"

Eric stepped from behind the trunks and croaked, "Um, Iím Eric Parker and we were just playing and the door was unlocked and, uh..." Then, as smooth as silk, Eric showed his true character. Masterfully donning the appearance of an innocent bystander, he announced, "It was all Harryís idea, sir! You see, I tried to stop him..."

Harry spun on the other boy, eyes ablaze and fists jammed deeply into his pockets. Barely able to hold his tongue, the young redhead glared at the blond causing Eric to abruptly shut his mouth and scurry towards the door like the rat he was. A smile of satisfaction slowly crept across Harryís face but it was short-lived.

"Return to your family, Eric," commanded the older Nelson. "I will deal with my children. This had better not happen again and Iím afraid, Eric, they are no longer allowed to play with you."

Sean Nelson led his children to the car where their mother sat. She was chatting with some of the other women and stopped in mid-sentence when she saw her family walk in. Maureen Nelson recognized her husbandís grim expression. Harry and Edith had obviously misbehaved and would be punished. She almost wept when she gazed at her two angels, angels with dirty faces. Edith was crying and Harry was wringing his hands looking miserable.

"Maureen, you look after Edith," Nelson said to his wife. Then, with an emphasis on the last word, he added, "Harry and I are going to have a little discussion." The somber man led his son back to their compartment.

Admiral Nelsonís thoughts returned to the present when he heard a young girl crying in her motherís arms. Sheís sweet, he thought, just like Edith. Those were certainly the good old days, full of happiness and security. He would give anything to see his mother and father again! What a close-knit family they had been. Even as a child, Nelson knew that his father disciplined him because he loved his son and was trying to instill in him a sense of right and wrong. He had learned so much from his father, many principals that Harriman Nelson followed to this day.

***************

Studying the Sunday newspaper in his lap, Admiral Nelson chewed on the end of his ballpoint pen. A nine letter word for 'Othello character'. Hmmm, letís see. B-R-A-B-A-N-T-I-0. There. Finished. Nelson glanced at his wristwatch and frowned. Nearly ten minutes. I know itís been ages since I did one of these things, but either Iím my losing my touch or the New York Times is getting more difficult. Cocking an eyebrow, he turned to his companion.

"How goes the book, Lucius? Are Dr. Cookís theories correct or do you have some reservations about working with her? I hear that she is very attached to her whales and may not be willing to share." Tilting his head to one side to get a better view, Harry commented, "From the picture on the book jacket, Iíd say she isnít half-bad looking. Actually, sheís the prettiest woman that youíve ever worked with. Will you be able to keep your hands to yourself?"

Nelsonís eyes twinkled with mischief. He enjoyed teasing his very good friend and wondered if Lucius would even notice the lovely woman who would soon be working by his side. Get Lucius near a whale and youíd think he was courting it. Well, Harry, youíve been known to bury yourself in your own work and not notice much else, but a woman that good-looking would probably do the trick.

"My dear Harry, Iíll have you know that she is very attractive. Have you forgotten that I have already met Patricia Cook? She was at the Institute when you and your crew were out gallivanting on the Seven Seas in your wonder sub," Lucius explained. "She seemed very disappointed that the legendary Admiral Harriman Nelson wasnít at his home base but I will cure her of that slight flaw." Emery then nudged Harry playfully. "After working with me and seeing me caring for her babies, sheíll fall in love and forget all about you."

Lucius smiled good-naturedly, hoping to get a rise out of his friend. He knew women were always swarming around Harry. Emery had heard them commenting on Nelsonís deep, resonant voice, broad shoulders, and the piercing, blue eyes. Eyes that could look right through you! Lucius could understand why he, himself, was single but knew Harry should have been married a long time ago. Although there had been numerous opportunities, Nelsonís one true love had died tragically. What a shame... Harry could be a grandfather by now. Suddenly imagining Nelson with a little, red-haired child bouncing on his knee calling him Pop-Pop brought tears of laughter to Emeryís eyes. He almost choked on his wintergreen LifeSaver causing Harry to get up from his seat and pound him on the back.

"What are you trying to do, Lucius... give me a heart attack," Nelson scolded gently. "I can just hear the news anchorman now. World-renowned scientist traveling incognito onboard train tragically dies from inhaling LifeSaver. Story at eleven. Itís like youíd never been around a woman before." Tutting softly, Harry confided, "Donít think I donít know about that female Marine Biologist in the Caribbean near St Lucia about a year and a half ago. Janice Caldwell was her name, I believe. Of course there hadnít been any whales at the site for several weeks, but, really Lucius, you should have heard the reports I was receiving about the two of you! I was told that, by the end of the project, they almost had to hose you both down."

Trying to appear indignant, Lucius cleared his throat and addressed his colleague. "Harry, what I do, I do in the name of science. Janice and I were just conducting some, uh, experimental research."

Nelson rolled his eyes and snorted. Then, before Emery could turn the tables on him, Harry casually turned towards the window and changed the subject. "By the way, Lucius, whatís our next stop?"

"Lamar, Colorado, I believe."

"Arenít we any further along? One more tumbleweed town and I am flying home. The Flying Sub can land on the roof of this thing and I am out of here."

"Calm down, Harry. I can tell that youíre anxious to get back to the Institute, Seaview and your crew. For the life of me, I donít know what you do there. The whole operation is like a well-oiled machine." Then, with a gleam in his eye, Emery said, "I guess it doesnít work at its peak efficiency unless the boss is bellowing about something. You should see your employees when you go into a tirade. Theyíre usually exchanging that look of understanding known to everyone who has ever worked for you." Well now, Harry, the shoe seems to be on the other foot, Lucius thought with a carefully suppressed chuckle. "I guess you could call it a look of endearment. It doesnít mean youíre getting soft-hearted on me..., or does it, old friend?"

Admiral Harriman Nelson stared incredulously at his colleague before realizing that Lucius might be right after all. The Institute was a pleasant yet highly efficient and disciplined place to work. It was also a world renowned research facility, which continued to be on the cutting edge of many important scientific discoveries.

Nelson then took a moment to reflect on his lifeís work after retiring from the Navy. Not only had he built the Institute, but the Seaview as well, and then he had hired and organized a crew. Led by Lee Crane and Chip Morton, Seaviewís crew was the finest around. They would do well on their own, out to sea without him, but he hated to stay away from her or them. It was as if they were his life blood, what made his heart beat strong. He had had enough of this rest and relaxation. After tomorrow, this train will be docking, uh, arriving in LA and itís none too soon for me!

***************

Later the next day, an older gentleman walked into the observation car. From the clothes and hat he wore, Nelson guessed he was the engineer. While numerous porters were busy loading some unexpected cargo, the train driver managed to stop and talk to each and every passenger, hoping they had had a good trip. A nice gesture, Nelson thought. He had met another engineer a long time ago...

"Harry, can I come in?"

Young Harry Nelson wiped a tear from his eye and let his sister into the compartment. "What do you want?"

"I just want to be with you. Why are you crying?"

"Iím not crying, itís just allergies or something."

"What 'cha doing Harry? Can I do it too?"

Harry couldnít help but laugh. Edith always did that to him. She had no idea what he was doing but she always wanted to do the same thing. Some of his friends had told him that Edith was a pest, always wanting to tag along, but Edith was his sister, his responsibility, and he would always do his best by her.

"Iím just watching the telephone poles go by," Harry informed his sister. "If you figure out the approximate distance between the poles and try to count the number of poles passing by in a period of time, you can calculate the rate at which we are traveling."

"You mean how fast weíre going?"

"Yeah, wanna help?"

Edith nodded her head vigorously. The two peered out the window for several minutes, counting the poles and studying Harryís pocket watch, a prized possession from his grandfather. After gathering the necessary information, Harry let Edith help him with the calculations. Head bowed in concentration, she tapped her pencil on the piece of scratch paper in front of her, just as she had so often seen Harry do. Edith soon turned to her brother and stated triumphantly, "Weíre going forty-five miles per hour!"

Nodding his head in approval, Harry lifted Edith up off the floor. He twirled her around and around until they were both laughing so hard they could barely stand. Edith then gave Harry a big hug and a wide smile, ostentatiously missing two front teeth. It was her way of showing how much she loved and idolized him. Despite their age difference, the two siblings got along splendidly. Harry especially enjoyed the times with Edith when he was able to teach an eager pupil. It surprised him how often she was interested in things that friends his own age found either boring or too complicated. Harry knew that he was considered to be a pretty smart kid but he wondered if anyone realized how truly bright Edith was. Just give her time, he thought proudly. Sheíll soon show them all!

Edith suddenly became serious. "Mommy said weíre going to stop in Dodge City today. Are you going to be coming with us or do you have to stay here? Iíll stay with you, Harry. Iíll keep you company." With that, Edith crossed her arms and plopped herself on the bench seat beside him. Edith was loyal to a fault, a trait Harriman Nelson would value throughout his lifetime.

Harry stood up as his father entered the room. Edith whimpered when he said he wanted to talk to his son alone. When Sean Nelson assured his very protective daughter that Harry was going to be all right, she acquiesced and joined her mother in the other compartment.

"Harry, now that youíve been given some time to think about what happened today, I hope that you understand the gravity of the situation." Nelson paused and, upon seeing his sonís nod, continued in a firm, deep voice. "I have already spoken to the conductor and advised him of the circumstances. You will proceed directly to his office and apologize. If there is any damage in the baggage room, you will pay for it by helping out onboard this train. Is that clear, young man?"

"Yes, sir."

"I know this is difficult, Harry, but it is the right thing to do. Eric may feel like he has gotten away with quite a bit today but it will hurt him in the long run. It will hurt him as a man." Nelsonís stern expression softened as he crouched down before the boy. "I want you to be an upstanding citizen with morals and integrity... something that I have strived to be. Such standards are not always easy to maintain but, believe me, they are well worth the effort. You will be able to live with yourself and sleep at night. But, right now, son, I want you to know how proud I am of you for being honest and taking responsibility for your actions." Sean Nelson embraced his son and then sent him on his way.

Harry Nelson solemnly walked the long, lonely passageway to the conductorís office, his only companions were the butterflies fluttering nervously in the pit of his stomach. As with any young boy endowed with a vivid imagination, Harry envisioned the worst. He could just picture the conductor as an evil-eyed, long-toothed, hairy ogre. To his relief, the fear was unjustified. The conductor turned out to be a very nice yet conscientious man. He assigned Harry some menial chores, one of which was to clean out the chicken coops in the baggage room. After many hours, Harry emerged feeling tired and smelling like a chicken. He went back to his compartment and took a shower. Father was right, he thought as his head hit the pillow. Telling the truth and making amends sure makes you feel a whole lot better. It wasnít long before he fell fast asleep.

Suddenly, Harry was aware of the sound of squealing brakes as their train slowed to a halt. He looked up to find his father standing beside him, gently shaking his shoulder. Sean Nelson informed his son that he had had a long, interesting talk with the conductor who was impressed by Harryís willingness to work hard and without complaint. Upon hearing of his eagerness to see the locomotive and the engineer, the conductor happily did his part. The engineer agreed to let the boy come forward when they stopped at Dodge City.

Harryís young face beamed with delight. He dearly loved his father and wrapped both arms around the stocky man as far as they would reach. "Thank you, Father! Itís what I was hoping for the whole trip! I canít wait to see how this thing works and all the equipment they have and everything!" With much anticipation, Harry hurriedly led his father to the front of the train.

Chief Engineer Leland Morgan was a benevolent man who was raising several sons of his own. Harry Nelson impressed the older man in many ways. Morgan had never seen such a brilliant lad who was extremely knowledgeable in both mechanics and electronics. Even though the Nelsonís obviously had money, Harry was certainly no snob. He politely, and with much enthusiasm, asked question after question. They were well thought out inquiries that progressed logically with each answer. At the end of the tour, Morgan was exhausted but exhilarated. It had been a long time since someone, besides his own son, had taken so much interest in his neat, meticulously clean locomotive. Harry, in turn, was thrilled with what he had learned that day. His blue eyes shone brightly and he felt like he was on top of the world.

"Mr. Nelson, uh, I donít mean to disturb you but Iím your engineer for this trip. My name is Morgan."

Admiral Harriman Nelson woke from his dream state. He was daydreaming again! It had better stop once I get back to the Institute, he told himself. The older man, leaning towards Nelson, was offering his hand. What did he say his name was? Morgan? It couldnít be! Heíd be almost a hundred years old by now.

"Iím sorry, Mr. Morgan, just lost in thought, I guess. By any chance, are you related to Leland Morgan, the engineer?"

"Why yes, he was my father. He drove the old Santa Feís Super Chief many years ago. Did you know him?"

"I rode with your father as a young boy and he gave me a tour of his locomotive. It was the highlight of the trip." Nelson smiled at the memory. "He was very considerate and took the time to answer all my questions. The experience reinforced my love of engines."

"Are you a mechanic, sir?"

"You could say that," answered Nelson, trying to hide the amused expression on his face. Since the conversation was beginning to focus on his own identity, Harriman Nelson guided the conversation in a different direction. "Not only did your father show me the technical aspects of his job, but I was also impressed with how much he enjoyed his work. Itís something that Iíve never forgotten."

"Iím so glad to hear that, sir. My father instilled his love of trains in me and I guess I just naturally followed in his footsteps. He would have been very proud to know that he made his mark on another youngster."

Admiral Nelson assured the engineer that his father had certainly encouraged many others throughout his career. John Morgan thanked the man for his kind words and then approached the only other passenger he had missed in the railroad car. The round-faced man was engrossed in his rather large book and apparently didnít want to be disturbed. As he turned to leave, Morgan reflected on his conversation with Mr. Nelson. Leland Morgan had touched so many peopleís lives and not just by making sure they arrived at their destination safely. The engineer smiled at the memory of his father and walked back to his locomotive, recalling the many ways he had lovingly shaped his sonís life.

Tapping his friend with the back of his hand, Harriman Nelson quipped, "Lucius, get your nose out of that book. Youíve been reading it for the entire trip or should I say youíve been drooling in it." Harry leaned closer and grinned. "Are you drooling over the whales or her? It looks to me like you can hardly wait to join Dr. Cook in her research."

Nelson failed to hear Emeryís humorous retort because he was momentarily distracted. He found himself watching, in quiet appreciation, an awe inspiring scene as it unfolded outside his window. Hues of orange, pink and blue highlighted the beginning of a spectacular sunset. Finally remembering his companion, Harry formulated an idea. "You know, Lucius, itís our last night. How about we have a nice dinner, a few drinks, and then Iím going to take in the stars. What do you say?"

"Harry, the dinner and drinks sound marvelous but Iím going to make it an early night. Tomorrowís going to be long day for both of us and I, for one, am not going to be dead tired." Harryís still of the old school, Emery thought. Although heís not going to be boozing all night, heíll stay up long past what would be considered prudent and then be miserable all day tomorrow.

Admiral Nelson smiled to himself. Leave it to Lucius to be practical. Although Nelson was anxious to get back to his beloved Seaview and crew, he was going to miss the now familiar sights and sounds from the train. The memories that this trip had awakened in him were worth their weight in gold! Even the heavens were doing their part. The stars, along with rhythm of the train, would put him to sleep tonight.

***************

After dinner and a brandy, Admiral Harriman Nelson sat comfortably in the upper level of the lounge car. He had enjoyed this trip. He reveled in the fact that on board this train he had no responsibilities and, since no one seemed to have recognized him, there were no uncomfortable stares or strange questions. Looking up at the sky, through the clear ceiling, he could make out some of the constellations that had guided many a sailor home. Thatís what they were doing tonight, taking him home.

Later that night, the bartender shook Admiral Nelsonís arm gently.

"Sorry to wake you, sir, but itís 2:30 and Iím going to have to close up. The forward lounge car is open if youíd like to go there." It was a shame to disturb this man from his peaceful slumber, but Samuel Brandt knew that the night porter would have his job if he let him stay.

"Uh, right. Do you mind if I go to the head, uh, I mean the menís room first?"

"Sure, sir. I was in the Navy, so thereís no need to clarify." Brandt had been a sailor long enough to know that this man was Navy all the way. Certainly brass and pretty high ranking, he thought. Thereís no hiding the bearing or the look. If he were asked exactly what 'the bearing' and the 'look' were, Brandt wouldnít be able to give a definition but he could pick it out in an instant.

"Thanks sailor, uh, I mean, thank you."

"No problem, sir." Brandt blushed slightly when he realized that he had almost saluted. Old habits die hard, he mused. "Itís been a long time since anyone called me that and it brings back some fond memories of my days in the service. Great times with some first-rate guys. As to your question, sir, the head is over there. Could you close the door to this car behind you when you leave? Iíll have the 'closed' sign already hanging." Samuel Brandt had talked briefly with the stranger earlier that evening but he would have liked to have spoken with him some more. I bet heís a pretty prominent person, yet he actually seems down-to-earth. Heís the type of officer I wouldnít have minded serving under during the war. Remembering his own experiences in the Navy, Brandt chuckled to himself. Iím sure that this man has a lot of interesting stories to tell of his adventures at sea. Then Brandt studied the stranger a little closer. You know, he sure looks familiar, like I should know him from someplace. Iím going to have to ask Fauk. Maybe heíll know.

Nelson had just walked into the menís room when Brandt walked out of the door into the next car. Moments later, the night porter, Arthur Fauk, entered the lounge car. Fauk noticed that the menís room door was not locked. Damn that Brandt! Youíd think he could do this one simple chore. Now I have to do his work. Just wait until the conductor hears about this in the morning! Fauk quickly secured the bathroom doorís outer lock and immediately left. I have my own things to do, he told himself. Fauk was going to do what he always did on the midnight shift. He was going to take a nap... a very long nap. Not known for his dependability, Fauk failed to perform even the simplest aspects of his job. His duties included semi-hourly checks of the train and passengers, routine checks of the doors and windows and, most certainly, ascertaining if anyone was in the bathroom before locking the door.

Admiral Harriman Nelson thought he heard a sound but he was a little busy at the moment. He completed his task, washed his hands, and then opened the door of the menís room. That is, he tried to open the door. This canít be right, he thought. Let me try it again. What the devilís going on here? Nelson tried the door for a second and third time. It was locked! He began to beat on the door, louder and louder as his temper flared. Admiral Nelson stopped suddenly. Realizing the absurdity of the situation, he started laughing. He laughed until his sides and jaw hurt and the tears started flowing. He wiped his eyes and quieted down. Rubbing the back of his neck, Nelson contemplated his next move. Now what am I going to do! Eric Parker, where are you? In prison for burglary somewhere I would wager. Your talents for picking locks would surely come in handy tonight. Looking at his wristwatch, he sighed. When does this place open up again? 0600? Itís only 0240 now. Nelson remembered that this lounge car was also the caboose, and therefore no one would be taking a late night stroll through it. What a wonderful last night this is going to be, Harry old boy. Like they say... the best laid plans of mice and men.

Harriman Nelson shook his head and surveyed his surroundings. Well, at least the light works, thereís a seat cover and the head looks clean enough. With soap and water, he wiped the toilet seat cover and dried it with a paper towel. He sat down with elbow on knee and laid his chin on his fist... oddly taking on the appearance of 'The Thinker'. That impression would certainly have been the farthest thing from the truth in Nelsonís mind.

Nelson was suddenly very tired. Leaning his head against the side wall, he closed his eyes. His last thoughts that night were of all the many requests he had had during his career about authorizing a biography. Would he ever reveal this secret? Not on your life, Harriman, he silently declared. Still, he could clearly see the printed words. 'Admiral Harriman Nelson, world-renowned scientist and builder of the submarine Seaview, is actually a man who canít even figure out how to get himself out of the head'. Nelson groaned as he drifted off into a troubled sleep.

***************

At precisely 5:30 AM, Arthur Fauk awoke. His mornings began the same way everyday. After being blatantly derelict in his duties, Fauk carelessly checked the areas he should have inspected throughout the night. Upon entering the lounge car, he thought he heard something. Whatís that noise and where is it coming from, he asked himself. It sounds like snoring from the menís room. Fauk unlocked the door and found a man in his fifties actually sleeping on the commode. The drunken bastard! Fauk smiled with glee at his hapless victim. "Wake up, you," he demand.

"Hmm, uhhh. What?" Admiral Nelson woke with a start and immediately regretted it. The muscles in his neck and back had tightened up during the night due to his rather uncomfortable position. Trying to shield his eyes from the bright light shining into the small room, Nelson wondered where he was. Then he remembered. He was riding on a train somewhere outside of Los Angeles, locked in the head. Looking up, he found himself staring into the face of a man he instantly disliked.

"Get out of there, you! What do you think youíre doing," Falk snarled. "This isnít the place to be sleeping off your drinking binge! Now get out, I say!"

Harriman Nelson was not a man who was used to being spoken to in such a manner. Whether he was an admiral, a grocery clerk or the King of England, he didnít condone such treatment. He would normally not have given anyone a hard time about the problem with the door, but this idiot was a different story. Admiral Harriman Nelson slowly rose to his full height, glared at the obnoxious man and said in a quiet but deadly voice, "Are you the man who locked me in here?"

Fauk was taken aback. This certainly didnít sound like a bum. The manís hair stood out on one side, he was unshaven and his face was creased where he had apparently slept on his hands, but this was the voice of a man who commanded authority. Fauk backed off, mumbled something about being sorry, and quickly left.

Admiral Nelson glanced at the mirror on the wall. He had always taken pride in his appearance but looking back at him was a disheveled figure of a man. Disgusted with himself and the whole situation, Nelson stormed out of the car and returned to his suite. Realizing that the train would be arriving at their destination in a little over an hour, Nelson muttered to himself as he began to get his possessions in order. Then he heard a knock at the door. It was Lucius. Emery had wanted to see how his friend had faired from a night of gazing at the stars. What he saw surprised even him. It reminded Lucius of how Nelson and Jiggs Stark, as junior officers so many years ago, would look after a night of carousing at a new port.

"What happened to you?" asked Emery. He stared at the man before him, not knowing whether to be concerned or amused.

"Nothing. Iím fine, Iím fine," Nelson growled. He told Lucius that he would be out in a little while and then shut the door on his friend. Lucius was too smug for him at this time of the morning, especially this morning. He would get cleaned up and then be better able to face his friendís remarks.

***************

The Southwest Chief came to a halt in front of the Amtrak Station in Los Angeles, California. Standing on the platform, waiting for his boss, was Chief Petty Officer Francis Sharkey, Seaviewís COB. Parked nearby was a black Lincoln Towncar with NIMRís emblem displayed on the side. Several of the disembarking passengers looked curiously at the Chief and his vehicle and wondered whom they were waiting for.

Back on the train, Fauk slinked down the corridor following, at a distance, the man he had berated that morning. Fauk wanted to know who this man was, what he was and how much trouble the man could cause him.

Unaware that they were being stalked, Nelson and Emery casually made their way through the train. The two men had finally arrived at the end of the line. Nelson wished he could have enjoyed this moment but it was all he could do to forget the earlier incident, as well as his aches and pains, much to his friendís delight. When they stepped down onto the platform, Nelson looked around for a familiar face. His wave caught Sharkeyís attention. After joining the two men, the Chief saluted them both and exclaimed, "Welcome home, Sirs!"

Watching the reunion from the shadows of the train, Fauk wiped the sweat from his brow. He grimaced, realizing that he had made a grave mistake. Fauk had picked the wrong man to be the object of his wrath earlier that morning and he feared the consequences.

Admiral Nelson, Lucius Emery and Chief Sharkey walked to the curb where Sharkey loaded their luggage into the trunk of the spacious vehicle. He then opened the rear door and Nelson slid across the seat to the other side.

As Emery was about to climb in after his friend, he stopped suddenly. "Oh dear, Iíve forgotten my briefcase in the closet of my compartment. Iím so sorry. I have to go to back and retrieve it."

Sharkey raised his hand and politely interjected. "Stay here, sir. Iíll go back and get it. What was your room number?"

"Uh, it was, uh... Now, let me see..." Emery pondered.

"It was suite number seven, Francis," offered Nelson. Then, squeezing Sharkeyís arm gently, he added, "And thank you."

"My pleasure, Admiral. Iíll be back in a flash." Trying to suppress a grin, Sharkey rushed off.

After the Chief had gone, Nelson looked over at his colleague. He shook his head and sounded thoroughly annoyed. "Lucius, youíd lose your head if it wasnít attached and then youíd forget where you left it." Unable to maintain a straight face, Nelson burst out laughing. A bewildered Emery soon joined in.

Chief Sharkey recovered the briefcase and was just about to step off the train when he was accosted by a visibly distressed man.

"Hey, Sergeant," Arthur Fauk called out.

"Uh, thatís Chief. Can I help you, Mac?"

"The man you have in your car, the one with the red hair... uh, who is he?"

Sharkey paused for a moment. He had a strange feeling in his gut about this guy but he figured it wouldnít do any harm to identify his employer. After all, it was the Admiral who had authorized the use of the marked car from the Institute. "Why, heís Admiral Harriman Nelson, from the Nelson Institute of Marine Research."

"Oh, yeah, thatís what I thought," Fauk said lamely. "You know, I always wondered what kind of man he was. Is he a difficult person... uh, I mean to work for? I was thinking about getting a job with him one day."

Not known for his eloquent speech, Francis Ethelbert Sharkey simply repeated the words that were often used to describe the man he proudly called his friend. "Well, heís a hardworking, dedicated man of vision." As Chief Sharkey sized-up the porter, noting the dirty, crumpled uniform, he looked upon the man with disdain. A disgrace, he thought. Then Sharkey added, "Admiral Nelson expects a lot from his employees so I suggest you have your act together, pal."

The two men regarded each other in silence, both wondering what the other would do or say next. Feeling increasingly uneasy about the man and his intentions, Sharkey decided to put the porter in his place. "The Admiral is a man you donít want to mess with. You know what I mean, mister," he barked defiantly. The Chief wanted to be sure he made a lasting impression.

Fauk just nodded his head and gulped. This gung-ho Sergeant, uh, Chief sure sounds like he means business. I donít even want to know what that Admiral of his is going to do with me after what happened this morning.

When Sharkey saw the look of fear on Faukís face, he was relieved. Neither the Admiral nor he was going to have any problems with this joker. At least he hoped so. Realizing he had wasted enough time, he stated, "Now if you donít mind, Bub, I gotta get rolling. Admiral Nelson is waiting." With that, Chief Sharkey exited the train.

As the Lincoln left the station and headed towards Santa Barbara, Sharkeyís mind drifted back to the porter. Recalling his encounter with the offensive man, he glanced at Nelson in the rearview mirror. "Admiral Nelson, sir..." he began and then thought better of it. "Sorry, sir, never mind."

***************

That night, as Samuel Brandt was cleaning up the bar at the end of his shift, he spotted a stranger in a familiar uniform. He approached the man and asked, "Iím sorry, but do I know you?"

"Iím the new night porter. Kevin Wainwrightís the name. Happy to meet you."

Brandt looked puzzled. "Uh, good to meet you too but what happened to Fauk? He was suppose to be working the return trip east."

"Oh, was that his name? I donít know. All I heard was that he resigned suddenly and wouldnít give a reason why. Did you know him well?"

"Too well, Iíd say." Brandt frowned at the unpleasant memories. Then extending his hand, he smiled and said, "Welcome aboard, Kevin. I hope youíll enjoy working here." This guy seems nice enough, Brandt thought, unlike Fauk.

"Not to change the subject," Wainwright inquired, "but what was he like?"

"You mean Fauk? He was a lazy jerk. Iím glad weíre finally rid of him.í"

"No, not Fauk," the new porter interrupted. "Admiral Harriman Nelson. You know from the Nelson Institute. I heard he was onboard your trip into LA." Wainwright laughed and said, "Iím sure you already knew that. Did you get to meet him? What was he like?" Then, sounding a little dejected, he added, " I guess Iím never in the right place at the right time."

Brandt thought for a moment. Of course, the naval officer. The man who was sleeping in the lounge car. So that was the famous Admiral Nelson! I thought he looked familiar. The bartender smiled as he addressed his new coworker, "Admiral Nelson was a real nice guy, a true gentleman. I nearly missed that boat myself but Iím glad I had the opportunity to meet him. I only wish I had been able to speak with him some more."

As Samuel Brandt turned to leave, he was amused by a curious thought that came to mind. Whatís that saying... something about entertaining angels (or even admirals) unawares?


.

Afterword: This story was inspired, in part, by a true incident that occurred in late December 1941. Four-star Admiral Chester Nimitz, newly appointed Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, and Lieutenant H. Edgar Lamar traveled incognito cross-country onboard the Santa Feís Super Chief. Admiral Nimitz was accidentally locked in the menís room by a porter who, upon discovering the trapped man, took him for a 'bungling middle-aged civilian'. The porter admonished Nimitz saying that the lock was easy to open. Admiral Nimitz, who had designed and installed Naval machinery and was a national authority on diesel engines, was infuriated. He locked the porter in the menís room and told him to try and open the lock from the inside. After a while, the Admiral released the poor man and Nimitz, who was in a better mood at this point, stated he found the whole experience amusing.

.

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