THE DEBRIEFING Kathy Agel
MID JUNE, 1980
Leafing through a thick reference volume on cetacean behavior, Doctor Lynn Murtagh absently reached for her desk phone as its insistent ringing broke her already sporadic concentration. "Murtagh," she said, trapping the phone between her ear and shoulder and flipping back to the index.
"Good morning, Doctor," came the deep, pleasant voice from the other end.
Lynn's eyes shot to the phone’s display. She stared at the number, noticing that the lit button next to the extension was that of her private line. Why was Chip Morton calling? And why hadn't he gone through her secretary? Could he be -- ? "Good morning, Commander," she said, hoping her voice didn't give her away. "This is a nice surprise."
"It’s an unpleasant one, I'm afraid," he replied, and Lynn's hopes fell.
Of course he's not gonna ask you for a date, you eejit, she scolded herself. He's too professional for that. And you don't want it, either. She hurriedly damped down the little voice that clamored, Oh yes, you do! and turned her attention back to the conversation. "Can you quantify `unpleasant', maybe?"
On the other end, Chip Morton chuckled softly to himself. Just like her to get right to the heart of the matter. Most women would have made a coy comment, but not this one. Her honest, no-nonsense attitude was one of the most appealing aspects of her personality. "Fairly unpleasant," he replied, "at least, from my point of view, and I think you’ll agree with me. An officer from the ONI office in San Diego will meet us here at the Institute this afternoon to debrief us on our recent, uh, problem."
Lynn took the hint and made no comment about the recent research cruise that had nearly cost them both their lives. "Fine by me. What time?"
"Thirteen hundred," came the reply.
"At least we'll have time to eat before we're tossed to the lions," Lynn joked.
"Um -- yes." Chip decided to throw caution to the winds. "Are you busy?"
"Now?" Lynn asked, surprised.
"No – for lunch."
"For lunch?" Lynn repeated, surprised. She kicked herself mentally. You sound like such a dork, she chided herself.
"Uh…no. I didn't have any plans…." Lynn let her voice trail off.
"Then why don't we meet at the commissary? I can give you an idea of what's likely to happen at the debriefing," Chip added hurriedly.
"Oh. Yeah, right. Sure. Okay," Lynn said. "Twelve hundred?"
"That sounds good. I’ll see you later."
"Sure," Lynn agreed, and hung up. This is a business lunch, she told herself firmly, so don’t go gettin’ your little self all het up over it. She looked at her clothing – her usual working garb of jeans, tee shirt and sneakers, it was perfectly suitable for working in the lab or in her office, but not quite the thing for a lunch date.
It’s not a date, she reminded herself. This is strictly business, and that’s all. Lynn looked at her watch. Ten forty-five. She had enough time to go for a swim with the dolphins and have a quick shower before she had to meet Chip at the commissary. She hoped it would relax her.
** *** **
Chip had been waiting outside the commissary for five minutes when Lynn walked up, early, as he'd known she would be. She was dressed in what he privately thought of as her `uniform' -- well-laundered denim jeans that fit snugly enough to show off her slender figure without being too tight; a slightly-too-large tee shirt -- this one, with a motif of leaping dolphins, was highly appropriate, considering her profession; well-broken-in Nike running shoes. Her hair hung in damp waves, indicating she'd been in the water fairly recently, probably with the dolphins she loved so well. As usual, she looked confident and relaxed.
Then he met her eyes, and knew the air of confident relaxation was a facade. She was nervous. Why? Because of the debriefing? He didn't think that was likely. No, there had to be another reason.
The thought that he might be the reason struck him with a satisfying jolt, and he grinned. It was nice to know that something could shake the woman Lee Crane called "the unflappable Doctor Murtagh", and nicer still to be the one to do the shaking. "Hello," he said, and indicated the spiral notebook she carried. "I hope you aren't planning to take notes." He immediately regretted his words, and hoped she hadn't taken offense.
"Hi. No, but I've made some," Lynn replied. "I wrote down everything I could remember about Danson. Not that there was all that much."
"Good thinking." He showed her the folder he carried. "I wrote a report. Shall we?" he asked, gesturing for her to precede him into the commissary.
Unwilling to wait for table service, they moved through the line at the steam tables. Chip filled his tray with vegetable soup, a turkey sandwich on white toast, fries, a slice of apple pie, and a large coffee, noting that Lynn took only a large garden salad, a bowl of cream of turkey soup, a small buttered roll and a large glass of unsweetened iced tea. "Not very hungry?" he asked as they sat down.
Lynn shrugged. "I have to work with the dolphins later and it's more comfortable if I don't have a full stomach."
"Your practical side is showing again," Chip teased, and Lynn smiled in acknowledgement.
They made small talk while they ate, and over coffee, turned to the subject of the debriefing. "Have you ever been involved in anything like this before?" Lynn asked.
"A couple of times," Chip admitted. Far too many, he added silently.
"And?" Lynn asked.
"And what?" Chip asked blankly, his concentration momentarily broken by the memory of too many missions gone awry, or just plain wrong.
"What's it like?" Lynn prodded.
"Relatively painless," he said, smiling. "It all depends on the officer conducting the session. Some are better than others. Most are like root canals without benefit of anesthesia."
"Sounds like fun," Lynn said glumly. "I felt better about my orals for my doctorate. At least I knew what to expect then."
Chip smiled at her in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. "It shouldn't take too long. Try to relax." He stood.
Lynn looked at her watch and rose as well. "Commander, I've found that when somebody tells you to relax, there's usually a very good reason why you shouldn't," she said as they took their trays and the dirty dishes to the conveyor belt that would take them back to the kitchen to be washed.
Chip grinned at her. "You may have a point there," he said as they walked to the door.
"Where are we going?" Lynn asked.
"To the Security Building," he answered. "You have your Institute ID with you, don't you?"
Lynn patted her hip pocket. "In my wallet."
Chip looked; he could make out an outline of a slim case in the pocket of her faded jeans. "Very practical," he noted, a smile quirking his lips. Not to mention very nice, he added silently.
"It saves me from having to carry a purse wherever I go," Lynn said in a hopefully offhand manner. She felt herself beginning to blush from the assessing glance she knew he'd given her rear end.
They showed their IDs at the security station just inside the entrance of the two-story building that housed NIMR's security force. "Room 213," the white-helmeted guard said, after consulting a checklist, and went back to his observation of the bank of surveillance monitors covering the wall.
They took the stairs rather than the elevator. Room 213 was close to the stairwell's access door, and they found it easily. Chip checked his watch. "We're a little early. Shall we go in?"
"Do we have a choice?" Lynn asked wryly.
"Not really," Chip said, smiling.
Lynn sighed theatrically. "That's what I was afraid of. Let's go."
Chip opened the door to the conference room. Located on the inside wall of the building, its windows looked out on a spacious courtyard at the center of the building. The room held a long conference table surrounded by comfortable-looking armchairs with a blackboard positioned at one end. Lynn sat on one of the long sides of the table; Chip took the seat next to her.
"I -- . " he started to say, breaking off as a tall and well-built officer with dark hair and blue eyes entered the room. He was dressed in a crisp set of short-sleeved summer whites; his shoulderboards bore the three full stripes of a full commander while the SEAL trident rode above the campaign ribbons on the left breast of his uniform shirt. Chip stood; Lynn turned in her chair.
"Paul!" she exclaimed in surprise and stood to hug him. "What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be in Norfolk!"
"Hello, Lynn," the new arrival said, bending to hug her and kiss her cheek. "It's nice to be able to surprise you for a change." Straightening, he shook Chip's hand. "Nice to see you again, Chip." He smiled crookedly. "I heard you two got yourselves into a little bit of trouble."
" ‘A little trouble’? That's one way of putting it," Lynn said dryly. "Through no fault of our own, of course," she added.
"Of course," Paul agreed. "This was a biggie -- but you never did do anything by halves, did you?"
"You know." Lynn shrugged. "I try not to."
Chip shot her a quick glance. She was acting normally, relaxed, bantering easily, apparently over the initial shock of seeing Paul. But Paul was looking at her with a speculative, familiar quality in his expression. A possessive, almost protective look, Chip realized. Just how well did they know each other?
He wasn't sure if he wanted to know the answer. He suddenly realized he was jealous, even though he had no right to be. He had no claim on her, no reason to want to know more. What did he care if Lynn Murtagh and Commander Paul Goddard were acquaintances, friends, or lovers of long standing?
He cared. He cared a lot.
And that bothered him.
Longtime lovers wouldn't greet each other that casually, he rationalized. And he knew that Lynn was the warm, demonstrative type who would have given a past lover more than a casual hug as a greeting, even if she was surprised. But he knew Paul to be reserved, concerned with protocol and military courtesy. He'd probably have greeted Lynn more demonstratively if they'd been alone. His mind spinning with questions, Chip reluctantly directed his attention to the man across from him.
Commander Paul Goddard sat across from them and opened his briefcase. Taking out a small cassette recorder and several tapes, he placed them on the table between them. "I'll be taping this session," he said unnecessarily.
"That's better than inflicting your illegible chicken scratches on some poor unknowing typist," Lynn said with a little smile. "Your handwriting is worse than a doctor’s."
"Same old Lynn. It's nice to see that some things don't change," Paul said, gently sarcastic.
"Oh, I wouldn't want to disappoint you, darlin'," she said sweetly.
"I can't remember that you've ever done that. Let's get started," he said, turning the recorder on. "It is now," he looked at the clock on the far wall, "thirteen-ten hours on Wednesday, June eighteenth, 1980. This tape will record the initial debriefing of Lieutenant Commander Chip Morton, USNR, and Doctor Lynn Murtagh of the Nelson Institute. Doctor Murtagh, can you give me your recollection of the incident with the agent known as Doctor Terrence Danson?"
Lynn took a deep breath and opened her notebook, then looked past Paul, out the windows behind him, and began to speak. She spoke mostly from memory, rarely consulting her notes for details.
Chip watched Lynn as she gave Paul her version of the attack. She spoke in a low voice and appeared calm and controlled, but he saw the shadow that crossed her face, heard the tremor in her voice as she described the cold-blooded way Danson had cut her air hose. She could have died then, and would have if it hadn't been for her dolphins attacking Danson, keeping him at bay until Chip could get to her and buddy up with her on his air tank.
When she was finished, Paul nodded. "May I have those notes, please?" Lynn obligingly ripped the pages out of the notebook and slid them across to him. "Chip?" he asked.
Chip regarded the other officer for a brief moment. Paul seemed outwardly calm, yet something in his manner told Chip the other man had been shaken by Lynn's recitation. Making eye contact with Paul, Chip nodded and passed his own report across to Paul, then began on his own version of the story. It was briefer than Lynn's retelling, more analytical.
When Chip was through, Paul frowned at them. "But why you two? Why would he single you out for an attack? You're both relatively unimportant. Why you and not Nelson?"
Lynn and Chip looked at each other. Then a look of dawning comprehension crossed Chip's face. "Because we saw him where he wasn't supposed to be! Remember?" he asked Lynn.
"At Swenson's?" she asked. "The afternoon I ran into you in the drugstore!"
"What drugstore?" Paul asked quickly.
"One in a little strip mall outside town," Lynn told him. "Commander Morton and I ran into each other there the day before Seaview left on the research cruise and we went for coffee. We saw Danson in the restaurant when he was supposed to be in Monterey!"
"Whoa, Lynn, slow down," Paul said, holding up a hand in caution. "Start from the beginning."
"We ran into each other in a drugstore at Cielo Mall the day before we were supposed to leave on Seaview," Lynn said. "We decided to go to Swenson's for a cup of coffee -- that's a small ice cream place that serves diner-type food. It's real old-timey -- tin ceilings, soda fountain, marble tabletops in the booths -- you know, like Duffer's down in Wildwood? -- and we ran into Danson. Or at least, I did. I took my jacket off, and he was leaving, and I collided with him."
"You knocked a package out of his hands too," Chip added.
"Yeah, that’s right."
"And you two think this is why he attacked you?" Paul asked, obviously skeptical.
"It has to be," Chip said. "When he cut Doctor Murtagh's air hose, he said something about people who see more than they're supposed to see. "
"But you're sure it was Danson you saw at the restaurant?" Paul persisted.
Lynn nodded emphatically. "I'm positive. He even made a joke about it when he came on board Seaview in Monterey," she told him.
"So you saw him in Santa Barbara when he wasn’t supposed to be within hundreds of miles, and you think he tried to kill you because of that?"
"If he wasn’t supposed to be there, it makes sense," Chip said.
"Yes, it does. Especially since a suspected Russian agent was found dead in Monterey on Monday," Paul said. "It looks like he was mugged and the body dumped in an alley."
"You think he was Danson's contact? Lynn asked, looking quickly at Chip.
"It's possible, but there’s also the possibility that we'll never know," Paul said, gathering Lynn's notes and Chip's report together with his own supplemental paperwork.
"So what happens to Danson now?" Lynn asked.
Paul looked briefly at Chip before he turned to Lynn. "He’s dead."
"Dead?" Chip asked before Lynn could open her mouth. "How?"
"He was killed in the facility where he was being held. No one knows how he got a shiv in the eye," Paul said dryly.
"He said his life wouldn’t be worth much," Chip said, half to himself.
"He was right," Paul said. "Well, that's it. You've both been very helpful, and we'll add this to whatever else we know about this operation. I'm sure I don't have to caution either of you not to mention any of this to anyone."
"That goes without saying," Chip said dryly, and looked at Lynn. She merely raised her eyes heavenward and then pointedly looked away, out the window, shaking her head.
Paul sighed. "Yes, well...Lynn?"
"Hmmm?" she asked, looking back with an expression of slight annoyance.
"How about dinner tonight?" Paul asked. "We can fill each other in on what's been happening since we saw each other last."
"Oh, Paulie...." Lynn said then shook her head. "It's tempting, but I don't think so. Not tonight. I already have plans."
"Oh," Paul replied, obviously disappointed. Then he brightened. "Then how about a quick cup of coffee? You're still addicted, aren't you?"
Lynn looked up at Chip. "Some things never change," she said, expecting him to smile. She was taken aback by his frown and looked up at him quizzically.
"Well?" Paul asked, recapturing her attention. "Lynn?"
"Sure," Lynn said, then quickly looked back at Chip, who was preparing to leave. She impulsively reached put and placed her hand on his arm. "Hey."
Something flickered in his eyes, then, just as quickly, was gone. "Yes?" he asked neutrally.
"Come with us," she said in a low voice.
"I don't want to intrude," he said flatly.
"You wouldn't be," she said firmly. "Please?" she asked in a softer tone.
He smiled then. "All right. If you insist."
Her eyes lit up as she smiled back at him. "I do."
They walked to the dining room, which was fairly empty in mid-afternoon, Lynn the middle of the three, dividing her attention equally between the two men, yet walking ever-so-slightly closer to Chip.
"So, what’s with San Diego?" Lynn asked as she pulled out her chair, sitting next to Chip and across from Paul. "How long have you been there?"
"Nearly a month. I'm surprised you hadn't heard by now," Paul said, wagging an eyebrow.
"Some things escape me, Paul," Lynn said dryly.
"They never used to," Paul said in just as dry a tone. "Must be advancing age."
"Says he who has a good five years on me." She smiled, tilting her head questioningly. "Do you like what you're doing? It's so different from when you were with the Seals...." Lynn let her voice trail off, aware she had touched a sore spot. "Sorry."
"It’s okay." Paul smiled reassuringly. "You're right there. But things change. I'm an information analyst now. I do very little field work, and what I do is mostly investigative, like today's debriefing. Brain, instead of brawn for a change."
"That should make your mother happy. It sounds like a nice safe job," Lynn said.
"So did yours," Paul teased.
Recognizing Paul's attempt to change the subject, Lynn went along with it. "It usually is," she said dryly.
"If you discount the occasional great white shark and other disturbances that make it more...interesting ...than usual," Chip said in a bid to capture Lynn's attention.
"Or Lieutenant Bishop," Lynn put in.
"Oh, let's not forget Bishop," Chip said.
"Why not? I'd like to," Lynn countered.
"And he'd like to forget you," Chip told her, happily monopolizing Lynn's attention.
"Bishop?" Paul asked, obviously confused by their banter.
"Somebody who takes himself just a wee bit too seriously," Lynn said.
"And you showed him the error of his ways?" Paul asked.
"Something like that," Chip said.
"I tried," Lynn said with a shrug.
"I hope you were nice about it," Paul said.
"Now, Paul, have you ever known me to be anything else?" Lynn demanded.
"In a word, yes," Paul said firmly.
"Yeah, well...." Lynn shrugged. "It happens."
Paul chuckled. "Lynn, do me a favor. Don't ever change. You're one of the few constants in a life with too many surprises."
Chip pressed his lips together. They were at it again, and despite himself, he felt left out. He knew it wasn't intentional, yet it still bothered him – more than he wanted to admit. He tried to school his features into a pleasantly bland expression but he was sure he wasn't fooling Paul – they’d known each other too long.
Paul kept his attention on Lynn, but watched Chip out of the corner of his eye. It was amazing – Chip seemed to be jealous of the attention Lynn was paying to him! Paul couldn't believe it. He'd known Chip both professionally and socially since they’d attended Annapolis, and he'd never known him to be jealous of anyone.
But what was stranger was the fact that eagle-eyed Lynn, who he'd never known to miss a trick since she was a little girl, didn't seem to notice a bit of it. Here she was, ignoring all the signals Chip was giving off.
But was she really ignoring them? Paul caught a quick flicker of her eyes towards Chip, and then she changed her position, angling her body slightly towards him. That's better, he thought. There was a deep affection between those two, Paul realized, and respect also. That had been more than obvious during the debriefing. But there was something more -- a mutual attraction that both were trying to hide, or possibly suppress; he wasn't quite sure. For what it was worth, Paul decided, they were doing a lousy job of it.
"Excuse me," he said, deciding they needed some time alone. "I want to wash my hands."
Chip watched him walk toward the restrooms, then turned to Lynn, who was absently toying with the silverware in front of her. "Where are you going tonight?" he asked in what he hoped was an offhand manner.
"Excuse me?" Lynn asked, startled by the unexpected question.
"Your date," he prompted, feeling uneasy. He hated feeling jealous of whoever it was she was going to be with, but he couldn't help it, and that surprised him. He hadn't thought of himself as a jealous person, and the sudden flare-ups at the debriefing and again in the commissary had taken him by surprise. Then again, he mused, since he'd met Lynn, a lot of things had taken him by surprise, and they hadn't all been sharks and spies. "Where are you going?"
"I didn't say I had a date," Lynn replied quickly, shaking her head.
"Yes, you did," Chip asserted.
Lynn shook her head. "No, I didn't. I said I had plans. There's a difference."
"Oh? What do these plans of yours involve?" he persisted, knowing he shouldn't but unable to stop himself from asking her.
"They involve me and my piano. I've been neglecting it lately."
"Oh," he said. She didn't have a date! He suddenly felt much better. "All evening?"
Lynn shrugged. "I get carried away."
"I bet you do. I was thinking that perhaps you'd -- ." Hearing his name over the PA system, Chip looked up in annoyance, then closed his eyes and shook his head. "I have to get to the phone. Excuse me."
"Sure," Lynn said. What choice did she have? Of all the times for him to be paged! What was he going to say before he was interrupted? Lynn had a feeling she'd never find out.
Chip was still gone when Paul returned. "I heard Chip being paged. Problems?"
"Around here, who can tell?" Lynn shot back, still annoyed at the interruption.
Paul looked at her quizzically, then decided to adhere to protocol and not ask for an explanation. He'd heard stories about the strange goings-on at the Nelson Institute. Instead, he looked around the large dining room. "Busy place."
Lynn nodded and took the hint. "It's open around the clock. A lot of us keep irregular hours. It's easier than goin' out, and the food's really good, too. When Seaview is in port, Cookie moves over to the main dining room. His food has to be tasted to be believed."
"The Institute seems to be a good place to work, judging from the Naval personnel who've resigned their commissions to come here. Are you happy?"
Lynn nodded, her eyes lighting up. "Very much. No more paper pushing. I'm finally getting to use my training."
"I'm sorry Mystic turned out the way it did for you, Lynn. At least when we were on the same coast, we got to see each other fairly often. Not the way we did when we were living together, but it wasn’t too bad."
"Now that you're in San Diego, maybe we'll get to see each other a lot now."
"I hope so," Paul said warmly. "I've missed you."
"Me too," Lynn said, with a gentle smile. "You're good to have around."
They looked up as Chip returned to the table. Not bothering to sit, he drained his coffee mug. "Sorry, duty calls."
"Problems?" Lynn asked, sounding disappointed.
"A snag's come up in the reprovisioning," Chip explained. "I have to get down to the dock."
"Can't run the old girl without you, huh?" Lynn teased.
"Sometimes it seems that way," he acknowledged. "An XO's job is never done." He held his hand out to Paul. "Nice seeing you again, Paul."
Paul rose and took his hand. "Same here, Chip. We'll have to get together the next time I'm in town."
"I'd like that." Chip turned to Lynn. "Doctor," he said, sounding stiff and hating himself for it.
"See ya 'round. Stay away from that dock hoist, okay?" She extended her hand.
He squeezed her hand and smiled at her. "I learned that lesson the hard way," he said, and left.
Paul looked at Lynn, who'd suddenly found something of great interest in the bottom of her coffee mug. "Nice guy," Paul ventured.
"Uh-huh," Lynn answered, not looking at him.
"What's going on with you two?" Paul asked casually.
"Us? Nothing," Lynn said. "He’s just my liaison and dive buddy when I’m on Seaview. That’s all."
"And he saved your life."
"Yeah, that too," Lynn said quickly.
Too quickly, Paul thought. "Sure. Now tell me the truth," he ordered.
"That was the truth," Lynn insisted, still refusing to meet his eyes.
"Only partially," Paul conceded. "Maybe nothing is going on now, but that doesn't mean you wouldn't like it to."
"Come on, Paul -- you know I don't get involved with the people I work with," Lynn said firmly.
Paul nodded acknowledgement. "Yes, I do. But I have eyes, Lynn. I could see how you two were looking at each other -- or not looking at each other." When Lynn remained silent, he went on. "You really like him, don't you?"
"Hey, what's not to like?" Lynn asked brightly.
"Yeah, what's not to like," Paul repeated. "Why don't you tell Uncle Paul what's going on?"
Lynn grimaced at him. "You're not my uncle, Paulie. You're my cousin."
"Oh?" Paul asked, raising an eyebrow. "You finally remembered. Good girl."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Lynn asked irritably.
"I thought you might have forgotten. After all, you didn't mention it to your -- our -- friend."
"We go way back," Paul said smugly. "He was a year behind me in the Academy."
"Oh. Yeah, I guess he would've been," Lynn said thoughtfully.
Paul raised one eyebrow at her second comment, but let it pass. "Yeah. Oh. And he took over as quarterback for Navy when I hurt my knee my firstclass year."
"That was Commander Morton?" Lynn asked, her eyes wide.
"Yes, Lynncyclopedia, it was – I can’t believe you didn’t know."
"I stopped paying attention to Navy football when you were hurt," Lynn pointed out. "If you recall, that was the year I won the USET Medal and the Maclay. All I did that fall was ride."
He smiled at her. "He had it all -- brains, athletic ability – and he was just a plain all-around nice guy."
"Yeah. He is a nice guy. Real nice," Lynn said, tapping her fork against the palm of her hand.
"You're repeating yourself," Paul said smugly. "Now, why don't you tell me what I really want to know?"
"All right," Lynn said, meeting his eyes. "I like him. I like him a lot. In fact, I like him too much, because there's no future in it. Satisfied?"
"Why isn't there a future in it?" Paul asked gently. "He's not married -- or at least, I don't think he is."
Lynn gave him an exasperated look. "No, he's not. And he probably never will be. Not that I'm looking for that, either," she added hastily. "But if you know him that well, then you know his reputation! My God, Paul, the man's a legend around here! He's supposed to be a regular Don Juan! No commitment, no strings. I'm not like that -- I'm not the kind of woman he's used to. I’m not a model or an anchorwoman. During the week I smell like fish and on weekends I smell like horses."
"No, Lynn. You're not what he’s used to," Paul agreed. "But maybe you're what he needs."
"I’m the girl next door, Paulie. Guys like that don’t want to get involved with someone like me."
"Maybe when they’re tomcatting around," Paul conceded. "But that’s who they want to marry."
"Oh, Paulie, give me a break," Lynn said disgustedly. "I hardly know the guy, and you’re talking marriage."
"Why don't you give yourself one instead?" Paul suggested.
"You wanna run that by me again?" Lynn asked suspiciously.
"Why don't you give the guy a chance?"
Lynn favored him with a look of incredulity. "To do what?"
"To get to know you, maybe let a relationship develop."
"This advice is all well and good, Paul, but we’ve known each other a couple of months, and he's never asked me out," Lynn said flatly. "Not once."
"What about your little tete-a-tete in Swenson's?" Paul prodded.
"That was not a date," Lynn told him. "That was an accidental meeting that ended up in us almost getting ourselves killed. I doubt it'll ever be repeated," she said sullenly.
"I hope the almost-getting-killed part doesn’t."
"Yeah, well, that makes two of us."
"Maybe he has the same attitude that you do about dating the people he works with," Paul suggested.
"No. He used to go out with one of my best friends – who’s Admiral Nelson’s admin assistant – and he’s dated a lot of other women here. And why are you wasting your breath talking to me about this, anyway?" Lynn demanded, her voice rising.
"Because you're here and he's not. Then again, I might have better luck if I talk to him," Paul suggested with a smile. "How do I get to Seaview's dock?"
Lynn threw her napkin at him. "Try it and I'll flay you alive with this butter knife," she threatened. "Besides, what good is any of this if he's not interested?"
"Lynn, that is not a man who's not interested in you," Paul said, plainly exasperated with her. "Didn't you see how jealous he was of me?"
"Jealous?" Lynn asked in surprise. "Him? Of you?"
"Is there an echo in here?" Paul asked, pointedly looking around him. "Yes, Lynn. He's jealous. And I find it very difficult to believe that you, of all people, didn't notice."
"Well, maybe I saw…something," Lynn conceded, albeit with ill grace.
"Yes, little Lynn, I think maybe you did. And I think it suited your purposes, too. Why didn't you introduce me as your cousin?"
"It never came up. Besides, I didn't hear you mention it, either," Lynn said defensively.
"I was taking my cues from you, little one," Paul said, eying her speculatively. "You wanted him to think we have a history, didn’t you?"
"We do have a history, Paul," Lynn said patiently. "We lived in the same house for thirteen years. And you were a bathroom hog."
"That’s beside the point – and we don’t the kind of history you want him to think we have," Paul pointed out. He narrowed his eyes at her accusingly. "And you don't really have any plans for tonight, do you?"
"Yes," Lynn said defensively. "It so happens I do."
"Like what?" Paul challenged.
"Like going home and playing my piano for six hours," Lynn mumbled.
Paul smiled broadly. "Like I've said several times in the past few hours, some things never change. How about inviting me home for dinner?"
"I don't think so," Lynn said flatly.
"I guess you wouldn't want me to be seen leaving your house, eh?" Paul teased.
"I swear, Paulie, if you don’t lay off, I’ll sic Jack and Kevin on you," Lynn warned.
"Is that supposed to scare me?" Paul asked.
"Would you prefer me and Eileen?" Lynn shot back.
At Lynn’s glare, he held up a conciliatory hand. "Okay, I can take a hint. I'll drop by San Sarita instead. Maybe I'll get a warmer welcome from the rest of my Murtagh cousins."
"Don't forget to get a present for Shannon," Lynn reminded him.
"Wow." Paul shook his head. "Six kids under fourteen. It boggles the mind."
"Yeah -- they've been two way-too-busy little bees for the past few years," Lynn said cheerfully. "Hey -- whaddaya hear from Jimmy lately?"
"Very little," Paul said dryly. "Our Tomcat hotshot hasn't had much time for his older brother in Naval Intelligence." He shook his head. "I think Donnie might have seen him in Bremerton in May, though, when both Nimitz and Independence were in port at the same time. Mom mentioned it the last time I spoke to her."
"Mister laid-back chopper pilot?" Lynn snorted. "We haven't heard much from Donnie lately, either. But he'll turn up -- he always does. At least Joey writes regularly, and he even calls once in a while. He got your mother's manners – she raised one of her three boys right. Tell your baby brother the bum he's got three civilian cousins on the West Coast who'd like to hear from him once in a while, okay?"
"Okay," Paul agreed, looking at this watch. "I'd better roll, if I'm going to stop at San Sarita before I head back to San Diego. What do you suggest for Shannon? I'm not very good at picking out gifts for babies."
"Paul, she's only a month and a half old. She won't notice," Lynn assured him.
"Jack and Eileen will," Paul pointed out. "Especially Jack."
"Yeah, that’s a good point," Lynn allowed. "See if you can find something with a Yankees theme."
"In Santa Barbara?" Paul challenged. "This is Dodgers and Angels territory, remember?"
"Simonetti’s Sporting Goods," Lynn said smugly. "He’s from Jersey City. He has a full line of Yankee gear."
"And I’m sure you’re one of his best patrons," Paul said dryly.
"You know it," Lynn said with a little grin.
Lynn walked with Paul over to the visitor parking area. "Let's not lose touch again, all right?" Paul suggested.
Lynn smiled. "Hey, you’re the career Navy guy. You know where to find me." She reached up to hug him. "Don't be a stranger, big guy, okay?"
"I won’t. And think about what I said about Chip, all right?" Paul suggested.
Lynn looked thoughtfully at Paul. They’d always been friends, but the five-year difference in their ages had precluded their ever being companions. Still, being raised together had made them think of themselves more as brother and sister than as cousins. Paul had always been protective of her, and he’d made a convenient confidant for things she didn’t want to tell Jack or Kevin. Lynn pursed her lips, then nodded. "Sure."
Lynn held up her right hand, palm out and three fingers erect in the Girl Scout salute. "Scout’s honor."
"You were never a Girl Scout," Paul chided.
"No, but it sounds good."
Paul enveloped her in a bear hug. "I’ll hold you to that," he promised.
"I was afraid you’d say that," Lynn grumbled, returning his hug with an enthusiastic one of her own. See ya," she said as he released her.
"See ya," Paul echoed, and left.
Lynn watched Paul walk towards the Visitor parking area. Think about it? What a laugh. That was all she could seem to do any more. Unfortunately, she didn't seem to be able to come up with any answers.
She ran up the steps, heading for the safety of her office and the succor of her dolphins.