The Price You Pay

 

Late January, 1981

 

Lee Crane arrived at Chip Mortonís office just in time to catch the tail end of a phone conversation his friend was engaged in. Something unfamiliar in the tone of Chipís voice -- disappointment? Resignation? -- warned Lee and he hesitated momentarily, standing motionless in the doorway.

"Sure, Angie. Iíll wait here for his call.... No, itís not a problem -- itís fine.... Yeah, Angie, Iím sure.... No, Iíll surviveÖ. Yes, sheíll survive, tooÖ. Right.... Thanks."

Chip hung up and shook his head slowly, looking down at his desk blotter. Looking up to see Lee, he schooled his expression to an approximation of his usual bland mask, then gestured to Lee to enter, used his pen to point to the chair beside his desk, then threw the pen onto the blotter in annoyance.

"Problems?" Lee asked, frowning. He eased into the seat, his eyes on Chipís face.

Chip shrugged. "Nothing I wonít be able to manage -- but itís not something Iím very happy about, either. That was Angie -- the Admiral just called her on an Airphone from his flight. Heíll be calling in for an update on the new computer installation when he lands at JFK -- and his flight is late due to weather problems hitting the east coast. Itís stacked up with a couple dozen other inbound flights somewhere over Long Island at the moment. I need to sit here and wait for his call Ė if he lands at all. The weather is so bad back there, he might be diverted to God-knows-where."

"This is a problem?"

"Yeah. I had a lunch date with Lynn." Chip pulled a face. "With the operative word being Ďhadí. Past tense."

"Thank you for the grammar lesson, XO," Lee said pleasantly, an impish gleam in his eyes.

Chip just stared out the window, ignoring Leeís words as if he hadnít even heard them. "I really hate to disappoint her."

Lee crossed his legs and leaned back in the chair, the impish glint intensifying. This was a new side to his friend, and he had to capitalize upon it -- it was simply too good to pass up. "I guess every second together counts -- being that youíre still in the early days of marriage and all." Encouraged by Chipís contemplative silence, Lee went on. "But you know how it goes -- Chip proposes, and the Admiral disposes."

Chip turned back to Lee and rolled his eyes. "Not funny, Lee."

"Itís not? I thought it was a pretty clever pun. You know -- wife, marriage, proposes?" Lee shook his head, his eyes wide and innocent. "No?"

"No," Chip said flatly.

Lee shrugged. "To each his own." He kept watching Chip, noting every movement, however minute, along with the slightest change in his friendís expression.

Feeling Leeís eyes on him, Chip frowned suspiciously and asked, "What?"

"Nothing." Lee tried to look as innocent as possible, knowing all the while he wasnít fooling Chip one bit.

Chip studied him levelly for a moment, then rolled his eyes again, shook his head ruefully, and waved a hand toward the door. "Go ahead. You might as well."

Lee hid his glee. "I might as well what?" he asked, knowing perfectly well what Chip was about to say.

Chip shot him a look that plainly said Ďdonít be so dense,í then said, "You might as well fill in for me -- go on, take Lynn to lunch. Have fun while Iím stuck here by the phone. I trust you with my money and my life, so why shouldnít I trust you with my wife?"

"Is that a rhetorical question?" Lee asked, his expression carefully bland.

"No."

"Good." Lee nodded in appreciation. "By the way, that was a nifty little rhyme there."

"Thank you," Chip said with a wry smile.

"Iím impressed," Lee acknowledged. "I didnít know you had it in you."

"Iím just chock full of surprises," Chip said dryly.

"Really?" Lee said brightly. "Maybe I should ask Lynn to fill me in on some of them. Hmmm...yeah. That should be an interesting topic of conversation over lunch."

Chip flushed slightly, then fixed Lee with a glare. "You can try. But you wonít get anywhere."

"Iím sure I wonít." Lee grinned. "By the way, youíre blushing. I donít think Iíve seen you do that in at least...oh, three months now Ė right around the time you started seeing Lynn. Wait Ė you didnít start seeing her. You went home with her after Loseroís reception and you never left."

Chip leveled the Morton Glare of Death at him. "This is my wife youíre talking about."

It was a look that had enlisted men and junior officers alike quivering in their deck shoes or Corfams, but it bounced harmlessly off his best friend. "Sorry," Lee said, totally unrepentant.

"No, youíre not," Chip shot back.

"Youíre right -- Iím not," Lee acknowledged genially. He paused, pursed his lips in thought, then asked seriously, "Are you sure Lynn wonít mind my stepping in for you?"

"While Iím sure sheíd much rather spend the time with me, I doubt having lunch with you instead will bother her too much. Besides, she might as well get used to this now," Chip said in resignation. "It wonít be the last time our plans get tossed into a cocked hat."

"She might as well get used to the Admiralís demands on your time, or to me filling in for you?"

Chip leaned back in his chair. "Both of them. But sheís pretty adaptable -- I donít think it will be a problem."

Lee grinned. "If it is, Iíll just lay the blame on you. And thanks -- itís kind of you to share her company this way. Your loss is my gain. Lynnís gain, too."

"Lee, all things considered, Iíd prefer that my wife spend time with me, rather than you," Chip said flatly. "Itís one of the reasons I married her. I enjoy her company."

Lee struck a thoughtful pose. "One of your reasons, huh?"

"Merely one of many," Chip said, unable to hide his grin.

Lee smiled slyly. "Maybe Iíll ask her what her reasons were for marrying you."

"Youíre feeling a little frisky today, arenít you?" Chip asked dryly.

Lee gave a short laugh. "I canít help it. You keep giving me these great openings that Iíd be a fool to pass up." He grinned. "I suppose it would be asking too much for you to foot the bill for our lunch, too?"

Chip turned his attention back to his report. "Donít push your luck, pal."

"I thought you said youíd trust me with your money!" Lee protested.

"I do -- but that doesnít mean Iím going to let you spend all of it," Chip shot back.

Lee grinned and left Chipís office without a backward glance, whistling his way down the long hallway to the elevators.

** *** **

"Knock-knock."

Doctor Lynn Murtagh looked up from a recent medical evaluation of the latest addition to the Institute's dolphin population, Pollyís six-week-old baby Lexie, to see Lee Crane standing in the doorway of her office.

She smiled and tossed her reading glasses to her desk blotter. "I think this is where I say ĎWhoís there?í" she said, propping her chin in the palm of her hand and playing along.

"The second string." He came in and sat in the chair in front of her desk, his khaki cover in his lap. "Chip apologizes, but heís stuck in his office, waiting for a phone call from the Admiral. Mind going to lunch with a relief pitcher instead of todayís starter?"

Lynnís smile broadened into a grin at the baseball reference. "You mean Ron Guidry was pulled, so Goose Gossage was called in from the bullpen?" she asked, rising.

Lee grinned. "Lack of physical resemblance and innate ability -- and the accompanying paycheck -- aside, something like that."

"As long as you put it that way -- sure. Just let me get my jacket." She rose and walked to her small closet.

Lee stood. "Youíre sure youíre okay with this?"

Lynn turned to face him and nodded. "Sure. I work with dolphins, Lee -- thatís taught me to be flexible. And believe me, those lessons are coming in handy now that Iíve married a Navy man."

"Navy?" Lee asked with a mock-quizzical expression. "The last time I looked this was the Nelson Institute, not the Navy."

"And you of all people know that for all intents and purposes it might as well be the Navy. Despite the more relaxed atmosphere, the procedures are the same, the uniforms are suspiciously similar, and you follow Navy traditions. Besides, you can take the boy out of the Navy, but you canít take the Navy out of the boy. Or the very handsome man, in this case."

Lee grinned at her description of Chip, and she blushed slightly. Then she shrugged on a lightweight navy satin dugout jacket with the white linked NY of the New York Yankees logo, and deposited a navy blue baseball cap with the same logo on top of her jaw-length strawberry blond hair. "So -- Iíll adapt. And it's good practice -- Iím sure it wonít be the last time our plans end up knocked into a cocked hat, so I might as well start getting used to it now, rather than later."

"Thatís an incredibly forgiving attitude. Are there any more like you at home?"

"Like me?" Lynn looked up at him with a sunny smile, her green eyes sparkling with pleasure. "No, not the last time I looked -- though with my family, you never know." She gestured toward the door. "How come youíre not waiting for the Admiralís call, too?"

"Rank does indeed have its privileges," Lee told her, indicating that she should precede him into the hallway. "Besides, this computer project is Chipís baby all the way -- far be it from me to butt in. I have enough projects of my own going on to want to interfere in one of his."

Lynn faced him, hands on her hips. "So my poor husband gets stuck talking to Himself instead of getting to spend some quality time with his new wife."

"When you put it like that, I almost feel sorry for him," Lee said.

"Almost?"

"Just. But Chipís our go-to guy -- if you want anything done, you see him."

"Donít I know it. Such is the price you pay for his level of ability." She paused. "Looks like itís a price Iíll be paying right along with him."

Lee nodded. "Unfortunately, you're probably right. But Iíll tell you one thing -- I definitely came out on the better end of this deal."

Lynn looked up at him, her eyes dancing. "Have I just been complimented, Captain?"

"You have, Doctor."

"Thank you, kind sir." She sighed. "I can deal with this, as long as I get to take him home with me when I leave tonight."

"Weíll have to work on that."

Lynn slipped her arm through Leeís. "Come on, Goose. Letís head on out to the mound. Youíve got a game to save."

** *** **

 

It was a beautiful sun-drenched day with a light breeze blowing off the water, and they exchanged Institute gossip as they walked from the Marine Mammal Building to Administration, where the dining room was located, and where Cookie set up shop when Seaview was in port. There were only a few empty tables, but they found one near the windows where they could take advantage of the magnificent view of the Pacific, then got comfortable and waited for a steward to arrive.

"This is a nice change of pace," Lynn said. "It was very kind of you to take Chipís place so I didnít get stuck eating alone. I probably would have grabbed a sandwich, chips and a soda at the snack bar and had a solo pity party back at my desk."

"And miss one of Cookieís culinary masterpieces?" Lee asked in mock horror. "Iím glad I rescued you from that."

"So am I. My taste buds will be eternally grateful for your kindness."

"Itís my pleasure -- and youíre a lot easier on the eyes than Chip is."

Lynn laughed. "Thank you -- but heís pretty easy on my eyes. Not that youíre not, of course." She paused as a thought crossed her mind. "Oh. Wait a sec -- Chip will still need something to eat. Will Cookie let us do takeout?"

"Maybe. Heís not usually thrilled with the idea but if we ask him nicely, he might go along with it."

"Iíll be sweet as pie," Lynn promised.

"Then put on your best smile," Lee said, "because here he comes now."

Cookie sauntered over to the table and made a show of counting heads. "One, two." Then he crossed his arms in front of his broad chest. "One, two? Arentícha missiní somebody?"

Lee nodded. "Yes, Cookie, we are -- Commander Morton has been unavoidably detained and wonít be eating with us."

"The Admiral pre-empted my lunch with him, and heís stuck at his desk. But weíd like to take his lunch back to him," Lynn said with a big smile for Cookie. "Do you mind?"

"Nah. Iíll cut him some slack -- this time. At least he finishes everything I put in front of him -- unlike two other people I can name." Cookie looked down at them sternly.

"Cookie, I told you -- I love your food, but you just put way too much on my plate," Lynn protested. "As much as Iíd love to, I canít finish it all."

"Iíll let you slide, Doc -- youíre just a little lady, after all. But this guy," and he jerked his chin in Leeís direction, "doesnít have the same excuse."

"Iím watching my girlish figure," Lee said, completely deadpan.

"Girlish figure my a-...ear," Cookie snorted, sanitizing his comment at the last second. "Skipper, if you turn sideways, you disappear." He shook his head. "Iíll send Simmons over with the menus. I got a coupla specials that might tempt your palates." He wove his way through the tables on his way back to the galley.

Lynn watched Cookie walk away with an amused expression on her face. "What?" Lee asked.

"I havenít been called a Ďlittle ladyí since I wasÖwell...little." She grinned.

"He likes you, you know," Lee pointed out.

"I know," Lynn said, nodding. "And I like him, too -- almost as much as I like his food."

"Itís hard to believe, when you look at him, that heís a gourmet cook."

"Appearances can be deceiving," Lynn agreed.

Lee smiled. "Appearances can be deceiving where Chip is concerned, too. Itís a defense mechanism, and itís one heís honed to a fine edge."

"Interesting segue, Captain," Lynn said, cocking her head to look at Lee thoughtfully. "But yeah, that was one of the first things I figured out about him."

"You got past his defenses, though," Lee pointed out. Youíre the only woman heís ever let get past his defenses. The other women he dated? Strictly no-strings. Once they started looking for emotional intimacy Ė bye-bye. But you? He looked for it with you Ė and pretty early on, too. Not that he wanted to admit it. But you got under his skin."

Lynn toyed with her silverware. "Yeah, I guess I did Ė and he got under mine. And the scary thing about that is, I wasnít looking or a relationship. Not consciously, anyway."

"But subconsciously?" Lee asked with a grin.

"I guess my subconscious was on overtime after we met," she admitted.

"Chipís, too," Lee said. "He thought he had us all fooled, but the only one he had fooled was himself."

"And me," Lynn pointed out ruefully.

Lee grinned. "Nice to see you finally own up to it."

"Were we dumb, or what?" Lynn asked with a wry expression.

Lee allowed his grin to widen slowly, unable to let such a comment go unremarked upon. "Well, since you brought it up...yes."

"Thanks a lot, pal," Lynn grumbled.

"Hey -- you asked."

"It was strictly a rhetorical question -- I didnít expect an answer," Lynn pointed out dryly. "I certainly didnít expect you to agree with me."

"But Lynn, when youíre right, youíre right."

Lynn shot her right index finger at him. "You just make sure you remember that," she ordered.

"Yes, ma'am," Lee teased, knowing how much she hated the term. He laughed at the glare she directed his way. "Thatís sad. You really need to have Chip teach you how to put some power behind that."

"Iíll do that Ė but do I get to practice on you?"

"Let me think about it."

By mutual unspoken consent, they put their conversation on hold when a steward came over with the menus, a carafe of ice water, and two glasses. Lee ordered a carafe of coffee for them to share, and they watched the steward go, waiting until he was a discreet distance away before resuming their conversation, picking it up as if there had been no interruption.

"He wasnít always like that, you know," Lee said.

"No?" Lynn asked, her eyes lighting with a gleam of interest.

Lee shook his head. "He originally developed that as a defense mechanism when we were plebes -- he developed it in a hurry during plebe summer. He was very outgoing when we first met."

"So itís a learned behavior," Lynn mused, a thoughtful expression on her face. "Not natural. He developed protective coloration."

Lee laughed. "Yes, I guess youíd call it that. I forgot I was talking to a marine biologist."

Lynn gave him a sheepish smile. "Sorry. Itís second nature at this point."

Lee shook his head. "Donít apologize. Itís a nice insight into the way your mind works."

"And you need to know what makes me tick?" Lynn asked in amusement.

"Itís all part of my job description," Lee said genially.

"As Seaviewís captain?"

"No Ė as Chipís friend," Lee said softly.

"Ah." Lynn nodded thoughtfully. "Thatís reasonable Ė I can live with that." Lynn studied him for a moment. "So Ė itís part of your job description like inscrutability is part of Chipís?"

Lee nodded. "Yes -- and in his position, that inscrutability serves him very well."

"It serves him especially well when heís caught between an irresistible force and an immovable object," Lynn said dryly.

Lee raised an eloquent eyebrow. "Meaning me and the Admiral?"

"None other," Lynn confirmed.

"Whoís who?"

"You have to ask?" Lynn asked incredulously.

"Oh, I think I can guess," Lee said airily.

"Yes, Iím sure you can." Lynn pointed to the specials menu. "Hey, Cookie was right -- the specials do look enticing."

"They always do. He loves cooking for the dining room -- he says the civilian staff appreciates him more than Seaviewís crew does."

"Thatís because we take the time to enjoy what he creates. You guys all eat like itís your last meal," Lynn pointed out. "He serves magnificent food and I don't think you even taste it most of the time."

"Shhh," Lee ordered, holding his index finger to his lips. "Donít let Cookie hear you say that. Itís one of his pet peeves. What are you getting?"

Lynn pointed to the first item on the menu. "The grilled chicken with the red wine vinegar reduction -- it comes with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and baby asparagus tips as sides. It sounds divine."

"Maybe I should get that, too -- itís for sure weíll never see that on Seaview."

"Be more appreciative of Cookieís talents and maybe you will," Lynn pointed out.

"Itís worth a try Ė although the asparagus might not go over too well in the enlisted mess." Lee gestured to the steward, who had been keeping an attentive eye on them from a spot near the door that led to the kitchen. He took their orders quickly, then returned to the kitchen.

Lee turned back to Lynn and smiled. "Poor Chip -- missing good food and even better company."

"Flatterer," Lynn said, but she smiled in appreciation.

"Thatís the price you pay for ability." He paused, then said softly, "You know, Lynn, the Navy lost a good one when he left."

"But Seaview and the Institute benefited," Lynn pointed out.

"Yes, we certainly did." He paused for a moment, as if choosing his next words carefully. "He hasn't told you, has he?"

"Told me what?" Lynn asked, frowning at the non-sequitur.

"That he was being fast-tracked to command before he left active duty."

"No. He hasn't said anything about that." Lynnís frown deepened. "I know you were -- itís all over your Institute bio. You were fast-tracked from the get-go, and the youngest man ever given command of a nuclear attack sub. Itís damned impressive if you know how the Navy works." She cocked her head. "Itís pretty impressive even if you donít."

"It makes for good P.R. Thatís all," Lee said dismissively, over Lynnís snort of disbelief. "But Chip was there right with me -- if not ahead. His operational and organizational skills were legendary when he was on active duty."

"Like they are now," Lynn pointed out.

"Like they are now," Lee agreed. "And do you know why I graduated ahead of him in class standing when we were at Annapolis?"

Lynn shook her head. "No."

"His mother's death, in the early spring of our second-class year." Lee paused, remembering a time that, for him, still resonated with sadness.

"She died from leukemia," Lynn said softly. "He told me. That must have been so hard for him."

"It was," Lee confirmed. "I was with him when he got the news from his father Ė I made sure of that. Chip knew it was coming, of course -- his mother had been ill for a while, and the chemo and radiation didnít do much to help. The cancer was too fast-moving, and it was before hospices were common, so when the doctors said there was no more they could do for her, she left the hospital to go home to die in familiar surroundings. But it was still a significant blow for Chip."

"That must have been so hard on him. I canít imagine losing my mother. Weíre not ultra-close, but still...."

Lee nodded. "His mother was a sweet woman, and they were very close. He was a lot like her Ė more like her than his father. He blamed himself for not being there for her at the end, but she refused to let him ask for compassionate leave, and his father backed her up. She wanted Chip to be there with her, but at the same time, she didnít want him to remember her that way. She was a vibrant, active woman, and the cancer just transformed her. He took a few days of compassionate leave for the wake and the funeral, then came right back to classes."

"Yeah," Lynn said softly, her gaze turning inward. "Weíve talked about it, but I canít imagine how horrible it was for him, not being able to be there."

"Chip took his motherís death pretty badly. Shields up, to borrow a catch phrase. He shut everyone out."

"Even you?" Lynn asked in surprise.

"Even me." Lee nodded. "For a while, anyway. I gave him as much support as he allowed me to give him, and he gradually accepted it. Our relationship slowly got back to normal toward summer break Ė we did our summer cruise together on Sturgeon, then for our elective block, we went to scuba school. He was already pretty reserved by that point, but that summer was when he perfected that legendary mask of inscrutability we all know so well. It became the face he showed the world instead of a minor aspect of his personality Ė something he used when he felt it was necessary. " Lee paused. "We had an instructor that fall semester who started calling him Mister Stillwater Ė and it wasnít a compliment."

"Did that bother him?"

Lee shrugged. "If it did, he never let anyone see it."

"You should pardon the pun, but still waters do run deep," Lynn said. "Very deep." Then she blushed.

"Rest easy, Mrs. Morton -- even though it would be very tempting to pursue that avenue of discussion, I will not ask you to follow up on that statement."

"Good -- because I wouldnít give you any details, anyway," Lynn shot back.

"I never thought you would."

"I know Ė youíre just as bad a tease as Kevin is," was Lynnís response. "So what happened after he came back?"

"His grades dropped a bit -- not a lot, maybe a tenth of a point or so, but the competition in our class was so heated at the top, it was enough for him to drop from first to fourth in class ranking -- and he spent our entire first-class year pulling his grades back up again." He paused, then waited for Lynnís reaction. He didnít have to wait long.

Lynn shook her head, her surprise clear in her expression. "Heís never said a word about any of that. The scuttlebutt around here has you one and him two through all four years at Canoe U."

Lee shook his head. "The scuttlebutt is dead wrong. We alternated the lead like we were smacking around a tennis ball for our first two-and-a-half years -- we had a heated-but-friendly rivalry going on until his mother died. In fact, heíd been number one in class standing for a couple of months when his mother died. Weíd declared for different majors Ė Chip majored in Electrical Engineering while I majored in Mechanical Engineering, but we were in a lot of the same classes. He was better in some subjects, and I was better in others, though we were pretty much dead even in professional development. And he came pretty close to taking the first spot away from me toward graduation, when he really dug in -- I beat him out by two hundredths of a grade point, and I could feel him breathing down my neck all the way, right up until graduation. But Chip wonít say anything to correct the fallacy." Lee sighed ruefully at his friendís folly. "Very few people know the truth."

"But you thought I should know," Lynn mused.

"Yes," Lee agreed. "It's only fair."

"Thank you," Lynn said, raising her coffee cup in a gesture of acknowledgment. "I appreciate it."

"He is your husband, after all." Lee gave Lynn a sly grin. "But I guess you two havenít had a chance to...talk...too much."

Lynn nearly choked on her coffee at this.

"Hey, take it easy!" Lee said, patting her back as she spluttered and coughed.

Recovering, Lynn took a deep breath and started to laugh. "No, we talk."

"Iím sure you do. I bet Chip knows a lot about you already."

"Are you kidding? My brothers and nieces and nephew have made sure of that. My brothers vie with each other in squealing on me -- ĎDid I tell you about the time Lynnie did this?í or 'How about the time Sis did that?í" She rolled her eyes.

Lee grinned. "I bet Chip loves that."

"Are you kidding? Heís eating it up!" She pulled a face. "He eggs them on, too, every chance he gets."

"I can give you some information if you ever want to retaliate," Lee offered.

Lynn nodded. "I may take you up on that one of these days." She paused. "Iím really not surprised heíd let that misconception go uncorrected, though."

"Youíre right," Lee agreed. "Chip never blows his own horn."

"Not even to me -- not yet, anyway."

"Then you probably donít know that like I was, Chip was also promoted below the zone from j.g. to lieutenant and again a couple of years later from lieutenant to lieutenant commander," Lee said.

Lynn frowned. "No, I didnít. Thatís not in his bio, either."

"Then you probably also donít know that heíd just been deep-selected for commander and was slated to start Prospective Commanding Officer School when he was approached by the Admiral for Seaview. But he left the Navy before he was actually promoted, so he never got that third full stripe Ė even though his effective date of promotion should have fallen about a month before his separation date." Lee kept his eyes on Lynn as he revealed this last fact. He watched the play of emotions on her face as she stared out the window, obviously putting together the bits of information heíd revealed.

Finally, she turned and looked at him, fury in her eyes. "Are you saying his promotion was withheld?"

"Yes."

"Because some people in the Navy held it against him that heíd dare to leave when it was clear he was one of the anointed?" Lynn spat.

Lee raised an eyebrow in surprise at her angry tone, then nodded in affirmation. "Yes."

"It wasnít Ďsome peopleí -- it was Admiral Rickover, wasnít it?"

"Yes." Lee smiled in approval. "Youíre good."

Lynn shrugged and shook her head. "I can read between the lines -- and I do a lot of reading. Then there are all those friends I have in the sub community. They keep me in the loop."

Lee nodded. "But thereís more to it than Rickover being miffed that one of Ďhisí officers chose to walk away from the program."

"Oh?"

"When he realized Chip couldnít be swayed from leaving, Rickover tried to turn Chipís resignation into an opportunity -- he wanted Chip to be his eyes and ears aboard Seaview."

"And Chip turned him down cold," Lynn said flatly.

Lee raised an eyebrow. "Youíve heard this story?"

Lynn shook her head. "No, I havenít -- but I know how strong Chipís sense of honor is, not to mention his loyalty. He wouldnít betray the Admiral like that." She paused. "He couldnít."

Lee nodded, his eyes gleaming with approval at Lynnís comments. "Youíre right. He wouldnít. And Rickover turned against him for it, and made sure that Chip paid dearly for his choice. So his third stripe was torpedoed," and here Lee grinned at Lynnís expression of delight at his pun, "and he left active duty as a lieutenant commander and not the full commander he should have been. But while some people in the Navy held it against him -- and they still do -- others understand why he did what he did and give him a lot of credit for it. He walked away from one opportunity -- the guaranteed fast-track to command -- for another, with his head held high and his integrity intact." He paused. "The reasonable ones know that because of NIMRís unique situation, Seaview needed a great crew -- not merely a good one, but the absolute best the Navy had to offer. Some think Chip made the right move, and acted in the best Naval tradition -- putting duty before self."

" ĎIn the best interests of the serviceí," Lynn quoted.

Lee nodded. "Exactly. There were a lot of officers who wanted to promote him to commander before he left -- but Rickover and his acolytes had more power at the time, so the promotion was deep-sixed."

Lynn narrowed her eyes. "Rickover and his happy little band of megalomaniac wannabees." She licked her lips. "And Rickoverís antipathy towards Admiral Nelson didnít help, either."

Lee smiled approvingly. "You are good."

"I lived in New London for a few years when I worked at Mystic Aquarium -- Iíve got a lot of friends wearing gold dolphins, remember. They talked Ė I listened." Lynn shook her head dismissively. "Rickoverís hatred of Admiral Nelson is legendary. Besides, my motherís working on a biography of him Ė Iíve been proofreading it for her. Sheís dug up a lot of dirt on that nasty little man in the process."

"And sheís still alive?" Lee asked with a grin.

Lynn laughed out loud. "It takes an extremely brave man to take on Bridey the Great. Sheís got her own power base and she knows how to make use of it."

"Iíve heard that about her."

"Keep it that way -- you certainly donít want to experience it first-hand."

"Iíll keep that in mind," Lee said.

"Itís no secret even outside the submarine community -- everyone knows that Rickover wanted Seaview under his thumb, and he hates Admiral Nelson not only for having the backbone to stand up to him but also for possessing the financial resources to keep her for himself."

"And Admiral Nelson has his own Congressional power base, which Rickover canít erode," Lee added.

"Good thing. Rickover is a little tin god. He runs Naval Reactors like itís his own private little fiefdom, and doesnít care who he runs over in the process. Heís an incredibly brilliant man, but that malignant personality of his leaves a lot to be desired."

Lee sat back in his chair. "Wow, Lynn -- why donít you tell me what you really think?"

Lynn shrugged. "I try not to mince words."

"Youíve succeeded. So much for that butter-wouldnít-melt-in-your-mouth face you display to the world."

"I can be circumspect when I have to," Lynn protested.

"Which means you donít have to be circumspect now?"

She cocked her head to one side and wrinkled her brow slightly. "You mean with you?"

"Um-hmmm."

"No Ė I donít think I do."

Leeís eyes glowed with a soft gold light. "Thank you for that level of trust."

"Youíre family, Lee -- it goes with the territory." She grinned. "You get to see me as I really am -- warts and all."

"Warts?" Lee made a show of looking her over, then he leaned back in his chair. "I donít see any."

"Give it time." Lynn gave him a cheeky grin. "You will."

Their meals came then, and they fell silent, except for murmurs of appreciation about the food. Lee looked up to see Cookie looking on from the door to the galley, waiting for their reaction to their meals, and gave him a thumbs-up with both hands. With a self-satisfied smile, Cookie disappeared inside.

Lynn finally pushed her plate away. "Wow. I canít believe I ate that much."

Lee looked over at her plate, completely devoid of food. "I canít believe it, either. Maybe Chipís appetite is rubbing off on you."

"I hope not! Iíll need a second job just to keep us in groceries!" She regarded him momentarily, then said, "Lee, I canít imagine Admiral Nelson and Admiral Rickover ever getting along at all."

Lee shook his head. "They never did, even on a professional basis -- they have diametrically opposite personalities. Admiral Nelson is demanding and he doesnít suffer fools gladly, but heís never been petty. Rickover doesnít suffer fools gladly, either, but if he took a dislike to you for whatever reason, you were dead professionally, no matter how able you were or how much youíd accomplished until that point." Leeís expression darkened. "I know a lot of good officers who should have command right now but who had their careers derailed instead because of some imagined slight." He paused, as if formulating his next words. "There should have been a mutual respect between them, but Rickover saw Admiral Nelson as a rival -- and the Admiralís rapid promotions and incredible intellect and ability didnít help. But the Admiral was the one man Rickover couldnít cow -- despite his lower rank at the time, Admiral Nelson had a lot of power, and a number of powerful godfathers, both in the Navy and in Congress -- and in the White House."

"So what happened?"

"Rickover couldnít hurt the Admiral, but he gave some of his close friends poor performance reviews." Lee frowned. "A couple of them were even forced out of the Navy due to his influence."

"Thatís really low," Lynn spat. "Like I said -- heís a little tin god."

"A little tin god who took a liking to your husband," Lee reminded her.

"Until Chip made a decision Rickover didnít agree with," Lynn shot back. "Then he turned on him." She cocked her head to one side. "And the role of devilís advocate doesnít become you, Captain Crane," she chided.

"Sorry," Lee said unapologetically.

"How did you get along with him?"

"Rickover?" Lee shrugged. "He disliked me less than most, but I wasnít one of his pets."

"Meaning Chip was?" Lynn challenged.

Lee shook his head. "No, not a pet, per se -- but Rickover had high hopes that Chip would become one."

Lynn made a rude noise. "He didnít know Chip that well, did he?"

"No, he didnít," Lee agreed. "I think where Chip was concerned, he saw what he wanted to see, and not what was really there."

"Heís a brilliant but nasty little man, with nasty little practices -- especially that interview," Lynn said flatly.

"I canít argue with you there," Lee said taking a deep breath and huffing it out. "It was called ĎThe Interview from Hellí, and believe me -- it was. What a nightmare."

"Iíve heard about some of them." Lynn shook her head. "Itís amazing he was allowed to get away with that kind of behavior for as long as he did."

Lee nodded in agreement, then asked, "You know what he did to Chip?"

"Nope."

"Do you want to know?"

"Of course I do!" Lynn said eagerly. "Spill it!"

"First of all," Lee began, "Chipís resume ticked him off -- quarterback of the Annapolis football team for two years, a star at intramural softball and basketball, second in his class at graduation, well-liked by his classmates and instructors. During the interview, he was annoyed that Chip sat there, calm as you please, doing his inscrutable act, taking everything Rickover could throw at him in stride, even the stupid questions, without turning a hair. Then he told Chip to piss him off, figuring that someone that even-tempered wouldnít be able to do it."

"And did he?"

"Without missing a beat or changing his expression, Chip stood up, walked to Rickoverís desk, and swept everything on it to the floor. Then he sat back down and did the inscrutable act. Chip told me that he thought Rickover was going to have a stroke -- he turned beet-red and his eyes bulged out. Then he came around the desk, laughed, shook Chipís hand, and welcomed him to the program." Lee laughed. "Chipís reaction is legendary in the sub community."

Lynn blinked and looked at Lee in dawning comprehension, then her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open in shock. "Oh my God!"

"What?" Lee asked, eyes widening in alarm.

Lee, that story is in my motherís manuscript!" Lynn said. "Youíre right -- it is legendary. Sheís doing a full chapter on the interview process, and she makes a point of asking everyone she speaks to about their experiences. She said every single nuc she interviewed mentioned that story to her, some with more details than others, but none of them ever gave her a name to go with it. She was sure it was apocryphal, and she refers to it that way in the manuscript."

"Itís definitely not apocryphal," Lee said in amusement. "We interviewed the same day, and I talked to Chip right after it happened. Itís legitimate. But itís so over the top, I can see where it might look like it could be a rumor."

Lynn nodded thoughtfully. "Iíll have to pass that on to her -- maybe remind her she has a son-in-law who could give her a lot of insight that she could use in the finished product. Sheís not supposed to submit it until July, so she has time to revise it."

"Why hasnít she cornered Chip for an interview yet to ask him directly?"

Lynn smiled. "Thatís usually the first thing she does whenever she meets anyone in the military. The branch doesnít matter Ė she sits them down and picks their brains, and what she learns usually ends up in one or another of her books. But with Chip, sheís been on her best behavior -- so far. Actually, I think sheís waiting to meet him in person when we visit the farm in April -- itíll be harder for him to get away if theyíre face to face."

"And youíd wish that on your beloved husband?" Lee teased.

Lynn laughed. "My beloved husband will have no trouble with my mother -- heíll have her eating out of his hand." She smiled. "And sheíll adore him."

"There arenít too many women who are immune to his charm."

"That charm has a long-term personal-services contract these days, remember," Lynn said with a little grin.

"Thatís the best move Chip ever made," Lee said softly.

Lynnís grin softened to a smile. "Thank you for the kind words."

"Itís only the truth."

"So what did Rickover do to you?" Lynn asked.

Lee hid his grin at her change of subject. "He made me stand at attention while he looked over my transcript, then told me he had secretaries working for him who were smarter than I was, and better pugilists -- his term, not mine -- to boot. Then he kicked me out of his office and stuck me in a broom closet for two hours."

Lynn burst out laughing. "He did that to a lot of candidates," she said. "So what did you do for those two hours?"

"I took a nap," Lee said nonchalantly.

Lynnís eyes widened in surprise. "A nap?"

Lee shrugged. "I didnít have anything else to do. I was tired, so I figured I might as well use the time productively."

"Talk about making lemons out of lemonade," Lynn said. "Captain, I am very impressed at your ability to relax under pressure. Maybe my mother should talk to you, too."

"Iíll take a raincheck."

"How did I know you were going to say that?" Lynn asked wryly. "So, what happened when the two hours were up ?"

"When an aide finally came to get me, he sat me in one of those chairs with the sawed-off legs and Rickover shot rapid-fire questions at me for twenty minutes. I answered as best as I could while trying to keep my balance. Then one of his assistants escorted me out of the inner sanctum and told me Iíd passed."

"At that point, was it good news or bad news?"

"You know, after all that, I wondered the same thing." Lee refilled his coffee cup. "I can tell you, I wasnít thinking about lemonade when that damned interview was over," he said flatly. "Chip was waiting for me, and we went out to a bar in New London and lifted a few to celebrate our survival. And it was survival -- later we found out that almost every other midshipman applying from our class was flatly turned down. Only three others were accepted, and two of them ended up as Engineering Duty Officers Ė and that made them ineligible for command at sea. Most of that yearís class at Sub School was made up of NROTC graduates."

"Iíve heard of his disdain for Naval Academy graduates."

"He doesnít think weíre up to his standards."

"Itís more like youíre too smart for him to dominate you. And this is the man who virtually has sole control over a good chunk of the Navy," Lynn said, disapproval dripping from her words.

"Yes," Lee said flatly. "You know what one of Rickoverís favorite lines is?"

"What?" Lynn asked.

" ĎIf you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy wonít.í "

"And for Ďbureaucracyí, substitute ĎRickoverí," Lynn mused.

"Amen."

"And they still hold Chipís sin against him."

"At the moment," Lee confirmed.

"Which means?" Lynn asked.

"Itís only a feeling, but Rickoverís not getting any younger -- he wonít be in charge forever. Things will change at one point -- but we donít know when. At any rate, itís background you should know."

"Thank you." Lynn toyed with her coffee spoon, looking at the tablecloth instead of at Lee. "But I donít think it matters any more. What matters now is what goes on here."

"Youíre right. Chip is a plankowner, part of the commissioning crew of the worldís most advanced submarine," Lee said. "In his mind, thereís nothing better -- career-wise, I mean."

Lynn regarded him shrewdly. "Ah, but I hear a Ďbutí at the end of that sentence."

Lee smiled and nodded in agreement. "But if heíd stayed in the Navy, he would have had his own command by now. Some people think he threw away a promising career for -- this." He spread his hands to indicate the Institute.

" ĎThisí," and here Lynn repeated Leeís expansive gesture, "isnít such a bad place to be. Iím sure he wouldnít turn down a command of a sister sub to Seaview if the Admiral offered him one, but he isnít actively looking for that, either," Lynn protested. "And heís happy here -- he loves being your XO, Lee, and heís good at it. And thatís not such a bad thing."

Lee nodded, inwardly rejoicing at the understanding Lynn showed of his friendís personality, and her ready acceptance of his personal and professional goals, as well. "He always has been happy here -- now, more than ever." He grinned at the blush that comment produced, then leaned forward, his voice dropping conspiratorially. "Can I tell you a secret?"

Lynn frowned. "A secret? What kind of secret?"

"A big one."

She leaned forward, unconsciously mirroring Leeís posture and position. "Just how secret do I have to keep it?" she asked softly.

"Between me and thee," Lee said solemnly.

Lynn leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms across her abdomen in a position that clearly showed her discomfort at what heíd asked her to do, and licked her lips nervously. "Lee.... I donít know if I can do that." Then she shook her head. "No Ė I know I canít."

"Thatís what I expected you to say." Lee nodded. "Fair enough. Tell you what -- Iíll tell you anyway, and if you feel you have to tell Chip, you have my permission to do so."

Lynnís eyes widened. "You trust me that much?"

"Sure I do." Lee nodded. "Youíre my best friendís wife."

"I guess thatís a good recommendation."

"The best." He grinned. "Youíre family -- it goes with the territory. You get to see me as I really am -- warts and all."

Lynn smiled sheepishly as her own words came back to her. "Fair enough. So, Lee, tell me -- whatís your deep, dark secret?"

"When Chip left active duty to come here as Seaviewís exec, I was jealous. The Admiral wanted him as her XO from the beginning -- there was never any question in his mind about who he wanted for the job."

"I know. Thatís pretty much common knowledge here at NIMR."

"Yes, it is. But did you know I wasnít on the list?"

"No, I didnít." Lynnís eyes widened as realization hit. "Oh."

"Yes -- oh." Lee shrugged. "To be honest, the short list had only one name Ė Chipís. And the Admiral wanted John Phillips for Seaviewís captain right from the very beginning -- and he got him. John had put in twenty-five years in the Navy, was shore-bound after a sea tour as captain of a Polaris missile boat, conning a desk and thinking of retiring, and when the Admiral approached him with his proposal, he jumped at it. Chip made a strong impression on the Admiral at the Academy, and the Admiral wanted that steady hand backing John up. Seaviewís mission was more scientifically-oriented in the early days of NIMR Ė it mutated along the way."

"Yeah, it kinda did."

"And Admiral Nelson thought I was better suited for the regular Navy than a research institution."

"Did that bother you?" Lynn asked softly.

"Yes, it did, somewhat. Donít get me wrong -- I was happy for Chip. It was an amazing opportunity for him. And Iíll admit it -- I was spoiled. By that point in my career, I wasnít used to coming in second -- let alone not even being under consideration," Lee told her. He smiled ruefully. "Truth be told, Iíd just started Prospective Commanding Officers School, and didnít have the experience I needed. And there was Chip, the Admiralís first choice for Seaviewís XO, and pretty much the heir apparent as Seaviewís CO when John eventually stepped down ten or fifteen years in the future. But I wanted a boat of my own sooner than that Ė and I got one."

"So there you were, bound for glory in the Navy."

Lee nodded. "The Navy had bigger plans for me."

"He said modestly," Lynn said dryly.

Lee favored her with a winning smile. It was so refreshing to banter with a woman in a strictly-friends basis Ė refreshing, and relaxing as well. "You do call them as you see them, donít you?"

"I always have Ė it saves me a lot of time."

"Good Ė Chip needs that."

"And then Captain Phillips was killed," Lynn said softly.

"And then Captain Phillips was killed," Lee agreed. "And that changed everything. He and the Admiral were good friends, and the Admiral had mentored him throughout his career Ė theyíd served together on a couple of different boats, and John served under the Admiral on a shore tour. And John was mentoring Chip. They werenít buddies -- there was too much of an age gap between them for that, I think, and their personalities were very different. And then there was that professional gulf that sometimes exists between a CO and his XO Ė John liked it that way."

"Which doesnít exist between you and Chip," Lynn pointed out.

"And I thank God for that every day, too," Lee said.

"So does Chip," Lynn said softly.

Lee smiled. "But even with that gulf, Chip had a great deal of professional respect for him -- and John was the XO on Chipís first boat, so they had a history together." He poured another cup of coffee from the carafe that sat on the table between them. "Who knows -- if John Phillips hadnít been murdered, you might be on the way to becoming Mrs. Captain Morton today."

Lynn made an impatient face and waved a dismissive hand. "Being Mrs. XO Morton suits me just fine. And itís not about me, anyway."

"But wouldnít you like Chip to have the recognition heís due?" Lee pressed.

"Due from whom?" Lynn countered. "His abilities are legendary. Everyone here knows who he is, what he does, and how well he does it. If thatís enough for Chip, itís more than enough for me."

"Ultimately, thatís true Ė at least here at the Institute. But donít you want the officers who did a one-eighty and kept him from a well-deserved promotion to know what heís really like?" Lee persisted.

"More fool they if they canít see that for themselves," Lynn shot back fiercely. "The people who matter know, and heís well-respected by his peers, both here and in the regular Navy. Thatís all that matters."

"So you donít have any ambition for him?" Lee pressed.

"Me? No. Iím not the pushy type, Lee. If heís happy, Iím happy." She paused. "But if heís not happy, then Iíll do my best to help him change that."

"Youíre tough," Lee said. "Remind me not to mess with you where your husband is concerned."

Lynn narrowed her eyes at him. "Lee Crane, are you playing devilís advocate again?"

"No." Lee shook his head. "I only do that once a day. I just want you to know a little bit about the man you married -- because he wonít tell you himself. Not all of it, at any rate."

"Heís not a braggart."

"No, heís not a naval aviator," Lee said with a sly grin.

"Hey, watch the insults," Lynn protested. "Iíve got four family members wearing those wings, remember."

"So you know exactly what I mean."

Lynn shrugged. "Partially -- my Uncle Pete is COMNAVAIRPAC, and when you hit flag rank, you lose any humility you might have possessed up to that point. But his two younger sons are pretty humble, for jet jockeys. Well, Joey is, at least. Jimmy...." She let her words trail off, then grinned. "Heís relatively humble, anyway."

"And Donnie?"

"My baby brother? Letís just say that, like my big brother Jack, that particular apple didnít fall far from either tree and leave it at that," Lynn said dryly. She cocked her head and shook her coffee spoon at him. "And I seem to recall both you and Chip being qualified naval aviators -- at least where the Flying Sub is concerned. So, Mister Kettle, let me know when you want to be introduced to Mister Pot. Iíll be happy to facilitate."

"Touchť." Lee pursed his lips. "Well -- now that Iíve laid my soul bare to you--"

Lynn looked at him shrewdly. "You really donít expect me -- or want me -- to keep this a secret from him, do you?"

Lee smiled. "No."

"Didnít think so."

"He already knows." Leeís smile widened to a grin. "We...uh...got drunk one night not long after I took command of Seaview. A lot of deep, dark secrets saw the uncompromising light of day that night."

"Thatís the mixed metaphor to end all mixed metaphors." She cocked her head to one side. "So, tell me -- how long have you been trying to maneuver things so you could get me alone to tell me all this?"

"Maneuver? Moi?" Lee asked innocently, laying his palm over his chest.

"You," Lynn affirmed.

"Well.... I didnít maneuver the Admiralís phone call. It just happened at the right time, so I took the opportunity it presented."

"Carpe diem."

Lee raised his coffee cup in a salute. "Thatís one of the first things they teach us at the Academy."

"Thank heavens for serendipity," Lynn said dryly.

"A little serendipity goes a long way. Itís what you make of it that counts."

"Do they teach you that at the Academy, too?"

"Not in so many words." He grinned. "But adaptability is a prized trait." Emptying what little coffee was left in the carafe into the their cups, he asked, "Do you want dessert?"

"Dessert?" Lynn looked at him in amazement. "Lee, I donít have any room for dessert after that meal!"

"Neither do I Ė but I noticed Cookieís chocolate mousse cake on the menu."

"Iíll take a piece to go," Lynn said quickly. "One for Chip, too. We can have them for dessert tonight."

He signaled the steward, gave him the dessert order and a request for the check, then initialed it when the steward brought it over, along with two bags containing Chipís lunch and the two pieces of chocolate mousse cake.

Rising, he pulled Lynnís chair back as she stood, and she smiled her thanks as she scooped up the bags with the food.

"This was fun, Lee -- thank you for a lovely meal," she said as they walked to the door.

"My pleasure." Lee grinned. "Iím glad you enjoyed yourself."

"And Iím sure youíll be more than happy to rub it in when you get back to the office, wonít you?" Lynn asked dryly.

Lee looked at her deadpan for a moment, then grinned. "Yes."

"Yeah, I thought so. Be nice," she warned.

"Would you believe me if I promised to be gentle with him?"

"Not in the slightest," Lynn said flatly.

"Lynn, you wound me," Lee said, placing his right hand over his heart.

"But Iím right," Lynn said. "And you know it."

"Of course you are, and of course I do -- could I ever pass up a chance to rag on him?"

"If you did, it would be time to send for Jamie so he could check your vitals," Lynn said with a cheeky grin.

"Ow."

Lynn handed Lee the bag with Chipís lunch when they came to the elevator. "Wanna play delivery boy? Youíre heading back that way anyway."

Lee looked at her in surprise. "Donít you want to take it up to him?"

Lynn nodded, then shrugged. "Sure I do -- but if heís busy, I donít want to distract him."

"I didnít think you were the self-sacrificing type, Doctor," Lee said dryly.

"Oh, believe me -- Iím not," Lynn assured him. "In fact, Iím being incredibly selfish -- the faster he gets done, the faster I get to take him home with me."

Lee nodded in approval. "Excellent reasoning, Doctor."

"Thank you, Captain." She reached up and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Oops. PDA." She ostentatiously covered her mouth with her hand, then laughed.

Lee gave her a fond smile. "Youíre forgiven."

"Good -- ícause itíll happen a lot in the future." She pointed to the bag as the elevator doors swooshed open. "Get that to him while itís still hot, and tell him to call me when he can." Then she ducked into the elevator and pressed the button for the ground floor.

Lee held her gaze until the doors closed, then headed for the stairs that led to the Command suite of offices, an amused grin on his face.

 

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