Windows
by Cindy D. Baker


"Ahhh," the young woman groaned softly. When her car came to a stop, she tried to move but couldn't; her body was numb from the shock of the crash.

Beside her, her older brother held her hand tightly. "Laurie, can you hear me? I'm here."

Wanting to speak, all Laurie could do was moan and tighten her hand around his.

"I'll always be here for you, kid. Don't move. I'll go get help."

Suddenly the warm, secure feeling of his hand was gone.

-/-/-

The two-lane road was narrow and winding as they journeyed higher into the Los Padres National Forest Mountains, but Captain Lee Crane's Alfa Romeo handled the challenge with ease. A beautiful warm, spring morning late in May, Lee and his companion and coworker, Lieutenant Commander Chip Morton, had lowered the sport car's top to take full advantage of the exhilarating beauty around them.

"Do you have any idea where you're going?" asked Lee, with a doubtful grin.

"I know exactly where I'm going," Chip reassured him with a smug smile. "You're doing fine. We should be there in about an hour."

"This," the senior officer emphasized with a crooked grin, "had better be good! If I'm giving up a rare day off to take a romantic drive into the mountains, I'd prefer it be with the feminine gender, and not with the same mug I've been seeing for the last six weeks

Snickering, Chip threw him a great big smile. "Trust me, you'll love it!"

"And you're not even going to tell me what it is." After Chip had convinced his friend to go along with the surprise two days ago, the Captain, out of revenge for Morton's stubbornness in keeping it a secret, had been interrogating him non-stop ever since.

"You're gonna hate yourself if I do. It'll spoil the surprise."

"I'd rather live with run-wild anticipation than with this foreboding dread."

"You don't trust me!" cried Chip, feigning hurt and surprise.

"Not when it comes to you and women, no! The last, quote, lady, unquote, you set me up with ended up in prison for fifteen years!"

"How was I supposed to know she was an international jewel thief?" Chip sharply reminded him, wistfully thinking of the woman. "She was beautiful, though, wasn't she?" A tall brunette with a china complexion, she knew how to make a man feel like a million dollars . . . which was exactly the amount she had stolen from her previous victim.

"That she was, Chip ole man, that she was -- now, where are we going?"

"All right. You want to know? Two words. Well, three, I guess depending on how you spell it."

"Morton!"

"All right, all right! Candlestick bowling."

"Candlestick bowling! Are you serious? I haven't played that game since I was a kid!" Lee's smile got bigger as he fondly remembered the game. Played mostly in the New England states, it was similar to bowling with the following minor differences: the ball was a smaller, shot-put type ball, the pins were slightly taller and thinner, and while the thrower got to throw the ball three times, all the dropped pins were left on the court for the thrower to use to take out the others.

Breathing on his fist, Chip proudly rubbed his knuckles on his shirt. "I know, that's why we're going. You talk about it so much when you get homesick that when I found this place, I decided we had to go the first chance we got."

"So it's not a blind date?" Lee almost sounded disappointed. Glancing at his passenger, he saw Morton's mischievous grin get bigger.

"Not in the least," and the grin got bigger still, "but they do have a lot of very pretty woman working there."

Lee's grin broadened to match Chip's own. "So how did you--"

"LOOK OUT!" Chip yelled.

Coming around the hairpin turn, both officers put their foot down hard--Chip on the floor and Lee on the brake--Crane cutting the wheel hard and barely missing the man in the middle of the road. Coming to a screeching halt a hair-second later, and breathing hard, the men simultaneously looked behind them. The man was their age and frantic as he charged towards the car. The clothes he wore confirmed Lee and Chip's initial sighting. The man was a navy officer.

"Please, you gotta help me!" he yelled. His khakis were covered in sweat and grime. "My sister's car ran off the road! She's badly hurt!"

And he was a submarine officer.

Chip immediately jumped out of the car as Lee set the flashers and hand brake, then sprinted after the other two men.

It was at the bend of the hairpin turn where the car had gone over the edge. The land dropped sharply past the side to accommodate the brook below, which paralleled the road.

"Her brakes gave way and she was afraid if she turned, she'd flip over!" the officer gasped.

Lee and Chip could clearly see the car from their viewpoint. The natural layout of the brook caused the immediate area around it to be flat, almost field-like, an anomaly which had saved the siblings' lives, for it was here where the trees along the route were the scarcest. But the red VW Beetle had overturned sometime during its plunge, and now lay motionless on its back at the bottom, its two doors open like a wounded ladybug.

From below, a painful moan echoed upwards.

Instantly, Lee headed down the long embankment with Chip at his heels. The bank wasn't steep, but it was blanketed in wet, aged leaves, making the descent slippery and hazardous. At one point, losing his footing, Chip slid into Crane, who saved them both by grabbing a sapling and digging his heel into the moist ground.

In a few heartbeats, the men were upon the wreck, greeted by another groan. On either side of the car, the officers simultaneously dropped to their knees. A young woman lay crumbled on the overturned roof surrounded by red; a frightening illusion perpetrated by the red clothed interior.

"We're here to help you," Chip said gently. The woman's white shirt was blood-spattered, as was her face and hair, but just splattered or from injury, neither of them could tell at that moment.

The woman's eyes fluttered open, at first staring vacantly at the dark-haired man in front of her. "Dan?" she asked, dazed and confused.

"No, ma'am," Crane replied in the calmest of voice. "Lee Crane at your service. Don't try to move. We're here to help you. Chip?."

Both men stood, keeping their voices low. As Lee began to outline his plan, he and Chip suddenly stopped and looked around them. It was just the two of them.

"Where'd the other guy go?" Chip asked, scouring the area. "Do you think he went to get help?"

Lee had his hands sheltering his eyes from the sun as he focused on the embankment they had just come down. "I don't know. I don't see him up there. Did he say anything to you about going for help?"

"Not that I remember--hey! There's a house that looks to be about a mile from here. I'll go, you stay. Remember to keep her talking in case she has a . . ." crinkling his brow, Chip cocked his head, " . . . concussion--do you hear what I hear?" he asked, dubiously searching for the direction of the sound.

"I don't hear-" but then he did hear it. Glancing at Morton, both conveyed the same look: it was a siren, and it sounded like it was heading in their direction!

"It's coming down the farm road! I'll go flag 'em down," Chip called over his shoulder as he began his jog towards the dirt field road.

"Go, go, go," Lee pushed worriedly, dropping back down to his knees. Peering inside, Lee's heart skipped a beat. The young woman's eyes were now closed.

"Miss?" Lee asked fearfully.

Silence.

-/-/-

Pulling up to the dirt road, Chip paused to catch his breath as the ambulance came, stopping three inches in front of him.

"Boy, am I glad to see you!" he gasped to the driver. "A car ran off the road over there," he said, pointing.

"We know, a man called to report it. Get in!" The driver ordered as his partner threw open the door. "Several accidents have occurred at this bend," Kevin, the driver, explained as Chip jumped in. "I suspect old farmer Bernard doesn't need to look out his window any more to know what happened, he's heard so many of them?"

Within minutes, the ambulance was on its way to the hospital with the unconscious woman inside.

Arriving at the hospital right behind the ambulance, Lee and Chip raced over as Kevin and his partner Randy, pulled out the stretcher, and were alarmed to hear she had not yet regained consciousness.

Inside the emergency room, Lee, having the forethought to grab her purse at the accident site, handed it to the hospital staff. As they searched for identification, he filled in the blanks, as much as he could, for the doctors.

Having done all that they could, yet reluctant to leave, the Seaview officers debated what to do next. Both agreeing that they didn't want to leave until they knew more about the woman's condition, they elected having a cup of coffee in the hospital cafeteria.

An hour later, Julie, the admittance nurse, came to the room, searching them out. "Captain Crane, Mister Morton, I thought you'd like to know, Miss Dearson is going to be fine," she assured them with a smile.

Simultaneously, the men exhaled. "That's a relief," said Chip, now noticing Julie's big blue eyes.

"Can we see her?" asked Lee, still concerned.

The nurse shook her head, then changed her mind. "Only for a moment. She's asleep right now, and we don't want her disturbed."

"On our honor," Chip promised with a smile, receiving a warm smile in return. "We'll only stay a minute."

-/-/-

"So what do you want to do after this?" asked Chip, as they made their way to the woman's room. "Continue on, or go home and save bowling for another day?"

"I don't know, let's see how we feel once we get out of--" Having turned into Laurie Dearson's room, Crane stopped dead in his tracks. Seated by her bedside was the man who'd flagged them down. Seeing them, the officer rose.

His eyes narrowing, Lee took a few steps towards him. "You her brother, Dan?" he snarled, fighting to keep a low voice

"Yes," the man confirmed with a brief nod.

"Where the hell did you go?" Lee snapped. "Your sister needed you!"

"I went back to my boat." Dan replied calmly.

"Your boat?" Lee growled. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"The USS Scorpion."

Skeptical laughter burst from Morton. "Impossible! Scorpion was reported missing yesterday afternoon."

"I know," Dan nodded. "But my sister needed me, and I had to be here for her, regardless."

It took a minute before either Crane or Morton could say anything; too stunned were they to speak . . . the man they were just talking to had disappeared right before their eyes.

T h e E n d

This story is dedicated to, and in memory, of the men who have served and died during submarine service.

Author's note: the name "Dearson" has been totally fictionalized, out of respect for the families whose men lost their lives, May 1968, on the USS Scorpion (SSN-589).

Copyright 2001 by Cindy Baker
Please send your comments Cindy to: CBB47@aol.com
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