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The Promotion

By Christine Owens


"Come in!" shouted Admiral Starke.

Lee Crane stood in front of the Admiral's desk and saluted. "Admiral Starke, you wanted to speak to me, sir?"

"Sit down, Commander," said Admiral Starke in his usual gruff manner. "Since Naval Command classifies you as reserve status, I have a proposition for you. Have you ever considered going back to active duty?"

"Uh, no, sir. Duty aboard Seaview is active enough. May I ask what this is about, sir?" 

"The Navy is about to commission a new wolf-class submarine, the U.S.S. Stingray. She'll need a Captain." Jiggs Starke paused as he regarded the young man seated in front of him. "Harriman Nelson once called you 'the best there is' and I happen to agree. The Navy is offering you command of the Stingray."

"Admiral Starke," Crane replied as he shook his head, "I'm honored that the Navy would ask me, but I already have a command."

"Not so fast Crane," Starke said. "Before you say no, maybe I can sweeten the pie a little. There's a promotion in rank to full Captain that goes along with the deal; another stripe on your sleeve. Not an offer to be turned down lightly."

"Admiral, I appreciate the offer, but I'm afraid my answer is still no."

"Commander, I hope you know what you're doing. An offer like this comes along once in a lifetime." Admiral Starke stood up and walked out from behind the desk.

"In this case it would be twice in a lifetime," Crane said, also standing. "My decision to stay with the Institute is the right choice for me."

"Well, if that's what you want," Starke replied "But I still think you're making a mistake."

"You know, sir, I heard the same thing from colleagues when I left the Navy for the Institute." The Captain started to leave and then turned back to face Admiral Stark. "Sir, I would rather that you not mention our conversation to Admiral Nelson."

"I'm aware of your relationship with Admiral Nelson. He and I have been friends for a long time. I'm not in the habit of keeping anything from him. However," Starke continued, "I understand your reason."

"Thank you, sir. And don't worry, I'll tell the Admiral . . ." Eventually, Crane said to himself after he had left the room.


Back at the Institute, Captain Crane was in his office reviewing sailing orders for Seaview's next mission. A group of marine biologists would be using Seaview's extensive research facilities to measure the warming of the earth's oceans and its effects on marine life. There was a knock on the door. Looking up from the paper work, Lee Crane smiled as Harriman Nelson entered the office.

"Where the devil were you all morning?" Nelson asked as he came into the room. "I had Angie page every building on the grounds looking for you."

"I went to COMSUBPAC to see Admiral Starke," Crane answered truthfully, not wanting to actually lie to his friend.

"Oh? What did you need to see Jiggs about?"

Crane stood in front of the Admiral rubbing his class ring into the palm of his hand. "He wanted to see me actually."

"And?" came the impatient inquiry. Nelson had known Lee Crane for years; the nervous tic did not go unnoticed.

"He wanted to know if I could recommend anyone for the job of captain for the Stingray when she's commissioned next month."

"Hmm. Why would he ask you?"

"Beats me, sir." Trying to change the subject, Crane said, "You needed to see me about something?"

"What? Uh, yes. Since you're reviewing the data for our next cruise," Nelson continued, as Crane nodded, "I presume that everything will be ready to go when our guests arrive. No slip ups?"

"Of course not. The crew returns from liberty tomorrow. All the special equipment will be stowed by then. Admiral, you never questioned details like this before. Why now?"

Admiral Nelson suddenly realized his offensive posture. "Sorry Lee. This is an important cruise for the Institute. I want to make sure things are perfect. I should know better than to question you."

"Well, don't worry, sir," Crane smiled, "Seaview and her crew will be ready to sail at the appointed time."

Nelson left to allow the Captain to finish the last minute details of readying the submarine. The job of loading ship stores, equipment, and overseeing the returning crewmembers actually fell under the jurisdiction of Executive Officer, Chip Morton. However, Lee Crane was a perfectionist and insisted on double checking everything himself.

Harriman Nelson went back to his office, sat at his desk, and pulled a cigarette from his pocket. He sat for a long while tapping the desktop with the unlit cigarette. The conversation he had had with Crane was gnawing at him. Something didn't seem right.

"Angie," Nelson said into the intercom.

"Yes, Admiral."

"Get me Admiral Starke at COMSUBPAC right away."

"Yes, sir."

In a few minutes the intercom beeped. "Admiral Starke's office is on line one sir."

"Thank you, Angie." Nelson picked up the phone. "Jiggs, Harry here."

"No, sir, this is Commander Joe Jackson," said the voice at the other end of the line. Jackson was Admiral Starke's aide. "May I help you, sir?"

"Joe, how are you?" Without waiting for a reply Nelson continued, "Where's the Admiral?"

"He's in conference with the rest of the COMSUBPAC officers. They're trying to find a captain for the new Stingray."

"Yes. Lee Crane told me when I saw him earlier today."

"The Admiral was real surprised that Lee turned down the offer for command. I was, too. Imagine turning down a billion dollar sub?"

Not sure he heard correctly Nelson stuttered into the phone, "What . . . what do you mean, uh, turned down command? Command of what?"

"Why the Stingray of course," was Jackson's matter-of-fact reply. "Admiral Starke and the rest of the COMSUBPAC officers figured Crane would jump at the chance to assume command. But he just turned the Admiral down flat and left."  

"Joe, have Admiral Starke call me when he gets back."

"Aye, sir."

After Nelson had hung up the phone, he lit the cigarette and tried to think. He and Crane were best of friends, yet Lee never mentioned the Navy's offer. Nelson knew in his heart why Crane had passed on the opportunity. It was his friendship and loyalty for Nelson. Crane was a fine officer. He deserved this chance to further his naval career. Nelson would see to it that friendship did not stand in Crane's way -- whether the Captain liked it or not.

An hour later, Nelson was on the phone with Jiggs Starke. "That was an impressive proposition you made Crane: a full captaincy and command of a new wolf-class sub. Any reason why you decided to try to steal my captain?"

"Plenty of reasons, Harriman. But you don't have to worry about that. I once referred to Crane as 'Nelson's Man'. I guess he still is."

"Did he say anything else a'tall?"

Starke hesitated before answering. "Just that I shouldn't mention the conversation to you. And if the former Commander Jackson hadn't said anything . . ."

"Don't be so hard on Joe. You didn't pass Lee's instructions on to him." Nelson sat at his desk and ran a hand over the side of his head.

Stepping out of his surly character for a moment, Admiral Starke asked, "Harriman, what would you have advised Crane to do if he had informed you?"

"As difficult as it would be to let him go, I would have told him to take the offer." After a brief pause Nelson asked, "Jiggs, have you come up with anyone to captain the Stingray?"

"We came up with two possibilities from the promotion list."

Nelson sat silently for a moment. "Don't do anything yet." The Admiral took a long breath before he continued speaking. "Crane will take the captaincy."

"Harry," Starke responded with surprise, "he doesn't want it! The Stingray will be commissioned next month. She'll need a captain named before then."

"Seaview should be back in port in approximately three weeks. Give me that long to talk to Lee. One of us will contact you either way. Please Jiggs."

"All right Harry," Starke finally relented, "three weeks, no longer."


As promised, Captain Crane had the Seaview and her crew running like a Swiss watch. The four scientists on board and had settled in between their cabins and the laboratories. Seaview had been at sea for three days. She was on course for the central Pacific, stopping periodically at the scientists' request to take water samples. In those three days, neither Crane nor Nelson had mentioned their respective conversations with Admiral Starke.

Captain Crane was in the Control Room computing course and speed when a call came over the ship's intercom.

"Control, this is Nelson."

"Yes, Admiral, this is Crane."

"Lee, I want to see you in my cabin after your watch is over."

"Is anything wrong, sir? I could come up now if you'd like."

Nelson hesitated before answering. "No. Later will be fine. Out."

Crane returned the mike to its cradle, then shrugged to himself. For the past few days Crane had noticed that the Admiral had seemed preoccupied about something. Forcing himself back to work, the Captain tried to put his feelings aside. He would find out soon enough anyway.

Some hours later, Mr. O'Brien reported to the Control Room to relieve the Captain for the night watch. After briefing the Lieutenant, the Captain headed up the spiral staircase to the Admiral's cabin. Stopping outside the door for a moment, Crane finally knocked.

"Yes, come in."

Crane entered the cabin and stood formally in front of Nelson's desk. "You wanted to see me, Admiral?"

Nelson took a deep breath. He lifted his head to meet the Captain's gaze. "Sit down Lee. I have a matter I must discuss with you."

Crane walked over and sat in the chair beside the Admiral's desk.

"As you know Lee, the Seaview is currently involved in an extremely important marine research project." Lowering his eyes to look at the papers on his desk, Nelson suddenly fumbled for words. "The Institute and the Seaview were, uh, created for that very purpose . . . Marine Research. That's, uh, that's why I named it The Nelson Institute of Marine Research." 

"Admiral," Crane said as he shifted uncomfortably in the chair, "why don't you just say it?"

Nelson picked up some files from his desk. "All right. I've been going over the personnel files of the crewmembers. I've been looking to see who has a scientific background as opposed to a military one. In the future the Seaview will be conducting more and more scientific missions and less military ones. I think her captain and crew should be trained accordingly."

"I see," Lee replied. Straightening up in the chair, his shoulders squared, Crane continued with an angry edge to his voice. "And I take it that my personnel file shows that I have no real scientific background."

"That is correct. It would be less confusing for the crew if you were to tender your own resignation. I'm sure the Navy would be glad to take you back. They're commissioning the Stingray next month. If you'd like I could write a letter of recommendation. Jiggs Starke should be relieved that you changed your mind and decided to take the commission as her captain."

At that point Crane had clearly heard enough. "Thank you for the offer," he said as he headed for the door, "But I wouldn't want you to take time away from your research. I'll inform Admiral Starke myself." With a slam of the door, Captain Crane left the Admiral's cabin.

Letting his face fall into his hands, Nelson felt a wave of grief wash over him. The look of betrayal in his friend's eyes would haunt him forever. "I'm sorry Lee," Nelson whispered to himself. "Someday I'll explain it all to you."

 

Back in his cabin, Lee Crane was pacing, the rage he felt barely contained. He kept running the conversation over in his mind. More scientific less military . . . Letter of recommendation . . . Jiggs Starke should be relieved . . . Jiggs Starke should be relieved? How would Admiral Nelson know Admiral Starke would be relieved unless . . . unless he had spoken to Admiral Starke? Knowing that the Admiral would hear the order, Crane called into the intercom. "Sparks, this is the Captain. Get me Admiral Starke at COMSUBPAC." Crane resumed pacing and ran a hand through his black curls. This whole thing was a set-up, he thought to himself.

Within a short period of time, Sparks had contacted COMSUBPAC. "Admiral Starke on the line, Skipper."

Crane sat at his desk and got the whole story from Starke. No, the Admiral didn't say anything to Nelson; yes, it was a slip by Joe Jackson.

"Well, Commander," Admiral Starke remarked, "I take it this means you'll be heading back to active duty." 

"Not exactly, sir. I have to settle something with the Admiral first. After that he may fire me for real. And sir . . ."

"Yes, Commander?"

"Thank you for everything, no matter how this turns out."

A small chuckle could be heard on the phone. "Anytime, Commander. Anytime."

Crane hung up the phone and bolted to the door. Whipping it open he jogged down the corridor and burst into Nelson's cabin without knocking.  

"What in blazes is the meaning of this!" shouted a startled Nelson

Very slowly Lee Crane circled over to the front of the desk. "You think you're pretty clever don't you?" Crane was now leaning with palms down on the desktop. "And you can cut the 'who me?' look. I know everything." Standing up straight, his voice less accusing, Crane continued, "I kept running our conversation over and over again in my mind. I didn't tell you about Admiral Starke's offer to command the Stingray. So how would you know he would be relieved if I accepted now?"

The Admiral was still seated at his desk. He looked haggard from the earlier exchange with Crane. "I did it for your own good . . ." Nelson tried to explain.

"Did what for my own good -- try to raise my blood pressure!"

"I couldn't let you pass up an opportunity for promotion and command to stay with the Institute."

Crane was now sitting on the edge of Nelson's desk. Speaking softly to his friend and commanding officer he replied, "Don't you think that was my choice to make? I already have a command, the Seaview."

"If you had stayed in the Navy you'd probably have been an Admiral by now."

Lee was now smiling and shaking his head. "Sir, in my opinion there are more than enough Admirals to go around as it is."

Nelson laughed aloud. "You may be right Lee." Reaching over Nelson put his hand on Crane's forearm. "As long as you're very sure about this decision. I don't want our friendship to cloud your judgement."

With his hazel eyes locked on Nelson, Crane tried to find the words to express what he was feeling. "I'm sure. I accepted command of the Seaview because of what the Institute represented and because of the man who created it. My opinion and feelings haven't changed over the past few years. If anything they've become stronger." Suddenly feeling very self-conscious, Crane lowered his gaze, stood up, and started to walk across the room.

Nelson stood also and stopped next to his Captain. "Well in that case, I guess you're re-hired."

Rolling his eyes, Crane opened the cabin door. "If you'll excuse me, sir, I'll say good night." Standing half way out into the hallway Crane said, "Do you want me to tell Admiral Starke or do you want to?"

Smiling broadly and rocking on his heels, Nelson replied, "No, no. I'll be happy to call Jiggs in the morning." Nelson closed the door and walked back to his desk. Oh-two-hundred hours Pacific Time, he noticed as he checked his watch. Picking up the phone Nelson quipped to himself, Well, that's morning.

THE END


Copyright 1998 by Christine Owens

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