By Harriman Nelson
I’d just returned to NIMR
after having spent my weekend lecturing at the Bren School of Environmental
Sciences (one of the branch grad schools of the University of California) about
I was in a foul mood, and
not just because of the weather. I didn’t even care that my new blue business
suit had gotten rather wet from the pouring rain that not even my umbrella and
raincoat could protect me from. Sideways rain I’d call it.
“Bad day already, Admiral?”
Angie asked, “I’d have thought spending two days with college kids would perk
“Normally, yes,” I huffed
as I hung up my raincoat and hat on the brass clothes rack. “But I’m afraid
they were far more interested in our Spanish gold doubloons and relics than the
impact of thrown away plastic bottles on the world’s oceans.”
“It’s only been a few
months since you found the Sea Nymph. It’s still a popular topic.”
“Yes, well…is the captain
“Yes, in fact he has a
visitor. One of the new clients. Some kind of problem. Ames has the details.”
“Thank you. I’ll see what
“Um, sir?” she began then,
“oh, um, never mind.”
“Ah…” I sighed, suddenly
that Lee might think of my ‘assistance’ as butting in or showing a lack of faith
in his abilities. Lee had been in charge of approving and disapproving
proposals without any help from me long before he went temporarily blind, and
on medical leave from the Navy Reserve. “He won’t object to me dropping by to
invite him to lunch at Sharkey’s, though, will he?”
“No, I’m sure he won’t,”
she said with a grin.
The rain smashed against
the corridor’s windows as I headed to Lee’s new suite and couldn’t help
wondering if he’d had to wait for the bus in this mess. While he could
certainly call the motor pool for transportation to and from NIMR or even for
around town (hey, it’s a perk befitting his position as part owner), he prefers
to use public transportation. (Which leaves him at the mercy of inclement
weather like torrential downpours.) While he can handle himself rather well
with the white tipped guide cane, I worry about him stumbling or slipping,
crashing to the asphalt or getting himself run over. (Well, I can’t help
worrying about all the ‘what if’s that could happen to him.)
“Admiral,” Drew Ames
greeted me in Lee’s outer office. “He has a visitor right now.”
“No problem,” I said as
helped myself to the carafe of hot water and a packet of instant hot chocolate
mix, Styrofoam cups and plastic spoons next to them. “You know, Ames, the whole
point of my seminar was the hope of eliminating things that don’t disintegrate
well, like polystyrene foam products.”
“Yes sir. But we do recycle
these for the flower beds. Lee, er, the captain said they’d help aerate the
I noticed the door to Lee’s
inner office was ajar then turned my attention to what I could see on Ames’
computer monitor. “That’s an unusual looking spreadsheet.”
“Foodstuff procurement for
Seaview. Green - go for it, yellow – only if the budget allows, and red - absolutely
not. Sort of. Lee’s approved a small
shipment of Spam.”
“Spam? Lee pestered me for
how long, to stop ordering it!”
“Yes sir, but there’s a
Hawaiian recipe that Commander Morton really likes. His mother makes it
whenever he goes home. The captain thought it might be a good idea to have a
supply aboard for one of the upcoming cruises.”
“I see…” I began but
then Lee’s visitor began to shout, turning my attention to his office.
“Three ‘months’, Captain?”
a voice was shouting. “I was led to believe that I could engage Seaview’s
services in a more timely fashion than that! We have a contract!”
“I’m afraid we’re
little behind and….”
“Yes,” the man interrupted,
“counting all those silver and gold coins from the Sea Nymph must be taking up
a great deal of your time.”
“Dr. Wixom,” Lee said
coolly, “we haven’t been able to recoup even a quarter of our expenses from
what was left after giving a percentage to Bermuda and Spain.”
“So you keep telling the
world,” Wixom interrupted. “Well, I don’t buy it, Captain. What about that golden
helmet and breastplate? Surely they must be worth a fortune. Tell me, who’s the
lucky millionaire who will be purchasing them?”
“Those artifacts are not
for sale. But back to the subject. Delays
happen. You were previously informed that there were other clients ahead of you
and that we couldn’t guarantee your proposed dates for Seaview’s services. If
you wish quicker accommodations, of course, it’s your privilege to break the
preliminary contract without penalty.”
“I realized you were
blinded by your accident, Captain, but I didn’t realize you were blinded to
such a great scientific opportunity. My proposal should take precedence over
all of them!”
What I should have done, of
course, was to go right in there and punch the man in nose! I was used to unfounded
complaints about big companies, but he was being very rude to my boy!
had arrived, caught the tail end of the
conversation, and clenched his fists, struggling with the same desire I had to
barge in and rescue Lee from the verbal assault. But we behaved ourselves and
let Lee handle it. As was his right. And part of his job description.
“Dr. Wixom,” Lee continued,
“no one doubts the importance of investigating and possibly harnessing a new
energy source that your new depth imagery system seems to have indicated. But a
few months wait isn’t going to make that much of a difference. If time is of
that much importance to you, as I mentioned, you do have the option of utilizing
other oceanographic agencies with DSV’s. Now, do you want the use of Seaview or
“Harry Nelson would move Heaven
and Earth to accommodate me!”
“I’m not Harriman Nelson,”
Lee said coolly.
“All right, all right,”
Wixom finally said, defeated, “I’ll wait for Seaview to investigate the Pandora
“Very well,” Lee said and
clicked the intercom, “Ames? Send Commander Morton in as soon as he arrives.”
I let Chip go in
unaccompanied and waited for more fireworks.
“Ah, Chip?” Lee said as
soon as he heard Morton’s footfalls. “This is Dr. Ebenezer Wixom. Dr.? Captain
Morton will need a complete list of any and all special equipment and
provisions you’ll need for your project and of course, the names and gender of
any staff you wish to bring along. ”
“That’s ‘Acting Captain’
Morton, Dr. Wixom,” Chip corrected Lee. “We have every confidence that Captain
Nelson-Crane will be at Seaview’s conn soon, perhaps even for your expedition.”
“Whatever,” Wixom said.
“I’ll have my secretary fax the information over.”
“Very well,” Lee said,
“Ames can give you our fax cover sheet.
Good day Dr…. Chip? A moment of your
Wixom brushed past, clearly
not recognizing me. Of course my rumpled attire didn’t exactly advertise who I
“Sir?” Ames said handing
Wixom a fax cover sheet and nodding toward the open door to indicate how he’d
known it was needed.
“Trained monkeys, all of you. I hope to hell that
Harry knows what he’s gotten himself into, using that has been of a sub captain
of his as Director of Proposals….”
“Ames,” I asked, “may
Dr. Wixom’s contract?”
“And just who the hell are
you?” Wixom huffed.
“Harriman Nelson. And only
my friends call me Harry. Thank you Ames,” I added as I took the multi-page
contract from Ames, and with a grin, ripped it up, the pieces of paper falling
to the floor.
“You can’t do that!”
screamed, “I’ll sue!”
“Apparently, you don’t
remember the fine print. Tell him, Ames.”
“Prior to the purchase of
any and all equipment and supplies pursuant to the expedition, a preliminary
contract may be dissolved by either party at any time, for any reason.” Then Ames
bent down and picked up the pieces,
holding them out with one hand and pointing with the other, “Right about….here,
Glaring at me, Wixom
“Well done, Ames,” I said.
“You too, sir. Not too bad
for trained monkeys.”
We laughed but had to stop
ourselves in order to eavesdrop as to what was happening in Lee’s office,
having missed some of their conversation.
“No! You’re Captain Morton,
there’s no ‘acting’ about it. And you
know damn well that if I was going to regain my sight I would have by now.”
“You can’t give up hope,
Lee. Give nature a chance.”
“Nature’s given up on me!
should be seeing something by now. Light, shadows, anything…. It’s pretty
obvious that I’m going to be blind for the rest of my life. I refuse to keep
everyone’s hopes up. Even Doc finally admitted that they may have missed
something,” he paused, utterly defeated.
Ames had to grab my arm to
keep me from dashing in.
“Does the admiral know?”
“No, not yet,” Lee sighed,
“I…I just don’t know how to tell him yet…Chipee? Keep it quiet for now, okay? I
need a little time to think. Now,” Lee added, “I’m sending the Naval Reserve
Board my request to change your status officially from acting captain to
permanent captain of Seaview and….”
“Lee, don’t be hasty. No
matter what the doctors say, there’s always hope….”
“Why prolong the inevitable
by wishful thinking?”
“Please don’t try to cheer
me up. I’m used to the idea. Everyone needs to be. Now, I’m sure you have a
zillion things to do. Oh, by the way, Ames got a brochure in the mail that you might
be interested in. Some gastronomic tour of Europe….”
“That will be all,
Chip emerged from Lee’s
office looking as if someone had drained
a gallon of blood from him. I suppose I looked even worse. Suddenly he realized
that Ames and I had heard and shook his head in sorrow then with a look toward
Lee’s door began to speak. Loud enough to be heard.
“Oh, morning, Admiral.
Ames? The captain said you had a brochure for me?”
“Well,” Ames handed him
brochure, “it’s not addressed to anyone in particular, but he thought you might
want to look at it.”
“Thank you…oh, how did your
seminar go, Admiral?”
“Not too badly,” I barely
managed, choking on my words, “just thought I’d drop in to see if Lee might
like to go to lunch with me.”
“I’m sure he’d…enjoy
was all Chip managed to say, and fled.
Lee did join me for lunch,
though he wasn’t too thrilled about me having the motor pool give us a lift
with an NIMR car. At least the rain was abating somewhat and looked as if it
would soon be over.
It wasn’t crowded at
Sharkey’s Diner, and we took Lee’s
favorite booth. We both chose the Corned Beef & Rye special, and for a
moment I thought Lee had chosen a
sandwich because it was easier to eat than to use a knife and fork. Then I
remembered how well he’d handled utensils after some training with the Division
of Blind Services. Yes, they’d done a good job teaching Lee how live his unseeing
It was hard for me to enjoy
my sandwich even though Lee got me to talk about my seminar and he talked how
glad Chip would be when Cookie presented
him with Spam Hawaiian.
“Something wrong, Harry?”
he asked. “I can’t help feeling you’d rather not be here. It was your idea, you
“Huh? Oh, just tired, son.
Never fails to surprise me just how advanced, technologically speaking, the
younger generation is. I’m fast becoming a dinosaur. ”
“Admiral, Skipper, great to
see you!” Sharkey approached from the kitchen, wiping his apron. “They only
just told me you were here. Anyone want seconds?”
“None for me,” I answered.
“But you hardly touched it.
If there’s something wrong with it? I can fix you something else if you prefer,
“It’s fine. I just don’t
have the appetite I thought I did.”
“Well, I’m full,”
“I’ll need a doggie bag, and Chief? Remember, Morton’s the ‘skipper’ now.”
“No sir. He may be Acting
Captain, but there’s only one skipper of Seaview and that’s you.”
“I’m afraid not,”
sighed. “And I’ll never be again.”
“What’s this all about,
Lee?” I finally had my opportunity to ask.
“I’ll never see again. I
know it, Doc knows it, even though he keeps grasping at straws. I’ll only be
able to command a desk from now on. You need to accept it. Will you do that for
me, Harry? Francis?”
“No,” Lee took the chief’s
hand, “no longer. Take care of my boat and crew when you’re aboard, Chief.
Especially Mr…Captain Morton. He’ll need to bounce ideas of someone with horse
“You’re the best damn skipper
ever. I’ll call him captain, but….only you’ll ever be the skipper to me. And
before you complain, sir, the word’s only traditional. There’s no rule about
“Thanks but…for me, Chief?
Call Morton ‘skipper’? It’s going to be hard enough for him to adjust to full
command. It’ll help.”
“Admiral?” Sharkey looked
at me, tears forming in his eyes, as if there were something I could do to
change Lee’s mind.
“It,” I began, choking over
my words, my eyes full of tears as well, “it’s going to be difficult for us
all. But if Lee wants it….”
“I take it that’s an
affirmative, Chief?” Lee asked, grinning. As if on cue the rain stopped.
“Yes sir. Um…the bill’s
“I might take you up on
that someday,” Lee said, “but not this time. And it’s my treat, Harry.”
We both watched as Lee took
his wallet out and felt along the newly printed bills. Apparently he’d arranged
the bills in a specific order and pulled out the cash he needed plus a little
“A little something for the
“Yes sir, thanks,” Sharkey
barely managed as he took the cash. “I um, left something on the grill,” he
added, rushing away, his eyes moist. But I knew there wasn’t anything he’d left
on the grill. He just needed to go cry in private.
“You okay, Harry?” Lee
“Why didn’t you tell me
this earlier?” I gulped. “You know I’d support any decision you’d make…even if
I think you’re letting the wait to regain your sight get the better of you.
There’s always hope, Lee.”
Suddenly I felt his hand on
mine, the Nelson family ring pressing into my fingers.
“No. There’s no hope. It’s
a new chapter in our lives, Harry. Not one either of us likes. But we’ll
manage….somehow.” Then he took out his cell phone and called the motor pool to
come pick us up.
As we drove back to the
institute, I watched as the breeze from his open window ruffled his hair and
the emerging sunlight glinted on both his rings.
He was enjoying the breeze
against his face, and humming to the tune the driver had turned to on the radio
without thinking. It was ‘Lean on Me’.
I’m the one who needs to
lean on someone. Lee has been a tower of strength through all of this. And so
here I am sitting in my office reflecting on our lives. Moving forward to God
only knows what.