Author: Kim Q
Flavor: humor, friendship, touch of romance
Notes: This story was my
submission for the
Uncharted Waters "Mail Call" Contest and was inspired by my beloved
husband's V-Day proposal twenty one years ago. Set in 1979.
"Begging your pardon, sir, but who came up with this cockamamie idea?"
Seaview's Chief of the Boat, one Francis Ethelbert Sharkey, eyed the
large crate with a jaundiced eye. He'd supervised the unloading of many a
strange container during his years in the Navy but this one took the cake!
Removal of the lid of the wooden container had revealed, of all things, a pile
of small packages decorated with bright pink and red hearts!
"The ladies of the Seaview Women's Auxiliary, Chief," replied Seaview's XO, Chip
Morton, one blond eyebrow rising in challenge. "They arranged this when they
knew we'd be at sea for Valentine's Day. Care to lodge a complaint?"
Sharkey's sea green eyes widened as he quickly replied, "Uh, no thanks, sir.
I'll get this stuff unloaded and distributed right away." There was no way he'd
want to butt heads with any of the S.W.A.'s formidable ladies! Since Captain
Crane and Commander Morton didn't have wives, Mei Lukela, the Chief Engineer's
wife was the head of the Auxiliary. But she focused more on morale and the
emotional support of the girlfriends, wives and families of Seaview's
crew. It was Bridget O'Brien who ran the organizational side of things. Though
she was a tiny soft-spoken redhead, of genteel Southern upbringing and
impeccable manners, Mrs. O'Brien had a core of solid steel that even the admiral
preferred not to cross.
"Very well, Chief. There should be one for every man aboard. Just make sure they
wait until they're off duty to open them." The exec reached down into the box
and hauled up a package decorated with a huge pink bow. "Looks like you can
check mine off." As the officer stared at his care package for a long moment,
Sharkey could swear he saw a flicker of nervousness cross Mr. Morton's impassive
face before the XO turned and left the storage room.
Shaking his head, he dismissed that improbable idea and resigned himself to his
onerous duty. Organizing a team of crewmen to sort the packages into watches and
departmental divisions for easier delivery, Sharkey watched as the young men
eagerly dove into the piles. Their smiles and jubilant chatter reminded the
chief how good this was for morale. All submariners knew how very precious mail
call could be during any deployment, especially one like this where they had
been out of touch for days.
"Hey, Chief! Catch!" Sharkey looked up in time to intercept a flying package. A
reluctant smile was dragged from his lips as he gazed upon the various hearts
and anchors that swirled around the words "for Master Chief Petty Officer F. E.
Sharkey." You know, maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Lee Crane, captain of the majestic submarine, Seaview, savored his third
cup of coffee, relishing the rich flavor that went so very well with the raisin
oatmeal cookies from his Valentine's care package. His good mood was augmented
by the fact that his boat was on her way home from their unexpected mission.
While they were still under radio silence for the next 36 hours to protect the
location of the undersea weapons research lab they'd just left, the mission
itself had proven to be blessedly uneventful. No marine monsters, no maniacal
scientists, no rampaging plankton...just a lab full of researchers whose food
supplies had been fouled by an accident. As Seaview was the only sub that
could reach the lab before their few remaining supplies were exhausted, Admiral
Nelson had volunteered her services, cutting short the planned three-week shore
leave that would coincide with Valentine's Day.
Gazing around the Wardroom, he relaxed as he listened to the happy babble and
gentle teasing as his officers shared some of the items from their care
packages. While a signed Rams cheerleader calendar had quickly been claimed by
the crew to brighten up their Mess, an autographed posted of the lovely - and
rather buxom - "Miss California" livened up the staid surroundings of the
The skipper smiled as the occasional bouts of laughter between Nelson and
Jamieson told him that the S.W.A. ladies must have outdone themselves with
regards to their packages. As one was a confirmed bachelor and the other a
solitary widower, Lee had wondered what the ladies would come up with.
Overhearing something about chocolate and the word "liqueurs," Lee made a mental
note to investigate further after the next watch was over.
O'Brien was bursting with paternal pride at the lopsided, glitter encrusted
Valentine obviously crafted with love by his daughter, Maureen. It was quite
evident that the little five-year old had her father wrapped securely around her
tiny pinkie in much the same way that her mother had. That would *never* happen
to him, of course, Lee thought smugly.
Even the newest officers and crew had not been forgotten, receiving packages
full of baked treats and warm welcoming notes. Unlike the Navy where submarine
billets seldom ran longer than 24 months, the majority of the current crew had
served together for many years, forging the men into a cohesive group with all
the blessings and heartaches of a true family.
From the sheer quantity of goodies being passed around, it was a good thing that
Cookie had been warned about the surprise and so had prepared just a light lunch
for the officers and crew. Well, light lunch was a relative term, Lee thought
with a snort, considering the enormous ham and cheese sandwich that dwarfed the
plate of his exec and best friend, Chip Morton. From as far back as their days
as roommates at the Academy, Lee had never been able to figure out how Chip
could consume such huge amounts of food yet never seem to pack a single excess
pound on his lithe, lean frame!
Lee's amused smile fled from his handsome face as he realized that Chip wasn't
eating with his customary gusto. As a matter of fact, the man had hardly eaten
more than a few bites! A niggling worry began to gnaw at the skipper. Usually
nothing short of a critical illness or the General Quarters Alarm could prevent
Chip from devouring his meal or trying to filch food from his friend.
"Are you feeling okay, Chip?" he asked, his hazel eyes flashing green with
concern as he critically examined his friend. While Chip didn't look any
different than usual, Lee's worry mounted as the blond avoided meeting his gaze.
"Of course I'm feeling okay! What makes you think I’m not, Lee?" came the
"Maybe it's the fact that Bottomless Pit Morton has barely touched his
"Well, maybe I'm just not hungry!" Chip threw down his napkin and pushed back
his chair in an unexpected show of ill temper that ratcheted Lee's worry up
"Hah! Chip Morton not hungry?" Jamieson perked up his ears at the officers'
exchange. "Do I need to check you into Sick Bay, Commander?"
Before Chip could devise a properly blistering reply to accompany his withering
glare, Lt. Nick "Sparks" Peatty entered the Wardroom. "A communication from
Washington, Admiral," Sparks handed over the message slip.
"Ah, it's a formal well done for the mission." Nelson's sapphire blue eyes
sparkled with contentment. "If only all our missions were as simple as this
one." He exchanged grins with Lee and Jamie then said to the patiently waiting
Communications Officer, "Thank you, Sparks, obviously there's no reply since
we're still under radio silence."
The tall lieutenant nodded and turned to leave, only to be stopped by the XO.
"Umm, were there any other messages, Sparks?"
"No sir, just the one. Were you expecting one, sir?"
"I..." he hesitated, conscious of the now intensely curious eyes focused on
their conversation. "I'm due on watch..." Standing up, he turned towards the
admiral. "By your leave, sir." Chip fled the Wardroom as if the hounds of Hell
were after him.
"Now what the devil was that all about?" Nelson asked in astonishment.
"I'm not sure, sir," Sparks replied. "But Commander Morton has been bugging me
about messages every half hour or so since oh ten hundred this morning!"
"Thank you, Sparks. Carry on." Nick acknowledged his skipper and headed back to
his beloved radio shack.
Lee's internal worry meter was now reaching dangerous levels. Why on earth would
Chip be worried about a message? What could be bothering his normally serene
friend? The mission was over, the boat and crew were fine and everyone was
enjoying their packages. Ah ha! The packages! Perhaps they held a clue as to the
XO's unusual behavior.
"Riley!" The strawberry blond surfer, serving a rotation as mess steward,
hurried over to his skipper's side.
"Riley, didn't you help distribute the Valentine's packages?"
"Yes, sir. I gave out about 50 of 'em. Couldn't believe the ladies put a can of
my favorite surfboard wax in mine, that was just way cool and I..."
Lee raised his hand, stopping the flow of babble. "Thank you, Riley. Did you by
chance see if Mr. Morton got a package?"
"I'm not sure, Skipper. But Chief Sharkey would know 'cause he checked 'em all
off on the ship's roster as they were unpacked."
"Thanks, Riley. I'll check with the chief. Carry on."
"Aye, aye, skipper!" The energetic young man bounced back to his duties, leaving
his commanding officer with a mystery.
"You think he might be upset because he didn't get a package, Lee?" asked Nelson
with some concern. "That doesn’t sound like our practical, level headed exec."
"I'm not sure what to think, sir." His jaw tightened and his shoulders
straightened with determination. "But I'm going to find out." Nodding to the
admiral and doctor, Lee headed off to find Chief Sharkey.
Jamieson was tempted to follow his skipper. Anything that impacted the well
being of a senior officer concerned him and he was worried about the exec's
uncharacteristic behavior. A soft chuckle from Nelson distracted him from his
unpleasant thoughts. "What's so funny, Harry?" he asked, glaring sternly at his
friend who didn't seem to realize the severity of the situation.
Nelson's face was lit with a mischievous smile. "I think I might just have
figured out what's bothering our illustrious exec, Will."
"Care to share, Harry?" Jamieson's pale blue glare was a match for Chip's
earlier effort, but only managed to widen Nelson's grin.
The admiral leaned forward, lighting a cigarette despite Will's customary frown
at the indulgence. "It's perfectly simple. This mission came up unexpectedly,
"Yes. We were supposed to have three weeks of leave."
"Three weeks which included Valentine's Day, correct?"
"Yes." Jamieson paused a moment, furrowing his forehead in thought. "Just where
are you going with this, Harry?"
"Well, shortly before this mission came up, Angie told me that Chip had made a
reservation for two at La Chanteuse for Valentine's Day."
"La Chanteuse? That's got to be the most expensive and exclusive
restaurant in all of Santa Barbara! How the heck could he get reservations there
for such a booked up holiday?"
"Never underestimate the abilities of a determined XO, Will." Nelson chuckled
dryly. "Now, he and Dr. Winters have been seeing a lot of each other for months
now. So..." He waved a hand at Jamieson, encouraging him to follow the thought
to its logical conclusion.
"So you think that he was going to..."
"But we're out here instead of there..."
"So you think that he found a way to..."
"So he's waiting for..." Jamieson's light blue eyes widened with sudden
understanding as Nelson's sapphire ones sparkled with inner glee. "But you're
not going to tell Lee?"
"No, he'll figure it out soon enough."
The doctor raised his mug of coffee and touched it lightly to the admiral's as
they exchanged grins. "Oh this should be good."
Lee Crane was a man on a mission. He had to figure out what was wrong with Chip!
At least the exec had been his normal efficient self throughout the rest of the
mission. It was just today that Lee had noticed anything different. Perhaps
Sharkey held the elusive clue to Morton's erratic behavior.
Entering the Missile Room, the skipper spied the chief supervising the routine
maintenance of diving gear. "Chief, may I speak to you a moment?"
"Aye, sir! I'll be right there." Turning his attention to the working crewmen,
he barked. "You meatheads keep at it; I need to speak with the skipper. And
don't forget the yellow wetsuit this time, Kowalski!" He turned back to his
skipper who motioned him to one side. "How can I help you, Skipper?"
"Chief, I need to know if Mr. Morton received a Valentine's package."
"Why yes, sir, he did! I saw him pull it out of the crate myself."
"And how did he react?"
"React, sir?" The COB's face reflected his puzzlement at his commanding
officer's strange questions.
"You know... did he look happy or pleased or distressed or..."
Sharkey scratched his head. "Well, skipper, you know how hard it is to read Mr.
Morton. But..." he paused.
"But what, chief?" Crane's voice began to rise with irritation.
"Well, he seemed a bit...nervous, sir."
"Nervous?" Lee's hazel eyes reflected his surprise.
"Yeah, I though I musta been seeing things 'cause we both know that nothing
makes the XO nervous, right Skipper?"
"Right, right." Lee managed a wry smile. "Thank you, Chief. That's all. Carry
on." With a nod, the skipper turned and headed out of the Missile Room.
Sharkey stared after the skipper for a long moment before shaking his head at
the odd behavior of officers. If there was something bugging Mr. Morton, he had
faith that the skipper would take care of it. Turning to the work detail
he growled, "Aren't you goldbricks finished yet?"
Lee hurried towards the Control Room where Chip was on watch, his mind whirling
as he tried to make sense out of his friend's unusual behavior. His eyes widened
in horror as he thought of another possible explanation. Perhaps Chip had
received a "Dear John" letter in his package? Shaking his head, he quickly
dismissed the idea as preposterous. Lee had seen for himself that the love
between Chip and Kaia was strong. He had to admit that he was even a tiny
bit envious of their happiness as his relationship with Katie seemed to be more
sparks than passion lately.
Pausing in the aft hatchway of the Control Room, he carefully observed Chip's
every move as Officer of the Watch. The XO was bustling around from station to
station, but always returning, not to the plotting table as usual, but to the
radio shack. Spark's patience with his superior officer was quite commendable.
When Chip did return to the plotting table to check a navigational calculation
or plot a course change, Lee was shocked to see his normally composed friend
actually tapping his pencil nervously on the edge of the charts! Chip never
tapped his pencil! As a matter of fact, he was always ragging on Lee for
constantly tapping his own pencils! What was worse, the exec's abnormal fussing
had the crew in a state of bewilderment! They were totally professional and
efficient, of course, but their exec's behavior was confusing since they all
knew the mission was, in essence, over. Enough was enough!
Stalking forward to the plotting table where Chip had finally settled in to make
a calculation, Lee said in his best command voice. "Mr. Morton, I need to see
you in the Observation Nose immediately! Lt. Lopez, take the conn." Mr.
Unflappable actually jumped at the sound of his skipper's command, a look of
sheer panic briefly flitting across his face before he dropped his usual mask of
XO efficiency firmly into place. The skipper's stern tone of voice had the duty
watch snapping to attention at their stations, hoping their captain's obvious
displeasure was only with the exec.
Reaching over, Lee closed the crash doors that separated the Observation Nose
from the Control Room. Crossing his arms across his chest, he glared at his
friend. "Okay, spill it!"
"Spill it, sir?" Chip replied, his face expressionless. Only the very few people
who knew him very well could see the trepidation hiding in those expressive
Unfortunately for Chip, Lee was one of those people. "Yes, Chip. Tell me what
the devil has got my best friend so wired that he's got the entire duty watch
trembling in their sneakers!"
The blond kept silent, looking nervously anywhere but at the piercing amber eyes
of his friend. "Chip! It's me, Lee! Not the captain, not your commanding
officer. Your friend...who is worried about you! Tell me what's wrong!"
As Lee had hoped, Chip's defenses couldn't withstand the plea of friendship.
They'd known each other too long...been through too much together. The blond's
shoulders sagged as he flopped onto the nearest chair. Long fingers pinched the
bridge of an aristocratic nose, a clear warning sign to Lee that his brother in
all but name was fighting a killer headache brought on by stress. Pulling a
chair beside his friend, he asked softly, "Does this have something to do with
you and Kaia?"
"It has everything to do with me and Kaia," Chip admitted. "You know how I was
planning on proposing to her on Valentine's Day, today?"
"Yes, of course. You told me after you'd confirmed your reservation at La
Chanteuse. But the mission came up so I thought you'd simply propose when we
got back." Lee was delighted that Chip was finally going to take the big step.
He knew that Kaia was equally smitten and, because of her history as a Navy brat
and career officer, she understood better than most the difficult demands of a
submariner's life. Besides, Lee thought with a smirk, it would take a fellow
computer geek like Kaia to put up with Chip full time.
"Well, I decided that I still wanted to propose on Valentine's Day." Chip stood
up and started pacing. "You know how sentimental women are." Lee suppressed a
smile, knowing quite well that his outwardly stoic friend was just as
sentimental about such things, but he valued his life enough not to say that out
A horrific thought occurred to him. "Chip, you didn't propose via a message from
Seaview, did you?"
"Of course not, Lee," Chip replied indignantly. "We're under radio silence for
another whole day! You should know better than to think I'd ever compromise a
mission like that."
The hurt tone of his friend's voice stabbed at Lee as he ran his hand through
his dark hair. "I know, I know. But...if you didn't send a message, how could
you have proposed today?"
To Lee's amusement, a rosy flush crept up the fair neck of his friend. "Well,
I...I arranged for Angie to deliver a letter, a dozen red roses and a small box
to Kaia this morning." The blush spread higher. "The letter gave her directions
to bring the ring box to Conference Room 3 where I had arranged with Katie to
have a TV set up with a videotape player."
"So, you're telling me that you videotaped your proposal before you left on this
His entire face now a bright shade of pink, Chip admitted, "Yup. So if
everything went according to plan, she should have received my proposal this
The light finally dawned for Lee as he snapped his fingers. "You've been
anticipating her reply! That's why you've been so nervous!"
As if on cue, the speaker blared. "Mr. Morton, this is Sparks. There's a message
for you from the Institute, sir."
Chip froze in place, his eyes wide with apprehension. Lee shook his head and
reached for the nearest mike. "Mr. Morton will be right there, Sparks. Have the
crash doors opened." Turning to his motionless friend, Lee grabbed an arm and
dragged Chip towards the slowly opening doors. The skipper was not surprised to
see Nelson and Jamieson on the other side of the door grinning like fools.
Nelson probably had figured it out hours ago! From the amused looks on the faces
of the duty watch, it looked like the admiral hadn't hesitated to spread the
word. Luckily Chip's usual keen awareness of the crew's mood was totally
overwhelmed by his apprehension.
As they reached the radio shack, Chip had recovered enough of his aplomb that
the only sign of his inner agitation was a slight shaking in his hands as he
reached for the communiqué. Taking a deep breath, he focused his eyes on the
message. Total silence reigned in the Control Room as everyone waited for the
reply. Blue eyes scanned the missive, causing a frown to crease the blond's
forehead and filling Lee with alarm. Everyone had assumed that Kaia would accept
his proposal! They all knew how crazy she was about Chip though she'd tried to
hide it behind the same sort of mask of professionalism that Chip usually wore!
If they'd known she was going to turn him down...
But before he could offer any sympathy or drag his friend off to grieve in
private, Chip said, in a totally bewildered voice, "It just says to run the
attached diagnostic through Seaview's main computer."
Nelson grabbed the message out of Morton's hand. "Sparks, was there any sort of
signal attached to this message?"
"Yes sir. It has Commander Winters' personal verification codes followed by a
diagnostic program of some sort."
"So there's no question that it's legitimate?"
"None at all, sir," Sparks replied firmly. "I've downloaded the diagnostic to
the main computer. Mr. Morton just has to enter his personal verification code
for it to run."
Nelson grinned as he finally understood the deviousness of the Institute's
computer wiz. Bouncing on his heels, he turned his attention towards his
stunned exec. "Well, Chip, are you going to run the program?"
"Aye, sir." Chip faced the familiar interface of Seaview's gigantic
computer with more uncertainty than he'd ever felt in his entire life. Facing
down monsters, running the diving bell through a minefield...these things were
insignificant compared to the courage it took to enter his personal code into
The bright panel of blinking lights that monitored the many parallel processors
forming the computer's brain went completely dark. Slowly, one light at a time
came on in a very peculiar pattern. To the complete amusement of the watching
crew and the utter relief of one Chip Morton, the pattern resolved itself into
one simple three-lettered word.
Congratulations filled the Control Room as everyone took a turn shaking the
newly engaged man's hand and slapping his back. Amid the celebrating, Patterson
noticed something strange. "Mr. Morton! Look at the computer! There's another
Chip spun around and promptly turned a lovely shade of red. The word 'YES' had
disappeared and new letters began to form, flashing an 'I ♥
U 2' message for a full 30 seconds before the lights resumed their normal patterns.
Before he could die of his embarrassment, Nelson came to his rescue with a fresh
mug of strong coffee. "Once you're off watch we'll do this again with the real
thing, lad, but for now, I propose a toast..." Nelson grabbed his own mug and
stepped up onto the periscope island. He patiently waited as Sharkey supervised
the passing out of mugs. When all hands were ready, he lifted his mug. "To the
"To the happy couple!" The crew again erupted in cheers until their skipper
laughingly reminded them that they were still a few days from home and that they
needed to get back to work.
Chip took back the conn from Lt. Lopez and resumed his duties with a new spring
in his step and an unquenchable smile.
Later that evening, a solitary figure sat in the Observation Nose, gazing out
the windows at the crashing waves created by Seaview's trek homeward.
"A cup of coffee for your thoughts?" An aromatic cup of fresh brewed java waved
in front of the seated man's nose, causing him to look up at the smiling face of
his best friend. "I grabbed some of the brownies off of your desk too."
"Thanks, Lee." Chip accepted the mug and took a long gulp of the fragrant brew.
Warmth, not just from the beloved beverage, but from the support of his friend,
filled him with contentment. He dug eagerly into the fudgy treats that had been
inside his own Valentine's package.
Lee grinned and settled into a chair beside his brother, inwardly tickled at the
look of happiness that graced his friend's relaxed features. Time for a bit of
teasing. "Soooo, I guess we know who gets the right of First Kiss this trip, eh
buddy?" he said, elbowing his friend slyly before grabbing a gooey brownie.
To his delight, Chip choked on a sip of coffee, sputtering in embarrassment
while his fair face turned yet another shade of pink. The resultant arctic blue
glare directed Lee's way didn't dim his enjoyment a bit. He knew as well as Chip
did that the right of First Kiss, or the first person allowed off the boat to
meet their loved one, was usually raffled off as a fundraiser for the Seaview
Family Relief Fund, but a special occasion such as a new baby - or a new
engagement - would take priority.
Shaking his head at his friend's teasing, Chip decided against responding in
kind, settling deeper into the comfortable chair. Let his buddy chortle. To tell
the truth, despite what would normally be an embarrassingly public display of
affection, he rather looked forward to it.
Gazing upon one of the triple fudge brownies that Kaia had packed for him in his
care package, he realized with contentment that this would be part of his future
from now on. Someone to send him care packages and letters during a long
deployment. Someone who waited with eager anticipation for his return home.
Someone to share the ups and downs, the good times and the bad for as long as
they both would live.
The brownies had never tasted better.
© 2008 Kim Q. All Rights Reserved