Curley on the Case
A "prologue" of sorts for the Season 1 episode "Doomsday"....
When Chief Jones got upset, he would turn an astonishing shade of scarlet. It was legendary, that color, and there were many ways to describe it. ‘Red as an apple,’ that one was a given. Then there was ‘red as a baboon’s ass,’ always applied behind his back, of course. Right now, his face was rapidly approaching maximum saturation. This unfortunate condition was a by-product of the situation he had suddenly found himself in -- one that was getting worse by the minute.
"What do you mean, you can’t find them, Chief?" The inquirer’s voice was an icy blast of censure.
There was a long pause. Why does this stuff always happen to me? Somebody’s head is gonna roll.... "Sorry, Commander Morton, they’re not in the locker where they’re supposed to be. I just checked myself to be sure, 'cause some of these guys are blind as bats. But I gotta admit, it's kinda hard to miss 'em. They ain't there, sir."
The pale lips of Seaview's XO got paler as he pressed them together. Morton was also slow in his response, and if he could have read Jones’s unspoken thoughts, might have felt the same way about the head rolling part.
"Chief Jones...." he growled, eyes flashing a steely glare.
The chief’s hands came up in silent surrender. "I know, sir. I saw Shaffer bring them back from cleaning, I was standin’ right there on the Quarterdeck when he came aboard. There was lots of wear and tear from the last time, but he did a good job gettin’ everythin’ mended and spruced up an’---"
"Yessir, sorry, Mr. Morton. Just sayin’ that Shaffer swears he put ‘em in, uh...." Jones's small eyes got even smaller as they narrowed, brain working to remember exactly what Shaffer had said. "Uh, in the aft locker on the port side of Storeroom 101B. Shaffer’s kinda dumb, sir, what do you expect from a yeoman, but he’s done it for a couple of years now so I gotta believe ‘em. I just don’t know where they’ve disappeared to, sir."
Jones had thought long and hard before bringing this business to the attention of the XO, but it never paid to keep anything hidden from Lieutenant Commander Morton. He had a way of finding out the simplest things, and he could make the toughest sailor on the boat feel either ten feet tall or the size of an ant, depending on the outcome of whatever was under discussion. The XO was a good guy. Everybody in the crew knew that. He was a plank holder, like 90 percent of the crew and that made him one of them, even if he was a zero. He was fair and impartial and you knew you would get an even break if it ever got that far. To cause him any kind of upset or trouble gave the chief all kinds of indigestion. Curley had his own particular Golden Rule: he figured if he had to suffer, he’d find a way to pass it along. Yeah, heads were gonna roll, definitely.
He was squirming now, khaki shirt straining against the ample stomach. It was bad enough that he’d spent the last hour going through practically every locker on the boat himself, slamming doors while the lay abouts attached to the best submarine ever in any man’s navy acted like chickens with their heads cut off and made god-awful suggestions like ‘they’ve got to be here somewhere, Chief’ -- it was no use repeating what he'd said to that, everybody knew that he had the most colorful language on the boat -- to 'no way would that pecker Shaffer stick his good-for-nothing head in here, Chief! He ain’t that stupid.’ He had put them straight on that one. Shaffer might not have both oars in the water sometimes, but Jones knew that he wouldn't lie about where he'd put the goods. Not when it was this important.
Despite his best efforts, and that involved a considerable amount of throwing his weight around, which in Chief Jones’s case was formidable indeed, he had had to finally admit defeat and take the matter to the XO. Who had more important things to worry about right now, since they were less than 24 hours from sailing. Never mind the head, somebody was gonna get torn limb from limb, and that was as sure as his name was Aloysius Jefferson Jones, Chief Boatswain’s Mate! So here they were, the chief trying not to bounce around too much while Mr. Morton paced across the short width of the aft corridor they were standing in, far away from the control room.
Chip was glad that Jones had stopped him here and not in the heart of the ship, where the captain and the rest of the bridge crew were preparing to get underway. He couldn’t be mad at Curley; he knew the old chief always had everything under control. The important things, that is. This was a tiny blip on the screen. It had only come to light because the locker in question had been opened to store the elaborately printed certificates just arrived from the Institute’s Print Shop. They were leaving sooner than anticipated, and it had been a very rush job. The rating stowing the certificates, so Jones had informed him, had done a double-take and headed straight for the chief to tell him the bad news. Morton didn’t envy the guy that job. Jones had been hot and getting hotter when they’d met up in the passageway.
"Seaview leaves tomorrow at 0900 for the Solomons. Besides making sure that all the equipment is aboard that Admiral Nelson needs to conduct this latest round of experiments, we have several crewmembers that have never been across the Equator. You know how everyone looks forward to Crossing the Line, Curley. The ceremony has to come off without a hitch." Morton stopped pacing and faced the chief, hands clasped together across his back. "So -- what is it that you need to do, Chief?"
Chief Jones’ eyebrows went up to their highest level. "Uh, find King Neptune’s and Queen Amphitrite’s costumes, Mr. Morton?"
"Exactly, Chief. That’s your one and only assignment for the rest of today. See that it comes to a satisfactory conclusion!"
The Chief’s eyes flew open. He’d earned the right to stand by and supervise work on the boat, and he was a master at it. Years of naval service had seen to that. But when there was a job to do that required his special expertise -- which involved a lot of yelling and cursing -- no way was anyone going to take that over. He had planned on taking care of this little problem after getting all the equipment on board.
"It will, sir! But we’re still processin’ stores topside! I’ve got a list on my clipboard a mile long, gotta keep an eye on the work or nothin’ will go... right...."
The Chief’s voice faded away. Morton stood, arms and legs akimbo, staring at a point well over the portly chief’s shoulder, one eyebrow slightly raised and a look of calm disinterest on his face. The only clue that wasn’t true was the vein pulsing in his neck.
"Understood, sir. Chief Creasey can finish up with getting everything on board. I’ll get right on this, sir. I’ll tear the boat apart."
Morton nodded decisively. "Just do it quietly, Chief. Don’t need this situation getting back to the skipper or Admiral Nelson. This is supposed to be a trouble-free research trip. Just the kind you and I like."
"My thoughts ‘xactly, sir."
Morton walked smartly away and stepped through the hatch. Grasping the side, he turned back to Jones.
"I’ll be in Engineering for a while, then I’m heading over to Stores. For your part, I’d avoid topside and the Control Room if you don’t want Captain Crane wondering why you’re not up there supervising getting everything on board. Remember, we want this glitch to go unnoticed." His face was suddenly transformed by the famous Chip Morton smile. "We can't miss out on your part as my lovely queen, can we, Curley? Carry on, Chief."
Jones turned and headed off in the opposite direction, grinning broadly. Nice of the Commander to remember how King Neptune couldn't be King Neptune without his lady. Thinking that, the Chief's mood soured. During his years on the boat he’d never missed a chance to play Queen Amphitrite, wife to the King of the Seas, and he wasn’t about to start now. Neither one of 'em would be doing anything without their costumes. And no friggin' way would he let Kowalski off the hook as the Royal Baby! Nothing and nobody was gonna mess up this trip. He'd find the bilge rat.
Chief Jones could do an assignment quietly when he put his mind to it. That is, when there wasn’t a handy storeroom somewhere, where he could ‘ask questions’ and get satisfactory answers. The chief figured it wouldn’t take much, just some friendly questioning, and if there was one thing he knew how to do, it was how to be friendly. Especially when he’d rather be murdering whoever it was he was after. Consequently, it didn’t take long; dire threats of extra watches while the actual ceremony was taking place and no shore leave on the return trip to Pearl Harbor did the trick. Pretty soon there was one particular crewmember ducking his questions while a boatload of guilty looking shipmates avoided his company.
The Chief soon found a quiet corner in the laundry room. He didn’t expect any trouble, given that the guy he’d dragged in there was sweating bullets already. But just in case... the space wouldn’t be in use until they were well underway, and if somebody was found stuffed in one of the washing machines, no one would be the wiser for a while.
Jones adjusted his belt, pulling it in a notch, making his stomach look even bigger. Belching loudly, he said, "Damn, may have to stop using this damn belt. Mebbe I can find another use for it. Mebbe you can help me think of something, Franklin. Then again, I don’t need your help, 'cos I figure I oughta beat you to a pulp with it! Not that I want to mess up this nice shiny deck. Not yet, anyway. So I’ll just ask -- are you crazy? What were you thinkin’?"
The object of his attention was trying very hard to make himself shorter than he was. It was proving to be difficult, since Engineman Andrew Franklin was a good six inches taller than the angry Chief Petty Officer standing nose to nose with him. He was young, just 22, and this was his first cruise on Seaview. He hoped it wouldn’t be his last.
"Awww, Chief, how was I supposed to know the cruise would be pushed up 24 hours! Honestly, I was gonna have everything back in place first thing tomorrow morning! I had it all planned," Franklin declared, scraping a finger across the beginnings of a mustache, wiping the sweat from his upper lip. His heart was practically beating out of his chest, and he had to take a deep breath before he could say another word. "I, just, you know, thought it would be funny to show ‘em to the wife. We haven’t been married very long, she didn’t know me when I did my own crossing when I was in the Navy. I just wanted to have some fun… she thought it was funny, too, wanted to take some pictures… you know," he added in a fading voice.
"What a bunch of bulls--" Jones stopped talking as a crewman entered the room, carrying a heavy bag. Seeing the chief and his quarry he dropped the bag, did an about face and disappeared back through the door.
Jones rubbed a hand along his ample chin. "Don’t need no witnesses, do we, Franklin? Geez, I have heard everything now, I swear. What are you, twelve? Were you planning on tellin’ Mr. Morton, or the captain, or maybe Admiral Nelson, when the stuff wasn’t where it’s supposed to be? I oughtta have you explain it to ‘em now, I swear."
All the color drained out of Franklin’s face. "God, no, Chief! Please, just let me go get ‘em. I was gonna do that anyway. I know they’re okay. We live on the base, it’ll only take a minute, I promise." His panicked voice rose with every word until it was almost a whine.
"You’ve got a half an hour. And you should have left five minutes ago."
Franklin didn’t say a word, just turned and took off down the passageway. He slowed down long enough to greet an officer coming from the other direction, and then sprinted off again, his shoes making skittering noises on the floor. The officer continued toward the chief, a vague smile on his face. He pushed his untidy hair back from his forehead and stopped a few feet away.
"What’s going on, Chief Jones?"
"Afternoon, Commander Corbett. It’s nothing, sir, just a swab getting himself out of a lot of trouble. I took care of it."
A look of disquiet flitted across Corbett’s face, quickly gone. "Anything I should know about? Franklin’s in my division, you know."
"Yessir, that is, I mean, no, sir. Everything’s under control."
"Glad to hear it, Jones. I don’t want any trouble on this cruise."
"None of us do, sir. Smooth sailin’, that’s my motto."
Another quick smile, and Corbett pushed his hair away from his eyes again. "Let’s keep it that way, shall we?"
Jones sketched a salute. "Absolutely, Mr. Corbett. My thoughts ‘xactly."
The officer passed by Jones, moving slowly. Jones watched him walk away until he had taken a corner and disappeared.
"Officers!" he muttered, checking to make sure no one was within earshot. "Some of these Academy boys can be dumb as posts. Not worth a plugged nickel, some of ‘em. Not officers like Mr. Morton, or the skipper, or the admiral, but guys like this one, all theory and no practical use, with their heads in the clouds and no common sense. And him the weapons officer."
Already he was missing Mr. Altringer, the regular division head, who was on the beach after tearing up his right leg in a car accident. This one didn’t fit in yet, hadn’t settled into life aboard the Seaview, always seemed a little tense about something. Jones had noticed that Mr. Corbett didn't pitch in like the other officers when there was something special to be done. Not that working alongside the enlisted guys was the normal navy way, the officers weren't supposed to do anything like that, but there was something about this civvy boat, this Seaview, that brought out the best in everybody. Except Corbett, so far. The guy was a boney-fide feather merchant. Maybe it was just being the new kid on the block, Jones didn’t know. A temporary assignment could have its own set of problems, he knew that, too. Maybe being part of the upcoming ceremony would loosen him up some.
Now was not the time to worry about it. Now was the time to go topside and make damn sure Creasey hadn’t managed to send all the shipping boxes into the drink. And wait for that idiot Franklin to make it back to the boat with his precious cargo before going to assure Mr. Morton all was in order. That made Curley think of something Franklin had said.
"Pictures! I’ll give him something to picture, when he’s mess cranking 'til we get to where we're goin'!"
Curley Jones rubbed both ham-fisted hands over his chin. Letting out his belt and a huge sigh of relief at the same time, he started forward, mind focusing on the upcoming ceremonies. Franklin was a Shellback, but that wouldn't stop Queen Amphitrite. He would make sure "she" had something very special lined up just for him.
Muttering under his breath, Curley began rehearsing his lines.