A Different Kind of Ocean

by

Sue Kite

 

 

Henry Becker looked the stranger up and down before saying anything.  To his credit, the man stood quietly, letting him.  He had never had to hire temporary help before, so he wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Certainly not someone as well dressed as this man was in nice slacks and sport’s shirt, something he’d be more expecting to see in one of the lawyer’s offices down in Midwest City.  Henry sighed.  Up until now, he had either worked with his father and/or his son.  And when the work became heavy, he joined up with his cousin’s family. But this year everything had conspired against him. This year his father was not able to do any of the heavy work since his stroke a year back and his son was on honeymoon. If things continued the way they were, hiring help may become the norm. Henry wasn’t sure, yet, if that was a blessing or not.

The handwriting on the slip of paper was Bill’s, though, so he must have thought this guy would be able to do the job.  The stiff Oklahoma breeze raised the collar of Henry’s shirt and ruffled his wavy hair.  It did the same with the stranger.  Somehow, he didn’t picture this guy in coverall’s at all.  Henry glanced at the vehicle in the driveway.  Nice slicked down sports car.  Figured this guy to be from the west coast.  The "breeze," which most out of state folks would call a stiff wind, wasn't even fazing him.   “You do realize just what I need, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir.  Mr. Simly down the road in Midwest City told me,” the young man replied.  “You only needed someone temporary while your son is on his honeymoon.  That works well with me, as I just needed a change of pace temporarily myself.”

“You ever worked on a farm,” Henry asked dubiously. 

“No, sir, but I figure I can learn,” came the reply.  The hazel eyes sparkled with some inner humor, even if the lines on the face indicated hardship.  “And I have done my share of maintenance.  Like I said, if you are willing to let me try, I’m willing to work hard.”

Henry nodded.  He didn’t think this young man….   He paused in mid-thought.  He may have a youthful appearance, but those penetrating eyes spoke of a lifetime of experiences.   “Where are you from, uh, who did you say you were?”

With a short laugh, the tall man pulled out a driver’s license and showed it to him.  “Lee Crane.” 

It was a California license and appeared to be fairly new.  He had been right.  Henry gazed back up at the man.  Then he thought, what the heck.  The guy appeared trustworthy; they didn’t have a thing worth stealing here on the farm if he wasn’t and if the work was too hard for this California boy, well, it was only for about two weeks, anyway.  “My name’s Henry Becker and you do understand that I don’t pay even minimum wage.”

Crane nodded. “Yes, sir, I understand. Room and board more than makes up for it.  I was traveling a leisurely route back to visit my folks anyway.”

“Well, come on in and meet my wife. Lee, right?”

“Yes, Mr. Becker.  I would be delighted to.”

“This little stay isn’t going to mess up your plans, is it?  With your family?”

“No. I have extensive time before my next . . . assignment and will still have plenty of time to visit my mother before I have to report back to Santa Barbara.”

Henry smiled softly to himself.  Each answer seemed to raise more questions, but if this man stuck around until Danny and his wife got back, he was sure they’d get more background. “By the way, my name’s Henry.  First names if we’re going to be working together, Lee. I’m not some corporate boss.”

Again Crane laughed. “Oh, but in your own way, you are.”  He took in the vast spreading fields appreciatively. 

“Well, my great-grandfather started this farm, back during the land rush and my father added to it and I’ve added some, myself.  My cousin has a large farm a bit south of me,” Henry said proudly, pointing to his cousin Ben’s property just within eyeshot. “Occasionally his boys will be up here helping and visa versa.”  They walked into the house, where Henry called out, “Helen, got company!”

They walked into the kitchen where Helen Becker was bustling about putting a variety of foods on the table. She paused to peruse Lee just as Henry had, then wiped her hands on her apron and extended her hand. "I didn't fix much for lunch, but you're welcome to what’s here."

"This is Lee and he's going to help me out for a couple of weeks."

"You don't look to be a farm worker, Lee," she said bluntly. "But you look to be able to work."

"I appreciate that, ma'am.  That's a welcome assessment after having so many accuse me of being undernourished."

She laughed with him. "Well, farm work is a great equalizer. You're lucky it's summer, or this would be sandwiches, since I work in the local school during the winter." She motioned both men to their chairs while she finished putting out the food. “But I think you’ll find that you will have a greater appetite working with Henry.”

For his part, Lee was rather hungry.  The quick breakfast at the motel where he had stayed seemed eons ago.  He couldn't for the life of him say what caused him to inquire about the small note on the bulletin board in the gas station on the edge of town, but he was glad he did. He was also glad that the admiral had almost literally booted him out of the Institute gate.  Lee had planned on sticking around to oversee the initial work on the Seaview's repair and refitting and then fly out to see his mother, but Nelson had overruled that one, too. The OOM had shipped out Chip, too, who had volunteered to take his place. O'Brien and the other junior officers needed the experience in doing some of that without the stress of having their superior officers breathing down their necks, the admiral had argued. Not that Admiral Nelson wouldn’t make sure that everything was going right, insofar as his Gray Lady was concerned. He was very quick to shove the rest of them out the door, but for him to take a vacation? Ha!

So as he sat down and perused the roast beef, corn on the cob, bread, melon, and green beans, Lee not only felt his stomach responding, but he was grateful to the admiral's insistence that he take the extended time away from the boat. The drive from California had been restful, even though he had been on the road long hours most days. He had taken a detour and spent a day in Vegas and another day at the Grand Canyon. Then on a whim, he decided to just spend some time in this area—see the Cowboy Hall of Fame, Anadarko, places like that.  Then the whim had him here, doing something different, like taking this job.  He couldn't figure it out, but somehow it felt right. Lee figured when he had finished playing farmer, he'd just get a flight from the Will Rogers Airport and then rent a car when he arrived back east.  He'd still have time to visit Mom and his other relatives. 

How tough could it be working on a farm, he wondered? Then he stowed that thought.  Dangerous thinking. Even simple missions had had a way of turning dangerous and complicated. All he would commit to right now was that it would be interesting.  It had seemed to be some kind of karma-induced opportunity when he had seen the little hand written card in that gas station. There was a deep-seated craving to do something that was normal; to live like normal people lived. Right now, he was tired of constantly playing spy, fighting monsters or aliens who had the urge to invade, conquer and destroy. Or feeling the horrible pinch of guilt and pain when a member of the crew died.  Of course most of the looks he had received today, including Henry Becker’s had conveyed the idea that he was some kind of city boy on a lark. Maybe he was, he thought wryly. 

Helen put the last of the food on the table while he was commiserating. She was a dark-headed, round faced woman of medium height. Her hands were rough but her eyes sparkled with a deep inner satisfaction. She and Henry Becker were about the same height, but he was darker with the leathery skin of one who worked outside a great deal. 

Henry was motioning for prayer and Lee bowed his head with the other two people. Afterward, he changed into jeans and a borrowed tee shirt and followed Henry around as he made his rounds. Lee quickly found himself exhausted. The steers had to be fed, the combine worked on, various fields checked and some of them fertilized. There was hay already baled in one field that had to be loaded, trucked to the barn and then stacked. He was extremely thankful there was a conveyor to carry the bales to the loft. Even so, his shoulders ached afterward from hoisting the bales off the belt and stacking them in the loft. 

Then there was the milking. Henry insisted that his was a small operation, but twenty cows were still twenty cows and after herding them in, feeding them, cleaning their udders, maneuvering the milking machine from one cow to the other, herding them all out again and washing out the barn, Lee wondered how other farmers kept herds that had a hundred cows or more. By this time, his back was protesting along with his shoulders and to add insult to injury, Henry had done all the hard work. To top it off, by the time they were done with the cows, the calves were bawling a cacophony of hunger in a nearby shed. Helen was already out feeding them their formula that she had mixed, but she happily handed him a couple of bottles. The first calf, Lee decided, was cute. After that they were all slobbery gluttons with bottomless pits. The designer of the milking machines had evidently studied calves to create his invention. 

“Still want to do this, Lee?” Henry asked with a knowing grin when they finally walked toward the house for dinner.

Lee was stumbling over his own feet by then, but still he bristled slightly. There was nothing more difficult here than there was on board the Seaview, he told himself, just messier. “Yes, Henry, although I am of the opinion that farmers are very underrated people.” 

Henry snorted. “Like teaching. You have to love it because there sure as heck isn’t anything easy about it or lucrative.”

“Don’t know about the loving it part, but I am no quitter and while I might be very glad for the two weeks to end, I’m going to stick it out.”

“It will at least make you appreciate your other job,” Henry said with a grin. 

Is that why I am doing this? Lee wondered. He was proud of what he did, proud of the Gray Lady and her crew.  It wasn’t that he was tired of his life on the boat, or that he was running away from her, he was just having a respite. At least that was what he was telling himself. Just a respite….  So how much of a break would he get if he were answering questions about the sub?  Invariably, that was what happened when he told people where he worked.  Lee looked out over the wheat in a field to the north of the farmhouse. It waved almost reddish gold in the lowering sun. A slightly cooler breeze was kicking up, not only cooling him off but also causing the wheat to blow in waves, like those on the ocean. The land was flat enough here to exaggerate that vision. Suddenly he stopped, mesmerized. Just like waves on the ocean, he mentally repeated. It was a golden, majestic dance with birds dipping and calling out just as their larger cousins did on the real ocean. He could imagine a ghostly Dutchman ship plying the waves of grain on the prairie. Clouds built on the distant horizon, adding to the vision. Even after all that he had done that afternoon, the view was as magnificent as sitting on the conning tower of his Gray Lady and watching the ocean pulse with life around him.

“What is it, Lee?”

“I was just thinking how much your wheat field looks like the ocean. Almost poetic—graceful.” 

“A different kind of ocean,” Henry said quietly, the magic of the moment capturing him as well. “I guess you see a lot of ocean in Santa Barbara.”

“Yes, I do.” He was thinking of the dangerous beauty of the sea and wondered if there were dangers in this kind of ocean, other than fatigue. Lee felt his muscles protesting—actually demanding the attention of a bed. “It has many different faces; many different moods.”

“Well, my mood right now is that I’m hungry. What about you?” Henry said with finality. 

“A little, mostly tired though.”

“Come on in. I think Helen’s cooking will change your mind. You’ll get to meet my folks, too. Even though they have their own house, they like to eat dinner with us.”

“That reminds me,” Lee began. “Where do I sleep?”  

“For about ten days, you’ll get to test the trailer. I got it for my son and daughter-in-law.  After that, we’ll fix something up for you here in the house,” Henry said, pointing to an approximately fourteen by sixty foot trailer that had recently been set up in the small fenced-in lot next to the elder Becker’s home. It sat amid what appeared a small orchard of nut trees. “Hopefully, the wind won’t blow too many pecans onto the roof. Imagine that could be an experience if you aren’t used to it.”

Somehow, Lee thought, he didn’t think so. His life was filled with pings, bangs and other things that went bump on metal. “I doubt it will be a problem,” was all he said. 

Helen had gone all out with fried chicken and all the fixings, but Lee was exhausted. It had been a long afternoon trying to keep up with Henry.  Henry’s parents were quietly studying him. He had seen them off and on throughout the afternoon and evening, mainly Henry’s mother, hanging up laundry or puttering in the garden that was growing between the two houses. Again, a quick prayer was said and everyone began digging in.

“You sure you’re going to be up to this, Lee?” Helen asked, watching him carefully. “You did show up during one of the busiest times of the year.”  She laughed. It was a pleasant laugh. “Of course, I could say something about our son picking this time of year to get married, too.”

Crane speared a chicken leg just to be polite, then smiled to reassure the Becker’s. “Oh, I’ll get used to it. You heard the term getting one’s land legs?” 

“Of course, kind of nautical slang, isn’t it?” Henry asked.

Lee nodded. “I just have to get my farm legs.” He took a roll that had the look of being homemade and spread some butter on it.  

“You served in the Navy?” the elder Becker asked, still studying him.

“Yes, sir,” Lee responded. He certainly wasn’t going to lie. 

“Sea duty or land?”

Lee was getting the idea that the old man had some knowledge of the Navy. He wondered if Mr. Becker had also served. “Sea, mainly.”

“Which ship?”

Lee picked one. “Nautilus.”

The old man perked up. “You were on a submarine? Lord, I thought all you boys that would go down into a tin can were nuts!”  

Lee simply smiled. He had heard that often. “You were in the Navy, sir?”  

“Yes, sir, I was on a DE for a short time near the end of the war,” Mr. Becker replied. Then he began to tell of his experiences on the destroyer escort during WWII.    

Lee listened raptly while they all ate. The rest of the clan apparently had heard the story before, so they appeared to be half listening, but it afforded Lee an opportunity to hear from a different side of the service and it also steered the conversation away from him. Even if he had been interested in telling his experiences, he was too tired. Listening suited him very much. He liked the stories that old timers told of their adventures in the military. Within a short time, though, Lee was done eating and ready to hit a bunk. When the old gentleman came up for air, Lee excused himself and made his way to the trailer, getting his suitcase out of the trunk of his car on the way. 

He didn’t remember even getting into bed, much less falling asleep. What he remembered next was the incessant ringing of a phone. He swore softly under his breath. Henry had a phone in here already?  Then Lee realized that it was his mobile. He rolled over and fumbled for it on the low nightstand next to his bed. His fingers found the cursed thing and he pushed the button. 

“Mmmm,” he mumbled irritably. “You know what the hell time it is?”

“Midnight here on the west coast, which is exactly when I said I would call you if you didn’t check in every few days,” came the even reply. 

Lee’s eyes popped open. “Uh, sorry, Admiral. I was so tired I guess I fell asleep before I could call you.”

“I know I shoved you out the gate before you wanted to go, lad, but you also know that after those last few missions, I wanted you to keep in touch.”

“Yes, sir,” Lee said meekly. 

“And what in the world did you do to get to sleep so soundly? Have a couple of beers more than you should have?”  The voice on the other end, while sounding gruff, was also filled with the keenly wicked humor that the admiral exhibited at times. 

“No, sir, just hard work after a long drive.” Then Lee proceeded to fill the admiral in on what he was doing. 

The reaction was quick and explosive. “What? Lee, are you crazy? Farm work is dangerous! I want you back from your leave rested and in one piece, not run over by a tractor or trampled by a herd of cattle!”

“Admiral, I just wanted to do something different. Something ordinary. Call it an educational opportunity. I promise I’ll come back safe and sound.” 

The admiral huffed on the other end of the line. “You’d better. We have to test the new equipment as soon as you get back.” 

Above Lee there was the sharp ping of something hitting the metal roof, then several more. Must have been the pecans Henry had mentioned. They rattled softly to the edge and then it was silent above him.

“What was that?” Nelson asked, his voice sounding alarmed. Lee told him. There was a short silence, then a chuckle. “Trouble follows you, Lee. Even the nuts are after you.”

He couldn’t help it; Lee laughed with him. “Jamie will be happy anyway. This woman is quite a cook.”

“Get back to sleep. If what I heard about farms is true, you’ll need it.”

“Aye, sir.”  Crane turned off the phone and settled back under the covers. He thought a bit about his snap decision, but apparently he didn’t think long about it this time either, because his next awareness was of the rat-a-tat of pecans hitting the side of the trailer. Then he realized that it was someone knocking on the door. Figuring it could be Mrs. Becker as much as it could be Mr. Becker, Lee jerked on his pants. When he opened the door, Henry was standing there, barely illuminated by the light pole at the corner of their property. 

“I don’t remember if I told you, but the milking comes early in the morning,” Henry said with a slight smile. 

“You probably did, but I forgot to set my alarm,” Lee admitted. “I’ll be out in just a few minutes.”  And he was. You didn’t live and work on a sub without knowing how to get washed up and dressed in the smallest amount of time. This time the milking process was a bit easier. Again he helped feed the calves and then he and Henry went out and took care of the steers in one of the northeastern pastures. By that time the sun was rising in a golden ball, a promise of the heat of the day.  Before breakfast, Henry started up a miniature version of a front-end loader and showed Lee the modern way to muck out cow manure. It worked fine inside, but outside it became the equivalent of trying to scoop up a twenty-pound pile of sugar with a teaspoon. It was smelly, hot and by the time everything was cleaned away from the barns, Lee was ready to shove the whole mess through a torpedo tube. Even Henry was grumbling about the time it took to muck out the barn. Lee hightailed it to his trailer for a quick shower before he would consider eating anything. When he returned, Henry, stripped of his outer work coveralls and rubber boots, just looked at him in amusement when he joined everyone for breakfast. 

“You have another pair of those things for the next time?” Lee asked as he sat down.

After breakfast, there was more hay to bale in one field, the field they had worked in the previous day needed the remainder of the bales gathered and stored in the barn. Henry showed him how to run the combine, which to Lee’s surprise was even air-conditioned.  They drove out to the large field of silage corn. Lee found himself more and more amazed at Henry’s ability to juggle all the responsibilities he had on the farm and wondered how this small family had managed to keep it going. After a few days Lee found himself not only able to keep up with Henry, but also doing some of the duties alone. Still, the man continually amazed the submariner with his ability to do so much in so little time, even with cousins coming to help at times.

The afternoon of the sixth day found Henry handing Lee a tall glass of iced tea and steering him in the direction of the back porch. Lee had been working around the farm while Henry had been in town getting parts for the combine, which had become a problem for the farmer the past day or so. It was even more of a headache now that the wheat was about ready for harvest. The Becker’s small Boston bulldog sat at his feet looking up wistfully at him. Just as it did at meals, it was looking for a handout. “Sorry pal,” he murmured. “Not this time.” The dog just blinked and continued begging.

“You take your breaks when you can get them, Lee.”

Nodding, Lee sat down and took a sip of the sweet tea. 

“Lee, can I ask you a question?”

“Yes, of course,” Crane said, somehow suspecting what might be on Henry’s mind. He took another sip of tea, waiting for the question. Exactly what it would be, he wasn’t sure, but after this time, he couldn’t blame Henry for wanting to know more about this stranger who just popped in and had been working for him for almost a week.

“I know you’re a very private person, and this is probably none of my business, but I get the impression that you’re not former Navy, but you’re still in the service. You know exactly what Dad’s been talking about with his war experiences. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate it. None of the rest of us have a clue what he did in WWII, except from watching old movies. And when you’re a retired farmer, you can only talk about the weather, the soil and crops for so long. Everyone around here’s farming stock.”

Lee took another drink of the refreshing tea.  “Yes, I’m Navy.” 

“Well, again, it’s none of my business, but Lee, you aren’t AWOL or something, are you?”

Lee smiled. “No, Henry. I’m Navy Reserve. I report to my duty station in four weeks.”

“Santa Barbara?” Lee nodded. “But why out here?  If you’re in the Navy, why would you want to….”  Henry looked embarrassed.  “I’m getting nosy again.”

“No, you have a right, Henry. If I remember what you said last night; your brother-in-law is visiting in the next week and he’s got kids. I don’t blame you for wanting to know more about me. To be honest with you, I just wanted to do something different. I wanted a break from what I’ve been doing the past few years.”

“Kind of like when I go down to the gulf and fish in the winter when things are a bit less hectic here?” Henry asked. He swigged down the last of his tea and set the glass on the small round table between them.

“Yeah, kind of like that.” Lee finished his tea, too, but continued to hold the sweaty glass in his hand. “You see, Henry, I just wanted to do something as myself, away from my position, if that makes any kind of sense.”

“Well, it kind of does,” the farmer said hesitantly, and Lee knew that Henry really didn’t understand.

Lee set his glass down next to Becker’s. “Henry, I guess I do owe you a little more information. I’m the captain of the SSRN Seaview.” He pulled out his wallet and showed Henry his military license.

Henry studied the document and then gaped at Lee for a moment. “You mean Admiral Nelson’s Seaview, that big submarine he built? The one that was disabled and was recently hauled up from the bottom?  You’re kidding me, right?”

Lee shook his head. “No, I’m not kidding and yes, that Seaview, the one that seems to have more lives than a cat,” he said with a tight smile. “It was a pretty hairy situation with other pretty, uh, strange missions before it.”

“I mean, what would the captain of a marvel like that want to do mucking around on a farm in the middle of the country at a below minimum wage?”

Lee gazed deeply into the other man’s eyes. “Simply because I needed something normal after some very insane situations. I needed to do something as Lee Crane, the person. Not Lee Crane, the captain of the Seaview, or Lee Crane, Naval Commander. You do understand, don’t you?”

Henry didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he nodded. “I think I do, Lee. You were afraid that if we knew what you normally did, we’d treat you differently.”

“Certainly not without precedent,” Crane said dryly. Which was true, he sometimes felt that people were addressing, interacting with his rank and position rather than what was inside; the inner Lee Crane. 

“Well, I won’t let anyone in on your secret. If you want to keep working for me, I’m sure not going to stop you.” Henry slowly got to his feet. Lee followed suite. “You’re a hard worker, just as you promised you’d be and I’m grateful to have your help.” Then he chuckled and clapped Lee on the shoulder. “Of course, I guess you didn’t get to be a submarine captain without knowing how to work hard.”

“Coming from you, I’ll take that as a compliment,” Lee said. As they walked out to the equipment shed, he asked, “By the way, who lives on the property next to your northeast section?”

“Lives? Why no one, really. Wyatt Baxter owned it. He died about six months ago. Shame, really, he was a good neighbor and had some years left. His wife died last year. The only one left is his no-account son, Rick, who refused from the get-go to have anything to do with the farm.” Henry shook his head. “Why do you ask?”

“I hadn’t noticed any activity over there until this morning when I was checking on the steers. Trucks going up and down the road shortly after daybreak, then the activity slowed down and suddenly stopped. That’s why I was a little late for breakfast. It just seemed a bit curious, that’s all.”

“Well, I’ve heard rumors, but most of them’s probably not worth the time to repeat them,” Henry said. “One of them says that Rick did his parents in so he could dump the farm and get their money.” Henry snorted. “Personally, I just think he’s trying to get what he can from his mother’s antiques before the auction that’s set up for this fall.”

“Sounds like a reasonable explanation,” Lee replied, not totally convinced. There seemed something funny about the activity. Mentally, though, he shrugged. He was working with a farmer, not playing cop or spy. Not this time.

“Whatever Wyatt’s son is doing, it’s of no consequence to us. The wheat’s ready and we need to get the blasted combine working. It’s got to be the auger. We both checked the platform head,” Henry grumbled. “It wasn’t doing all that well with the corn, but there wasn’t but a bit lost. With the wheat, though….” His voice trailed off. 

“Well, if we can figure it out, I suppose I’ll get to listen to some of your Kenny Rogers in air-conditioned comfort tomorrow,” Lee smirked.   

Henry laughed. “Yeah, you’ll have it good. It was really miserable before I got a combine with air.”  They walked out to the equipment shed. The next morning, while Henry was at the livestock auction, Lee headed out in the combine to test their handy work and thresh the wheat. He set the controls, turned the air on to a comfortable level and then switched on Henry’s cassette player. Lee stopped at the end of the row and noticed that the wheat had been cut and gathered just as it should. “Flank speed,” he announced. He found it tedious, but he couldn’t complain about sore muscles with this particular chore, unless of course, it was the muscles in his nether region. He laughed softly and focused on the field ahead of him. Again, Lee was reminded of the ocean waves and he wondered how the repairs were going on the boat. The first field was finished and the grain unloaded in a storage bin in time to feed the livestock. 

A few days later, Lee found himself bunking in a very small guest room so Helen could ready the trailer for the newlyweds. He didn’t mind. It had a bed, a stand and was close to the head. At the end of the day, that was all that really mattered, Lee figured, even as he pictured his small cabin in the Gray Lady. 

Two days after that, the relatives arrived. It was instantly noisier with an eight-year-old and a four-year-old. Lee simply kept busy, as though that had ever been a problem, he thought with wry amusement. The kids watched as he and Henry worked near the farmhouse or in the barn. It made Lee a bit nervous when he was working with the machinery. But as long as they stayed back, he couldn’t complain. The kids did come in useful, though, when it came to feeding the calves. They thought the slobbery, bawling creatures were fun. The newlyweds showed up a day later and things became even noisier and more hectic. Lee was left to do most of the day-to-day work on his own, while Henry juggled between entertaining the ‘troops’ and finishing up the harvesting of the wheat.  

They were servicing the tractor late one night when Henry gazed at Lee and sighed. Crane expected him to say something, but it was quite a while before he did. 

“You said you were going to visit relatives after you leave?” Henry finally asked, his voice weary. Lee nodded. “Well, I hope you have a calmer time of it than I am right now.”

Lee grinned. “I heard your cousin saying that there was a carnival up in Edmond. Why don’t you take the family there tomorrow afternoon? I can finish up here and join you.” He shrugged. “I was going to be leaving day after tomorrow anyway and this might be a fun way to finish my stay here.”

“That would leave you with the milking and feeding.”

“I’ve had a good teacher. I should be able to finish that up in a couple of hours if we start it together. Get the kids to feed the calves and I’ll finish the milking and check the stock.” 

“If you’re sure, Lee,” Henry said hesitantly, but he still had the look of a man grateful for the life preserver that had just been tossed to him. 

“I’m sure. I’m just passing along the favor the admiral did for me when he showed me the Institute’s exit gate,” Lee assured the beleaguered man with a chuckle. 

“I think Helen would like the time out of the house, too.” 

So it was that Henry and the rest of the clan took off after the cows had been herded into the milking shed and given their grain. The visiting relatives had already fed the calves. That left the steers in the northeast pasture to check on. There was still an hour of daylight, so he hopped into the pickup truck and headed to the northeast pasture, tossing his mobile phone on the passenger seat. If someone had asked him just why he was taking it with him, Lee couldn’t have pinpointed anything other than a feeling. Ever since he had seen the activity on the neighboring farm, he had felt the need for something of a ‘back-up’ whenever he was in that area. He chided himself each day he had come back after a quiet look-see of the steers and the empty looking farm beyond the boundaries of Henry’s property. 

Lee drove through the gate and noticed that the herd of cattle seemed diminished. Driving around the fence line, he found the reason why near the creek that was shared by both farms. A fence pole was pushed down. Most likely the calves that had been put out to this pasture recently, since most of the older steers were placidly grazing. With an irritated sigh, Lee cut the engine and got out of the truck. Oh, to be dealing with something simple, like a stressed bulkhead, he thought. His mood wasn’t helped by the fact that the air felt heavy. Probably be a storm coming in during the night. Crane pulled out the tools he would need to do temporary repairs and headed toward the offending opening in the fence. The fence post wasn’t broken; he could use a couple of pegs to reinforce it when he got it upright again. Then he should be able to pull the wires tighter once he had the adventurous young steers back in the pasture. And despite the fact the next day was Sunday, he and Henry would come down early in the morning with more wire and make the temporary fix more permanent. 

He stuffed the pliers into his back pocket and waded across the creek, feeling the water paste the bottoms of his jeans around the tops of his ankles. He heard one of the wayward steers bawling and followed the sound. In a thicket further down the creek, Lee found several steers gathered just below a steep bank on Wyatt Baxter’s property. One of them was dead. With a frown, he checked it over, knowing that a fall from the five-foot bank should not have done more than injure the steer’s dignity—bruised it up at most. It had been shot through the head. Lee looked more closely at the bank; climbed up and carefully peered at the pasture that lay beyond. The ground indicated that the animal had been dragged to the creek after being shot. A slight clicking noise indicated he was being watched. 

“Okay, farmer boy, climb on up slowly. Got two pistols trained on your head. If you try anything—anything at all, one of us will get you.” 

A quick glance showed Lee that the man spoke the truth. While the speaker, a wiry, sandy-haired man in jeans and sport’s shirt was far enough away to make escape a possibility, his companion, an equally wiry younger man, probably still in his teens, was to the side and in full view of the entire creek bed. The kid looked ready to pull the trigger, too. Crane did as he was told, keeping his hands where the two could see them. 

“That’s the same one that’s been coming out the past ten days, sometimes with Becker,” the kid said, his voice tight with excitement. 

Adrenalin rush, Lee thought, again, a good news, bad news scenario. He would just see what circumstances brought. At least he’d be missed fairly quickly, since he had told Henry it wouldn’t take him long. Small consolation, though, if he was already dead at the hand of a trigger-happy wannabe outlaw. “Just doing my job,” he said, standing in front of them, hands in full view.

“You’re too slick to be a farm hand,” the older man said. 

His captor’s accent didn’t peg him to be from here, but from the west, Lee thought. He feigned surprise. “You mean I’ve been imagining all that cow crap on my feet these past couple of weeks?” he said caustically, taking a chance. The kid laughed nervously, but the older man frowned. Keep them talking, Lee thought. “Needed a bit of cash to feed the car and a bit of home cooking to feed me before I headed on.” He paused. “Which, by the way, I was planning on doing day after tomorrow.”

The older man laughed shortly. “I don’t think so, Slick.” The gun never wavered. “Who are you anyway?”

“Lee Crane.”

“You’re not from around here.”

“No, neither are you,” Lee said boldly. “I was heading east when I took the detour and decided to play farmer. Nasty job if you ask me, but it’s temporary.”

The man snorted. “Don’t take your eyes off him, Rick,” he told the kid without looking at him. “Now, Lee Crane, you just slowly take out your wallet and toss it my way.”

Again Lee complied, reaching back inside his pocket with one hand, slowly and deliberately and pulling out his wallet, leaving his other hand in plain view. The pliers were still in his left hip pocket and he hoped they would miss them. With two fingers lightly holding the wallet, he gently tossed it to the older man. They were going to love it when they saw his military ID, he thought. “You know, I could just back out of here, fix the broken fence and call the dead calf even,” Lee suggested lamely. As he suspected, the suggestion was ignored. Somehow, there had to be an opening and somehow, he had to get away. The older man had a look about him that told Lee he had been on the wrong side of the law for some time. He had the look of a pro. Pro what, he wasn’t totally sure, but this man wasn’t just some up and coming basement pot grower.

“You think he’s a fed, Mark?” Rick asked eagerly, his gun wavering slightly, but his eyes eager. 

“Yes, I think he’s a fed,” Mark said, quickly picking up the wallet, his eyes still on Lee. 

Lee forced a laugh. “Failed the FBI entrance exam. No, you guys are barking up the wrong tree. I’m just a California beach bum taking in the country.”  

“Not with that car you drive,” Mark snarled, opening up Lee’s wallet. 

“Inheritance,” Lee said quickly. Yeah, Uncle Harriman and his nice bonus for signing on a few years back. And I almost had it paid off.  “And if I hadn’t….”

“Shut up!”

Lee shut up. Then, in the waning light, Lee saw Mark’s face light up in triumph. 

“Well, well. Not exactly what I thought, but by whatever name.” He studied Lee’s ID and then studied Lee again. “Well, Commander, what the hell is the Navy doing nosing around in Oklahoma?”  The kid gaped, but the gun didn’t do more than waver a little.

“I’m Reserve. You know, weekend warrior type of guy. Like I said, just heading east.  This was something different to do besides playing in the ocean.”

But Mark wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying at the moment. He continued to study the ID, glancing at Lee occasionally. “Santa Barbara?” he mumbled. There were other things, but Lee wasn’t able to pick up on them. Finally the eyes lit with comprehension. “Come with us,” Mark said, his voice low, but the meaning clear. 

Crane had no choice; neither man was going to give him an inch to play with. If nothing, Mark was even more cautious and wary. If he were a betting man, and occasionally he was, Lee would have laid big money down that Mark had figured out who he was.  

“I think I know some people who’d be very interested in knowing just what the captain of something like the Seaview was doing around here, especially working on a farm nearby.”

Lee didn’t say anything at first. He would just have to play it by ear and hope for an opening. Still, “Just what is it you’re doing here that has you so much on edge? Particularly with a smart operator like you in charge?” 

Mark laughed. “I am disappointed, Captain. Or don’t the Air Force boys brief you Navy guys before missions.”

“Humor me. You have me anyway, no matter what my purpose is in being here.” Lee was thinking furiously. What would the Air Force have to do with anything? Then he remembered, they weren’t that far from Tinker Air Force Base. So what were these guys doing on an out of the way farm outside of the state capital not that far from an Air Force base?

Mark just laughed. “If I didn’t know better, I might buy that cock and bull story you were trying to hand me.”

Lee shrugged. “Buy it or not, it’s the truth. I was up here on Becker’s farm on a whim.” He was in it now—up to his eyeballs. Personally speaking, he’d rather be cleaning cow patties out of the milking barn, but still….  They walked a short distance to what appeared to be an equipment shed. There was a tractor, combine, a couple of balers and some other equipment in the large building, but there were a couple of medium sized crates piled on one another in the middle of the building. Interspersed here and there were smaller boxes. Crane recognized some of them and almost gasped at the sheer audacity of these men. They weren’t drug dealers as he had thought back a week ago; they were gunrunners! This was stolen ordinance from the local Air Force base and hidden here until shipment could be safely made. He really was in too deep. All he could even hope for was to get away and call the police. 

Without moving his head, he looked around. Two other men were loading munitions and equipment into the larger crates. Getting ready for a shipment most likely. They looked at him in irritation and curiosity and began to straighten up. Lee heard the kid moving closer to him. He saw Mark about three feet on his right. It was now or never. He swung to his left, jerking the pliers from his pocket and smashing them down on the kid’s wrist. The gun went off, bullet hitting the floor and Rick howled with pain, stumbling backward. Lee grabbed him and jerked him closer and then pushed him away, hoping to confuse the men. A shot blasted close enough to his ear to feel the passage of bullet. He still had the pliers in his hand. Rolling on the ground, Lee saw Mark bearing down on him like a tank, and threw the heavy pliers at him. A desperate move at best, but with better results than Lee expected. Mark’s momentum didn’t allow the gunman to totally dodge the missile and the pliers hit him solidly on the shoulder, slightly altering his aim. The gun fired and this time the bullet didn’t just whiz by but gouged its way along Lee’s left side, not far below his armpit. Ignoring the pain, he rolled again, kicking the moaning young man out of his way, and dove between the farm machinery. Another bullet pinged against the metal of the tractor behind which he was hiding; several more did the same. 

Clamping his arm against his side, even as he felt the blood trickling from the wound, Lee scrambled under the machine and behind it to one of the balers. There was an old pickup next to it, but he didn’t see that it would be much use. However, as he heard the men shouting orders to each other, Lee decided that pickers couldn’t be choosers and ventured a look from around the baler. The three men had separated and were most likely scouting around the machines trying to pin him down. Sliding around to the side of the pickup, he stole a quick glance. No keys. He continued on his quest, hunkering down to crawl under an old combine. He felt the wound open more and bleed more freely. Again, Lee had to ignore that and the jerking pain he felt. 

He heard rather than felt someone on the other side of the combine. If he could get a weapon, that would even things up a bit more. Slowly and silently, Crane slid forward on his stomach.  Lee saw the feet of one of the gunrunners moving beside the large machine. The steps crunched away from him on the dirt-strewn ground and he pulled himself up behind a wheel. He saw the man hesitate, look around and then continue. Behind him, Lee heard one of the others checking out the other side of the combine. Looking at the ground behind him, he was appalled to see that he had bled enough to leave traces if someone was looking hard enough. Without hesitation, Lee slid out from under the machine and launched himself at the man in front of him. Before the gunman could do more than turn his head at the sound, Crane bore him to the ground, his elbow pressed crushingly against his assailant’s throat. 

Lee grabbed the gun, rolled off the unconscious man and high tailed it under another large machine. Bullets pinged around him, but thankfully none hit. He ducked behind a large tire and then realized what he was using for cover. With a feral grin, he scouted out the other side of the front-end loader. Henry would give his eyeteeth for something this heavy duty and powerful. Right now, though, this machine might just be his ticket out of this mess. 

Mark was ten feet ahead of him looking the other way. Lee aimed and shot. Mark was smacked against the wall and fell back, howling and clutching his shoulder. Ignoring him, Lee transferred the gun to his left hand, climbed up into the cab, praying that the keys were left in this piece of equipment. Henry sometimes did, but he also locked up his equipment shed. Perhaps this farmer had the same bad habit. 

No key! Swearing, Lee was about to jump back down and continue the cat and mouse game when he saw a small ring peeking up from under the clutch pedal. He reached in and grabbed a small ring with keys attached. Suddenly something grabbed his foot. He tried to kick it off but was inexorably pulled from the cab of the vehicle. It was Mark. Lee allowed himself to be pulled down to the ground, still holding the keys in his fist, but the manhandling sent a wave of pain shooting through his arm and he dropped his gun. Mark didn’t have his gun, his right arm was cradled against his chest, useless, but the left hand effectively slammed Lee against the side of the loader. This time he did cry out. Mark had managed to shove Crane’s left side against the foot rung of the machine, further aggravating his injury. No time to worry. Crane pushed back, his body forcing Mark’s against the wall, even as his fist smashed under the gunrunner’s jaw. Mark groaned and slid unconscious to the ground. Lee sank with him as another bullet hit the wall above his head.  

Shoving his keys into his pocket, Lee grabbed Mark’s gun, jumped behind the front tire and fired.  The gunman sank to his knees and pitched forward on his face. Lee climbed into the cab of the loader and shoved the key into the ignition. It coughed and then roared like a sleeping dragon belching thick, noxious smelling smoke. Ahead of him was another of the medium-sized crates sitting next to the corrugated aluminum siding of the building. Right now, Crane’s only concern was escape. If he got away, the authorities could take care of this mess. He stomped on the clutch and shoved the gears into position. With loud creaks and a screech of metal, the loader lurched back, banging against the metal wall with a harsh thump and groaning of metal. The wall gave, but not all the way. Gritting his teeth, Crane shoved the gears into first and then worked the bucket controls. His side felt on fire, but he knew that he could not just stay here in the loader and be safe. As the bucket scraped against the ground, Lee drove the machine forward, allowing the bucket to slide under the crate. He didn’t know what was in this crate, and if his manhandling could be set it off, but if it was that dangerous, he certainly wouldn’t know what hit him if it did blow up. 

As though to punctuate his dilemma, the glass in front of him exploded, scattering shards everywhere. Lee quickly ducked his head even as he continued to scoop up the crate in front of him. The glass on his right shattered from the force of another bullet and he felt a sting in the calf of his leg. 

 

                           ============================

 

Henry Becker looked at his watch for the hundredth time. Helen shook her head. “I’m sure he’s on his way,” she reassured him, but her voice didn’t sound all that convincing. Lee had not confided any more to him and Henry knew that the submariner hadn’t said anything about his ‘other job’ to anyone else. “There’s no answer at the house.” 

“But Dad hasn’t seen him since he left to check the steers,” Henry reminded her. 

“Your father doesn’t see everything,” Helen replied. 

He snorted. “But my mother does.”

“Look, Henry, Lee is a grown man. He may have decided to pack and leave early. Danny is back and tomorrow there isn’t so much work anyway.”

Henry sighed. Helen, while outwardly liking the temporary helper, hadn’t totally bought her husband’s reassurance that Lee was on the up and up. Without telling her what he knew about Lee Crane, there was little he could do to reassure her of his trustworthiness. Now he wished he had simply let her in on the secret. “Helen, Lee said he’d be here. He wouldn’t just up and leave.”

“I know you really like Lee Crane. But I also think that you’re keeping something from me—something about him,” she continued. “You told me to trust you. I’m asking you to trust me. There’s something else, isn’t there?”

Henry realized that she was right. He should trust her with this, but that other nagging anxiety wouldn’t let him go. “Well, yes, there is. Nothing bad. But right now, I’m worried about him. He was suspicious about the Baxter place. I didn’t think anything of it before, but now I’m wondering if his instincts were right.”

“And that’s where he was going.”

“Yes. And as to what I know….”

“Helen!  Henry!” A tall, stocky man approached. His salt and pepper hair belied his youthful face and the badge clipped to his shirt pocket told his occupation.

“Jack,” both Becker’s said together. 

“Helen,” Jack began and then paused, studying Henry. 

“It’s okay, Jack. Henry and I were just discussing Lee and your timing was probably very good,” Helen reassured the policeman.

Henry looked at his wife in surprise. “You had Jack look into Lee Crane’s background?” She nodded. He sighed and shook his head. “I wish you had said something to me first. I know what Jack is going to tell you. It’s just that Lee felt he would . . . well, get more out of this experience if everyone didn’t know just who he is.”

She gazed at him expectantly but before he could say anything, she turned back to the deputy sheriff. “Jack, were my instincts right? Is Mr. Crane on the up and up?”

Jack Farley just laughed. “Very much on the up and up, Helen. He’s Commander Lee B. Crane and his occupation is that of captain of the SSRN Seaview. Exemplary service in the regular Navy and the same for his reserve service on Admiral Nelson’s submarine.”

She looked shocked just as Henry figured he had when Lee had told him. “I kept waiting for Lee to say something himself, but he only confided in me.”

Jack nodded. “Yeah, I was kind of shocked myself when I got the information back.” He looked at Henry. “I guess you know why someone like that would end up on your farm. I sure as heck don’t.”

Henry shrugged. “He said he enjoyed this little slice of American pie.” He paused. “Just one thing, though.”

“What, Henry?” Jack asked. 

“I keep having this nagging feeling that he’s in trouble.”

The lawman looked puzzled and concerned. “What kind? With his boss, Admiral Nelson?”

“No, he was supposed to meet us here and even as green as he is to farming, Lee would have been done and met us here well over an hour ago.” Henry explained the details of his suspicions.

“Hmm. As far as I know there’s no one out there. You want me to go out and see?”

“Yeah, would you?” Henry asked. “We’ll most likely be coming home fairly soon ourselves. I think my brother in law’s kids are about pooped out.”

“Sure, Henry. I’ll leave word with your folks whatever I find out.” He nodded and left.

 

                              ========================

 

There were more shots, but they were wilder as Crane picked up the crate and used it as a shield. Whatever they had packed in it, the contents commanded the gunrunners’ respect. He shifted and backed the loader again. This time with the momentum he gained by more distance, plus the added weight, the outward wall bowed, buckled and then parted with a rending of tortured metal. The corrugated roof groaned but stayed in place. It was pitch black and Lee didn’t turn on the lights. He remembered the layout of the place and the relationship of the equipment building to the creek and turned the loader to the west. Shouts followed him, but for now, there were no shots. There were at least two of the gunrunners left, but there could have been more if others were in the vicinity, working elsewhere. He pushed in the clutch and put the loader into as high a gear as it would go. Lee saw light reflected on the bucket and glanced back to see the lights of what he took to be a pickup truck. Whatever it was, it would definitely be faster and more maneuverable.   Continuing toward the creek, Lee wondered about that five-foot bank. 

The truck was gaining quickly on him as he had expected. Lee took a chance and switched on the headlights for a few seconds. What he saw as he switched off the lights gave him hope. Maybe, just maybe, he might make this work. He continued on, now hearing the truck over the engine of the loader. Finally, Lee looked behind him and gauged his next move. Lowering the bucket a little closer to the ground, he suddenly turned the wheel hard to the left. Lee felt the right wheels sliding on something soft and was almost afraid that he had misjudged, and then he was on solid ground and lumbering south. Looking behind him, Lee saw the truck start to swing toward him, then it skewed sideways and over the bank of the creek. There were shouts of fear and pain, and the groans of protesting metal as the vehicle apparently rolled into the creek. With a tight smile, Lee continued toward the south until he could cross the creek and head toward Henry’s. 

The smile faded as he finally began to feel the full impact of his little adventure. The adrenalin rush was over and he was feeling the pain of his injuries as well as absolute, total exhaustion. Even though it was difficult to shift and use the clutch now, Lee knew that he couldn’t cross the creek on foot to Henry’s pickup. Leaning forward he turned on the headlights again. There was no further pursuit for the moment. When the creek turned more east, he paused and tried to get his bearings. Just beyond the steers’ pasture was the cornfield. Lee turned the loader. In the soft light he detected ripening corn. The creek had no more than a foot or two drop on each side.  He carefully guided the machine down the slight incline and then up the other bank. About ten feet beyond the creek was Henry’s fence. Sorry, Henry, he thought grimly. Take it out of my wages.  Wire pinged as it snapped, corn rustled dying sighs as the loader crushed a wide swath. Turning back to the north, Lee finally saw the pickup. Steers were massed around it as though expecting a midnight snack. He wondered what time it was.  

As he approached, the cows scattered, bawling their indignation and fear. Lee pulled up right behind the pickup, stopped and turned off the engine and the lights. He leaned forward and laid his head on the steering wheel. So tired. He felt his shirt wet and sticking to his side. Somehow, he had to get to his mobile. If someone was monitoring it at the Institute, they could contact the local police. Then he could sleep. With a groan, Lee opened the door and started to climb down. His leg gave out and he slid to the ground, hitting with jarring force, crying out in pain. He pressed his arm against his side again and slowly made his way toward the truck. There was still noise coming from the creek where the pickup had gone over. They might be in good enough shape to come after him, but there was not much he could do about it right now.

As quietly as he could, Lee opened the door and crawled in behind the steering wheel. He groped for the mobile and quickly found it. “Institute,” he simply said. “Anyone monitoring?” He waited a few seconds. “Institute, this is Crane.”

“Skipper?” It sounded like Sparks.

“Sparks?”

“Aye, sir. They have me doing some land duty.”

“Sparks, you need to call county police for me,” Lee began. “Oklahoma County. Vicinity of Jones, Oklahoma. Northeast 63rd.  No, 65th, I think. I don’t know…. Becker farm, northeast sector. Gunrunners on Baxter farm….” He felt the fingers of the dark night trying to claim him. 

“Skipper? Are you all right? Skipper?”

“No.” And that was all he could manage. He let the darkness cradle him into merciful unconsciousness. 

 

                          ============================

 

When the extended family was all rounded up and they were headed back home, Henry felt a bit better. He didn’t know why he was so concerned. This was a man he had only known for the past couple of weeks. Surely there was nothing wrong at the Baxter place.  Certainly, Captain Lee Crane was well and able to take care of himself.

But when they began to get closer to his farm, his alarm renewed itself. There were lights and sirens everywhere. 

“What’s going on, Uncle Henry,” his nephew, John asked. The eight-year-old boy was sandwiched between Danny and Angie, his daughter-in-law.

“I don’t know,” he replied quickly. As they got closer, though, he could guess. There were police cars all over the pasture where he kept his steers. An ambulance rolled out onto the road even as a policeman was motioning him to stop. A paramedic truck followed. The policeman turned out to be Jack Farley.

“Figured you’d be by soon, Henry,” Jack said, leaning on his car. “Your instincts were right. Even have the Air Force boys up here. They won’t say what for, but seems your man got into a scrap to end all scraps.”

“He okay?”

“He looked pretty ragged, but the rescue squad said that the injuries are non-life threatening. Just lost enough blood to put him under. He talked to me some while the paramedics were working on him. Said to tell you he’s sorry about the damage. Wasn’t sure what he meant, you’ll need to come back and check it out.”  Jack smiled. “Those sub jockeys have a strange sense of humor, though.”

“Why do you say that?”

“When I told him he was a sight, he kind of smiled and told me he thought the other guys got it worse. Something about having the bigger torpedo. Don’t know if he’s right or not, but figure he is. There was a truck turned over in the creek. He also said he brought you a present.”

“Huh?”

“Didn’t say what it was before he drifted off again. Just that you’d like it.” The sheriff nodded to the other passengers and then turned back to Henry. “Why don’t you take the family home and come on back. Some of these other folks should be gone by then, too. Even if they’re not, you’ll need to take care of your cattle so they don’t all get out.”

Henry just nodded and continued down the road, pondering. The others in the back seat began asking questions right and left and he answered them as best he could, particularly about Lee. He figured by now there was no need keeping Lee’s secret. It was going to be the talk among the congregation in Mass tomorrow anyway, he thought. 

 

                         =============================

 

When Lee left the hospital on Tuesday morning, it was to the accompaniment of several high-ranking Air Force officers and in one of their official sedans. He couldn’t be anything but grateful. The media had enjoyed a field day with this one, especially when it came out just who he was.  Between the National Security officials, the Air Force officials from Tinker AFB and one of Admiral Johnson’s boys who had come at Admiral Nelson’s request, Lee had been kept pretty much sequestered. That had suited him just fine. 

The only civilians he had allowed were the Becker’s. Helen had even smuggled him some of her mother-in-law’s homemade sauerkraut, something the old woman had been promising to fix for him since he had begun working at the farm. Lee had found it well worth the wait and certainly far superceded the hospital’s offerings. She had even included a little cut up bratwurst, which just added to his enjoyment.  

The only thing that had bothered him was the fact that he would not be able to go back to the farm right away. Again, too much media. Henry had promised to keep his sport’s car safe for his return, which would be in two weeks after his visit back home with his mother and relatives. Lee figured that by doing so, Henry wasn’t just being a Good Samaritan; the family would also get the whole story of what had happened that night along with some Seaview stories. They were owed that much, Crane thought later as he boarded the Air Force transport headed east. His side still ached when he moved, and the doctor had elicited a promise from him to wear a sling for a few days ‘to allow proper healing.’ Lee snorted as he sat in his seat in front of the cargo hold.  As though his mother wouldn’t make sure about that little issue.  He had dutifully worn the irritating apparatus until he had boarded and then promptly removed it.  

His leg was just nominally sore, which surprised him since it had actually taken a hit from a bullet, although a deflected and therefore less powerful, one. He sighed in relative content.  The Air Force had their ordinance back, or at least most of it, the feds had rounded up all the thieves and conspirators and were happily preparing prosecutions against them and he was on his way to see his kith and kin, as the elder Mr. Becker would put it. 

That took Lee on another tangent as the plane droned on. He wondered if Henry had received his surprise from the Institute. He couldn’t for the life of him figure why he had blathered that to the cop who had been there when the paramedics had arrived, but he knew what had been on his mind. When he had talked to the admiral on the phone, Lee asked Nelson about procuring the front-end loader for Henry. The farmer needed something more heavy duty than that pitiful cub he used and certainly after taking out two fences with the big loader, Henry deserved it. The admiral had promised he would do it if possible. Nelson had been as good as his word, Lee thought with a smile. The keys for the vehicle had been delivered to Henry by now. 

Crane got as comfortable as he could in the padded seat and began to doze off. Another good-bye present from the doctor—a nice sleep inducing painkiller. Then he smiled. He remembered something the admiral had said before and had reminded him of when Lee was in the hospital. ‘Remember the pecans?’ the admiral had asked him. ‘Trouble follows you, lad.’ Lee’s smile became soft laughter and he opened his eyes to see the Air Force lieutenant sitting next to him gazing at him curiously. “Just a family joke, Lieutenant,” was all he said and then he closed his eyes and slept.  

 

***My Uncle Henry and Aunt Helen Eckroat had a farm in Jones, Oklahoma. It was the farm that had been worked for several generations. His cousin, Ted has a farm nearby that his son works these days. I drove Henry crazy when I was little, getting into things I shouldn’t and generally being a trouble magnet. I scraped myself up on the hay baler, got bitten by Grandma Eckroat’s dog, chased by geese and roosters, and broke my arm falling off a horse…. 

Sadly, Henry died in a car wreck in the early sixties in Mississippi (on the way to a family reunion) along with his daughter, son-in-law and grandbaby. Helen (my dad’s sister) barely survived the accident and later married Henry’s cousin. Ted kept Henry’s farm in the family, working both of the farms. Helen died six years ago. I miss her and Henry very much. After visiting with Ted last week (who only last year had to quit working the farm), I decided this little story would be my next dues offering as a tribute to all of them. I hope you like it….)

 

 

 

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