The Rally

By sherlockette

 

Thanks again to my special beta ;-)

 

Two days off with no responsibilities, no worries. Even the admiral is going to get away. Hes visiting a friend in San Francisco .

As he listened to Lee Crane, captain of the splendid submarine Seaview, Chip Morton couldnt help but grin. Lees long time friend and Seaviews executive officer was keenly aware that neither Crane nor the subs designer, Admiral Harriman Nelson, ever left the responsibilities of the Nelson Institute or Seaview for very long. At least not of their own volition. In fact, self-imposed R and R was such a rare event for his CO, when Lee had made plans to participate in a British car show and road rally near the town of Visalia in California s central valley and invited him along, Chip had joked that the trip had to be a cover for another ONI mission. Lee had quickly dispelled that notion by explaining that he had been thinking of selling his seldom-driven AC Cobra sports car and the show would allow him to display it and get an idea of its true value. Though Lees reason seemed plausible, Chip knew that after Seaviews last mission both of them badly needed a distraction so he had eagerly agreed to accompany his friend.

Out of the corner of his eye, Lee caught Chips amused expression and cocked an inquisitive brow. The blond shrugged innocently then turned away as if to look at the scenery before letting out a loud chuckle. Lee responded with a broad smile of his own then steered his car onto the ramp of the I-5 and merged into traffic. With a good two-hour drive ahead before the turn-off he leaned back and soon became lost in his own thoughts.

Though he seldom had problems while in port, in recent days Lee had found it increasingly difficult to sleep. Vivid images of insects and the smell of resin had permeated his dreams and on several occasion he had awakened to find his pillow saturated with sweat. Throwing himself into the details of the next cruise and exercising several times each day had done nothing to alleviate the problem so when he found a brochure for the show and rally on his car seat, he jumped at the opportunity to spend time in the wide-open spaces. Unfortunately, so far he had been unable to banish thoughts of their recent mission and for nearly an hour he rehashed the details in his head.  When he caught himself grimacing, he glanced over at his friend of many years. It was obvious the blond had noticed his pained expression but before Chip could ask what was bothering him, Lee rattled off a short history of the Cobra automobile.

Carroll Shelby visited AC Motors looking for a car to compete with the Ferrari on the racing circuit. After trying out various Ford engines in the AC he only managed to beat out the Corvette but he did begin to develop the Cobra as a brand. He was still driven to beat the Ferraris so he continued to work with Ford trying various existing engines. Secretly he convinced Ford to work with him to design a small block high performance V-8 that fit into a slightly modified AC body. That model ended up winning some notable races but Shelby kept tinkering with the design. In addition to Shelby s racing cars, Ford also produced engines and chassis for street ready 427 Cobras like this one. As of now its still considered a British car, but from what I hear, Carroll Shelby and AC are in litigation over the Cobra naming rights.

Chip nodded his appreciation for the lesson. Cant say Ive ever really thought about buying a sports car. Rather have something with more head and leg room.

Lee pointed up. Lot s of head room in this.

Yeah, if you dont mind being cold or soaked on occasion.

You work in a sub. You should be used to it!

Exactly. I spend enough time trying to keep the water out of her. Why would I want to do it when Im on leave?

Hah. Good point.

Itll be interesting to see some of the oldest models. They give you some perspective on how advanced construction materials have become.  

Hmmm. Maybe someday cars will have domes of herculite. It would be great for visibility.

And wreak havoc on teen dating life! Chip cackled.

Something you want to tell me?

Nope. Chip quickly changed the subject. When was the last time you went to a car show?

Most of the cars became antiques since my last trip, Lee replied with a toothy smile. Now, about those dates

The two old friends continued their light-hearted banter until they spied the sign for their exit. As they made the turn onto state highway 198 headed east they were nearly blinded by the brilliant morning sun. Both men immediately slipped on sunglasses and Chip also donned a large brimmed ball cap to protect his fair features. 198 should take us all the way through. Looks like its going to be a hot one, he announced before settling back in his seat.

Suddenly, the roar of several high performance aircraft practically engulfed the pair.  As Chip cringed and covered his recently injured ears, Lee scrutinized the aircrafts markings. NAS Lemoores just ahead, he shouted. I forgot this was airedale territory. The thunder from the jets had barely subsided when Lee glanced at his rear-view mirror and caught sight of a dark green sports car, closing fast. Within seconds a fifties model Aston-Martin driven by a forties model man pulled up behind them. When the motorist signaled his intent to pass, Lee slowed and waved him around then with little apparent effort both car and driver disappeared out of sight.

You know the saying about boys and their toys, quipped the blond officer.

Lee laughed out loud at the irony of Chips comment and the XO quickly joined him. Both could recall more than a few instances where they had shown off their own mechanical marvels, the Seaview and the Flying Sub.

Over the next several miles the Cobra was joined by two black MGB roadsters, a bright blue Sunbeam Alpine, an orange Triumph and a truck with a trailer that carried a slate gray Morris Oxford. The latter, a boxy saloon car, was a rare sight in the U.S and drew curious glances from local farmhands and drivers alike. The informal caravan soon made its way to the eastern outskirts of Visalia and as they passed the show grounds the Alpine and the truck towing the trailer turned off. The Cobra, along with the remaining cars, continued east, headed for the hotel that would serve as the start and finish lines for the road event.     

As he pulled his car into the parking lot, Lee was impressed by the wide variety of makes and models and the kaleidoscope of paint colors represented. It was also hard to miss the equally colorful group of drivers of all ages milling around them. Already lined up to receive their rally packets were two Austin-Healeys, nearly a dozen MGs and Triumphs and one BMC Mini. Lee joined the queue and remained with the car while Chip went inside the hotel to register. Once he returned and buckled up, Lee handed him the envelope bearing the rally rules and a general map of the course.

Chip quickly glanced over the paperwork. Like they advertised, its a poker rally through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and Sequoia National Forest . All we need to do is stop at each of the five checkpoints and pick up a playing card. Best hand at the end of the day wins.

Lee looked on with amusement as his exec reached behind the seat and pulled out a more detailed road map of the park and eagerly unfolded it.

Chip caught Lees expression. Hey, this is the best part! he scolded as he shoved the map in front of his captain. Sounding much like a tour guide, he then pointed out each of the rally checkpoints and described each in detail. The magnificent Tunnel Log is our first stop. The massive tree fell without any human witnesses in 1937. Maintenance crews cut out a big chunk so they could get to work but the tourists fell in love with it so they kept it. The rally sponsors will be taking pictures as each car drives through and photos of same may be purchased tomorrow at the show for a nominal fee. The next stop is just up the road from there. The General Sherman Tree is one of the largest and oldest living things on the planet. Of course, thats by their standards, not ours. Next stop is way up at the Redwood Mountain Overlook where we will see the largest remaining grove of sequoias in the world. Not far beyond that is whats left from early logging operations of the Smith Comstock Lumber Mill. The huge trees were milled into stakes and fence posts for local vineyards. Of course, some might say that is a lot like chopping down the Charter Oak to make a box of toothpicks. Its now called the Big Stump Basin for obvious reasons. Our last stop is at the Green Creek Diner in Badger. It is guaranteed to have the worlds best hot dogs. 

Ill let you test that one.

Gladly. Oh, and last but not least, the total distance is ninety-two miles and a lot of steep curves mean well use a lot of gas. Since there are no fuel stops in the parks they advise that we fill up in Three Rivers.

Lee nodded. Lets get started so we can be through well before dark.

Chip reached into the envelope and pulled out a souvenir key fob and snapped the chain around the rearview mirror. The Sherman Tree or bust! he chuckled.

****

Situated just a few miles from the southern entrance to Sequoia National Park , the town of Three Rivers received its name from the forks of the Kaweah River that coursed through it. Though parts were rustic in appearance there were also several gasoline depots large enough to accommodate RVs. The residents were used to the influx of summer visitors so when they were invaded by an early morning swarm of British marques, few blinked an eye.  

Lee pulled into one of the stations along Sierra Drive and both men climbed out to stretch their legs. Chip volunteered to fuel up and went inside to pay while Lee checked the oil level. He was about to lower the hood when he heard a familiar voice behind him.

I thought you bubbleheads were too busy saving the oceans to fraternize with the likes of us.

Lee grinned broadly as he turned to face the man who had taught him to fly jets, and who had test flown the flying sub before it was put into service, naval Captain Todd Gurley. He greeted his friend warmly before returning the barb. At least we have good manners. Your boys tried to give us a shave and a haircut without asking, he said with a grin. So what brings you here?

The rally, but Trudys piloting this trip. She bought and restored an old MGA and wanted to stretch its legs. I see you still have the Cobra.

For now, but I might be selling. Chips here with me. Hell be glad to see

Excuse me, please! Excuse me!

The men turned towards the voice and caught sight of a petite thirty-something woman with a toddler in her arms headed their way. While struggling to remain calm and control her squirming child, she asked the men for assistance. Please tell me youve seen an older man, about five foot eight, gray crew cut, in overalls?

Im afraid not, maam, replied Gurley. We havent been here long, though. Is there something we can do?

The woman let out a sob. Its my dad. He has a touch of senility and wanders sometimes. Hes always found his way back, but this isnt home and Im afraid hes lost or hurt. In an attempt to gain her composure the woman looked around at everything except the men in front of her. We, my husband and I, decided to camp for the weekend and brought him along on our trip. We thought some time outside would do him good and we wouldnt think of leaving him home alone.

Im Lee Crane and this is Todd Gurley, Lee said quietly. And you are

Its Beckley , Ronda Beckley.

Mrs. Beckley, well try and help out. Could you tell us where he was when you last saw him?

Our camper is around the corner next to the river, she explained as she shifted her child to the other arm. When we woke up this morning he was gone. Its been hours and we cant find him anywhere. We checked the campground and my husband is looking along the river. He sent me for help.

Chip and Trudy Gurley were leaving the store together when they caught sight of the developing scene. After they were brought up to speed Chip whispered his plan to Lee then left to grab one of the tourist maps that he had seen in the shop. Trudy immediately stepped in and offered the woman a few supportive words before taking the child from her arms and rocking him gently to soothe his cries. Lets go over to that small picnic area and talk.

When the party arrived Lee took a seat directly across the table from the distraught woman. Please, tell me about you father, he requested gently.  

Beckley appeared surprised by the question.

No, really, I would like to know about himwhatever you can tell me.

After a brief hesitation the woman provided a description of the mans infirmities as if they were him. Lee listened patiently but once she finished he pushed for more specific information about the man, his life, his family and his interests. Please, Mrs. Beckley, its important.

When Chip returned, Todd pulled him aside. Whys he so interested in his life story?

Though he thought he knew, Chip didnt feel at liberty to share details of Lees past. Lets hear him out, he said with a shrug.

A few years ago he started to become forgetful, she said with a sigh. When Mom died suddenly he moved in with us.

Though she didnt know why she trusted these total strangers, Ronda Beckley went on to describe a man who was born in poverty, was a veteran of World War II, a loving and doting father and wonderful husband. Loyal to a fault, he was always doing things for others, from repairing their cars or fences to digging wells. Hes never been a church-going man but hes lived a good life. And I love andthis is hard to say, I really miss him.

I understand. As Lee had suspected, Bill Harper was very much like John Gardiner his own maternal grandfather; a once vital man with whom he had spent several summers and whose light had faded away long before he died at the age of sixty-three. I think he may have seen something around here that drew his interest. Did he get agitated or overly excited about or something yesterday?

The woman shook her head. Not that I remember. We drove up yesterday morning. Mostly we hung around the camp, but we made a couple of visits to the store for some cold drinks. Last night we stayed up late and watched the stars.

Hmmm. Theres one other thing. Does your father have any recognizable features? Maybe a scar, or a tattoo?

Yes, as a matter of fact. He calls it a war eagle. Its on his right forearm. His entire platoon got them.

Thats good to know.

Lee motioned the officers over. Chip, what did you find on the map?

Just a lot of campgrounds, cabins and lodges and about ten restaurants and a couple of schools. There are no historic sites or markers in town. Its the river that seems to be the big attraction.

Why dont you try and recruit some help and check out the river?

On my way.

Todd, could I impose on you to contact the authorities? Im not sure theyll do much since he hasnt been gone long, but its worth a try.  

Absolutely, answered Gurley as he turned to his wife. Do you mind staying with Mrs. Beckley for a little while?

Not at all.

Ill be back, said Lee as he lowered himself into the Cobra. I can cover more ground in the car.

As he scanned both sides of the road for the missing man Lees thoughts soon turned to his childhood and the summers spent with his grandfather. He grinned when he recalled the day he was asked to walk to the neighborhood market and pick up a few groceries. Accustomed to the sheltered life of military bases and only eight years old at the time, he had felt proud to be entrusted with such an important errand. That pride had quickly turned to embarrassment when he discovered he had too little money to pay for everything on his list. Unsure which items were the most important, he had returned to his grandparents house empty-handed. There he had found the older man waiting with a gleam in his eye and several dollar bills in his hand. He had learned a valuable lesson on preparedness and on life outside the military. It was but one of many such gifts from his grandfather.

Thoughts of his market adventure had given Lee an idea and when he spotted a small mom and pop store at the edge of town he decided to stop in. Morning, he said to the young couple manning the counter. Have either of you seen an older man, in overalls, eagle tattoo?

The man peered around Lee. Fancy car you got there. Italian?  

Lee shook his head. Its British-American, actually. Theres a British car show and rally this weekend. About the man

Thats why weve seen a bunch of em over the last few days.

Lee nodded. Im sorry, the man, he could be in danger.

Yeah, yeah, he was here, announced the proprietor as he stood and straightened a display. Early this morning. He picked up a lot of things but didnt buy any.

Did he say anything? Give you an idea where he was going?

He wasnt making a whole lot of sense. When we said we couldnt understand him he turned around and left.

By chance did you see were he went?  

Nope. Got busy bout then.

Thanks for your help.

Lee turned to go but a rack of postcards near the door triggered an image of his grandfather, an avid stamp collector, poring over his albums, his shaky fingers tracing the edges of each pane. He turned back. The post office, is it near here?  

Two blocks east, one block south.

 

****

93271. The single number over the door of the small wood frame building that held the post office was testament to the small size of the community. Hopeful that the close-knit residents that gathered there each morning had seen Harper, Lee stepped inside. The news he received from the clerk and a patron was both good and bad.

Yes, he was here, but its been a couple hours.

Lee grimaced. Did he say anything about where he might be heading? 

He stopped by for his mailbag. Said he was in charge of mail call today. Then he went on and on about his Pullman . There are no passenger trains anywhere around here and we couldnt figure what he meant. We tried to get him to tell us who he was, so we could help him find his folks but he just grumbled and left.

Did you see which direction he went?  

The two women shook their heads.

Thanks. 

Lee was standing on the porch mulling over his next step when he heard the distant roar of jets. At that moment a bright yellow MGB drove past. The couple inside were smiling and laughing, obviously enjoying the car and their time together. Recalling Chips earlier comment about toys he chuckled to himself then stepped down and reached to open his own car door. It suddenly dawned on him that the answer to where the missing man had gone had been right in front of him all along. Toys Thats got to be it!  

 

****

Once Lee arrived at the car show field it was only a matter of minutes before he located Bill Harper. As expected, the older man had his head under the hood of a shiny black Humber Pullman automobile. The cars were commonly used by the British as staff vehicles and limousines during WW II and Lee guessed that Harper had spent time during the war maintaining them. He was sure Harper had demonstrated his knowledge for the owner to have allowed a total stranger to tinker with such a prized possession.

Lee pulled the cars owner aside and after a short conversation he stepped over to the car, reached into the engine compartment and removed the distributor cap to check the points. After making a minor adjustment he wiped a small amount of grease from the outside and the replaced the cap. As he tightened the bolts he glanced over at Harper.

You look like you know a lot about these.

The older man looked up and eyed the tall, dark newcomer then continued with his task. Uh huh. Been stationed here for six months.

Whats your assignment?

Whos askin?  

Names Crane. Im new here.

Generals motor pool. Well, Crane, since youre the new man you can hand me tools and run errands.

Lee hid his grin and stood at his station ready to assist the mechanic.

 

****

Dad!

Ronda Beckley wrapped her arms around Bill Harper and he backed away in confusion. Whoa, lady. No civilians allowed in here.

Beckley cocked her head and looked into the familiar but empty eyes. Dad, its me, Ronda, your daughter. She then pointed to her son, and husband. And James and Timmy. You came with us on a weekend vacation. Were camping at Three Rivers, one of your favorite places.

Harper furrowed his brow and muttered something unintelligible before he turned and walked towards the Humber . Beckley picked up her son and followed then tried gently to coax her father into interacting with the toddler. His expression softened when Timmy reached out and patted his arm. Gram-pa, gram-pa.

As Lee watched the uncomfortable reunion, he couldnt help but feel empathy for Beckley . He admired her patience, something he had learned the hard way. When he was fifteen his grandfather had begun to demonstrate symptoms of memory loss by repeating the same stories he had told not ten minutes before. Though those same tales had mesmerized him when he was younger they didnt have the same impact on an impatient teen and Lee found himself avoiding the man and the storytelling. By his next visit, his grandfather had declined to the point where he could no longer remember where he lived or his family members names. In his regret he vowed to remember patience as his grandfathers last, and greatest, lesson.

Lee walked over to where Chip, the Gurleys and a small group of car owners stood and handed the keys to the Cobra to his blond friend. No need for you to miss out on the ride. You can pick me up here when you get back.

What are you planning to do?

I think I might get him to come around. It just might take awhile.

You sure?

 Lee nodded. Go on and get started.

Okay, Lee, see you later.

The group dispersed, leaving only Lee and the Beckley s behind. Though he didnt say a word it was obvious James Beckley was frustrated with his father-in-law so Lee took him aside and laid out his plan for resolving the situation. When Lee was finished, Beckley even managed to crack a smile. Lee then approached the Humber s owner with his idea. The man was sympathetic, but it took a promise of a tour on Seaview to seal the deal. Finally, Lee walked up to the old mechanic, who was checking the pressure on the left rear tire.

Harper, why dont you and I take a ride and test her out?

 

****

When Lee, Bill Harper and the Beckleys arrived at the south entrance of the Sequoia National Park in the Humber no one was more surprised than Seaviews captain. Nearly thirty British cars flanked the road and at the front of the line was his own Cobra, with his friend and exec at the wheel. Lee pulled up alongside and the two shared grins then Lee offered a smart salute and forged ahead. The remaining cars then pulled in behind and the caravan headed up the mountain.  

Past spectacular scenery and gawking tourists, through multiple switchbacks and up steep inclines the rallyers made their way along the Generals Highway to the Tunnel Log. Once Lee pulled the antique limousine into the opening the Beckleys disembarked and Lee coaxed his front seat passenger out of the vehicle. As if a light had suddenly turned on, Harper broke into a broad grin and walked over and lifted his grandson into his arms. The family of four then stood in front of the car and posed for the photographer.  

Mr. Crane, do you mind being in one with us? asked Ronda Beckley with a smile.

With a nod Lee consented and took his place of honor behind Bill Harper.

 

****

Though it had not turned out quite like he had planned, Lee had thoroughly enjoyed his weekend so when he set out for home he was upbeat. However, once he made the turn on the highway that would lead him into Santa Barbara he was brought back to reality. The harder he tried to convince himself that he was over his last mission, the more he thought about it. When his pulse began to race, he was forced to take several slow deep breaths.

Lee?

Caught off guard, Lee tried to hide his discomfit by tossing out a joke. Chip was not about to fall for the ploy. Maybe you need to talk about it.

Just need to get readjusted to the change in altitude.  

Had he received that explanation from anyone else Chip would have laughed out loud, but he knew any response would push the wrong buttons so he opted to remain silent. That didnt mean he wouldnt keep a close eye on his friend for the weeks to come.

 

Finis

 

 

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