She was alone…alone for the first time in twenty-seven years. Sitting on the deck, just off the great room, a highball glass of scotch and soda in her hand, she gazed out over the ocean, seeing but not wanting to see. The noise of the activities going behind her inside the house were muted…almost as if in a distance and somewhere deep within her mind, she knew they were real, yet she hoped and prayed they weren’t.
The emergency crew had come when she’d called…it was standard procedure even though she knew it was futile. He was gone. And this time, no one or nothing could ever bring him back to her.
She’d awakened with a start…feeling both cold and lonely all at once. Her consciousness had brought about the realization of his silent, peaceful passing. They’d made love the night before. Slowly, tenderly…and afterward, he’d thanked her for giving him the most precious gifts he’d ever known. Herself, her daughter, and their son. He’d held her until she’d drifted off and then, seeing that all was well and good, drifted off into an eternal sleep.
She heard the latch of the door quietly open and a man’s footsteps come quietly across the flooring. Slowly turning, she looked into the sad face of Dr. Frank Lerner, one of the former corpsmen who’d served aboard the Seaview under Dr. Will Jamison. He didn’t have to say anything…she knew.
Just above a whisper, she stated, “He’s gone, isn’t he?”
Frank searched the older woman’s sad brown eyes for the right words to say. He’d been aboard the great boat when she’d first made her appearance as a mission specialist and had seen her and the Admiral through all kinds of incidents and mishaps, things that finally culminated in their marriage. He’d been there for the birth of their son, Sean, during the Rodriguez drug cartel affair. Now, he had to confirm to her what she already knew - that her husband, Admiral Harriman Nelson, was dead.
Slowly, he nodded. “Yes, ma’am…he is. I’m sorry…I’m so sorry.”
Her eyes diverted from Lerner’s to some point on the ocean’s horizon. Her breathing slowed as the painful words sunk into her consciousness. Moments later, her gaze shifted back to Frank. “Find Sean and Caitlin for me, Frank.”
“Yes, ma’am…” he told her, his heart aching for this woman whom he so admired. “Admiral and Mrs. Crane should be here shortly. I called them as soon as you called in. Commander Chin is trying to find Sean now.”
Her hand moved slowly to his and took hold of it. Silently, she held on tightly. Karen Davis Nelson was trying so very hard to keep control of herself. “Captain and Mrs. Morton need to be told,” she whispered. “I need to call Chip…”
“I can do that if you want, Mrs. Nelson…” he offered. He could see how hard she was trying to maintain control. “I’m so sorry…”
She tightened her hand around his as her eyes misted over. “I know.”
There was the muffled noise of the motion going on in the house. Through the windows, she watched as they wheeled his body, now covered by a white sheet, out of the house for the last time. A lump caught in her throat as she watched them leave, knowing that he would never come through the doors again.
Her eyes held Frank’s. “Go on…I’ll be fine,” she haltingly whispered. “The body’s gone, but he’s in here…” and she touched her heart. “Forever.” Silently, the tears began to fall unashamedly.
“Yes, ma’am.” He stood up and quietly crossed over to the French doors that went back into the Great Room. Just as he walked toward the door, Admiral Lee Crane and his wife, Caitlin Davis Crane, came into the house, and moved to the deck.
Both were wearing somber expressions as they met the Institute’s new CMO. “Frank, what happened?” inquired the tall, gaunt dark haired man.
“It was very quiet, from what I can ascertain, sir. In his sleep. Mrs. Nelson called it in about 0330. She said he seemed fine last night…a little tired, but that’s to be expected of a man who was 86.”
“Frank, how’s Mom?” asked Caitlin Crane, her blue eyes bloodshot and swollen from crying.
“Your mother…is your mother, Caitlin. She’s in shock, in a way and yet she’s as strong as ever. You, better than anyone, know how close she and the Admiral were.” The doctor slightly smiled. “After all, you were the one who brought them together.”
Caitlin looked up at her husband, his face sad from the knowledge that he’d lost his best friend and mentor. Squeezing his arm, she said, “I’d better go to Mom…”
He patted her hand, reassuring her it would be all right. “Okay. I’ll see what I can do to get up with Sean…”
Lerner shook his head. “Commander Chin’s already working on that, sir. I think he’s out at sea…on the Wyoming, if memory serves me correctly.”
“If she’s submerged, it may take a while before he finds out. I’m sure, however, as soon as her skipper is notified, he’ll release Sean. I’ll make arrangements to have one of the Flying Subs bring him home.” Crane looked out on the deck at his wife embracing her mother. It just didn’t seem possible but he knew that sadly, it was. Turning his attentions back to the CMO, he asked, “Do you have any idea what caused it, Frank?”
“My best guess is a massive coronary. However, we won’t know for sure until a thorough exam is done.” The two men stood in silence, observing the two women outside. “You know, sir, the best thing that ever happened to the Admiral was the Captain. She made all the difference in the world for him.”
Lee chuckled slightly. “I think you may very well be right, Frank. She’s the only one…besides Cathy…that I ever knew of that could really deal with him as an equal. Cathy was like a daughter to him…and she looked on him like she did her own father. But Karen…Karen took him on as an absolute equal.”
“Yes, sir…and you know…” and Lerner smiled. “Somehow, I don’t think he would have had it any other way.”
Lee smiled sadly, “Hmmmm, he had a hard time adjusting to it at first, Frank. He wasn’t used to that sort of thing. But she didn’t flinch…she took him on on her terms, not his. And in the end, they both won.”
“Yes, sir, and so did you.”
Lee snorted. “You have no idea how true that statement is. And in more ways than one.” He sighed just a bit. “This is the second time she’s been through this. And yet, you know, she’s going to be lost without him. For all her independent ways…”
Lerner looked at his former captain. Time had weathered him well. They had all lost something today…something and someone dear to each of them. “I agree but something tells me that Mrs. Nelson will survive, no matter what.”
Her mind was in a fog. Things seemed to move in slow motion now. God, she felt old. So very old. They’d come and gone now. For the first time in hours, since it happened, she was finally alone. All she wanted was some time to herself, to be able to catch her breath. To fully comprehend what had happened and what it meant to her…and maybe to finally give way to the tears that tore at her to come forth. Yet, she was still numb. She’d had to be the pillar of strength for everyone and, yet, all she wanted was to just simply be left alone so she could grieve. He was gone. No more would he ever surround her with his arms. Never again would she feel his lips on hers.
God, I don’t think I can do this again. Oh, God…why??? I just can’t…not again.
Karen slowly walked into his study and stood, taking it all in. How many times had she quietly walked in here and found him working away, late into the night, on one thing or another, oblivious to any and all? Quietly, she moved to the desk and sat down in the large leather chair behind the massive desk. The chair had molded to his body after years of use and it was here that she would come when she needed to be near him when he wasn’t there. It had been his sanctuary from his office and the boat, and now, it became hers. As she sat back slowly in the chair and let it envelope her, the faint scent of his favorite aftershave invaded her being and the first vestiges of tears began to fall.
“Oh, Harriman…you’ve only been gone for a few hours and it already feels like an eternity.” Her eyes searched the room, trying to focus on articles of his that he loved so much. “I’ve got to call Jiggs…you know he’s not going to like this, Harry.” She smiled through her drying tears. “He’s going to cuss you up one side and down the other, you know that. He never was one to let you get one up on him…”
Taking a deep breath, she slowly reached for the telephone and dialed a number in San Diego. There were a couple of rings and then a man answered.
Karen swallowed and tried to keep her voice steady. “Jiggs? This is Karen Nelson.”
A voice, gruff but older, boomed across the miles. “Captain Davis, what the hell are you doing calling here at this time of morning? Where the hell is Harriman?”
Her voice because softer as she struggled for the words. “Jiggs…”
He caught the hesitation in her voice. “Karen? What’s wrong? Where’s Harriman?”
“He’s…he’s…gone, Jiggs.” She was struggling to keep her voice from breaking.
“What the hell do you mean, he’s gone?”
“Please…this is hard enough. He, ah…” and she drew a sharp breath before continuing, “died this morning…about 0300…from what Frank Lerner has been able to ascertain.”
There was a long silence between them. Though Admiral Jiggs Starke had initially opposed Harriman Nelson’s hiring of this woman as the head of the Institute’s Deep Water Dive team, he came to secretly admire her for both her ability and for her love of his old friend. He’d had to finally admit that she’d been good for Nelson, giving him the one thing that had eluded him for a good part of his life…love and a family.
“He’s…dead? Karen…are you telling me that Harriman’s died?” The tone of his voice was now both sad and angry.
“Yes, Jiggs…he is. I woke up and found him. He died peacefully…in his sleep,” she told him.
There were moments more of silence, and then Starke’s voice boomed across the miles, “Goddamn him!!!! The sonofabitch took the trip without me!” Another few moments of quiet passed before he spoke again. This time, however, his voice was calmer. “Are you okay, Karen? Do you need anything? I mean, I can send one of the girls up…or I can come myself…that is…if you can put up with a stubborn old man.”
Finally, she could hold back no longer and she softly cried into the phone. “I…I…I don’t know what…to do, Jiggs. I…”
“Karen Nelson…” he tried to bluster, “Don’t you dare do a thing until I get there…is that clear? What about Sean and Caitlin? Have they been told?”
“Caitlin and Lee were here earlier. They’re trying to find Sean now,” she quietly told him. “He’s out at sea…on the Wyoming. The last we heard, they were heading out for deep water.”
“Well, I’ll climb up somebody’s ass if they don’t get him back there,” he thundered. “Don’t worry, Karen. He’ll be there. I’ll make damn sure of that!”
“Thank you, Jiggs.” She composed herself and then told him, “I just wanted you to know…he was happy, Jiggs. I think he was really happy and at peace at the end.”
And then he said something to her that made her smile through all the tears. “Karen, believe it or not, Harriman came alive the moment he met you all those years ago. After Katherine’s death…he closed off, pulled inside himself. I know you know about her; Harriman told me he’d discussed it with you. But you didn’t know him then. He was bitter…angry… Angry with himself for what he thought was his fault…that his actions caused her death. But he was wrong. As bad as it was…Katherine was the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time. They didn’t care. At that time period…the world…was a different place. They would have killed him if he’d been there, but she was the one they found. And the agent was a rogue…someone who didn’t care. Used to be…there was unwritten ‘code’ in certain things. This man violated every thing feasible to get back at Harriman.”
“Jiggs, I know all of that…” she gently interjected.
“Yes…I know you do. But what you don’t know…is that for a long, long time, Harriman refused to get close to anyone…and I do mean anyone. I think he feared that if he did, they’d be hurt just like Katherine was. He deliberately kept his sister at arm’s length; what few real close friends he had…you could probably count on one hand. Me…Rennalt…Crane, Morton, Chief Sharkey.” He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “And then you came into his life. Whether you believe this or not…you had him from the moment he set eyes on you. You brought an unpredictability…to his life. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of you. Oh…he knew you were qualified for what he wanted – he wouldn’t have hired you if you hadn’t been. But the longer he was around you, the more he found he couldn’t stay behind that wall.” Starke coughed and then, “Sorry…forgive an old man.”
She was clearly touched by his words and glad, in a way, that he couldn’t see how they were affecting her. “Jiggs…what am I going to do…without him?”
“You’re going to go on, Karen,” he staunchly told her. “He was so proud of you…of the son you gave him…and of your daughter. You’re going to go on and live…just as he would want you to do. That’s what you’re going to do.”
The older man’s words sunk deep into her heart. She knew what he said was true. Harriman would want her to go on with her life and to continue the job he had started those many years ago. A job, a life…she had become so much a very integral part of. Somewhere in all the words, she suddenly found an inner strength and peace. He had left her everything…everything that truly mattered. His heart…his life…and his work. And it was now her responsibility to see it all continued.
“You’re right, Jiggs. I guess…I do have a lot to do.” She sighed just a bit as she absentmindedly fingered through the papers on his desk. “I’ll call you as soon as all the arrangements have been finalized. I want…” and then her voice softened, “I need for you to come…if you can.”
There was a sudden tenderness in his voice. “You can damn sure bet I’ll be there, Karen. Whatever you need, or want…you pick up the phone and call, understand? I’ll be up there later on today.” And then there was a humorous gruffness as he grumbled. “Got to get one of the girls to bring me up…goddamn doctor won’t let me drive anymore.”
She smiled though her tears as she gazed up at a picture of Harriman Nelson and Jiggs Starke, taken oh so long ago. “Getting old’s a pain in the ass, isn’t it?”
“Damn right it is!” he agreed and then gently added, “He took it better than me, you know. Couldn’t tie him down or stop him. Now…” and his voice hardened, “I’ll make some calls…get that son of yours back to you ASAP. And there’ll be other arrangements that need to be made. People to be notified.” There was a slight grunt. “Humph! I can hear him now, raising hell that he doesn’t want any big fanfare…but you know, it’s what he deserves.”
“I know that, Jiggs…but if we do…it’ll be done in moderation. Lee’s going to call the CNO and the SecNav, as well as the White House for me. Then there’s as many of Seaview’s crew that can be found. The HR office here will handle that. Some of the men stayed in the area after they retired from the boat,” she told him as she suddenly found a sealed envelope with her name written in Harry’s hand. Turning it over, she found it’d been sealed with some old-fashioned sealing wax and embossed with an N.
“Good…I’ll handle some things here before I come up. Now…you listen to me, Captain Davis…” he blustered. “Get some rest. These next few days will be hard.”
“Yes, sir,” she quietly replied. “I hear you…and thank you.” And then she hung up the phone as she stared at the sealed letter in front of her. Slowly, she took a pewter letter opener from the main drawer and opened the envelope. Quietly, she started to read…and as she did, the tears flowed freely down her cheeks…
My dearest Karen,
Somehow I feel this will be the last letter I will ever write to you. Something tells me my time on this earth is drawing to a close. I feel so old and tired…so very tired now for some reason. However, I wanted to take this time to tell you how much I love you and that love, above all else, will transcend time and space – it will remain eternal. Always remember one thing, Karen – I will always love you. You have filled my life with happiness and love. You gave me a son and your daughter has been the daughter I wish I could have had myself. But most of all… you gave me yourself…and for that I am forever thankful and blessed.
I’m sorry to have to leave you with all this unfinished work but it should help keep you occupied. Somehow, I don’t think you’re going to sit and stay silent for too long…not you, Karen. You were never the type who could be still – or quiet, for that matter. You have way too much life to ever do that.
You know, I have few regrets in my life. I’ve certainly made my mistakes and paid dearly for them. But I also realize that I’ve been very fortunate to have been blessed with a full life – one that you helped made possible.
I’ll always be with you, Karen. Just call me and I’ll be there…maybe not physically as I know you would like, but I promise you…I’ll be with you. I want you to remember all the good times we had and be mindful to take the stormy ones in stride. I hope I was as successful in fulfilling your life as you most certainly did mine.
I know you, Karen… go ahead and cry. It’s all right. Cry and then move on. This is my last order to you, Captain Davis. Make sure you follow it…to the absolute letter (tho you and I know that you always did have a problem with that, didn’t you?). Do what you need to do and then move on. Don’t dwell on this moment too long.
I’m tired now…and you’re upstairs waiting. Remember I love you and always will. Good night my love, my wife.
day, in the early afternoon, the telephone rang in the great home on the knoll. Karen stood in their bedroom, gazing out
the window that overlooked the blue Pacific Ocean.
She didn't want to answer it - she was tired of talking, tired of saying
whispered but controlled 'thank you' to those well meaning friends who called to
offer their condolences. She knew
she had to send his dress blue uniform and the rest of his clothes to the
funeral home, but she just hadn't found the strength to be been able to face it.
Finally, the phone stopped ringing. She supposed that someone downstairs had picked it up and was accepting the kind words, telling the caller that Mrs. Nelson wasn't available to take the call. So, when Caitlin appeared at the door to the bedroom with the portable phone in her hand, she was mildly annoyed.
"I can't, Caitlin, not right now," she whispered, the strain of the day already showing in both her voice and her face.
"I think you might want to take this one, Mom," her daughter held out the phone, her own eyes saddened and tired.
"No ... I ..."
"Mom…" and the expression changed to one of great sadness. "It's Michael. He just found out." She handed her mother the portable and quietly slipped from the room.
Karen hesitated a moment or two, not sure if she really had the strength to take this particular call. Her energy was drained and her mind, well, that was in a different place as was her heart. Finally, as if by some invisible impulse, she finally put the phone to her ear.
"Karen?" he quietly called out, his voice as soft and mellow as always, a hint of accent transcending the airways.
"I'm here, Michael,” she strained to remain in control.
"I heard…just a few minutes ago. Is there anything you want…or need?"
Her eyes blurred as she clutched the letter he’d written her and thought back on a few hours ago. "What I want, what I need, you can't give me, Michael…you can’t bring him back.”
The other end of the line went silent as she cried and then dropped the receiver to the floor, finally giving into the pain of losing the man she loved so very much.
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