"Il Diavolo Fa le Pentole Ma Non i Coperchi"
By Helen H.
"Bring her in soft, Mr. McNally. Sorry, Admiral, I didn't catch that."
They were picking up a stiff breeze coming off the shore, and Lee Crane hadn't heard the comment Admiral Nelson murmured as they stood together on the flying bridge of Seaview. Then again, based on the admiral's languid smile, maybe nobody was supposed to hear it. The closer they got to their destination the more the admiral's face lost the tension lines it had carried over the last few days. Lee fervently hoped this meant the crew was going to get a respite from whatever was bugging the OOM.
Directing their arrival was Lieutenant McNally, the Officer of the Day, doing a good job of it so far. The XO, Chip Morton, was checking that the deck crew was in place. Lee moved around the OOD to make sure he'd hear Nelson's words this time.
The admiral lowered his binoculars and leaned over the top of the flying bridge. A sudden gust of wind almost lifted his cover off his head, and he clamped a hand down on the crown to keep it tethered.
"I was just saying how beautiful the Italian coastline is. See the ruins of the temple on the mountain above the town? The Romans knew a good thing when they saw it, too. Wouldn't you agree, Lee?"
"Not a usual destination for the Seaview, Admiral," the submarine's commanding officer said. "But I definitely agree." His thoughts about the wisdom of this visit were disappearing.
Off the starboard side was the city of Pendio, a coastal commune south of Rome. Somehow the local authorities had found out that Seaview was making a transit of the Mediterranean and invited Nelson and his crew to make a port call, going so far as to truck in a temporary dock, which now squatted in the middle of the small harbor. To everyone's great surprise the admiral had accepted.
Pendio was one of those cities made for a picture postcard. A crescent of white sand formed a barrier to the sea, outlined by soaring sentinel palms along the raised boardwalk. Olive trees dotted the hills behind the town. Multi-storied apartment buildings and houses ranged up from the beach, clusters of flowers in boxes and pots at every window. Fishing boats painted in many colors bobbed at their moorings next to the small jetty jutting into the water. A quickening wind coming down from the north was bringing the scent of freesia and orange tree flowers. It was the middle of the afternoon and the sand and the houses glistened in the sun. The marigold light cast a glow on the rooftops, a landscape for a painter's eye.
"Have you been here before, sir?" Nelson turned in Lee's direction but it was obvious he hadn't heard the question. Lee waited for a few seconds and tried again. "Sir? Have you been here before?"
Snorting a small laugh, Nelson said, "Sorry, lad. Not this particular town, no. I was thinking back to a visit I made to Naples not long after the end of the war. They used submarine officers for a bit of everything in those days, and I was not happy to be assigned, even temporarily, to AMG Headquarters, especially since it was almost impossible to get around. The damage from the Allied bombing raids had reduced most of the area to rubble. So since I was billeted not very far away I took to walking back and forth to HQ. My estimation of the place and its people rose considerably as every day brought order out of chaos. Didn't matter if half the side of a house was gone, the inhabitants shored it up and planted climbing roses. There were pocket-sized gardens on every corner, filled with the most amazing flowers, and tended to by Italians of all ages. Just now, it was coming back to me, memories of the place. The first thing visitors noticed was the heat and humidity. And that was followed by the wonderful smell."
"If this particular town got beaten up during the war, they've done a great job of rebuilding, sir."
"Yes, quite the transformation. I'm pleased to see it. Life triumphing through the ruins. Good thing I'm not nostalgic."
Lee busied himself with the binoculars. Easier to hide a smile behind a pair of field glasses.
Chip joined them. Lee glanced at the young lieutenant giving orders and then spoke to his XO. "McNally's doing just fine, I'd say."
"We'll make it without taking off a layer of paint," Chip responded, feigning a swipe across his brow.
Lee's smile got wider as the view in his binoculars got closer. "I already like our welcoming committee," he said, grinning at the cluster of young women greeting the arrival of the submarine. Besides the women the mayor - for he must have been the mayor, with the huge sash and rosette covering his chest - and other burgesses of the city stood in front of a substantial crowd. The townspeople were waving handkerchiefs, hats, and American flags.
"Yeah, gotta love a welcoming committee," Chip echoed, his eyebrows drawing together. "Especially one with a bunch of civilians standing on a floating 2x4."
"You might want to say something to them, Lee," Nelson said.
Letting the binoculars fall on his chest Lee leaned over and yelled, "Indietro, per favore!" accompanied with a pushing motion of his hands.
The mayor acknowledged the request with a wave. Spinning around he made pushing motions of his own, and everyone shuffled down the pier and away from where Seaview would need to come to rest. The submarine edged past the line of people like a subway car, barely making headway. The deck crew threw the heavy lines overboard and men on the dock made the lines fast to the bollards. Seaview shuddered, rolled a few yards forward and then was still.
"Well done, Mr. McNally."
"Thank you, Captain."
Lee turned away to allow the young lieutenant's color to come back into his face and caught Chip's attention. "Chip, I'd like to see the liberty list before we let the crew off."
"Aye, sir, I have it on the charting table," Chip said, heading below.
The instant the brow slapped on the deck the mayor and his party came aboard. There hadn't been time to come off the sail, so the mayor squinted up into the sun while everyone else stared down.
"Signori! Who do I have the honor of addressing?"
Lee pointed to the admiral. "Admiral Harriman Nelson, Eccellenza. And I am Captain Crane."
The mayor bowed to each in turn. "Ammiraglio, Capitano, benvenuti in Pendio! I welcome you and your very large submarine to our 'umble city!"
Lee looked at the admiral, who indicated he should take charge. "Grazie, Eccellenza! With your permission I'd like to send our crew on liberty."
"Of course, of course. Admiral, Captain, you will honor us with your own visit? I have a car waiting!"
"We will join you shortly, after the men go ashore. But first, the liberty list," Lee said in an undertone as he turned to head below. He was stopped by the admiral's staying hand.
"You do the honors, you and Chip, lad. I've got work to do in my lab, can't take the time off."
The admiral's face flushed and for a second Lee thought he'd get another blast of the famous Nelson temper. Then Nelson seemed to catch himself up, and the moment passed.
"Now, Lee, you know how much I hate these things. Explain to the mayor and the rest of them I'm indisposed or something."
Lee suspected he knew why Admiral Nelson was in a funk lately. But to reveal his personal life Nelson would have to admit he had one.
"He'll want something in return - a visit to the boat."
"Fine. You can show him around tomorrow." He hesitated, then added, "I wouldn't be good company, Lee."
So he was aware of the mood he'd been in, too. "Alright, sir. I'll take care of it, Admiral."
Lee entered the control room past crewmen hurrying to change out of their dungarees. Chip presented the clipboard to him with the mimeographed list. A quick look at the names and Lee frowned.
"Kowalski and Patterson… together. And Curley sick in quarters. Let's talk to this section before they go anywhere."
The objects of this attention were busy in their own way...
"Kowalski, I swear, if you don't stop messing with your hair we're not gonna make it to Liberty!"
"Shaddup, Patterson, it's gotta be just right." The comb went forward with a little twist just at the end.
"You take much longer getting it 'just right' and Chief Jones will find a way to keep us on board! I still can't figure out how we're not in the duty section. When the Chief slipped and wrecked his ankle he must not of been feelin' right when he made up the chit. How lucky can a guy get?"
"Never mind about him. I ain't afraid of Jonesy."
"He hears you say that and you'll be pulling kitchen duty for a month!"
Kowalski swept his hand over his hair one more time, watching himself in the mirror. Satisfied, he stuck the comb in the pocket of his bellbottoms and leaned backward, throwing out his arms.
"You're worse than any woman I've ever seen," Patterson said. "You're wearing your Dixie Cup anyway, so what's the use?"
"My hair won't dare get messed up under that bucket. Besides, it's because of the ladies I gotta look my best, pal."
"Whatever you say. You done yet?"
'Ski tugged on his neckerchief and straightened the square knot. "Uniform, check, hair, check. Let's hit the beach. Italy liberty, Pat! Italian women!"
A dreamy look came into Patterson's eyes. "Yeah... Italian women..." The look was replaced by one of confusion. "Wait... I don't speak Italian!"
Kowalski rounded on him, shaking his head. "If we needed to speak the local lingo we'd be in big trouble. Look, here's all you need to know. Just keep saying Bellissima over and over. They'll eat it up."
"That's it? 'Ski, you're a genius!"
"Don't I know it. Geez, Pat, you're a mess as usual." Kowalski swung Patterson around and brushed off the back of his jumper, then thumped him between the shoulder blades, practically knocking him out of the hatch. "C'mon, can't be late for muster. I'll teach you some more Italian on the way!"
They made it to the missile room with seconds to spare, the captain and XO turning the corner just as the two best friends stepped through the hatch and came to attention with the rest of the section going ashore. Captain Crane strode to the front of the space and turned to face the men, his eyes looking over each one of them in turn.
"I won't keep you long. I just want all of you to remember that this is our first visit to Pendio, and we want it to be memorable - for all the right reasons. Chief Jones is on limited duty because of his accident and won't be going ashore. I doubt he's very happy about that. I would hate like hell to send him after any one of you. And I'm very sure none of you would like it much either." His eyes made one more sweep and seemed to linger infinitesimally on the two friends then he said, "Dismissed."
Kowalski and Patterson wasted no time in heading for the hatch, Kowalski's long strides leading the way. Struggling to keep up, Patterson said, "'Ski, how come every time we get the chance to hit the beach the Skipper always seems to be talkin' right at you?"
"He knows somebody has to keep you in line, Patterson. Hurry up, will ya?"