*Thanks to my dear friend Julie for reading this through so hopefully there won’t be any glaring errors.
By Sea Spinner
The man slowed as he hit a fork in the jungle path, not so much because he was unsure of his directions but because of the added burden of weight across his shoulders, making it increasingly hard to move with any speed. It had been easier going after he’d ‘requisitioned’ an old four wheel drive in Cuzco, but that had come to the end of its life a few hours back when he’d swerved to avoid a small child who had run onto the road. Subsequently the car had been totaled after it ended up in a ditch. Despite that, he had travelled almost two hundred miles in a short period of time, miraculously avoiding an odd assortment of obstacles until then.
He paused to catch his breath and risked a quick look over his shoulder to make sure he had lost his pursuers. Nothing, perhaps he’d managed to evade them, but in the back of his mind there was still a nagging feeling that he was being watched. He continued on his torturous journey, taking the left-hand path even though he realized it would take him to just over five thousand meters above sea level. It was the quickest way to the beach and safety, so that was the way he would go, additionally, he hoped the rebels would think he would take the easier route.
“Uhh,” a small groan came from his passenger but he dared not stop yet.
Instead, he continued with even more urgency and making the most of the tropical rain that began pouring down, efficiently erasing any trace of his footprints from their pursuers. After another painful hour, he slipped noiselessly from the well-trodden path into the cover of the jungle. He needed a rest, and his passenger’s injuries had to be tended before they went any further. He found a relatively protected part earth beneath the forest canopy where the ground was mostly dry and carefully eased his burden against a tree.
“C…Crane, I told you to leave me, that’s insubordination, M…Mister.”
Commander Lee Crane allowed himself a small smile, for once he was glad to hear those words uttered by Admiral Jiggs Starke. It had been more comfortable for the Admiral to be unconscious for most of the trip. He said nothing but pulled a small first aid kit from his backpack, aware that Starke’s eyes never left him, even though it probably took every ounce of stubbornness the older man possessed just to stay conscious. Lee stifled a sigh as it was about to leave his lips, it seemed that whenever he was within throwing distance, Starke watched every move Lee made, ready to pounce on what he considered the smallest dereliction of duty or weakness. It didn’t really bother Lee, he just shrugged it off most of the time, the only time it really irked him was the way it looked to the crew when he was berated in front of them. Starke’s only salvation in Lee’s eyes came two months ago, when Admiral Nelson had been injured in a lab accident on Seaview. Starke had been onboard at the time and it hadn’t taken Lee long to make the correlation between his worry for Nelson and his outward bluster. After that, Lee had tried to be more patient around Starke, realizing that he genuinely liked the Admiral.
Lee gently pulled the Admiral’s shirt up then cut a hole in his trouser leg, the injuries themselves didn’t appear to be life-threatening as both bullets had gone through the fleshy part of his side and upper leg. What worried Lee more was the risk of infection from the jungle bugs and the tropical climate.
His soft amber eyes caught a shaft of moonlight as he looked up at Starke.
“I’m sorry, Sir, this is going to hurt,” he said apologetically.
“Just get on with it,” he growled half-heartedly.
Lee set to work on the Admiral’s wounds. Within half an hour had cleaned and dressed Starke’s wounds and stuffed the bloodied makeshift dressings into his backpack, making sure he didn’t leave an obvious trail for anyone following them. Starke hadn’t made a noise for a while and Lee checked his pulse, he was relieved to find that it was strong, but he realized that Starke had passed out again so he quickly looked at his own shoulder injury, cleaning it and securing some gauze over it. Normally he would have ignored it, but they were still a good ten miles from the coast and Seaview, and getting the Admiral back to the boat meant caring for himself as well. He hoisted Starke over his shoulders again then took off for the peak which would lead them down to safety.
“Dammit, Chip, I want to know where he is,” Nelson yelled, well aware that he shouldn’t be taking his frustration out on his XO but couldn’t stop himself in time.
Anything could have happened to Lee in Santiago, if only Nelson had taken him up on the offer of a sightseeing tour, Lee would have been safely on board and making ready to cast off.
Lt. Commander Chip Morton grimaced, he didn’t enjoy being around the Admiral when he was in one of these moods, especially when he felt like ringing Lee’s neck himself.
“Admiral Nelson, I’ve got Admiral Johnson from ONI on the radio.”
“I’ll take it in my cabin, Sparks,” he fumed. “Mister Morton, you’re with me.”
So that was it, his Captain had been shanghaied into another ONI mission without as much as a by-your-leave. He threw his door open, ignoring the bang it made as it smashed against the side of his cabin. If anything, he felt like stepping back and giving it another hearty slam, just for good measure.
“Put him through, Sparks.” Johnson had better have a damned good explanation, he thought sourly.
“Admiral, sorry I haven’t contacted you earlier.”
“Where is he?” Nelson snapped, ignoring the pleasantries, his irritation growing by the second.
He heard the other Admiral sigh. “Very well, Harry, but I think this is one occasion you’ll be glad he took on an assignment.”
“I very much doubt that, now, are you going to tell me where he is, or do I have to get in the flying sub and drag it out of you in person?” Nelson yelled.
Chip stared at the Admiral, he was about to go into the red on the pressure gauge, on second thoughts, he’d already hit it and Chip didn’t want to be in the blast area.
“It’s Jiggs Starke, Harry, the treaty conference he was attending in Cuzco was attacked by the rebel movement. A fellow named Julio Chávez shot and killed a large number of dignitaries.” He held his hand up to stop Nelson interrupting. “He’s alive, but not in good shape, he was shot twice.”
Chip watched as the gauge dropped back into the green. The Admiral’s face paled as he heard the news that two of the people in the world who were closest to him were in deadly danger.
“Why Lee, and where exactly is he right now?”
“Fortunately for us you were in the vicinity, when you docked in Santiago, one of our operatives was able to contact him as soon as he went ashore. There was no time to tell you, Harry. As it was, he barely made it to Jiggs before the rebels found him and took over the town. We airlifted him out ten minutes after he stepped off Seaview.”
“Where are they now, Admiral?” asked Chip, his throat dry, if everything had gone as planned, Johnson probably wouldn’t even be contacting them and Lee would have taken the heat from Admiral Nelson the minute he stepped back onto the boat.
“That’s the problem something must have gone wrong, it’s not like Commander Crane to miss an extraction point, which is why I’m asking you to sit off Peru at a set of pre-arranged co-ordinates. I’ve just sent them through to your radio operator.”
“How long are they overdue?” Nelson asked quietly, he didn’t want to contemplate the possibilities just yet.
“Fourteen hours, I’m sorry, Harry, it doesn’t look good. The only communication we’ve received is that Lee found Jiggs and was heading for the extraction point.”
“Why weren’t we notified earlier?”
Johnson shifted restlessly in his seat, it was obvious to Nelson that he would rather be anywhere but where he was right now. “There was a bit of a communication breakdown. My office was told Jiggs and Crane had made the extraction site, but as we found out later, our source wasn’t reliable.”
“Then the rest is up to us,” he growled, still irritated that his Captain had been whisked away at the drop of a hat without ONI having the grace to inform him, add to that incompetence once again by ONI operatives. “If you’d bothered to tell me in the first place, Seaview would already have been close to the backup extraction point.”
“Sorry, Harry, it’s the nature of the game, sometimes things don’t go as planned. Take care, Peru’s about to erupt in a civil war the likes of which nobody could have predicted.” He made to switch off the set, and then hesitated. “Harry, if anyone can get Jiggs out, Lee can.”
“I hope to God you’re right, I really do.”
Nelson switched off the intercom and tapped his pencil on the table, even at their best speed, it would still take them too long to get the boat to the co-ordinates Sparks had just given him. “Chip, get four men together, I want you all fully armed, take Doctor Jamieson too. I’ve a feeling he might be needed, then meet me in the observation nose where I’ll brief you. You’ll take the flying sub to get there in time to meet Lee and Admiral Starke.”
“Yes Sir.” Chip moved to open the door, and then looked back at Nelson, his blue eyes intense. “We’ll bring both of them back, Admiral.”
Nelson’s lips curved a little as he nodded. “I know you will, Chip. Now get going, time may be of the essence.”
Lee sank wearily down onto the muddy earth next to Admiral Starke, his face was streaked with dirt and sweat, his dark hair unkempt and unruly. He closed his eyes and concentrated on catching his breath in the thin air. His shoulder throbbed beyond belief, probably the exertion of carrying the Admiral for the last few kilometers.
“Leave me, Crane,” croaked Starke.
Lee opened his eyes and fished a water bottle from the pack, handing it to the Admiral. Starke shook his head then noticed how Lee’s eyes darkened at his refusal.
“Don’t make me force you to have a drink, Admiral,” he said, his eyes leveled at Starke. “Regardless of my feelings for you, Admiral Nelson would have me keel-hauled if I left you in the Peruvian jungle to be killed by rebels.”
Starke spluttered under his breath, but took a drink anyway. He also noticed that the water was at the same level it had been after his last drink, which meant Lee hadn’t had any. He handed it back to Lee.
“You too, Commander.”
Lee shook his head. “I’m fine.”
“It’s not a request, Crane,” he rasped.
Lee ignored him and returned the bottle of precious fluid to his backpack, he would have one later. Right now the Admiral had lost too much blood not to keep his fluids up. He cursed that he hadn’t had the time to put together a decent first aid pack with some plasma and stronger painkillers. He pulled out the Paracetamol and handed two to Admiral Starke, who stared at them for a while before taking them.
“Goddammit, Crane, how Harry hasn’t court-martialed you all these years, I’ll never know.”
Lee sighed, he knew this wouldn’t be an easy mission, his history with Starke had told him that. Perhaps if Starke had still been unconscious, things would have gone a little smoother. He’d risked his life for this man, he didn’t want thanks, just a little bit of respect would be nice.
“I mean it, Crane, you are undisciplined and stubborn,” Starke said in his best Admiral’s voice.
“Remind you of anyone you know, Sir?” It just slipped out, and as soon as it had, Lee regretted it.
If Starke had been a balloon, Lee had no doubt he would have burst after his last comment, so he sat back and waited for the explosion.
“Why you ignorant, cheeky young pup, you’re on an ONI mission, which means you’re under Navy discipline, when we get back I’ll have you up on charges.” Starke’s eyes glinted menacingly. “Insubordination is a serious offence, Mister.”
Lee’s lack of response fuelled Starke’s anger even more, he was about to launch into a furious tirade when he noticed the Seaview’s Captain tense. Whilst Starke was still angry, he knew when to keep his mouth closed, and this was one of those times. He had no doubt that Lee only managed to survive his ONI missions because he had an innate sixth sense for danger and, he admitted grudgingly, his ability as a seasoned leader despite his age.
“Stay here, keep quiet, no matter what happens” he whispered, his voice suddenly as hard as steel. “If I don’t come back, wait here for Harry, he’ll get here no matter what.”
The fight went out of Starke, he knew he was in no position to argue, but it frustrated the hell out of him that he’d only been a burden to the younger man, and would be no use to him in the event they were caught. He waited for what seemed like ages, but it had only been half an hour. Suddenly, Starke thought he heard voices, but the jungle was too thick to see anything. He painstakingly dragged himself over to the undergrowth that bordered the small clearing. What he saw almost made his heart stop. Lee knelt in the clearing with his hands on his neck, his head bowed. Before him stood a tall bearded man in fatigues aiming a semi-automatic rifle at his head. Starke could make out a cut above Lee’s left eye then gritted his teeth in anger as Lee was hit on the shoulder with a rifle butt. He was surprised to see the young man fall onto the ground and writhe briefly in agony. Then it hit him, he’d vaguely noticed how awkwardly Crane had put him on the ground earlier, he must have taken a bullet when they made their narrow escape from the extraction point, lucky to get out with their lives. He cursed his stupidity, he’d been so caught up in berating Lee that he hadn’t realized that the Commander had been injured himself.
“Where is he?” shouted the leader, a tall muscular man with a cruel face.
Lee pushed himself upright but said nothing, his lips pursed tightly shut. Starke cringed as Lee was hit in the same place again, but this time fell to the ground and didn’t move. The Admiral was about to crawl out from his cover and surrender when a rustle in the bushes behind him made him turn around. He saw nothing, but felt a small sting in his neck before he passed out.
“Unfortunately, I can only hazard a guess which direction Captain Crane would take from Cuzco,” Nelson pointed to the map, outwardly he projected confidence, inwardly he hoped intently that he was right. “This path will lead him over the mountains and down to here.”
He looked around at the five men in front of him, Kowalski, Patterson, Chip, Jamie and Riley. They were some of Seaview’s best, Chip had chosen well.
“I’ve given you all the information I have, good luck.”
The men quickly headed down the ladder to the FS1, each of them lost in their own thoughts about their Captain. Chip could feel the tension in the small machine, but right now, he had enough of his own tension to fill an aircraft carrier.
“Buckle up, we’re going to head underwater, then swim to shore. It’ll be a bit of a hike to the Skipper’s probable location, so travel as light as you can.”
As the docking clamps were released, Chip set a course for the northern-most part of Peru.
When Starke next opened his eyes, he was lying on a soft mat inside a small thatched hut. He looked around and was surprised by the depth of relief he felt when he saw Lee lying near him, looking slightly the worse for wear, but alive judging by the rise and fall of his chest.
“Crane,” Starke tried to move over to him, but his leg injury stopped him, then he did something he would never have contemplated doing in a hundred years – until now. “Lee, can you hear me?”
It was inappropriate in his book to call a junior officer by name, but he knew without Lee’s timely intervention, he wouldn’t be calling anyone anything ever again.
He lay back and tried to figure out what had happened, but he couldn’t remember anything past seeing Crane beaten to reveal his location, then trying to get to him to stop the punishment, then there was a big blank. It was obvious they were amongst friends, both he and Lee had been cleaned up, and their wounds efficiently dressed. Starke reached out to touch Lee, but couldn’t quite make it.
“You are awake, good. How do you feel?”
Starke twisted back around to look at the newcomer, a beautiful native Peruvian woman with long dark hair and eyes the color of obsidian stood silhouetted in the doorway.
“I’ve been better,” he muttered. “You speak English?”
She sat next to Lee before replying. “I’m Doctor Cecilia Chávez. I learned medicine in your United States and returned to Peru to help my people.”
Starke watched the young woman as she tended to Lee, then saw a frown mar her features.
“What is it?”
Her eyes met his, and they were troubled. “He has a fever, and is severely dehydrated.”
Starke’s eyes knitted together in a frown. “Dammit, why doesn’t he take orders like any other junior officer,” he said angrily, recalling Lee’s refusal to take a drink of water. “Will he be alright?”
“It depends how badly the infection took hold before I began treatment. I have no pharmaceutical medicine, the rebel soldiers took the last shipment. I will have to rely on the traditional remedies to heal him.”
Starke put his head back on what passed for a pillow and stared at the roof of the hut, all Crane had to do was hold out until Harry got his boys to find them, and if he knew his friend at all, he would be moving heaven and earth to get to them.
“Where are we?”
“In the Andes, but I worry about the rebel soldiers finding you,” she replied without taking her eyes from Lee.
“How did we get here?”
She put a cool cloth against Lee’s forehead, gently brushing his hair from his face. “My people followed you after you came into our lands. Since the rebels are not our friends, when my people saw you hiding and your friend being hurt, they used their sleeping darts to save you both.”
Starke nodded. “Thank you, Doctor.”
It wasn’t often that he truly felt indebted to anyone. In fact it was a real rarity, like all the planets lining up at once. He tried to remember the last time, but found that he couldn’t, and now it had happened twice in one day. Starke drove the first occasion from his head, Crane had just been following orders, nothing special in that, or so he thought. A small groan from Crane caused him to turn.
“Ssh,” the girl soothed.
“S…Starke, have to save him, Admiral’s friend, must save him,” he murmured.
She turned to Starke. “Are you Starke?”
“Then he took that beating to save you?”
“Yes, I suppose he did, but he was under orders,” he replied gruffly, trying to justify why Lee shouldn’t get any special treatment.
“No man under orders would take the beating he did.” She glared at Starke accusingly. “You do not like him! He saved your life and you would rather he died in pain.”
She threw the sheet off Lee and pointed to his body. “He has two broken ribs and internal bruising, also concussion and the bullet wound, yet you care little for him.”
This time Starke shook his head vigorously. “No, you don’t understand, he…”
Her beautiful face contorted into anger. “You do not deserve to be in the same hut as him.”
She took one last look at Lee, and then stalked out, leaving Admiral Jiggs Starke speechless and shame-faced for the first time in his life.
Cecilia stood outside the hut for a while, trying to calm down. Her anger had clouded her mind against the older man who had been wearing a uniform was injured as well. She had to remember that the next time she decided to take her anger out on someone. The younger one was very handsome, she thought wistfully, and that he had risked his own life to save someone so ungrateful and arrogant spoke more about his character than mere words could. She had no doubt that they had friends who would come for them, but it would be nice to spend some time with him, it had been so long since she’d been attracted to someone who appeared to be so selfless.
She smiled at the voice. “Yes, Father, how are you today?”
Ronaldo Chávez hugged his daughter. “I’m much better, thanks to you, daughter.”
His voice became serious. “How are the two strangers?”
“The older man is well, neither of his injuries is infected, and they appear to be healing.” She couldn’t stop a slight flush in her face as she spoke about Lee. “The younger one is very sick. I need more medicines to stop the infection.”
Ronaldo nodded. “I will send some of the men into the forest to find the plant. I don’t want you to go, daughter, word has been sent that some rebels are coming towards us.”
Fear spasmed through her body. “No, not Julio?”
“I’m afraid so, we need to hide them.”
“How long do we have?”
He drew a mud map in the sand. “There were two groups sighted here, at the Valley of Waterfalls, I think perhaps less than a day.”
“Neither of them will survive if they’re found.”
“You like the young one, don’t you?” his eyes twinkled as he asked the question.
She blushed again. “Of course not, Father. I’m a doctor. I don’t get involved with my patients.”
He nodded and returned to the vegetable fields. She watched as he turned on his heels, he was right, though, as he always was. Perhaps, one day…
Chip left the flying sub on the bottom, five hundred meters from shore after which he, Jamie, Kowalski, Patterson and Riley had suited up and swum the distance to shore.
Once they had reached the beach and stripped their scuba gear off, Chip took a compass reading. He pointed in a north-easterly direction.
“This way, if we get separated, make your way back to the flying sub and wait for further instructions. Let’s make this nice and quiet, in and out without anyone knowing we’ve been here.”
Kowalski was troubled, what if they were completely wrong, and the Skipper was somewhere else, in danger, or worse.
“Excuse me, Sir, but how long will we search for before we head back. I mean, if we don’t find the Skipper, we’re not just going to give up, are we?”
“We’ll find him, Kowalski, now let’s get moving.”
We have to find him, thought Chip, hiding his fear that Lee was already dead.
Starke stared at Lee for a long time after the girl left. She hadn’t pulled the sheet back up, and he could see the dark bruising on his torso from the beating Lee had taken before Starke discovered he’d been captured. His own body had fared somewhat better, but once again, he owed that to Crane’s attention to his injuries during the night.
He remembered his first encounter with the young Captain of Nelson’s boat, how headstrong and insolent he was - how he lacked the appropriate respect for senior officers. Damn it to hell, if Crane was cocky before this, he’d be downright unmanageable once he got back to Seaview, but for once he hoped Crane would draw on that spirit to pull through. As he watched over him, he noticed the injured man’s eyes flicker.
“Crane, can you hear me?”
With what seemed like a supreme effort, Lee forced his eyes open. “Admiral,” Lee’s voice was low and strained. “Are you alright?”
Starke snorted. “I’m fine.”
Starke waved his good hand around the hut. “We were rescued by some indigenous Peruvians. We’re in their village.”
When there was no reply, Starke looked towards Lee, who had lost consciousness again. He noticed there were droplets of sweat on his face that boded no good for his recovery. Starke became concerned as Lee began to drift in and out of delirium, muttering things Starke could barely understand. Eventually he dragged himself over to Lee’s side and felt his forehead, he was burning up. If there was one thing that was a certainty in life apart from death and taxes, it was that Harriman Nelson would kill him if Lee Crane died while rescuing his sorry six.
“What are you doing?”
Starke removed his hand. “Ah, Doctor, he needs you, he’s very hot.”
She gave him a cold look as she dropped down onto the ground beside Lee and eased his head up. An eye dropper appeared in her hand from which she squeezed three drops of purple liquid onto his tongue.
“What’s that?” Starke asked suspiciously.
“A powerful antibiotic, it works almost as well as your medicines, but takes much longer to find in the jungle.”
She returned her attention to Lee. “This will help you,” she whispered.
“Thank you,” Lee whispered, though he didn’t open his eyes.
“You will be better before you know it.”
She took his hand and held it for a moment, comforting Lee and soothing him back to sleep. When he was resting peacefully, she stood up and made to leave.
The doctor had almost reached the doorway when as an afterthought she turned back to Starke. “I will have you removed from this hut. I won’t have you disturbing him again.”
“Now listen here, this man is…” he hesitated before saying something he had refused to admit, even to himself. “He is like a son to a very close friend of mine. I demand that you leave me here.”
She raised one dark eyebrow. “You demand?”
Starke’s lips twitched as he choked back an angry reply, then he sighed and his face softened. “I request that I be allowed to stay with the…with him.”
The doctor inclined her head to one side, as if debating his request internally, and then her face lit up in a smile. “Very well, I think that is a good idea, in fact, you will be responsible for his recovery. He saved your life, now you will be responsible for his.”
Before Starke could make an appropriately indignant reply, she had left, returning quickly with a bowl of water, a piece of cloth and the bottle of antibiotics. “Keep him cool, and give him three drops of this every hour and try to get him to drink some water.”
“But…when will you be back?” Starke spluttered.
She gave him a wicked grin. “Soon.”
God, the woman was as hard as nails, but it was an uncompromising hardness that he was beginning to admire. When he looked at Lee, he could have sworn there was a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, but as quickly as he imagined it, it was gone. Starke muttered a curse under his breath, then moistened the cloth and put it across Lee’s burning forehead.
“Mister Morton, over here.”
Chip strode over to Patterson. “What have you got?”
“I think the Captain was leaving us a trail, in case we came after him and the Admiral.”
Chip frowned. “What do you mean?”
“It’s nothing, really, but if you look closely you can see a pattern in these branches. I noticed three branches snapped just up from the tip where we stopped last. I didn’t think anything about it, but now there’s another three branches snapped further back from the tip.”
Chip’s eyes lit up. “Are you thinking it’s an SOS?”
“Yes, Sir, I am. It looks like the Admiral was spot on.”
“Let’s get moving, if we find another lot of branches snapped short, we’ll know for certain.” He grabbed Patterson’s arm. “Patterson, did you notice how far we’ve come from the first lot of branches?”
Patterson scratched his head, deep in thought. Chip realized he was mentally re-tracing the path.
“About two miles, Sir.”
Chip nodded thoughtfully. “Okay, let’s keep going, but stay alert.”
Lee rolled to one side, the fever all but taking over.
“Crane, sit up and have some water,” prompted Starke.
His eyes met Starke’s, glinting feverishly in the evening twilight, they closed just as quickly and Starke begrudgingly resorted to dripping some water onto his lips by squeezing a spare piece of cloth.
“Why are you doing this?” Lee asked deliriously.
Starke started. “Doing what?”
“Helping me, you barely tolerate me, if it weren’t for Admiral Nelson, uh…” he fell back against the mat before Starke could think up a suitable reply.
“Why do you dislike him so much, and I assume from your clothing that you are also a military man?”
Starke belatedly realized that the doctor had heard what Lee had said.
“I don’t dislike him, I just…” he paused, lost for words to give an adequate explanation.
She sat beside him. “Just what?”
“I don’t owe you an explanation, any more than I owe him one,” he growled, suddenly tired.
The problem was that the truth was much harder to admit to himself than it was to anybody else, it was much easier to hide behind rules and regulations and blame his dislike on Lee’s complete disregard of Navy protocol.
He looked at the man next to him, writhing in the throes of an infection that may or may not kill him.
She gave Starke a shrewd look. “He knows you don’t approve of him, yet he saved your life.”
Starke felt a stab of guilt. “That’s right.”
“He will get worse before he gets better. I’ll dress your injuries with clean bandages and then get some sleep. I will watch over him until you wake.”
Starke nodded, maybe, just maybe, it was time to cut the younger man some slack, judging by the internal revelations he had allowed himself.
Cecilia wiped the sweat from Lee’s head and bathed his chest with cool water from the mountain stream. He was a good looking man, and she had no doubt that he would be even more so once he had shaved and his injuries had healed.
When Lee opened his eyes she was shocked by the amber that drew her into its depths. She’d once had a necklace the same color, it was just as mesmerizing.
“Who are you?”
“I’m a doctor, but please, call me Cecilia.” She touched his forehead lightly. “Do you have a name?”
She helped him to drink a small amount of water from the cup.
Lee closed his eyes as the cold soothing water trickled down his throat. “Thank you. Lee, my name’s Lee.”
Cecilia was reluctant to release him from her arms, but he was getting heavy, and she suspected he had passed out again.
“Sleep peacefully now, Lee,” she whispered.
“How is he, Doctor?”
“I think the fever has broken. How do you feel, Mister Starke?”
“Much better, thanks to Crane and your treatment.”
She was aware of Starke’s stare as she smoothed his hair back again. “What were you both doing in my country?”
Starke didn’t see any reason to lie to her - it was common knowledge that he had been attending the conference when the rebels attacked.
“I was in Cuzco for a treaty conference, which was supposed to bridge the gap between the rebels and the government. Unfortunately,” he added wryly, “before anyone had the chance to issue an invitation to the rebel leader, he took it upon himself to disrupt the proceedings and take over the town.”
A flash of shame crossed her features, and Starke was curious as to the cause. “What’s wrong?”
“He’s my brother, the rebel leader,” she admitted softly.
Starke sat up so suddenly he gasped as pain shot through his side. “What?”
“You see, we all have things we aren’t proud of, Mister Starke. While I was getting an education in medicine, my brother was getting one in terrorism,” she took the cloth from Lee’s forehead and soaked it in fresh cool water. “You see, my brother always thought I was the, how do you say it, golden haired girl of my family. He became so jealous that he couldn’t see that he had the same opportunities as I did, that my parents loved him equally. He was poisoned by his so-called friends who wanted to lead him down the path he is on now.”
Starke felt the parallel in his own relationship with Nelson, the bright-haired boy from Annapolis had come along and usurped his friend, becoming as close as a son while he thought he had lost Nelson to Crane.
“I can tell you are thinking I’m not alone.”
He shook his head. “How could I have been so stupid, did I really think that Harry wouldn’t be friends with me anymore because of Lee Crane?”
Cecilia took his hand. “Did you ever think that perhaps Lee feels the same way, when you are near, perhaps he feels his unique friendship threatened by your antagonism towards him?”
Starke didn’t ever have the opportunity to answer Cecilia’s question, because at that moment, the same man who had taken over the treaty conference burst into the hut brandishing a pistol.
“So, I have both of you, perhaps now the government will take notice of me when I show them the bodies of one of America’s Admirals and the Captain of their most powerful submarine.”
Cecilia stood up, putting herself between the rebel leader and the two injured men.
“Julio, no! You don’t need to kill them, look at this one. Do you think it will make the government take notice when they realize you killed an unarmed dying man?” It was a small white lie, but if it saved the life of one of them she would do it again.
“Hello, sister, how long has it been,” he said bitterly. “I see you still work with the native dogs in the highlands.”
Cecilia launched herself at her brother, but he quickly overpowered her and threw her to the ground.
“Leave her, we’ll come willingly.”
They all turned to look at Lee. He had somehow made it to his feet, and was bracing himself against the wall of the hut to stop him from toppling over.
Julio stepped closer to Lee, glancing over his shoulder at his sister. “Dying, is he? We’ll see about that.”
He yelled out to the others and before Starke and Lee knew what was happening, they had been dragged outside and were kneeling on the hard earth. Even though Starke’s bullet wounds smarted badly, Lee looked about ready to keel over.
“Crane, there’s something I need to tell you.”
With an effort, Lee turned his heavy head towards the Admiral and in that moment, Starke knew that he’d already been forgiven. The amber eyes said it all, their expression no longer hidden beneath his dark lashes as it had been whenever Starke had stepped onboard Seaview. In that moment, Starke caught a glimpse of what Harry saw in the man who captained his submarine.
“Thank you,” it was all he could manage.
“How touching,” mocked Julio. “Now, which one of you will die first?”
“Admiral Starke is more use to you alive,” Lee said hoarsely.
It was then that Starke noticed a glint in the trees behind the hut, it was apparent that Lee had seen it too, because he launched himself at Julio like a madman. Starke could only watch as all hell broke loose, and what looked like half the crew from Seaview attacked the rebels. Lee had amazingly overpowered Julio, and was half lying on top of him, keeping him immobile while Chip, Kowalski, Patterson and Jamie rounded up the other rebels around the village.
“Jiggs!” Nelson stepped forwards and took his oldest friend’s hand. “Are you alright?”
‘I will be, Harry, once these bullet wounds heal properly. You’d better see to Crane, he’s in bad shape.”
Harry looked over at his Captain. He was concerned but didn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave Starke. “He’s in good hands, Jiggs, Jamie’s seeing to him.”
Starke waved his hand at him. “For heaven’s sakes, Harriman, I know you want to go to the lad’s side, so go! If you weren’t the same rank, I’d order you.”
Nelson raised one eyebrow. “Is this the same Jiggs Starke who recently spent a week on Seaview berating its Captain for everything from navigation to paper clips?”
“Don’t expect me to change overnight, Harry, but take what you can get.”
Nelson raised his hands in surrender. “Alright, I’m going. I’ll make sure you’re seen by Jamie after he’s finished with Lee.”
Cecilia knelt beside him. “You did a good thing.”
Starke looked at her with genuine concern. “Are you alright, he didn’t hurt you, did he?”
“I’m a little bruised, nothing that won’t fix itself. I will show you a quick way down from the mountain, the other man, Admiral Nelson, told me where he needed to go.”
“What is the name of this village?” he asked out of interest, maybe he could come back here some day to thank Cecilia for everything.
“Pucara, it’s named after an Incan fort, many people here are descended directly from the Incans.” She gave Starke a mischievous look. “It’s said that there’s an ancient city hidden away with all the treasures of the Incas, supposedly my people hid there until the Spaniards stopped killing them, then rebuilt villages throughout the Andes.”
Starke laughed, thinking immediately how preposterous the idea was. “Perhaps I can come back to visit you one day?”
Cecilia nodded towards Lee and Nelson. “If you come back, maybe you could bring your friends.”
“Especially the dark-haired one?” Starke teased, he didn’t know what it was about this young woman, but he felt completely at ease with her, or maybe it was because his usual bluster didn’t bother her in the least.
She merely gave him a shy smile and went to check on Lee’s progress.
The trip back to Seaview had been much easier than the one its crew had undertaken to find their Captain and Admiral Starke. After Kowalski had gone back to Seaview to pick up Admiral Nelson, he’d managed to find a mountain lake that was big enough to land the FS1. Once back on Seaview, Starke had been relegated to the sick bay until Jamie decided it was time to hit the medicinal alcohol stores. At that point he ended up releasing Starke to his cabin before he had to resort to that measure to stay sane. Never again would he complain about the Skipper as a patient, at least not while the memory of Admiral Starke was still fresh.
Jamieson looked up from his mound of paperwork to find Lee sitting up in bed. He gave a sigh of relief when he realized Lee’s sling was still in place.
“How are you feeling, Skipper?”
The color had found its way back into Lee’s face over the last two days and Jamie begrudgingly knew that he was well enough to leave sick bay if he wanted to.
“Much better, Jamie, in fact….”
Jamie held up his hands. “Before you even ask, yes, you can leave on one condition.”
Lee looked at him suspiciously. “What’s that?”
“You go to your cabin and rest for the next twenty-four hours.”
Under protest, Lee did what Jamie told him, but only after both Admirals gave him the same order and he realized he was outgunned and out-maneuvered.
“Harry, I think you and I need to have a talk,” suggested Starke, knowing that this would be the hardest thing he’d ever done.
“Oh, about what?” his eyes trailed across to stop on Lee Crane just after Starke’s came to a rest on the Captain.
Nelson had no idea what had taken place between his two best friends during their enforced stay in the wilds of Peru, but he’d bet the Nelson Institute that he was about to find out.
“Ah, can we go somewhere more private, Harriman?”
“What’s this about, Jiggs?” asked Nelson, not quite ready to throw him a lifeline.
“Dammit, Harry, you know what it’s about!”
Nelson laughed and slapped his friend on the back. “Chief, ready the flying sub, I thought I felt a few vibrations in it yesterday. Admiral Starke and I are taking it out for a test run.”
“Aye, aye, Sir.”
“You go ahead, Jiggs, I’ll be right there.”
Nelson went to the observation nose and sat by Seaview’s Captain. Since Lee had returned from the mission in Peru, he had been more relaxed than Nelson had ever seen him, especially considering Jiggs Starke was on board.
“Lee, Jiggs and I are going out to run a test flight in the FS1.”
Lee nodded, his eyes not leaving the observation windows. “Take care of him, Admiral, he’s still sore from those injuries, more than he’ll admit.”
Nelson hid his shock from Lee, was it possible that he and Jiggs were beginning to resolve their differences.
Lee made his way to the control room after the FS1 had left Seaview. He never found out what was said between the two Admirals, but when they came back, Nelson was grinning from ear to ear.
“Right, Chip, let’s head home, I’ve got a thirst you can help me quench.”
“No way, Lee. I bought last time,” he grumbled.
“Uh-uh, that doesn’t count, not in that excuse for a bar.”
Nelson paused at the top of the steps, listening to his two officers’ lighthearted argument, everything was as it should be, and he’d sleep well tonight just knowing that.
“Harriman, how long are you going to make me wait for that drink,” growled Starke. “Oh, and you can bring Crane if you must.’
“On my way,” replied Nelson, still grinning like a Cheshire Cat. Yes, he would sleep very well indeed.