“What are you going to do with the time off, Lee?” Morton asked as the two men left Nelson’s office at NIMR.
Lee Crane smiled as he answered the Seaview exec, “Do you really expect me to answer that after the last time?”
Morton chuckled as he remembered the disaster he’d caused on their last shore leave. The joke he’d played on his friend had left him sharing a room with a rambunctious young woman. Lee ended up with a black eye and bruised shins when he’d tried to crawl into his bed only to find it occupied by an angry member of the opposite sex. “It wasn’t that bad. As I recall you two ended up sharing a few dates after that.”
“Yeah, it didn’t end too badly but the beginning was hell, Chip.”
“So you really aren’t going to tell me?”
“No way. I haven’t even told the Admiral.”
“What if he needs to get in touch with you?”
“I’ll have my pager with me.”
“Come on, Lee, tell me where you’re going.”
Lee stopped in front of his car, opening the door he climbed into the drivers seat. “See you in a week, Chip,” he said as he started the engine.
“Have fun painting your apartment, Mr. Morton,” Lee laughed as he drove away.
‘I get to paint while he goes off and has a good time. I should have asked him to help me paint. Must be getting slow,’ he thought as he turned back to the Nelson Institute.
Lee drove just above the posted speed limit, slowing slightly as he rounded the sharp bends in the road. He’d been driving for nearly two hours and was in need of a break. The sky overhead had been steadily darkening as night began to descend. The map he’d studied showed a rest stop just up ahead and he looked forward to stopping and stretching his long legs.
He drove on for another ten minutes till his tired eyes spotted a bright light illuminating a small building. He pulled into one of three parking spaces and turned off the ignition. He opened the door and unfolded his long body from the confines of the red Cobra. Stretching his arms high above his head he listened to the sounds of the crickets in the open field next to the rest stop. The smell of fresh cut grass permeated the air as he walked towards the building.
Once inside Lee washed his face in the cold water. Shaking off a feeling of fatigue he realized just how tired he was. ‘Must be the fresh air,’ he thought as he stepped outside.
His trained eyes took in the dark van parked next to his car. Two men circled the red Cobra and Lee felt the hackles rising on his neck as he walked towards them. One man was tall, dark haired, and wore dark clothing. The second was shorter, but more muscular than the first.
The dark haired man was the first to notice him and he grinned, “This your car?”
“It is,” Lee answered.
“Where’d ya get it?” the muscular one asked.
Lee Crane moved to the driver s side and opened the door. “I bought it,” he told them.
“How much did ya pay?” the dark haired one asked.
“That’s none of your business,” Lee told him and felt a hand on his arm.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Friend. It’s my business cause the car now belongs to me,” the dark haired man told him as he shoved Crane up against the open door. “Now we can do this the easy way or the hard way. Your choice.”
Lee grinned as he pulled his arm out of the other man’s grasp. He shoved away from the car, locking his hands around the taller man’s wrist and throwing him over his shoulder. A blow from behind told him the other man had joined in the fight as a knife like pain lanced through his skull. He went down but was up before the dark haired man had regained his feet.
“You’re a dead man,” the muscular man said as he threw a fist at Lee’s jaw.
Lee saw it coming and ducked out of the way, at the same time bringing his left hand up to connect with the other man’s chin, following immediately with a right to the stomach. He smiled as he heard the air escaping from the man’s lungs as he struggled to stay upright.
A sound behind him warned Lee that the taller man was back on his feet. He tried to turn but felt something solid connect with his lower back, dropping him to his knees. He looked up in time to see the man swing a piece of board at him. Pain exploded in his body as the board connected with his right side and he fell the rest of the way to the ground.
Seaview’s captain knew he was in trouble as every breath tore through his chest sending flares of agony throughout the rest of his body. He tried to curl into a ball in order to protect his damaged ribs but his body refused to obey his commands.
“You shoulda just let us have the car,” The muscular man said as he lifted his booted foot and kicked out at the barely conscious man on the ground.
Lee fought to stay conscious as the boot glanced across his forehead. Blood tricked from a small gash over his right eye. The world seemed to be fading as he stared at the two men through pain filled eyes. He tried to speak but found he lacked the strength. His eyes slowly closed as he watched the dark haired man lean over, kneel beside him and start going through his pockets.
“Hmm, Captain Crane. Looks like we got one a them military types,” he told his friend.
“An officer at that. Ya know I was in the Navy and I hated stiff-necked officer types. Looks like I finally got the last laugh against an officer,” he said as he lifted the injured mans head and met his hazel eyes. “Good night, Captain, pleasant dreams,” he said as he struck the injured man one final time.
The last thing Lee Crane saw was a fist coming towards his face.
He struggled to open his eyes as a fiery shard of agony ripped through his body. His first instinct was to curl into a ball and stay where he was. Slowly, deliberately ignoring his protesting body he rose up on one arm, trying in vain to focus on the tilting world around him. He moaned as he tried to stand up, his breath coming in hiccupping gasps as he made it to his knees. He used his right hand and gently rubbed his lower back, where the dull ache had become a burning sensation.
He continued to struggle, aware only of the awakening pains in his body. He was unaware of how much time passed before he managed to stand on shaky legs. He looked around through glazed eyes and wondered where he was. A dirt road lay before him but he had no memory of why he was here. Slowly he began stumbling down the narrow road, wondering where he was going and how he’d got here in the first place.
The hot sun beat down on him as he continued his wavering path. He’d walk for some time and then find himself face down on the hard packed dirt. He cried out each time his injured body connected with the ground.
Maria Stern drove her beat up station wagon along the winding road to her home. She’d lived in this godforsaken area all her life, and a hard life it had been. Tears clouded her eyes as she thought of the husband she’d lost a little over two years ago. He’d been killed in an accident on this very same stretch of road, leaving her to raise two children on her own.
Blinking back the tears she reached down and turned on the radio. Soft music drifted to her ears as a local station cut through the static. Her melodic voice joined the soft lilting words coming from the speaker as she glanced at her children sleeping in the back seat. A smile touched her lips as she remembered how much they looked like their father.
‘I miss you Tom,’ she thought and wiped the tears from her eyes. Dust kicked up around the car as she made the final turn towards her home. She slammed on the breaks as she spotted a still from lying on the ground.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” a sleepy voice asked from the back seat.
“Nothing, Joey,” she said as she fought to control her nerves.
“Why’d we stop?”
“There’s something in the road, “ she answered as she opened her door.
“I don’t know, Joey. You stay here and look after Suzie.”
“But, Mom,” the eight year old boy protested.
“Joey, please just do as I say.”
Joey’s dark brown eyes met those of his mother as she turned in her seat, “Yes, Mom.”
Maria smiled at her son and reached back to brush the black hair from his eyes. “I’ll be right back,” she reassured him.
“I will,” she told the young boy.
Maria slowly approached the still form, unaware that she was holding her breath. His back was turned towards her so she couldn’t see his face. His dark hair was cut short and she could see a small cut just above his hairline, the area around it was swollen and bruised. The dark jeans and shirt he wore were dirty and clung to his body.
“Hello,” she said, stopping a few feet from the body. Not expecting an answer she was shocked when a weak, desperate plea reached her ears.
She could not ignore the plea for help as she walked around the form and knelt in front of him. Her eyes were drawn to the blood encrusted face and she bit back a gasp at the pain filled hazel eyes. Instinctively she knew she had nothing to fear from this man.
“P...please, h...help me,” he pleaded, grimacing as a shock wave of pain washed over his body.
“I’ll do what I can,” she told him. “Do you think you can stand if I help you?”
“T...think so,” he said weakly.
Maria reached down and took his arm, slowly helping him to stand. She ignored the muted cries of pain coming from the injured man. It took a few minutes to get him on his feet and she wrapped one arm around his waist. She pulled one of his arms over her shoulder and supported him as they walked to the car.
Joey watched his mother as she helped the man stand up. He glanced at his younger sister’s sleeping face before getting out of the car and opening the front door. “What’s wrong with him, Mom?” he asked as she made it to the car with her burden.
“He’s been hurt, Joey,” she answered breathlessly.
He stared at the black haired boy holding the car door. The boy was handsome and full of a child’s innocent curiosity. He wanted to speak to him but his dry throat refused to work anymore.
Maria helped the injured man into the car. Once again ignoring the cries of pain.
“Mama,” a small voice called from the back seat.
“It’s ok Suzie,” she said as she lifted the man’s legs into the car. “Joey, look after your sister for me.”
“T...thanks,” the man said as he rested his aching head against the headrest.
“You’re welcome,” she said as she closed the door and hurried around to the driver’s side of the car. “Put on your seatbelt, Joey.”
“Yes, Mom,” her son answered.
Maria stopped the car in front of her house and pulled the keys from the ignition. “Joey go open the door,” she ordered as she passed him the keys.
The boy took the keys, helped his four-year old sister out of the car and hurried to the house.
She turned to look at the man in the seat beside her. Surprised to see his eyes open and staring. “It’s not much but it’s home,” she told him as she opened her door and came around to his side.
He smiled weakly as she struggled to help him from the car. He held onto her as he stood up, desperately trying to stem the wall of darkness that threatened to engulf him. Forcing his unwilling body to move he placed one foot in front of the other until they were inside the small farmhouse.
“Joey, I need you to go tell Abigail I need her and that she should bring her medical bag with her,” she said as she led the injured man into her bedroom.
“Ok, Mom,” the boy said as he turned and ran out the door.
“I want to go see Abby.”
“Abby will come see you, Honey,” Maria told her daughter as she helped the man sit on the bed.
“Mama, I want to go with Joey,” the tiny girl cried.
“G...go to h...her,” a weak voice said.
“I will, you just lie back and rest,” Maria ordered.
“Y...yes, Ma’am,” he replied as he lay back against the down filled pillows. He closed his eyes and waited for the pain to subside. He could hear the red haired woman talking to the small child.
He had no idea how long it was before she returned but he felt warm hands lifting him forward and placing something against his lips. He fought to swallow the cool water, his arid mouth working desperately to take in every drop.
“Not too much,” Maria told him as she took the glass away.
“T...thirsty,” he whispered.
“I know but if you drink it to fast it’s not gonna stay down. I’ll give you a little more shortly.”
“What’s your name?” she watched as a confused look came over the handsome features.
“I...I don’t know,” he answered after a few minutes.
“It’s ok. It’ll come back to you I’m sure. Do you remember what happened to you?”
He tried to think but was unable to focus as jarring pain rocked his head. He moaned and turned on his side as his stomach rebelled against the tiny amount of water he’d swallowed.
Maria reached for the basin on the table and placed it under him as he lost the fight against his stomach. She rubbed his back and spoke soothingly to him as he wretched into the pan.
He lay back against the pillows, his eyes filled with confusion and pain. “S...sorry.”
“It’s ok. Not like I haven’t seen it before,” she smiled. “I’ll be right back” she told him as she carried the basin out of the room.
He closed his eyes and tried once more to remember who he was and how he’d gotten the injuries on his body. The harder he fought to remember the stronger the pain in his head became. Fleeting memories were just out of his grasp and he fought against another bout of nausea. He closed his eyes as unconsciousness took over.
Maria finished removing the dirty, torn clothing from the man lying on her bed. A sad smile formed on her face as she thought of the times she’d done this for her husband. He’d be so exhausted when he returned from working the fields that she’d have to get him undressed and under the blankets.
She’d put her daughter to bed and the child had gone to sleep almost instantly. She took the basin of warm water and soap and started washing the blood and dirt from the injured man. The gash above his eye would require stitches and she hoped Joey would soon return with Abigail Wilson.
Her eyes locked on the bruising on his right side as she gently cleaned his chest and taut stomach. She remembered the brutal coloring on his lower back and worried that he might have internal injuries. She finished cleaning him as best she could and placed the cloth back in the basin. The sound of a car pulling up outside brought a smile of relief to her face. She hurried into the living room to meet them.
“Mom, Abby’s here.”
“Sh, Joey, your sister’s sleeping,” Maria said quietly. “Go make yourself something to eat while Abby and I look after our guest.” Joey nodded and hurried to the rustic kitchen.
“What’s happened, Maria?” Abigail Wilson, an older woman with dark hair streaked with grey asked.
“I found a man...”
“It’s about time, but why do you need me?”
Maria couldn’t stop the tiny laugh that spilled from her throat. “Abby, I don’t mean it that way. I mean I found a man on the road. He’s hurt pretty bad,” she explained.
Abigail Wilson, a doctor for more than twenty years suddenly became all business. “Where is he?” she asked.
“There was nowhere else to put him,” Maria explained.
Abigail’s eyebrows shot up. “What’s wrong with the couch?” she asked as she entered the small bedroom.
“I told you he’s hurt bad. Didn’t think the couch was a good place to put him.”
“Handsome young fellow isn’t he?” the older woman asked as she sat in the chair by the bed.
“I suppose,” Maria said as she watched Abigail open her bag.
“What’s his name?”
“Has he been awake?”
“Off and on,” Maria answered.
“So why didn’t you ask his name?” the doctor asked as she examined the injured man’s eyes.
“I did ask. He doesn’t remember.”
“Not surprising. Looks like he took more than one blow to the head,” she said as she began probing the wound above his eyebrow.
“He’s got a cut on the back of his head as well,” Maria explained.
The older woman gently turned the man’s head and checked the small cut at the base of his hairline. “At least this one won’t require stitches,” she remarked as she pulled the blankets back to reveal a dark purple and black bruise. With tender, calloused hands she gently prodded the area, eliciting a sharp cry of pain from the pale form on the bed. “Easy, young man. I’m a doctor and I just have to see how bad you’re hurt,” she explained as she continued her examination.
“H...hurts,” he said as he turned hooded hazel eyes on the woman beside the bed.
“Course it does. You got yourself some broken ribs here,” Abigail explained as she finished probing the dark area. “Do you hurt anywhere else beside your head and ribs?”
“B...back,” he answered.
“He’s got another bad bruise on his lower back,” Maria explained.
“Help me turn him on his side so I can take a look,” Abigail ordered.
“S...stop,” the plea came from the injured mans mouth as the two women turned him.
“Won’t be much longer, young man,” Abigail reassured him. “Hold him like that, Maria,” she ordered as she examined the wide bruise that covered most of his lower back from hip to hip. “That’s a mighty deep bruise. We’ll have to keep an eye on him.”
“P...please, s...stop,” he begged as the burning sensation intensified.
“Almost done,” the older woman told him. “Not much I can do about the bruise. Ok, Maria, let’s put him on his back again.”
“You’re welcome,” the doctor said, smiling as she opened her bag. “I’m going to give you something to help with the pain. Then I’m gonna have to put some stitches in your head. Think you can stay still for me?”
“I’ll t...try,” he said as he watched her fill a syringe from a tiny bottle. He felt the cold sensation of a swab on his hip and then a sharp prick as she plunged the needle home.
“That should kick in pretty quick, young man.”
“Can you tell us your name and what happened to you?” Abigail asked.
The hazel eyes once more glazed over in confusion as he tried to remember what had happened to him. The image of a red haired man with blue eyes and a winning smile became engrained on his mind. He closed his eyes and tried to make out what he was saying. One word came through the fog that enshrouded his memory. “L…Lee,” he said, struggling to stay conscious.
Abigail smiled at the young woman standing above her. “Guess his name is Lee,” she said.
Lee opened his eyes and tried once more to focus his jumbled thoughts. Whatever the woman had given him had succeeded in pushing back the pain. He could feel the warmth spreading through his body as he succumbed to sleep.
“Will he be alright?” Maria asked, as she watched the slow rise and fall of the chest.
“He will be if you’re wiling to care for him.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“Help me lift him up so I can bind his ribs. Then we’ll have to watch out for kidney damage. Hopefully it’s just deep bruising. He’ll probably have some blood in his urine for a few days, but if it lasts longer than that we’ll have to take him to the hospital.
“That’s a long ways away,” Maria said.
“That’s why we’re not taking him there now,” Abigail told her. “Drive like that would probably do him more harm than good. If you don’t mind some company for a few days I’ll stay here and help you look after him.”
“Thanks, Abby, I’d like that,” Maria told her as she wiped perspiration from his forehead.
Abigail wrapped the injured ribs, ignoring the small cries of pain issuing from the unconscious man. Once she finished she turned her attention to the head wound, and began stitching it. Making a small neat row to minimize the scar. “Well that’s about all I can do for him right now, Maria. I want to get an IV going in him so I’ll have to make a quick trip to my office. Think you can look after things till I get back?”
“Sure, Abby,” Maria answered as she walked the older woman to the door.
“If he wakes up before I get back try to get him to take some water. He’s already on the verge of dehydration from being out in the sun so long.”
“I will,” Maria said as she closed the door behind the doctor.
“How’s the man doing, Mom?”
Maria looked at her son, his face so like his fathers, “He’s gonna be fine, Joey. He just needs to rest. Would you go feed the animals for me?” she asked.
“Sure, Mom,” he answered as he glanced through the open door at the man lying on his mother’s bed.
“It’s ok, Joey. Abby gave him something and he’s sleeping right now. You just go along and do your chores. You can visit with him when he wakes up,” she told her son. Their eyes met and she knew he was thinking about his father.
“Ok, Mom,” he said as he hurried out of the house.
Lee felt something sharp enter his forearm and he tried to pull away.
“Easy there, young fella, I’m just going to start an IV on you.”
“Hmm, I can tell. Right now it’s important to get you on an IV. It’ll make you feel better as well,” Abigail told him.
“S...sound like J...Jamie,” the weak voice told her, a small smile on his face.
“Who’s Jamie,” Abby asked curiously.
Hazel eyes opened and met the dark eyes of an elderly woman. His face once more filled with confusion and he cried out as the pain in his body made itself known once more. “D...don’t know,” he gasped.
Abigail Wilson finished setting up the IV and pulled the stethoscope and thermometer from her bag. “Open your mouth,” she told him and slipped the thermometer under his tongue.
Lee did as she told him, closing his eyes in an effort to ride out the pain.
Abby listened to his chest, a frown marring her features as she heard the telltale sounds of congestion. She took his pulse at his wrist and then reached to take the thermometer from his dry lips.
“How’s he doing, Abby?” Maria asked as she entered the room, carrying a tray with a bowl of thick flavorful broth and a glass of water.
“He’s running a fever and there’s some congestion in his lungs.”
As if on cue Lee started to cough, groaning as he felt his ribs protest the abuse.
“We may have to get him to a hospital if this gets any worse,” Abby told her. “For now I’m going to give him some antibiotics. Hopefully we can kick this before it gets too bad. Lee can you hear me?”
“I need you to take something for me. Think you can do that?”
Once more hazel eyes met dark ones, “K.”
“Maria, I want him sitting up more. Can you put some pillows under his back when I lift him forward?”
“Sure, Abby,” the younger woman answered as she took the extra pillows from the opposite side of the bed.
Lee tried to ignore his growing discomfort as the female doctor lifted him slightly. He felt soft hands touch his heated body as Maria placed the pillows under him. Their eyes met as Abby let him lie back in the bed. He smiled weakly and was rewarded by a breathtaking smile from the red haired woman. “Thanks,” he whispered.
“You’re welcome,” she answered. ‘He’s got the most beautiful eyes,’ she thought.
“Maria,” Abby called, smiling at the intense look on the younger woman’s face. “Maria,” she called again, a little more sharply this time.
Maria jumped at the stern sound, her expression that of a child who’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “Sorry,” she said.
“Hmm, nice to see you can still appreciate a handsome man,” Abby smiled as she watched the young man’s sheepish expression. “How are you feeling?” she asked him.
“Not bad,” he lied.
“Hmm, you don’t lie very well at all. Tell you what I’ll do. If you don’t start telling me the truth about how much pain you’re in, I’ll just give you the medication on a regular basis. Now how are you feeling?” she repeated.
“Lousy,” he answered sheepishly.
Abigail opened her bag and loaded a syringe with painkiller. She lifted the blanket and once more swabbed an area on his hip and plunged the needle in. “That should help, Lee. Now the best thing for you to do is drink the broth Maria made and then get some sleep. The medication I just gave you is gonna knock you out before long so don’t fight it.”
“K,” he said as he sipped the broth from the cup Maria placed in his hands. He finished half the bowl before his eyes closed.
Abby’s quick reaction saved him from wearing the remaining contents of the cup. “He should sleep for a while now, Maria. I’ll stay with him while you look after those wonderful kids of yours.”
“Thanks, Abby,” Maria said, taking one last look at the bruised and battered form on the bed.
Abigail smiled knowingly at the woman’s open perusal. Even though his face was marred by bruises he was still devastatingly handsome. “He sure is a looker,” she said and laughed at the younger woman’s blushing face.
“Any word from Lee, Admiral?” Morton asked as he passed Nelson a glass of amber colored liquid.
“None, Chip,” Nelson answered, laughing at the paint covered form of the exec. “He’s only been gone three days.”
“I know,” Morton said as he looked at the paint supplies on the floor. Paint splatters were evident on the polished hardwood floor.
“I think you should have hired professionals, Chip,” Nelson laughed as he sipped the scotch.
Morton laughed as he dropped the paintbrush back in the can. “Do you think it’s too late, Sir?”
“Probably not, but you’ll also need to hire someone to clean up afterwards. It’s a good thing you’re not this sloppy at work,” Nelson said as he looked around the apartment.
“That’s for sure, Admiral. Can you see Lee coming onboard to find Seaview looking as bad as this does?”
“Heaven help us all if he did. Seaview’s captain is tedious when it comes to the shape Seaview’s in. Actually so is her exec.”
“And her Admiral,” Morton said, meeting the eyes of the older man. “Got any recommendations on which paint company I can use?”
“I’ll call Antonio Brothers. They do all the work at NIMR.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Morton said, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
Nelson laughed as he noticed the line of blue paint on the exec’s forehead. “I’ll call the Antonio Brothers while you grab a shower.”
Chip looked at his hands and slowly nodded his head. “I’ll be back shortly, Sir,” he said as he hurried towards the washroom.
“Be quick, Chip, I’d like to grab some lunch before my meeting with Jiggs,” Nelson said.
“Yes, Sir,” Morton fired over his shoulder as he disappeared behind the closed door.
An hour later the two men drove towards one of their favourite restaurants located on the beach.
Nelson braked his car and turned to look at the blond haired man, his eyebrows narrowed curiously. “What’s wrong?”
“Isn’t that Lee’s car?” Morton asked, pointing at the familiar red Cobra parked at the end of the lot.
Nelson’s eyes widened in surprise as he looked at the Cobra’s license plate, “It’s Lee’s alright. I wonder what he’s doing here. He said he wasn’t coming back until the end of the week.”
“Maybe we should check it out,” Morton suggested as Nelson parked the car three spaces down from the red car.
Without another word the two men hurried towards the car. “Something’s wrong,” Nelson stated as he saw the messy interior.
“I think you’re right, Sir. There’s no way Lee would have this garbage all over his car. It looks like someone’s been smoking in here as well. There’s a couple of burns on the upholstery,” Morton said worriedly.
“I think we need to call Frank Bartlett. I have a feeling Lee’s in trouble,” Nelson said as he turned away from the Cobra and headed for his car. He lifted the phone and dialed the number for the police station. The call was answered on the second ring and Nelson asked to speak with Bartlett.
“Hello, Admiral, what can I do for you?”
“Frank, I’m at the Harbor Restaurant down by pier nine. Can you come down here?”
“What’s wrong?” Bartlett asked.
“Lee’s car is here and it’s a mess. Something’s wrong,” Nelson explained.
Bartlett knew to trust Nelson’s instincts when it came to Lee Crane. “I’m on my way, Admiral.”
“Thanks,” Nelson said as he replaced the car phone in its cradle.
Morton stood outside Nelson’s car, his eyes never leaving the Cobra. Silently, he cursed the fact that Lee Crane might be injured or even dead. There was no way he’d give up his car willingly. “Is Frank coming?”
“He’s on the way,” Nelson answered.
“What do we do if someone tries to leave in the car?” Morton asked.
His eyebrows rising menacingly, Nelson glared at the restaurant, “What do you think?” he asked.
Morton leaned heavily against the car, waiting impatiently for the police detective to show up.
“Looks like we may have to do something to keep these guys here until Frank arrives,” Nelson said as he watched two men approach the Cobra.
“I’m ready,” Morton said, a dangerous glint in his eyes.
Nelson and Morton hurried to intercept the two scruffy looking men who swayed drunkenly towards their friend’s car.
“What the hell do you want,” a tall dark haired man asked.
“This your car?” Morton asked.
“Course it is,” the shorter, muscular man slurred.
“How long have you had it?” Nelson asked.
“None of your business,” the short man snapped.
“I think it is,” Morton said, grabbing the taller man by his dirty collar. “This car belongs to a friend of mine.”
Sobering slightly in the grip of the dangerous looking blond, the taller man began to struggle against the vice like grip. “We bought this car fair and square,” he said.
“I don’t think so. Lee would never sell his car. Now where is he?” Nelson shouted, as he stepped in front of the shorter man, preventing him from escaping.
“You got no right to do this,” the tall man grated, still locked in Morton’s grip.
“Oh, I think we do,” Morton answered. “Now where’s the man who really owns this car!”
“I told you we bought it,” the muscular man answered shakily.
“And I told you Lee wouldn’t have sold it to you.”
“Look, you’d better leave us alone or I’m calling the police,” the man Morton held stammered.
“There’s no need for you to do that. We already called them,” Chip informed him, his face close enough to the other man to smell the alcohol and tobacco. He didn’t miss the fear that crept into the man’s eyes. “Are you ready to answer me now? What did you do to Lee Crane?” Morton shouted angrily.
“I ain’t sayin’ nothin’ till I see my lawyer,” the tall man said as Morton released his grip.
“Here comes Frank,” Nelson said as two police cars entered the lot and pulled up beside them.
“You gotta arrest him,” the tall man said, his finger shaking as he pointed it at the blond.
“Why?” Bartlett asked as he stood in front of the two men.
“He won’t let us go and he hurt my neck,” the tall one said as he rubbed the slightly red area on his neck.
Bartlett looked from one man to the other before turning his attention to the car. He shook his head at the state of Crane’s usually immaculate vehicle. Two officers joined him and began searching the car.
“Hey, what are you doing to my car,” the tall man asked as he watched a police officer open the glove box.
“If this is your car why does the registration paper say Lee Crane?” Bartlett asked as he read the paper from the glove box.
The muscular man answered nervously. “We didn’t get to change it yet.”
Bartlett glanced at the two quickly sobering men. “I think you two had better come downtown and answer some questions,” he said.
“Why? What’d we do? It was him who hurt my neck. We was just goin’ to drive home.”
“Well that’s reason enough. It’s illegal to drive when you’ve been drinking,” Bartlett told the two men. “Admiral, Chip, you two want to come down as well?”
Bartlett looked up as one of his men called him. He reached out and took the dark wallet from the man’s hands. He flipped it open and then passed it to Nelson.
Nelson and Morton looked at the face on the ID card.
Nelson’s brow furrowed in anger as he asked, “What have you done to Lee Crane?”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” the muscular one man answered.
“This is Lee’s wallet and he never would have given it to you willingly,” Morton shouted, reaching angrily for the man again.
“Maybe he dropped it in the car and didn’t notice it was missing,” the taller man answered, jumping back as Nelson grabbed hold of his furious exec.
“I need your names,” Bartlett glared as he took a notebook from his pocket and waited for the two men to answer.
“Jason Phillips,” the taller one told him.
“Richard Degan,” the muscular man answered.
“You two are coming downtown,” Bartlett said as he stepped out of the car. “We’ll get some answers there, Admiral,” he told Nelson as the two police officers escorted the drunken men to the police car. “Jake, I want you to wait here for forensics. Have them go over the car and see if they can find anything useful.”
“Sure, Frank,” Jake answered as he turned back to the car.
Lee opened his eyes to the dull light of an oil lantern. His head ached and his body felt stiff and painful. He looked down at his forearm and wondered why there was something leading into it. He reached out and touched it with his unhampered hand. ‘Jamie’s been busy,’ he thought and just as quickly a question formed on his lips. “Who’s Jamie? Doc Jamie,” he mumbled.
“I’m not exactly sure who Jamie is, Lee, but you keep talking about him.”
Lee turned his head at the sound of the female voice on his left grimacing at the pain the effort caused him. “Who’re you?’ he asked.
“My names Abigail Wilson and I’m the doctor around here. How are you feeling?”
“Ok,” he answered automatically.
“Sure you are. From the look on your face I can see it’s time for another shot. Now don’t be touching that IV,” she ordered as she tapped his hand.
“Don’t w...want anymore n...needles,” he protested as she swabbed an area on his hip.
“Well, you’re gonna have to put up with a few more shots. If it wasn’t for the painkiller you’d be a lot more uncomfortable than you are right now,” she told him as she replaced the blanket over his bandaged body. “Now just be quiet and let me examine you. Put this under your tongue,” she ordered as she held a thermometer in front of his mouth. As soon as he complied she placed it under his tongue. Then began taking his pulse and listening to his chest. Finally finished she pulled out the thermometer and read the numbers.
“What’s the verdict, Doc, am I gonna live?” he asked, a weak smile on his handsome face.
“You’ll do just fine if you heed my words, Lee. You need to rest and let us take care of you. Have you remembered anything else?”
Lee shook his head, wondering why his memories were proving so hard to retrieve. Sometimes faces swam in front of his eyes but he couldn’t put names to them. “No, I just see faces but their names won’t come,” he answered worriedly.
“I’m sure your memory will return, Lee. You received a few hard knocks, but there doesn’t appear to be any major damage. The best thing for you to do is rest and let the memories come back on their own.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Lee said, closing his eyes. Sleep soon overcame him and his breathing slowed.
“How’s he doing, Abby?”
“His temperatures still a bit high, but his pulse is strong and steady. He needs to rest, Maria.”
“Did he remember anything?”
Abigail shook her head negatively. “Not really, although he keeps talking to someone named Jamie. I think he might be a doctor from the way Lee was talking earlier.”
“Will he get his memory back?” Maria asked as she touched the sweat soaked dark hair.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Abigail told her, smiling at the tender gaze the younger woman turned on the injured man.
“Where’s my lawyer?” Jason Phillips shouted.
“Your lawyer is busy with other clients right now. He’ll be here when he’s finished. So just shut up or answer the questions,” Bartlett ordered angrily. They’d been questioning the two men since returning to the station but both men had steadfastly refused to answer.
“Ain’t sayin’ nothin’ till my lawyer gets here,” Richard Degan answered, he’d sobered up as soon as they’d put him in a cell.
“Give me a few minutes with him, Frank!”
Phillips eyes shot to the blond who’d spoken in anger. “You can’t do that!”
“Well then you just pipe down and be quiet. Chip, I wish the hell I could. Where’d the Admiral go?”
“He’s calling the Institute.”
Bartlett smiled, “ Guess you guys will be forming your own search party?”
“We look after our own, Frank,” Morton told him. “Here’s the Admiral now.”
“Sharkey’s organizing the men, I told them we’d be there as soon as we’re finished here. Have they said anything?”
“No, Sir, they’re refusing to talk without their lawyer present,” Morton informed him.
“Damn. Who’s their lawyer?”
“Public Defender named Mark Sheridan. He should be here any minute,” Bartlett answered.
“I know Mark,” Morton told them. “He’s an old friend and he’ll help us if he can.”
“Mark’s a good man,” Bartlett agreed.
“Frank, remind me to tell you that when we don’t see eye to eye on things.”
Bartlett smiled at the red haired man with the boyish looks. “Don’t I always, Mark?”
“Sure,” Sheridan laughed, turning his attention to the blond. “Nice to see you again, Chip.”
“You too, Mark, I just wish it was under different circumstances. I’d like you to meet my boss, Admiral Harriman Nelson.”
“Hello, Admiral,” Sheridan reached his hand out and found it gripped by a strong hand. “I’ll speak with my clients and then we’ll talk,” he told them. He followed Frank to the cell holding his clients.
Nelson sat in the chair next to Morton, the two men settling down to wait for word from Sheridan.
A beautiful grey lady, but who was she? Lee’s dreams were filled with her but he couldn’t see what she looked like. His chest hurt and he couldn’t stop the cough that tore through him. He opened his eyes and wrapped his arms around his injured ribs.
Lee stared at the red haired woman, unsure who she was. His head hurt as he struggled to sit up in the bed, another bout of coughing causing him to groan loudly.
“You just lie back there, young fella.”
Lee turned his pain filled gaze on the older woman, shaking his head as he tried to sit up.
“Now where do you think you’re going?”
“H...have to get b...back. Can’t be late or...” he stopped as his thoughts clouded over again.
“Late for what?” Maria asked gently.
“D...don’t know,” he said, holding his ribs as he started coughing again.
Abigail Wilson picked up her stethoscope and listened to his chest, frowning as she heard the rattling sounds emanating from his lungs. She looked worriedly at the younger woman as she placed a thermometer under Lee’s tongue. She took his wrist and checked his pulse. A worried frown creased her brow as she took the thermometer from his mouth. She saw her worry mirrored on the face of the young woman and mouthed, ‘not now,’ at her.
“Lee, I want you to drink as much juice, water, and broth as you can, ok?” she smiled as he nodded slightly, opening his mouth as she placed a glass of juice in front of him. He drank half of it, pulling away as he was once more overcome by a bout of coughing.
“N...no more,” he told her, letting his eyes slip closed.
“All right, Lee,” she told him. “Maria, I’m going to sit him up a bit and I need you to put more pillows behind him. It’ll help with his breathing.” Abby lifted Lee forward and smiled as the younger woman gently placed pillows behind the dark haired man. She saw the pain in his face and prepared to give him another injection.
Lee kept his eyes closed as he felt the sharp needle enter his body. ‘Wish Jamie was here,’ he thought as his mind drifted off to sleep.
“He’s not doing very well, Maria. His temperatures up and he’s showing signs of pneumonia. We need to make sure he takes in plenty of fluids and try to get his fever under control. Will you bring me some warm water?”
“I’ll be right back,” Maria assured her.
Abby smiled at her and turned back to her patient. “Well now, young man, where did you come from?” she asked and was surprised when she heard a weak and barely audible reply.
Lee opened his eyes and stared at the woman. His whole body ached and he wasn’t sure where he was. “Pardon?”
“I asked where you were from and you said Santa Barbara. Is that where you’re from?”
Lee’s eyebrows narrowed and he shook his head slowly, causing white lights to dance before his eyes. “I don’t k...know,” he gasped as he struggled to latch on to the elusive memory.
“That’s ok. It’ll come back to you. Just give it some time,” she told him as she helped him drink more water.
Maria returned with the water and a clean cloth and watched as the older woman carefully bathed the sweat soaked head. “Abby, why don’t you take a break? I’ll look after him. I made some sandwiches and coffee.”
“All right, Maria, I am kind of hungry. Just keep bathing him like I’m doing and call me if he needs anything,” the doctor ordered as she stood from the chair and moved out of the room.
Maria sat next to the bed and picked up the wet cloth. She gently sponged his body, amazed at the heat that flowed through her as her hand came in contact with his body. ‘Get yourself under control, Maria,” she scolded herself. She continued to bathe his fevered body, unconsciously letting her hands run through his dark hair. ‘Stop it, Maria, you’re behaving like a giddy school girl with a crush,’ she thought, disgusted with her bodies reaction. She hid her surprise when she noticed two hazel eyes staring at her. “Hi,” she said softly.
“H...hi,” he muttered.
“How are you feeling?”
“L…lousy,” his wheezing voice replied.
“Well that’s to be expected. You’ve taken a bad beating.”
“B...beating?” he gasped as he tried to think. “Why can’t I r...remember?”
“Probably because you hit your head. Abby says it’ll probably come back to you in time,” Maria told him as she once more helped him drink some juice.
“E...enough,” he said as his eyes closed once more.
Maria continued to bathe the injured man, hoping he would have the strength to fight the illness consuming his energy.
“Well, Frank?” Nelson asked as the policeman returned an hour later.
“They aren’t cooperating. They keep saying Lee Crane sold them the car...”
“Lee would never do that!” Morton interrupted.
“I know that, Chip. I’ve seen how much Lee Crane loves that car. It’s second only to the Seaview.”
“So what are you going to do about it?” Morton asked angrily.
“There’s nothing I can do about it right now, Chip. We have to wait and see if Mark can convince them to tell the truth.”
“Let me have five minutes alone with them and they’ll tell the truth,” Nelson told him, fire in his voice at the thought of Lee Crane lying somewhere possibly hurt or even worse, dead.
“I wish I could, Admiral,” Bartlett told him honestly.
“Admiral, Lee took his pager, maybe we can track his whereabouts.”
“I already have Sparks working on it,” Nelson told the blond. “Frank, we’ll be at the Institute if you find out anything else.”
“Ok, Admiral,” Bartlett answered, watching the two worried men leave the police station.
Nelson looked at the faces of the men in the conference room. Sharkey’s face, usually so comedic in nature, was filled with worry. Kowalski and Patterson seemed ready to strike out at anyone who dared harm their captain.
Will Jamison sat quietly, his eyes never leaving the Admiral’s face as he listened to the information on Lee Crane’s car and the missing man.
Nelson took a deep breath and began speaking. “Sparks was able to get a trace on Captain Crane’s pager. The location is approximately two hundred miles north of here. We’ll be leaving immediately to start the search. Sharkey has maps and routes for each of you. We’ll do this in teams and hopefully cover more ground. Lee is out there somewhere and the faster we find him the better.”
“Do you think the Skippers alright?”
“I don’t know, Chief. I do know that Lee would never give up his car easily. The two men who had Lee’s car won’t tell us anything so we’re going on the assumption that he needs help.”
“Let me have five minutes with those two and I’ll make them talk,” Sharkey’s voice was laced with anger as his dark eyebrows rose dangerously.
“Yeah, Admiral, why can’t we have a few minutes alone with those two,” Kowalski asked.
Nelson looked from one man to the other seeing the deep concern they had for their missing Captain. “I’d love to have a few minutes alone with them as well, but that wouldn’t do Lee any good. Sharkey give each team a route and let’s get started.”
By the time the maps were passed out there were twenty teams of three men ready to search the wilderness north of Santa Barbara. Nelson, Morton, and Jamie headed for Morton’s car, none of the men spoke as they climbed in and Morton drove out of the parking lot.
Lee opened his eyes to bright sunlight streaming in through pale curtains. He groaned as pain lanced through his skull and wondered why his body hurt so much. His chest felt heavy, laden down, as he tried to breath. He coughed and held his chest as he tried to pull oxygen into his lungs. “Oh, hell, Lee, Jamie’s gonna kill you for sure,” he wheezed.
“Now why would Jamie want to kill you?”
Lee stared at the older woman sitting on the edge of the bed, her hands gently probing his body. “Says I get hurt too much,” a hint of a smile on his face.
“I take it you’ve been injured before?”
“Comes with the territory,” he winced as the pain seemed to intensify.
“Take it easy now. How’s the head?”
“Feels like there’s a mad drummer in there,” he groaned.
“I bet it does.”
“Ah!” Crane gasped as he felt the needle once more slide into his hip. He coughed and struggled to get his breath back, and felt a strong hand lift him forward. His breathing eased as he sat up straighter and he smiled gratefully at the older woman. “T...thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” she told him as she placed another pillow under him.
“How long have I been here?” he asked as the pain began to subside.
“Maria found you on the road four days ago.”
“Four days,” he repeated as he closed his eyes and sank back into the pillows. “Guess I’m gonna be late again.”
Abigail’s eyebrows rose as she listened to the soft voice. “Late for what?” she asked gently.
“Supposed to be back at the Institute,” Crane answered but was overtaken by wracking coughs tearing at his chest.
“Easy, Son,” Abigail told him as she rubbed his back gently. The violence of the coughs told her he was getting worse. There was no choice now but to get him to the hospital and the help he needed. “Concentrate on breathing,” she ordered.
Lee concentrated on breathing, ignoring the sharp pain in his chest. “Damn, t...that hurts.” He gasped.
“I can see that. I think it’s time we got you to a hospital,” she said.
“No h...hospital,” Lee gasped. “Jamie. S...Seaview.”
Crane nodded his head as his eyes closed.
Maria came into the room a few minutes later. “How’s he doing, Abby?”
“Not good, Maria, he needs a hospital.”
“When do we leave?”
“As soon as possible. He’s burning up right now and he’s definitely got full blown pneumonia.”
“I’ll get the car ready,” Maria told her.
“I think we’re better off leaving him here and having the rescue chopper come pick him up.”
“But it’s a three hour drive into town.”
“I know, Maria. But that town doesn’t have a hospital. You’ll need to call for a rescue team to come get him. To try and drive the six hours to Santa Barbara would be too much for him. At least here I can keep the IV going and keep him relatively pain free.”
“I’ll leave right away,” she told the older woman.
“Maria, have you ever heard of something called the Seaview?”
“Seaview. That’s the big submarine with the windows,” an excited voice answered from behind Maria.
“How do you know that, Joey?” Maria asked.
“It’s in one of the books Dad gave me. Want to see it?”
“Yes,” Abigail answered.
Joey ran out of the room and hurried back a few minutes later with a tightly bound book. He opened it to a page showing a sleek silver submarine. The caption over the picture read NIMR BUILDS NUCLEAR SUBMARINE.
“See that’s the Seaview,” Joey’s voice was filled with awe as he pointed out the picture.
“S...Seaview,” Crane rasped as he heard the voices around him.
“Is this the Seaview, Lee?” the doctor asked.
Lee looked at the picture, his memories suddenly flooding back to him. Agony ripped through his head as pictures danced before his eyes. A red haired man smiling as he patted him on the back. A blond haired man whose friendship meant so much to him. A concerned face telling him he needed to take it easy. More and more faces floated before his eyes and he struggled to get past the pain and grasp at the memories.
“Lee, are you all right?” Abigail asked as she placed a hand on his shoulder, trying to sooth the trembling man’s body.
“I...I’m fine,” he answered automatically as Will Jamison’s face danced before his eyes.
“Steady, Son, it’s all right,” Abigail reassured him.
“H...have to let the A...Admiral know where I am.”
“We’ll take care of all that, Lee, you just rest and take it easy. Maria, pour me some water.” Abigail took the glass from the younger woman and placed it in front of the injured man.
Lee sipped from the glass, fighting for the names that went with the familiar faces. Faces he knew belonged to his friends. “Admiral Nelson, have to talk to him,” he wheezed.
“That’s not possible right now, Lee. Maria is going to drive into town and call for a rescue chopper.”
“What do you mean no? You need to be in a hospital.”
“No hospital. Call Nelson Institute. Jamie will come. P...please call the institute, they’ll send the flying sub.”
“Maria, if you can find the number he’s talking about call them first.”
“Alright, Abby. Lee, you just do as Abby says. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“T...thank you,” Lee said, his hazel eyes filled with pain as they slipped closed once more.
“Maria, be careful. There’s a major storm brewing and I hate the thought of you out there alone.”
“I’ll be fine, Abby,” Maria assured the older woman. She knew Abigail Wilson had lived in the area all her life and if she said a major storm was brewing then it was only a matter of time before it hit.
“Just make sure you drive carefully and don’t worry about the kids. I’ll look after them.”
“I’m not sure when I’ll be back.”
“If the storm’s too bad just stay in town.”
“I’ll think about it,” Maria hugged her kids and hurried out the door.
The storm had come upon them with little warning. So intent were they on finding Lee Crane that neither man bothered to check the forecast for the area. Heavy rain mixed with large chunks of hail struck the car with enough force to dent the bonnet. Lightening flashed overhead and thunder resonated overhead.
“Anything, Chip?” Nelson asked as he slowed the car and drove carefully around a bend in the road. Bright headlights blinded him as he swung to avoid an oncoming vehicle. The car slid along the wet macadam and came to rest against a small hill. Nelson looked at the other two men, relieved to see they were shaken up, but unhurt. He looked through the rear view mirror and saw that the other car had stopped on the opposite side of the road.
“I’ll see if they’re ok,” Morton said as he pulled his lightweight jacket up over his head and opened the passenger side door. Wind whipped into the car as he struggled to get to his feet. “Be right back!” he shouted above the wind, rain, and thunder.
“Be careful, Chip,” Jamison shouted from the back seat.
Morton forced the door closed and ran through the deep pools of water that covered the road. He hurried to the car and knocked on the driver’s side window. A pale-faced woman lifted her face and looked at him. Her eyes were filled with unshed moisture as she rolled the window down part way.
“Are you alright, Ma’am?” he shouted.
“I’m fine. I’m sorry! I...I didn’t think anyone else would be on the road in this weather.”
“We thought the same thing. What’s the hurry?”
“I’ve got to get to town.”
“In this weather?”
“It’s an emergency.”
“Is someone hurt?” he asked as he looked into the dark back seat.
“Yes, back at my house. I have to get into town and call for help but I can’t get this piece of junk to start again,” she cried hitting the steering wheel in frustration.
“We haven’t passed a town since Union Circle.”
“That’s where I was headed.”
“You’ll never make it back there in this storm or in this car. Why don’t you come with us and we’ll take you back to your house.”
“Dammit,” she swore as she again hit the steering wheel. “Abigail said he needs a hospital.”
“Look, come get in our car. At least you’ll be warm.”
“I don’t seem to have much choice,” she said, reading the honesty in the handsome water soaked face. She pushed her door open and Morton caught it and held it before the wind swung it back into her. He slammed the door and grasped her elbow steering her towards the other car.
Jamison opened the door for the woman to climb inside as Nelson did the same for Chip.
“Are you alright, Ma’am?” Jamison asked.
“A little shook up, but I’m fine.”
“What’s your name?” Nelson asked.
“Maria Stern,” She relied through chattering teeth.
“There’s an emergency blanket under your seat, Jamie,” Morton said and was surprised as the woman’s head snapped up to stare at the three men. “Ma’am are you ok?”
‘It can’t be. It’s just a coincidence,’ she thought as she realized a lot of men were called Jamie. It was just that the memory of Lee saying that name was fresh in her mind. “I’m fine,” she finally answered.
“Admiral, I told her we’d drive her home. Jamie, she said there’s someone hurt at her house.”
“Where do you live, Ma’am,” Nelson asked.
“About five miles down the road there’s a turnoff. You take that and my home is at the very end. It’s about an hours drive on a normal day. It’ll probably take at least two in this weather.”
“Who’s injured and how bad?” Jamison asked instantly slipping into his profession.
“His name is Lee...”
“What?” the word was shouted from three different mouths at the same time.
“I said his name is Lee. I found him on the road four days ago. He was pretty badly beaten up.”
“I know, Chip. My name is Harriman Nelson, ma’am and we’re looking for a missing friend. His name is Lee Crane.”
“Oh my, God,” she cried as she realized it had to be Divine intervention that brought the four of them together on the darkened road in a storm of this magnitude.
“How bad is he hurt, Ma’am?” Jamison asked.
“Abby says he has some broken ribs, a concussion, and he’s also developed pneumonia.”
“Admiral, slow down. We’ll be no good to him if we have an accident,” Jamison ordered. In truth he wanted nothing more than to get to Lee Crane, but he had to get there in one piece if he was to help the injured man.
“There’s one more thing you should know.”
“What?” Jamison asked.
“He’s lost his memory. When I left he was beginning to remember some things but not all of it. He does keep saying the name Jamie,” she was startled as the three men laughed.
“Sorry, Ma’am, but Lee spends a lot of time in sickbay under Jamie’s care,” Morton explained as they lapsed back into silence.
The storm continued to rage outside as Nelson fought against natures fury to keep the car on the road.
Abby fed the kids and helped Suzie get ready for bed. Joey was such a mature kid for his age and he’d helped keep his sister occupied during the storm. She’d fed them dinner and they’d quietly played board games and Joey read to her. The storm continued to rage as she stood in the window and looked out over the darkened land. Lightening flashed overhead illuminating the destruction already wrought to the small farm. Anything that hadn’t been held down was picked up by the groaning wind and deposited far away from its original resting place. A harsh cough followed by a low moan tore her attention from the storm and brought her back to the bed.
“Easy, Son,” she soothed as she touched the fevered brow. Shaking her head she picked up the cloth and once more began bathing his face. She smiled as a pair of hazel eyes opened and looked at her.
“H...hurts to b...breath,” he gasped.
“I bet it does. Maria went for help and hopefully they’ll get here soon.”
“She s...shouldn’t have gone in t...this s...storm. Too d...dangerous.”
“It wasn’t this bad when she left, Lee. There wasn’t much choice. We really do need to get you to the hospital.”
Lee sighed and closed his eyes. His chest felt heavy and he really was having trouble drawing in enough air. He felt the doctor touch his forehead once more and smiled weakly at her. “Is it as hot as I feel?”
“Yeah, you’re running quite a fever there. Think you could swallow a couple of tablets for me?”
“Guess so,” he answered as she helped him sit up a little more. His breathing eased some as she placed extra pillows behind his back. She placed the tablets in his mouth and helped him drink some water. He swallowed gratefully, the cold water soothing his throat. “T...thanks,” he mumbled as he felt the pull of sleep once more. Familiar faces filled his exhausted mind and he tried to grasp their names. The only one that kept coming through to him was Jamie. Somehow he knew Jamie would help him if he found him. He moaned as he tried to move on the bed.
“Lie still and try to sleep, Lee,” Abby ordered.
“Can’t, h…hurts to breath. H...headache,” he told her, his face showing just how much pain he was in.
“I can’t give you anything else for pain, Son. What I have would affect your breathing to much,” she explained as she gently rubbed his temples, carefully avoiding the area above his right eye.
The gentle touch of her hands made him sigh as the headache subsided slightly. He let himself become lost in the soothing touch and drifted towards sleep once more.
Abigail continued the light massage, relieved to see the lines of pain slowly fade from his face. She knew he needed more help than she could give him right now and the longer it took to get him that help the weaker he’d become. She fervently hoped that her instincts, which told her he was a strong man and a fighter, were right.
“It’s not much further,” Maria said as the tree lined road narrowed signaling they were close to her home. The tall pines overhead dipped to the breaking point only to be whipped around as the wind changed directions. She looked behind her as something hit the edge of the trunk and gasped as the lightening overhead revealed they’d narrowly missed being crushed by a forty-foot pine. “That’s it, the lights up there. That’s my home,” she said as Nelson drove the car into the yard.
They pulled up in front of the tiny home but hadn’t even come to a complete stop before three men were out the door.
Abby continued to sit with the injured man. She bathed his face and talked soothingly to him, hoping her voice would help him focus on something other than the pain. She didn’t hear the car pull up outside and swore softly as the light dimmed. She knew Maria’s house was supplied by an old generator, and she prayed it wouldn’t give out on them now. She was startled as a large crash sounded from the living room and three waterlogged men hurried into the room.
“Lee!” Nelson gasped as his eyes landed on the pale figure sitting up in the bed.
Lee Crane heard someone call his name, but he didn’t have the strength to answer him. The voice seemed vaguely familiar, but the thick vapor in his mind wouldn’t let him latch on to the memory.
Nelson stood back in order to give Will Jameson room to work, even as every instinct in his body told him he needed to speak with the younger man. He shifted his eyes from the man on the bed and met the worried gaze of Seaview’s exec.
“Abby, these are his friends,” Maria explained as she came into the room.
“I’m Will Jamison, Ma’am,” Seaview’s doctor explained as he opened his medical kit.
“Is he going to be alright, Jamie?” Nelson asked worriedly.
“Jamie?” Abby asked.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Jamison said as he continued to examine his Captain and friend.
“He’s been calling for you.”
Jamison’s eyebrows rose but he didn’t take time to answer. The heat emanating from the injured man worried him and he knew he needed to act fast. He pulled out his stethoscope and listened to Crane’s lungs, his face showing real fear as he listened to the heavy congestion he found there.
“Not now, Admiral,” Jamison hissed as he continued his examination, his eyes quickly taking in the IV running into Lee Crane’s arm. “How long has he been like this?”
“His lungs became congested late yesterday and have continued to deteriorate. He needs stronger antibiotics than the ones I’ve been treating him with,” Abby explained as she showed him the drugs she’d been using.
“Chip, Admiral, can you bring in the extra supplies from the car.”
“Right away,” Nelson’s reply was filled with worry for his captain and friend.
“Are you a doctor,” Jamison asked as he checked the bandaging around Lee’s ribs.
Abigail nodded as she watched the younger man work. His skilled hands and concerned tone told her he was a gifted physician and knew what he was doing. The worry on his face told her that he knew his friend was in bad shape and needed help immediately. “My name is Abigail Wilson. Most folks just call me Abby.”
The softly spoken word brought both sets of eyes back to the injured man. “I’m here, Lee. How do you feel?”
Glazed hazel eyes opened and tried to focus on the man sitting next to the bed. “I...I’m f...fine.”
“Sure you are, Lee,” Jamison smiled at the expected answer, something that never ceased to amaze him. The smile quickly disappeared as Lee Crane was overcome by a bout of coughing. Jamison and Abigail helped him sit forward and waited for the attack to subside.
Nelson and Morton came into the room as the attack stopped, worry for their friend etched on both handsome faces.
“Admiral, get me the oxygen,” Jamison ordered as he eased the pale man back on the bed. Nelson complied and Seaview’s doctor soon had a mask placed over his Captains mouth and nose. “That should help, Lee,” he offered, not sure the man was still conscious.
“T...thanks,” came the muffled reply.
“I thought you were sleeping,” Jamison smiled.
“Seaview’s fine, Lee. Now I want you to relax and let us take care of you.”
“Why would the Admiral be mad?” Jamison asked as he took Cranes blood pressure.
“L…late...shore l…leave over.”
“The Admiral’s not mad Lee. He’s just worried about you.”
“No, Lee, I’m not mad,” Nelson moved to the bed and into Cranes line of sight in order to reassure him. “Now you just rest and let Jamie look after you.”
Crane looked at the face from his dreams and tried to make the connection. He knew he should remember who this man was, but he couldn’t grasp the elusive memory. He looked into the intense blue eyes and muttered, “Tell, A...Admiral...sorry,” he pleaded as his eyes slid shut.
“It’s ok, Admiral, he’s sleeping,” Jamison said as he arranged a bag of antibiotics on the makeshift IV pole over Lee Crane’s bed.
“He didn’t seem to know me,” Nelson said.
“He’s been like that since I found him,” Maria explained.
“It’s probably from the blows to the head he received,” Abigail told them. “He’s been confused from the beginning, but I don’t think it’s permanent. He seems to be remembering things in bits and pieces. He’s been calling Jamie since the beginning.”
Jamison couldn’t help smiling at the thought of his worst patient remembering him. With the help of Abigail Wilson he finished a thorough examination of the injured man. He could feel two men looking over his shoulders, the worry and tension felt heavy in the room.
Will Jamison rubbed tired eyes and turned to the window, shaking his head at Natures fury as it lashed against the house. ‘Wish we were on Seaview,’ he thought as he felt the storm trying to break into the little house.
“Jamie, how is he?” Nelson asked.
“Maria, why don’t you and I go make these gentlemen something to eat and drink,” Abigail suggested, knowing the three men needed to be alone with their friend.
Jamison looked at the worried men as the two women left the room. “We need to get him to a hospital as soon as possible,” he answered.
“How bad?” Morton asked.
“He’s got pneumonia, broken ribs, head injuries, numerous bruises and cuts, Abby said there’s been blood in his urine, I’m hoping that’s just because of the heavy bruises and not an indication of something more serious. His temperature’s one hundred and three and it may climb higher.”
“Dammit,” Nelson hissed as he slammed one fist into the other. “Chip, keep trying to reach Sharkey. The faster we get the flying sub here the better.”
“I will, Admiral, but the electrical storm is interfering with the signal,” Morton explained as the lights dimmed.
“Chip, we’d better find out how Maria’s getting her power and see if we can do something about keeping it on,” Nelson took one last look at the unconscious man before leading the other man from the room.
He heard their voices but didn’t have the energy needed to answer them. He felt detached from his body and wanted to stay that way. Each time he floated towards the voices pain would slam into him and become his entire world. His chest felt as if something heavy were sitting on it and he fought to get the cool air into his lungs. He’d coughed so long and hard he thought for sure he had nothing left inside. His throat felt raw and dry, his head throbbed as if a band of drummers had taken up permanent residence inside it.
Harriman Nelson hadn’t moved from his Captain’s side since he’d returned from helping Morton do what they could to keep the ancient generator working. They’d battled the angry winds in their effort to get the job done. They’d filled the small reservoir with gasoline and were in the process of returning to the house when Chip Morton was struck by a piece of flying debris. He’d dragged the semi-conscious man into the house and called for Jamison. The doctor shook his head at the sight of the drenched, bleeding form Nelson hauled inside. Morton now rested on the couch in the living room and Jamison was in the rustic kitchen after being ordered from the room by Nelson.
Nelson stood and stretched the tight muscles in his back. He looked at his friend before moving to the window. The storm continued unabated and he could barely see across the yard to the barn. A sound from the bed caught his attention and he moved back to the chair he’d resided in for the past few hours. He listened, hoping to hear the tiny sound repeated and was soon rewarded for his patience.
Lee Crane knew he was hurt as he tried to move on the bed. His bruised and battered body protested the feeble attempt he made and a low moan escaped his lips.
Crane heard the familiar voice again and latched onto it, drawing himself up from the murky depths until he looked into the deep blue eyes of a man he instinctively knew he could trust. The red-haired man’s name still eluded him but he knew his rank. He knew this man was not only his boss but a friend, a man he trusted and Lee felt some of the coldness leave him. “A...Admiral,” he rasped through the mask on his face.
“That’s right, Lee,” Nelson smiled warmly at the hazel eyes. “How do you feel?”
“T...tired...w...went t...ten r...rounds w...with an a...ape.”
“I don’t doubt that for a minute.”
“J...Jamie...here?” Crane asked as he vaguely remembered the face of Seaview’s doctor.
“Yes, Lee, he is. You just lie still and I’ll get him.”
“Y...yes, Sir,” Crane answered weakly, his labored breathing painful to Nelson’s ears.
Crane followed the man across the room, wondering if he’d ever remember the name that went with the face. He lifted his hand to his chest as a harsh cough ripped from his lungs. He pulled the mask from his face as the attack grew worse. He felt hands lifting him forward but couldn’t open his eyes. He knew they were trying to help him, but the movement only caused more pain to flare and he cried out weakly. He had no idea how long the attack went on or how often his face was washed but when it ended he felt weaker than ever. As he was once more lowered to the bed his eyes met the concern filled blue eyes and a name finally entered his fever-wracked brain. ‘Nelson,’ he thought, a small smile on his face as something was held against his mouth.
“Lee, I want you to drink some of this,” Jamison ordered as he held the glass of water to the fever baked lips.
“C...can’t,” Crane mumbled.
“Captain Crane, you will do as you’re told or do I have to make it an order?”
Years of ingrained training kicked in and Lee Crane did as the red-haired man ordered. He swallowed a small amount of water before surrendering to the darkness once more. He never felt the mask replaced on his face or the strong hand on his shoulder, yet he knew instinctively he wasn’t alone.
“Admiral, why don’t you get some rest?”
“Not right now, Jamie. I’ll stay here with Lee while you grab some sleep. He’s going to need you when he wakes up and you’re going to need to be rested.”
Jamison nodded as he realized the Admiral made sense. He moved away from the bed and watched as the other man took over the watch once more. “He’s fighting, Harry,” he assured his friend, using the man’s first name to let him know he wasn’t alone.
“I know, Jamie, I just hope he’s got the strength to keep fighting,” he said. “How’s Chip?”
“Sleeping. He’s got a mild concussion and it took six stitches to close up the gash.”
“He’s going to be alright though isn’t he?”
“He’ll be fine, Admiral.”
“Thanks,” Nelson picked up the cloth from the basin and washed the pale face of his Captain.
“Call me if he needs anything,” Jamison ordered.
“I will, Jamie, now get some rest,” Nelson listened as the footsteps faded. He knew Maria’s children were up and was amazed at how quiet two children could be. He rubbed his tired eyes before looking back at the bed. “Dammit, Lee, it was supposed to be a nice relaxing shore leave,” he whispered as he watched his friend fighting for his life.
“Any word from the Admiral, Ski?” Sharkey asked.
“Nothing seems to be getting through, Chief. I’ve been trying to contact them all night,” Kowalski answered.
“It probably has to do with the storm in their search area,” Patterson offered.
“Well, there’s nothing we can do, but continue with our own search,” Sharkey suggested.
“Do you think they found the skipper?” Kowalski asked worriedly.
“I hope so, kid,” the older man knew something serious must’ve happened to Seaview’s Captain or they would have heard from him by now.
“The Skipper is strong. He’ll find a way to get help and get back to Seaview,” Patterson told them as heavy rain pelted down on their car.
Chip Morton opened his eyes to a pounding headache and a churning stomach. He reached up and touched the bandaged area on his head and moaned softly. He forced his eyes completely open and fought to grasp the memories of where he was and why he was there. He slid his long legs over the side of the couch and sat up, fighting the nausea once again. His eyes suddenly grew wide with worry as the fog lifted from his mind and his memories suddenly returned. ‘Lee,’ he thought, standing and moving towards the small bedroom where his friend slept.
Nelson looked up as the blond stumbled into the room, one hand shielding his eyes against the bright light. “Admiral, How’s he doing?”
“No change, Chip,” Nelson stood and helped the younger man into the chair.
“What does Jamie say?”
“Jamie says Abby did a fantastic job with him and if it wasn’t for her Lee wouldn’t have made it this far.”
“We have to get him out of here,” Morton’s voice revealed the pain he was suffering.
“We will, Chip,” Nelson assured the younger man as he walked to the tiny window and looked out at the raging storm. “As soon as this damned storm ends.”
“Still no luck with the radio?”
“Too much electrical interference,” Nelson answered and rushed to the bed as the first harsh cough erupted from the injured man. He lifted his captain forward, removed the oxygen mask and held him through the terrifying bout of harsh coughs.
Will Jamison woke at the first cough and rushed into the room and slid in on the opposite side of the bed as Seaview’s captain fought to catch his breath. The hazel eyes were open and filled with pain as the coughs wreaked havoc with his broken ribs. “Easy, Lee, just take it slow,” Jamison told the injured man.
“Steady, Lee,” Nelson told him.
Lee Crane slowly turned to the familiar voice and pain filled hazel eyes met worried blue ones as the coughing finally subsided. “A...Admiral, how’d... you f...find me,” Crane’s weak voice asked.
“We didn’t find you. Maria found us and brought us here.”
“S...she’s g...good at f...finding p...people,” Lee smiled as he thought of his rescuer and her two children.
“How’re we doing in here,” Abigail Wilson asked as she entered the room.
“F...fine,” Lee answered automatically, causing a smile to spread on Nelson, Jamison, and Morton’s faces.
“Sure you are, Son,” Abby smiled as Nelson moved out of the way and let her help Jamison. The two doctors began a thorough examination of the injured man, ignoring the tiny gasps of pain as they probed the wounds on his body.
“I need to listen to his lungs,” Jamison said, indicating to Nelson that he help them sit Crane forward. “Chip, stay where you are,” Seaview’s doctor ordered as the blond moved in to help.
“N...no,” Lee Crane was a man familiar with pain, but the coughing had taken it’s toll on his body and the upward movement of his body made him cry out. “S...stop.”
“Almost finished, Lee,” Jamison assured the younger man. “Ok, ease him back down. Lee, I know you’re in pain but there’s not much I can give you right now,” Jamison explained as he watched the pain float across the pale face.
“I...it’s ok, J...Jamie, not y...your f...fault.”
“Lee, do you think you can drink a little more water for me,” Jamison asked. Lee nodded slightly and Nelson lifted his head slightly.
Lee drank the cold liquid, glad of the tiny respite from his dry tortured throat. He turned away and closed his eyes as exhaustion and pain pulled him back into the void.
Abigail took in the pale faces of the three men who’d come to rescue their friend. Each man wore his worry on his face and neither one tried to mask it. She knew there was more than friendship between these men. She sensed it was more of brothers than friends. That they’d do anything for each other including giving up their own lives.
“I’ll keep trying to get through to Sharkey, Admiral.”
“No, Chip, I’ll try to get through to the chief. You need to go lie down before you fall down.”
“That’s right, Chip, you’ve got all the signs of a concussion and I want you off your feet,” Jamison ordered.
“I’m fine,” Morton told him.
“Are they always this stubborn?” Abby asked.
“Yes,” Nelson answered.
“You’re one to talk, Admiral. I seem to remember you saying the same thing when you were last in my sickbay.”
“It sounds like you have your hands full, Jamie,” Abby observed.
“I do. Admiral, escort Chip back to the couch, please.”
“Come on, Chip,” Nelson ordered as he steadied the swaying exec.
“You’ll come get me if anything happens,” Morton said as he held his pounding head.
“We will,” Nelson assured him.
It was hours later when the violence of Nature finally eased and Nelson breathed a sigh of relief as he made contact with Sharkey’s search party. “Chief.”
“Yes, Sir, Admiral. Are you, Doc, and Mr. Morton ok, Sir?”
“We’re ok, Chief...”
“Did you find the Skipper, Sir?” Sharkey interrupted.
“Chief, listen to me. We found the Skipper but he’s in bad shape. We need FS1 here as soon as possible.”
“Yes, Sir, is the Skipper gonna be alright?”
“I don’t know, Chief. His chances are better now that we’ll be able to get him to a hospital.”
“It’ll take us a couple of hours to get back to Santa Barbara, Admiral. Give me your coordinates and we’ll be there as quick as we can.”
“We’re at a small farm, Chief. Just home in on my pager and you’ll be able to find us that way.”
“Yes, Sir, take care, Admiral and I’ll be there as soon as possible,” Sharkey told him as he turned to Kowalski. “Ski, get us back to Santa Barbara,” he ordered.
“Is the Skipper ok, Chief?” Patterson asked from the back seat.
“The Admiral says he’s in bad shape and needs to get to the hospital,” Sharkey explained. ‘Come on, Skipper, show us you still have some fight left in you,’ he thought as Kowalski turned the car around and they sped back the way they’d come.
Lee opened his eyes and tried to clear his foggy mind. He knew he was hurt but couldn’t seem to remember how or why. It felt as if something heavy was sitting on his chest and he fought to draw in every labored breath. His eyes, so filled with pain, held no fear. If he was going to die there was little he could do about it, but until that happened he was going to continue to force the air into his lungs.
Crane turned his head slightly wincing as a thousand stars erupted in a brilliant display of fireworks behind his eyelids.
“Easy, Lee, just breath slowly now,” Nelson explained as he reached out and touched his Captains shoulder.
“H...hard to b...breathe,” Lee stammered.
“I know it is. We’ll soon have you out of here and in the hospital.”
“The worst of it is over. Sharkey should be on his way here in the flying sub.”
Lee’s mind still couldn’t grasp the illusive memories that stayed just beyond reach of his troubled mind. “Sharkey?”
Nelson saw the confusion in his captain’s eyes and explained. “He’s Seaview’s chief, Lee.”
“It’s ok, Lee, don’t worry about it right now. It won’t be long before you’re feeling better and everything comes back to you. Easy, Son,” Nelson saw the panicked look on his captains face and lifted him forward as harsh coughs erupted from his throat. “Jamie!” he shouted for Seaview’s medical officer.
Jamison was already in the room and helping Nelson with the injured man. Morton, Maria, and Abby rushed into the room at Nelson’s cry of alarm in time to see Jamison and Nelson hold Lee forward. The weak man didn’t seem to have the strength to endure much more and each person in the room sent a prayer to give him the strength he needed.
“Ease him back on the pillow, Admiral,” Jamison ordered as he picked up his stethoscope. He listened to Lee’s lungs and shook his head at the people in the room. The sounds emanating from Lee Crane’s lungs proved that things were growing worse and Jamison knew if they didn’t get him out of there he wouldn’t last the day.
“Jamie?” Nelson asked as he watched the green eyes close once more.
Jamison touched Crane’s neck and was relieved to find a pulse, weak, but still there. “He’s still with us, Harry, for how long I just don’t know. He needs to be in a hospital. We just don’t have the right equipment to help him. How long before Sharkey gets here?”
“They should’ve made it back to the Institute by now. With FS1’s speed they should be here within the hour,” Nelson told him.
“Thank God. Did you tell him to notify the Institute we were bringing Lee in?” Jamison asked.
“They know,” Nelson answered. “Sharkey said they were getting everything prepared for you.”
“Harry, he’s probably gonna need to be on a ventilator until he’s strong enough to breathe on his own. He’s just not getting enough air into his lungs.”
Morton moved closer to the bed and looked down at the too still figure. “He’ll make it Jamie. Lee Crane is a fighter and he’ll beat this one.”
Jamison nodded and picked up the cloth from the cool water in the basin. “He’s gonna need to be a fighter, Chip,” he whispered.
“FS1 is here, Jamie,” Nelson said, hurrying back into the room.
“Thank God. Admiral, get the stretcher in here while I get him ready for transport,” Jamison ordered. “Did you hear that, Lee?”
“FS1?” Crane muttered under the oxygen mask.
“Seaview’s flying sub. We’re getting you out of here so just relax and let us take care of things.”
“N...not m...much choice,” Crane muttered breathlessly.
“Just lie still and be quiet, Lee,” Jamison ordered as he checked the IV and made sure it was secure in Crane’s forearm.
Lee let his eyes slide shut again and wondered if he’d ever have clear memories again. His head pounded as he tried to recall the details that landed him in this spot. He knew he’d been hurt before, knew instinctively that these people would always be there to help him, but each time he grasped something and tried to focus on it he lost the train of thought. The pain he felt had more to do with the loss of how much these men meant to him than the actual physical injuries on his body. He drifted away from the pain, hoping to find a safe harbor where he could ride out the storm of agony in his mind and body.
He felt the voice pulling him back and fought against it, knowing to return meant the return of the constant pain.
“We’re going to get you on a stretcher and get you out of here, Lee,” Jamison explained, unsure the captain could hear him.
“K,” was the weak reply he received.
“Alright, let’s do this. Admiral, you get his head and shoulders. Chief, Kowalski, you two take his legs. Abby, I need you to slide the stretcher under him when we logroll him.”
Abigail moved to the opposite side of the bed and readied the stretcher.
Chip, stay back,” Seaview’s doctor ordered as the pale blond moved to help them.
“I’m ok, Jamie,” Morton assured him.
“Not now, Chip. Just stay back. All right gentlemen, on three… one, two, three,” as the final number left his lips they eased Crane onto his side, ignoring the weak cries emanating from the semi conscious man. The stretcher was pushed into the spot Lee occupied seconds before and they gently placed him on the stretcher. “All done, Lee,” Jamison said, noting the fine beads of perspiration on the pale forehead.
“Doc, is he gonna be ok?” Sharkey asked, speaking for the first time since he’d come into the room.
“He will be once we get him to the Institute, Chief,” Jamison tried to sound confident in spite of the severity of the situation. “Ok, gentlemen, let’s move,” he ordered.
Lee held his breath as they lifted the stretcher off the bed. He opened his eyes and caught sight of the two women who’d been instrumental in getting him this far. “W...wait,” he whispered, reaching out to the two women.
“We need to get you to the hospital, Lee,” Jamison told him.
“N...not yet. H...have to t...thank M...Maria...Abby. F...found me...s...saved my l...life. N...need to say t...thanks,” he muttered around the oxygen mask.
“You just worry about getting well, Lee,” Maria told him.
“Knowing you’ll be up and around before long is all the thanks need, Son,” Abigail Wilson smiled as the injured man was taken from the home.
Lee felt himself drifting off again and this time let the call of sleep pull him away from the pain.
Lee Crane felt hands on his body and wondered where he was. Something intruded down his throat and as awareness returned he fought against the intrusion. His whole body was a mass of pain as he struggled to get away from the thing causing him to lose his breath. ‘No,’ he cried, but no sound escaped his lips. ‘Stop,’ the hands holding his own were warm and wouldn’t let him reach the offending object.
“Easy, Lee,” Jamison soothed aware that the captain was fighting the tube in his throat. “You’re in the hospital and we had to hook you up to a respirator. You’re going to be alright but you need to relax and let the ventilator do its job,” he smiled as a pair of glazed hazel eyes opened and looked at him, a spark of recognition in them. “That’s better. I want to ask you a couple of questions, Lee. We’ll use the blink once for yes, twice for no, system, alright?” Hazel eyes blinked once. “Do you know who I am?” One blink. “Very good, are you in any pain?” One blink. Jamison signaled the nurse who added medication to Crane’s IV. “Janet just gave you something that should help with the pain, do you remember what happened?” Two blinks and a look of fear in the hazel eyes. “Its ok, Lee, it’ll take time,” he assured his patient as the lids grew heavy and dropped over the hazel orbs.
Jamison motioned for Nelson to come in. He’d sent the Admiral down to the cafeteria with orders to eat. They’d been back in Santa Barbara for thirty-six hours and Lee Crane was slowly improving.
“How is he?” Nelson asked.
“He was awake for a few minutes and he recognized me. He was in pain so I had Janet give him a shot to help him. I’ve set the ventilator for a trial run and if his blood gases stay within the norms we should be able to take him off of it this afternoon.”
“So he’s going to be alright?”
“I think so, Admiral.”
“What about his memory?”
“He’s known me from the beginning. I think down deep he knows you and Chip but we’ll have to wait till this evening to find out for sure. I asked him if he remembered what happened to him and he said no.”
“Will he remember?” Nelson asked worriedly.
“That’s hard to say, Admiral, sometimes the mind blocks out things. Lee received some serious blows to his head and he may not get complete memory back. We’ll run some tests when he’s more lucid, but until then we need to watch what we say. We can’t push him right now.”
Nelson nodded as he sank into the chair beside the bed. He’d sat in constant vigilance since they’d placed Lee Crane in ICU. He’d dozed on and off, but his body was starting to feel the fatigue.
“Admiral,” Jamison waited till his friend looked at him. “Lee is going to sleep for a few hours. I know you won’t go home, but I want you to go to the doctor’s lounge and get some rest. I’ll come get you if there’s a problem.”
“I believe you, Admiral,” Jamison interrupted. “You’re not tired, right? I can believe that because you passed tired long ago. You’re exhausted and pretty soon you’re going to pass out and we’ll put you in a room and let you sleep.”
“Let me finish, Admiral. Once we put you in that room, I’ll leave orders not to disturb you until you wake up on your own. Now if Lee happens to wake up before then...”
“I get your point, Jamie,” Nelson interrupted. “You’ll come get me?”
“Of course. You’ll find Chip already stretched out in the lounge. He refused to go home as well.”
“All right, Jamie,” Nelson stood up and stretched the kinks out of his back. He looked down at the sleeping man before leaving the room.
“All alike,” Jamison smiled as he looked from the man on the bed to the man leaving the room.
Lee was awake again, but this time he knew where he was. ‘Jamie,’ he thought as the older man smiled down at him.
“Are you ready to get rid of this thing, Lee?” One blink. “Alright,” Jamison smiled as he began removing the tape holding the tube in place. “Now, Lee, I want you to breath out when I tell you too. Alright?” One blink. “OK, breath out,” Seaview’s doc ordered as he pulled the tube from Crane’s throat.
Lee felt the tube as it slid from his throat and fought the gagging sensation that always went with it.
Jamison reached for the small basin and helped the injured man turn to the side as his stomach emptied. Dry heaves soon followed and Lee held his broken ribs as they protested the violence of his churning stomach. Jamison eased him back on the bed, washed his face and immediately placed an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose.
“Lee, your throat probably feels pretty raw right now so don’t try to talk. Janet is going to give you a shot and I want you to try to sleep.”
“K,” was the simple, weak reply as the nurse placed the medication in his IV.
“Come in, Admiral, Chip.”
“How is he?” Morton asked.
“See for yourself,” Jamison told him.
Nelson and Morton stood beside the bed and smiled at Seaview’s captain. The hazel eyes focused on the two men and they saw the recognition in them.
“Glad to see you’re awake, Lee,” Nelson grinned.
“A...Admiral,” Lee whispered under the mask and was overcome with a bout of coughing.
Jamison raised the head of the bed, relieved when it seemed to ease his patients breathing. “Don’t try to talk anymore, Lee,” Jamison warned.
Crane nodded his head and tried to get comfortable. He could feel the heavy weight on his chest but it wasn’t as bad as it had been. He closed his eyes and waited for the medication to take control of the pain.
“Lee?” Crane opened his eyes to half-mast. “Don’t fight the coughing. It’s gonna help clear your lungs and that’s what we need to happen,” Jamison ordered.
Crane groaned and nodded as his eyes drifted shut once more. He listened as the three men talked softly, hearing, but not understanding what was being said, yet knowing he was safe and among friends.
Crane opened his eyes and turned to meet those of his friend and employer. A weak smile covered his handsome face as he realized he was safe, hurting, but safe. “Admiral,” he mumbled through the mask covering his mouth and nose.
“That’s right, Lee. How’re you feeling?” Nelson asked.
“Tired, sore,” Lee answered simply.
Lee turned and smiled weakly at Will Jamison. “No,” he lied.
‘He’s back,’ Jamison thought. “Lee?”
“I’m ok, Jamie,” Crane grinned and struggled to sit up. He watched Nelson’s hand reach down and slowly depress the button on the bed, raising his head until he was sitting up. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” Nelson watched the hazel eyes carefully. He’d known Lee Crane long enough to read the emotions in them and right now there was a smoldering fire just beginning to ignite. “Lee?”
“F...feel so stupid.”
“I let my guard down for a few minutes and ended up taking a beating and losing my car...” he trailed off and frowned. “How did you guys find me?” he asked.
“Well, Lee, first of all we found your car and the two men who stole it from you. They weren’t very cooperative.”
Crane listened as the Admiral went over the details of the search and the accidental meeting with Maria Stern. “She saved my life, Admiral.”
“I know she did, Lee.”
“I remember waking up on the road, not knowing how I’d gotten there. I couldn’t remember anything and just stumbled along the road. I kept falling, but somehow I knew I had to keep getting back up. Had to keep moving. I must’ve passed out because the next thing I knew someone was helping me. She saved my life, Admiral, I would’ve died out there if she hadn’t come along. She took me back to her house and had her son go for help,” Crane smiled as he remembered the feisty female doctor who’d cared for him at the small farm, he struggled to keep his eyes open, not wanting to give up the warm thoughts of the family who’d saved his life. “I owe them,” he whispered as his eyes closed.
“We owe them,” Nelson answered as he watched Seaview’s captain return to sleep. “He is going to be alright, isn’t he Jamie?”
“He should be fine, Admiral, as long as he does as he’s told.”
“Well, we’ll just have to make sure he does. How long will he be in here?”
“At least a week. I want to make sure his lungs are clear before we release him.”
“Easier said than done,” Nelson smiled at the thought of Lee Crane placidly remaining in the hospital. He knew as soon as the younger man was able he’d be fighting tooth and nail to get out and back aboard his submarine. That was something Nelson wanted to see.
Nelson didn’t have long to wait. He could hear Lee Crane arguing with Jamison as he walked towards the private room. Lee’s voice lacked strength but he still drove home the fact that he wanted out. ‘Four days, it took longer than I figured,,’ he thought as he stepped into the room. “Having problems?” he asked, noting the oxygen mask was gone, but the antibiotics were still flowing into Crane’s arm.
“Just the usual,” Jamison sputtered as he checked Crane’s vitals.
“I wondered how long it would be before you decided it was time to get out of here, Lee,” Nelson smiled at the still pale man.
“I’m fine, Admiral,” Crane started.
“Sure you are, Lee. Do you feel up to some company?”
“Company?” Crane asked, sitting up straighter in the bed. “Who?”
“Good morning, Lee.”
Crane smiled as two women entered his room. “Good morning, Abby, Maria.”
“What’re you fussing about, Lee?” Abigail asked.
“N...nothing,” Crane stammered as he pressed the button to sit up more.
“Well, Son, that was the loudest nothing I’ve ever heard. I’m glad you’re getting your strength back, but I agree with Jamie that you need to give yourself time to heal. Now why don’t you just lie back and let your friends take care of you? I mean they did save your life so the least you can do is have some consideration and not undo what they’ve done for you.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Crane smiled thinly, knowing this woman could see right through the mask he used to cover the pain he was in.
Jamison’s eyes widened and he stared from Crane to Abigail Wilson, finally letting his eyes rest on Nelson. “Is there anyway we could hire her?” he asked.
Abby laughed as she heard Seaview’s doctor. “Thank you, Jamie, but I’ve grown fond of my little practice up north.”
“How are you doing, Lee?”
Crane smiled at the woman who’d rescued him, his eyes showing the gratitude he felt. “I’m doing fine, Maria,” he answered. “How’re Joey and Suzie?”
Maria smiled at the handsome man as she told them the kids were doing fine and that she’d left them with their aunt and uncle while she joined Abby on the drive to Santa Barbara.
“I owe you both my life,” Crane told the two women.
“You don’t owe me nothing, Lee,” Maria told him. “I’m just glad you’re doing so much better.”
“Thanks, Maria,” Crane yawned as his recovering body betrayed the lingering weakness. “S...sorry,” he apologized.
“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for, Lee,” Abby assured him. “You just relax and go to sleep. Let your friends look after you.”
“I will,” he muttered. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome and the next time you decide to come north make sure you don’t need my medical help,” Abby grinned as she watched the tired eyes fighting to stay open..
“Take care, Lee,” Maria told him.
“You too,” he answered as sleep finally took over.
“Thank you both for coming,” Nelson told the two women and escorted them from the room.
Jamison turned out the overhead lights and watched his most frequent patient sleeping. At times like this Will Jamison could see the underlying vulnerability he seldom saw when the man was awake. “Sleep well, Lee,” he said softly.
Harriman Nelson seethed as he listened to the man on the other end of the line. He knew it wasn’t Bartlett’s fault, but that did little to soften his anger. The two men responsible for Lee Crane’s injuries were released on bail early that morning. “Frank, how the hell could this happen?”
“The DA did everything he could, Admiral, but the judge wouldn’t deny bail.”
“Why the hell not?”
“You know Judge Watkins. He doesn’t believe in cluttering up the jail cells if there’s any way around it. He doesn’t feel these two are a threat to run and he figured he’d set the bail high enough to make sure they stuck around.”
“They may not be a threat to run, but they are a threat to Lee. If they have any sense at all they’ll know Lee is the only one who can ID them. Car theft carries a light sentence, but attempted murder is a hell of a lot more serious.”
“I know, Admiral, that’s why I called you right away. I wanted you aware so you can have Lee watched. When is he getting out of the hospital?”
“He’s due to be released tomorrow. I’m going to insist on his being my guest until this is all over.”
“He won’t like that.”
“I know but there’s no choice until those two are convicted. I’m going to enlist some of Seaview’s crew to help in surveillance.”
“I’ll see what I can do about arranging police protection for him as well.”
“Thanks, Frank,” Nelson said as he hung up. He rubbed his eyes and placed his head in his hands. “Damn,” he swore as he reached for the phone to call Chip Morton.
“What are we gonna do, Jason?” Degan asked worriedly.
“We’re gonna kill us a captain,” Phillips answered as he caressed the silver cylinder on the pistol in his hand.
“How’re we gonna do that?”
A sly grin came over Phillips face as he thought of the dark haired man they’d beaten and left for dead. “We’re just gonna wait until he’s alone and then we’re gonna,” he lifted the gun and pointed it at the newspaper clipping of Lee Crane from that morning’s paper. “Kill us a witness before he gets a chance to testify,” he laughed.
“Yeah,” Degan smiled. “He can’t testify if he’s dead.”
“That’s right,” Phillips said, cleaning the gun once more. “Captain Lee Crane’s gonna regret the day he stopped at that rest area. Bang!” he laughed as his partner grinned broadly.
“He’s gonna be real sorry. Bang,” Degan agreed.
“Lee, your chariot awaits.”
Hazel eyes glared at the blond haired man. “I can walk,” he protested.
“You know the rules, Lee. Now climb in,” Nelson ordered.
“Damn,” Crane smiled at his boss. “I was hoping they’d revoked that rule.”
“No such luck,” Morton told him as the injured man slid into the chair. Chip was relieved to see the bruises were finally fading. He knew his friend was still hurting, but at least his face wasn’t so gaunt and the dark circles under the eyes were nearly gone.
Seaview’s Captain sat in the chair, his left arm wrapped around his ribs in an effort to ease the lingering pain there. His chest was pretty clear now but Jamison warned him he’d still feel weak and needed to get as much rest as possible. Lee smiled as he remembered the blackmail Jamison and Nelson used to make sure he would adhere to their rules. Either he stayed in the hospital for another week or he stayed with the Admiral. He chose the latter, agreeing to anything to get out of the hospital. He bit his lip as the urge to cough came over him again. He held his ribs tightly as the first hacking cough left him.
Jamison knelt in front of him and placed a pillow against the injured area. “Let it out, Lee, you’ve got to get rid of all of it.”
“E...easy for y...you to s...say,” Crane ground out between gasping coughs.
Jamison watched the handsome face contort in pain with each cough and wondered if it was such a wise idea to release the stubborn captain.
Lee breathed a sigh of relief as the urge to cough subsided. He smiled weakly at the ship’s doctor, reading the worry in the man’s eyes. “I’m not staying, Jamie.”
“Jamie, I’ve agreed to stay with the Admiral for a week. You said as long as I did that I could get out of here.”
The words came easier, but the face was still too pale for Jamison’s liking. “ Lee, it might be...”
“No!” Crane snapped tiredly. “Look, Jamie, I really need to get out of here.”
Jamison smiled and nodded. “Alright, Lee, but remember our agreement.”
“How can I forget? I’m to eat, sleep, and do nothing but relax for the whole week. Sounds more like a prison sentence than medical advice,” he smiled as his three friends laughed. “Chip, get me out of here before the warden here decides I need to go into solitary confinement,” he laughed.
“Don’t tempt him, Lee,” Nelson told him.
“That’s right,” Jamison agreed. “It won’t take much to put you in lockdown, Lee.”
“We’re outta here,” Morton assured his friend. He pushed the wheelchair through the door and to the elevator.
Lee recognized members of his crew standing around the hallway. Nelson informed him they would be guarding him until Degan and Phillips were tried and convicted. He hated the thought of disrupting the others lives, but he knew it was useless to argue. The doors opened and Chip pushed him inside. Crane smiled as Nelson and Jamison flanked them, ‘My own personal mother hens,’ he thought.
Degan watched the front of the hospital. His view was pretty clear and the binoculars aided his ability to recognize the people coming and going from the Institute. He knew who he was looking for. Phillips was certain the rumors he heard were true and that the man they were after was being released this morning. He smiled as three men exited the well-kept building.
Lee watched as Sharkey, Kowalski, and Patterson walked through the front entrance and moved to the side of the door. He shook his head at the thought of these three guarding him. They were good men, but he hated the idea of being under scrutiny at all times. At a signal from Sharkey, Morton pushed Crane’s chair through the door. A black Sedan waited at the bottom of the ramp and he soon found himself bundled inside. Nelson was soon seated on his right, Jamison on his left, and Chip Morton moved behind the wheel.
“Is this really necessary, Admiral?” he asked softly.
“Until Degan and Phillips are behind bars for good, it is,” Nelson insisted.
Lee rested his head against the back seat. He let his mind drift to the Sterns family and wondered how they were doing. He knew he owed them and somehow he’d find a way to repay some of the kindness they’d shown him. He remembered the boy, Joey, and his concern for a virtual stranger. A smile covered his face as he thought of the female doctor and all she’d done for him. He knew he wouldn’t be here if not for her medical skills. She’d kept him alive till his friends arrived and he was more than grateful.
Nelson watched as Crane’s features relaxed and his breathing evened out. He knew the younger man was still weak and would be for some time to come.
“He’s okay, Admiral, just tired and bull headed like a few others I could name,” Jamison observed softly. He smiled as he exchanged looks with Morton in the rear view mirror.
Degan hurried to the phone and called Phillips’ apartment. He didn’t have to wait long for the phone to be answered. “Let me talk to Jason,” he told the elderly woman who answered. He waited until his partner picked up and spoke rapidly. “He’s out, Jason.”
“Are you sure?” Phillips asked.
Degan could feel Phillips smiling on the other end of the line. “Yeah, they took off a couple of minutes ago. Two cars. He was in one of them with those two fellas from the restaurant. There was another car following them as they left.”
“That’s great, Rich.”
“When are we gonna go after him?”
“As soon as I’m ready. I figure the captain don’t seem the type to stay in hiding so we just wait a few days until he shows himself.”
“Do you really think it’ll be that easy?”
“No, but it doesn’t matter. I know where they’ll be taking him.”
“You do? How?”
“There are only two places they’d take him and think he’s safe. He’ll either be staying with Nelson or Morton until the trial. We have to get to him before then and I know just how to do it.”
“How?” Degan asked excitedly.
“You’ll know soon enough. Come on back here and we’ll go over the plans.”
“Lee,” Nelson called softly, not wanting to startle the sleeping man.
Crane opened his eyes and tried to focus. He smiled at the hovering men and yawned loudly. He glanced out the window and knew they were in front of Nelson’s home. “We here already?”
“That’s right, Captain. You’ve been asleep for nearly forty minutes.”
“Must’ve been tired,” he said, trying to stifle another yawn.
“Sounds to me like your still tired. Lets get you inside and settled into bed,” Jamison ordered.
“That’s right, bed,” Jamison told him as they got out of the car.
Lee felt like he was sandwiched between Nelson and Morton as they walked up to the house. He smiled in spite of his hatred of being coddled. These men were not just friends they were family. He couldn’t remember when that happened, but he felt he could trust each and every one of them. Nelson opened the door and they entered the darkened interior. The heavy drapes were drawn blocking out the bright afternoon sunshine. Lee headed for the dark brown couch and sank heavily into its comfort. He watched the other men moving around the room, but didn’t have the energy to help. He felt his eyes growing heavy again and the next thing he knew there was a hand on his shoulder. He smiled at Seaview’s doctor as the man passed him three pills and a glass of water. “I don’t need anything for pain,” he protested, knowing it was futile as the pain in his chest and ribs increased.
“Take them, Lee, and we’ll get you settled into bed.”
“I don’t need to go to bed.”
“Lee, you promised. Remember?”
Crane nodded, truth was he felt exhausted by the short trip from the hospital, but he wasn’t about to let the others know. He swallowed the pills with the water and sighed heavily.
“Lets go, Lee,” Jamison ordered softly.
Half an hour later Lee Crane was tucked into Harriman Nelson’s spare bedroom. The others left him to sleep and he soon found the call impossible to ignore.
Nelson looked in five minutes later and knew his captain was sleeping. He smiled at the man he considered his son and left him to sleep and heal.
Lee woke up, confusion and pain written on his face. He looked around the room, struggling to bring things into focus. He remembered driving and stopping at a rest area and two men attacking him. He placed his hand to his forehead, wincing as it came in contact with the bandaged area. His head pounded as he fought to bring the memories under control. He took a deep breath and was reminded of another injury he’d suffered as a result of his encounter with the two men. He’d dealt with broken ribs before and knew it was going to be uncomfortable for a while yet. He looked to the door as it opened and smiled at the red haired man silhouetted in the doorway. “Admiral,” he said softly.
“You’re supposed to be sleeping, Lee,” Nelson observed, trying, but failing to put a touch of gruffness in his voice.
“I was,” Seaview’s captain answered as he placed his right hand over his eyes,
“Just a small one, Admiral. I’m hoping it’ll go away on its own. Jamie says it’ll happen for a while because of the concussion.”
“If it doesn’t, make sure you let one of us know.”
“I will. Right now I need to get out of this bed. Can you hand me my clothes?”
“Why don’t you rest a little longer?”
“I’d rather not. Feels like all I’ve done is lie in bed. I’m getting stiff and need to work out some of it.”
“All right,” Nelson said, shaking his head as he handed the younger man his clothes. He knew Lee Crane’s pride wouldn’t allow him to ask for help, but nothing said he couldn’t offer it. “Need any help?”
“No, thanks, Sir, I think I can manage.”
“I’ll be right outside the door if you change your mind,” the Admiral smiled as he walked out and closed the door.
“Okay,” Lee waited for his friend to leave and eased his aching body up in the bed. He slid his long legs over the side, biting his lip as he finished sitting up. ‘Damn,’ he hissed as his body protested the movement. He waited a few minutes for the headache to ease before reaching for his grey sweat pants. He knew Nelson and Jamison went for comfort clothing for him and he was grateful as he slid them on. He stood up and eased them up over his hips ignoring the discomfort this caused his ribs and relishing in the loose fit. He sat back on the bed as a wave of dizziness washed over him. He waited for it to pass before attempting to pull the sweatshirt over his head. Lifting his arms was more of a chore than sitting up. After two more painful attempts he let his arms drop back to his side in defeat.
Nelson opened the door and asked softly, “Lee, are you alright?”
Lee grinned sheepishly at his friend. “I’m fine. Just can’t seem to lift my arms high enough to get the shirt on.”
“Let me give you a hand,” Nelson said, smiling at the look on his captain’s face. “It’s ok, Lee, you’re gonna need to let the rest of us help. Between the ribs and the after effects of pneumonia you’re gonna be a little uncomfortable. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help,” he admonished and eased the loose fitting shirt over the injured man’s shoulders. Nelson knew it would take some time for the heavy bruises along Crane’s chest and lower back to disappear. He silently swore the two men who caused it would pay. “Are you sure you’re up to this?”
“Yes, Sir,” Crane managed a weak grin as he slowly stood up. “I guess running a marathon is out of the question right now,” he stated as they slowly made their way to the living room.
Nelson laughed at the captain’s comments, knowing it was Lee’s way of putting his friend’s mind at ease. “I don’t think Jamie will let you do any running for a while.”
“Damn, I was looking forward to winning that race.”
“Lee, I think the tortoise would outrace you today,” Nelson observed as the dark haired man sank in the comfortable recliner.
“I don’t think so, Sir, I know so,” he laughed.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
“A nice cold...”
“No alcohol,” Nelson interrupted.
“A nice cold glass of water,” Lee told him.
“I’ll be right back with it and your medication.”
Crane watched the older man walk away. He knew it was useless to argue, Jamie would just threaten him with a shot. He hated admitting how much pain he was in, hated feeling inadequate because of injuries. He closed his eyes and wondered where the two men behind his misery were. He rubbed at his aching temples and sighed heavily.
He opened his eyes and took the water and pills from his friend. He swallowed the three tablets and placed the glass on the table. “Thank you,” he muttered.
“You’re welcome. Chip’s fixing dinner,” Nelson’s eyebrows rose in amusement at the look on Crane’s face. Chip’s culinary expertise left a lot to be desired and that reputation was well known throughout Seaview. “Don’t worry, Lee, its just soup. Jamie says your stomach is still not ready for anything too solid.”
“Admiral, Chip’s soup...”
“Chip didn’t make it, Lee. He’s just heating it up.”
“Thank God,” Lee grinned. He muffled a groan as he moved the wrong way in the chair. He hoped Nelson missed it, but the look of concern on the older man’s face told him he wasn’t fooling anyone. “It’s not so bad, Admiral,” he assured him.
Nelson gave him his best ‘I don’t believe you for a minute’ look and Lee smiled.
“Come and get it while its hot,” Morton called from the dining room.
“Need a hand?” Nelson asked.
“No thank you,” Crane smiled as he struggled out of the chair. He swayed as he got to his feet, but immediately felt a steadying hand on his arm. He slowly made his way to the dining room and sat in the chair. He ate slowly, listening to the quiet conversation between Morton and Nelson, feeling the pain meds taking control and lulling him to sleep.
Morton looked at Nelson as Crane dropped the spoon and eased back from the table.
“Lee, are you alright?” Morton’s concerned voice asked.
“Yeah, just can’t seem to stay awake,” he yawned and smiled thinly at the two men.
“Well, why don’t we get you back to bed?” Nelson asked, pushing his chair back from the table.
“I only just got up.”
“Lee, you only just got out of the hospital. You’re not completely over the pneumonia and you need to give yourself time to heal,” Nelson told him. “Come on, Lad, before you fall asleep sitting up and Jamie blames us for your discomfort.”
Lee sighed and stood up. He walked towards the room and sat on the edge of the bed. He lay back against the pillow and soon felt the blankets lifted over him. “Thanks,” he mumbled as sleep reached out and took him in its waiting arms.
“Jason, it’s been two days since he got out.”
“I know,” Phillips smiled at his friend.
“So when’re we gonna do it?”
“Tonight,” Phillips laughed at the lopsided grin his words produced on his friend.
“How? He’s still at Nelson’s house and it’s crawling with his men. Ain’t no way we can get past all of ‘em.”
“That’s why we need something that’s gonna get us past security. I’ve been watchin’ the comings and goings at the Institute. There’s a courier service they use and I have a friend who works there. He’ll be in the truck that delivers today’s packages to the Institute.”
“How’s that gonna help us get to Crane?” Degan asked.
Phillips smiled as he tossed a pistol to his partner. “Mike’s gonna let us ride in the back. He’s gonna make sure there are two big boxes with important names on them. He’s been doing the deliveries there for a long time and they trust him. We can hide in those boxes until he makes the drop. He’ll keep the guard occupied while we get out of the truck and find a good place to lay low until it’s time to take care of the good captain. Bang!” he said as he pointed his gun at Degan.
“Bang!” Degan agreed. “Can you trust Mike?”
“Mike owes me a heap of money and I’ve got proof he’s been stealing from the courier company. He’ll do anything to make sure I don’t turn over the evidence to anyone. So, yeah, Mike can be trusted.”
“What about Crane’s men? How do we get past them?”
“It’s a good thing one of us got brains, Rich. We just arrange a diversion.”
“What kind?” Degan asked.
“I got a parcel here for Admiral Nelson,” Phillips smiled.
“What’s in it?”
“A little explosive device. We’ll just leave it for Mike to deliver. It’ll go off at eight-thirty tonight. That should take care of most of the guards. They’ll be called to help put out the fire.”
“And while they’re doing that we’ll go for...”
“We gonna kill him straightaway?”
Phillips smiled again. “I don’t think so. I think maybe it’s time we taught the captain another lesson. Make him see the error of his ways before we kill him.”
“We gonna do it in Nelson’s house?”
“Nope, we’re gonna make the good captain help us get outta there. Then we’ll take him to that old house you stay in when ya got nowhere else ta go. Want a beer?”
Degan nodded his head and sat back, twirling the gun on the index finger of his right hand.
Lee sat in the chair on Nelson’s patio. The coffee in his hands was slowly losing its heat and he sipped at it. This was the first coffee he’d been given since before his ordeal began and he savored every drop. He heard footsteps behind him and knew it was Nelson.
“Good morning, Admiral.”
“Morning, Lee,” Nelson smiled at the younger man as he placed a sandwich in front of him.
“Thank you,” Crane said as he picked up the salami on rye with Dejon mustard. His appetite was never that great, but the smell of the freshly made sandwich made his mouth water.
Nelson watched the captain eat. The bruises were just about gone and Lee was refusing the pain medication, saying it made him sleepy. Jamison agreed he could do without it, but he was to let him know if he needed anything. The Admiral knew Lee would never ask for it. He’d seen the grimace of pain on the still pale face when Crane moved too quickly, but kept it to himself.
“Admiral, you don’t have to keep me company.”
“I know, Lee,” Nelson smiled as Crane enjoyed the simple fare. “I’m going to the office this afternoon. Chip’ll be here. Sharkey and Kowalski will be on duty outside.”
“Is all that really necessary, Admiral. I mean Phillips and Degan can’t get past the security at the gate.”
“I’m not taking any chances, Lee. We both know security is not fool proof. We’ve seen how it can break down at times. No, Lee, Sharkey and Kowalski stay. I’ll be back in time to make dinner.”
“Anything in particular you’d like to have?”
“No,” Crane answered softly.
Nelson could see the dark haired man was upset with being a virtual prisoner until Phillips and Degan were convicted and sentenced. He knew he’d feel the same way if the situation were reversed. He stood up and patted his friend on the right shoulder.
“It won’t be much longer, Lee. Judge Watkins wants to set a date for the trial as soon as possible. He’s not all bad,” Nelson said at the look of distaste on Crane’s face.
“I don’t think I agree with you right now, Admiral. He’s the reason I’m the prisoner and those two are out running around.”
“I know, Son, but it’ll all be over soon. If you feel up to it tomorrow we’ll take a stroll to Seaview and you can check out the repairs we’ve been making,” Nelson saw his words have the desired effect on his friend and was glad he’d cleared the excursion with Jamison that morning. He knew Crane was far from ready to go back to work. He was still weak from the bout of pneumonia and the injuries sustained from the beating. Yet nothing would make the captain smile as much as a walk through his beloved grey lady. Nelson knew he’d done the right thing.
“Can we go today?” Crane asked, unable to mask the excitement in his voice.
“Not today, Lee,” he saw the disappointment cloud the hazel eyes. “I’m sorry, Son, but I’ve got some things to clear up this afternoon, then Chip and I have to attend that ceremony tonight.” Nelson’s eyes lit up as he asked the next question. “How would you like to attend it with us?”
Crane repressed a shudder as he looked at the admiral. “No thanks, Sir. I think I’d rather kick back and watch the game rather than sit in on a ceremony to honor that...”
“Don’t say it, Lee,” Nelson laughed. “I know you don’t think too much of Senator Brake, but he is providing a service to the Institute and the hospitals in and around Santa Barbara.”
“You can bet the old... the Senator is getting something out of it or he wouldn’t be donating so much of the tax-payers money,” Crane really didn’t like Drake, but couldn’t put a finger on why. The man did put money where it was needed, but only after making a show of how hard he worked to get the grants. Crane knew that was what tonight would be about and he wanted nothing to do with it.
“All right, Lee, but if you...”
“I won’t change my mind, Sir,” Crane stated as he picked up the second half of the sandwich.
“Alright, Son, but you know you owe Chip one for going in your place.”
“I’ll make it up to him,” Crane grinned as he thought of Morton sitting amongst all those stuffed shirts. This was one time he really did owe Chip Morton. There was nothing he hated worse than sitting through a bunch of speeches.
“I’m sure you will, Lee. You make sure you rest, Son and we’ll see you when we get home.”
“Aye, Sir,” Crane said as Nelson left. His mind wandered back to the night of the beating and the two men who’d stolen his car and his memories for a short time. He had no idea how long he sat there letting the memories play like a repeating movie behind his closed lids. He rubbed at his temples as the headache that started as annoying grew to encompass his skull. Drumbeats echoed inside his head as he placed the half eaten sandwich back on the plate. His appetite was gone now as his stomach rebelled against what he already put into it. He struggled to his feet, his hands held against his temples as he forced his eyes open. He needed to get inside, out of the bright sun before his stomach heaved. He walked on unsteady legs into the house and tried to find his way to the bathroom. The pain grew steadily worse and he knew he was going to be sick. Through the cloudy haze he made it to the washroom and sat on the floor. He vomited into the toilette and moaned softly. He knew he needed to get into bed before he passed out. He struggled to shaky legs and forced one foot in front of the other. Bright lights danced before his eyes and he felt the room around him spinning madly. He cried out and fell to his knees, his hands clenched tightly against the pounding in his head.
Morton entered Nelson’s house and spotted Crane kneeling on the floor behind the sofa. “Lee!” He snapped and hurried forward.
Crane heard the familiar voice but couldn’t find the energy to answer. His stomach and head continued to fight each other for dominance of his body and neither was ready to relinquish the pain they were causing. He felt a steadying hand on his arm and gasped, “C...Chip.”
“Yes, Lee, it’s me. What happened?” he asked as he pulled Crane’s right arm over his shoulder.
“T...think my h...head e...exploded,” Crane stammered. He stumbled along beside his friend, grateful for the strength he found there.
“Lets get you into bed and I’ll call Jamie,” Morton told him.
Seaview’s Captain wanted to argue that he didn’t need the doctor, but the solid thumping in his head convinced him otherwise. He sank to the bed and felt Morton lift his legs onto the mattress. He kept his eyes shut and listened as Morton dialed a number. Snatches of the conversation seeped past the pain, but none of the words made sense. He shivered and tried to get warm, but nothing seemed to work. He didn’t hear Morton hang up the phone, but he felt a blanket pulled up over him. He wanted to say thanks but to speak would take too much effort. He heard a soft moan and realized it was emanating from his own throat.
Chip sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the lines of pain etched in the pale face. He’d suffered his own share of concussions and knew from experience how quickly and severely the headache could come back. He also knew how it affected the stomach, causing severe nausea and even vomiting. He walked to the windows and drew the heavy drapes across to block out the sunlight. He heard the front door open and moved towards the door. He sighed as he heard the familiar voice.
“Chip, how is he?” Jamison asked as he hurried into the room.
“Still the same, Jamie. I found him coming out of the washroom. He was holding his head and I think he’d just been sick.”
Jamison quickly moved in to examine the younger man. “Lee?” he called softly, not wanting to startle Crane.
Seaview’s Captain kept his eyes closed as he answered. “J...Jamie,” he mumbled painfully.
“I’m here, Lee. I’m gonna give you a shot. It’ll help with the headache and nausea. Okay?”
“O...okay,” Crane gasped, unable to hold back the pain any longer. He felt the blanket and sweats pulled back and something cold swiped just behind his hip. He felt the sharp bite of the needle, but it was nothing compared to the pain in the rest of his body. He trembled as the drug entered his system and waited for it to take effect. He felt someone removing his shirt and pants and pulling the blankets back over him. The voices were soft and didn’t quite reach his ears and he didn’t bother trying to hear what they were saying. He placed his right arm over his eyes and sighed as the pain began to ebb.
“That shots gonna make you sleep so don’t fight it, Lee. Chip, I’ve cancelled the meetings I had scheduled so I can stay with him if you’ve got anything you need to do,” Jamison explained as he watched the lines slowly diminish on the captain’s forehead.
“It’s okay, Jamie. I’ve got no plans until that ceremony tonight. Want a coffee?”
“Thanks, Chip, coffee would be great,” Jamison said as he took out a BP cuff and started taking his patients vitals. He smiled as he looked into a pair of hazel eyes. “Any better, Lee?”
“T...think so. T...thanks, Jamie.”
“You’re welcome, Lee. You’ll feel better after you’ve slept,” he watched as tired lids slowly enveloped the hazel eyes. He waited a few more minutes and knew Crane was sleeping. He looked towards the door to see a very worried blond standing there with two cups in his hand. “He’s gonna be fine, Chip. He had a severe concussion and this is probably going to happen again. He’s sleeping right now and hopefully that shot will make sure he stays that way the rest of the afternoon. I’m going to call Cookie and have him make something light for Lee’s dinner. I don’t want him eating anything heavy the rest of the day.”
Morton nodded and the two men exited the room, leaving the injured man sleeping quietly.
Phillips sat in the cramped box, listening to Degan’s deep breathing. “Will ya cut that out. Mike’s gonna be opening the doors back here any minute and if the guard’s with him he’ll hear ya for sure.”
“I can’t help it, Jason. You know how it is when I get excited.”
“Yeah, I do, but it’s important that ya keep it down right now.” He felt the truck grind to a halt and hissed. “Now shut up and breathe slow.”
“Sure, Jason,” Degan agreed. He struggled to control his breathing and was proud when he had it under control.
Mike Harding pulled to a stop in front of the closed gates of Nelson Institute. He wiped his sweaty palms on the blue pants he wore and waited for the guard to come towards him. He recognized the older man and was glad to see him on duty. His hands were shaking and he kept them on the wheel to hide it from the guard.
“Afternoon, Mike, what are you carrying today?”
“Afternoon, Tom, got a couple of deliveries. One is for Admiral Nelson. Two for Dr. Chung.”
“Let me take a look at your manifest,” Tom said.
Mike reached down on the seat and came up with the clipboard and the doctored documents. He watched as the older man’s eyes raked over the papers. He was sure the guard would hear his heart pounding in his chest, but Tom handed him back the papers and smiled.
“I need to have a look in the back,” Tom told him.
Mike swallowed the lump in his throat and prayed his cargo would remain silent. “Sure, Tom.” He opened the driver’s door and stepped out into the bright afternoon sunshine. “Something going on?” he asked.
“No, just a routine check,” Tom assured him as they walked to the back of the delivery truck.
“Oh,” Mike said as he opened the double doors.
Tom stepped into the truck and glanced around. He ran his eyes over the names on the packages and checked them against his memory. The parcels were legit according to the manifest Harding showed him and he jumped back to the asphalt. “Alright, Mike, you can go on up.”
“Thanks, Tom.” Harding hurriedly closed the doors and walked back to the front of the truck. He climbed inside and turned the key in the ignition. His heart raced in his chest as he drove away from the guardhouse. He knew what he was doing was wrong, yet he didn’t have a choice. Jason Phillips could and would turn over the evidence he had. Mike Harding did not relish the idea of spending time behind bars. He drove along the tree-lined driveway until he came to a spot where he couldn’t be observed. He hurried to the back of the truck and opened the door.
“Hurry up before someone comes!” Mike snapped.
Phillips and Degan came out from behind the boxes and hurried out the door. Degan carried the explosive device in his hands as the two men smiled and ran for the cover of the trees.
‘Tonight, Crane,’ Phillips thought as they made it to the relative safety of the trees. He turned and watched Harding drive away in the delivery truck. A smile broadened on his face and he saw a matching one on his partner. “Bang!” he said, cocking his finger and thumb.
“Bang!” Degan mimicked his friend and blew on his finger for effect.
“Are you sure you won’t change your mind, Lee?” Morton asked hopefully.
“Not no your life, Chip,” Crane assured his friend. He watched as Morton adjusted the dark tie. He didn’t envy the blond. He hated wearing monkey suits and knew Chip was uncomfortable in the black tuxedo and white ruffle shirt. The polished shoes made Crane’s feet hurt just looking at them.
“You know you owe me big time for this one, Lee,” Morton observed. He envied Crane staying home and comfortable in his sweats while he and the Admiral were forced to endure the stuffed shirts they were meeting with tonight.
Crane smiled at the blond and stood up. The headache he’d endured earlier had subsided and was now just a distant memory, but he rubbed at his temple for show. “You know I’d go if I could, Chip, but Jamie said I needed to rest.”
“Yeah, right!” Morton laughed. “Since when do you do what Jamie says?”
Lee smiled, his eyes sparkling with mischief as he looked at his friend. “Since it gets me out of hobnobbing with stiff necked bureaucrats.”
“I’ll remember that next time I don’t want to attend one of these things.”
“Are you ready, Chip?” Nelson asked as he entered the room. He was dressed in a tuxedo similar to Morton’s except the jacket he wore was white. The crease down the front of the black pants looked sharp enough to cut paper. His blue eyes sparkled as he looked at the two younger men. He didn’t enjoy ceremonies like this, but he knew how important they were. He hid a smile as he saw the discomfort on the blonds face and the look of relief on the Captain’s face. The two men were different in so many ways, yet they had a close friendship that knew no bounds.
“Yes, Sir,” Morton said and turned a final glower at Crane. He loosened his tie once more and mumbled, “I’ll get you for this, Captain.”
“I’m sure you will, Mr. Morton,” Crane returned as he stretched out on the sofa and picked up the remote.
“Lee. Patterson and Riley are outside if you need anything. Jamie’s number is keyed into the phone so just call him if there’s any problems.”
Crane turned towards Nelson and knew the older man was worried about the episode earlier in the day. “Yes, Sir. I’m fine, Admiral. The headache’s gone and I’m just going to watch some TV and relax.”
“Alright, Lee. Cookie sent over his latest batch of chicken soup. It’s in the fridge when you get hungry. See you when we get home.”
Crane smiled as the two men left. He settled back against the firm pillow and ran his fingers over the remote. His finger stopped as an old western came on and he settled back to watch The Magnificent Seven.
Nelson and Morton entered the brightly lit formal dining room. The elegant tables were covered in royal blue linen with white lace runners down the center. Fine china and crystal added to the effect. A bouquet of lilies marked the exact center of each table. The lights sparkled off the silverware as soft music escaped the speakers surrounding the room.
Nelson sighed as a tall, silver haired man hurried towards him. He knew he could not avoid the man and forced a smile to his face.
“Harriman, so good to see you,” he stretched his neck to see beyond the newcomer and frowned. “Where is Captain Crane?” he asked.
“Lee wasn’t feeling very well, Senator. This is Seaview’s executive officer. Lieutenant Commander Chip Morton. Chip, Senator Carter Brake.”
“Senator,” Morton greeted as he accepted the offered handshake.
“Commander! I hope there’s nothing seriously wrong with Crane,” Brake said.
Nelson knew by the tone there was no real concern for his friend. He knew Brake liked to show off and was upset that he hadn’t been able to influence Crane’s opinion of him. “He was injured quite seriously and needs to rest.”
Brake turned at the sound of his name and smiled at the reporter. All thoughts and concerns for Lee Crane were dismissed as he saw an opportunity to give a private interview with one of the more popular reporters in the country. “If you gentlemen will excuse me. Duty calls. Give my best to Captain Crane,” he said as he hurried away.
“I hate dignitaries,” Morton mumbled. A laugh from beside him made him realize he’d spoken aloud. “Sorry, Sir,” he said a chagrined look on his face.
“It’s alright, Chip, but don’t lump all dignitaries in the same group as Brake.”
“I’ll try to remember that, Admiral,” Morton said as Nelson took two glasses of champagne from the tray and passed one to him.
Nelson watched Brake make his way around the room smiling at each and every person he spoke with. He couldn’t help but notice how the light sparkled off the man’s gold tooth. He sipped at the champagne and greeted other guests as they arrived.
Chip shook his head as he watched the mechanical like goings on at the ceremony. He couldn’t help thinking how nice it would’ve been to be at home watching something on TV instead of the animated performances going on here. ‘Yeah, you owe me big time, Lee!’ he thought.
Phillips smiled as he placed the explosives next to the large dumpster on the outside of the Nelson Institute’s main building. He remained in the darker shadows, keeping to the low fence. He knew Degan was keeping an eye out for the night watchman. He quickly set the controls and the timer so the simple device would detonate at eight-thirty. He smiled as the small light signaled the countdown had begun. He hurried back to his friend and grinned.
“Not much longer, Rich,” Phillips smiled. The two men pointed index fingers at each other and mouthed, ‘Bang’ as they hurried away from the building. They knew where Crane was and they only needed to take the time to wait for the fireworks before getting their hands on Seaview’s captain. They’d searched the area for the best way out of the grounds and managed to find an area that was scheduled for repairs. The fence had been torn down and was under guard, but there was only one man there at that time of the evening. They could easily take care of him and disappear with Crane before the fire was put out.
Lee switched off the TV as the movie ended. He stood up and stretched his lean body, ignoring the slight twinge of protest from his healing ribs. It felt good to be alone even if there were people outside the house guarding him. He went into Nelson’s immaculate kitchen and brewed a pot of coffee. He reached into the fridge and took out the soup Cookie had prepared for him. He placed the bowl in the microwave and waited for it to warm up. The smell of fresh coffee soon hit his senses and he hurriedly poured himself a cup. He took a sip of the strong brew as the bell on the microwave signaled his dinner was ready. He placed the cup on the counter and opened the door. He smiled as the rich aroma of one of Cookie’s specialties hit him. He picked up the coffee and carried both items out onto Nelson’s patio. He smiled as he sat next to the table. He’d spotted Riley standing near the edge of the garden path and wondered where Patterson was hiding out. It didn’t take long for him to spot the second crewman.
He sipped on the rich broth and watched the two men carefully. Neither man seemed aware that he saw them as they watched the area around them. He finished eating and settled into the chair with his coffee. He was just about to ask his men if they wanted one when an explosion from the Institute rocked the ground. Crane was on his feet before the fireball lit up the night sky.
“Patterson, Riley, find out what the hell happened!” He doubled over as a spike lanced through his skull. “Dammit, not now!” he hissed as the headache returned with the shock of the explosion.
“Sir, are you alright?” Riley shouted.
“I’m fine, Riley! Go find out what’s happening!” he ordered knowing he wouldn’t be of any help if he followed them.
“Our orders were to protect you, Captain!” Patterson said as he hurried up the lawn.
“I’m fine, Pat. Look just get over there and help them till the fire department gets over there. I’ll stay right here until you get back...”
“No buts Riley. Look, just go check it out. That’s an order!” Crane insisted, ignoring the pain his own raised voice caused.
“You won’t go anywhere?” Patterson asked.
“I couldn’t if I wanted to, Pat. Now go!” he watched as the two men reluctantly turned away and headed towards the glow of the fire. He sank into the chair and held his head, praying no one was injured in the explosion.
Phillips watched as the two men ran down the lawn and out onto the road. He smiled at Degan and signaled it was time to move on their target. They stuck to the tree line until they closed the distance to where Lee Crane was sitting at the patio table.
Lee heard a sound on his right and turned his head. He groaned, but tried to focus on the shifting shadows. Two figures moved toward him and he tried to make them out. He stood up and held onto the edge of the table.
“Pat, Riley. I told you guys to go see what’s happening!” he hissed. A sharp laugh told him these were not his men. “Who the hell are you?” he snapped.
“Friends, Captain Crane,” Phillips laughed.
Lee knew there was nothing friendly about his visitors. He recognized the hated voice from the night his ordeal had begun. He moved away from the table, ignoring the mounting pain in his head. He tried to focus on the two figures coming towards him, but his eyes refused to work properly. He fought the darkness at the edge of his vision and tried to conquer his warring stomach.
“No friends of m...mine!” he stammered as he felt rather than saw the two men coming towards him.
“You got that right, Captain!” Degan spat sarcastically.
“What the hell do you want?” Crane asked, refusing to give into his body’s weakness.
“We want to teach you another lesson, Captain Crane!” Phillips laughed as he moved towards the weaving man. He kicked out with his right foot, easily connecting with the sluggish man’s left knee.
Crane gasped, but didn’t go down. He turned as a fist flew at him and was barely able to duck out of the way, driving his own fist into the shorter man’s stomach, sending him backwards over one of the chairs. His smile of triumph was short lived as Phillips drove his own fist into Crane’s ribs. The air was driven from his lungs as the healing bones gave way to the vicious attack. He held his right hand to his body as he sank towards the ground. His arms were pulled from his side and quickly taped behind his back. He fought back the urge to vomit, knowing he’d need all the strength he could get if he was to get away from these two men again. Phillips quickly placed a strip of silver tape over his mouth and Crane forced himself to breath slowly through his nose.
Phillips pulled Crane to his feet and signaled for the recovering Degan to grab his other arm. The two men dragged the injured man across the patio and into the trees. They hurried around the perimeter of the grounds until they were parallel with the small guardhouse. Phillips shoved Crane to the ground and turned to Degan.
“Take care of the guard!”
Degan silently moved towards the tiny hut and smiled as he spotted the man. The guard was watching the fire burning at the Institute and his back was to Degan. A smile formed on the man’s face as he used his pistol to hit the uniformed man with the butt of his weapon. He turned to watch his partner half drag half carry their prisoner towards the opening in the fence.
Crane struggled with the mounting nausea, knowing he needed to keep his wits about him. The soup he’d eaten was fighting to come back up and he knew if that happened he’d choke on his own vomit. He felt Degan’s hands clasp onto his arms and he was roughly pulled through the opening and onto the tiny back road. His eyes kept closing only to snap open again as he tried to watch the route they were taking. He knew this back road led to the main roads and once there he needed to see where they were going. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to stay focused much longer as he fought to get air into his weakened lungs. The pneumonia had weakened them to the point that almost any exertion would make him short of breath. Between the tape and the running he knew it wouldn’t be long before he fell victim to unconsciousness.
Phillips felt the man he held stumble and looked towards Degan. He knew they were still a good mile from where they’d hidden the stolen car.
“Shit!” Degan hissed as he lost his grip on the injured man.
Phillips pulled the now unconscious man over his shoulder and continued the trek along the back road. It didn’t take long before they made it to the small non-descript van and Degan was opening the back door for him. He threw Crane’s body inside and climbed in with him.
“Get us out of here, Rich!” he ordered.
Degan smiled and slammed the door. He hurried to the front of the van and climbed into the driver’s seat. He slid the keys into the ignition and pulled into the darkened street. He knew where to go. The house he used when he wanted to be alone would be the perfect place to teach Crane a lesson before they killed him.
Lee felt the tape being removed from his mouth and breathed in the stale air. His oxygen starved lungs cried out for more, but his ribs would not allow for deep breathing. The ringing in his ears told him he was close to blacking out again and for once his mind didn’t argue with his body. His eyes closed as the van pulled onto the paved road and he surrendered himself to the inevitable.
“Skipper, where are you?” Patterson called as he entered the spare bedroom.
The explosion had done little damage to the building, the main brunt of the damage being done to two large dumpsters located at the back of the building. They’d hurried back to Nelson’s home as soon as they realized it was a diversion. Sharkey, Kowalski and several other members of the crew were with them. Patterson and Riley were checking the house, but so far they’d turned up nothing. They met outside on the patio. The last place they’d seen Crane before the explosion.
“Anything, Riley?” Sharkey asked as the four men met up by the table.
“Nothing, Chief. He’s not here!”
“He’s got to be,” Sharkey said worriedly. His eyes were pulled to the overturned chair once more and he knew it was a bad sign.
“Maybe he went to the main building to check on the damage!” Kowalski suggested.
“I don’t think so, Ski,” Patterson told them. “He didn’t look like he could walk into the house let alone to the Institute. He was having one of those headaches Doc told us about.”
“And you left him here alone?” Sharkey snapped.
“He ordered us to check out the explosion, Chief,” Riley explained.
Sharkey shook his head and walked towards the house. “I’m gonna contact the Admiral at the Senator’s party. That’s an explosion I really don’t want to witness.”
The three men watched as Sharkey hurried inside to make the call.
Nelson could hardly wait for the ceremony to be over. He was tired of hearing everyone toot Brake’s horn and knew most of them didn’t even know the man. He kicked Morton’s leg under the table and smiled as the younger man shook himself.
“S...sorry, Sir,” Morton said sheepishly.
“Don’t be. He’s a pompous...”
“Admiral Nelson, there’s an urgent call for you. If you’ll follow me you can take it at the main desk.”
Morton watched the admiral worriedly. The older man stood up and followed the waiter. The blond knew instinctively something was wrong and quickly followed the retreating figures. As he made his way through the close tables, he apologized for obstructing people’s view of the ceremony that was taking place at the head table. He joined Nelson just as he picked up the white house phone.
“Chief, what’s wrong? How long ago? Was anyone hurt? What? When? Have you still got men out looking for him? We’re on our way. Get every available man looking.” He hung up the phone and turned worried blue eyes on the exec. “That was Sharkey, there was an explosion at the Institute...”
“Anyone hurt?” Morton interrupted.
“Lee’s disappeared,” Nelson informed the younger man.
“What? When? Where were Pat and Riley?” the exec’s shocked voice asked.
“Lee ordered them to go check out the explosion. Come on we’re leaving. I’ll call and make our excuses later.” Nelson led the way out to their car as he continued. “The damage from the explosion was minimal and concentrated on the dumpsters. Sharkey thinks it was a diversion to get Pat and Riley away from Lee, there’s some signs of a struggle on the patio.” He climbed behind the wheel and soon had them speeding towards the Institute.
Rough hands dragged him from the darkness and he bit back a cry of pain as he was shoved to the floor, his injured ribs taking the brunt of the mistreatment. He couldn’t remember what happened to put him in such pain, but he knew Jamie was going to be angry. He forced his heavy lids to open and groaned as the light set off the fireworks in his head.
“Don’t worry, Captain. By the time we get through with you a headache will be a minor discomfort,” Phillips said as he dragged the semi conscious man into the house. Dust, broken furniture and garbage littered the floor as Crane’s feet were dragged across the faded linoleum. He heard the door slam as Degan came inside. He dropped his burden into the corner and turned to his partner. “Did you hide the van?” he asked.
“Yeah. I put it behind the house. No one can see it there.”
Crane heard the muffled words and turned onto his side. He saw a rat scurry into a hole in the corner. ‘This place could use a good cleaning woman,’ he thought briefly. He would’ve laughed, but couldn’t find the energy. He let his eyes slide closed and ignored Phillips’ voice as it taunted him with threats of how painful his death would be.
Sharkey stood his ground as Nelson parked the car and climbed out from behind the wheel. He saluted the two men who hurried towards him. In spite of the brightly lit area he saw only dark anger as the two Seaview officers stood before him.
“Out with it, Chief!” Morton hissed. He knew it wasn’t Sharkey’s fault. Actually it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Lee Crane was a stubborn man and if he ordered one of his men to do something they usually obeyed without question.
“Sir, we searched everywhere, but Captain Crane’s not here. Kowalski, Paterson and Riley found an unconscious guard over where they’re repairing the fence.”
“Is the guard conscious yet?” Nelson asked worriedly.
“No, Sir, Doc was with him last time I saw him. Ah, Admiral...”
“What is it, Francis?”
“Ah, Sir, we found tire tracks on the back road. That road hasn’t been used since they closed down that gate, Sir. Near as we can figure whoever took Captain Crane had a car waiting out there for him.”
“I’m pretty sure we know who took him,” Nelson observed. “Now it’s just a matter of finding out where they’ve taken him.”
“Those two didn’t seem too smart, Sir...”
“Maybe not,” Nelson interrupted, “but they were smart enough to get past security and it seems they found a way to get Lee off the grounds without anyone seeing them.” He stopped talking as three figures joined them. “How’s the guard, Jamie?”
“He’s got a mild concussion. The ambulance is taking him to the medical facility for overnight observation,” Jamison answered.
Morton turned to the two men who accompanied Jamison. “Patterson, Riley, you two were supposed to stay with the skipper at all times. Care to tell me why you disobeyed that order?”
“Sir, the skipper told us to check out the explosion,” Riley explained.
“We didn’t want to leave him, Mr. Morton, but you know the skipper...”
Morton’s fury dissipated slightly at the reminder of just how stubborn his friend was. He knew if Lee Crane gave an order these men would have little choice, but to carry it out.
“Chip, we’ll deal with this after we’ve found Lee,” Nelson said as they walked into the house.
Nelson turned to the doctor, for the first time noting the real concern on the man’s face. “What’s wrong, Jamie?”
“Patterson said Lee was suffering one of those headaches before they left. We need to find him, Admiral. Between the lingering effects of the concussion and the broken ribs there’s a good chance Lee could have a relapse. His lungs are still weak and I’m afraid of what this could do.”
“What are you saying, Jamie?” Morton asked.
“I’m saying we need to find Lee and find him fast, Jamison answered.
“Tell me something I don’t know, Jamie,” Nelson said as he picked up the phone and place a call to Frank Bartlett. He knew the policeman would offer any help he could in the search for the missing captain and right now they could use all the help they could get.
Lee became aware of three things at once, pain, cold and he that he couldn’t breath through his mouth again. The tape had been replaced over his mouth and he was struggling to breath through his nose. He passed out soon after being deposited on the dirty floor. His head still pounded, but not with the same knifing pain it had earlier. He opened his eyes and winced as the sunlight struck his unsuspecting eyes. He slammed them shut once more in an effort to ease the pain. He wasn’t sure how much time passed since they’d brought him here, but by the bright sunlight he knew it was late in the day. He tried to stretch out his lean form and realized he couldn’t move. His hands were tied behind his back and a length of rope led from his wrists to his ankles. His knees were drawn up and his back was bowed uncomfortably. He was lying on his side, breathing shallowly as pain lanced through his chest. He lifted his head and opened his eyes once more. His captors were not in evidence and he struggled against his bonds.
Phillips leaned against the bedroom door. He smiled as he watched Crane slowly come back to consciousness. He knew the man was in pain and this gave him some satisfaction. This man had cost him everything. He’d realized that while tying the ropes around the unconscious man earlier that morning. There was already a city wide search underway for Captain Lee Crane and he’d sent Degan out to see how bad things were. Richard Degan was a bumbling idiot, but right now he needed him. They’d have to find a way out of Santa Barbara, but they needed money in order to do so. A leering grin adorned his face as he watched the struggling form. He shoved away from the doorframe and shuffled towards his captive.
“Well, Captain, you finally decided to rejoin us. There’s really no point in trying to undo these, you know?” It was more of a statement than a question as the man stood behind Crane. “I tied ya up myself and there’s just no way they’ll come undone without a knife.” He explained as he pulled a long thin blade from his belt.
Lee looked up as the figure loomed over him and flinched at the hatred on the man’s face. He bit back a muffled curse as he realized the man had been watching him the whole time. He knew his reflexes were not what they normally were yet he hated being caught unawares. He could see his captor playfully twirling a dangerous stiletto and knew his troubles were only just beginning. In spite of the dull throbbing pain he tracked the shiny object as Phillips walked around to kneel in front of his prone body.
“Have you ever wondered how much a man can take and not cry out, Captain?” Phillips asked as he reached out and quickly ripped the tape from Cranes mouth.
Lee gasped as the tape came away and wondered if it took any skin with it. He had no moisture left in his mouth as he watched the man slowly bring the knife down until it made contact with his throat. He felt the blade touch his Adam’s apple each time he swallowed, yet he kept the fear from his eyes.
“I could easily slice your throat right now and just leave you here for the rats.”
“You’re n...nothing but a c...coward, P...Phillips,” Crane forced a calmness he didn’t feel into his voice as he tried to stop the trembling in his body. He cried out as the thin blade sank just beneath his skin. He felt blood slowly form around the shiny object and slide down his throat.
“I ain’t no coward, Crane. Me and Rich are gonna carve ya up before we leave here. Leave your body here for the varmints who inhabit this little mansion,” he sneered. “Then again, maybe we’ll just make a few cuts in ya. Maybe here,” he snickered as Crane’s body reacted when he drove the blade into the well-muscled thigh of his right leg. “Or how about here?”
Lee tried to roll away from the madman kneeling beside him. He cried out as the blade sliced across his right arm. Blood flowed freely from the wound in his leg and he knew this was the one he had to worry about. The wound on his arm wasn’t deep, mainly just a scratch and barely any blood was evident. Phillips pulled him onto his knees until their eyes met and Lee grasped just how crazy the man really was. Somehow he knew he wasn’t getting out of this one alive.
Phillips glared into the glazed hazel eyes of his captive. “I could just let ya bleed to death right now, but Rich came up with a plan,” he said as he shoved Crane back against the floor. He tore off a piece of Crane’s dirt and dust-covered shirt, and used it to press against the wound he’d just put in his thigh. “Now Rich ain’t the brightest man around. Hell he’s about as bright as a two-watt bulb, but he may have come up with something. Now you’d best listen to this Captain ‘cause it has to do with how long you got to live. See, we figure we need money to ‘get outta Dodge’ as they say in those old westerns. Since we ain’t got any we’re gonna ask your good buddy, Nelson, to give us some. How much ya think you’re worth, Captain?”
Lee remained silent, lost in a world of pain as the man continued to press the makeshift bandage against his throbbing thigh. He lay on his side, struggling to stay conscious, yet he knew he was losing the fight. He moaned softly as Phillips released his grip on his leg. He tried to find some moisture in his mouth, but his tongue seemed to stick to the roof of his mouth. His mind drifted towards the beckoning darkness as the headache that was so much easier earlier in the day returned with a mind numbing pain.
Lee didn’t hear Phillips returning until a strong hand grasped his arm. He coughed harshly as his captor once more pulled him roughly to his knees. He felt a glass being pressed to his lips and couldn’t help swallowing the sickly sweet water. There was something familiar about the taste but he couldn’t quite place it.
Phillips smiled as he let the injured man drop back to the floor. He watched as a few minutes later a cry of rage and pain slipped past Crane’s throat and he was violently ill. He looked at the glass, knowing the drug he used had done its job and Crane would suffer through some vivid nightmares before the effects wore off.
Lee felt his mind drifting and could do nothing to prevent it. His stomach continued to rebel against the drugged water, but all it produced was dry heaves. He lay on his side, sweat beading on his forehead and blood seeping from the wound in his thigh. Nightmare images danced before his eyes as he struggled to stay awake.
A large cat walked towards him, the claws outstretched and ready to strike him down. He cried out and tried to move away, but his body was glued in place. Old and new nightmares converged to torment the weak man as he drifted towards the drug-induced slumber. His eyes were caught and held by a woman he knew was dead, yet here she was in his dreams tormenting him once more.
Phillips continued to watch the bound man. The satisfied smile on his face spreading to encompass his eyes. He laughed as Crane’s weak voice pleaded with ghosts and demons alike.
“N...No, J...Julie. Y...you’re d...dead...can’t...hurt me.” As the nightmare woman stalked towards him he cried out and was catapulted into unconsciousness. A place where nothing or no one could reach him, not even the ghost of Julie Parsons-Radcliff.
Phillips leaned against the wall as Degan came through the door.
“Hey, Jason, what’d you do? You used that stuff on him didn’t ya?” Degan looked angry as he threw the papers on the floor. “I wanted to be here when ya did it.”
“Don’t worry, Rich, we’ll give him a little more when he comes to. Now what did you find out?”
Degan’s eyes lit up as he picked the papers up off the floor. He handed the first one to his friend and laughed as he pointed to the pictures. “The papers are running the story, Jason. Me and you are on the front page of almost every paper.”
“Did anyone see you?” Phillips asked worriedly.
“No, I just stole the papers outta the boxes on the corner. See, it says we’re wanted for questioning in the disappearance of Captain Lee Crane! We’re famous!” he walked over and shoved at the shaking form on the dirt-strewn floor. “I mean none of the guys at the bar would believe it. I’d love to see their faces when they read today’s paper. Can we go there, Jason?”
Phillips shook his head as he read the headlines, ‘TWO MEN SOUGHT IN THE DISAPPEARANCE OF COMMANDER LEE CRANE!’ There was a picture Lee Crane and just below it a smaller one of him and Richard Degan
“No way can we go back to the bar. Hell, Rich, ain’t no way we can go anywhere in this damn city. We’ve gotta get some money and get outta here.”
“So are we gonna ransom him?”
“Yeah,” Phillips grinned at his friend. “I think the Captain could be our ticket outta here and on to easy street.”
“How much are we askin’?”
“Nelson’s got lots of money. I don’t think he’d miss a hundred thousand or two.”
Degan’s eyes lit up at the thought of the money. “Think Nelson will give it to us?”
“If he wants to see him,” he pointed to the man on the floor, “alive again he will.”
Degan laughed as he bent down and looked into Crane’s face. “He don’t look too alive right now, Jason.”
“That’s for sure. I wonder who this Julie person is? It’d be fun to bring her here ‘cause I don’t think he liked her very much.” The two men stood and watched the trembling form on the floor.
Lee floated with the effects of the drug he was given. He relived the death of Leah Petroni, once more overcome with a sense of guilt and grief. “Leah, S...sorry,” he mumbled as he was thrown into another memory, a memory of knives, drugs and pain. He tried to grasp at his thigh, hoping to alleviate the throbbing pain there. For Lee the wound was another reminder of the women who’d made his life a living hell. He had no idea how long the nightmares went on, or who the people in them were. Faces overlaid each other, drifting from Julie to Degan to Phillips to Reich. On and on they changed, each image laughing and screaming at what they would do to him. He shivered uncontrollably, his movements causing the ropes to cut into the already ravaged flesh on his wrists.
Phillips watched as Crane’s eyes shot open and a scream erupted from his mouth. He laughed as the captain struggled with the ropes binding him. He knew the man was lost in a drug-induced nightmare and he savored every cry.
Chip paced back and forth across Bartlett’s office. The man seated before them was shaking as he answered Bartlett’s questions. Chip could tell Mike Harding knew more than he was letting on and it was only a matter of time before he broke. The guard at NIMR had told them about two large deliveries destined for Dr. Chung in the labs. A little checking revealed that Chung wasn’t expecting any deliveries and hadn’t received any. He watched as Bartlett stood up, walked around to the front of his desk and sat on the corner. Chip smiled as he realized this move was meant to intimidate Harding. He could tell it was working as Harding began to squirm in his seat.
“Now look,” Bartlett said as he picked up a manifest. “This was your original manifest from your company yesterday and it has no record of a delivery for Dr. Chung.”
“I was just doing my job. Someone must’ve changed the manifest,” Harding insisted weakly.
Bartlett slammed the manifest back on his desk. Lee Crane was missing and so far nothing had turned up to lead them to him. He turned an icy glare on the man seated before him. “The manifest doesn’t leave your hands. Its part of your company’s security routine.”
“Someone could’ve sto...”
“No one stole it!” Morton snapped as he joined Bartlett at the desk. He could see Nelson sitting by the window and knew the older man was leaving it to him for now. “You do realize you’re an accessory to kidnapping...”
“And should anything happen to Lee Crane you’ll be an accessory to murder,” Bartlett finished.
“I...I...no, I’m not. I didn’t do anything. I c...couldn’t murder anyone. They s...said they were j...just gonna h...have s...some fun with him so he w...wouldn’t testify a...against them.”
“What they said and what they’re gonna do are two different things, Harding. If you don’t tell us everything you know I swear I’ll see that you’re prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” Nelson’s voice was low, but deadly as he calmly made the threat. This man knew more than he was letting on and might be the only way to find Lee Crane and the men holding him.
“Look, I...if I tell you what I know...”
“We’ll put in a good word with the DA,” Bartlett interrupted.
Harding nodded and began to tell the men what he knew about Phillips’ plans for Lee Crane.
Lee tried to move to lessen the strain on his bound limbs. Pain slammed into his head and he moaned as he forced his eyes open, only to slam them shut against the bright flashlight shining into them. He knew he moaned, but the sound didn’t reach his ears. He lay on his side trembling as memories of the nightmares assaulted his groggy senses. He slowly forced his lids upwards, diverting his eyes as much as he could. The bright light was still there and he tried to focus on the man holding it. He recognized Jason Phillips and let his eyes slide closed once more. He didn’t feel like dealing with more of this man’s sick games. He heard movement beside him and gasped as a boot connected with his left side. He fought to draw air into his lungs as tears came to his eyes.
“It’s time to wake up, Captain,” Phillips hissed.
“G...go t...to hell,” Crane gasped, painfully aware he was probably going to pay for his animosity. He wasn’t surprised as his shoulders were grabbed and he was roughly turned onto his stomach. He bit back a cry of pain as bruised and broken ribs connected with the hardwood floor. He waited for the next blow to come and was shocked when his legs were suddenly released from his hands. He groaned as he straightened them out, sending sharp needles and pins through his ankles. He swallowed against the dryness in his throat as he was lifted to shaky legs. A wave of vertigo shot threw him as he forced his eyes open once more.
Phillips pulled the injured man to his feet, keeping a tight hold on his arms in order to keep him from collapsing. He dragged him to a small crate and shoved him onto it.
Lee looked at the makeshift table before him and his eyes met those of Richard Degan. The second man was sitting on a crate across form him, a sadistic smile on his face. Lee turned away as his stomach muscles cramped and he lost what little was left in it. He felt Phillips pull him back up and steady him on the crate.
“Now, Captain, we need you to do something for us,” Phillips said as he sliced through the ropes still wrapped around Crane’s wrists.
Lee’s arms were useless as they fell to his sides. He closed his eyes and held his breath as the niggling needles spread through his fingers, wrists and shoulders. He heard Phillips and Degan laughing, but his world was filled with the pain spreading through his body. Cramped muscles were awakening and sending their own protests to his brain as he lifted his hands. He rubbed his wrists and rotated his shoulders as he waited for the agony to subside.
“You listening to me, Crane?” Phillips asked.
“I don’t think he is, Jason,” Degan said of the Captain’s closed eyes.
Phillips smiled as he watched the dark haired man’s suffering. He knew from the way Crane held his body rigid he was hurting and it sent thrills through him. “Crane, you’re gonna write us a letter to Nelson letting him know you’re alive and that we want money...”
“Yeah, lots of money,” Degan laughed.
Crane finally found the strength to lift his head. His eyes showed his hatred for these two men and defiance shone on his face. “Told you before, go to hell!”
Lee’s head rocked back as Phillips backhanded him. He landed hard on the floor and fought to keep from being sick once more as stars exploded behind his closed lids. He felt blood trickle from the corner of his mouth, but refused to wipe it away. He kept his eyes open in spite of the encroaching headache. He felt Phillips reach for him and brought his bound feet up quickly. Before either of his captors could react Lee kicked out and connected with Phillips’ chest, driving him backwards into Degan. Lee moved quickly, reaching for the ropes around his ankles. His vision blurred as he tried to grasp the rope. He knew he didn’t have long and he cried out as a hand clamped down on his thigh. He gasped and tried to push the hands away.
Degan kept pressing against Crane’s leg as he waited for Phillips to catch his breath. He smiled as Seaview’s captain struggled with the pain. The weak sounds emanating from the dry throat thrilled him. He used his left hand to shove the injured man’s upper body back to the floor.
“Ya ain’t goin’ anywhere, so just be still!” Degan warned. “Jason, are you alright?”
“Y...yeah, son of a bitch k...knocked the w...wind outta me,” Phillips muttered as he struggled to his feet. “Get him on his feet!”
“Now you’re gonna pay, Crane!” Degan laughed as he pulled him to his feet. He had to use both hands to steady the weakening man as Phillips came towards them.
“You gonna write that letter, Captain?”
Lee used the last of his strength to lift his head and glare defiantly at the man standing before him. “G...go to h...hell!” he repeated with a weak smile. He watched the fist advance towards his face and cried out as it connected with the left side of his head. He felt another fist connect with his right side. A final kick to his right knee sent him spinning to the floor. His eyes were tightly clenched against the new agonies heaped upon his body. He smelled Phillips foul breath and knew the man was kneeling beside him once more.
“If you won’t write it for us, Captain, then we’ll just sign it with your blood!”
Crane heard the words as his mind and body gave in to the call of darkness. He didn’t feel his arms pulled behind him and rebound.
Phillips dragged the unconscious man back to the corner and threw him to the floor. He turned towards the table and sat on one of the crates. He picked up the cheap pen and slowly wrote the ransom note to Harriman Nelson. Once he finished he walked back to the injured man and touched his finger to the blood seeping from the leg wound. He walked back to the table and smeared the blood along the bottom of the page. He placed it in a dirty envelope and wrote Harriman Nelson’s name on the front of it. He looked up and met Degan’s feral grin with one of his own.
“You drop this off at the Harbor Restaurant. I got a feeling they know Nelson and his men there. Just make sure no one sees you,” Phillips ordered.
“Where do I put it?”
“Just tape it to one of the cars parked in the reserved spaces. Now get going. The faster it gets delivered the faster we get the money.”
“Yeah, sure, Jason.”
Phillips watched as Degan hurried out the door. He slowly made his way to the prone figure on the floor and smiled. He looked at the newly formed bruise and ran his hand along the edge of the swollen area. He pressed on the abused flesh, smiling as the unconscious man cried out.
“Don’t worry, Captain, it won’t hurt for much longer. Once I get the money I’ll make all your pain go away,” he hissed as he stood up and walked back to the table. He sighed as he spotted the half bottle of cheap whiskey. It wouldn’t do to get drunk, but he could indulge in a couple of shots while Crane was unconscious.
Nelson drove towards the restaurant on pier nine. He could feel the man beside him holding his own emotions in check. The tension he felt about Lee Crane’s disappearance had tripled with the call from Anthony Martini. The owner of the Harbor Restaurant knew the officers and men of Seaview very well. Once his manager had come in with the envelope with Nelson’s name on it, Martini placed a call to NIMR and tracked him down.
Morton was out of the car before Nelson pulled to a complete stop. His fears for his friend’s life had been overlaid with anger during the drive from the Institute. He felt Nelson hurrying along beside him as he rushed towards the front door of the restaurant. He held the door for Nelson to enter and quickly followed him inside.
Martini looked up from the main desk as the two men came towards him. He reached into his pocket for the white envelope and passed it to Nelson before either of them said a word. Nelson looked at the scrawled letters of his name and ripped it open. He knew instinctively who it was from and didn’t worry about fingerprints. He hastily read the words and slammed his fist down on the desk, rattling the ashtray and mint dish sitting on top of it.
“Admiral?” Morton asked.
Nelson handed the note to Morton as he hissed. “They want money.”
Morton looked at the note and read the words carefully.
Nelson, it’s gonna cost you two hundred thousand to see your captain alive. The dark smudge on the bottom of this page should tell you we mean business. There’s more where that came from and the longer it takes you to give us the money the more of it we’ll send to you! I will call you at your office with instructions. Make sure you’re there or the Captain might just meet up with the tip of my blade again.
Morton read the letter over and over, his eyes shifting to what he knew was Lee Crane’s blood. He lifted his head and stared at Nelson’s irate face. He knew they couldn’t discuss Crane’s disappearance here and without a word turned and walked out the door. He moved to the car and slid into the passenger seat to wait for Nelson to join him. He closed his eyes and once more thought of his missing friend. Once more Lee Crane seemed to be beyond reach, but Morton swore he wouldn’t be that way for long.
Nelson thanked Martini before walking out the door. He knew Morton was as worried about Crane as he was and he wanted to assure the younger man they’d find their missing friend. He slid into the driver’s seat and turned to face Seaview’s exec.
“Chip, are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Admiral, or I will be when I get my hands on those bastards!” Morton vowed as he looked out the window. “I just hope we find them before it’s too late for L…Lee.”
“We will, Chip, and you’ll have to stand in line to mete out the punishment on Phillips and Degan!”
Morton smiled as he turned back to the man beside him. “There may be a hell of a line up if the crew finds them first.”
Nelson nodded and headed the car in the direction of the Institute. Phillips hadn’t told him when to expect the call, but something told Nelson it could be any time. He didn’t want to chance missing that call.
Lee wasn’t sure if the struggle to open his eyes was worth the effort it took. He swallowed painfully and bit back a gasp, as a fiery blaze seemed to erupt in his thigh, traveling upwards to encompass his chest and head. His arms and legs were bound tightly once more, but at least they weren’t tied to each other. He stretched out on the floor and turned on his side. The light streaming in through the grimy windows did little to illuminate the interior of the ramshackle house. He lifted his head and spotted Phillips with his head on his arms and an empty liquor bottle tipped over beside him. He searched the rest of the room, but didn’t see Degan anywhere.
Lee knew the man was passed out and he realized this was probably his best chance to escape. He rolled over towards the table, gasping as each movement sent shards of pain screeching through his body. He stopped and held his breath as Phillips mumbled something before turning his head in the opposite direction. Lee remained where he was, holding his breath until he was sure the other man was out cold. He reached the edge of the table and saw the wicked blade sitting beside Phillips right hand. Ignoring his body’s protests he climbed to his knees and took the blade in his teeth. He dropped down to his side once more and rolled away from the table. He dropped the blade to the floor and maneuvered his body until he felt the blade touch his numb fingers. It took several tries before he was able to pick the blade up between his thumb and fingers. He turned the blade and slowly worked on cutting through the ropes holding him tight. He felt the blade slip once in a while and knew he’d cut his hands, but he wouldn’t let that stop him. ‘Thank God for ONI training,’ he thought as he felt the ropes slip from his wrists. He bit his lip as feeling returned to his hands and he dropped the blade.
Lee took a deep breath, wincing as broken ribs shifted in his chest. He knew he didn’t have much time and he picked up the blade once more. He sat up and cut through the ropes around his ankles. He looked again towards Phillips, surprised that the man hadn’t moved. He stood on shaky legs and eased past the man on his way to the door. He backed up, holding the knife in front of him until his back came up against the wall. He took his eyes off Phillips and searched for the door. His hand reached for the handle as his eyes shot back to Phillips, the man hadn’t moved.
Crane touched the handle and tried to turn it, but his sweat soaked hand slipped several times before he had a good grip. He froze as the man at the table lifted his head. He heard him mutter a few unintelligible words before his head dropped back to his arms. Lee took a shallow breath, knowing anything else would reawaken the throbbing in his chest. He worked the handle until it clicked and still his eyes didn’t move from Phillips. He eased the door open and felt a draft on his heated skin. He held his breath until he was out the door and leaned heavily against the door. He closed his eyes and tried to catch his breath. He knew he was running on adrenalin and that it would wear off too soon.
Lee looked up and down the darkening street, but didn’t recognize the area he was in. He held the knife in his hand, knowing he’d probably need it before this was all over. He knew he had to make a decision quickly as his vision blurred and the street seemed to shimmer and shift before his eyes. He knew running was going to be pure agony, but he called on all his training to bring him through this. He pushed away from the outer door and raced south along the edge of the street. He kept to the shadows, knowing Phillips could wake up at any time or Degan could be out here somewhere.
Lee ran, he didn’t know where and he had no idea how long. All he knew was he had to reach help. There’d been very few cars pass him, but he couldn’t take the chance that one of the drivers would be his captors. He knew he’d have to rest soon as each gasping breath sent fiery air into his lungs. He stopped as he felt the world tip on it axis, and he bent at the knees. He closed his eyes and swore as he finally registered the steady flow of blood from his wounded thigh. He tore a strip of cloth from his tattered shirt and held it to the bloody wound. He lifted his head, once more fighting back a wave of vertigo as he glanced up and down the deserted street. He recognized some of the buildings he saw in the distance and realized he was in the old neighborhood that was slated for demolition. The old homes were to be torn down to make room for apartment buildings and condos. He knew where he was and he quickly came up with a plan. There was a phone booth two blocks south of his position. All he had to do was make it there. ‘Move it, Crane!’ he ordered, but he no longer had the strength. He slid down the side of the old house, his eyes closed tightly before the rest of him hit the ground. His body fought for each gasping breath as he fought to stay conscious.
“Hey, Jason!” Degan smiled as he stepped through the door. He frowned as he realized how dark it was. He’d been forced to walk to and from the restaurant because Phillips had warned him against being seen. It had taken longer than he expected, but he’d made the delivery. His eyes focused on the dark interior and he frowned as he saw the empty corner where Lee Crane should have been He turned to the table as Phillips lifted his head. “Jason, where is he?” he asked as he moved into the house.
“Huh? Where’s who?” Phillips rubbed his head as a spike drove into his skull. He knew he’d drunk too much and the result was the hangover he was now suffering.
“He’s right...” he pointed to the corner and swore as he stood up. “Shit! The son of a bitch got away.” He looked back at the table to see Degan lighting the candle there. He cursed when he realized the knife was missing.
“Look at all the blood,” Degan pointed to the trail of blood across the floor and the bloodied fingerprints on the handle. “He’s bleedin’ like a stuck pig so he can’t have gone too far.”
“We gotta find ‘im, Rich. He’s our ticket outta Dodge,” Phillips warned, pulling the door open and looking up and down the dark street.
“Which way do we go?”
“You go north and I’ll go south. Like ya said he can’t have gone far.”
“All right, Jason,” Degan said and raced up the street.
“I’m gonna make ya pay fer this, Crane!” Phillips swore as he headed south.
Lee couldn’t believe he’d won, not only won, but completed a victory lap as well. He knew the victory wouldn’t last long, but he forced himself to take advantage of what he’d been given. He smiled as the streetlights came on and he spotted the phone booth ahead of him. “Come on, L…Lee, one f...foot in front of the o...other!” he hissed as his leg threatened to give out. He was going to make it to that phone if he had to crawl the rest of the way. “M...might have t...to do ju...st that!” he swore sharply as he fell to his knees, but was quickly on his feet again. He kept his head down and watched his legs. ‘Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot,’ he concentrated on moving and was shocked when he lifted his head and spotted the phone booth directly in front of him.
He pushed open the door, amazed at how much effort it took just to step inside. He was tired, hot and in pain, yet he needed to get through to his friends. He had no money, but he lifted the receiver and called the operator.
‘How may I direct your call?’ the voice sounded bored, but Crane didn’t care.
“I n...need to make a col…lect call to H...Harriman N…Nelson at the Nelson I...Institute,” he gasped.
‘I’m sorry, Sir, could you repeat that?’
“Collect call...Nelson Institute.”
‘You want to make a collect call to the Nelson Institute. Who is the call to be directed too?’
Lee heard gum crack and knew whoever this woman was she was past boredom. “Nelson. Harriman Nelson.”
‘Who shall I say is calling?’
‘Connecting your call now.’ Silence for a few seconds and Lee winced as he shifted his weight onto his right leg. ‘I’m sorry that line is busy.’ Again the gum cracked.
‘Yes sir.’ The phone rang and Lee sighed in relief as Angie answered the phone. ‘I have a collect call for Harriman Nelson from Lee Crane.’
Lee heard Angela interrupt the woman and tell her to put the call through. He took a shallow breath, unable to breathe deeply as pain shot through his chest. He didn’t hear Angie as a deep cough resonated from his chest and he sank to the floor of the phone booth. He closed his eyes as a thundering roar echoed through his head, but he wouldn’t give into unconsciousness.
‘Lee, come on, Son...talk to me. Lee! Chip get on the phone and have this call traced! Lee!’
‘Yes, Lee, it’s me. Where are you?’
“Old houses...gon...na be torn down, N...north of Santa Barbara. Can’t think str…aight.”
‘That’s all right, Lee, you just stay put and keep this line open. Chip’s getting a trace on it.’
“O...kay,” Lee gasped as the pain seemed to intensify. “Better hur...hurry...after me.”
“Yeah, passed out...took his k...knife and escaped. N...not sure how far a...away.”
‘Is there anywhere for you to hide until we get there?’
“Think so...old house across the str…eet. Just can’t s...seem t...to m...move.”
‘Lee, Chip got it! Just stay where you are! We’re on the way and so are the police. Angie’s going to stay on the line with you.’
“Don’t seem to have much ch…oice.” He closed his eyes and listened as Angie took over the phone on the other end. Her voice was silky and he was content just to listen, his energy reserves were nearly depleted and he knew he wouldn’t be awake for long. The darkness began to descend over him, but he kept the phone next to his ear. “Ti...red, Angie,” he mumbled.
‘Lee, don’t go to sleep! The Admiral and Chip should be there shortly! Dr. Jamison is with them, Lee, so just hang on a little longer.’ Angie heard a commotion on the other end of the line and knew someone was with Crane. She prayed it was Nelson or the police, but a sharp expletive told her she was wrong and Lee Crane’s luck had run out once more.
Lee tried to concentrate on where he was, but pain and exhaustion had a strong hold on his mind. He heard Angie’s voice pleading with him to stay awake just before the small world he was in exploded. His vision blurred as he fought to stand on his own two feet, but his strength was seeping from his body along with the blood oozing from the wounds in his thigh and arm.
“Yer gonna pay fer this, Crane!” Phillips said as he slammed the door open and grabbed the injured man’s arm. His own head pounded from too much alcohol and not enough rest.
Morton drove quickly towards the address he had and knew Nelson was sitting on the edge of his seat as they sped towards their query. Both men knew Crane was in bad shape, and also knew if he was caught by Phillips and Degan again, he would not survive the meeting. He pressed his foot on the accelerator as he raced across the open street. He could feel Nelson’s tense body and knew there would be no warning for him to slow down. He looked into the rear view mirror and saw the glum faced Jamison seated there. He turned his full attention no the road, knowing in his heart how much Lee Crane needed the man in the back seat.
Lee struggled against the beefy hand that clamped onto his arm. ONI training kicked in and Lee Crane suddenly found the strength he needed to fight the man standing beside him. He struck out with his fist and connected with the man’s chin, driving the head back and forcing him to release his hold on Lee’s arm. Lee knew he had to keep his blows sharp and forceful in order to keep this man off balance. He had little doubt that Phillips would get the upper hand before long, but he wouldn’t give in, he’d fight tooth and nail until he had nothing left to fight with. He swung with his left arm, ignoring the sharp pain in his knuckles as the blow glanced off the side of the man’s head. His next move was to lift his right leg and lash out at his nemesis. The kick landed on Phillips’ knee and Lee smiled as he heard the grunt of pain, but the smile was short lived as his own leg gave out and he dropped to his knees.
Phillips watched through slitted eyes as Crane dropped to the ground. An evil leer formed on his face as he stood on shaky legs. His own pain and suffering disappeared as he looked at the man before him. “You’ll be sorry, Crane!” he hissed as he kicked at the bleeding thigh.
Lee cried out and tried to curl into a ball as the man standing above him kicked at him. He lost track of how many times his enemy struck him, but felt the beefy hands grab him and pull him to his feet. Blood trickled into his eyes and he fought to stay conscious as he heard running footsteps. He forced his eyes into focus, praying help had finally arrived, but the face he saw was not the one he sought. He couldn’t let it end like this and he lifted a leaden arm and tried to strike the man holding him. His hand was easily batted away, but still he would not give into his own body’s betrayal.
“Ya found ‘im!” Degan said as he stopped before the two men. “Oh, man, Jason, he sure did a job on yer face!”
“Shut up, Rich! I gotta think. He was on the phone when I got ‘ere...”
“Did he talk to someone?”
“I don’t know. Go check the damn phone!” He held Crane’s arms and kept him on his feet as Degan hurried into the tiny booth. He saw him pick up the phone and called out. “Well?”
“He’s talking to some woman.”
“All right, hang it up and get over ‘ere. We need ta get Crane out of ‘ere before his friends arrive.”
“Rich, there’s a car comin’ this way!”
“Who’d ya call, Crane?” Phillips screamed as bright lights quickly illuminated the three of them. He pulled Lee’s body in front of his own in an effort to use him as a shield as the car pulled to a stop a few feet in front of him.
“Jason, what’re we gonna do?” Degan asked as he stood beside the two men.
“Gimme the damn gun!”
“Ya want ta get out of ‘ere then give it to me now!” Phillips felt the gun placed in his hand as three men got out of the car. “Ya get away from the damn car now or I swear I’ll kill ‘im right now!”
“Lee!” Jamison gasped as he caught his first glimpse of the blood-covered captain.
Crane’s head came up and he found the strength to smile at the three newcomers. “What t...took you so l…long? P...party started w…without you, C…Chip.”
“Hell, Lee, you know I always like to make an appearance. How’re you doing?”
“I’m o...okay,” Lee grinned as he watched Nelson and Morton for any sign they had a plan.
“Enough!” Phillips warned and shoved the gun against Crane’s temple, eliciting a cry of pain from the injured man.
The startled cry of pain motivated the others into action. Morton launched himself at Phillips, grabbing hold of the gun hand and dragging it away from Lee Crane’s head. He reared back with his free hand and drove a devastating blow to the man’s right cheek. They reeled away from Seaview’s captain, trading blows, with Chip getting in more than Phillips.
Will Jamison caught Crane as he sagged and pulled him away from the fighting. He looked up as Nelson caught Degan and drove a right hook into the man’s face, before connecting with a left to the man’s unprotected stomach. He heard a sound from the man he was dragging and stopped in his tracks. He could feel Lee’s tense body and knew he was watching his friends fighting the two men.
Lee tried to calm his own breathing as he watched Morton and Nelson slugging it out with the two kidnappers. He would’ve laughed if he’d been able to, but right now any movement jarred his injured body and sent daggers of pain through his skull. He knew his right eye was swelling fast as his sight was becoming affected.
Nelson used his fists to lash out at Richard Degan. He didn’t give his foe a chance to get the upper hand as fist after fist struck the criminal, sending his body toppling over the edge of the curb. He saw the eyes close and knew the man wasn’t getting up. He turned towards the fight going on beside him and knew Morton had everything under control. He turned and headed towards Jamison and Crane as sirens sounded in the distance.
Morton threw another left fist at Phillips’ face and the man went down. Seaview’s exec didn’t give the man a chance to land on the ground. His right hand lashed out and grabbed onto Phillips’ shirt dragging him back on his feet. He hit him again and felt blood spray his own face as his hand reared back to strike his foe once more. A hand clasped his and a familiar voice broke through his anger.
“Easy, Chip, he’s out!”
It took a few seconds for Morton to grasp the meaning of the words and he let the unconscious man drop to the ground. He bent at the waist and placed his hands on his knees.
“Are you all right, Chip?”
Morton heard the concern in the words and stood up. His eyes met Nelson’s and he simply nodded as he walked over to Jamison and Crane.
Three police cars pulled up next to Morton’s car and Frank Bartlett hurried towards them. He watched as his men checked Phillips and Degan before turning his undivided attention to the four men beside the car.
Since Phillips dropped from Morton’s hands, Lee Crane lost his ability to stay upright. His head dropped towards the ground and Jamison quickly caught him before he struck the hard surface. A soft groan escaped the captain’s throat as Jamison quickly ordered the men to grab the equipment from the car. Lee heard the familiar warble of the ambulance siren and sighed as he realized it was finally over. Phillips and Degan would not get out on bail this time. He cried out as Jamison cut through the leg of his pants.
“Easy, Lee. Admiral, put pressure on this!” Jamison ordered as he placed Nelson’s hand over the pressure bandage on Crane’s thigh. He turned his attention to the wounds on Lee’s head and quickly cleaned the gashes there. The right eye was swollen shut and a bloody laceration ran from the outer corner in to the bridge of his nose.
Jamison turned as two paramedics joined him beside the patient and they quickly hooked Crane up to the portable monitors and an IV. Between the three of them they cleaned the wounds covering his body and placed an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. They placed a cervical collar around his neck and quickly log rolled him onto a backboard. They shifted him onto the stretcher and moved towards the ambulance.
Nelson and Morton knew it was standard procedure to place the injured man on a backboard, but it still worried them that Lee Crane hadn’t moved or made a sound since Jamison and the paramedics had begun treating him. They stood to either side of the stretcher as Lee was loaded into the back and the stretcher was locked in place.
“Jamie, we’ll see you at the Institute,” Nelson told him as the doors were closed and the ambulance pulled away from the scene.
Jamie kept his eyes on the injured man and watched as the hazel eyes fluttered open and looked his way. “Ja...mie.
Lee’s breathing seemed a little too fast for Jamison’s liking and he reached out and placed his fingers on Crane’s wrist. He knew instinctively the pulse was too fast and he returned his gaze to Lee. He could tell he was having trouble catching his breath and realized one or more of the broken ribs could’ve shifted and punctured his lung. He turned to the paramedic seated beside him and knew the man was thinking the same thing as Crane’s ragged breathing drowned out any other sound in the ambulance.
Crane tried to swallow, but the effort was too much and his throat too dry. His eyes sought out the man who’d been treating him since the day he came to work for Harriman Nelson. He tried to speak, but it came out as a harsh whisper. “Ja…mie, c...can’t bre...” panic was evident in the hazel eyes as he pleaded for help.
Jamison looked up from the desk in the ER as Nelson and Morton hurried inside. He knew they’d been delayed because of Degan and Phillips, and that they’d want information on Lee’s condition immediately.
“Jamie, how is he?” Nelson asked worriedly.
“Admiral, Chip, let’s go get a coffee and I’ll tell you what we know so far.”
“Jamie, what’s wrong?” Morton asked.
Jamison turned back to the nurse’s desk and spoke softly. “Amy, we’ll be in the lounge if there’s any change.”
“Yes, Doctor,” Amy told him as the three men hurried away from the desk.
Jamison held the door open for Nelson and Morton and followed them inside. “Sit down.”
“Jamie!” Nelson exclaimed in exasperation.
Jamison reached for the coffee pot and three cups before sitting at the small table. “Lee’s hurt pretty bad, Admiral. He suffered from a punctured lung in the ambulance and we’ve put in a chest tube. Right now he’s having a CT scan done to find out what other damage those two animals caused. We’re probably looking at internal injuries, but until we get the results all we can do is treat the symptoms. He lost a lot of blood and his pressure is low, so he’s being given a transfusion. His temperature is also on the low side and we’ll be monitoring that closely. The wounds on his arm and leg will require stitches. His right eye is swollen shut and there’s a two-inch laceration that also requires stitches. He’s taken several blows to the head and we’ll be watching him closely because he was already suffering from a concussion before these two kidnapped him.”
“Dammit, Jamie, isn’t there any good news?” Nelson asked.
“Admiral, I wish I could give you some good news, but right now I don’t have any. Lee should be back from CT by now and I need to get back...”
“Can we see him?” Morton asked.
Jamison stood up and shook his head. “Not yet, Chip. He’s been unconscious since we brought him in. I’ll come get you once the tests are completed.”
“I’m sorry, Admiral, there’s nothing else I can tell you until the tests are completed,” Jamison said before leaving the room. He knew Nelson and Morton were right behind him and that they’d stay close by until there was definite word on Lee Crane’s condition. Jamie hurried to the room housing Lee Crane and slipped inside. The beeping of the monitors was a welcome sound and he looked towards the nurse making notations on the captain’s chart. She finished her notations and passed the chart to Jamison. He studied the results of the blood work, X-rays, and other tests they performed before turning back to his patient. In the four hours since Crane had been found his condition had worsened considerably, yet Jamison knew he was on the verge of waking up.
Lee struggled with the fog surrounding his mind, yet he wasn’t sure he wanted to wake up. Instinct told him he was better off staying in the warm blanket of comfort he resided in, but that was not to be as a soft moan escaped his lips.
“Lee?” Jamison asked as he placed a hand on the Crane’s left arm, carefully avoiding the IV line running into the top of his hand. “Come on, Captain, it’s time to wake up!”
Crane felt a cool mist entering his lungs and frowned as he shifted slightly on the bed. There was pain, in some places a lot of pain, and he wasn’t sure he was ready to face it again. His eyelids fluttered, but only the left one opened and tried to focus. Six figures became four, four became two until his eyes made out Will Jamison and a nurse he recognized, but couldn’t remember her name. He shifted again and gasped as pain erupted in his chest.
Jamieson was glad when the hazel eyes finally focused on him, but he knew he had to do something about the discomfort his friend was feeling. “Easy, Lee, I know you’re in pain, but I need you to answer a couple of questions before I do something about that. Okay?”
“O...kay,” the word was forced through swollen lips and sounded muffled under the mask.
“What’s your name?”
“Do you know where you are?”
“Institute m...medi...cal center?” the answer was more of a question as Crane looked around the room.
“That’s right, Lee. Do you remember what happened?”
Lee closed his eyes against the blinding headache as he tried to remember what happened to land him here again. Two faces swam before his eyes and he turned his gaze on Seaview’s doctor. “Phillips and De...gan...Kid...napped?” Crane gasped.
“That’s right,” Jamison said as he took a syringe and quickly drew off the medication Lee needed to help with the pain. He grasped one of the junctures in the IV tubing, swabbed it with an alcohol pad and quickly injected the medication that would give the younger man some relief. “That should help, Lee, but I can’t give you too much until we finish with the tests.”
Lee nodded and let his eyes slide closed once more. Memories returned in vivid color and he remembered Nelson and Morton fighting with Phillips and Degan. He forced his heavy lids open and looked at Seaview’s CMO. “Admiral...Chip...o...kay?” he asked worriedly.
“The Admiral and Chip are fine and if you feel up to it I’ll let them come in for a minute.”
“Anne, would you tell Admiral Nelson and Mr. Morton that Captain Crane would like to see them?” the nurse nodded and walked out of the room.
“Now, Lee, it’ll...” Jamison never got to finish his statement as the three people entered the room. “Two minutes,” Jamison warned the newcomers.
“How are you feeling, Son?” Nelson asked.
“I’m okay, Sir,” Crane answered automatically, causing three men to laugh outright.
“Sure you are, Lee,” Morton observed, smiling at his friend.
“Now how do you really feel?” Nelson asked.
“Like I was hit by a train...”
“That good,” Jamison laughed.
Crane coughed and held his chest as he fought to keep his breathing under control. He felt three pairs of hands on him and tried to tell them he was okay. The medication was quickly taking effect on his abused body and he gave into the pain and exhaustion.
Three men watched as the fine features relaxed and Lee Crane sank into a drug-induced sleep.
“Jamie, how’s he doing?”
“He’s hurt pretty bad, Admiral, but he’s fighting. We’ll be transferring him upstairs to ICU shortly and you can see him there. Right now I want you both to go get something to eat or...”
“I’m not hungry!” Morton stated
“Or I’ll have you both banned from the ICU for eight hours.”
“You can’t be serious?”
“Come on, Chip. I think this is one time Jamie is serious.”
“Chip, the cafeteria should still be open and by the time you and the admiral eat, Lee should be settled in his room.”
“There’s no point in arguing, Chip. Let’s go,” Nelson ordered. He took one last look at the injured man, squeezed his shoulder and left the room.
It was several hours before Nelson and Morton were allowed to visit Crane again. The delay came because Will Jamison forced the two men to get checked out. Nelson now sported a soft cast from fingertips to elbow after x-rays revealed a fractured wrist, and the left side of Morton’s forehead was covered by a white bandage the wound underneath had taken six stitches. Both men had bruised and scraped knuckles, but nether regretted what they’d done to Crane’s kidnappers.
They walked into the ICU and again saw the myriad of equipment surrounding the sleeping man. Two IVs were present, an oxygen mask covered his mouth and nose, an NG tube ran into his left nostril, leads ran from his body and reminded both men of an octopus.
Chip smiled as he noted the Foley was once more in place and knew his friend would do anything to get rid of it. He moved to the bed and saw the stark white bandage covering the gash over Crane’s right eye, making the bruises seem more prominent. Other bandages were also in evidence around the injured man’s body. He knew the ribs would be sore and make movement uncomfortable once Crane was up and about again. He also knew that wouldn’t happen for some time as the punctured lung needed time to heal properly.
Nelson looked up as Jamison entered the room. “Anything new, Jamie?” he asked softly.
“Not really, Admiral. So far test results have been promising. There’s some congestion in his lungs, but I’m hoping the antibiotics I’ve started him on will head that off. His main problem is that he’s weak and it wasn’t long ago that he was in here battling Pneumonia amongst other things. It’s going to take a lot for him to heal, but we all know Lee, he’ll come through this in his usual manner and be asking, no, make that demanding to get out of here in no time.”
The three men turned at the softly mumbled words and couldn’t help but smile. Hazel eyes, glazed with pain peered over the mask.
“Welcome back, Lee,” Morton said.
“Thanks, Chip,” Lee moved slightly and awakened the dormant pain in his body as he looked at the three men. “Does this mean I don’t get out?” he asked.
Jamison smiled at the captain’s weak attempt to put them at ease. He could read this man’s pain openly as he adjusted the medication and delivered the morphine that would help him rest. “That should kick in pretty fast, Lee.”
“Thanks, Jamie,” Crane said softly, almost instantly he felt the warmth of the medication spreading through his pain ridden body. His gaze fell on the cast on Nelson’s arm and the bandage on Morton’s head. “You two all right?” he asked.
“We’re fine, Lee,” Morton answered.
“Just a fracture, Lee. It should be alright in no time,” Nelson answered.
“Degan and Phillips?”
“In jail. They won’t be getting out on bail this time,” Morton assured him.
“Glad to,” Crane stifled a yawn, but couldn’t hide a small groan, “hear that!”
“Get some sleep, Lad, we’ll come back when you’ve had some sleep,” Nelson assured him.
“Am kind of tired,” Crane told them as his eyes slowly closed.
Jamison checked the IVs and monitors to make sure everything was running properly. He looked at the two men in the room and pointed to the door. “He’s going to sleep for some time now so you might as well do what you told him to do. Go home and get some rest and don’t come back until tomorrow morning. He should be in a regular room by then.”
“You should take your own advice, Jamie,” Nelson said as he noted the tired eyes and slump of the shoulders.
“I plan to, Admiral. I’m going to take advantage of the doctor’s lounge. Now get going and don’t...”
“Come back until morning,” Nelson and Morton finished together.
Lee knew they’d left him alone, well, not quite alone a nurse was still in the room with him. He wasn’t quite asleep when they left, but he knew if they realized he was awake they wouldn’t have left. He hadn’t missed the bruises on his friends cheeks and forehead and knew he was the cause. They wouldn’t have been hurt if he hadn’t needed rescuing. He blamed himself for everything that happened, yet he knew the others didn’t, somehow that certainty didn’t ease his conscience as he gave into the welcoming cloak of darkness.
Morton sat next to the bed, watching the steady rise and fall of his friend’s chest. He knew Lee was sleeping peacefully because of the drugs. He also realized how uncomfortable the injuries would be once Crane’s stubborn pride kicked in and he again started refusing the pain medications. The oxygen mask had been replaced by nasal canulas and he could see more of the bruises on Crane’s face. Hearing a soft sigh from the patient he smiled and lifted his gaze to look at the bruised face. He knew Crane was on the verge of waking up as the eyes moved slowly beneath the closed lids.
Lee struggled against the lethargy caused by the drugs and slowly peeled the lid from his left eye. For some reason the other one was swollen shut, but he couldn’t quite grasp why this was so. He shifted slightly on the bed and gasped as he felt the tug of the tubes that entered his body.
“Easy, Lee,” Morton said, placing a hand on Crane’s arm in order to get his attention.
“C…Chip?” Crane stammered and tried to find the man who went with the voice.
“Right here,” Morton said, standing so Seaview’s captain could see him without moving around too much.
Lee slowly focused on the blond haired man and smiled weakly. The man looked pale and tired and Crane understood that he was the cause of the dark shadows under Morton’s eyes and the telltale red streaks along the whites of the eyes. He shifted again, looking for a comfortable spot and nodded his thanks as Morton helped him.
“How are you feeling, Lee?” the exec asked.
Crane again smiled in an effort to relieve the worry etched on the other man’s face. “Did you get the number of the truck?” he asked softly, and was glad to see Morton return his smile.
“I bet it feels like that,” Morton said sympathetically.
“It does!” the captain winced and tried again to move.
“You want me to get the nurse and see if it’s time for you to have something for pain?”
“No…no, it’s okay, Chip, I’m fine!” He smiled as a familiar form stood in the doorway. “Hello, Jamie.”
“Morning, Lee,” Jamison said as he checked the monitors around his patient’s bed. “Thought you were supposed to go home and get some sleep, Chip?”
“I did, Jamie,” Morton said, not meeting the doctor’s eyes.
“Amy says you’ve been here since five am,” he smiled as he looked at Crane’s face glad to see a real smile form on the battered features.
“I went home for a while,” the exec said.
“Not for long, Chip. Now I want you to go home and get some real sleep. Stay away for at least eight hours...”
“Want to try for double?”
“Bet...ter go, Chip,” Crane mumbled as Jamison checked the tube leading into his left lung. He groaned and saw the blond turn his worried gaze on Jamison.
“Lee, I’m going to give you something for pain now,” Jamison said as he adjusted the flow of medications hanging above Crane’s head. He saw the gratitude in his patient’s eyes and knew the pain must’ve been unbearable, as the man didn’t argue with him.
“You’re welcome, Lee, now try to rest until we get ready to move you.”
“Get...ting out of here?”
“Getting out of ICU, but not out of the hospital!” Jamison said as a nurse entered with the prescribed antibiotics and hooked it on the IV pole. She piggybacked it into the system and started the flow running into Crane’s arm.
Lee swallowed as he felt the agony in his body ease and he found the strength to move around a little. He felt his mind relaxing towards sleep again and turned to Morton.
“Go home, Chip...sleep...I’m go...ing to,” he whispered tiredly.
“He’s sleeping, Chip. Now go home or do I make it an order?”
“I’m going, Jamie,” Morton told him as he watched Jamison check the wound on Crane’s leg. “He is going to be okay, right?”
“Yes, Chip, he is, but he’s going to need to rest and let himself heal. He’s had two serious beatings in a short period of time and it’s taking a toll on him. The most serious problem is his lungs, especially the fact that the left one was punctured and collapsed. Hopefully the antibiotics will help prevent an infection, but he’s going to need to see a respiratory specialist.” He saw the fear his words conjured up in the exec and tried to lighten the mood. “Look, Chip, get some rest, because Lord knows I’m going to need you and the Admiral to help me keep him here.”
“I will,” Jamison promised. “Eight hours! Not a minute sooner!”
Jamie watched as Seaview’s exec walked dejectedly away from the room. He knew he was worried about Lee Crane, they all were, but there were times when he needed to put his foot down and order them out. At any moment he expected to see Nelson, Sharkey, Kowalski, or all of the crew walking towards the ICU room. Lee Crane had endeared himself with these men with his strength, his sense of what was right or wrong, and his willingness to listen to his men. They trusted this man with their lives, knowing their captain would do anything within his power to bring them safely to home port each time Seaview left her dock.
He shook away the thoughts and continued to check on his patient. Finally satisfied that everything was working as it should be, he made a few quick notations in Crane’s chart before leaving the room.
Lee heard the man leave and opened his eyes once more. Again his mind turned to the Admiral and the exec. Was there anything he could’ve done differently to prevent their being injured? He lifted his head and looked at his own body, the pain itself was enough to tell him he’d done all he could, yet the guilt lingered. ‘What if they’d been killed?’ he thought. He dropped his head back to the pillows and closed his eyes. Soft footsteps announced that he was no longer alone, but he kept his eyes closed until Nelson’s worried voice reached his ears.
“Admiral,” he said, meeting the strong steady gaze.
“Is something wrong?” Nelson asked, noting the moisture in Crane’s eyes.
“No, Sir, I’m okay. How’s the arm?”
Nelson looked at the cast covering his wrist and knew instinctively his captain was feeling responsible for his injury. “Lee, the arm’s fine. I wouldn’t have even noticed it if they hadn’t x-rayed the damn thing!”
“How long in a cast?”
“Jamie says four weeks. Lee, I don’t want you blaming yourself for any of this.”
“Don’t, Lad, this was not your fault. This started because Degan and Phillips wanted something that didn’t belong to them! They beat you and stole your car, Lee! They almost killed you, not once, but twice! Make no mistake,” Nelson said from beside the bed. “You and I are going to talk about you sending your bodyguards away...”
“Wasn’t their fault...or...dered them t...to g...go!” Crane said.
“That’s what we’re going to talk about, but not right now! Right now you need to rest and get well.”
“Not ti...red,” Crane lied.
Nelson couldn’t resist laughing as the captain yawned in spite of his words.
“Jamie and I were already talking about how we’re going to make you rest and we think we have the perfect solution.”
“What’s that?” Crane frowned as he saw the twinkle in the admiral’s eyes.
“It seems that Abigail Wilson called when she saw the reports on the television. She’s offered to come down if Jamie needs her.”
“Hmm, it seems you’ve made quite an impression with her. She seems to think she’s adopted you. She told Jamie that she and Maria would like nothing more than to have you recuperate at her place.”
“Can recuperate on Seaview...”
“Seaview has a few more repairs before she’s ready to go out again. Now the way Jamie and I see it you can either stay here at the medical center for say, the next month or so or...”
“Month!” Crane hissed, wincing as he shifted up in the bed.
“Or so.” Nelson smiled at the bruised face. “The way we see it is that maybe you, me, Chip, and Jamie could spend a week up there once Jamie releases you. Now wait a minute and hear me out!” Nelson said, as Crane tried to interrupt.
“I’m listening,” the injured man said.
“We figure we owe those two ladies a lot for what they did for you. Don’t you agree?”
“Yes, Sir, but...”
“No buts...Maria needs a lot of work done on her place and she could use a new generator as well. Abigail can use some modern equipment in her office and again that’s easy to take care of. I’ve already ordered most of the items we’ll need. Kowalski, Patterson, Riley and Sharkey have also volunteered to help out.”
“When do we get started?” Crane asked, smiling as he fought to stay awake.
“Not for at least a couple of weeks.”
“Lee, Son, you’ll be in here that long. We’ll go over the details later, for now, rest and get well. I’ll be back later to check on you.”
“Okay... thank you, Admiral.”
“You’re welcome, Son.” Nelson watched the figure on the bed and waited until he was sure Crane was sleeping before he eased the soft blanket up over his bandaged chest. “Sleep well, Lee,” he said as he left the room.
“Lee?” Jamison had been watching his patient and knew the man was on the verge of waking up. They were getting him ready to move to a private room, and he wanted him settled before Nelson or Morton showed up. The portable monitoring equipment was already hooked up for the short trip to Crane’s new room and he checked to make sure the leads were properly attached and recording the necessary data.
“Jenny, Make sure that IV is secure.”
“Yes, doctor,” the silver haired woman answered, smiling at Jamison’s orders. She knew the man was tedious in his job, and also understood it was not a mark on the way she worked. Twenty-two years as a nurse, yet she still accepted the quirks of doctors like Will Jamison. The man cared for his patients and if that meant he asked questions and gave orders that were automatics to her, she could put up with it.
“Lee, we’re getting you ready to move out of...”
“Hospital...” Crane whispered, opening the one eye as Jamison laughed softly.
“Not likely, Captain. I’m afraid you won’t be leaving for at least another week...and then it’ll be a trip to the Stern place for a vacation.”
“Going to help fi...fix her place up?” Crane asked, gasping as he tried to move on the bed.
“Lie still, Lee,” Jamison ordered as they moved the bed away from the wall.
“Now you te...tell me,” Seaview’s captain whispered in an effort to ease the worry in Jamison’s voice.
“I figured you have enough experience in here to know when to be still and when to move around,” Jamison told him as they moved towards the elevator.
“Should be able to move something by now without feeling like hell...”
“Oh, I don’t think that’ll happen for a while yet, Captain Crane,” Jenny Lidstrum explained, smiling at the younger man.
“Listen to her, Lee, she knows what she’s talking about,” the physician assured his friend.
“Okay...what time is it?”
“Six pm, are you hungry?”
“No, just wondering where everyone is,” Crane answered as the bed was pushed into the over sized elevator.
“Well, I sent Admiral Nelson and Chip home with orders to stay away for eight hours. I’d say we’ll be seeing the two of them in exactly forty seven and a half minutes,” Jamison quipped, smiling as a soft laugh issued from the injured man’s lips.
“They could surprise you.”
“I don’t think so. Knowing Chip he’s probably got it down to the second. Oh, by the way I have a message for you,” the older man said as the elevator came to a stop and they wheeled the bed through the doors.
“Who from?” Crane asked curiously.
“Come on, Will, I’m doing everything you tell me too!”
“I know, but I also know that as soon as that tube comes out of your chest...”
“When what?” Jamison asked as he they pushed the bed into room 212 where two other nurses waited for them.
“When does the damn tube come out?” Crane asked exasperatedly.
“Not for at least another three or four days, depending on how well behaved you are and that brings me back to the message from Abby.” Jamison watched as the portable equipment was removed and the leads were attached to the permanent fixtures.
“Are you going to tell me what the message was?”
“Oh, yes, sorry,” the physician said with a grin. “She said to tell you to behave yourself and give your body a chance to get well before you go trying to escape from the hospital She also said to tell you she can’t wait for you to see what the Admiral has done for her and hopes that she never gets to test any of the new equipment on a certain stubborn submarine captain.”
“Hope she doesn’t have to either,” Crane assured him as the nurse finished checking the monitoring equipment.
“Good, then between us we’ll make sure she doesn’t have to. Now, why don’t you close your eyes and go back to sleep?”
“Just woke up...”
“Yes, you did, but right now sleep is something you need. You know what my next question is, Lee?”
“Yes,” the dark haired man answered.
“Around eight right now, Jamie.”
“Alright, I’m going to give you a shot...”
“Not yet, Jamie. I’d rather be awake when the Admiral and Chip get here.”
“Lee, by then you’ll...”
“I know, but wait okay? They’ll be here soon...you said so yourself.”
“Alright, Lee. I won’t give you a shot right now, but as son as the admiral and Chip get here and you talk for a few minutes I want you resting and that, Captain Crane, is by order of your CMO. Understood?”
“Understood,” Crane said and let his eyes drift closed. He heard Jamison and the nurses talking, but felt himself drifting towards sleep. The pain was getting worse, but Lee knew the meds Jamie would give him would make him sleep and he didn’t want that. Not yet. Now that he was more awake he needed to see that Nelson and Morton were really okay. He heard the others leave and opened his eyes once more. One nurse remained, but she was turned away from him and he let the pain show on his face for a few moments.
Lee had no idea how much time passed, but he tried to control just how much he was hurting as Nelson and Morton walked into the room.
“Hi, Lee, good to see you awake.”
“How are you feeling, Lad?”
“Hello, Chip...Admiral. I’m okay, Sir. How’s the arm?”
“My arm’s fine Lee, now quit worrying about me and give yourself a chance to heal.”
“Yes, Sir,” Crane managed a weak smile as Morton patted his left shoulder. “How’s the head?”
“It’s fine...cut myself worse shaving,” Morton assured him and studied his friend’s face. The swelling had come down some, but the right eye was still only open to half-mast. Bandages were evident on the right arm and he knew the wound in Crane’s right thigh was bandaged as well. The severity of the bruises on and around his friend’s chest was testament to how much Seaview’s captain had gone through. He was unaware of how hard he was studying Crane’s face when his friend’s words brought him out of his trance like state.
“I’m o...okay, Chip...”
“Tell me something I’ll believe, Lee,” Morton advised and saw the sheepish look form on the too pale features.
“How long since you’ve had something for pain, Lee?” Nelson asked.
“Heard that, Captain, and I don’t think the Admiral appreciates being lied to,” Jamison said as he re-entered the room.
“Not a lie...not re...really. Can’t remember h...how long it’s...” his voice trailed off as his eyes watered and the pain increased to a point where it took his breath away. He heard Jamison talking to the others and soon felt him at the IV line running into his arm.
“Lee, this should help, but I don’t want you waiting so long anymore. From now on the meds will be given at certain intervals to keep you comfortable. There’s just no need of you being stubborn about it,” the physician explained.
“No buts, Captain. You do as Jamie tells you and I’ll make it an order if I have to!”
“O...okay,” Crane said, fighting the influence of the drugs in his system.
“Stop fighting, Lee. Go ahead and sleep.”
“Yes, Sir...Seaview okay?”
“Seaview’s fine, Son. She’ll be there when you’re ready to go back to work,” Nelson said as the lids finally dropped over the hazel eyes.
“Jamie, is he really going to be okay?” Morton asked.
“If he lets himself rest and does as he’s told...he should be fine.”
“Jamie, this is Lee Crane you’re talking about. Do you really think he’ll do as you tell him?” Morton asked.
“Probably not, at least not while he’s here,” Jamison said, smiling at the two men.
“Jamie, what’s going on in that head of yours?” Nelson asked.
“Just thinking there’s someone who will make sure Lee does as he’s told,” the CMO answered.
“Abigail Wilson,” Morton and Nelson answered in unison and knew Jamison was probably right. The lady knew and understood who and what Lee Crane was and could be just as stubborn as Seaview’s captain.
“You know, this trip could very well be the best vacation I’ve had since you hired Lee, Admiral. Wonder if I could interest her in taking an active role in the yearly physicals coming up?” Jamison said, smiling as the two men turned away.
“Abby, what time did you say they were coming?” Maria asked as she checked the pot of rich savory stew on the stove.
“Jamie said they should be here somewhere around six,” Abigail answered as she set the table for six adult and two children.
“Mama, Mama, I picked some flowers for the table!” Suzie called as she ran into the kitchen, her brother following close behind her.
“The chores are all done Mom,” Joey told her as he washed his hands in the sink.
“Suzie, honey, these are beautiful,” Maria assured her daughter as she took the sweet smelling wildflowers and put them in a vase. “Joey, make sure you clean out your fingernails.
“Don’t ah Mom me, young man. You were working in the barn and we both know how much dirt you get into there.”
“Yes, Mom...hey, I hear a car. It’s them Mom!” The boy said, wiping his wet hands on his shirt and racing out the door, his sister hot on his heels.
Maria smiled at the idea of seeing Lee Crane again and laughed as the older woman commented on the rosy blush on her cheeks.
“Are you just going to stand there or are you going to come with me and see how Lee’s doing?” Wilson asked. The two women walked out of the kitchen door and hurried towards the large seven-passenger van. Nelson, Morton and Jamison were already standing outside and Lee Crane was just stepping out. He leaned heavily on a cane, his right arm in a pale blue sling.
“Hello, Abby...Maria,” Crane greeted and spotted the two kids standing beside Morton. His eyes lit up and some of the weariness from the trip eased as he reached for the children. “Hi, Joey, Suzie.”
“Go easy, Lee,” Jamison warned. Two weeks had passed since Lee was found, but due to lingering infections and weakness he’d been kept in the hospital. With some cajoling from Crane and a promise to do as he was told, the CMO relinquished and agreed he would probably recover faster at the Stern’s farm. He’d spoken with Abigail Wilson and she would help keep the stubborn captain in line.
“I’m okay, Jamie,” Crane said as he sat on the edge of the van and hugged the two kids.
“Still being stubborn, Lee,” Wilson said as she moved in front of the injured man.
“Me, Abby? What makes you say that?”
“Well...” the woman said, smiling as she hugged the handsome man. “Jamie told me all about how you cajoled him into coming up here early and I can see by your face you should be resting.”
“Rested on the drive....”
“Lee, looking at reports on Seaview is not resting,” Jamison chided.
“Well, you might as well leave the reports in the van, because as of right now you’re still on sick leave and that...”
“That’s right, Lee,” Jamison said, smiling as he looked at his friend and captain. “Abby and I are going to make sure you don’t overdo things.”
“You can’t be serious...”
“You might as well give up, Lee. If Jamie is anything like Abby you’re fighting a losing call.”
Lee smiled as he spotted the young woman he owed so much to. He stood up, leaned on the cane and moved towards her. He stood before her as a smile formed on his face.
“How are you feeling, Lee?”
“I’d say I’m fine, but I might get my head chewed off,” Crane said and smiled as he heard the others chuckle at his attempted humor. He looked into the soft eyes and again saw a hidden beauty seldom seen in all the years he’d been dating. “You look good, Maria.”
“Thank you, Lee,” she said, hugging him quickly before looking at the others. “Admiral, Chip, Dr. Jamison, it’s good to see you again.”
“Thank you for inviting us, Maria,” Nelson said, as he helped take the luggage from the van.
“I’ve fixed up the kids room for you...”
“Maria, you didn’t have to do that...”
“I know I didn’t, Lee, but we’ve managed to find a place for everyone to sleep. Suzie will bunk in with me and Joey wants to make a bed in the loft. He’s done it before and I believe he’s hiding his favorite books up there,” Maria explained. “Joey, would you show Admiral Nelson and Chip where to put the luggage?”
“Sure, Mom,” the boy said as he led the two men towards the house.
“Dinner is ready and I hope you like stew?” Stern asked.
“I love stew,” Crane said as they slowly made their way towards the house.
“Lee?” Jamison said as they entered the kitchen.
“Hmm,” the captain mumbled.
“As soon as you’re finished eating, Abby and I are going to check out...”
“Jamie, I don’t need...”
“Lee, no arguing or it’ll be bed rest for another week,” Wilson assured him.
With a heavy sigh and a put upon look, Lee Crane knew he was fighting a lost cause. The two physicians would make sure he did what he was supposed to and he suddenly wondered whether he should have stayed in Santa Barbara.
It was nearly midnight when Lee Crane eased out of bed and reached for his pants. Jamison and Morton were tucked into sleeping bags on one side of the room. Nelson had the upper bunk while he slept in the lower one. Years of ONI training kicked in as he silently pulled on his pants with his left hand and reached for his slip on shoes. Jamison had made sure he’d brought comfort clothing and right now Lee was only too glad he’d accepted his CMO’s advice. He sat for several long moments allowing his body to grow used to the upright position and ignoring the throbbing ache in his thigh. The soft sound of snoring was evident as he reached for his cane. Finally dressed in the sweat suit and shoes he stood up and slowly made his way towards the door. He knew he could’ve asked Jamison for something to help manage the pain, but his own stubborn pride refused to admit his discomfort to anyone.
Easing open the door Lee made his way across the hall and through the living room. This part of the house was quiet and he reached for his jacket before moving towards the door and opening it. He stepped outside and breathed deeply of the cool air and sighed as he eased the door closed behind him. He made his way to the swing and eased his aching body down once more. He looked up at the night sky and was reminded of the nights on the ocean when the darkness was nearly obliterated by the myriad of stars and the bright orb of a full-bodied moon. Most of the time Lee enjoyed the quiet of those late nights, but there were times when he wanted, even craved the company of his shipmates.
Lee’s mind wandered back over the events of the last few months. Degan and Phillips had been denied bail and would stand trial for kidnapping and attempted murder. There was no doubt in his mind they would be convicted, but he hated the thought of testifying because it meant reliving everything he’d gone through. Sighing wearily he rubbed at his right thigh, wincing as his hand came in contact with the bandage covering the wound.
Seaview’s captain looked up and smiled at the older woman as she handed him a cup filled with a steaming beverage. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome, Son.”
“Sorry I woke you.”
“I wasn’t sleeping. These old bones creak so much they keep me awake at night,” Abby said and saw the smile form on Crane’s pale face. “What’s your excuse”
“Wasn’t sleepy,” Crane said and sipped the hot cocoa. “This is good.”
“My granny’s recipe. Now tell the truth, Lee. Why aren’t you sleeping? Wounds bothering you?”
“You could say that.”
“You should have let Jamie give you something to help, Lee.”
“I know...it’s just...”
“It makes you feel as if you’re weak,” Wilson finished and smiled at the sheepish look on Crane’s face. “Lee, it’s not a sign of weakness to admit when you’re hurting and lord knows with everything you’ve been through you’re allowed to let it show. Finish that cocoa and I’ll give you a shot...no arguments!”
“Wasn’t going to, Abby,” Crane tried to smile as he sipped at the hot liquid, but it turned into a grimace as he shifted and his healing ribs reminded him they were still there.
“Yeah, right. I know you better than you think Lee Crane and I’ve also been talking with Jamie. Seems you’re always denying the need for help.”
“Not always, Abby, I was really glad they showed up when they did. I think I would’ve died if they hadn’t.”
She saw a slight tremor run through his body and knew it wasn’t from the cool night air. Degan and Phillips were in jail, but their presence was still felt by this man as evidenced by the wounds on his body. “Yes, well, I’m glad they were able to find you too. It saves me from going shopping.”
“What do you mean?” Crane asked frowning as he looked at the woman seated next to him.
“I don’t have anything black.”
“Yes, that is the color you wear to funerals and believe me it doesn’t look good on me at all. So I’d be much obliged if you don’t give me an occasion for wearing basic black!” Abigail said with a grin.
“I’ll do my best, Abby,” Seaview’s captain smiled as he downed the last of the cocoa. “It’s beautiful out here.”
“Yes, it certainly is,” Wilson agreed and saw another grimace form on Crane’s face. “Time for that shot, Lee?”
“Think so,” Crane nodded as he reached for his cane and stood up. He followed the older woman inside and moved to the couch in the living room.
“I’ll be right back,” Wilson told him as she moved to grab her bag and ready an injection for the injured man. She knew she could probably just give him a couple of extra strength Tylenol, but she wanted to make him as comfortable as possible so he could rest. She walked into he living room and sat next to him. “Lee, I’m going to give you a shot and then I want you in bed. Okay?”
“Sounds good, Abby, thanks,” Crane agreed.
“Take off your jacket,” she ordered and helped him ease it off his shoulders. She used an alcohol swab on his arm and quickly injected the medication.
“You’re welcome, Lee, now why don’t you go on back to bed and let that take hold.”
“I will, goodnight,” Crane said standing and using his acne once more. He made his way towards the bedroom and eased the door open. The heavy curtains blocked out most of the moonlight, but there was enough for him to see by and he closed the door behind him. Making his way across the floor, Lee dropped down on his bed and smiled as Jamison lifted his head and looked at him.
“You okay, Lee?”
“I’m fine, Jamie,” Crane answered in a whisper soft voice.
“Lee, if you need something to help...”
“Abby took care of it, Jamie,” the younger man said as he eased out of his clothing and laid back on the bed. He turned on his left side and pulled the blankets up over him.
“Shot or pills?”
“Good, now go to sleep and no more late night walks,” Jamison scolded softly.
“I’ll try to remember that,” Lee said.
“Good, now get those eyes closed and go to sleep.”
“Sure. Goodnight Jamie.”
“About time,” Morton grumbled and a soft chuckle issued from above Lee’s head.
Jamie opened the door and looked in on the injured man, surprised that Crane hadn’t moved since returning to bed the night before. Closing the door once more he returned to the kitchen and smiled as fresh cup of coffee was placed in front of him.
“You’re welcome, Jamie, is Lee still sleeping?”
“Yes, he is and I’m hoping he stays that way for a while yet.”
“Abby told me he was sitting on the porch last night.”
“Yes, he’s too stubborn for his own good sometimes,” Jamison said and sipped the coffee. He knew the others were already at work on the barn and smiled as he heard the sound of hammers hitting nails. “Sounds like I’d best get out there!”
“I’m so grateful to all of you for what you’ve done for us,” the woman said as tears formed in her eyes.
“Not nearly as grateful as we are for what you did for Lee. He would’ve died if you hadn’t come along and taken him with you,” Jamison explained and knew it was the truth. Lee Crane’s injuries would have killed him eventually and if not for this woman and her children he might never have been found.
‘We just did what anyone would have.”
“No, Maria, you went far beyond that. You took an injured stranger into your home and got him the help he needed. That’s not something that happens often in this day and age. Too many people are afraid of being hurt and turn a blind eye to those who really do need help.”
“I could never turn my back on someone who’s hurt,” Maria assured him as she looked out the window. Suzie was playing with her dolls and was pouring make belief tea into the small cups before them. She knew Joey was helping Nelson and Morton with the repairs and was pleased the two men had taken her son under their wings.
“Where’s Abby?” Jamison asked.
“She went back to her office to check on a couple of patients. I think she just wants to play around with the equipment you guys brought out to her.”
“Her stuff was outdated and if she’s the only doctor within a couple of hundred miles then she needs it.”
“Yes, she does,” Maria agreed as Jamison finished his coffee and stood up.
“Well, I guess I’d better go see how things are going. Would you mind telling Lee I want to check his wounds before he gets dressed?”
“I will,” the woman said and began clearing the dishes from the table.
Lee shifted on the bed and licked at dry lips. He had no idea what time it was, but knew it was late when he looked at the empty bedrolls on the opposite side of the room. Sliding his legs over the edge he winced as the movement tugged at the wound. A soft knock on the door had him scrambling to cover his lower body before telling whomever it was to come in.
“Good morning, Lee, how are you feeling?” Maria asked from the doorway.
“Better, thanks. What time is it?”
“A little after ten. Jamie said to tell you not to get up until he has a chance to check your wounds. I’ll let him know you’re awake.”
“Okay,” Crane said, knowing it would do him no good to argue. He lay back on the bed and soon heard Jamison enter the room.
“Good morning, Lee.”
“How are you feeling?”
“A little sore,” Crane answered honestly.
“Well, let me take a look at you,” Jamison suggested and opened his bag. He pulled out the stethoscope and placed it in his ears. “Deep breaths!”
Lee did as Jamison ordered and sat forward when the physician told him to. He waited for Jamison to finish his ministrations and lay back when the man began examining the wound in his thigh.
“This is looking much better, Lee...”
“So I can do without the cane?”
“I said it was looking better...not miraculously cured. If I see you without the cane I’ll have you back in bed and might even find a reason to use restraints. Understood?”
“Understood,” Crane agreed sheepishly as Jamison moved to examine the wound to his arm. By the time Jamison put him through a complete check up both men were frustrated and short tempered. Jamie because Crane wanted to be allowed more freedom, and Lee because his CMO refused to give in to his requests.
“Lee, I know you want to get back to work, but right now you have to relax and give yourself time to heal. I don’t like being the hard head here, but if I have to make it an order than I will.”
“Jamie, it’s not like I’ll be doing anything heavy! I just want to help out with the repairs!” Crane snapped.
“I know and you will, but not by climbing ladders or lifting anything heavy! You try something like that and I guarantee you’ll be back in the hospital with tubes running out of every ori...”
“I get it, Jamie!” Crane said as he sat on the edge of the bed. Truth be told he knew the other man was right, but that had never stopped him before.
“Look, Lee, why don’t you get dressed, eat some breakfast and come on out. Maybe we can find something for you to do without putting any strain on your ribs, arm, or leg, okay?”
“Okay,” Crane agreed and accepted Jamison’s help in getting into his clothes. Finally dressed he stood and headed towards the door.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Crane smiled sheepishly as Jamison handed him the cane.
“You’d think I was really sick if I didn’t try.” The two men walked out of the room and Lee smiled as Maria Stern placed a plate of pancakes and maple syrup in front of him.
“Lee, come out to the barn when you’re done,” Jamison said and left the house.
“Yes, Please,” Crane smiled as he watched the pretty woman pour coffee into a mug and place it in front of him. “You didn’t have to go through all this trouble, Maria.”
“It was no trouble at all, but you still have to eat it,” the woman said with a grin.
“If it tastes as good as it smells I’ll be looking for seconds,” Crane said and smiled around a mouthful of pineapple pancakes.
“I can make more,” Maria suggested and watched as the handsome man ate ravenously.
“No, thanks, Maria, but this is fine.” Once Lee finished eating he took his dishes to the sink and then followed the woman out of the house. The sun was hot, shimmering across the hard packed dirt of the driveway and Lee smiled as he looked towards the barn. Chip Morton was on the roof, his shirt off and sweat glistening off his chest as he hammered the board in place. Joey Stern knelt next to him and waved to them both. Harriman Nelson worked on a lower wall, shirt unbuttoned as the soft breeze billowed the material away from his body. Will Jamison was inside the door and came out carrying several newly cut boards.
“Hey, Lee, it’s about time you woke up,” Morton called from overhead.
“Better be careful, Chip, you get sunburned and Jamie’s going to have another patient,” Crane called as the blond continued to work on the roof.
“I don’t burn, Lee, I tan!” Morton said with a wry grin.
“I’ll make sure you remember you said that when you’re complaining about your back tonight!” Jamison shouted as he moved to help Nelson.
“What can I do to help?” Crane asked.
“Lee, maybe you can give me a hand here so Jamie can get more boards ready?” Nelson suggested and smiled as Lee limped towards him.
“Lee, all you have to do is hold the boards in place. Let the admiral hammer them in place! I catch you using that arm and we’ll both be taking a little trip to Abby’s clinic to test out some of that new equipment she has! Do I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly,” Crane said. At any other time he might have been upset at Jamison’s threat, but right now he was only to happy to have something to do.
“All right, Lad, just hold it in place!” Nelson said, smiling as the sound of hard labor echoed through the mountains. It wasn’t often he had the chance to work in the open and get his hands dirty, but when he did, Harriman Nelson was a man on a mission. These people had saved one of his officers and for that he would be forever in their debt and what he was doing seemed minor compared to the gift they’d given him. His captain was healing and would soon be back where he belonged.
Two long months later, Lee Crane smiled as he stood on Seaview’s deck with the smell of the ocean carried to him by a soft breeze. This was where he belonged and he felt as if he’d come home after a long absence. They’d spent a month at the Stern’s home, helping put the farm back in working order and it was a tearful goodbye when they left. He knew he could have been happy with Maria and her children, but he wasn’t ready to settle down yet. The call of the sea was too much for him to ignore and it was with mixed emotions that he drove away from the house.
“Are you okay, Lee?”
“I’m fine, Admiral, just glad to be home.”
“She does get under a man’s skin, doesn’t she, Lad?”
“Yes, Sir, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Chip said everything was loaded and secured,” Crane said, smiling as he watched the men on the docks making final preparations for them to get underway.
“Any regrets about Maria and her children?” Nelson asked softly.
“There’s always regrets, Admiral, but for now I’m where I need to be,” Crane said.
“I heard from Lewis.”
“What did he have to say?” Crane asked.
“He said Degan and Phillips turned on each other and both have been turning states evidence. It looks like they’re looking at heavy sentences.”
“Can’t say I’m sorry.”
“Neither can I, Lad,” Nelson said as he clapped the younger man on the shoulder. “Why don’t we see what our lady can do?”
The two men strode across the deck as the wind picked up and sent a fine spray off the ocean. This was where they were meant to be and it felt as if the ocean was giving its blessing. As the grey lady moved with the waves, Harriman Nelson and Lee Crane disappeared below decks ready to take her out on another mission that would keep the world safe for those who were unaware of the evil that surrounded them.