“Man of Many Faces” is one of my favorite episodes. There was so much going on there and I was never happy with Mason’s fate. He was so deliciously foul that I had to do something with him.

~<<>>~

A Doppelganger A ghostly double of a living person, especially one that haunts its fleshly counterpart ~ American Heritage Dictionary.

Doppelganger

 

Sharon H

 

~<<>>~

 

Lee half slid-half ran down the hall, catching himself on the doorframe and pivoting on one foot to change direction and plow through his bedroom door, promising himself from now on he’d keep a gun somewhere downstairs. He dove for the chest and pawed through the top drawer, coming up with his Beretta. He whirled around to face the doorway and heard a small pop.  He felt the sting as something small and sharp impacted hard with his chest. Lee stared down at the tranquilizer dart, felt his knees go weak as his vision tunneled. With one hand he griped the object and yanked it out, dropping the dart to the floor.

 

“Not this time, Commander. I’ve learned from my mistakes,” said a voice that seemed familiar to Lee. Already the drug was coursing through his system as another dart impacted with his chest. He couldn’t keep his grip on the gun and it dropped to the floor with a clatter that seemed to echo in his ears. Crane grabbed at the heavy chesty of drawers to keep his balance, but he just couldn’t stay on his feet. With a hard thud, his body hit the floor, knocking the breath from him. The impact of his head hitting the hardwood floor opened an inch long gash on the right side of his temple. He couldn’t hold on to consciousness and it slowly slipped from his fingers like sand.

 

Two intruders, one short with ragged blond hair, the second taller and leaner, bent down and hefted the equally lean submarine commander on to the bed. Lee flopped helplessly across the bedspread. Blood from the wound on his temple slowly dripped under his head to stain the bedspread.

 

“Now what? How are we gonna get him off the property?” the shorter blond asked.  From the floor he picked up the forgotten Beretta, dropped from Lee’s nerveless fingers after the tranquilizer dart hit home

 

“Tie him up and gag him, then stuff him in the trunk of his car. Nobody will question it when we leave,” the second person said, looking with satisfaction at the unconscious figure sprawled face up on the bed. The dark fringe of Lee’s eyelashes never fluttered as the drug from the darts coursed through his system, sending the dark haired commander deeper into unconsciousness.

 

His attacker shoved the short-barreled dart gun in to a small bag on the edge of the bed. He pulled off his dark sunglasses and dropped them in bag with the gun then reached up and tugged off the wig set with ragged brown hair. That too, went into the bag. From the depths of the same bag he pulled out a roll of hemp twine and a ragged black bandana, tossing both to his accomplice.

 

“That little car in the garage? You’re kidding, right?” He’s six foot tall, if he’s an inch. It’s gonna be a tight fit.”

 

The second, obviously the leader, moved toward the closet and flung the doors open. A line of uniform shirts and trousers hung in neat rows, separated from the casual, civilian clothes. Several pairs of shoes, both dress and casual, were lined up in the floor. The dark haired stranger reached out and pulled a pair of trousers free from a hanger, giving them a toss onto the bed. He then began pulling his own short-sleeve brown uniform shirt off.

 

 “I don’t care if you have to fold him in half. He’s not going to live to see too many more days anyhow. Get busy. He’ll be missed soon and we need to be out of here before somebody comes looking for him.”

 

The shorter man produced a pocketknife and cut off a long length of twine from the roll. He proceeded to pull Lee’s arms behind his back and tie his wrists together. He did the same with his ankles.  “What about the van? Wouldn’t it be easier to throw him in the van and just peel outta here?”

 

The taller, lean figure was pulling on a fresh khaki shirt, buttoning the long sleeves down. “The van stays. We’d don’t stand a chance in a delivery van if they suspect something. They’ll be expecting Crane to be driving his car. You’ll be with me and by the time they figure out something’s wrong, we’ll be long gone. ”

 

“I hope to hell this plan of your works. This ain’t no ordinary Joe we’re messed up with here. How the hell do you think we’re just gonna waltz out of here with Nelson’s prize boy?”

 

The taller dark haired figure smiled as he adjusted the collar of his ‘borrowed’ shirt. Still smirking, he pulled the pins off the collar of the Lee’s shirt. Carefully he fitted the rank insignia into his own collar and made a quick check in the dresser mirror. The image that stared back at him had short dark hair, the curls tamed into respectable control and an olive-toned Mediterranean complexion. Dark arched eyebrows topped a pair of obsidian black eyes framed by raven black lashes. In short, with the exception of those stone cold eyes, he was the exact double of the unconscious Commander Lee Crane.  A doppelganger come to life. “Relax, Jerry. Who’s going to know the difference?” the replica asked with an oily smile.

 

~<<>>~

 

Chip Morton stared at his cell phone, as if by sheer force of his formidable will he could make the phone ring or at least make the person on the other end answer. But the phone stayed silent, completely immune to the icy cold glare the young officer was bestowing on it.

 

For the last hour he had been trying to call Lee. Of course, Lee wasn't answering his phone. Odd for Crane, who normally kept his phone on him at all times, should something come up and he needed to be notified. By now Chip was getting concerned. He hadn’t thought much about Lee’s absence until lunchtime. Chip thought maybe Lee was simply onboard the sub, overseeing one of the many ongoing projects. Only when Chip contacted Sharkey to check on him, the chief reported they hadn’t seen Crane all morning. Lee’s secretary hadn’t heard from him and neither had the switchboard. Since then Chip had tried calling both the house and Lee’s cell, praying for an answer. Past experience had honed Morton's instincts to a razor's edge. As Chip stood in the lobby of the Administration building, ignoring the passing interns and secretaries, those instincts were screaming that something was horribly wrong.

 

He reversed his step and instead of heading for his office, he backtracked, taking the short flight of stairs off the landing of the front doors two at a time, wishing the admiral wasn't in Bangor. There might be a very logical reason Lee wasn't responding to his calls. Chip wasn't taking any chances. Experience had trained him to question the out-of-the-ordinary. Lee not answering his phone and not showing up when normally threats couldn’t keep him away from his office was definitely out-of-the-ordinary. Chip shoved the cell into his back pocket and retrieved his keys from his jacket. Chip jogged across the parking lot, hit the door of his Jeep and slid into the driver's seat. The officer’s condos weren’t that far from the main complex. Chip gunned the engine and peeled out of the parking lot in a roar of exhaust.

 

A few minutes later, Chip pulled up to Lee's two-story beachfront home. Chip got out of the Jeep slowly, taking in the surroundings. Lee didn't have any immediate neighbors. His condo sat on a bluff overlooking the beach. Chip's own place was actually the next house down, while the admiral lived on the highest bluff overlooking the Institute.

 

Chip shut the car door and went up to the house, circling around to use the entrance off the back deck. The sliding glass doors were not only unlocked, they were half open. Chip eased inside, glancing around for any sign that something was wrong.

 

"Lee?" he called out as he moved out of the kitchen into the living room. He was met by silence. The cold knot of worry that had settled in the pit of Chip’s stomach now blossomed into full-blown fear as he walked through the quiet living room. He rested a hand on the back of the beige and blue sectional couch, missing the blue blanket that used to drape over the couch back. His fingers dug into the fabric of the couch as a hundred theories and scenarios flashed through his head. 

 

On a hunch he headed upstairs for the bedroom and poked his head through the open door. The bed covers were mussed and tangled as if someone had rolled or had been thrown into the top of the mattress. The small crimson stain on the center of the bed drew Chip’s attention. He frowned, having seen drying blood before. Chip walked over to the dresser and touched the top drawer, hanging at an off-kilter angle. Lee's Beretta case lay open on the bottom of the drawer. The Beretta was gone

 

"Something's happened to him and it happened fast,” he said to no one. He let his gaze drift over the room, looking for anything that might be a clue. An object on the floor caught his eye, half-hidden by the trailing edge of the dark blue bedspread. Chip reached down and pulled loose what looked like a long silver cylinder, decorated on one end with yellow and orange feathers.

 

"A tranquilizer dart. Just great," Chip muttered. What the hell had Lee gotten into this time? If something had happened, if he was in over his head, if this were something he couldn't get out of this time . . . Chip forced himself to stop and think objectively. He wasn't going to be able to help Lee if he couldn't be logical.

 

With a sinking feeling in his gut, he doubled back downstairs and through the living room to the side door that led out into the garage. Lee never parked his car outside if he could help it. Chip wasn’t sure what he was looking for but as his steps echoed through the garage, he had the answer to one question.

 

The garage was empty. The red Shelby Cobra was gone and Lee Crane was nowhere to be found.

 

~<<>>~

 

Lee could feel himself moving but in the darkness it was hard to get his bearings. He knew he was lying on his side. His head was splitting and every muscle ached. When he tried to move to push himself up, he realized his arms were pulled behind him, tied at the wrists. He shifted his legs and found his ankles were bound as well. Concentrating, he could make out the unmistakable feeling of a knotted cloth, pulled tight against his mouth. The darkness wasn't natural either. He could feel a blindfold pulled tight over his eyes. The heat was stifling, making Lee pant through the gag. He could feel a line of sweat trickle down the back of his neck, soaking his damp collar. He could feel the fabric of his shirt sticking to his back and chest, heavy with dampness. Where the devil was he?

 

Desperately, he tried to remember what had happened. There had been two of them and he had fought them both off as best as he could, franticly trying to get upstairs to the gun. He remembered looking down and seeing the orange and yellow feathers of a tranquilizer dart in his chest. After that, everything was a blank.

 

The movement stopped. Lee tried to shift his position but there wasn't much space to maneuver in. A blast of cooler air washed across his face. He felt hands grab him by his arms and he was half lifted and half dragged up. He was hoisted like a sack of potatoes and carried down a flight of steps. Then he was dropped to a cold, hard surface.

 

Lee tried to squirm away from his captors but he was grabbed once more, pulled and shoved against what felt like a metal support pole. Hands gripped both arms and Lee felt fingers probing the bonds around his wrists. 

 

Lee struggled to get free but he still weak from the after-effects of the tranquilizer dart. He didn't stand a chance. He felt the cold blade of a knife slice through the ropes and he was quickly retied with his arms around the pole. Somebody wasn’t taking any chance that he might work free.

 

"Sit tight, Crane. I've got plans for you, so you just be a good boy and nobody gets hurt. Yet."

 

With that, Lee heard their footsteps fade away. Struggling against his bonds, Lee tried to puzzle out what was going on, but he simply could not come up with an acceptable answer. How long had he been missing from the Institute? An hour? Two or more? Surely by now Chip has noticed he was missing and had shifted into panic mode. Morton would tear Santa Barbara apart looking for him. The admiral was due back from Bangor today. Nelson wouldn’t rest until he had been found. Lee stopped struggling, resting his aching head against the pole. He had to hang on. If the chance to escape came, he had to be ready for it.

 

~<<>>~

 

“I want the Institute on lock down, no one goes in or out without clearance from either the head of security or myself,” Chip Morton growled as he paced the length of Lee's living room. Lee had been kidnapped, Chip was certain of it. By now the entire Institute was swarming with security, even the crew was being pulled out and brought in to help with the search. Chip dialed another number from memory and waited for the connection to catch.  

 

“Mr. Morton, been wondering how long it would take you to call.” The voice of Howard Keating, the Institute's head of surveillance, came over the phone.

 

“Then why didn't you call me first?” Chip demanded. He liked Howard, but today he wasn't in the mood for Howie's eccentric attitude and odd ways.

 

“Cause I've been pulling all the video from the last twenty-four hours for you. Once you got done barking at Security, I figured I'd be one step ahead of you and with any luck I could have something for you.”

 

“Well, do you?” Chip asked, afraid to hope.

 

“Do I what?” came Howard’s innocent question.

 

Chip closed his eyes and counted to ten. If Howie weren’t a certified genius with surveillance gear, Chip would have tossed him out long ago. However when it came to buttonhole cameras, hidden mikes, the smaller the better, Howie was the expert. Nobody knew how to hide surveillance better than Howard. After the incident a few years ago of a-would-be-assassin sneaking onto the Institute trying to take out the admiral[1], Chip had pushed to have a top of the line surveillance system installed. Nobody got in or out of the Institute now without being on camera at some point.  Lee’s kidnappers didn’t stand a chance of slipping off the grounds unseen. But at the moment, Howie's brain seemed to be stuck on Pause.

 

“DID YOU FIND ANYTHING?” Morton snarled into the cell phone, the whole calm and collected XO attitude flying merrily out the window. Howie might a genius but he could try the patience of a saint.

 

“Oh, yeah, sure did! This is the weird thing. I've got footage of Commander Crane leaving but there's something not right. Somebody’s with him and he doesn’t match the profile of anybody who came in. He was waved through because he was leaving and the commander vouched for him. Maybe he was being forced at gunpoint or something.”

 

Chip breathed a sigh of relief. At least Howie understood the gravity of the situation. Maybe Lee was fine. Maybe he was overreacting. But an unaccounted-for visitor? No visitors badge and no background check on file? Lee would never have gone against Institute policy, no matter who the visitor might be. The knot of fear tightened in Chip’s gut.

 

“Commander Crane wouldn’t do that. Maybe if the kidnapper told Lee he had a bomb or something, then maybe. He’d do anything to protect the Institute. Still doesn’t answer how they got on the grounds. I'll be right down. Hold everything till I get there.”

 

“Anything you say, Mr. Morton.” Chip disconnected and immediately his phone started ringing. It was Sharkey.

 

“Chief, any sign?” Morton asked without preamble.

 

“Sir, the gate watch says the skipper left about an hour ago, in his personal car and somebody was with him. Something else, sir. Security reports a delivery truck was found abandoned just inside the Institute gates, down the hill from the skipper’s condo. The driver was found stuffed behind the seat, two bullets in his head.”

 

Chip ground his jaw frustration. “I don't like the sound of that. Keep on it, Chief. Let me know the second you find anything, footprint, strand of hair, blood splatter, anything.”

 

“Aye, sir, will do.” Chip killed the connection then stood still, thinking about the delivery truck. That answered the question of how they got inside. Hijack the truck, kill and impersonate the driver. Security was about to get an overhaul if Chip had anything to do with it.

 

That's when the cell phone chirped again. Chip's heart skipped a beat as Lee's phone number flashed across the call ID. Fumbling for the receive button, Morton finally answered.

 

“Lee! Lee, are you okay?” Chip demanded, feeling his heart hammering almost painfully in his chest. He swallowed down the ball of fear rising up his throat.

 

“Chip, am I glad to hear you. Listen, I'm in a bit of a bind. I'm at some construction site down here by the wharf. Don't suppose you can come down and bail me out?”

 

Chip closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh of relief. Lee was alive and okay. “No problem. Are you okay? What happened?”

 

Chip heard Lee hiss as if in pain before answering. “I'm fine, just hurry up, would you? I'm not sure when the others will get back, and I don't think I can make it far on my own. Chip, do me a favor?”

 

“Anything, Lee, just ask.”

 

“Bring Jamie, please.” There was that hiss again and a strangled gasped as Lee spoke. Chip felt a hitch in his own breathing. Damn. Lee must be in pretty bad shape if he was admitting, even in a roundabout way, that he was hurt. “Sure thing, Lee. We're on our way, just hold on, okay? Lee? Lee!”

 

But Crane didn't respond. Not willing to hang up on the last link he had with his friend, Chip lunged for the house phone on the wall and punched in a familiar number. It barely had time to ring before it was picked up.

 

“Jamie, it’s Chip. Get a bag packed, we're going after Lee.”

 

~<<>>~

 

The silence was unnerving. Blindfolded, Lee had no way of knowing if he was alone or if there was someone in the room with him, watching him as he struggled to work free of the ropes. Gagged, he had no way of calling for help. His jaw ached from the tight knot of cloth jammed between his teeth.

 

Lee wasn't having much luck getting loose. The ropes felt like felt more like a thin hemp twine, damn near impossible to work loose once knotted.  After what felt like hours, Lee finally stopped and sat still, resting his tired fingers and sore arms. He pulled his legs up, bent at the knees with his feet flat on the floor, trying to ease the ache in his back and thighs.

 

It was truly silent. No cars, no voices, nothing. The floor was hard, cold concrete. He had no way of knowing how big or small the room was. The smell of fresh cut lumber was thick in the air and Lee could smell fresh poured concrete. He had no way of knowing how far they had driven until they stopped. His sense of direction was completely twisted around and the drugs still in his system had his senses muddled. He didn’t even know how long he had been unconscious. He rubbed his head against the pole he was bound to, hoping to pull the blindfold off his eyes. The material was pulled tight and the slick metal offered no purchase on the cloth.

 

“Not gonna happen, Crane. You just sit tight and don't get fidgety over there. I got another dart with your name on it if you don't sit still. You’ll sleep for as long as I need you to. I’d rather you were awake. I want you to know what’s happening.”

 

He heard the sound of a chair scraping across the floor and footsteps coming closer to him. How long had he been there, watching as he struggled to free himself? Lee held his breath, not sure what was about to happen. The footsteps seemed to circle around him. Lee felt like a wounded seal, hounded by a hungry shark.

 

“I'll bet you'd like to know what all this is about?”

 

Lee didn't move. If his kidnapper wanted to brag, he wasn't going to get any encouragement from Seaview's skipper.

 

“Not very talkative, are you?” The statement was followed by a none-too-sane giggle.

 

Great, I've been snatched by a psycho, Lee thought, listening to the footsteps circling him, the occasional bursts of short, choppy giggling as his captor continued to think his remarks clever.

 

“I'll tell you, Crane, Admiral Nelson owes me. He took my career, made me the laughing stock of the scientific community. He owes me. I was locked away, treated like some kind of animal. He is going to pay.” Another hysterical giggle punctuated the statement. “I'm going to wipe the Institute off the map. By the time I’m done with you, nobody’s gonna believe a word you have to say, even if you could get lose. This time Crane, I promise you, there won’t be a convenient box of tools you can use to get free. I’m handling you personally and you’re not going anywhere this time. One domino at a time, Crane. First you, then your second, until Nelson has no one to turn to. Now that I have you out of the way, I can deal with Lieutenant Commander Morton.”

 

Lee jerked his head up at the mention of Chip's name. What is this freak planning? What’s he mean by ‘again’? Franticly, he twisted at the ropes holding him down. The insane giggling grew louder as if his captor was amused by Lee's attempts.

 

Slowly footsteps began to walk away, and he called out to Lee one last time. “You know the legend of the doppelganger, don’t you, Crane? Seeing yourself, the reflection of your soul, it’s a harbinger of your own death. I’m you now, Crane. Your reflection. Your shadow.  How's Mr. Morton gonna take it when his best friend shoots him in cold blood?”

 

Lee felt his blood turn to ice water. Not Chip. No. He couldn't let this happen, he had to get free. With a renewed sense of determination, Lee set to work, trying to break loose so he could stop this madman before he could follow through with whatever twisted plan he had in mind.

 

~<<>>~

 

“This has to be the place. Lee sad it was a construction site on the wharf. This is the only one,” Chip was saying as he and William Jamieson walked slowly though the half built jumble of buildings. The area was quiet. It looked like the construction crews had stopped halfway through building. Dust layered boxes and buckets of sealant. Empty cans of paint sat empty and abandoned. Random tools were scattered about. Their footsteps echoed through the unfinished structure. There was no sign of anyone, workers or otherwise. There was certainly no sign of Lee Crane.

 

Jamie was the first to see Lee's car, parked on the edge of an unfinished wall. “Chip, over there,” he said, motioning to Lee's candy apple red Cobra. Chip knew the car's history and it wasn't like Lee to leave his little red baby exposed in such a public area.

 

“This doesn't make sense. Why call us out here when he could drive back on his own? What kind of shape is he in?” Chip asked. The blond walked over to the roadster, hands feeling of the car's hood. It was cold to the touch. The keys were still in the ignition and Lee’s khaki jacket and briefcase sat in the driver's seat.  Chip snagged the keys and on a whim, unlocked the trunk. In the back was the crumpled blanket that used to drape over the back of Lee's couch. With shaking hand, Chip gathered the blanket up. Dots of blood, still tacky to the touch, glistened on the blue material.

 

“Jamie,” Chip called out, holding the blanket out.

 

“Easy, Chip. Let's not jump to conclusions,” Jamie advised. Unnerved by the blood, the doctor could only wonder what kind of shape Lee could possibly be in.

 

“Chip,” Lee's voice called out from somewhere ahead of them. Both men looked up sharply to see Lee Crane standing on the far side of a half-finished building.

 

“Lee! What happened? Are you alright?” Chip exclaimed and jogged a few steps forward.

 

What happened next would haunt Will Jamison's memory for weeks to come. Lee raised the gun he held in one hand and fired off two quick shots then a final third. At the first shot Chip flinched, his eyes going wide with disbelief. The second shot caught Chip on his right side, sending a blood spray out the backside of his jacket and throwing his body into a three-quarter spin. Chip caught himself against the side of the red Cobra, his right hand pressing against the wound. Lee squeezed off two more shots. The third went wide but the fourth slammed into Chip’s left arm, blowing though the muscle of his bicep. Gasping, Chip collapsed to the floor.

 

“LEE! GOD NO! LEE, WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?” Jamie screamed as he rushed forward to drop to his knees by Chip's side.

 

But the figure that was Lee Crane said nothing further, just watched impassively as Jamie tore at Chip's shirt, trying to get to the wounds. He peeled back the khaki shirt to get a better look, hissing when he finally saw the deep score that cut between the sixth and seventh ribs. When Will looked up again, Crane was gone.

 

Chip gasped, trying to breathe, trying to talk. He locked one crimson stained hand around Will's wrist. Sky blue eyes clouded with pain, shock, and disbelief stared up into Jamie's. “Jamie, what’s…wrong with…him? …can’t be…Lee…” Chip stammered. Lee was his friend. This wasn’t right. Lee wouldn’t have tried to kill him. That couldn’t have been Lee. Something was wrong. The echo of the gunshots still vibrated in his head. He tried to hold on to reality, but the world around him began to fade out and gradually grow dimmer.

 

“Hush Chip, don’t talk. Just hang on for me.” Jamie laid a hand on Morton's shoulder, trying to grab for the cell phone in his own pocket. With one thumb he keyed in the direct line to the Institute switchboard. “Jamieson here, I need an ambulance down to the wharf, ASAP.  Single victim, multiple gunshots,” Jamieson was examining the wound on Chip’s left arm, alarmed when he couldn’t find the exit wound. “Have the O.R. prepped and ready as soon as we get there. Blood type: O-positive. Word of this is not to leak out to the public, I repeat, do not leak this out of the Institute! I need a connection with Admiral Nelson as soon as you can reach him.”

 

Confident his orders were being relayed quickly and efficiently, Will turned his attention back to the blond. Chip was desperately trying to stay conscious, but his pulse was weak and thready and his breathing was getting shallow and tacky. Blood seeped through Will’s fingers staining his own uniform as he tried to stanch the vermilion flow. 

 

“Stay with me, Commander, I need you to stay with me,” Will pleaded, ripping off Chip's tie and his own to use as makeshift pressure bandages. As he pressed against the wound on Chip’s side, the blond inhaled sharply and Jamie paused. Had the bullet taken out a rib? It was hard to tell. As Will tried to keep Chip anchored, the young man's eyes rolled into the back of his head and his body grew limp. Jamieson cast around one last time for Lee, but his commanding officer had completely vanished.  There was no sign of Chip Morton's would-be assassin.

 

~<<>>~

 

Lee heard the footsteps and froze, his fingers and hands sore from picking at the ropes that still bound him.

 

“Well, that went well. One down, two more to go.”

 

Lee turned to face the direction of the speaker. Two? Who did he mean by two? Was he going after the crew, one by one? The thought trailed off as he felt the tip of a knife gently touching the underside if his chin, drawing his head upwards with the faint pressure of the blade on his skin.

 

“I'll bet you're wondering what I'm planning? Well, let me tell you. By now everybody thinks you shot your best friend. The good doctor saw you take aim and pump two rounds into your pal Morton.  If he's not dead, he soon will be I can promise you that. Dr. Jamieson was absolutely aghast that you would do such a thing. Just imagine how the press is going to react when word of this leaks out. Commander Lee Crane shoots and kills Commander Charles Morton. You have no one to defend you. Nobody will believe otherwise, once Jamieson tells the world what he saw. The Nelson Institute will fall apart. But first, you know what happens next, Commander?”

 

Lee never moved, afraid to even breathe as the tip of the blade dug deeper into his skin. How could I have shot anybody? I’ve been tied up the whole time! How could Jamie even think I could hurt Chip?

 

“I understand you're very good friends with Nelson's redheaded daughter, so recently having crawled out of the woodwork. She is quite spirited, so I'm told. While I was institutionalized, I met an old friend of hers who’s dying to look her up. He was more than willing to help me orchestrate my little breakout. All I have to do is hand her over to him. Once she’s out of the way, with enough evidence to point the authorities in your direction, you know what, Lee, old boy?”

 

No, no, not Serena. God, leave her out of this, please. I have to get loose. I’ve already let Chip down. I can’t let something happened to her too.

 

The voice - a voice that sounded so familiar to Lee - giggled again before continuing. ”Commander Lee Crane, so stressed and depressed, he shot and killed his best friend. In a fit of rage, he killed his employer’s daughter, the proceeded to kill the all-knowing Admiral Nelson. Then Commander Lee Crane vanished. No trace. No sign. Never to be heard from again.”

 

Lee jerked convulsively at the ropes, even as his captor laughed at his efforts.

 

“I think it’s time someone notified the authorities that Commander Crane just murdered an unarmed man. It’s also polite to pay a visit to Dr. Harrison. I understand she just got back from a long trip. Poor girl must be tired. I’ll leave you to wonder about your friend’s fate. My new friend is quiet excited to renew Dr. Harrison’s acquaintance.”

 

The pressure under his chin was suddenly gone and Lee surge forward, unable to stop himself. He’d do anything to protect his friends. But this time Lee could only listen helplessly as his abductor’s wild laughter faded, leaving Seaview’s captain alone with his worries of the fate of his friends.

 

Worry for what his kidnapper had done to Chip ate at him; his concern for the admiral wouldn't let him give up. His own fate was secondary to that of his friends. Chip couldn't be dead, he just couldn't be. How could anybody think that he had tried to kill his best friend? How could anybody think he'd do anything to hurt Serena? And the admiral, he'd never do anything to the admiral. It just wasn't possible. Lee couldn’t stop the barrage of jumbled thoughts as the pieces of the jumbled puzzle slowly came together. Doppelganger. His kidnapper had used the word doppelganger and Lee literally rocked back with the shock of memory slamming into him with the force of a freight train. 

 

Lee remembered watching Nelson leading his double up from the Flying Sub hatch. Randolph Mason, disguised as himself. He had planted a bomb on Seaview and had tricked Chip into launching the flying sub. The whole thing had been like a bad dream. But Mason hadn’t even stood trial for his actions. A team of specialists had proven Mason was schizophrenic and mentally unstable. 

 

The more Lee thought about it, the more convinced he was that Mason was behind this. It was the only thing that made sense. Somehow Mason had escaped from the Springhurst ward and dressed as Seaview’s skipper, he had shot Morton in front of Jamie. That had to be it. If that was the truth, the admiral had no idea what kind of danger he was in. He had to get free before his tormentor came back.

 

Please let this be a dream, please let me wake up from this nightmare. Lee pleaded silently. But the ropes continued to chaff against his raw skin, the blindfold robbed him of his vision and the tight gag stole his voice. Chip might be dead and Serena was next. Nelson was the final target. He choked back a strangled moan of despair, fighting back against the torment of knowing something horrible was about to happen and being helpless to stop it.

 

~<<>>~

 

“HE WHAT?”

 

Harriman Nelson rocked back in the pilot's seat of the Flying Sub as the news hit him like a ton of bricks. He was on his way back to Santa Barbara after wrapping up a series of meetings at Kitsap Naval Base in Bangor, Washington. He was expecting to hear from Crane concerning the new software upgrades on Seaview, not that he had just tried to kill Chip Morton. Completely blindsided and shocked at the news, all Nelson could do was gape like a fish out of water before he got his wits about him.

 

Will Jamison's tired voice came over the intercom as he tried to explain to Harry what he had seen.

 

“I know what I saw, Admiral. Lee Crane shot Chip Morton, twice. One bullet ripped through his right side, the other was lodged in his right arm. He was out to kill Morton that much was obvious.”

 

“Will, that doesn't make sense. Why on earth would Lee try to kill Chip? Lee would rather cut off his own arm than hurt Morton. You know that. Why try to kill Chip, yet leave you alive? Did Lee actually see you?”

 

A deep sigh echoed over the speaker. “He just looked right at me. He had to have seen me. According to Chip, Lee asked for me by name. If Lee Crane was asking for a doctor, he had to be in bad shape. Oddly, he didn't look hurt when we saw him. He called out to Chip the one time but didn't say anything else. He just watched as I tried to stop the bleeding. I know what I saw. If that wasn't Lee, it was a dead ringer for him. I've heard that everybody has a double, but…”

 

Harriman adjusted the throat mike, keeping FS1 on course with the other hand. “What did you just say?” A momentary flash of memory distracted him.

 

“About what? Lee? I said that I had heard that everybody has a double.”

 

Nelson froze, remembering how on national television he had shot and killed Randolph Mason. Only it hadn't been him. It had been Mason, shooting an assistant made to look like Mason. The whole scheme had been concocted to discredit Nelson while Mason carried out his own hair-brained plan to harness the power of the tides.

 

Mason was supposed to be in a maximum-security mental facility. The man hadn’t even stood trial. He was found to be more than marginally unstable and schizophrenic. A team of doctors had determined that Mason would never be stable enough to function in society again. Was Mason back? Had he somehow managed to escape? Was he out for revenge? Appearing as Lee and gunning down Chip in broad daylight? Mason had killed before. What would stop him from doing it again? Nelson shook his head to clear the cobwebs and focused on the situation at hand. “How's Chip?”

 

“Headed for Med Bay. We should be there in another five minutes. They're waiting for us and I want Chip under the protection of the Institute's security, in case Lee—or whoever that was-- tries to finish the job.”

 

“Good thinking. Are you positive about that, that it was Lee and not someone who looked like him?”

 

“It looked like Lee. That’s all I can tell you, Admiral.”

 

“I believe you when you say you saw Lee but I have my doubts about it actually being Lee. I'm on my way back to the Institute now. I should be there in a few hours. Take care of Chip. You can give me a complete rundown when I get in. In the meantime, stay on your toes. Keep an eye open for anything suspicious.”

 

“Admiral, you don't think that was Lee, do you?” came Will's quiet question.

 

Nelson couldn't wipe the image of himself shooting an unarmed man on national television from his mind. Those images had haunted him for weeks. He could still see Lee, doing a complete 90-degree turn and telling the world he had been alone when Mason had been killed. Why would Lee shoot Chip and leave a witness alive to spread the news about what had happened? Unless he wanted Will alive to report what he had seen, that he had seen Lee's attempted murder of Chip Morton.

 

The implications of Harry's theory left him cold. “I have few ideas, Will. You let me worry about that for the moment. Just take care of Chip until I get there. I need to contact Sharkey as soon as possible. Nelson out. ” He cut the connection before Will could bring any more issues to the forefront. Right now he needed Sharkey since Chip was out the picture. He needed a full idea of what the devil was going on and the chief was the next best thing he had to work with. Sharkey took any injury to the skipper or the exec personally and he’d be on top of every update, not to mention working closely with security to ensure a flea didn’t get in or out without proper checks. Nelson urged a little more speed out of FS1, considering any number of upgrades that could make the craft more aerodynamic and thereby faster.

 

The radio crackled back to life but it wasn’t the voice of Seaview’s COB. This voice was female and from the sound of it, she was far from happy. “Admiral?” Angie Watson’s voice sounded irritated and worried, if that combination was remotely possible.

 

“What’s gone wrong now, Angie?” Nelson growled. He heard his personal assistant take a deep breath before launching into an explanation. Nothing escaped Angie’s notice and if there was anybody more connected to the goings-on of the Institute, it was Angela Michelle Watson.

 

“Sir, you are not going to believe this. If the situation with Chip and Lee wasn’t bad enough, now the Santa Barbara police department just called in. They got an anonymous tip reporting that one Seaview’s officers had been shot by Lee.”

 

“They what? Impossible! There was only one witness and Will sure as blazes wouldn’t have called the police. This is an Institute matter, not one I am inclined to invite the Santa Barbara police to involve themselves in. This is exactly why we maintain our own emergency services. I hope you didn’t confirm the report?”

 

Angie was quick to reply. She was no fool and once again Nelson breathed a sigh of thanks that she was on his side. “No sir, absolutely not. I told them who ever reported such an incident was mistaken and that all of Seaview’s officers are accounted for. I managed to placate them for the moment, but if Chip’s condition gets worse and word leaks out. . .”

 

“It won’t, I assure you, Angie. Will runs Med Bay like Lee runs Seaview. Not even a breeze is going to get past him until I get to the bottom of this and I promise you I will get to the bottom of this. Don’t let word of this get out, Angie.”

 

“Nothing will get past my desk, I swear to you. Sir, I’ve got Chief Sharkey for you, with Chip down, I figured you’d be looking for him. Lieutenant O’Brien is already working with security and the surveillance team to determine what exactly happened concerning Lee. ”

 

“Very good, Angie. Keep this up and I’ll have to give you a raise. One more thing, I want you to contact Springhurst Psychiatric Center.”

 

There was a long pause before Angie spoke, her voice more than a little shaky. “Sir, isn’t that’s where Doctor Mason was committed?”

 

“Yes, Angie. It is. Just contact them and get me the full update on Mason’s condition and his current treatments. Go ahead and patch Sharkey through. Hold things together till I get there.”

 

“I’ll do my best, Admiral. Here’s Chief Sharkey.” The radio changed pitch and then Sharkey's voice cut through the air. “Admiral? Chief Sharkey here.”

 

“Sharkey, what the devil is going on? How did all this start?”

 

Nelson waited as Sharkey went through the explanation of how Mr. Morton discovered that the skipper was missing, the exec’s orders to lock down the Institute while they searched for the AWOL skipper, the discovery of the delivery truck with the dead driver, the footage of Lee leaving the Institute with the odd passenger and Chip's call, supposedly from Lee asking Chip to pick him up at some construction site. By the time the chief was finished, he was slightly out of breath and more than a little frantic.

 

“Admiral, you don't think the skipper actually tried to kill Mr. Morton, do ya? The skipper, he'd never hurt Mr. Morton. They're like brothers.”

 

“I know, Francis, I know. That's what been bothering me about the whole thing. Meet me onboard Seaview. You and I have a little digging to do. We're going to get to the bottom of this, one way or the other.”

 

~<<>>~

 

A single lamp and the flickering glow of the TV illumined the sleeping figure of the young woman curled up on the couch. Serena Harrison had spent the last four days attending seminars at UCLA and taking part in a series of presentations on underwater mapping and her findings concerning the once lost wreck of the San Isabella. Serena had come back home this morning while her project coordinator, Wendy Morton, had flown on to Washington D.C. to clear up some unfinished business. Traveling always wore Serena out and after four days of meetings and presentations, she vowed she was going to sleep for a week.

 

She opted for a nap on the couch. She had started out watching the evening news but had quickly drifted off. She was half-asleep and dreaming when a feather-light touch brushed against her arm. Serena smiled in her sleep, her imagination suggesting a tall, broad-shouldered blond in khaki with eyes the color of a summer sky after a thunderstorm. She imagined the touch drawing up her jawline, tracing the curve of her cheek, tilting her head upward to look into his eyes…Serena snapped to reality with a jerk, glancing around the room. It was empty. Then she heard it: light footsteps in the kitchen. The area in front of the door leading into the kitchen from the living room had a squeaky floorboard.

 

Serena scrambled for the remote and hit the mute button. Silence echoed through the house. Every board and every creak as the old house settled after the mid-summer heat seemed amplified. She continued to listen, frozen to the edge of the couch. The noise did not repeat itself and Serena mentally berated herself for jumping at shadows. She was imagining things. The house was locked up tight. Nobody was getting in.

 

She resettled herself back on the couch and un-muted the television, pulling the blanket she’s been under back over her legs and bare feet. She was just getting comfortable when she heard the noise again. This time she turned the TV off and threw the blanket to the side. She swung her legs off the couch and headed for the kitchen, where the sounds seemed to be coming from.

 

Serena moved through the cool darkness of the living room, her feet making no sound on the carpet. She wasn't normally unnerved by odd noises but she was wired from the flight home, tired from the long trip and unable to relax for some reason. She flipped the light on in the kitchen, edged to the back porch and flipped the outdoor light on, but she saw nothing in the small back yard. Maybe she hadn't heard anything at all. Could have been just a stray dog or a cat. She gingerly opened the door and looked toward the drive. She could just make out the front of a red sports car. Discounting Wendy and her white Camaro, there was only one person she knew drove a flashy little number like that. But what was he doing here?

 

Serena flipped off the outside light and turned to find herself face to face with the imposing figure of Lee Crane. She took to steps back, feeling her heart hammering in her chest. She recovered her self-control with a deep breath.  “Lee, you scared the fire out of me. You could have knocked,” she snapped, trying to hide her shattered composure. Lee didn't move and Serena had to bush past him. He reached out and took hold of her arm, pulling her to a stop. “What's with you?” she asked, giving her arm a yank and pulling free.

 

Lee grinned, an evil, almost oily smile that did nothing for the woman's already high-strung nerves. “Just came by to say hello,” Lee purred. Harrison looked up onto Lee's eyes. They were dark and flat, almost black. These were not Lee Crane's eyes. Lee’s were golden molten amber, touched with shadows of jade. Serena always did like Lee's eyes. They were so expressive. If you wanted a gauge of Lee's mood, look into his eyes. These eyes had about as much emotion as two obsidian stones.

 

“Well, hello. You're not one for small talk. Something wrong?” It was hard to keep her tone normal and not let the nervousness she felt creep into her voice. Her mind was screaming at her that Lee wouldn’t just break and enter. His lock-picking skills were impressive but he wouldn’t have just waltzed in without knocking first. The Lee that Serena knew had better manners than that.

 

“It's Chip. He's been shot.”

 

Serena felt her blood drain to her feet. Her heart hammered loud enough that she swore Lee could have heard it. She felt her mouth dry out as she processed what had just been said. She might deny what she felt about Chip to everybody else, but she couldn’t lie to herself.  Not Chip. He couldn’t be…not Chip.

 

 “What?” she barely managed, “Is he okay? What happened? Where is he, in Med Bay?” She watched an expression of utter hatred wash over Lee's face and those cold eyes seem to grow darker. She swallowed nervously and took another two steps back away from Lee. Something was wrong. This wasn't the Lee she knew.

 

But Crane seemed to anticipate her moves, gliding after her. “He was shot twice, close range. He might not make it through the night. I thought I'd come by and see if you wanted to join him.” Lee almost giggled as if he found the comment funny.

 

A shiver coursed up the redhead’s spine at his choice of phrasing. Serena stared up at Lee. His tone, his attitude, everything about him was wrong. The Lee Crane she knew would swim through broken glass and swallow poison for Chip Morton, not stand there and gloat that the man who was as close to him as a brother could very well die. Serena felt a knot of something growing in the pit of her stomach, pushing up into her throat. Something made her afraid of a man she had never feared him, not since she’d gotten to know him.  She was sometimes intimidated by Lee’s intensity but she had never been afraid him. Until now.

 

“Who shot him, Lee?” she asked again, the words barely a whisper, fearing the answer yet needed to hear it. Watching Lee’s dark eyes staring at her, she was still unprepared for his answer.

 

“Why, I did,” Crane snarled and backhanded her across the face.

 

Serena spun around, catching herself against the small breakfast table. She reached up and touched the side of her mouth, blood glistening against the back of her hand. Looking up, she saw Lee coming at her. “Lee, what's wrong with you?” she asked, her voice shaky as she dodged around the table, keeping it between her and the deranged officer. His feral eyes glittered in the overhead light of the kitchen.

 

“Maybe I've decided that I've had enough of Morton horning in on my job. Maybe I've decided I've had enough of you. You waltz in here and announce you're Nelson's daughter. I’ve made some very special arrangements to deal with you. With you out of the way, I can finish my plans,” the stranger crooned. He moved around the table, the redhead keeping just out of his reach.

 

Serena was way in over her head and she knew it. She couldn't out run him and if he got his hands on her, he'd overpower her in an instant. Facts were facts. Lee was bigger and stronger than her. He had years of military training. She didn’t stand a chance against him physically. She might be able to make a break for the door, but she seriously doubted it. She needed a distraction.

 

That's when Lee did the unexpected. He grabbed the edge of the table and shoved. Serena wasn't ready for the move and found herself trapped in the corner of the kitchen, the table blocking her in. “You’re gonna beg me for mercy before I’m done with you,” Lee snarled at her.

 

“Lee, please think about what you’re doing,” she pleaded, watching Crane's eyes. He made a grab for her over the table and she ducked, crawling under the lightweight table. She placed both hands on the underside of the table and pushed up, shoving the table in Lee's direction.

 

The small table threw Lee to the floor and Serena scrambled, her bare feet slapping on the tile of the kitchen floor. She was half way across the kitchen when Lee slammed into her, knocking her to the floor. The redhead reacted with the first thing that came to mind. She levered her leg up, driving her knee up into Lee's groin. With breathless curse, he dropped to his knees and Serena scrambled back to her feet.  She was pointed in the direction of the living room, so that's the direction she ran in, heading for the stairs. If she could get to her room, if she could get a door closed, if she could get something solid between her and this maniac that looked like Lee Crane, she might stand a chance.

 

She heard him behind her as she pounded up the staircase. At the landing, he slammed into her again, driving her into the wall with his arm against her throat. Her air nearly cut off, Serena gasped, her lungs begging for oxygen as her vision started to gray out. Crane loomed over her, his dark, flat eyes staring down into hers. Jerome had eyes like that: black, empty and soulless.

 

With his free hand, Lee drew long finger over the skin of her arm, a feather light touch that echoed the touch that had awakened her.  “You little slut. It’s time you disappeared. You waltz in here and act like you own the place. I was here first,” the dark haired stranger crooned, wrapping long fingers around her neck. She clawed at his hand and arm, unable to dislodge his hold on her. A vicious and wild panic roared up, bringing with it the memory of the man she had thought was her father, Jerome Smallwood, grabbing her by the throat and threatening to drown her like the mongrel she was. She had been ten years old.

 

Lee moved his hand to push her blouse aside to trace his finger across the line of her collarbone, drawing down the silver chain strung with the silver dolphin pendent. With a sneer, he ripped the chain from her neck. Serena yelped with the sting of the chain snapping. Reflex took over and she reacted, lashing out with an open palm to slap Lee across the face.

 

With a snarl, Lee—or whoever he was—tightened his grip and gave Serena a sling. She hit the banister and with a ‘crack’ the wooden frame gave way. With nothing to stop her, Serena fell over the side of the stairwell and landed with a resounding thud on the floor below. Her body lay still, surrounded by the broken bits of the mangled railing.  Within seconds the light colored beige carpet was stained with blood that dripped steadily from her nose and a cut over her right eye.

 

The enigma that looked like Lee Crane strolled calmly down the steps and with the toe of his shoe, prodding the woman’s unresponsive body. The marine archaeologist did not move.  Lee Crane’s doppelganger smiled. He felt under her jaw for a pulse and his smile broadened, feeling the rapid beat. “This is working out better than I expected,” he said out loud.

 

Within minutes, Lee Crane’s twin had disappeared with Harriman Nelson’s daughter, the next part of his plan in motion.

 

~<<>>~

 

“Three weeks ago? You mean to tell me he escaped three weeks ago and we were never notified?” Harriman Nelson's voice carried tones of distaste, disgust and righteous anger. Pacing the floor of the admiral’s cabin, Sharkey could only cringe as Nelson began the first verbal assault in the poor hapless individual blessed with having to deal with a furious four-star admiral.

 

Harry was quiet for a few seconds as the voice on the other end tried to explain the situation. Nelson was nodding but Sharkey could tell the man was less than happy. An unhappy Admiral Nelson is not a pretty sight. It was sort of like watching a mushroom cloud rising into the atmosphere or the leading edge of a hurricane moving toward the coast. It was the true definition of an unstoppable force of nature. The best you could do was get undercover and pray. The man growled into the phone’s receiver, his voice low and threatening.

 

“Doctor, are you aware that this same man not only shot and killed a man on national television, impersonated not one, not two, but four of my officers, but he kidnapped my captain and tried to poison the man? Mason is not sane! And now you're telling me that he’s loose and you have no idea how? What kind of institution are you running up there?  Your security is supposed to be the best in the country—it’s the reason Mason was sent to you in the first place. Now you have the unmitigated nerve to tell me ‘you don’t know’? You damn well had better be finding out, because if something has happened to my captain, I will have you shut down so fast, it will make your head spin!”

 

Sharkey could hear frantic squawking from the other end and Nelson’s expression grew darker.  The admiral wasn’t above interrupting and with a slam of a fist, he did just that. “It’s a little late for that now! I have every reason to believe he has already kidnapped Captain Crane, again I might add and shot my executive officer! How many more people are going to get hurt or killed before you admit that maybe you made a mistake somewhere?”

 

Sharkey listened to the continuing tirade until Nelson finally slammed the phone down in disgust but not before extracting a promise for a further in depth investigation from the facility’s staff. He watched as his employer raked a hand through his auburn hair and let out a long slow breath.

 

“Sir?” the enlisted man prompted.

 

Nelson looked up with distracted sapphire orbs. “You might have figured this out but that was the facility that Mason has or rather had been sentenced to. They reported that three weeks ago Mason vanished from his room at Springhurst Psychiatric. The intern doing rounds was found bound and gagged, stuffed into a closet. It's not stretch to figure out what happened.”

 

“No sir, I’ve got a pretty good idea. I remember the last time we dealt with him. So Mason, he's loose and you think he's snatched the skipper? Again?

 

“I can't prove it, but it's the only thing that makes sense right now. This is obviously part of some kind of sick twisted revenge plot. The doctors said Mason was obsessed with the Institute and me. No doubt he's disguised as Lee and he's the one who shot Commander Morton.”

 

Sharkey stopped pacing and faced the admiral. “Sir, if this fruit bat's got the skipper and shot Mr. Morton as part of some kind of revenge against you, then, I mean you don't think Dr. Harrison is any kind of danger, do you? She just got back from L.A. this morning. Ms. Morton, she ah, she's gone to Washington. Dr. Harrison is kinda by herself, not that she can’t take care of herself but this guy Mason, he did snatch the skipper.”

 

Sharkey saw the color drain from the admiral's face. Obviously the admiral hadn’t considered that Mason would go after Harrison. At the time they had dealt with Mason, the admiral hadn’t even known he had a daughter. Nelson dug into his jacket pocket for his cell phone and hit a few buttons. Sharkey could hear the phone ringing from where he stood but no one ever answered.

 

“She could just be out, sir,” Sharkey suggested hopefully.

 

Nelson stared at the silent phone. Without looking up, he addressed Sharkey. “Chief, if you could, please go and retrieve my daughter. You are not to come back without her. Understood?”

“Yes sir, absolutely sir. I'll bring her back here, kicking and screaming if I have to.”

 

Nelson managed a weak smile as Sharkey vanished from the cabin. “You have no idea how true that might be, chief.” Meanwhile, there was still the issue of Morton and the missing Lee Crane. Nelson snatched up the phone, keying up the direct line to the Institute's switchboard.

 

“Get me Howard Keating on the video-link.” A few seconds later, Nelson was looking over the cluttered office of Howard Keating as the surveillance specialist was franticly clearing debris from the screen's view.

 

“Ah, Admiral, sir, I wasn't expecting you,” Howie stammered nervously. Papers and files flew as Howard franticly sought to make space on his cluttered desk.

 

“Mr. Keating, I didn't exactly make an appointment. I need you to activate the GPS tracker in Commander Crane's car. If whoever grabbed Lee got him off the grounds in that car, it’s a solid bet that if we can find the Cobra, we might find Lee. Let me know the minute you get a signal and a position. I'm going to head to Med Bay and check on Mr. Morton. You can reach me on my cell.”

 

Howard was nodded, even as his fingers flew across the keyboard just visible on the video-link. “Yes sir. I'll get right on that, shouldn't take long. I hope Commander Morton's alright,”Nelson rubbed at the back of his neck, the day’s events a blur his mind. “You and me both, Mr. Keating. Get me the coordinates on Lee's car, on the double. I have a sinking feeling we’re running out of time and that car is the only link we have with the captain.”

 

~<<>>~

 

 

Sharkey pulled his black SUV up to the curb of Dr. Harrison’s two-story house and shut the engine off. From his point of view, nothing really seemed out of place. Her car was still in the drive and there were a few lights on downstairs. There were a few neatly trimmed shrubs along the walk and under the windows a line of very low growing shrubs grew, filled with pinkish white blooms. The chief decided he had wasted enough time. He hadn’t been set out here to admire Dr. Harrison’s condo. His job was to convince the stubborn archeologist she was being ordered to come back to the Institute.  He made his way up the short walk, rang the doorbell and waited. No one came to the door. He rang again and this time, rapped his knuckles sharply on the solid front door.

 

He still got no answer. For a second Sharkey considered simply busting the door down, but if she was just taking a nap on the couch or something, he doubted she would approve of the destruction of her property. Dr. Harrison had the alarming habit of throwing things when she got particularly riled and her aim was nothing to laugh at. The last thing Sharkey wanted was to have some random lamp aimed at his head. Dr. Harrison would be awfully sorry when she found out who it was she’d hit but it would still hurt like the devil. Was there a back door, maybe? What house didn’t have a backdoor?

 

Sharkey made his way around the side of the house, indeed finding a backdoor, an open back door that wobbled back and forth in the light breeze, the hinges creaking like some creepy sound effect in a cheap horror film. The chief pulled the door shut behind him and he wandered through the kitchen.

 

 Ah, Dr. Harrison? Ma’am?” he called out, glancing around for anything else out of place. What he found did not inspire him with good faith.

 

There was a small breakfast table laying its side. Three of the four matching stools were also lying on the floor. A salt and pepper shaker were resting on the floor, the content of each scattered across the tile, mixed in with the shards of a shattered ceramic vase. On the tile floor a trail of red drops led across the kitchen floor to the backdoor. Curious, Sharkey followed the trail, out the back, off the steps, and into the drive. The trail disappeared. Swallowing hard, Sharkey went back into the house and moved into the living room. 

 

He swallowed down the curse that erupted from his lips as he saw the mangled pile of splinters scattered across the floor at the base of the stairs. Broken bits of railing still hung from what was left of the banister six feet up. The light colored carpet was stained with dark drops of blood. The red spots on the floor were still wet in the center. Glancing back up at the broken banister, Sharkey could only imagine what had happened.

 

She must have fallen or had been pushed, injured when she hit the ground and finally carried off. But to where? Sharkey ran his thumb over the keypad of the phone. How was he going to explain to the admiral that his daughter was nowhere to be found? With a deep breath, the COB choked down his reservations and dialed the admiral’s cell phone number. Admiral Nelson was not going to be happy. With the skipper missing and now Dr. Harrison, Sharkey could almost feel sorry for Mason when the admiral got his hands on him.

 

Almost, that is.

 

~<<>>~

 

Will Jamieson made a quick adjustment on the IV then stepped back to watch as Chip Morton slept, the bandages on his right side hidden beneath the sheets. He was stable but Jamieson wasn’t taking any chances with Chip’s nature. The doctor was keeping him sedated till he was ready to deal with the exec. Chip would howl when he finally came around, but that was something Jamie would deal with when it happened.

 

Will was still puzzling over the events of the past few hours. Nothing made sense and no matter how many times he ran the events over in his head, he could still see Lee, raising the gun, taking aim and firing. He saw Chip's body spin with the impact of the bullet tearing through his side. Lee would walk through fire for Chip. Why suddenly the need to kill him? 

 

“Will, how is he?” came a familiar bass rumble. Will turned slightly to see Harriman framed in the door, concern and worry in every movement. His eyes shifted from Will to the blond man in the hospital bed

 

“Stable, for the time being. Admiral, I hope you can make sense of all, because I'm confused as hell,” Will said, the disgust in his voice plan for all to hear.

 

Nelson walked over and stood by Morton's bedside. The man's coloring made him pale by nature, but now he looked like something made of wax. The pale, gold dusted lashes never moved as Nelson fingers tightened around the man’s shoulder in a reassuring grip.

 

“It wasn't Lee, son. You need to know that,” Nelson said, half to Chip and half to Jamieson.

 

“You should know ballistics came back on the bullet I pulled out of Chip’s arm. It was a match for Lee’s Beretta. If it wasn't Lee, Admiral, then who was it?”

 

Nelson turned to face the doctor. “Randolph Mason. He's loose. His doctors say for the last few months he’s developed an increasingly unhealthy obsession with the Institute and me. I think he's behind all this. Now he's out there, somewhere, and he blames me for his being ostracized from the scientific community. This is all some kind of twisted plan for revenge. Somehow he's managed to kidnap Lee and I think he’ll go after my daughter.”

 

“Mason,” spat out the lanky doctor, like the word itself was poison. Mason could have killed Lee last time, under the guise of being Jamieson. Will took an oath and the fact that someone would commit out right murder using his face had made Will literally sick for weeks after the incident. Now he back. Will glanced up at Nelson, still hovering over Chip. “So how do we find Lee? He could be anywhere. He may even be dead.”

 

Jamieson saw Nelson pale a bit before shaking his head. “Lee's not dead. I would know it. I still have a chance to find him both and bring them home.” An audible buzz broke the admiral's mood and he snatched at his trouser pocket, scrabbling for his cell phone. “Nelson here…Very good, Mr. Keating, that's exactly what I've been waiting for.” Nelson had no more disconnected when the phone buzzed again. He recognized Sharkey's number. Praying it was good news, Nelson answered.

 

“Chief, tell me you're on your way back and my daughter is with you.”

 

“Ah, sir, about that, she, ah, she's not here. The back door was wide open and some of the furniture's over turned. At the bottom of the stairs, I found, I mean, it could be anything, but it sorts looks like blood, sir.”

 

One of Harriman’s worst fears loomed before him. He closed his eyes, the mantra of ‘no, no Dear God no,’ repeating in his head. Some madman had Lee and now Serena was caught up in it. The fact that someone would make the connection between him and her had always lurked in the back of his mind, but until now, no one had made a move against her. Now Mason was using some of the most important people in his life against him. He had his claws into Lee. Chip was wounded in an assassination attempt. Now Serena was missing. Mason was covering his bases. Was somebody else about to be a target? Swearing low under his breath, Nelson forced himself to focus on the chief’s report and relayed the address Keating had passed along.

 

“If it is Mason, he may have taken both Lee and Serena there. Go out and have a look around, report back to me. I’ll meet you there as soon as possible.”

 

“Aye sir, I’m already half way there,” Sharkey said. Nelson jammed the phone back in his pocket and addressed Jamieson.

 

“Will, do have you still have that little black bag of yours packed and ready to go?”

 

Will could not stop the words as they slipped out. “You think we’ll need it?”

 

Nelson fixed the doctor with a sapphire gaze. “Will, think about who we’re talking about here.”

 

Jamieson was on his feet with one last glance at Chip. “I’ll get my bag.”

 

“Ad…adm’ral…” a weak voice grabbed Nelson’s attention.

 

 

Nelson spun around to face the half-opened, luminescent blue eyes of Chip Morton. “Easy son. You should just rest.” Nelson rested a hand on Chip’s uninjured arm, giving him a reassuring squeeze.

 

“No. It wasn’t…Lee. I know it w-wasn’t him. He’s my…my b-brother…” Chip’s voice trailed off and he closed his eyes. Jamie studied the charts then adjusted the flow of fluids in the I.V.

 

“Chip, I don’t know how you and Lee do this, but you shouldn’t even be awake, much less talking. Back to sleep, Commander. I know what’s best for you.”

 

But Chip wasn’t giving up without a fight. He grabbed for Nelson’s wrist and held on as tight as he could. “Sir, please find him. This…this happened before, remember?”

 

Nelson rested a hand on Chip’s uninjured arm. “Yes Chip, I remember. I’ll find him, you know I will. You need to listen to the doctor.”

 

Chip finally gave up the battle with Jamie’s sedatives. His eyes closed and he drifted off again, releasing his grip on Nelson’s wrist. Harriman repositioned Chip’s arm by the slumbering man’s side.

 

“We’ll find him, son. I promise.” Nelson whispered, praying he wasn’t making empty promises.

 

~<<>>~

 

Lee rested his head against the cold metal pole, tired and weary beyond words. Deprived of his sight and speech, the only sense Lee had left to rely on was his hearing. He strained for any sound, for anything that might tell him what was going on. He could just make out voices. Two people talking. Lee held his breath, trying to make out what was being said.

 

“You got any ideas?” said one.

 

“Simple. We just bury him down here. Cover the hole with concrete. Nobody knows he’s here so nobody will think to look here.”

 

“Isn’t that a little risky?”

 

“You wanna get caught hauling the body of a Navy officer around town? Especially that one? You got any better ideas?”

 

Lee felt his stomach take a nosedive. He yanked against the ropes again and this time he felt something slip. With his heart in his throat, he yanked and tugged, feeling the course twine slipping. With a jerk, the bindings came lose and Lee brought his arms back around to his chest, grimacing against the tingling as nerves awoke and the blood began re-circulating.  He yanked the blindfold off his eyes and blinked painfully in the light.  He pulled the gag out of his mouth, his jaw aching with the sudden release. Lee found himself in a large open room, a basement or old cellar, judging from the dark exposed beams, pipes overhead, and the fieldstone walls. Including the one he’d been bound to, there were three metal support poles placed about five feet apart, obviously a new addition to the decor. About seven feet off the ground were three dirty and grimy windows, letting in weak sunlight. He spied a staircase off to his right. Well aware he to make it fast, Lee set to work on the knots binding his ankles. When he heard a footstep behind him, he felt his gut twist up with near panic. He had run out of time.

 

“Hey Jerry, looky here. Pretty boy done got loose on us.”

 

Lee twisted around just in time to see the newcomer lash out with a foot, catching Lee in the side and sending him sprawling across the concrete floor. The sudden sharp pain in his side was clue enough that they had broken something.

 

“You wanna play, pretty boy?” his attacker snarled as he let loose another kick to Lee’s side. Lee rolled with the impact, crashing hard into the fieldstone. He was trying to get his wits about him when he was grabbed, yanked to his feet and slammed against the wall, the impact rattling every bone in his body. His already aching head rocked against the unyielding stone, adding another dimension to the pounding of his skull.

 

“The boss wants you to disappear real quiet like, you know that don’t you?” his attacker snarled.

 

“You won’t get away with this. They’ll find me eventually,” Lee managed to croak past his parched throat. His assailant lashed out with a punch to Lee’s jaw that snapped his head back against the wall once more. Lee blinked back tears of pain as stars danced in front of his eyes. Dazed, he couldn’t catch himself as his kidnapper threw him to the floor. It was all Crane could do to brace his fall. A weight on his back caught him by surprise. Twisting around, Lee saw his attacker had braced one knee against his spine. He twisted under the weight, trying to claw away from his abductor. He simply couldn’t get any purchase on the concrete floor. Lee fought as his assailant grabbed an arm and twisted it painfully behind his back. Lee gasped as the pressure on his ribs increased.

 

“Jerry, hand me those,” he snapped. Lee looked up to a second figure tossing the blindfold and the gag he had ripped loose. He vaguely remembered the man from his house, when he was first taken. With his vision swimming in and out of focus, Lee was helpless as his arms were wretched behind his back once more, the black strip of cloth knotted around his wrists. Already Lee was pulling and twisting his hands, trying to fight free of his bonds. He bucked under the weight of the heavier man, only to have a hand grab a fistful of his hair and his head cracked against the concrete floor.

 

Stunned, Lee finally lay still. He was too dazed to fight as his foe forced the gag back in his mouth, pulling it tight and knotting it behind his head. He felt the weight lift off his back. Lee struggled weakly, rolling over onto his side. The one with no name smiled as he saw Lee’s eyes track him. He grabbed Lee by his bound ankles and dragged him across the floor even as Lee kicked and struggled.

 

“He’s a fighter, ain’t he?” the one called Jerry asked.

 

The second just shrugged as he dropped his hold and gave Lee’s body a kick. “Hope the little redhead’s got that kind of fight.” He reached down and grabbed Lee by the front of his shirt, pulling him to his feet. He balanced Crane on the edge of a deep hole, a dark pit carved out of the floor of the cellar. His heart racing, Lee glanced downward, knowing all too well what the dark hole that loomed under him was. A grave. His grave, if these two had anything to do with it.

 

“I like ‘em feisty,” the man holding him whispered then gave Lee’s body a backward shove.

 

Lee hit the ground, landing on his side, his head cracking against the hard ground. It was one time too many and Lee was washed away on a wave of darkness. 

 

~<<>>~

 

The house had seen better days. Much better days, ten, maybe fifteen, hell, even twenty years ago. The grounds were wild and overgrown and the shrubbery hadn't seen trimming in years. The yard was covered in fallen limbs and season after season of fallen autumn leaves. The grass was grown up in shabby, thick, knee high clumps. Shingles blown from the roof mingled with broken bottles, abandoned cans and windblown plastic bags, all strewn across the yard in a forgotten jumble.

 

The evening sun shining through the trees cast long shadows on the ground and the house, adding another dimension to the already eerie atmosphere of the spooky old forgotten homestead. As Sharkey glanced around he figured the only thing left lacking was a sign that read ‘Bates Hotel’ and some creepy violin music.

 

Dark windows stared at Francis like the eyes of the blind, the faded and broken shutters hanging crookedly. In some cases they had fallen off completely and now lay forgotten on the ground. What was once a front porch sagged drunkenly and looked to Sharkey like a good, stiff breeze would knock it down any time. He wasn't taking his chances with that pile of splinters. He'd check for another way in.

 

Grabbing his cell, Sharkey called up the admiral, waiting for his employer to answer. He didn't have long to wait.

 

“Sharkey, have you found them yet?” Nelson barked.

 

The chief shook his head, thick brows knotted with worry. “No, sir but I only just got here. I called up Kowalski and Patterson, they're gonna meet me here and we can start looking. It's an old house, ain't nobody lived here in years, and I mean years. Mason sure picked a winner of a place. This joint looks like a good sneeze would blow it down.”

 

“Dr. Jamieson and I are on our way. Be careful, Francis. Mason is dangerous. I don’t have to remind you. No telling what he's done to Captain Crane.” Nelson didn't say it, but Sharkey heard it as clear as if the words had been spoken. Or my daughter. Sharkey made a silent promise that if Mason had hurt either of them, he'd pay for it. He was jolted out of his thoughts as the Patterson’s red and white pickup truck pulled up into the long drive. The truck stopped and Kowalski and Patterson both hopped out of the cab. 

 

“Sir, they just pulled up. We're gonna take a look around and see if we can find anything. If the skipper and Dr. Harrison are here, we'll find them, sir.” Sharkey jammed the phone back into his pocket and hefted the weight of the automatic in one hand. Sharkey noticed Ski and Pat were also armed as they closed the gap between him and their parked cars.

 

“You sure this is the place, Chief? Looks kinda run down to me.” Patterson said, giving the old house a disgusted look.

 

“Keating said this was the place. They tracked the skipper's car here, so this is the place we're gonna search. Keating might be an odd duck but he’s not wrong. This Mason character probably needed an out of the way place to keep them. The skipper’s not gonna make it easy for him.”

 

“Neither is Dr. Harrison,” Patterson snorted. “It doesn’t get much more out of the way than this rat hole,” he added.

 

“Shouldn't take us long to search the place. Stay sharp, this Mason guy's a real fruit bat.”

 

“You're telling me,” Ski grumbled, also casting around the overgrown forgotten grounds, his dark eyes clouded with concern for his skipper. He clearly remembered his last run in with Mason even if the full memory of Mason hypnotizing him into thinking he was the chief never fully came back. The idea that he had his hooks into both the skipper and Dr. Harrison sent cold chills up Ski’s spine.

 

They circled around the back of the house, finding a back door swinging on a broken hinge. With Sharkey in the lead, the three entered the dark house. They found themselves in what was the kitchen, now bare save for the cabinets and counters. They moved through the kitchen into the larger dining room. A staircase led to the upper floors. Motioning in silence, Sharkey indicated they split up. Ski and Pat moved up the staircase, the structure creaking and groaning with the added weight of moving bodies.

 

Sharkey pulled a flashlight from his pocket and played the beam across the floor. Broken bottles, emptied cans and scattered, faded newspapers littered the floor. The walls were a mess of peeling paint and wallpaper. The entire house smelled of mold, mildew, and the rot of the past decade of sitting empty.

 

Sharkey shone the light around one small room, the sunlight doing a very poor job of breaking past the dirt and filth encrusted windows. At this point Sharkey would have given a year’s pay to find some sign of either the skipper or Harrison. But there was nothing, no sign that anyone save for a passing vagabond had ever been in the place. The admiral wasn’t going to like this at all. Overhead he could hear the ceiling creak and groan as Patterson and Kowalski walked over the upstairs floor. Maybe they were having better luck then him. The chief turned his attention back to the rest of the downstairs, waiting for Pat, Ski, and some good news.

 

Twenty minutes later, two disappointed ratings crept back downstairs. Sharkey was waiting for him, his own flashlight down and illuminating the floor around him. “Anything?” he asked.

 

“Nothing. Don't look like any body's been up there since they moved out,” Pat replied. Sharkey swore under his breath. He did not want to call up the admiral and tell him they were in a while goose chase. Ski must have seen something in Sharkey's face.

 

“The skipper's car must be here. They wouldn't have tracked the signal to this place otherwise, you said so yourself,” Ski said.

 

“Then we gotta find the skipper's car then. Outside, either of you two see a garage or a barn?”

 

Pat was nodding. “I think I saw a barn, behind the house.”

 

“Then what are we standing around here for? Let's move.”

 

Pat was right. A large barn badly in need of a coat of paint, sat forlornly behind the house. Tire tracks were visible from the drive to the now closed barn doors. The back end of a van was visible just on the other side of the barn.

 

“Pay dirt,” Sharkey acknowledged with a smirk. That's when Pat spotted the opened cellar door, obscured by overgrown weeds and untrimmed shrubs

 

“Chief, we missed a spot,” he said with a nod to the door.

 

“A cellar, wouldn’t you know it? Why is it always a cellar? Just great. Let’s check it out. Ski, you just volunteered to go first.”

 

“I’m such a generous guy,” Ski grumbled.

 

“You are, now quit stalling. The skipper could be down there.”

 

Still grumbling, Ski took the first step heading down under the house. The stairs were brand-new, the boards freshly sawed and the nails bright and shiny.

 

“Remodeling from the ground up?” Ski quipped quietly. Sharkey motioned for silence as voices filtered up from the recess of the cellar. The three men stopped, listening.

 

“Is this stuff ready yet?” one voice asked.

 

“Yeah, it's ready. Is that hole deep enough?”

 

“Four feet deep. He ain’t getting out, trussed up like he is. Hope you mixed enough stuff to cover it.”

 

“Relax would you? I know what I’m doing. By the time we get done, nobody’s gonna tell the old concrete from the new. You act like I’ve never done this before.”

 

“I forgot I was working with an expert,” came a sharp sarcastic retort.

 

“Shut your trap and get back to work. I'll go get the chic from the car. I want pretty boy here gone by the time I get back.”

 

“How come you leave me with the dirty work?”

 

“Cause I moved first. I’ll bring little red back here. Boss told us we had first crack at her. Loosen her up a bit before Rinaldi gets here.” 

 

“I heard she was a firecracker. You sure you don’t need any help with her?”

 

The voice snorted in laughter. “I can handle her. She’s wrapped up like a birthday present, she ain’t gonna be a problem. You’ll get your chance at her once I’m done.  Just make sure pretty boy here vanishes. You can plug him before you bury him, bash his head in, or just cover him up how he is. I don’t care. I want him out of my sight.”

 

“How come Rinaldi gets the car and the chic? Are we getting anything out of this job?”

 

“We’re getting paid. That was part of the deal. Half to start the job, the other half payable when pretty boy here is out of the way. Don’t forget we get to play with little red till Rinaldi shows up for her. We’re getting our due.”

 

Footsteps sounded across the floor and a stranger appeared at the bottom of the staircase. He stared up the three men and swore.

“Jerry, we got company!” he yelled going for a gun jammed in the belt. His weapon never cleared leather.

 

Sharkey acted on instinct, pulling back the trigger and unloading two rounds into the newcomer. His body dropped to the floor and the three men surged down the steps and around the corner. In a pit dug in the cellar’s floor, a second thug was holding an a barely conscious Captain Crane upright. He held a broad knife under Crane's throat and he glared defiantly at the three.

 

“From ear to ear. You get me? I walk outta here and you can have him.”

 

“I outta drill you were you stand,” Sharkey growled

 

“Can you shoot me before I cut his throat, that's the question, ain't it?”

 

Nobody moved, Sharkey afraid any action on his part would further harm the skipper. He couldn't for the life of him figure out how to get Crane out of this mess.

 

~<<>>~

 

Harriman pulled up the rutted driveway, his eyes automatically sweeping the grounds for any sign of Lee’s car. Sharkey's SUV, Kowalski's motorcycle and Pat's pickup truck were all parked in the rutted drive, but there was no sign of the three men. There was no sign of anything really. Lee's Cobra was nowhere in sight. The place was about as abandoned as abandoned could get. Mason really had to dig for a place like this. The silence stretched out as Nelson's overactive mind envisioned what Mason had possibly done to Lee and Serena. His daughter was a smart girl, but Mason had been smart enough to outfox the ONI trained Lee Crane. Serena hadn’t stood a chance.  

 

“Admiral?” Jamie mirrored the admiral's gaze, seeing no sign of anyone.

 

“Will, I don't like this. Where's Lee's car? Behind the house? Are we too late?”

 

Will dropped a hand to Nelson's shoulder. “You know the chief. He won't leave a stone unturned until he finds something.”

 

“That doesn't mean I'm any less concerned. If this is Mason, the devil only know what's he's planning. The man was willing to murder a complete innocent on national television and pin the blame on me. In his current mental state, he's capable of anything. I should have kept closer tabs on the man. If I had kept up with his treatments, I’d have known about this obsession of his.”

 

“Admiral, you couldn’t have known Mason would go after Lee or Serena.”

 

Nelson paused with one hand on the handle of the car door. He couldn’t look at the doctor. “Couldn’t I have? Mason knows what he’s doing. Just because he’s not sane, it doesn’t make him any less brilliant. He’s out to hurt me and the best way to do that is to target the ones closest to me. Anybody knows that. Gang wars, foreign powers, they all operate on the same premise. Take out the family first. Other than Edith, the Institute IS my family. If I had known about Mason, I could have at least warned Lee. I could have arranged better protection for Serena, gotten her out of town or something. Will, if Mason harms either of them…” Nelson trailed off, unable to finish the sentence. Lee was the son he never had, Serena the daughter he had never known. This couldn’t be happening. It was some kind of horrific nightmare and any minute he was going to wake up.

 

But the late evening sun continued to filter through the trees. The car was losing the cool of the air conditioning, despite being parked in the shade. He felt Will’s hand touch his arm and this time turned to look into the doctor’s own concerned blue eyes.

 

“We’ll find them, Admiral. A little worse for wear, no doubt. But we’ll find them.”

 

Nelson didn’t answer as he got out of the car, his mind racing as he tried to process the events of the last few hours. He glanced about, taking in the disarray of the grounds. He noticed the tracks leading from the drive, over the thick grass and stopping dead at a large barn setting behind the house, at the bottom of the hill. A red van was parked next to the ancient barn.  He felt a small smile tug at the corner of his mouth. Maybe Mason wasn't so smart after all.

 

“Will,” Nelson began with a nod to the barn, “I think we just found were Lee's car is. With any luck we'll meet Sharkey and he'll have found Lee. And Serena. I'll worry about Mason later. I just want my captain and daughter back in one piece.”

 

“I'm right behind you, Admiral,” agreed Jamieson. He followed Nelson down over the hill, not missing the fact that Nelson was holding his .9mm Browning low at his side.

 

The barn door wasn't locked and it opened easily at a tug from Nelson. He slid inside the dark barn, sunlight filtering through cracks in the walls and ceiling. Dust floated in the light, like something ethereal. The heat was oppressive. Sweat already beading down the side of Nelson's head to trickle behind his ears. Absently he reached up and wiped at his brow with one sleeve.

 

Lee's candy apple red classic Cobra sat in the center of the barn. The top was up, and as Nelson tested the driver's side door, unlocked. The keys were in the ignition. Other than the fact it was sitting in an abandoned barn out in the middle of nowhere, the car didn't seem damaged in any way. An object in the passenger’s side seat got Harry's attention. Lying on top of Crane’s khaki jacket was a bundle of course hemp twine. With a disgusted scowl, Harry picked the bundle up and rose up out of the car.

 

“One can only guess what he's done with them,” Nelson said sourly, holding the twine up for the doctor to see. The dark look in his eyes did not bode well for Mason right now if he were to suddenly show up.

 

“Admiral?”

 

A familiar voice drifted weakly over expanse of the open barn. Nelson and Will both spun to see the disheveled form of Lee Crane standing in the shadows on the far side of the barn. His features were obscured by the shadows and dancing dust motes. It was Lee's lanky frame, the way he carried himself, the set of his shoulders and of course it was his voice.  Nelson heard Will's sharp intake of breath at seeing the man he believed tried to kill Chip Morton.

 

Nelson watched with a practiced eye as the lanky figure of his friend balanced himself a support beam, almost as if he didn't have the strength to stand on his own. Nelson wanted to rejoice that Lee was in one piece, but another part of him had seen this before, knew the steps of the dance and this time he was ready. If this were the real Lee, he would soon find out. He held the Browning ready, finger on the trigger, waiting for the wrong move.

 

“Lee, it that really you?” Nelson asked cautiously.

 

“Of course it is, Admiral. Who else could it be?” Lee's voice asked.

 

 

~<<>>~

 

Lee was just climbing back to consciousness when he heard gunfire. He struggled raise himself up when he was grabbed and pulled roughly to his feet as the one called Jerry fisted his fingers in Lee’s short dark hair, pulling his head back to expose the tight arch of his throat. The sharp edge of a blade rested against his skin, just under his Adam’s apple, creating a fine line of heat across his jugular. Lee focused on the three men mounting his rescue. Sharkey’s eyes were as cold and hate filled as Lee had ever seen them. Behind him, mirroring his stance and expression were Kowalski and Patterson.

 

 “I outta drill you were you stand.”

 

The voice behind Lee’s ear was malicious. “Can you shoot me before I cut his throat, that’s the question, ain’t it?”

 

His captor tightened his grip in Lee’s hair, pulling his head back even further. The cold blade never moved from his exposed throat. In a standoff that had no chance of ending, Lee had to make a choice. This was his chance, possibly his only chance. He gathered himself and swung his left shoulder backward, throwing his captor off guard.

 

“SKIPPER! GET DOWN!” Sharkey’s voice rang out.

 

The air was riddled with gunfire as Lee hit the floor. Seconds later the body of his one-time-captor dropped the floor inches from Lee, dead sightless eyes staring into Crane’s. Lee repressed a shudder and rolled away from the dead body.

 

“Skipper? Are you okay, sir?” Ski’s voice called out as he and Sharkey jumped down into the pit.  Ski untied the gag while Sharkey cut the material away from Lee’s hands. Tenderly, Crane rubbed at his sore wrists as Sharkey cut his ankles free.

 

“I’m fine, Ski. Just help me up,” Lee said slowly. Above him, Patterson extended a hand and helped Lee out of the hole. For a second he wavered on his feet as the room spun maddeningly. He reached up with one hand, grabbing onto Patterson for balance.

 

“Sir, do you think you can walk? We really need to get out of here. The admiral and Doc are on their way,” Sharkey said, his dark green eyes wide and concerned as Lee swayed unsteadily on his feet.

 

“Yeah, I think I can make it. I’m a little sore but I can walk. Are there any more?” asked Lee with a quick glance at the body at the foot of the steps. Two bodies littered the floor like broken dolls. Lee shuddered, recognizing how close he had come to death this time. Sharkey saw the involuntary response and his eyes grew darker with worry. Lee raised a forestalling hand.  “Relax, Chief. I really am fine, just a little unsteady. I couldn’t agree with you more. Let’s get out of here. We have to find Serena,” Lee replied to Sharkey’s look.

 

Sharkey turned his attention to Pat and Ski. “You two find that barn and see if the skipper’s car is out there. From the way that thug talked, she’s been stashed in the trunk.”

 

“Sure thing, Chief.” Pat and Ski scurried up the stairs. Sharkey, keeping one eye on the unsteady skipper, followed at a slower pace.

 

Ski arrived first at the barn and stopped short, on hand on the barn door. Pat nearly blundered into him, caught unaware by Ski’s sudden stop.

 

“What? Go on in, will ya? It’s too hot for anybody to be stuffed in the trunk of a car. She’ll get heat stroke.” Patterson growled. Ski shook his head and held up a hand, calling for quiet.

 

“Listen,” he whispered, pointing to the door.

 

A familiar voice floated through the barn door.

 

“Of course it is. Who else could it be?”

 

Ski and Pat exchanged incredulous looks. That sounded like the skipper, but that wasn’t possible. Glancing behind them, Sharkey was leading a steadier looking Captain Crane over the hill.

 

Ski gripped the door and pulled it open. The late evening sun filtered through the opening, creating a puzzle piece landscape of light and shadow inside the barn. His jaw dropped as he focused on the figure of the man illuminated by the shaft of sunlight streaming in through the open door.

 

Captain Crane spun around to face the two ratings, his uniform streaked with patches of blood. He was bracing himself with one hand against a support pole. The Captain look-a-like smiled and the oily image sent chills up Ski’s spine.

 

“What’s wrong, Kowalski?  You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” the mirror spoke. Ski raised the Glock, holding the man who looked like his skipper in his sights.

 

“Just maybe I have, sir,” Kowalski said evenly. From behind him he heard the gasp of surprise from Sharkey, as he and the skipper appeared the barn.

 

The figure with Sharkey broke away and moved into the barn, eyes never leaving the first figure. Out of the corner of his eye, the chief saw that the admiral had a steady grip on his own weapon and that Ski was mirroring the admiral’s stance. Pat stood back a few paces, his gun drawn but waiting, covering Ski’s back.

 

The two like figures stared at each other, each looking just as confused as the other. Sharkey had seen this before, two Lee Cranes standing in the Control Room. One had been the real Lee Crane, but the second had been Randolph Mason.

 

But then Sharkey knew who was who. Watching these two dangerous looking men face off, neither looking none too steady, Sharkey wasn’t sure which was his skipper and which was the imposter.

 

~<<>>~

 

Neither man stood down, neither man was willing to admit defeat. 

 

Nelson watched each figure carefully. Neither individual appeared badly hurt, but Nelson knew that his captain would deny pain and ignore any injury until he couldn’t function. While neither one appeared injured, the way each man carried himself indicated a level of exhaustion Nelson would have expected to see in a man kidnapped and held, only to have fought to free himself. He wasn’t taking any chances. Somebody was lying.

 

“Stand where you are. Don't move, either of you,” Nelson ordered, eyes darting from one man to the other. “Chief, where did you find him?”

 

“In the cellar of that house, sir. Two thugs had him tied up and were about to dump him in a hole they’d dug in the cellar floor. If I had to guess, I'd say this was the real skipper. They also said Dr. Harrison is in the skipper's car.”

 

“Give her a hand, would you, Chief? Keys are in the ignition,” Nelson asked, his eyes flicking to the car as Sharkey and Pat moved toward it.

 

Sharkey yanked the keys from the ignition and unlocked the trunk. He was furious when he first laid eyes on the unconscious woman. She had been bound hand and foot with rough hemp twine that cut into her skin, leaving behind ugly red welts that still oozed blood. A ragged red bandanna was knotted and pulled tight against her mouth. Sharkey undid the knot from behind her head and with his pocketknife he cut the twine away from her wrists and ankles. Carefully, he and Patterson lifted the Serena out of the trunk and laid her on the ground.

 

Once she was out of the car, Sharkey noticed the bruising around her throat. Poor kid. Somebody was gonna pay for this, Sharkey thought to himself as he lightly tapped the side of her face, hoping to bring her around. Serena was unresponsive to Sharkey’s touch.

 

“Will,” Nelson began, but the doctor was already moving. He dropped down by Serena’s side, feeling for a pulse under her jaw. He was rewarded with a strong steady beat. On the left side of her head was a large and tender lump. There was a long angry cut over her right eye and her nose and auburn hair was matted with crusted, drying blood. He and Sharkey traded dark looks over the bruising, but neither said anything about it. There would be time enough later to conjecture what happened.

 

“She's got a bump on the head, a cut that might need stitches and at one point she’s had a bloody nose,” said the doctor. He peeled back still eyelids to gauge her pupils. He didn’t like what he found. “Possible concussion. Her temperature is highly elevated. God knows how long she’s been in the trunk. I need to get her to Med Bay.” Will got to his feet, but continued to hover over Serena. He glanced up at the worse looking of the two Lee’s, specifically the one Sharkey had found. He was favoring his right side and trying hard not to limp. One patient at a time, Will thought to himself as he out his cell phone out.  Neither man said anything as Will dialed up the Institute and called for an ambulance. Will expected one of the Lees to protest but the imposter stayed silent. Mason might not be sane, but he was smart enough not to draw attention to himself, just yet.

 

Nelson had his own ideas on how to draw out the fake captain. “It would seem that we are at a standstill. There's only one way I can think of to settle this issue. “Lee, you remember when you served under me, on the Nautilus?”

 

Both Lee's answered, almost in unison. “Of course, Admiral,”

 

Nelson licked dry lips, hoping that Mason hadn't done his homework. “Alright. Our Chief Engineer, what was his name?”

 

The first Lee drew a blank face as the second Lee answered calmly, if not weakly. “Scott. James Scott. He was missing the middle finger on his right hand. Lost it when he got it caught in a hatchway,” he said slowly.

 

The first Lee lost his tenuous grip on sanity. So fast that Nelson had a hard time tracking the motion the look-a-like captain pulled out a gun and trained the business end on the four-star admiral. With incoherent roar of rage, he squeezed off a shot as the second Crane threw himself at the double. The bullet went wild and instead of hitting the admiral, the bullet found a target in William Jamieson.

 

Jamieson was thrown against the side of Lee’s car, clutching at his left leg with both hands as blood poured between his fingers. Nelson and Kowalski were by his side in a heartbeat.

 

“Maybe . . .I  . . .should have called for a sec . . .second ambulance,” Will gasped as Nelson pressed a handkerchief against the wound. Blood seeped into the white material, staining it dark crimson within seconds.

 

“Stay still and let’s have a look,” Nelson gently commanded. He turned back to the two figures but in the shadow filled barn Nelson had lost track of which Lee was which. One Lee was slammed against a support pole then landed a fist in his attacker’s midsection. That Lee staggered back, gasping for breath before lunging for the second figure, his hands going for the other’s throat.

 

“Sharkey!” Nelson bellowed, even as the COB kept his weapon trained on the grappling figures. Patterson was also frozen and unable to tell the two apart, watching dumbfounded as Crane and his doppelganger battled it out.

 

“Sir, I’ve lost track of which is which! I can't tell 'em apart!” Sharkey replied, still holding on to his gun.

 

Nelson watched as one Lee took a punch to the jaw that snapped his head back hard. With a gut churning twist, Nelson saw the man's knees wobble and he went down with a groan. That figure hit the ground and did not move. The double Lee drew down on the unarmed man with an unwavering grip. Scrambling for his own gun, Nelson swiveled, keeping one eye on Will, the other on the two captains.

 

“Time to be rid of one meddlesome look-a-like,” Lee's voice snarled.

 

Nelson raised his weapon, sighting at the man’s midsection. Aiming for body mass. Not to disable but to kill. Which one was which? Was this Lee? God help me if I’m wrong… Their eyes locking for a brief second and in that time, Nelson found himself staring down into twin pools of darkness and hate, so vile it triggered a shudder than ran up his spine and shook his aim.

 

An evil smile crossed Crane’s face as he pulled back in the trigger, aiming for the unconscious man on the floor. A shot echoed through the air and time stopped.

 

 

~<<>>~

 

Twenty-four hours later:

 

Gwendolyn Dawn Morton stormed through the main doors of Med Bay, her high heels clicking an angry pattern as she breezed by the front desk. “Where are they, Teresa?” she demanded as she marched through the main lobby.

 

“Third floor ma’am.  You have full clearance,” the nurse on duty reported back.

 

“I damn well better,” Wendy muttered under her breath as she plowed forward to the elevator. As she entered she tossed back over her shoulder, “Thank you, Teresa.” No sense taking her aggression out on the staff. They were only doing their job.

 

Seconds later she was stalking down the halls of the third floor, not sure what she was expecting. All she had was Angie’s brief message that something horrific had happened to Lee, Chip and Serena. Wendy had dropped everything and caught the next flight out. She hadn’t even bothered to change clothes. Her black shirt was wrinkled and the ends of her white blouse had pulled loose from the skirt’s waistband. The black dress jacket was unbuttoned and also wrinkled from the long hours of flying from one coast to the next. Her waist-length platinum blonde hair was beginning to come lose from its twist at the nape of her neck, fine tendrils floating around her face. Absently she waved the strands away, attempting to hook them behind her ears. Her step, deceptively strong, was growing tired. She had planned on coming home, soaking in a hot tub and heading for bed, not invading Med Bay for updates on three of the most important people in her life.

 

She slowed her pace, pausing just long enough to pull her three-inch heels off her tired feet and shove them into the huge purse hanging off one shoulder. Wendy took a quick second to peek into each empty room as she passed, searching for either blond or brunet, even a redhead. She hit pay dirt the third room she passed.

 

Wendy found a very pale and shaky big brother trying to make it across the floor of his room, both hands clutching the I.V. pole with a white-knuckle death grip. He was wearing only the bottom half of a pair of pale blue pajamas, leaving his chest and shoulders bare. A large white bandage was wrapped around his right side. A second was wrapped around the bicep of his left arm.  He glanced up, registering he’d been caught red-handed. Chip smiled and batted innocent blue eyes. What worked on Mom might work on little sister, right? Wrong.

 

“Hi Wen. How was Washington?” he asked weakly. Wendy planted her hands on her hips and glared at her brother.

 

“Charles Philip Morton, what in the name of common sense do you think you’re doing and what the devil is that?” Wendy demanded, waving a hand at the bandage. “I drop everything to catch the first flight home. I haven’t had a bath in thirty-six hours and I’ve been in this outfit since I got Angie’s call. Due to security reasons she couldn’t give me any details. Here I am thinking you and Lee are on death’s door and I find you trying to do what? I’m not blind. You look like a zombie extra from some horror film and if it weren’t for that pole you’d probably fall flat on your face. You probably shouldn’t even be out of bed!”

 

“Would you calm down? It’s a just a scratch, I’m fine. Have you seen Lee? Nobody will tell me where Lee is. You want to do something for me, find out about Lee and if it was Mason.” Chip said.

 

Wendy continued to stare at her brother, her own blue eyes flashing with irritation and growing worry. 

 

“Chip what on earth happened to you? Who’s Mason?”

 

“It’s complicated. Lee is missing. I think he’s been kidnapped…”

 

Wendy sat down in the nearby chair, her knees suddenly weak. “What? By who? When? Why?” she croaked out. Oh god, no no no no not Lee, please no…

 

“Wen, I don’t even know what day it is. Please find the admiral. If anybody knows anything about Lee, it’s the admiral,” Chip pleaded even as his forehead creased with the effort of fighting back a wave of pain. He wrapped one arm around his midsection and his legs shook with the effort of holding his weight.

 

Wendy sailed out of the chair and wrapped an arm around her brother, guiding him back to the bed.  The glare Chip tried to switch on failed to engage as another wave of pain clouded his blue eyes. Wendy gently yet firmly pressed him back against the pillow. Wendy couldn’t help but notice that Chip was holding one hand against the bandage on his side. His breath caught as he closed his eyes.

 

“Chip, do you need me to call Jamie?” she asked gently.

 

Chip shook his head. “No,” he gasped out, taking short, shallow breaths. “Please…the admiral?” he insisted.

 

“If you promise not to move. I don’t know what you’ve done to yourself this time but in the name of common sense, please stay here. I’ll find out what I can about Lee and Serena.”Chip’s eyes snapped open and locked onto hers. He grabbed at her hand, what color he had now draining completely away. With a deep sense of foreboding, she realized Chip had no idea something had happened to Serena. She should never have mentioned it. It was bad enough for Chip to be worried about Lee but now she had tossed another complication on top of everything.

 

“Something’s happened to Serena?” he hissed.

 

Wendy frowned. “I don’t know, Chipper,” she said, falling back on her childhood nickname for her brother. “I’ll find out and I’ll come straight back here, I promise you. Please just stay put. I can’t worry about you wandering around while I track down what happened to everybody else. I’m a great multi-tasker but this is almost too much.”

 

Chip heaved a sigh of his own. “Find out for me. Find out if it was Mason, okay?”

 

Wendy leaned over and planted a soft kiss on her brother’s forehead. “Anything, Chipper. I’ll be right back.”

 

Wendy vanished out the door and Chip counted to ten. Ignoring the burning in his side and the throbbing ache in his arm, he swung his legs out of bed and once more got to his feet. He paused long enough to grab his blue robe. He managed to get one arm in, but the other was still too sore and stiff. He settled for pulling it across his shoulder and chest. He shuffled into the thin-soled hospital issued slippers and made his slow, careful way down the hall.

 

He played a hunch. If Lee were here, the staff would put him across the hall. He hadn’t thought to tell Wendy to look there first. So Chip shuffled his way to room 310, commonly known to the staff as the Captain’s Quarters. Room 311 was universally known as the Executive Suite. His hunch paid off.  The dark haired figure of Lee Crane lay still and quiet in the bed. Chip settled into the chair by the bedside. Reaching out he rested a hand on Lee’s bare arm and called out softly. “Lee. Please Lee. Wake up for me. Doc catches me out of bed, he’ll skin me alive.”

 

Lee tossed back and forth, taking a deep breath then slowly exhaling. His fingers curled, gripping a fistful of blankets. If the black eye and the other bruising Chip could see where any clue, there were other injuries that were not visible, injuries that Lee was probably ignoring when he heard his voice. Lee licked his lips and swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing with the effort.

 

“Chip?” Lee answered with a voice that sounded as rusty as an antique door.

 

“Right here. Come on and open your eyes for me.”

 

“Can’t I just lay here in the dark? My head won’t pound so bad. Must be the concussion,” Lee muttered and cracked one eye. The hazy, indistinct figure of his best friend waffled in and out then slowly pulled into focus.

 

“Welcome home.” Chip said with a smile.

 

“Med Bay?”

 

“Home, home on the range,” intoned the blond.

 

“Were the bruised and injured lay,” Lee finished the punch line then turned both eyes to his friend. “Chip…I…oh God…he…” Lee’s eyes grew wide as he registered the bandage wrapped around Chip’ midsection.

 

“Save it Lee. I know it wasn’t you. I knew it wasn’t you when I was shot. I don’t know who it was but I know it wasn’t you. That’s all that matters now. So whatever guilt trip you’re on, pull over and get out. It’s not your fault.”

 

“He broke into my house. I was an idiot not to have a gun downstairs. They waltzed in like they owned the place.”

 

Chip snorted. “Trust me, when I’m done, it will be the last time anybody waltzes in past our security.”

 

“It was Mason, I know it was. He impersonated me, shot you and kidnapped Serena. He kept bragging about killing you, about what he was going to do to her. God, Chip, what a nightmare.”

 

Lee watched as every muscle in Chip’s body froze. All the emotion drained out of his eyes and for a second, Lee wasn’t seeing his best friend. The blond had slipped into something colder and dangerous. Lee had seen this before, usually when it came to his continued acceptance of ONI missions or when the admiral or Seaview were threatened. He’s never seen Chip go cold like this at the mention of someone not crew or family.

 

“Is she okay?” Chip finally asked.

 

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her. I don’t even know if they found her. What day is this? I’ve lost track. I don’t even know how long I was missing.”

 

“The hell if I know. Jamie’s had me on sleep juice since surgery, I think. Wendy’s here, I told her to find the admiral. If anybody knows anything, it’s the admiral.”

 

Lee closed his eyes. “I hope she’s okay. Mason said…Mason…My God, Chip, Mason said he was going to give her to some guy named Rinaldi. What if he did, Chip? What if…”

 

Chip tightened his grip on Lee’s arm. “Don’t go there, Lee. The admiral got to you in time, maybe they found her. Just relax.” Chip tried to take his own advice. Until a few minutes ago, he had thought Lee was still missing. Not Serena, too.

 

“I hope you’re right, Chip. Why are you out of bed? Wendy catches you she’ll read you the riot act.”

 

Chip grinned, happy to see his friend could still make jokes. “I didn’t know if you were dead or alive. I couldn’t lie around and wait to hear if you had been found. I was halfway out the door when she sorta caught me. ”

 

“Bet that was fun.”

 

“Don’t laugh, pal, you’re next.”

 

“I can handle her. I’m just a little banged up. I don’t have extra holes, unlike some people.”Chip snorted as he leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms over his chest. Or tried to. He settled for dropped his hands in his lap, his left arm not being very cooperative. “No extra holes this time. Won’t want to make you jealous.”

 

“Are the two of you enjoying yourself?” William Jamieson said from the doorway. Both men looked up and Chip’s eyes grew large seeing Jamieson balanced on a pair of crutches, one leg bent under him.

 

“Ah, Jamie, I think maybe you read the wrong script. Shouldn’t it be Wonder Boy here with the crutches?” Chip said. He got a slap on the arm for his smart comment.

 

“I think he’s jealous of us. That’s what it is. You see, chicks dig scars and he’s hoping to get the attention of Doctor Foster, in Toxicology,” Lee teased with a smirk.

 

Chip didn’t skip a beat as he picked up Crane’s lead. “Doctor Rita Foster? I’ve met her. Doc, you and her would make a great couple.”

 

Lee had another two cents to throw in. “Hey you know what chicks really dig? Stitches. That’s what you need. Stitches.”

 

“Oh yeah, about ten, right across the left side of your head, just over your eye.”

 

“Clowns! Both of you! Bookend clowns, that’s all I need. Just you never you mind about me. Commander, you don’t need to be out of bed. You pull my fancy stitches and I’ll sedate you till you heal up. And you Skipper, you have enough internal bruising to worry my surgeons, a cracked rib and a concussion. The two of you can compare scars and hand out dating tips later. I want you both back in bed, resting. Pronto”

 

Lee turned to look at Chip. “I was right. It was a concussion. How many is that?” he asked, knowing he was irritating the doctor.

 

Chip shrugged. “I just keep the crew in line. I don’t keep up with your medical records. Why don’t you ask him?” Chip jerked a thumb toward Jamieson.

 

“You two should go on tour. Tweedledee and Tweedledum, live for one night only. Move it Chip, I’m not going to tell you again!”

 

Chip rose to his feet and turned to face Will. His blue eyes had gone still and the humor completely drained away. Will knew what Chip wanted.

 

“Serena. Lee said Mason got her. Did they find her? Is she okay?”

 

“She’s going to be fine.  Let me worry about her, you worry about you. Now march, Commander.” Jamieson thumped one crutch tip on the floor to punctuate his words.

 

“Okay? Just okay? Jamie, you gotta give me more than that!””

 

“Don’t push your luck. She’s recovering and she’ll be fine, that’s all you need to know right now. I need you to calm down and relax. You can talk to her later.”

 

“Go on, Chip, I’ll be fine. Jamie’s right. You shouldn’t be up and about.”

 

With reluctance oozing from every pore, Chip shuffled his way out of Lee’s room and back to his own, satisfied that his friend was alive if not in exactly perfect shape.

 

Lee watched Chip leave and his own mood darkened. There was something he needed to know.

 

“Jamie, it was Mason, wasn’t?” Lee asked, trying to sit up in the bed. Jamie threw him a disapproving look, but helped him to brace against the headboard.

 

“Lee, now is not the time to talk about this,” Will started but Lee interrupted him.

 

“Doc, I have to know. You weren’t there. You don’t know…” Lee trailed off, remembering Mason’s words, looking down into an empty hole that would have been a grave…

 

Will almost refused, but the look in Lee’s eyes screamed the need for him to know the truth. That and the fact that he was right. Will didn’t know what Lee had been through. He couldn’t have known. He only had the evidence of Lee’s bruised and battered body to know how he’d been treated. Will could only guess what he had experienced mentally. Crane deserved to know the truth. ”Yes Lee, It was Mason. He’s dead. Nelson shot and killed him. We confirmed it with dental records and fingerprints. It’s over, Skipper.  This time he won’t be coming back.”

 

~<<>>~

 

Four days later

 

Harriman Nelson closed the door to his office and simply embraced the quiet. The last four days had been a roller coaster ride of accusations, investigations, reports and updates. Feeling the weight of his years on this earth, Nelson eased into his chair and stared at the reports on his desk.

 

First and foremost was the file on the Springhurst Psychiatric Center. There was still the question of how Mason had escaped from Springhurst in the first place. Who was working with Mason, were anymore of his associates out there?  According to Sharkey, the two men holding Lee had said they were giving Serena to somebody named Rinaldi. Nelson had tried to remember if he’d had any dealing with anyone by that name and he came up with a blank. What could he want with his daughter?

 

Springhurst had a great deal to answer for. Nelson could have lost his captain, his exec, and his daughter due to their shoddy operating procedures. By the time this was over with, it was very possible that Springhurst would be shut down for good. Nelson would not be sorry to see that happen.

 

“Admiral, Dr. Jamieson is here.”

 

Nelson stabbed at the intercom. “Alright Angie, go ahead and send the good doctor in.”

 

“Yes sir, one doctor, coming up.”

 

Seconds later the double doors opened and Will Jamieson made his entrance, with the help of a pair of crutches. Will maneuvered the crutches expertly, closing the door behind him with the rubber tip of one crutch.

 

“Nothing seems to be slowing you down any. How’s the leg?” Nelson asked.

 

Jamieson eased down into one of the big chairs, dropping the crutches to the floor. “Just fine. No infection, everything is healing nicely. I’ll have a lovely little scar but as your captain keeps telling me, chicks dig scars.”

 

Nelson chuckled. “Will, I think we’re both a little old for chasing chicks.”

 

“Admiral, I’ve seen the ladies you show up with at dinners and functions. Your last date would have given Catherine Zeta-Jones a run for her money. Where do you find these women anyway?”

 

“Detective Swan is a very good friend of mine. Say the word and I can introduce you to a very lovely oncologist from the Mayo Clinic. Did you come down here to discuss my love life or is there a purpose to you cluttering my office with your accoutrements?” Nelson asked with a glance at the crutches on the floor.

 

“Just thought you’d want an update on everybody.” Jamieson calmly folded his hands in his lap and stared at head at Nelson

 

Nelson closed up the file he’d been looking over and focused on the doctor. “Something wrong? Chip isn’t having complications is he? Lee? I thought you said there should be no problems with his recovery.”

 

“I’m not worried about Chip. He’s coming along well, everything is healing but I’m personally going to kill him he doesn’t slow down and stop trying to push his recovery.”

 

“Chip wouldn’t be Chip if he didn’t push. He’s Lee’s right hand and it’s killing him each day he’s not at Lee’s side. You know that.”

 

“I do, but that doesn’t make the man any easier to deal with. He’s like a ten-year-old on a road trip. ‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’ Except in Chip’s case, every time I see him he starts, ‘Can I go home today? Can I go home today?’ Drive a saint to drink, let me tell you.”

 

“You don’t have to. What about Lee?”

 

“Physically he’s well, mentally, that’s another story. His mood is darker, he’s quieter and more closed up. Lee was never a very open person to start with but this has pushed him in a different direction. He won’t talk to me and he won’t talk to a psychiatrist. You know how Lee is. He’ll push his feelings aside to focus on what needs to be done at the moment, regardless of what he ultimately does to himself.”

 

“How bad?”

 

Jamieson sighed. “Well, just by looking, he’s not sleeping. He’s always been a picky eater and this isn’t helping. Mason had his hands on Lee for only a few hours and in that time frame, Chip was shot and Serena was taken. We don’t know what Mason told Lee as this was going on. Admiral, you and I both saw Mason’s medical file. The man was psychotic. Not only was he bent on killing you but he wanted Lee to suffer as much as he claimed to have. He probably told Lee that Chip was dead. I can’t begin to guess what he said about Serena.”

 

Nelson’s eyes had taken on a far-away look as Will explained his theory. “Sharkey said somebody named Rinaldi was going to take Serena. I gather from the few conversations I’ve had with Lee that Mason bragged about that. Given Lee’s instinct and need to protect, that had to be sheer torture to endure. Hearing that and being unable to stop it.”

 

“Exactly. He’s not coping well at all. He trusts you. Maybe you can get him to open up and talk about it. “

 

“If Lee’s not ready to open up about it, I can talk till I’m blue in the face. You know as well as I do how stubborn he can get. “

 

“Well, he’s not the only one not coping.”

 

Nelson looked puzzled, his eyes narrowing. “Something with Serena.” Statement, not a question. “Her injuries weren’t severe, where they?”

 

“No. She’s recovered from the heat exhaustion and the dehydration. She’s been released from Med Bay and she was supposed to come back to work this morning. Serena has another issue, one that I can’t fix.”

 

“Cut to the chase Will and tell me what’s wrong with my daughter.”

 

Jamieson squirmed in the chair. “She seems to be suffering from post-traumatic stress, linked to her attack by Mason who was disguised as Lee at the time. She won’t talk to Lee, she avoids him like he was Satan himself. Admiral, I know this sounds fruity, but your daughter is afraid of Lee Crane.”

 

~<<>>~

 

Serena dropped her purse into the bottom drawer of the file cabinet and shut the door with her foot. She puttered around the office for another half an hour, rearranging files, tossing outdated printouts, rearranging books and magazines and straightening the shelves. She paused in front of a small grouping of pictures. Her and Wendy. One of a handful of pictures of her and Dr. Jones, a dear friend before the old man died.  A lone picture of her mother. A photo of her stepfather and aunt, Archie and Lily. Absent was the man she thought she was her father until she was eleven years old. Jerome Noah Smallwood.

 

Finally she couldn’t stall any longer. Serena sat own behind the desk and stared at the blank computer screen. The dark screen stared back at her like a black hole, unreflective and empty. Like the eyes of the man she had thought was Lee. Like Jerome’s eyes. She suppressed the shudder that threatened and shoved the memory away. She had work to do, she couldn’t think about that right now. That was over twenty years ago. She was over that.

 

After bringing her system online, Serena pulled up the last article she was working on but found she couldn’t concentrate. She started at every sound and her mind kept wondering. She got out of the chair, unable to sit still. The redhead moved to the window, brushing the material of her black shirt absently. She looked down at herself, not realizing she’s dressed in all black today. Black skirt, black silk blouse, black heels. Like she was in mourning. Mourning over what? She shook her head, trying to dismiss the thought.  Serena never heard the footstep, never realized she wasn’t alone until he spoke.

 

“Serena?”

 

The marine archaeologist whirled as her heart hammered in her chest like a bird in a cage. Lee Crane stood in the doorway of her office, his amber eyes warm but concerned as they watched her. “Lee, was there something you wanted?” she managed with as much dignity as she could muster. Serena looked over to her desk, feeling the knife-edge of panic as she realized she had to pass Lee to get to her desk. She stood frozen to the spot, not quite realizing that Lee was speaking.

 

“I heard you were back to work today and I wanted to see if you were doing okay. I haven’t seen you around lately.”

 

“I went home and stayed there. This is my first day back.” Serena kept her answer as short as she could, afraid that Lee would hear the fear in her voice. She wrapped her arms around her, the short-sleeved blouse she wore doing nothing to ward of the chill.

 

“Good for you. You could use the rest. Are you settling back in alright?”

 

Serena nodded and gathered her courage to walk to her desk. “I’m getting there,” she said.

 

“Have you seen Chip lately? He was asking about you when he heard…”

 

At the mention of Chip’s name. Serena started, so violently that she staggered. Lee reached out and grabbed an arm to steady her. He was completely unprepared for her reaction.

 

Serena jerked her arm out of his reach, backing away from him until she had the desk between her and Lee. Her green eyes stared wild and unseeing at the man before her. His dark curly hair and the olive-tone complexion were so like Jerome’s. For a second she was unable separate the two. She couldn’t stop a lone tear as it rolled down her cheek. Further embarrassed, she quickly wiped it away before Lee noticed.

 

“Serena, sweetheart, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” Lee moved forward to reassure his friend but Serena took another step backwards. He wasn’t quite sure what she was panicking over, but it was one of the most violent reactions he’d ever seen out of her.

 

“Don’t. Please, just… just don’t touch me,” she pleaded, her voice cracking under the strain.

 

Lee froze, not sure what to do. He recognized the fear and panic in her voice. Serena had never been afraid of anything before. She was cautious and she could be unnerved, but Lee had never seen her afraid before. He knew about her nyctophobia, but this was different. Serena was afraid of him.

 

“Serena, I’m not going to hurt you,” Lee said slowly.

 

“I know that, Lee. My mind knows it wasn’t you, but he looked just like you…you look so like him…” her voice trailed off and she abruptly turned away from Lee, unable to look at him.

 

“Lee, let me handle this.”

 

Lee spun around to see Admiral Nelson standing in the doorway. How long had he been there, Lee couldn’t guess. Judging from the look on his face, the admiral had seen enough to know something wasn’t right.

 

“Admiral,” Lee began but Nelson held up a hand, calling for silence. With a jerk of his head, Nelson signaled that Lee should leave.

 

Throwing a backward glance at the still trembling woman, Lee did as he had been silently ordered. There wasn’t anything he could do at this point except hope that somehow Nelson could get through to Serena and convince her everything was going to be all right.

 

For a few long moments, archaeologist and admiral stood in the silence. Nelson quietly closed her office door. “I think you should take some time off,” Nelson said as he meandered without pattern around the office.  

 

“You hired me to do a job, not sit around and feel sorry for myself. I’ll be fine in a few days. I don’t want anybody to think I’m getting some kind of special treatment because you’re my father.”

 

“Serena, this has nothing to do with genetics. I might not know you as much as I would like, but I know enough to recognize fear when I see it. You are scared of Lee.”

 

Serena sat down and refused to look at her father. “I’m not scared of Lee.” A denial if Nelson heard one.

 

“Lee didn’t attack me. This Mason guy did. You were right and I thought you were just trying to scare me with all that talk about the enemies you had made over the years. You were right and look at what it got me.”

 

“Mason attacking you was not your fault. He targeted you and Lee as part of some sick twisted scheme to get back at me. Serena, I’m not going to sit here and watch a very talented young woman be paralyzed by fear. You’re stronger than that. I need you and Lee to be able to work together and you can’t do that if you panic every time he comes near you.”

 

“What do I do then?” she snapped, the fear giving away to anger. “Every time I see him, I see him coming at me, lunging for me over the table, his hands wrapped around my throat. It’s like I was ten years old…” Serena stopped, snapping her mouth shout before she gave any more away. No one knew about that. She had never told anyone, not even her mother.  She wasn’t about to let it slip now. She had put that behind her and moved on. She thought she had at any rate. Nelson’s sapphire gaze pinned her to the chair and she stammered for some explanation.

 

“I don’t know what’s real anymore,” she whispered. With something of a shock, Serena realized it was the honest truth. Somehow she couldn’t separate Lee from the man who attacked her from Jerome. Somehow they were one and the same.

 

Nelson leaned forward, resting his hands on the edge of Serena’s desk. “I promise you I am real. I am solid and not an illusion or a double. I want to help you through this. I can help you through this, if you’ll let me.”

 

“How?”

 

“I have a cabin, up in the mountains. You need some time away and Will’s been pestering me for months to take vacation. It’s time you and I spent some time together. You can get away from everything that is of the Institute and work on overcoming this. Trust me on this, if you don’t trust in anything else. I only want what’s best for you and I can’t watch you shy away from people who care about you.”

 

Serena blinked at what her father was offering. The chance to get away, to be in different surroundings. No Lee to remind her. No Chip to distract her. Just her and her father. “For how long?” she asked.

 

“Two weeks.”

 

Serena drew back in surprise. “Two weeks? I can’t be gone for two weeks!”

 

“Humph. If I can be gone for two weeks, so can you. I can make it an order, if you’d like.”

 

Serena narrowed green eyes. “I’m not Navy, you can’t order me to do anything,” she said tartly. This time Nelson smiled.

 

“I am your employer. It’s either that or you go into therapy. By order of the Chief Medical Officer and Med Bay’s Director.”

 

Serena’s reaction was alarming. “I don’t need therapy! I don’t need someone in my head telling me what I feel and asking a lot of questions about my childhood!” she shouted, fingers clenching as she tried to reign in her overwhelming emotions. 

 

Nelson was quick. He realized there was something more, and whatever it was, she was obviously not dealing well with this. If she didn’t get some kind of help soon, there was no telling how she would ending up dealing with internalized emotions. If he could get her off to herself, maybe she would open up about what had happened. Maybe he could get to really know his daughter.

 

“You need time and you need out of this office. It’s a very nice cabin, with plenty of room. Lee and Chip sometime use it and we’ve occasionally all three camped out up there and gone fishing. Sharkey and I are up there every few months when the occasion calls for it.”

 

Serena allowed a small smile to drift across her lips. “Been a long time since I went fishing. Papa Archie and I used to fish, before I went off to college”

 

“Is that a yes?”

 

Serena took a long breath. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”

 

“Have you ever known me to back down from something I want?”

 

“If it will make you happy, then yes, I’ll go with you.”

 

“It makes me very happy, indeed. Was that so hard? Now, why don’t you go home and pack? Nothing fancy, the more ragged the better. Bring some books if you like, but nothing work related, is that clear?”

 

“Perfectly, sir.” Serena smiled, a real smile that Nelson recognized as a shadow of his own.  She gathered up her belongings and headed out the door. Before she left, Serena addressed Nelson one more time.

 

“Just where is this cabin again?”

 

“In the mountains, by a rather large lake. Everything else is on a need to know basis. Understood?”

 

Serena mock saluted her father. “Aye, aye sir. Understood. Permission to carry on?”

 

“Granted. Now get out of here.”

 

Harriman stood in the quiet of Serena’s office, making sure she didn’t come back.  He was also waiting. Finally Will’s balding head popped in from around the corner. Crutches under his arms, he entered the office, noticing the very please expression on Nelson’s face.

 

“Did she agree?”

 

“I didn’t really give her a choice. Will, do you honestly think this will work?” Nelson asked his friend. The doctor nodded.

 

“I think this is the best thing you can do for her. Get her off to herself, just the two of you. In a week, Lee shows up and Serena will have to face her fear head on. I’ve had a little chat with him. He thinks he’s coming up to help Serena. I didn’t bother to tell him it was for as much his good as hers. By the way, Chip wants to volunteer his help as well. If we need him.”

 

Nelson considered the offer. “No, not this time. The immediate problem is getting Serena to confront her fear of Lee, and getting Lee to deal with his ordeal.  We’ll deal with Serena and Mr. Morton another time.”

 

~<<>>~

 

I met an old friend of hers who’s dying to look her up. He was more than willing to help me orchestrate my little breakout. All I have to do is hand her over to him. Once she’s out of the way, with enough evidence to point the authorities in your direction, you know what, Lee, old boy?

 

Commander Lee Crane, so stressed and depressed, he shot and killed his best friend. In a fit of rage, he killed his employer’s daughter then proceeded to kill the all-knowing Admiral Nelson. Then Commander Lee Crane vanished. No trace. No sign. Never to be heard from again.

 

By now everybody thinks you shot your best friend. The good doctor saw you take aim…

 

Lee threw off the covers, feeling the cool night breeze on his sweat covered, bare chest. He fought to control his breathing as he sucked in ragged breath after ragged breath. For a long time, he just sat on the edge of his bed, every muscle tight as he tried to fight the trembling. Any other night he’d settle for a walk through the sub, but here at home that wasn’t an option. Wandering through the house at 0200 just wasn’t the same.

 

Sleep was impossible. He almost wished Jamie would ask him if he wasn’t sleeping, then maybe he could ask for a sleeping pill or something. Anything that could make the voices and images go away.

 

With everything under control once more, Lee debated trying to go back to sleep. One look at the crumpled empty bed and he knew it was useless. He’d never get back to sleep here. He thought about calling Wendy. He knew she’d drop everything and be there for him, she could be what Chip and the admiral couldn’t. Unlike some of his past girlfriends, Wendy never asked anything of him. She accepted him as he was, faults and all. She had never tried to change him or get him to conform to some preconceived notion of what she thought he should be.

 

With Wendy, like with Chip and the admiral, Lee could be himself.

 

But Wendy was staying with Serena until Harrison left with the admiral. While she had seen him like this before, for some reason Lee was reluctant to let her see him now. Beside, seeing her now would just bring up a whole new issue, one he wasn’t ready to deal with yet. If he continued to see Wendy, like Serena, Wendy might become a target for the enemies Lee had. He might not have as many as Nelson, but there were a few who would like nothing more than to see him dead. It was bad enough that Chip got caught up in his dealings from time to time. He wasn’t sure he could handle someone targeting Wendy as well.

 

There was one place he could go that might still his shattered nerves and calm his aching soul. In the cool dark, Lee dressed and headed out to find a little peace.

 

~<<>>~

 

 

The good doctor saw you take aim and pump two rounds into your pal Morton.  If he's not dead, he soon will be.You can’t defend yourself this time.

 

You have no one to defend you.Simple. We just bury him down here. Cover the hole with concrete. Nobody knows he’s here so nobody will think to look here.

 

The pain as his head was thrown against the stone wall. The weight on his back as his arms were pulled behind him and tied. The ache of his jaw as the gag cut into the corners of his mouth. The dark empty hole beneath him. Sightless eyes staring into his…

 

“Lee? Lee, what’s wrong?”

 

Chip’s voice jarred Lee out of his thoughts. He spun around to see Morton staring at him from three feet away. Lee had never even heard him approach. “Nothing, I’m fine,” Lee replied, knowing full well that Chip would hear the lie and call him on it.

 

“Bull,” Morton countered sourly. “I’ve been here calling your name for almost a full minute.”

 

“It’s after 0300. Why aren’t you in bed?”

 

“I was thinking about…stuff. Security called when you came aboard. I figured you were having a sleepless spell, so I came down to check on you. I find you spaced out and not hearing your name being called in your ear. What’s wrong, Lee?”

 

Lee didn’t answer. He couldn’t concentrate. He couldn’t focus on anything. Since his rescue, all he could hear was Mason’s taunting voice, how he was going to kill the admiral, how he was going to vanish taking the blame of killing Chip. What those two thugs where going to do to Serena. He could find peace in his regular haunts, so he came down to the only place he could go where he could calm down and find his center: Seaview’s observation deck. The full moon cast a silver glow over the water as he watched the waves lap gently against the bow. He should have figured Chip would puzzle out where he was. Not that he was hiding. If Lee had wanted to hide, there were very few who would have known where to find him. Unfortunately, one of those was Chip.

 

“All I could think about was if you were dead, what they going to do to Serena, did the admiral know what kind of danger he was…” Lee said quietly, able to open up to Chip when he couldn’t open up to anyone else. 

 

Lee felt Chip’s hand tighten around his shoulder. “And that nightmare is over. Mason is dead. Stone dead and he’s not coming back to hurt anyone. Ever. You just remember that.”

 

Again Mason’s words came back to haunt him and with them came the image of Serena, her eyes wide with fear as she stared at him. She couldn’t get away from him fast enough, she couldn’t even tolerate his touch. “She’s scared of me, Chip. Do you know what that’s like, to have someone you know as a friend suddenly fear you? She didn’t deserve to have that happen to her.”

 

Chip understood that Lee was talking about Serena. “Which is why the admiral is going to get her off to herself. A few days at his cabin, then you show up and you and her can work this out. I think it will be good for you both.”

 

Lee threw a grin at his friend. “Gonna be stuck in the woods for a week with Serena Harrison.”

 

“Rub it in, won’t you? Some guys have all the luck,” Chip grumbled good-naturedly with a punch at Lee’s arm.

 

Crane smiled. “Don’t worry pal, I’ll put in a good word for you.” Lee moved closer to the windows, tracing the elegant lines of the vessel he loved so much.

 

“Chip, about Mason, about what happened…”

 

Lee saw the reflection of Chip in the windows as the blond shook his head. “Lee, forget it. We’ve been over this. I knew it wasn’t you. You’re my brother, I trust you with my life and at the moment, with my baby sister. The Lee Crane I know could never have shot me.”

Lee pulled away from the window to pace, fingers twisting the onyx ring he wore. “I’ve pulled a gun on you before.”

 

In the control room, with Nelson out of his mind, ordering the Seaview to do the impossible. Lee refused to give up and had pulled a gun on the entire control room watch. His actions had saved the ship, but Nelson’s anger had been beyond describable. Even Admiral Starke had to admit that something was wrong with Nelson[2]. Apparently Lee was still bothered by that incident and the fact he had lashed out at his friend. Another reflection of the dark mood Lee had been in for the past few days, if he was thinking about that encounter again.

 

“Lee you had no choice. If you hadn’t forced your hand, we’d all be dead. You and I have had this conversation. There is nothing to forgive, so forget it and move on.”

 

“Easier said than done.” Lee grew quiet and Chip followed his example, waiting. Lee wasn’t finished and Chip knew not to push. Lee would open up on his terms and no amount of pushing and harassing could change that.

 

“Chip, Mason wanted the admiral dead. This time it didn’t work. But what about the next time? There are a lot people out there who would like to see the admiral out of the picture. I’m not ready to lose him yet. I haven’t learned everything from him yet.”

 

This was one of Lee’s biggest fears. After Curly had died, Chip and Lee had spent several hours reminiscing about the crusty of Chief of Boat. Before the admiral had joined them for a proper sent off[3], Lee had confessed to Chip that he feared losing Nelson.  Somewhere along the way Lee saw in Nelson the father he had lost so long ago. No son wants to ever bury a parent and Lee dreaded the idea that someday he would have to do for Nelson as he had done for his father.

 

Chip didn’t move, trying to find the words that would ease Lee’s mind. Too much had happened in the last few days for Lee to be thinking straight. Chip was no fool. He could tell Lee wasn’t sleeping well. After what he’d been through, who wouldn’t have nightmares? No doubt Lee was having flash backs, if seeing him spaced out was any clue. That, coupled with his worry and that overwhelming need to protect, well, it wasn’t surprising Lee was having trouble coping.

 

“Lee, don’t worry about it for now. For two weeks the admiral might as well be on the moon. Nobody knows where he’s going. As far as anyone knows, the admiral is going to Washington and Serena is going back to her mother’s.”

 

“I don’t like the idea of him being alone up there. Anything could happen to him.”

 

Chip sighed. “The only people who know about this are me, you, Angie and Jamie. He’s not alone. Serena’s not completely without some skills. Besides, it’s only for a week. You’ll be there for the second half.”

 

Again Lee grew quiet. He walked back toward the window and pressed his hand against the window. He closed his eyes and opened himself up to her, feeling the gentle sway as she bobbed in the surf, the vibrations of the waves on the bow. He’d come close to losing all this. How could he tell Chip that he lay awake at night, the darkness closing in around him, hearing Mason’s laugh, reliving the horror of what that maniac was threatening, the terror of being helpless and unable to stop what he knew was happening. Looking down and seeing an open grave…

 

Lee felt his heartbeat quicken, felt his breath come out in ragged gasps. He forced himself to calm down. He had to, before Chip realized he was having a flashback. He’d had them before, after an ONI mission gone wrong, after some crewmen had died. Lee knew that in time he could overcome this. He’d overcome being brainwashed[4], he’d come back from being possessed by an alien entity[5]. He survived being shot and taken over by something so truly evil[6], it made his skin crawl to think about it. No, this wasn’t his first brush with death, and with things being the way they were, it wouldn’t be the last.

 

But he wasn’t ready to let go, not yet. He wasn’t done living. He had a hold of life in a death grip and he wasn’t letting go. He had too much to live for right now.

 

“Lee, you’re spacing out on me again. Maybe you should go on home, try to get some sleep.” Chip said.

 

“I think I’ll spend the night aboard. I’m not very good company right now and Wendy will probably want to help Serena pack. I’ll see you in the morning, alright?”

 

“Sure thing, Lee,” Chip said as Lee turned and made his way up the spiral stairwell. He watched until Lee was out of sight and he could no longer hear the tap of his shoes on the deck. Hopefully in the embrace of his first true love, Lee could find a little piece, even if for only a few hours.

 

Chip reached over and switched off the light in the nose, leaving him in the half dark as night slowly crept in. This was one of Chip’s favorite places, running submerged as the powerful forward lights cut though the gloom of the deep sea to reveal wonders and mysteries.

 

He wanted to show Serena what he saw, most of all he wanted to show her how he felt. But she kept her distance from him, maintaining a relationship that was friendly yet aloof. Maybe he should just face facts and admit that maybe Serena Harrison just didn’t feel anything for him. It would be easy to do, except he just couldn’t get her out of his head…but being around her had trigger a number of previously lost memories. If he could spend more time with her, maybe…

 

Chip sighed deeply and tried to push Serena out of his thoughts, turning back to Lee. He wanted his friend back, not this dark brooding man who had taken his place, not this shell, this doppelganger that looked like his friend and talked like his friend. It was the same Lee, only there was something wrong, something not well in him.

 

This trip would be good for both Lee and Serena. Both had to heal if they expected to be whole and healthy again. Both needed to lay their demons and doppelgangers to rest.

 

End

 

Srh

 

LOC: appleone19@aol.com

 



[1] Left-handed Man, Season Two: Volume One-disk one, side B.

 

[2] Mutiny, Season One: Volume Two: Disk one, side A.

 

[3] See the short story Brothers by Sean Branigan AKA Rhed Danner.

 

[4] The Saboteur, Season One: Volume Two-disk one, side A.

 

[5] The Monster from Outer Space, Season Two-disk three, side B.

 

[6] Return of the Phantom, Season Two: Volume Two-disk two, side B.