This story takes place directly after the events of Twist of Fate. It would be helpful to be somewhat familiar with the characters and situations from Lost and Twist of Fate to follow this story. It takes place a few months after Falling Far but it’s not necessary to have read that one to understand this.
The cemetery was empty as far as Chip could tell. For not the last time he swore at himself for letting himself get roped into this mess. Chip’s temper was growing hotter with each passing minute. His normally calm demeanor was slowly heading the way of the passenger pigeon.
“Hello?” Anybody here?” Chip called out as he wandered around the main gate. There was no answer to his call. As a matter of fact, the only sounds Chip could hear was the occasion call of an owl and the dying chirp of a late season cricket. The feeling that this was a bad idea was growing stronger with each step. He glanced down at his watch, surprised that he’d been here for nearly twenty minutes.
He was here to meet a software designer at the behest of Admiral Nelson. Chip didn’t have all the details, only that the admiral was bogged down with meetings and he needed somebody who spoke ‘computer-ese’ to follow up on whether or not this particular designer had something to offer the institute. That ‘someone’ turned out to be Chip Morton.
Only Chip hadn’t expected the meeting place to be past 2200 hours outside the gates of a cemetery that saw its last burial seventy years ago. Who the hell did business outside of a graveyard? Dracula maybe? More like Dr. Frankenstein…
Chip glanced at his watch again. Five minutes since he’d last checked the time. Feeling a growl of irritation building deep in his chest Morton spun on his heel, digging his car keys out of his pocket. He headed for the gate but a clanging sound from inside the cemetery got his attention.
Chip froze. His eyes darted over the dimly lit yard. “Anybody there?” he called out one more time and was rewarded with an answering bang. He followed the reverberation to a large mausoleum situated under several mature trees.
“I am not going in there,” Chip grumbled. By now his eyes had adjusted to the darkness but all he could make out were the outlines of tombstones.
“Forget it. I am not wandering around in the dark,” Chip announced louder than he intended and he backed away from the mausoleum.
He took two steps back but three steps seemed to thud against the water-logged ground, wet, sucking sounds that could not be disguised. Chip whirled around, searching the darkness for whoever might be lurking out of sight. He was getting tired of this game. He had better things to do than chase down invisible leads.
Having made his final decision to leave, Chip turned his back on the graveyard and forced himself to head for the main gate. A chill surged up his spine and some inner sense told him not to turn his back on the cemetery. He stopped and slowly turned but it was too late.
Something hard impacted with the side of his head, spinning Morton around and knocking him to the ground. Stunned, he simply lay still, feeling the cold mud against his palms and sharp sticks digging into his skin. Groaning, he tried to roll over but his head was absolutely splitting and he could not focus on anything. Whoever was out there was staying out of his line of sight.
Morton managed to get an arm under him and slowly push himself upright. A cold breeze had sprung up and Chip could feel the warm wetness of blood sliding down his hairline, past his ear and down his neck.
Footsteps behind Chip made him glance upward but he was too slow. Whatever clipped him the first time flashed into view and knocked him back to the ground a second time.
This time Chip Morton did not get back up.
A dark figure stood over the unconscious man, his smile hidden in the darkness. He knelt down and carefully began to search though the helpless officer’s pockets. He paused as his hand closed around Chip’s cell phone. “Bingo,” he whispered. He stood and began searching through the stored phone numbers on Chip’s phone. With a smile he found the number he was searching for. With one eye on the still body of the conscious man on the ground, the stranger memorized the phone number.
One down, one to go.
Lee Crane groaned and rolled over onto his back, throwing an arm over his eyes. He slowly settled back into sleep, untroubled for once by the nightmares that were known to invade his slumber.
His peaceful night was shattered as the cell phone resting on the bedside table abruptly erupted in a fit of chime-like ringing.
Lee bolted upright, disoriented by the slightly familiar ringing. Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Lee finally focused on the sound and with clumsy fingers he groped for the phone, not even bothering to check the caller I.D.
It wasn’t an incoming call, but rather a text. *I need you to meet me.*
Lee frowned. He double checked the incoming number. From Chip. At this time of night? That made no sense. Still, Lee answered quickly.
*Where are you?* he typed, forgoing the abbreviations that most seemed to use. Lee could bring himself to type letters in place of words. It felt lazy to him.
An address came back. Lee bypassed frown and went straight to scowl. He thought he knew the place but it was way on the other side of town, in an older area. What was Chip doing out there this time of night? He typed again.
*What are you doing?* He waited impatiently. Finally he got an answer.
*Will explain. Hurry.*
Lee stared at the phone for a second before dropping it to the dresser. He began to peel out of his pajama bottoms, pulling on worn jeans and slipping on a long-sleeved denim shirt. He grabbed for socks and his shoes and finally his black leather jacket. He took enough time to stuff his wallet and cell phone into his wallet. The last thing he grabbed was his Beretta. Chip had better have a good reason for dragging his six out of a nice warm bed and into the damp night.
Lee was shocked to find the rendezvous point to be a graveyard, old and looking like it was abandoned. There were no street lamps anywhere, the only light being the weak moonlight and even weaker starlight, obscured by passing thin clouds. The air was thick with the scent of recent rain, damp leaves and soil. The tombstones were old and worn, some chipped and broken, some lying on the ground with weeds grown up around them. Lee was beginning to wonder if he was in the right place. So far there was no sign of Chip.
Pushing back the uneasy feeling in his stomach, Lee pulled a small flashlight from the pocket of his jacket. On more than one occasion he’d need a light and had since gotten into the habit of carrying a small one with him. Wherever Chip was, he wasn’t hanging around the entrance. He might be somewhere inside. Lee walked over to the gate and directed the pinpoint of light down across the yard, skimming over cracked and decaying stones.
There was nothing that jumped out at Lee to indicate that someone was here. He was fearful of attracting attention. Had Chip run into some trouble? Licking dry lips, Lee set one foot inside the cemetery, then another. Slowly and cautiously he moved through the grave markers, shining the light around.
It was as quiet as a tomb, just the creak of tree limbs in the breeze and the occasional call of a night bird. As Lee crept along in the darkness the silence began to take over. Eventually the only sounds he heard were his own breathing, his own heartbeat, and the sounds of his footsteps against the muddy earth. In the distance the very feint rumble of thunder could be heard, heralding another round of rain.
The narrow beam of the small flashlight barely penetrated the darkness. As Lee navigated the maze of free standing stone markers his mind supplied him with a dozen old horror movies he’d seen over the years, filled with monsters that lurked in places just like this.
He continued to walk between the stones, growing more and more disturbed with each step. This was wrong. Something wasn’t right here. The farther Lee went into the depths of the forgotten graveyard, the more convinced he was that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was no one here.
Lee came to the end of the row and felt his heart leap into his throat as he nearly stumbled over the body on the ground. With his heard hammering loud enough to wake the dead, Lee realized with horror that he knew who this was. Khaki pants, long-sleeved khaki shirt, the white-gold hair…Chip Morton lay on the ground before him.
His every nerve on edge and screaming to get out, Lee glanced around the expanse of the cemetery. But there was no one to be seen. He turned his attention back to Chip, dropping to his knees by his friend’s side. Had he been dumped here? Left for dead?
Chip’s hands had been tied behind his back and he’d been gagged. Lee first ripped the bandana from around Chip’s mouth. Lee frowned as he pulled his pocketknife out and quickly sliced through the coarse rope binding Chip’s wrists. Next he set about checking his friend for injuries.
“Chip? Chip, can you hear me? What happened?” Lee whispered, finding no broken bones. He rolled Chip over and the blond groaned weakly.
A sound behind Lee made the brunet turn but he wasn’t fast enough to evade whatever it was that came out of the darkness and slammed into the side of his head. Lee was thrown against Chip’s body and he lay still.
The assailant stood over the two for a few seconds, then aimed a much more powerful light on the two bodies. He bent down and searched through Lee’s pockets, confiscating Lee’s gun and cell phone. Neither would be able to call for help now. The figure was determined that, like himself, Nelson would never have a body to lay to rest. He’d wonder until the end of his days what had happened to the men who were like his sons.
Admiral Harriman Nelson stared at his desk, the look of disbelief on his chiseled features morphing into a scowl of utter disgust. Dropping his briefcase to the desk, he raised his voice to get the attention of Angie Watson, just outside the open doors in the outer office. “Angie, where on earth did these come from?” he asked. Experimentally, he lifted one manila folder, opening it to the thick stack of reports inside. Lines of tightly packed type filled the page. With a snort he dropped the ridiculously thick file back to the desktop. Seconds later Angela Michelle Watson, part personal assistant, part mind-reader, and all miracle-worker, entered with the ever-present notepad and pencil and the unwelcome addition of a second stack of folders. She delicately added the new stack to the already existing one.
“Those,” she nodded her head at the original stack of folders on the desk, “were dropped off early this morning before you came in: the reports from the biology department, Doctor Henderson's pinniped research perimeters, the outline for Doctor Jenkins' chemical analysis of the water samples taken over the last six months, and the estimates on the Flying Sub rewiring project. These,” she indicated the new arrivals, “include the reports on pollution levels and the joint venture with the British government concerning the survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are in there as well. Last to mention, the draft for the invitations to the annual fundraiser. And your sister called, offering to help with the master list of invitations. She wants to help you weed out the ‘undesirables’, as she called them.”
Nelson rolled his eyes and shed the khaki jacket, hanging it on the coat rack in the corner of the spacious office. “She is a great help but I am not up to coping with my sister at the moment. I'll call Edith back when I'm better equipped to deal with her. I don't suppose the coffee is ready yet?” the admiral asked hopefully.
Angie smiled and dipped her head in affirmation. “Just about sir. You also have a morning meeting with Lee and Chip to review the new instrumentation for the Flying Sub. Do you want to see them as soon as they get in or have them reschedule?”
Nelson jerked up, pulling his attention away from the never-ending stack of files, his sapphire eyes narrowing. “Aren't they in yet? Chip was supposed to meet with that software company last night and I was hoping to hear his report.”
Angie shook her head and hooked a stray strand of dark hair behind one ear. “No sir. I haven’t seen either Lee or Chip this morning. Maybe they’re just running a little behind,” she offered.
Nelson growled, sounding like a small rockslide. “Think about who we're talking about here, Angie. Chip Morton doesn't know the meaning of the word late. I have to chase Lee out of here with a stick. It's not like either to run behind, even in the morning. One of them might be a few minutes behind but not both,” said Nelson with more than a touch of concern in his voice.
“Would you like me to get with Dana and Kim and see if they can't be reached by phone?” Dana Kennedy and Kim Martin were Lee and Chip's own secretaries. Nothing got by their desks. At this early point in the morning it was possible that the officers in question had called their relative secretaries and they just hadn't had time to report the unusual lack of punctuality.
For a second Nelson looked indecisive but then his blue eyes hardened. “Yes,” he grumbled, “Find out where those two are and if they plan on gracing us with their presence sometime today.”
Angie smiled. Admiral Nelson, Lee, and Chip had a usual relationship, something akin to a father-son, uncle-nephew sort of thing, but that didn't stop the admiral from unloading both barrels into anyone if the situation called for, up to and including the command duo. Angie aimed for diplomacy as she headed for the door. “Yes sir, I'll get right on that.”
Nelson was left alone in his office trying to tell his twisting gut that those two were indeed just running late, that there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for why they hadn't turned up yet. But the memory of Chip's disappearance in Peru, then his subsequent kidnapping by the deranged Marcus English, not to mention the innumerable times Lee had vanished, all lingered in his mind and refused to give up without a fight.
With a sigh the auburn-haired admiral flipped open the first report, refusing to let this worry eat at him. He wasn't sure how much actual work he would get done till he heard from his boys but the least he could do was make an attempt.
Nobody paid any attention to the caretaker as he maneuvered the antique wheelbarrow across the yard. The ancient cemetery was old and nearly forgotten but it was nice that someone was trying to clean the place up. It was a sad thing to see the markers that used to stand tall and proud now worn and laying in the grass and weeds.
The caretaker, as everyone believed him to be, adjusted the two sacks in the wheelbarrow and continued on towards his old truck, parked just off the cracked and potholed road that meandered through the cemetery. He lowered the tailgate on the truck and carefully heaved the two bags into the back of the truck. Once the bags were loaded, he picked up a roll of rope from the wheelbarrow and tossed it in after the bags. He slammed the tailgate shut and wiped his brow with a faded red bandana.
Last night’s work was done. Time to sit back and watch. Maybe he would call Nelson and tell him his boys were resting in a cool dark place. A far better fate than his own sons. At least these two had a tomb, a grave for their bodies. More than his sons had. But one thing was certain. If he didn’t have a grave over which to mourn the loss of his sons, then neither would Harriman Nelson.
“Well, keep trying. Give it another fifteen minutes and call back. I'm sure there's a logical reason. Don't hit the panic button just yet, Dana.” Angie was trying to calm down a very frustrated and worried secretary, namely Lee Crane's secretary, Dana Kennedy.
There was no answer to Lee's cell phone. It rang and rang, then finally rolled over to voice mail. Dana had already left two messages and the fact that their very conscientiousness captain wasn't responding had Dana on edge and ready to call out the National Guard. Angie had managed to calm the other woman down and promised to keep the admiral updated. She was just about to place the call to her employer when Kim Martin, Chip's secretary, tapped on the door. Angie looked up but could tell by the look on the other woman's face that she wasn't having any better luck than Dana.
“His cell phone doesn't even ring. It rolls straight to voice mail. You don't think something has happened to them?” Kim’s hazel eyes where filled with worry as she spoke, knowing deep down that something was wrong.
Angie scowled. “I don't know. I do know I have to tell one temperamental admiral that his command core is MIA.”
“This is why you get paid the big bucks,” Kim said with a sly grin, even thought she was worried. Chip didn't just decide to not come into work. Everybody knew this.
“Don't I wish? This is better done face to face. If I'm not back in twenty minutes, notify my next of kin.”
Angie knocked briefly on the door then entered. She found her employer standing by the window, looking down into the quay below. He didn't seem to have heard her enter.
“Admiral?” she said, noting the lines of worry on his face.
“Hmm?” His muttered acknowledgment was the only indication he heard her.
“Neither Dana nor Kim have heard from them. Neither of them is answering their phone and there have been several voice messages left.” She paused, knowing that what she was about to suggest was likely to fire the admiral’s legendary temper. “Would you like me to contact Admiral Radcliff?” she asked delicately. The mere mention of the director of the Office of Naval Intelligence was bound to get a reaction. Angie wasn’t disappointed.
Nelson's answering growl was immediate. “If that...blasted...pig headed.... IDIOT has conscripted my officers without my knowledge, I'll...I'll...,” Nelson struggled with the appropriately scathing retort, clearly aware that he was in the presence of a lady. Finally he settled on a clenched fist and a march back to his desk. “I'll handle Radcliff,” he ground out, clearly dismissing the dark-haired young lady.
Angie nodded and spun on a heel. “Yes sir,” she said and made a hasty exit. She had seen just about every mood the admiral was capable of and she recognized that right now he was hovering between worry and fury; not a good combination. It was best to get out of the line of fire while the getting was good. She was just about to the door when Nelson’s voice stopped her short.
She turned. “Sir?”
“Have a security detail check their condos. I want to know specifically if their cars are still on the grounds. Also track down that software representative who called last night, the one Chip was supposed to meet with. Find out if Chip ever met with him and where.”
“Yes sir, I’ll get right on that,” Angie pushed open the door and slipped out. The admiral had that look in his eyes. He was on the hunt and woe be the one who stood in his way.
Lee Crane came to with a headache that defied description. His eyelids felt glued shut and his first instinct was to try to rub the crude from his eyes.
Panic flared anew when he realized he couldn’t move his arms. His heart hammering, he took stock of his situation. He was on his back, his legs bent slightly at the knees. His arms were pulled behind him and he could feel the coarse rope binding his wrists. Moving his legs, he could feel his ankles and knees were also bound.
Lee forced himself to slow down and assess things. He could blink and feel nothing covering his eyes. There was something shoved between his teeth though, cloth or something, tied tightly in place. He could feel the material of the gag pulled tight against the corners of his mouth.
Where was he? Lee began feeling around with his bound hands, trying to get some idea of what he was trapped in. A box was his first instinct. What he felt under him didn’t feel like wood. It…it felt like stone. A stone box? That didn’t make sense.
Lee’s stomach curdled as it hit him. The cemetery. The mausoleum he’d seen. Had somebody stowed him away in an empty casket? But where was Chip?
Lee scrambled, trying to turn around and lie on his stomach. He was able to brace his knees and somehow he was able to push up, bracing his back against the top. He was hoping that he could raise the casket lid, if this was a casket.
But nothing budged. It was like trying to move a wall. Exhausted, Lee collapsed onto his side, trying to control his breathing. Every breath of air out was another breath of poison he’d end up breathing back in.
Lying in the dark, bound and gagged, Lee Crane admitted that he was afraid. He didn’t see how anybody would find him before his air ran out.
“I swear to you Harry, I don’t have the foggiest idea where those two have gotten to.”
Nelson continued to growl and grumble as Admiral Chester Radcliff, current director of ONI, denied any involvement in Lee and Chip’s apparent disappearance. “Are you sure? Don’t you have some minions there to do your dirty work? Maybe something came through that you don’t know about,” Nelson suggested.
Radcliff scowled at Nelson. “I will double check but honestly Harry, I haven’t called either of them out. You raised such hell the last time I borrowed your boy,” the director of ONI spat.
Nelson snarled back. “That’s because the last time you conscripted my ‘boy’—and his name is Lee, by the way—he ended up in Sickbay for a week with blood poisoning. My CMO was not pleased with your absolute utter lack of respect for human life. I take exception to you using my people.”
“Your people? He’s got a brand that says ‘property of Harriman Nelson’?”
Nelson perked up. Brand…Lee didn’t have a brand but he did have a tracker…
“Radcliff, you check your house and make sure someone hasn’t done something behind your back. I’ll let you know if they turn up,” Nelson said quickly, and before Radcliff could answer, Nelson cut the connection and stared at the blank video screen.
Nelson switched his focus, turning to his computer screen. With a few keystrokes he pulled up a program he’d only used once before and he wished he’d never have to use it again.
When Chip had surfaced after being lost for eight weeks, Nelson vowed that nothing like that would ever happen again. He had watched Lee sink further and further into a depression that stemmed not only from the loss of his closest friend, but from not having answers or a body for Chip’s family. The trackers were designed with just such an incident in mind.
Chip’s tracker had been activated and had been directly responsible for leading them to their exec after Chip had been kidnapped a few months ago. It had since burned out. The short life span was one of the drawbacks to the trackers—they burned out a few weeks after activation. Nelson hadn’t had the time to build any more of them so they could implant a new one into Chip.
However Lee’s tracker, implanted at the same time Chip has accepted his, had never been activated. Nelson had three profiles in the software, set up for the three trackers he’d made: Chip’s, Lee’s and his. Nelson entered the password for Lee’s profile but he waited, not activating that tracker just yet. He held back, thinking maybe he was just over-reacting His office door burst open and Angie darted in.
“Admiral…first off,” Angie began in a breathless rush. “Chief Sharkey personally checked Lee and Chip’s condos. He says it doesn’t look like Chip returned home last night. His SUV is gone, with no sign that it was ever parked. Lee’s house, well, he says it looks like Lee left in a hurry, either sometime in the night or early in the morning. His wallet and cellphone are gone, the bed is unmade and his car is also gone. Sharkey’s with security now. Both Lee and Chip have GPS in their cell phone and security is hoping to get a bounce off them.”
Nelson was nodding. “Very good. One day I’m going to have to live up to that promise of a raise. What about the software company?”
Angie frowned and let out a long sigh. “That’s a problem. The number on file from last night doesn’t connect to anything. It rings but no one picks up. Also there isn’t a record of any company by that name.”
Angie watched a look of horror invade Nelson’s craggy features. He brought both hands up and buried his face in his palms as his fingers raked through his auburn hair. “Dear God, what have I done? I should never have sent him out without double checking…” Nelson’s voice trailed off with a mixture of disbelief and shock.
Angie stood rooted to one spot. In her time as Nelson’s personal assistant she had seen nearly every facet of the admiral’s formidable personality but this wasn’t a side she saw often. It was heart-wrenching to see. It took a very physical effort on the admiral’s part to pull himself together and focus his attention on Angie.
“I want to know the minute security has a bounce off either GPS unit. And I want Sharkey up here, ASAP.”
Angie felt like curtsying, such was the admiral’s imperial manner, but she maintained her calm and nodded instead. “Yes sir, I’ll have Chief Sharkey up here immediately and I’ll notify you as soon as security has something.
And Angie was gone once more. Nelson got to his feet, unable to fight back the urge to pace. He’d sent Chip out to meet with a software designer on the assumption it was a legitimate business. The idea that it might have been a lure never crossed his mind. Chip handled all the contacts when it came to the software the institute used. Why should this have been any different?
Nelson shook his head in response to the silent question. Because Chip had been kidnapped once by a zealous, misguided mercenary who thought Morton knew the way to a mythical lost Mayan city. Because of what they had all seen and been through in the past.
And now Lee was missing as well. They had to be connected. They were brothers. Nelson saw the depression Lee sank into when they thought Chip was dead. Anybody who had the chance to observe them for any length of time knew that if your objective was to hurt one all you had to do was target the other.
But why? Was it a nemesis of Lee? Had Chip made an enemy he wasn’t aware of? Something connected to Chip’s being missing in Peru? Or was this a plot not aimed at Lee and Chip? Maybe the target was bigger. Maybe somebody was trying to send a message to Nelson.
The admiral shook his head, pausing by the window to look down into the quay below. He heard the quick knock on the door and without thinking ordered the visitor to enter.
“Admiral?” It was Sharkey, his voice hesitant and holding gallons of concern. He focused on his employer and friend, standing by the large windows that took up a good portion of that wall. The admiral slowly turned to face the chief and he recognized the look of a predator in the admiral’s sapphire blue eyes. This didn’t bode well for someone.
“Admiral.” Angie’s voice broke the silence as she entered behind Sharkey. “Security has a hit on both Lee and Chip’s cell phone. It looks like they’re in the same fifty foot radius. Chip has GPS in his SUV and they conform it’s in the location as the phones.”
Nelson nodded. He maybe he would have to activate the tracker, but not just yet. He’d wait and see if this lead panned out. The tracker was a last ditch effort, if all else failed. Meanwhile, he turned and faced the chief. “Francis,” the admiral began with a growl building deep in his chest, “you and I are going hunting.”
The very primal sensation of panic continued to eat at the edges of Chip Morton’s mind. Since waking up he’d slowly taken stock of his situation and it wasn’t good.
He’d awakened to find he was lying on his back. His hands were tied behind him and his knees and ankles were tied. He’d assumed he was in a box until his hands concluded that this wasn’t wood surrounding him. It was cold, very damp stone. Kicking at the foot of his enclosure produced nothing but a dull pounding sound.
He couldn’t yell for help either. Whoever had coldcocked him in the cemetery had tightly gagged him and what sounds he could make were mostly deep throaty grunts.
It was absolutely black. Not a flicker of light could be seen. Chip had to fight back the panic that threatened, bringing with it the horrific memories of being blinded by aliens. He forced himself to calm down, to think, to puzzle out why someone was doing this to him and what they might want. Was he being stowed away for the time being? Was someone coming back for him?
Did Marcus have friends? Had he passed on that he thought Chip knew where some mythical lost city was? Had they tracked him down, hoping to find a fortune in treasure?
How was anybody going to find him? When would they notice he was missing? Would it be too late when they did realize something was wrong? The small enclosure only contained so much breathable air. How much longer did he have before that air ran out?
Francis turned off onto a quiet road, lined with old trees and open fields along one side. The other side was bordered by a very old graveyard, old enough to look like it might date back to the 1800’s. He drove slowly as he and the admiral on his right scanned for the skipper and the exec’s cars. The admiral hadn’t spoken the whole way down here and Francis knew better than to try to talk to him. Nelson wasn’t in the mood for conversation, unless he was asking the questions.
“There! That’s Lee’s car!” Nelson abruptly sang out, pointing to the distinct form of Crane’s little red sports car, parked outside the gates of the old cemetery. The top was up and the windows were dark.
Sharkey pulled the car up and Nelson was out the door before it came to a complete start. Sharkey slammed the car into park and killed the engine then followed the admiral. Nelson had already tried the driver’s side door but it was locked. Sharkey tested the passenger’s side and found it locked as well. It was impossible to tell how long the car had been parked here. With the rain over the past few days, the roads were already wet last night. But Lee’s car was wet, suggesting that it had sat through at least one rain shower. Nelson stared at the closed trunk.
“Sharkey, I want the trunk open,” Nelson snapped. “Now.”
“Aye sir, one trunk, about to be opened.” Sharkey confirmed and ran back to his car for a crowbar. The skipper might not like what he was about to do but orders were orders. Sharkey inserted the flattened tip of the bar into the junction where the latch intersected with the body of the car and heaved. There was a pop and Sharkey threw the trunk open.
Both men were disappointed to find the trunk cavity empty. Nelson backed away, running his hands through his auburn hair with a million thoughts—none pleasant—running through his mind concerning what might have happened to Lee. “Sharkey, look for the exec’s truck.” Without bothering to wait for an answer, Nelson snatched his cell phone from his pocket. He dialed a number and waited. “Angie, patch me though to Howard.”
Howard Keating was the head of the institute’s surveillance specialist. Howard annoyed Chip to no end but there was no one outside of any government agency who knew surveillance better than Howard.
“Admiral Nelson, sir? Howard’s voice seemed to shake a bit over the phone. Nelson’s manner had always unnerved the man. He always expected to hear the Imperial March whenever Nelson entered the room.
“Howard I need an exact reading on those GPS signals. I want to know precisely where they are.”
“Ahh, yes sir, just a minute…Ah. Admiral, they are together, within a few feet as far as I can tell. I can activate Cmdr. Crane’s phone. Maybe you’ll hear it.”
Nelson waited and listened. He saw Sharkey out of the corner of his eye. “Chief, listen for a phone,” he ordered and he saw the other man nod.
There. Feint but distinct. It was the two-tone chirp of Lee’s cell phone. Nelson broke into a trot, following the sound inside the graveyard. Sharkey was also homing in on the sound and both men had a beat-up brown pick-up truck in their sights.
Sharkey launched himself over the side of the truck bed, expecting to find two bodies. Only there was nothing in the bed except a faded blue tarp, two old burlap bags, a coil of old rope and two cell phones. One was laying half under one of the burlap bags, the second continued to chirp from under the tarp. He picked them both up. “Admiral,” he called out to Nelson, holding up the two phones. “Looks sorta like somebody tossed ‘em here.”
Nelson was speechless. Where were Lee and Chip? This didn’t make sense. It was obvious now that something was seriously wrong and Lee and Chip were in trouble.
A voice that somehow touched a memory called out to Nelson. He spun around, noting that Sharkey had already drawn his weapon. The sound of footsteps preceded the figure of a man as he walked out from the shadows of a grove of trees. “Who are you?” Nelson asked.
“I asked you first. Have you lost something, Nelson? Or someone?”
“You’ve done something with my officers.” Nelson made it a statement, not a question. It was obvious that whoever this was he knew more than he was telling. A quick glance behind him proved that Sharkey still had a bead on the stranger.
“I can give him a third eye, you just say the word, Admiral,” Sharkey growled.
“Just a minute chief. I want to hear what he has to say,” Nelson replied slowly.
“Not much to say, Admiral. Turn about is fair play, don’t you think?”
“What the devil are you talking about?”
The man, his featured obscured by the shadows, tilted his head slightly to the right as he studied Nelson. “You might not remember me,” he concluded. “It’s been several months since we encountered one another. I know your Mr. Morton would remember me. Or maybe not. I don’t look quite the same as when he last saw me.”
The stranger walked into the sunlight, forsaking the safety of the shadows. Nelson could only stare. He’d never seen this man before and he’d certainly remember if he had.
Burn scars covered the side of the stranger’s face. One ear was gone and the left side of his eye drooped and was partially closed. His nose seemed untouched but the corner of his mouth seemed frozen into a scowl by scar tissue. The scars ran like melted wax down his face and neck, presumably to vanish under the man’s dark shirt. His dark eyes had a wild look about them and Nelson wondered if he was even sane. He held his left hand close to his body, bent at the elbow. The other hand was tucked into the pocket of his dark jacket. “I wasn’t always like this, Admiral,” he said, noticing Nelson’s stare. Thunder growled in the distance, in counterpoint to the man’s narrative.
“What…what happened to you?” Nelson asked quietly. Maybe somehow if he could keep this man talking, he could get to the bottom of this and find out what had happened to Lee and Chip.
“A fire. An explosion. After you put a torpedo in my ship and killed my sons.”
“What? What…what ship? There has to be a misunderstanding. I would never have…”
But the stranger interrupted. “The Crimson Reign. Remember it now?”
Nelson continued to stare. “The Crimson…we followed you after Chip was…was abducted,” Nelson stammered. “Corwin. You’re Dathan Corwin,” he added, remembering the captain’s name.
“I’m touched that you recall me.”
Nelson was still confused. “We searched, after Morton was rescued. There were no survivors…we didn’t find anyone…” he stammered, trying to get over the shock of what was happening. It was like that night was coming back to haunt them, all these months later.
“I found a life raft. I drifted on the current and was picked up by a Japanese whaler. They dropped me off in Columbia. I ended up in what passed for a hospital. Third world medicine can only cure so much,” the former freighter captain sneered, touching the scars on his face with a misshapened finger.
“Corwin, you’ve…you’re wrong. I didn’t attack your ship.” More thunder followed, louder now, backed by the appearance of a brisk breeze, thick with the scent of rain. Lightning flashed overhead, streaking through the darkening sky.
“Then you explain why my sons are dead!” Corwin exploded, yanking his hand out of his jacket and now holding a gun. Behind him, Nelson heard Sharkey spit out a foul string of profanity. Oddly Corwin wasn’t aiming the gun at anyone. He just held it barrel pointed down. “English told me you fired on my ship! My sons didn’t have a chance because of you!” Dathan continued to roar.
But Nelson wasn’t ready to give up. “Corwin, listen to what you’re saying! You were willing to return Morton back to us—that’s all we wanted. Why on earth would I want to fire on you, you were helping us!” Nelson declared, frantic to make this man see reason.
Corwin stared. “You fired on my ship. That’s the only explanation. English…he said…” Corwin trailed off, as if for the first time seeing things from a different point of view. English never wanted him to turn Morton back over to Nelson. He’d been furious. So could English have…
Nelson pounced, hoping to convince this man he had no part in the deaths of his sons. Nelson could see where this was going and he didn’t like the picture being painted. Not at all. “Corwin, why would I destroy your boat when you were going to give me what I asked? All I wanted was my exec returned to me. English…”
“English is who told me you fired on my ship,” Corwin whispered, his words caught in the wind and hardly audible to Nelson or Sharkey as another rumble of thunder growled overhead.
“Admiral,” the chief began but Nelson waved a hand in dismissal. “Hear him out, Chief,” he said. “Corwin, did you see us fire on you? Did you hear a torpedo hit your ship?” Corwin’s eyes had taken on that far off, thousand-mile stare. Nelson continued to talk, low and calm. “Corwin, I’m…I’m sorry about your sons.”
“My boys. I was teaching them the business you know. You know what that’s like, to be proud of your sons, to watch them grow and learn?” The wild look was back in Corwin’s eyes.
“Yes, I do know what that’s like,” Nelson answered and was totally unprepared for what happened next.
“What have I done?” Corwin asked, locking eyes with Nelson. He placed the muzzle of the gun under his chin and pulled the trigger.
The echo blasted through the cemetery, mingling with Nelson’s heart-wrenching cry of NO!’ and the angry drone of the approaching thunder. Balling his fists, the admiral lurched forward two steps only to feel Sharkey’s hands on his shoulders, holding him back. Nelson gapped as the lifeless body of Corwin tilted backward and landed on the soft, muddy ground.
“Admiral, no,” Sharkey said, pulling on Nelson to keep him away from the corpse.
Nelson felt everything in his soul freeze. It was like a solid block of ice sitting in his gut. Everything around him faded into a blur as he focused on the dead body lying on the ground in front of him. “Lee…” he whispered, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. “Chip…” His link to his boys was dead. As Nelson felt his stomach curdle with fear and terror, the rain began to fall.
Lee couldn’t slip his bonds. Whoever had knocked him out had the chance to bind him while he was unconscious and was able to work with his slack body and loose muscles. The knots were too tight for Lee to manipulate with his fingers.
It was getting harder to breath. Lee forced himself to take short shallow breaths. It was hard to control the rising panic. Buried alive—there was something primal about that fear, something deep. It was one of the oldest fears of mankind, ranking alongside being eaten alive.
Lee had experienced the latter. Twice. Well, the first time he’d purposely gone into the gullet of a whale, the second time he’d been swallowed by a mutant jelly fish. But he’d survived and lived to tell about it. This was different.
The air was getting foul. Lee tried to hold on to hope that he would be found but it was hard. The walls of his stone tomb seemed to close in on Lee as he tried to stay conscious.
Admiral…Lee couldn’t think of what he might want to say to the older man. He closed his eyes, trying to stay calm.
Trying to stay alive.
“We are wasting time,” Nelson growled, his voice reminiscent of the thunder that continued to rumble. The rain continued to fall and looking at the black overcast sky, it wasn’t going to let up anytime soon.
 Journey With Fear: Season Four-Vol.1 Disk 1-Side B (region 1)
 The Imperial March is the music most closely associated with Darth Vader, of Star Wars
 Jonah and the Whale: Season Two-Vol.1 Disk 1-Side A (region 1)
 No Escape from Death: Season 3-Vol.2 Disk 2-Side B (region 1)
Authors Note: When I dreamed up the Character of Helen Swan, I had in mind Mariska Hargitay, from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. She just felt like a match for the admiral. J