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.

 

 Grave Consequences

Sharon H.

~<<>>~

 

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.

 

“Angie.”

 

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[1]. 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[2] 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.

 

“Lose something?”

 

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[3], the second time he’d been swallowed by a mutant jelly fish[4]. 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.

 

The two people to whom Nelson was addressing tried to placate the irritated admiral. Detective Helen Swan and her partner Mick Geraghty had arrived, taken one look at the corpse, and called the coroner and crime scene personnel. While the investigators tried to make sense of the body while dealing with the pouring rain, the two detectives, Nelson, and Sharkey had moved to the only other enclosure in the vicinity: the granite mausoleum that stood under the stand of ancient oak trees, probably planted when the cemetery was first designed. The structure was huge, the main walkway through the building large though for four people to walk side by side and lined on both side by rows of crypts. Brass nameplates were screwed into the walls, listing the names and dates of those interred within. The mausoleum was an open ended structure with an entrance at both ends. Over the years, leaves and other debris had blown in and now lay in forgotten mounds against the mausoleum walls.

 

In the center of the structure a stairwell lead down into the lower levels of the mausoleum. The building was powered by electricity but several of the bulbs had burned out over the years and the stairwell was only about one-quarter lit, casting odd and frightening shadows as the stairwell descended.

 

“We just want to make sure we have everything straight, Admiral. Now, did you know this man?” Helen Swan asked. She was a petite lady, with short brown hair, pale blue eyes, and enough time on the force that most everyone at the station took her and her instincts seriously. Right now those instincts were screaming at her that this four-star admiral was about to become a four-star headache. Of all the people, she’d have to be the one to pull this assignment! To say that Nelson’s temper was explosive was being kind. There was always some kind of commotion going on down at that institute of his and it should have been no surprise that one day something had finally spilled out.

 

Looking back at the body under the tarp, it appeared as if that time was now. Helen shifted her attention back to the weary looking admiral. He didn’t look like he wanted to talk about whatever had happened, but Helen was determined that she wasn’t going to let this man’s reputation—or his rugged good looks—from keeping her from doing her job. “Admiral Nelson?” she prompted.

 

Nelson swung his head around to glance over to the second man, a dark-haired, bushy-eyebrowed fellow named Sharkey, who was being questioned by her partner. Taller than her by several inches, Mick Geraghty kept his head shaved cleaned and he looked more like a linebacker for the Chicago Bears than a detective. He didn’t look all that bright but after being his partner for nearly two years, Helen knew he used his looks as a cover. “Did you know this man?” Helen asked again.

 

“I didn’t know him personally, but I had dealings with him once,” Nelson snapped, clearly not wanting to divulge even that much. Helen sighed.

 

“Admiral, I don’t know what you’re trying to hide. If this man shot himself like you say he did…” Helen was interrupted by the very fast talking second man, Sharkey.

 

“Ma’am, this joker popped up out of nowhere and started spouting off about…”Sharkey paused, flicked his dark green eyes to his superior officer, and picked up the narrative after leaving a large chuck of information out. “Well, the next thing we knew, the guy yanks out a gun, sticks it under his chin and blows his brains out. That’s exactly what happened.”

 

“Yeah? Well, what happened between him running his mouth and him shooting himself?” Mick Geraghty asked. Sharkey clamped his jaws shut.

 

“It’s classified,” Nelson inserted grimly. “You have to understand, I’ve got two men missing and this man knew where they were. We’re wasting time. We need to be looking for my men!” Nelson’s voice shook with rage.

 

“And what men are you talking about?” Helen asked, even though she had a pretty good idea of who Nelson was referring to. Nelson’s two top officers were reported to have a certain…reputation. Chaos incarnate, the station commander had once commented. For the most part their antics were confined to institute property but on occasion something one or the other was involved with happened to pass someone’s desk only to mysteriously vanish.

 

Nelson took a deep breath. “My captain and executive officer. They’re missing. Neither reported to duty this morning. It’s out of character for them and this…this man, all but told me he’d done something with them. We found their cell phones. They have to be around here somewhere.” Nelson’s voice took on a near pleading tone as he explained.

 

Helen ran a hand over her eyes, trying hard not to bash her head against a wall. This was getting worse by the minute. One dead body, classified information, hard-headed admirals, now missing officers. What a way to start a day…

 

Victoria Monroe, the coroner for the district, was a young African-American woman who had been in her position for the last five years. Helen had worked with Vickie often and had a great deal of respect for her. Right now the coroner was patiently waiting for Helen’s attention. Growing tired of dancing around the subject with the legendary admiral, she faced Vickie. “Find something?”

 

“I’ll know more once I get him back to the lab, but so far it looks like their story pans out. One gunshot, below his chin, bullet exits out the top of his head, taking a good part of the cranium with it. Oh, and the crime scene people have something you should really see.”

 

“Mick?” Helen gestured to her partner. Mick nodded and darted out into the rain to see what the CSI’s had come up with. Victoria, with a nod to Helen, followed Mick. Meanwhile, Helen took advantage of her partner’s absence. “Admiral. It’s just us three. Now who was this guy and what did he want? We can help you but I have to know what we’re getting involved with first. Was this revenge of some type?”

 

Nelson jammed his fisted hands into his pockets. He looked like he was trying hard to stay in one place and not pace. Helen got the feeling that he didn’t handle inactivity well. Finally Nelson reached out and took Helen by the arm, pulling her gently farther from the crypt’s entrance. “This wasn’t made public. There was enough of a circus when the whole mess started.”

 

“If it’s in connection to this, I need to know,” Helen replied.

 

Nelson nodded. “It started with my executive officer, Cmdr. Morton. Ten months ago he vanished on a mission in Peru.”

 

“I recall that case,” Helen said tactfully.

 

“I couldn’t keep that out of the media. Anyhow, this started after he was found eight weeks later. There was a man, Marcus English, who thought Morton knew the way to some mythical lost city. Morton didn’t of course, there is no such place, but English was a, as my chief would say, a whack job. He kidnapped Morton when he was just starting to recover from what he’d been through.”

 

“So this man,” Helen jerked her head to the body outside, “is connected to that incident? This English guy?”

 

Nelson shook his head. “Not directly. Marcus hired a tramp freighter to take him and Morton to Peru. The freighter was owned by that man.” Nelson indicated the activity outside with a nod of his head. “He said his name was Dathan Corwin.”

 

“The dead man is Dathan Corwin?”

 

“Yes. I cut a deal with Corwin when we caught up with him. Give me my officer back as well as English, to stand trial for his actions and I wouldn’t turn him over to the authorities.”

 

“Accessory to kidnapping. Did Corwin agree?”

 

“He did. We were about to make the transfer when…something happened. His ship just exploded. I have no idea what it was. But apparently Corwin had two sons that where on that ship when it went down. Somehow he’s gotten the crazy idea that I fired on his ship. He blames me for the death of his sons.”

 

Helen took a step back, noting the ache and despair in Nelson’s intense sapphire blue eyes. Now she understood. Corwin was out for revenge. An eye for an eye. He’d done something with Nelson’s top officers in retribution for the death of his sons. “But why kill himself?”

 

Nelson shook his head “I…I don’t know. He just muttered ‘what have I done,’ and pulled the trigger. He’s done something with Lee and Chip. He wanted to make me suffer and the longer we stand here and debate, the less time they have!”

 

“Hel!” Mick’s shortened version of Helen’s name carried in from the outside. “You have to see this!” Mick pounded up to the crypt, carrying a wet burlap bag. “This was in the back of the truck.” Mick opened the top of the bag and Helen and Nelson both peaked inside.

 

The bag was stuffed full of scraps of material and bones. There was no doubt that the bones were human. A skull, minus the lower jaw, stared up at the admiral with blind eyes. Nelson choked back the bitter, sour taste of bile and ran a hand through his hair. His mind racing as he tried to understand what he was seeing. Bones. Why would he have a bag of human bones…unless they came from someplace…and he needed the room…

 

“There is a second bag out there, also filled with bones. Coroner says it’s probably two complete bodies,” Mick said.

 

Helen and Nelson stared at each other. “He needed room for your men. So he dumped the bones in a couple of bags,” Helen surmised.

 

Nelson spun on his heel. “Sharkey! Start a search of the tombs in this crypt! Lee and Chip are somewhere inside!” he barked and Sharkey turned a deathly white.

 

“Admiral, do you mean that nut job out there, he stuck the skipper and Mr. Morton on one of these tombs? Ah man, that’s just sick,” Sharkey said in a disbelieving, awed tone.

 

“Speculate on the dark side of human nature later. Start looking. Be on the lookout for any sign of a tomb that might have been opened recently.”

 

Sharkey and Nelson scrambled, Helen and Mick close behind. “Admiral we should split up,” Helen directed.

 

Nelson nodded. “Sharkey, go with Detective Geraghty. Take the lower levels, we’ll search up here. And call the doc, have him send an ambulance!” Nelson ordered as he and Swan headed deeper into the vault.

 

Sharkey and Geraghty stared at each other. Mick rubbed a hand over his shaved head and cast a grin to Sharkey. “Can’t say I’ve ever had to search a crypt before. How about you, Chief?”

 

Sharkey only growled as he headed down the stone steps into the lower levels of the mausoleum, his cell phone out as he dialed a number. “Detective, the stories I could tell you…”

 

~<<>>~

 

Chip didn’t notice the growing dampness at first. He was lying quietly, trying to keep his breathing slow and shallow and forcing himself to be calm. He’d already worked his wrists raw trying to undo the tight ropes that bound him. They weren’t coming undone.

 

His arms were sore beyond words, his back and shoulders ached, and his head was splitting. In the darkness it was impossible to tell how much time had passed. It was also cold. Cold as death was the phrase that kept going through his mind. He had to tell himself over and over again that he wasn’t going to die. He wasn’t going to die. Lee would miss him if he hadn’t already. Lee was his friend and his brother, he’d come looking for him. Nelson wouldn’t stand by. He’d learned that already. Nelson had mobilized Seaview’s crew to search for him once. He would do it again, Chip was certain.

 

What Chip mistook for simple dampness was growing worse. Feeling with his bound hands, he confirmed it. Water was seeping into the sarcophagus. It was just enough to begin soaking into his clothing but it was there.

 

Chip had the wild thought that maybe he could get the ropes around his wrists wet enough to stretch. He flattened his hands, trying to let the ropes soak up as much water as possible. The water was definitely rising. He could feel it slowly begin to creep up, covering his fingers, chilling his already cold body.

 

How much longer before the water filled the casket? If he wasn’t found soon, Chip would drown.

 

~<<>>~

 

Nelson’s attention to detail led him to examine every crypt for signs that they’d been opened. So far nothing looked like it had been disturbed in half a century or more. Desperation began to color Nelson’s outlook as he scanned the plate of one crypt after another. The screws would be disturbed. There would be scratch marks or something to indicate that the crypt had been violated.

 

“Admiral,” Helen began, her voice growing concerned that they weren’t finding anything. “We don’t know for sure that Corwin brought your men here.”

 

“They have to be here,” Nelson said, running his hands over the brass nameplates. The names of the dead began to run together. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. Two bags of bones. He was carting them off, not bringing them here…”Nelson trailed off as his cell phone went off. Clawing at his coat pocket, he fumbled for this phone. It was Angie.

 

“Angie, I’m in the middle of something right now,” he began.

 

“I know, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I thought you’d need to know this. I pulled the call logs from last night. The call Chip placed with that so-called software representative was recorded. The address he gave Chip to meet him is the address of the Seven Oaks Cemetery. He lured Chip out there.”

 

“And somehow he lured Lee. Maybe with Chip as bait,” Nelson finished. Helen was giving him a puzzled look, catching only half of the conversation. “Was there anything else in the call?”

 

“No. I’ve listened to the call a dozen times. He and Chip hash out some details, the guy says he’s about to leave for a trip overseas and but he really wants to talk to Chip, and Chip offers to meet him somewhere. The guy gave him an address and we ran it, coming up with that cemetery.

 

“The same address we tracked their cell phones to. It confirms that they should be here. Great work, Angie. If anything else come up, don’t hesitate to let me know.” Nelson signed off and addressed Helen. “That was my personal assistant. Chip was in contact with a software designer last night. I didn’t have the time to deal with him and Chip handles all of the software projects for the institute anyhow so I had him deal with it. Chip was supposed to meet him and was given an address.”

 

“This cemetery. This Corwin guy was clever.” Helen replied.

 

“Chip! Lee! If you can hear me, signal, something, anything. Let me know we’re close,” Nelson called out, his voice echoing throughout the crypt. He froze, listening and praying that they was conscious and could hear him, hopeful that they were able to make some kind of sound. The thought crossed his mind to have Angie activate Lee’s tracker but he wasn’t sure they would get a bounce off the signal, this deep inside a marble and granite mausoleum.

 

Thump.

 

Thump.

 

Nelson’s heart pounded in time to the barely audible thumping. “Lee? Chip? Once if you’re Lee. Twice if you’re Chip,” Nelson ordered.

 

At first there was silence. Nelson held his breath, afraid that what he had heard was a fluke, a trick of the settling stone of the mausoleum. Then very distinctly he heard a single thump.

 

Oh god…”Lee? One more time, lad.”

 

A single thump sounded in the mausoleum, but distinctly weaker than the first. “He’s running out of oxygen,” Nelson muttered and doubled his efforts, glancing at each name plate as he worked his way down the corridor while Helen took the other side. It was Helen who found it.

 

“Admiral,” she called out, kneeling on the ground. The name plate read ‘Unknown’, with the date of death. The screw tops were scratched and the nameplate looked as if it had been moved, the edges marred. In one corner of the plate, a clear  bloody thumb print was visible. Nelson sank down to his knees by Helen’s side. He pressed a hand against the plate, as if trying to bridge the gap between Lee and himself. “Lee? Son, can you hear me?”

 

~<<>>~

 

Nelson’s voice was muffled but it was the most glorious thing Lee had heard in a long time. With the air in the crypt growing fouler by the minute, Lee found the strength to kick at the foot of the stone casket one more time. He was getting weaker as his oxygen starved lungs labored for air.

 

He could hear clawing and scratching behind his head. In vain, he tried to twist his head, to hopefully catch a glimpse of some kind of light. Even in the blackness of his tomb, Lee could sense his vision graying out. Unable to stay conscious, Lee finally succumbed to the darkness.

 

~<<>>~

 

Helen had called the crime scene investigators and was lucky enough to learn that they carried a battery-powered drill as part of their gear. Nelson could hardly sit still as they waited for someone to bring it in.

 

Finally the sound of footsteps at a flat run sounded and a young man came barreling down the walkway. Nelson half expected him to slide into home, but instead he slowed and gave the power tool a toss. Nelson grabbed it out of midair and immediately set the bit into the screw. By some miracle, the bit and the screw matched. Nelson fired the tool up and the first screw popped out. He repeated the procedure with the next three screws and the faceplate dropped to the floor.

 

Lee Crane’s dark head was the first thing Nelson saw and he let out a near sobbing breath of relief, only Lee didn’t respond immediately.  Nelson grabbed him by his shoulders and heaved, pulling Crane’s lean frame out of the crypt. His body landed on the ground and Nelson spat out a series of foul curses, ignoring his female companion.  Blood stained the side of Lee’s head, crusted in his dark curly hair ad caking the inside of his ear. The first thing he did was rip the gag from Lee’s mouth. The young man gasped, coming around and sucking in air the second the cloth was free from his airway.

 

“Ad—admiral…” Lee stammered as he began to shake uncontrollably.

 

“Just calm down, lad,” Nelson urged, still holding the quaking younger man.  

 

Helen sat back and watched the oddest scene unfold. Now she understood why Corwin targeted this young man, why he was used against the admiral. Nelson unfolded his pocketknife and sliced through the ropes binding the man’s wrists, knees and ankles. With shaking hands, Lee reached up and tried to grab for the admiral’s shoulder but Nelson took one of Lee’s wrists instead. Lee’s wrists were raw and the edges of his long-sleeved denim shirt were stained with blood. Helen found herself holding her breath and only imagining what the admiral had been going through. This wasn’t just employer and employee. This was deeper. And Nelson was still missing an officer…

 

Lee continued to shake violently and uncontrollably. “It’s alright, Lee. Calm down. Corwin isn’t going to hurt anyone now,” Nelson said softly. His customary grumble was gone and his voice softened. Helen was reminded of her father and how he used to sooth her after a nightmare when she was a child.

 

“Ch—Chip. Where’s…where’s Chip?” Lee asked brokenly. 

 

“Easy, lad. Sharkey and another detective are looking for him. They’ll find him. We found you, didn’t you?” Nelson said reasonably.

 

Lee’s breathing was beginning to even out and though he still continued to tremble. Helen backed away discreetly and flipped open her cell, quietly calling for blankets and if possible, some hot coffee. Next she called Mick, hoping they’d found something. Mick answered before the phone finished ringing once.

 

“Yo, Hel,” Mick said.

 

“Mick, we found one of Nelson’s men. You having any luck?”

 

Mick sighed. “Hel, we’ve got a problem.” As Helen listened, all the color drained from her face. She was trying to focus on her partner’s report as Lee pulled himself to his feet.

 

“Son, just wait,” Nelson was saying but it was clear he knew he was fighting a losing battle. The same young man who had handed off the drill appeared with some blankets. Nelson thanked him and wrapped one around Lee’s shoulders.

 

Crane shivered again, his nerves close to giving out as the reality of what nearly happened began to sink in. Chip was suffering the same fate. He couldn’t just stand here and do nothing. “I have to help look for him,” Lee said, his fingers clutching the edges of the blanket tightly.

 

Helen didn’t think the young man was capable of taking a dozen steps much less assist in the search. But when she explained the problem, Lee tossed the blanket aside and broke for the stairwell. It was all Nelson and Helen could do to keep up, much less argue.

 

~<<>>~

 

Sharkey had gone through every curse word he knew. After being in the Navy as long as he had been, his vocabulary was vast. One in every three lights in the lower level of the mausoleum was out, leaving the basement in an eerie, almost unholy light. The problem came the second they reached the bottom step.

 

The water was already ankle deep and rising. The constant pouring rain over the past few days was finding fewer and fewer places to go and the old and decaying mausoleum had probably been leaking for years. A clear watermark on the walls, waist high, was mute testimony to past flooding episodes.

 

“Shark,” Mick began, “you think the crypts flood?”

 

Sharkey once again swore. “The hell if I know. If Mr. Morton is down here, I don’t want to take that chance. You check that side and I’ll take this.” Sharkey waded through the ankle-deep water, checking the nameplates for any sign of having been disturbed. There was nothing on any of the nameplates to suggest any of them had been tampered with. When Mick’s cell phone rang, Sharkey ignored him, focusing on finding the exec before the water got any higher.

 

They continued to search. Sharkey heard the soft thud of footsteps on the granite steps. He glanced up to see Nelson and the lady detective, along with a very wobbly and very pale Cmdr. Crane. “Skipper!” Sharkey exclaimed, casting a worried glance at the admiral. The man looked barely able to stand, why was he even here?

 

Nelson rolled his eyes, catching Sharkey’s unspoken question. “You know the skipper. He’s determined to help search for Chip.”

 

Lee plowed forward, pausing only briefly as he waded through the water. It was past his ankles now, halfway to his knees. The bottom crypts would be half full if they flooded. “Chip! Chip, give us a sign!” Lee yelled. He motioned for everyone to be still and listened. There was no other sound.

 

“Come on Chip! Damn it, answer me!” Lee yelled, pleading for a response.

 

Nelson added his two cents worth. “A sign, Mr. Morton, that’s an order!” he bellowed, throwing every ounce of authority he could muster into the command.

 

There was a very weak thump. That was all.

 

Lee took a stumbling step forward. “Chip? Please…” he called out, his voice taking on a hint of fear.

 

There was another feint thump. Lee staggered through the water as the others followed his lead, scanning the nameplates. Sharkey was the first to spot it: a scratched nameplate on the bottom level. The water was nearly covering the nameplate and the only part visible was the two top screws.

 

Nelson pressed forward and jammed the drill bit into the screw. With a whirr, the screw popped free and dropped with a plop into the water. Nelson switched to the second.

 

Lee was neatly dancing with impatience. Nelson popped the second screw out and began feeling around in the dark water. He started to drill, but the tool began to sputter and spit. Nelson swore, trying to urge a little more juice out of the power tool. The drill finally quit and Nelson tossed it aside. With his fingers, he began twisting the screw head, slowly pulling it free. Finally the screw popped loose and the faceplate landed with a splash into the water.

 

Chip was trying to rise his body up, desperate to keep his head above the flood. The crypt was nearly full and Chip’s air pocket had shrunk to just a few inches. Nelson grabbed Chip under his shoulders and heaved. Morton slid out of the crypt, soaking wet and shivering uncontrollably.

 

“Sharkey,” Nelson called out and the chief surged forward, grabbing Chip’s legs. Together they carried Morton up the stairwell. At the top of the upper floor they settled Morton on the ground. Lee dropped down by his friend’s side and ripped the gag free. Chip arched his back, coughing and gasping at the same time.

 

Nelson set to work with his pocket knife, slicing through the ropes. When he was free, Chip sat up, shaking and soaking wet. Lee shot to his feet and darted back for one of the blankets he’s dropped when he heard they were still looking for Chip. He came back to Chip and wrapped the blanket around his shoulders. Chip grabbed for one of Lee’s wrists and the two locked hands for a long moment.

 

Helen took the whole scene in. If Nelson and Crane seemed to be more father and son than employer and employee, then Crane and Morton were brothers, same mold, same blood even if they looked as opposite as day and night.

 

Chip lifted weary eyes to Lee. “Thanks,” he managed without stuttering.

 

“Don’t thank me,” Lee started with a grin. “I was stuck in a crypt.”

 

Chip’s eyes grew wide. “How? Who?” he asked.

 

Nelson dropped a hand on Chip’s shoulder. “Not right now, Chip. You’re soaking wet and need to get dry,” Nelson said and he shot a glance at Sharkey who tactfully backed away. Lee stayed quiet, following Nelson’s lead for the moment. Nelson didn’t want to tell Chip right away that their kidnapper was Corwin. They weren’t sure how he would react when he found out it was connected to his kidnapping months ago.

 

“Lee?” Chip glanced up at his friend, hoping for answers.

 

“Later, Chip. When you’re in better shape,” Lee promised.

 

Chip snapped his jaws shut. There would be no getting answers tonight. Glancing up, Chip saw a woman talking quietly to the admiral and he was nodded in agreement.

 

“Gentlemen, our ride is here. Sharkey, if you go back with the skipper and Mr. Morton, I can handle Detective Swan here.”

 

Chip let Lee help him to his feet. Rather unsteadily, Chip walked toward the front of the mausoleum, Lee guiding him by his elbow. “Detective Swan?” he asked, his voice raspy and rough.

 

Lee shrugged. “I have no idea,” he said. They came to the entrance of the mausoleum and they could see it was still pouring rain. Outside various police cars were parked, their lights casting red and blue shadows against the walls. Two ambulances were parked, one further out from the mausoleum, the second backed up to the entrance.

 

Lee blinked. It couldn’t be. The second ambulance looked like one of the two that serviced the Institute. The back door opened and a very familiar figure stepped out, wearing a hooded raincoat.

 

“Are you gentlemen ready for a little trip to Med Bay?” Will Jamieson asked.

 

His question was greeted by double groans. “Who called you?” they asked in unison.

 

Jamie grinned. An odd choking sound reverberated from behind them and Lee and Chip turned to find Sharkey wearing a very sheepish expression. “The admiral had me call the doc when we figured where Corwin had stashed you. He had me to, ah, send for an ambulance for transport back to Med Bay. Sirs.”

 

“If I’m stuck in Med Bay with you, I want a total explanation,” Chip hissed to Lee.

 

“Sounds like a good a place as any to explain,” Lee replied.

 

“We can discuss Sharkey’s duties for the next month,” Chip grumbled with a glare at the chief. Sharkey scrambled to get into the passenger’s seat, eager to put as much space as possible between him and his superior officers.

 

Will Jamieson aimed his best glare at the two. “Do you need an invitation?” he asked with a sidelong glance at the open ambulance doors.

 

Looking like two twelve-year olds, Chip and Lee literally dragged their feet and climbed into the ambulance. Jamie just shook his head. One of these days he’d figure out why these two hated Med Bay so much. In the meantime, he’d be content with getting them patched up and back in working order.

 

Not that it would matter. Something would come up and he’d have to do it all over again. Does it ever end?

 

~<<>>~

 

“Admiral, Det. Swan is here,” Angie’s clear voice said over the intercom.

 

Nelson raised an eyebrow. He wasn’t expecting to hear from the detective yet…he grinned as he told Angie to admit her to his office. A few moments later the Santa Barbara detective entered his office. He noticed details about her that he’d missed the first time he’d seen her. Considering the circumstances, she could have horns and a tail and he’d never have noticed.

 

“Det. Swan. To what do I owe this visit?” Nelson asked. She really was a lovely woman, very sure and comfortable with herself. She wasn’t intimated by him, Nelson could tell that much. Even better.

 

“Just stopping by. And please, call me Helen.  I thought you might be interested in the autopsy report on Corwin.”

 

Nelson moved around the desk. “I am. Very much so.”

 

“Brain tumor. It’s a safe bet to say that Corwin likely wasn’t totally in his right mind when he kidnapped your men.”

 

Nelson took a deep breath. “I just…assumed he wanted revenge. He blamed me for the deaths of his sons. I guess in a way, I am responsible.”

 

Helen frowned. “Admiral, the man had a brain tumor. The coroner said he was probably delusional. How on earth are you responsible?”

Nelson moved to stand in front of the windows. “Chip had been kidnapped before.”

 

“You told me that.”

 

“Marcus English was his name. He had some insane idea that Chip knew to location of a lost Incan city. Once we figured out what English had done with Chip, I ordered Seaview to set sail and we followed. I hounded that freighter until Corwin finally gave up. I can only assume that English did something to his ship because it exploded. Somehow Corwin survived and assumed that I’d fired on him. I…he had Chip and was willing to hand him back over to me, why would I fire on him?”

 

“Admiral, I told you. He wasn’t in his right mind. He was delusional and possible psychotic. You cannot predict what a man like that is likely to do,” Swan said

 

“Maybe if I had contacted him in the clear and told him we were following him? I don’t know.”

 

Helen watched this man she knew only by reputation. While she’d seen his temper earlier, she also saw a side that she hadn’t heard about, a caring fatherly side that demonstrated he was someone capable of deep emotions and even deeper relationships. He was someone who wore responsibility like a cloak, a heavy one that seemed to weigh on his shoulders. She walked toward him and took a chance, resting a hand on his shoulder. “If English was as deranged as you say he was, he’d have still done something unpredictable—maybe even going as far as to harm your officer, maybe even kill him. Desperate men do desperate things.”

 

Nelson turned, looking into the detective’s light blue eyes. The more he studied her the more he liked the lines if her face, strong yet undeniable feminine. Strength and character as well as obvious intelligence. A beautiful woman was one thing; beauty as well as intelligence was double gift indeed. “You may be right,” Nelson conceited.

 

“Well, I’m used to listening to my instincts. They don’t often lead me wrong. I also wanted to come by and see how your men were doing. Technically the case is closed but I hate leaving lose ends lying about.”

 

Nelson grinned. “Lee and Chip will probably be released from Med Bay today. Both have low grade concussions and it will be a few days before Dr. Jamieson will release them back to duty. But they’re fine, really.”

 

Helen nodded. “I’m glad to hear it. That had to be…horrific. Waking up in a tomb?” She shuddered involuntarily. 

 

Nelson let out a slow breath. “Comes with the territory, I’m afraid. Those two…I wonder if they’d have been so willing to sign on with me had they known what the future would hold for them.”

 

Helen saw her opening. Since actually meeting Admiral Harriman Nelson, she’d been unable to get him out of her head. Attraction? Maybe. Something about him was magnetic, almost. Helen couldn’t put her finger on it but in the last two days she’d been able to think about little else. Hence the main reason behind her visit here. She had more than loose ends of this case on her mind. “I actually think there isn’t anyone who wouldn’t follow you. You’re that kind of man.”

 

Nelson gave the woman a curious look. Was she hinting at something? With a crooked grin on his lips, Nelson dared ask a question. “And what sort of man do you believe me to be?”

 

Helen shot him a mischievous smile of her own. “I’m a detective, Admiral. I investigate mysteries. I think you would require an extensive investigation.”

 

Oh yes, she was doing more than hinting. Brave as well. Nelson didn’t see anything wrong with that actually. In fact he found that the more he thought about it, the more he liked that combination. “I am a rather busy man but I may be available this evening if you’d care to…investigate me further.”

 

Helen dug into the pocket of the gray jacket she was wearing. “My card. That’s my cell phone number.” She bodily tucked the card into the pocket of his khaki shirt. With one glance back at him, Helen took her leave.

 

Nelson pondered what had just happened. Was he making a mistake? He wasn’t sure. He didn’t like to think he made mistake…at least not often. He shook his head, mostly to try focus on the here and now. He wanted to check with Jamie concerning Lee and Chip and he had his own quiet investigation he was handling. ONI was looking into the incident, double checking to make sure that Corwin was acting alone. He didn’t want another surprise like the one they’d just recovered from. He might not be able to protect his boys from everything but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to try.  

 

 

 

 

End

Srh

 

LOC: appleon19@aol.com

 



[1] Journey With Fear: Season Four-Vol.1 Disk 1-Side B (region 1)

[2] The Imperial March is the music most closely associated with Darth Vader, of Star Wars

[3] Jonah and the Whale: Season Two-Vol.1 Disk 1-Side A (region 1)

[4] 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