This story picks up after the bet made by Lee with Chip in “Loopholes”
Seaview made port four days ago. Their orders were clear. There was no way they could sneak onto the Institute grounds; security put into place by Admiral Nelson made it risky. Their next best bet was to wait for their target to come to them. Eventually he would leave the safety of the Institute grounds. He couldn't stay behind the safety of the Institute gates forever. To that effect, the roads in and out of NIMR were being watched, day and night. They were waiting for a specific car. Once located, the driver of the car would be detained and the plans so long in the making could be put into motion.
The car in question was a classic 1968 red Shelby Cobra, owned by one Commander Lee B. Crane.
“I cannot believe I'm doing this,” groused Lee. It was a beautiful sunny California day, not a cloud in the sky, with a light breeze that tugged at Lee's dark curls. Crane was dressed in a pair of very worn and well-fitting jeans, a dark tee shirt with his feet shoved into a pair of once white canvas shoes. He wore no socks and his dark olive-toned shins peeked out from under the frayed hems of the jeans as he moved. In one hand Lee held a large soapy sponge, the other was bracing himself as he leaned over the hood of a dark green and gray Jeep Grand Cherokee. At his feet sat a large white bucket of suds.
“You set the terms, if I remember correctly. I won, fair and square. Time to pay up pal, you've wasted enough weekends,” Chip Morton said, arms crossed and standing a few feet away from Crane. “Just remember, the sooner you get that done, the sooner we can grill and watch 'Reptilicus'.1
Lee growled something less than polite under his breath, much to Chip's amusement, and scrubbed at a stubborn, crusty, dried, dead bug embedded on the hood. Chip held out one hand, snapped his fingers and cleared his throat. Loudly.
“What?” Lee asked, never taking his eyes off his work. He was hoping that Chip had forgotten about that part of the deal. He should have known better. In all the years Lee had known Chip, he had never known the man to forget anything.
“Keys. Unless you're Michael Knight and you drive a black Trans Am*, I need some keys,” replied Chip.
Lee continued to grumble, but dug around in the pocket of his jeans. He extracted a ring of keys and tossed them to the blond. Chip reached up and deftly caught the ring as it sailed toward him, nimbly plucking them out of the air. He began twirling the ring of keys around and around on the index finger of his right hand, tapping his chin with the other index finger. Lee was watching out of the corner of his eye.
“Do you walk and chew gum at the same time as well?” he challenged. Chip grinned.
“Just considering possible places to go.”
Lee stood up and glared at Chip. “If you need directions, I'd be happy to tell you where you can go.”
“Ha,” Chip snorted, “the way you navigate, I don't think so.”
“My navigation is just fine, I’ll have you know. If you're going somewhere, Mr. Morton, I suggest you get cracking, or this water hose just might incur a serious malfunction,” stated Lee as he hefted the hose in question and aimed it in Chip's direction.
Chip took two quick steps backwards, both hands upraised in surrender. “I'm going, I'm going. Oh, and don't forget, you have to detail the inside. Vents, the dash and the seats, oh and also the roof and the tires,” Chip reminded Lee, as he ducked to avoid a flying soapy sponge. The sponge landed with a wet splat just a few feet behind him. Chip did the only thing he could think of, faced with a damp, water hose welding submarine commander.
Bruno stifled his yawn and leaned back in the driver seat, eyes on the downhill turn. If there was ever a waste of time and money, this was certainly it. Of course, it shouldn't matter to him. He was getting paid by the hour to stare at the asphalt all day. It was Rika's money. If she wanted to cough up the dough to pay him and his team to watch every road in Southern California that was her business. He was just doing his job.
This car, she had said and handed over a color photo of a cherry red 1968 Cobra, a sweet ride Bruno had seen before but had never had the chance to actually drive. The car would fetch a pretty good price on the overseas market. He might actually gut the thing and sell it off, piece by piece on Ebay. He could make twice as much piecing the thing out than he could for the whole car.
Bruno was still musing when a red streak blew by him and Bruno snatched at the walkie. Four days of waiting was about to pay off.
“Rika, he’s just left the Institute. You want us to follow him? Of course. We are only to detain him. Understood. Don't worry, my people know what we're doing. You're paying for the best.”
With that, the Bruno signaled to a second car, in a cloud of smoke and gravel, peeled out after the receding Cobra.
Chip was in trouble and he knew it. His route from town back to the Institute included a nasty, curvy stretch of uphill road. As Chip accelerated to take the upcoming hill, he glanced into the rear view to see two cars rapidly gaining on him. Instinct told him these two weren't out for a weekend drive. Chip tried to focus on the road. This was not the best place for a high-speed chase. There were too many hairpin curves and too many places where the shoulder dropped off into nothing.
Chip gunned the engine as hard as he dared, only to hit the brakes just as hard as he cleared the crest of the hill. A faded brown van and a wrecker were blocking the road. Chip gripped the wheel and pulled a hard left, the Cobra responded by doing a complete 90-degree turn. Chip found himself facing the direction he had come and facing the two cars. The doors were opening and he was saw four men with guns drawn moving in on him. One of them was a beefy, brawny individual with a blond buzz cut and cold, almost gray eyes.
“Out,” he said simply, motioning with the barrel of the gun. Chip did as he was told, seeing no other alternative.
The young officer found himself surrounded. He was out-numbered and out-gunned. Chip watched as she appeared from around the front of the van. As the woman glided toward him, Chip was reminded of a snake, gliding through the grass. He swallowed nervously, his blue eyes flickering as he calculated the possibilities of escape.
The woman had long dark hair, black, with almost blue highlights. Her skin was pale, as if she never walked in the sun. Considering all the time he spent on Seaview, even Chip managed a light tan. She had dark brown, almost black eyes. She wore red; a red dress, a red scarf wrapped around her long neck, and red lipstick. Red stiletto heels shoes clicked against the pavement as she walk toward, then slowly circled Morton. Even her fingernails were painted red, the color of blood, like blood from fresh wound spilling across pristine white snow.
“This is not Commander Crane. Crane is not so broad in the shoulders, so deep chested, nor is he so, how shall I say, Nordic looking? Who is he?” She ran her finger down the line of Morton's chest, directing her question to the man with the buzz. He only shrugged, still keeping his pistol trained on the officer.
“You ordered us to watch for this car. That's what we did. He was driving. Did you want the car or the driver, lady? Make up your mind,” Buzz drawled, never taking his eyes-or his aim-off of Chip.
She smiled ever so slightly. “So I did. I'll overlook it this once.” She looked up into Chip's blue eyes, drawing her fingernail over the skin and muscles of his right arm, over his bicep, across his shoulder and over his collarbone. Chip worked to repress his shudder of revulsion. Finally, she drew her nail over the neckline of his shirt, just under the collar, and fished out the long sliver ball chain that bore his dog tags. She studied the stamped metal chips for a moment. A slow smile crossed her lips.
She recognizes my name. That can't be good. Chip thought. With one finger she pulled out the collar of his shirt ever so much and dropped the tags back down under his shirt. They dropped with a light clink against his chest.
“Lieutenant Commander Charles Morton. Seaview's Executive Office. Lee Crane's best friend. Nelson's Nerd, one of Harriman's Golden Boys,” she said with a sneer. She tilted her head slightly, as if appraising Morton. “Little more golden, little less boy, I should think. I understand your friends call you Chip?”
“My friends do, yes.”
“Very clever. Such a sharp mind. It's a pleasure to finally meet you. I've heard so much about you. ”
“You seem to have me at a disadvantage. Miss . . .?”
“You can call me Rika,” she purred as she circled Chip once more, drawing the point of her nail across the line of his shoulder blades on his back. Chip never moved, keeping his gaze fixed on a point in front of him. Rika was beginning to unnerve him and he wasn't about to show it.
“What do you want with Lee Crane?” Chip asked. If he kept her talking, maybe he could stall for time. Something. Anything. He waited. For a long moment it looked like Rika wasn't going to answer him. The California sun beat down, hot and unforgiving. Finally she spoke.
“Commander Crane has some very specialized information my country needs. My intentions were to detain the good man and persuade him to share this knowledge with my superiors. His presence is also required, as we have a request of the esteemed Admiral Nelson. Crane's presence would ensure Nelson's cooperation. Unfortunately, the trap we set to catch a shark netted us a barracuda instead.”
“Lady, Crane would never tell you anything,” Chip replied, disgust dripping from his words.
“Crane's devotion to his friends is legendary. I wonder what he's going to think when we tell him we have his best friend. I'm sure he would go to any length to ensure your safe return,” she said sweetly.
“I wouldn't bet on it. You don't know Crane.”
“We shall see. Escort Mr. Morton to the van. Secure the car.”
Chip was seized by his arms and he struggled in the grip of two gunmen, not about to go down without a fight. He got a couple of punches in, but he was overpowered, and took a punch to the jaw that sent him reeling. He collapsed to the ground, dazed. Chip was then yanked to his feet and shoved toward to the back of the van. Chip still wasn't willing to give up. He swept one foot out and knocked one of his assailants off his feet. The other gunman growled something at the blond and roughly threw him into the back of the open van. Chip landed hard on his back, the breath knock out of him. The guard climbed up into the van and kicked Chip in the side with one foot. Morton gasped and rolled, the guard not letting up as he continued to kick at Chip's unprotected back and sides. Finally he stopped and Chip groaned and rolled over, drawing his legs up against his body, trying to fend against the pain.
“Have a nice trip, blondie,” snarled the remaining gunman. With a slam, the van doors were shut, leaving Morton alone in the darkness. Chip closed his eyes, aching and wondering how he was going to get out of this mess.
Rika watched as the van doors were slammed closed and locked. Other than this slight mix up, everything was going according to plan. Morton was a bonus she'd been contracted to retrieve at a later date. It was sheer luck on her part that he practically walked into the trap she had so carefully planned for Crane. No matter. She could use Morton to bring Crane out in the open.
Rika motioned for Bruno's attention. The buzz cut blond made his way from the wrecker where they were overseeing the Cobra's loading. “Excellent. You mercenaries might be useful to my country after all. Notify me of any changes. Let’s take Mr. Morton to the warehouse and make him uncomfortable, shall we?”
Chip pushed past the pain and sat up as the van jerked, throwing him against the sides. He sat up, bracing himself in the corner. He hurt but he'd taken worse beatings before and right now nothing seemed broken. Morton scanned the area for anything he could use as a weapon. He had absolutely nothing. The van hold was bare of anything useful. Chip had nothing on his person. The keys had been left in the Cobra. All he had left were his wallet and cell phone.
Cell phone. Chip yanked the phone from his pocket, only to have the bottom drop out of his stomach again. No bars. The surrounding hills, maybe even the van walls themselves had to be blocking the signal. Chip stared at the bars on the screen, willing them to shoot up. Somehow he had to warn Lee this was a trap, a trap with himself as the bait. Chip prayed he could get enough reception before they got to where they were taking him. He had to warn Lee not to try anything without serious back up. Chip concentrated on the bars, but they refused to budge.
Lee glanced at his watch one more time and shifted his gaze to the empty driveway. It had been six hours since Chip peeled out of Lee's driveway in the Cobra. He had expected Morton to call at some point, to at least let him know he was on his way back. They were still planning on grilling. Everything was ready, burgers on the plate in the fridge, ready for the grill. The movie was waiting in the DVD player. All that was missing was Chip.
Lee glanced again at his watch. Where was he? Lee pulled back from the bay windows of his condo, and walked across the living room, unlocking the keypad of his cell. He dialed Chip’s number and waited. The phone rang and rang, then rolled over to voice mail. Lee jammed the phone back in pocket, deep in thought.
Lee walked out on the deck, leaning against the banister to look out over the sea, but the view was wasted on Crane. Lee wasn't seeing the waves or the sea he was so drawn to. Concern and worry ate at him. His instincts, fined tuned by countless missions, were screaming something was horribly, terribly wrong. He couldn't prove anything; there was no hard proof. If something had happened to Chip . . .Lee pushed the thought out of his head. Was he worried about Chip or worried about his car? That was a stupid question and Lee felt bad for even thinking it. His car was material, replaceable. Chip was his best friend, his blood brother, one of a kind. The thought that something had happened to him was inconceivable. There had to be a reasonable explanation for why Morton hadn't come back yet.
Lee leaned against the banister, considering his next move. If something had happened to his best friend, he could never forgive himself. Pulling out the keys to Chip's Jeep, Lee bounced off the deck and headed for the SUV. Maybe if he drove around, he'd spot Chip and at least know something had not happened to him.
It had started with one simple statement.
Rika walked a slow circle around Chip Morton, the heels of her red stiletto shoes making tiny taps against the concrete. “Let’s talk about Seaview's missiles, shall we?”
The blond man swallowed hard. “Let's not.”
Chip sat with his arms pulled behind him and tied to the slats of the chair’s back. He lifted his head up, blood welling up from a cut on his lip. His right eye was also starting to swell up. As he answered Rika's question, Chip straightened, hands clenching and unclenching, pulling against the ropes holding him.
Rika leaned close to Chip, placing the palm of her right hand flat against his chest. Ever so lightly she pulled back her fingers, like the claws of a large cat, digging the nails of her fingers into the fabric of his gray tee shirt, just prickling against his skin. “I don't like men who try to outsmart me, Mr. Morton. I'm going to enjoy breaking you,” she whispered, drawing her hand back and snapping her fingers twice in rapid succession.
What followed was a repeat of the last half hour, where Rika would ask the same question over and over again, while Chip danced around the subject of Seaview's weaponry. Each denial earned Chip an introduction with a fist as Rika tried to have the answers beaten out of him. But Chip refused to give. For an hour she kept this up, while Chip prayed he could hold out against whatever she might try.
“I’m growing tired of these games, Commander,” Rika said, perched on the edge of a bare wooden desk, her long legs draped over the edge. Chip eyed his wallet and cell phone lying on the desk next to Rika. If he didn’t get back soon, Lee would start to worry and he’d call. The last thing he needed was for that phone to ring and Lee's name and number to pop up. Worse yet, for Rika to answer the call.
“What game is that? The one where your goons beat the daylights out of me while I tell you to go to hell a dozen ways?” Morton replied, his voice dripping with disgust.
"Commander, you know, at some point I’m going to get tired of watching my men, as you say, ‘beat the daylights out of you’. I’ll have to start using other methods of persuasion.”
Chip felt his stomach flip and he tried not to show just how scared he was. This Rika chick was turning out to be a psychotic, twisted individual. Chip realized some time ago that there was really no telling what she was capable of. He glanced to his right at the guard she was having do her dirty work, the blond buzz he'd meet earlier.
“I don’t think he likes you, Bruno.” Rika said.
Bruno snorted as if amused. Chip glared up at his tormentor. “What are you? Representative of Hired Thugs Local 189?” he remarked, earning another punch. One of these days he was really going to have to work on thinking before speaking. Morton swallowed again and tasted blood. “What did you have in mind?” Chip asked in response to Rika's implied threat.
The woman slid off the desktop and from somewhere—Chip missed where it came from—Rika pulled a long, slim dagger, thin as a pencil and wickedly sharp. The light danced off the edge of the blade, looking sharp enough to cut through the very air itself. “I have a number of ideas in mind. Some I’ve tried before, some I’ve been holding onto for the right time.”
Rika rested the point of the dagger on the hollow of Chip’s throat. It rose and fell in time with each breath Morton took. No pressure, just the pointed tip resting on his skin. Reflexively, Chip held his breath. He refused to show his fear. This woman would not intimate him. He had faced mutants, aliens, seen his best friend and boss both possessed by ghosts. He's been shot at, nearly drowned, and tossed around by Seaview during one of her famous rock and rolls, not to mention possessed by a pirate. He wasn't going to let this deranged woman shake him. He continued to twist at the ropes around his wrists, meeting Rika's gaze calmly. Looking into her eyes was like looking into dark, unreflective obsidian. Chip took another punch that snapped his head hard to the right. He came up slowly, a new cut decorating his upper lip now. He turned to meet the gray gaze of Bruno, who smirked down at him. “I get loose, you’re a dead man,” Chip growled to the brawny mercenary Rika had doing her dirty work.
“Then we’ll just have to see to it you don’t get loose. All you have to do is tell me what kind of missiles Seaview carries. I know she is equipped to carry sixteen. How many of those are nuclear? How many are experimental?” Rika crooned, drawing the knife away and using it to clean the dirt out from under her long, blood red fingernails.
“Not information I'm inclined to share,” Chip said slowly. He wasn't about to reveal Seaview's weapon capabilities. He would not betray Admiral Nelson or his country.
“Tell me about her weapons compliment, Mr. Morton. What about the laser? What's the range? What kind of damage is it capable of inflicting? You can tell me, because I assure you, Commander, I have superiors who have broken better men than you. You don't want to meet them.” Rika nodded slightly, and her hired help struck out again.
Chip came up spitting blood and curses. “Go to hell,” he said, seething. If he could keep stalling, if he could hold out a little longer . . .
“Commander Morton, Chip, if I may...”
“You may not.”
“Commander, if you would just give me the tiny little bit of information I'm asking for, all this unpleasantness can be avoided. Or are you waiting for your gallant captain or perhaps your precious admiral to affect a last minute rescue? Nelson will do whatever we ask, just to see his people returned marginally safe and somewhat sound.” Rika reached out with one finger and lifted Morton's chin. Chip jerked, pulled his head away from her touch. Rika smiled. He met her dark eyed stare, a stare that was as cold as ice.
Morton managed not to shudder. “I told you before, you don't know Crane, and I'll tell you now, you don't know Nelson. They would never put personal convictions over national security.” Chip said, earning another punch. He flexed the muscles of his arms, pulling against the ropes. Rika smiled. Chip felt his blood turn to ice water and shiver ran down his spine.
“We shall see, commander. We shall see. I'll have you singing a new tune soon, then we'll see how Captain Crane reacts when we tell him we have his best friend.”
Lee parked the Jeep at the end of the parking lot and sighed. He’d been all over town, and hit Chip’s normal spots, but so far he had seen nothing. No sign of his friend or the Cobra anywhere. Lee reached into the seat next to him and picked up the cell phone one more time. He dialed Chip’s number and waited. This time there was a pick up, but the voice on the other end was not the familiar, deeper voice of his friend.
“Commander Crane, I presume?” purred an amused female tenor.
“Who is this? Crane demanded.
“Why, I’m the one who has your Commander Morton under wraps, as it were,” came the answer. Lee clenched his free hand around the steering wheel, as the realization of what must have happened hit him like a board to the back of the head.
“Do you want him, or is it me you’re after?” Crane growled. The answering giggle inflamed him with rage.
“Very good, Capitan. You and Commander Morton are quite a pair, I must say.”
“Let’s just cut to the chase. What do you want?”
“Mmmm yes, I like a man who’s direct and to the point. I would just kill for the chance sit down face to face and discuss my wants with you. Why don’t you come down here and meet with me, one-on-one?”
“LEE! DON”T LISTEN! LEE, IT’S A . . .” Chip voice cut through the air and was suddenly silenced. Lee felt himself rising out of his seat before he remembered he was setting in a Jeep.
“Leave him alone! What have you done with Morton?” Lee shouted, barely resisting the urge to put his fist through something solid.
“Merely silenced him for the moment, captain,” came the answer. Crane was seething with rage. “I suggest you meet with me at the wharf front warehouse. You can find it. I have faith in you. I give you an hour. Mr. Morton isn’t looking too good right now; I fear any further delays on your part would not be healthy for him. I don’t have to tell you to come alone.”
“Wait!” Lee cried out but the line was empty. The voice had hung up. Lee stared at the phone and almost called back but at the risk of further harm to Chip he held back.
I don't have to remind you to come alone. That's what she said. She didn't say anything about not contacting anyone else. With that thought, Lee keyed in another familiar number and waited.
Rika sat the phone down, a tiny smirk playing across her lips. She looked up at Chip, still tied to the chair. Bruno hovered over him, a roll of duct tape still in his hands.
Chip Morton glared at her, the hatred turning his eyes into two points of blue flame. He would have liked to tell Rika what he thought of her, but the strip of silver tape across his mouth kept him silent. He continued to glare at her, a cold, hard stare that had sent the most hardened of Seaview's crewmen running for their lives. Even Bruno took a step back. Rika continued to smirk at him. Chip twisted his raw and bloody wrists, wistfully hoping to get free so he could wrap his fingers around her neck. She slid off the desk and glided past Morton, sliding her hands along his arm and shoulders as she went.
Her plan was working out better than she had anticipated. Once she had broken Morton, she would have the secrets to all of Seaview's weapon systems. She had no doubt that she could break the officer. She just needed a little time. Once she had Crane, it would be no small task to use one against the other. Morton was stubborn, stubborn than most men she had dealt with. No matter. How long would he last when forced to watch as Bruno worked his magic on Crane? When Crane was pleading for release, how long would Morton stay silent? Same thing for the courageous Captain Crane. He was well known for his attempts at withholding information. Attempts to break him had met with failure time and time again. But this time she had edge. Morton. If the stories were true and the two were as close friends as she had been told, Crane would tell her anything she wanted to save the life of his friend.
“You’ll soon have some company, Commander. Just think of the fun we’ll have once Captain Crane joins us,” she giggled as she walked away. Bruno followed. Chip dropped his head to his chest, praying Lee wouldn’t try anything overly heroic. The footsteps faded, and Chip closed his eyes, doing his best to fight back against the encroaching sense of helplessness.
Harriman Nelson's reputation as a workaholic was well known among the staff of NIMR. It wasn't uncommon to find him in his office at any time of the day or night, any day of the week. On a Saturday afternoon when most everyone else was spending time at home with family or friends, Admiral Nelson was in his office, sorting through a pile of reports and e-mail box full of messages. In the middle of a report about the Seaview’s latest wiring update, Harry's cell phone buzzed, nearly vibrating off the edge of the desk. Harry slapped at the noisy object in his hurry to catch it before it hit the floor. He recognized Lee's number on the caller ID, and with a slight twist to his lips, Harry answered the phone.
Harry's eye grew wide as Lee's frantic voice cut through the receiver.
“Lee, slow down, you're not making any sense. Who has Chip? How did this come about?” Nelson asked, rubbing his temple with the fingers of one hand. This was supposed to be Crane's day off. The last thing he expected was a phone call from Seaview's skipper with some story about Chip being kidnapped. Lee was babbling like a fourteen year old. He heard Crane take a long deep breath and then he launched into slower explanation of the day's events.
“Chip was driving my car and was late coming back. I was getting worried about him so I drove around in town, checking his local haunts to see if he was okay. I just felt like something had happened to him. Anyway, I tried calling him on his cell, but it kept rolling over to voice mail. Finally someone picked up. A woman. She said she had Chip, and she's willing to trade him for me. They got him by mistake, it's the only explanation.”
“Lee, give this some thought. You can't just blinding go running in after him. Let me organize some back up and we can get Chip out of there in one piece,” Nelson said, trying to reason with Crane.
“Admiral, I don't know what they've already done to him. I don't know what kind of shape he's in. I don't have time to wait and gather a backup plan. I've only got an hour to find this warehouse.”
“Then let me gather some men together and I'll follow you in. Don't do anything until we get there. Lee? Lee, are you listening to me, Lee? Crane, answer me!” Nelson paced the length of his office, the late evening sun beginning to cast a red glow through the front window, like the glow of a wildfire. For a second, a feeling of dread came over Nelson, watching the glow of the setting sun fade from the carpet, then he pulled his attention back to the issue at hand. Minutes passed and there was no sound from the other side of the receiver and Nelson thought Crane had hung up. The Lee's voice sang through the air.
“Admiral, I found it! The old Sheldon warehouse, it's been empty since Sheldon Shipping was bought out last fall. I see the Cobra. This has to be where they're keeping Chip. I'm going to take a quick look around. I'll report back if I see anything.” With that, the connection went dead, leaving Nelson with an empty line and some nasty thoughts. His mind spinning in a dozen directions, his fingers were already dancing over the numbers on the phone. With both Lee and Chip out of the picture, there was one other person that Nelson trusted and was close enough to be of help.
It took a few minutes for the line to pick up. Nelson grinned as the familiar Coney Island accent answered the phone.
“Chief, it's Nelson. I need a favor.”
“What part of ‘it’s a trap’, don't you understand?” Chip asked sourly as Lee was dumped in a chair and his hands bound to the back slats. Bruno just grinned as he pulled the knots tight, making Lee wince as the ropes bit into his wrists.
“Since when do I take orders from you? I had the bright idea I might rescue you,” Lee said, already working the knots with his fingers. They weren't very cooperative knots and they refused to budge.
“Nice plan. Pretend to be captured and we sneak out when they're not looking. I must say you've had better plans. I don't suppose anyone knows you're here?”
“How did you end up here and what the hell do they want?” Lee spat, neatly sidestepping Chip's question.
Chip had let his head drop to his chest. He ached like nobody's business. His head hurt, and his wrists were raw and bloody. His back and shoulders ached from sitting with his arms behind him for so long and his legs were numb from sitting in the same position. His mouth still tingled from when Bruno ripped the tape off. He brought his head up slowly and focused on Crane. Lee wasn’t looking too good himself, his left eye and along his jaw line was beginning to blossom into terrific color, no doubt due to the confrontation with Bruno.
“They were after you. They were watching for your car and got me by mistake. They used me as bait to bring you in. She keeps asking about Seaview's weapons, what kinds of missiles she carries and the laser,” Chip explained in a voice barely above a whisper. Bruno had wondered off, but Chip didn’t want to take the chance that he might be overheard. “She keeps asking what I know. Each time I don't answer her, Bruno gets to pound on me some more.”
Lee turned sharply to look over at his friend, a stricken look in his golden eyes. “Chip, I’m sorry . . .”
“Lee, don’t. It’s not your fault. If I hadn’t made that stupid bet, none of this would be happening. We just need to figure out how to get out this mess.”
The sound of high heels clicking against the concrete made both men turn. Lee noticed the slump of Chip's shoulder, the quick rise of his chest. Chip Morton was not a man easily cowed, but something about this situation had him unnerved, that much Lee could tell.
“So kind of you to join us, Captain Crane. I must say, bringing you in was easier than I thought. Oh, dear. . .” she reached out with one long red tipped finger and touched the side of his jaw, tilting his head to look at the bruise there better. Crane jerked his head away from her touch.
“I see Bruno was a little rough with you. You’ll have to overlook him, he’s a bit over enthusiastic as I’m sure Commander Morton here can tell you.” Rika had glanced over to Chip, but Morton did not meet her gaze, instead retreating behind an emotionless mask and ignoring her.
Rika turned her gaze back to Crane. Lee stared up at her, his jade and amber eyes fill with hatred. This woman was threatening the people he was sworn to protect, and had already hurt his best friend. He would not stand for much more.
“You have some information my country needs to become a power to be reckoned with in this world. All you have to do is hand over that little bit of information and we can dispense with the un-pleasantries. Your friend Chip can testify that Bruno is not a gentle man.”
“I don't have anything to tell you. Nothing you do to me is going to change that,” Lee said defiantly, meeting Rika’s gaze. It was her slow smile that sent chills up his spine. That and the way she looked at Chip.
“No, Captain, you have been trained to reach beyond pain and rise above it. Past attempts to break you have met with failure. Such gracious circumstances have placed in my hands the perfect tool for getting what we want out of you.” Rika sashayed over to Chip, drawing her hand along the top of his broad shoulders. Unable to pull away, Chip was forced to endure her touch. Lee watched with apprehensive eyes, wondering just what she was planning. It didn’t bode well for Chip, he knew that much.
“Your friend here has already been through quite enough. It would be a pity to put him through such an unnecessary ordeal when it could so easily be avoided. We only need a few names. The names of your ONI contacts in a few select countries, say the areas held under the flag of the Peoples Republic. That’s all.”
“Lee, don't,” Chip warned. Rika responded by digging the nails of her fingers into the junction between Chip's neck and shoulder. Chip closed his eyes against the piercing pain, trivial compared to what he had already been through.
“I’m not giving you any names, for anyone in any country, select or otherwise,” Crane spat, jerking at the knots, desperate to get free.
“Now Captain, don’t be too hasty. Tell you what. I’ll leave you alone for a little while to think about it. Bruno, you and Carl take Mr. Morton here for a little walk.”
Lee surged against the ropes holding him down, fury blazing in his eyes. “NO! You leave him out of this!” Crane yelled, frantic. Rika took two steps back, smiling.
There was nothing Lee could do as Chip’s bonds were cut, freeing him from the chair. His hand were retied in front of him and despite his struggles, the blond officer was literally dragged away, leaving Lee alone with Rika. Rika moved toward Lee, pulling the same move on him as she had with Chip, drawing her hand over the bicep of his right arm, and over his muscular shoulders. Like Chip, Lee was forced to submit to her touch.
“Think about it Crane. Think about what I could have Bruno to your very good friend. ” With that, Rika turned on her heel, her laughter taunting Lee as she walked away, leaving him alone in the dimly lit warehouse. Lee prayed the Admiral had followed his lead and was coming with back up. Soon.
Chip found himself thrown hard against the side of a large dock crane, as Bruno pulled back and punched him in the gut. Morton gasped and bent over, trying to catch his breath. The thug named Carl grabbed Morton's bound wrists and hooked them over the dangling hook of the crane then climbed up inside the cab. With a roar, the crane rumbled to life and Carl worked the switched, bringing up the slack in the thick cable. Chip felt his arms pulled upwards until he was standing just on his toes, helpless with nothing to brace himself with.
“Rika asked you a question. You haven't been very polite to her, not answering and all,” Bruno taunted, drawing back for another punch. With his feet untied, Chip was ready. He brought both feet up and kicked out, catching Bruno in the chest. The thug was knocked off his feet, and he dropped to the dock, holding his chest and glaring at the blond man.
Chip wasted no time. He grabbed the cable with both hands and pulled, the muscles of his arms straining to lift the full weight of his body up, lifting his bound hands away from the hook. The steel cable cut into the palms of his hand, and Chip had an idea. He rubbed one wrist against the rough steel, feeling the rope fray with each pass. With a quick snap, Chip felt the ropes give way and he dropped to the dock. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Carl jump out of the cab, holding a three-foot section of steel pipe. Bruno was getting to his feet also advancing on the blond officer.
“I'll teach you a lesson, pretty boy,” he snarled and pulled a small folding knife from his pocket. Chip backed up against the crane, eye darting from Carl to Bruno. Two armed men against one slightly battered unarmed man. Who said life wasn't interesting?
There was a loud POP and Bruno stopped dead in his tracks. Chip watched in fascination as the hired thug slowly toppled forward to fall flat on his face, a red stain spreading on the fabric of his shirt.
Carl whirled around as another POP ran out, sending up shards of concrete as the bullet glanced off the dock. Carl didn't stick around, turning and running.
He didn't get far, a third POP ran out and Carl dropped to the ground and did not move.
Chip glanced wildly around, searching the darkness for the shooter.
“Commander, we're going to have to have a little chat about the company you keep on your days off,” the familiar, resonate voice of Admiral Nelson called out to Chip. Morton was never more relieved to see his employer emerge from around a stack of crates and barrels. In one hand he held an automatic service weapon. Reversing his grip on the gun, Nelson held the weapon out to Chip. From the inside of his black jacket, Nelson retrieved another firearm.
“Not my choice of company, I promise you that, sir,” Morton growled, rubbing his raw wrists before accepting the weapon. Nelson steered Chip into the direction of the stack of crates. With a bit more cover, Chip eased to the ground, bracing his back against the stack. Nelson crouched down by him.
Harry got a good look at the young man, the split lip, the bruises, and his raw bloody wrists. If they had Lee, Crane probably wasn't faring any better. “Lad, are you okay?” Harry asked quietly, knowing Chip's answer, but obligated to ask the question.
“I'm fine, sir, just a little sore. They still have Lee.”
“Why don't you explain exactly what's happening here. Lee wasn't very clear.”
Chip took a deep breath. “I was driving Lee's Cobra and rolled right into a trap laid for him. Once they figured out who I was, they used me to bring Lee here. I tried to tell him it was a trap, but . . .”
“ Easy, Chip. Who are they, why are they after Lee?”
“The Peoples Republic. Some woman named Rika is in charge. She tried to get me to talk about Seaview's weaponry, but what she wanted was Lee's ONI contact information in Peoples Republic territories.”
Nelson snorted. “Not likely to happen,” he snarled, thinking about Lee's last few encounters with the less than friendly country. Lee didn't have a great of deal of love for the country in question and Harry could hardly blame him. That whole incident had been a nightmare that took Lee weeks to overcome2. The last thing they needed now was for the Peoples Republic to get their hooks into Lee again.
“We can't leave him in there, sir. Rika's not a sane person,” Chip said, casting an anxious glance around, wondering if there were any more guards around.
“I have no intentions of leaving Lee anywhere. If I can rig a distraction, you think you can get him out?”
Chip's eyes took a determined gleam and he tilted his jaw up in a stubborn cast. “Not a problem, admiral. I can get him out.”
Nelson griped Chip by the shoulder and gave him a reassuring squeeze. “Good lad. I'll round up the backup and see to that distraction,”
Chip did a double take. “Backup, sir?
“Mr. Morton, you don't think I can down here on my own, do you? I didn't get four stars by running blinding into danger. Get ready to get Lee out of there.”
With that, Nelson spun and disappeared around corner, leaving Chip alone.
Using the stacks of dusty crates for cover, Chip darted back inside the warehouse. With the Admiral off to orchestrate some kind of distraction, it shouldn't be a problem getting Lee free.
If Chip could find him.
As Chip made his way deeper inside the warehouse, back to the area where he and Lee had been held, Morton felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. Lee was gone, only two empty chairs sat forlornly in the cleared space where he had last seen Lee.
Cursing under his breath, Chip spun around, his eyes darting around for any sign of his skipper. Something, an out of place sound, caught Chip's attention, coming from the backside of the warehouse. With a grip on the borrowed automatic, Morton headed along the wall, maneuvering his way closer to the sounds.
“Won't you just make this easy on yourself, buddy?” said one voice as Chip got closer. There was a thud, like the slap of something wet and meaty hitting the concrete.
Lee was in the grip of a taller, brawny mercenary. His arms pulled behind him and held tightly as a second mercenary drove a fist into Crane's midsection. Lee groaned and would have gone down had he not been held up.
Crane locked eyes with his assailant. “I suppose this is the part where you tell me this hurts you worse than it hurts me?” he gasped, trying to catch his breath.
The mercenary smiled. “Actually pal,” he drove his fist into Lee's jaw, snapping Crane's head back, “I'm not feeling a thing.”
Chip was too far away to get a shot off. He had run out of cover, Lee was unarmed, and Morton wasn't entirely sure what kind of shape his friend was in. Glancing around, Chip couldn't help but wonder where the Admiral was. That distraction would be handy right about now . . .
There was a muffled BOOM, and Chip felt the floor rumble under his feet. There were six large dock doors on the back wall. Chip just happened to be looking up when the third door exploded inwards, scattering debris across the floor. A semi-truck, without the trailer, roared in through the warehouse, belching smoke from the exhaust pipes that rose high over the cab.
One distraction, coming up.
Neither man wasted time. Lee wrenched away from the mercenary holding him, catching him under the jaw with one fist. He spun and grappled with the second, each trying to get the upper hand on the other. Chip was already in motion, picking up speed as he darted out from behind his hiding place. He was just in time as Lee got one solid punch in and the mercenary dropped to the floor. That's when the first mercenary got back on his feet and launched himself at the wiry commander.
The two rolled on the floor, trading kicks and punches as Chip aimed the automatic in a two-handled grip, unable to draw a bead for fear of hitting Lee.
Lee was able to lever one leg up to catch his attacker in the chest, throwing him backwards. He collided with the hard wall, his head cracking solidly with the gray brick. He slid to the floor and did not move.
Chip rushed forward and bent down, giving Lee a hand. Crane surged to his feet, the relief at seeing Chip alive undeniable. “Where the hell did . . .” Lee's words were cut off as a second semi-truck burst through the dock doors. By now the warehouse was swarming with gunmen, looking like rats abandoning a sinking ship.
“Are they on our side?” Lee asked, watching as the two trucks spun and took off after groups of gunmen, trying to aim at the pair of maniacal drivers. The trucks were taking out stacks of crates and occasional gunmen too slow to dodge out of the way. The floor rumbled under the combined horsepower of the diesel trucks as they plowed through anything and everything.
“I certainly hope so,” Chip replied, with one eye on the trucks. Lee was going through unconscious merc’s pockets, coming up with a pistol. Lee was about to jam the gun into his waistband when there was a POP, and Lee was thrown back against a stack of crates, clutching at his shoulder. Blood was pouring between his fingers.
“Lee!?” Chip yelled, drawing his own gun and whirling around, the need to protect his friend overwhelming.
Rika was advancing on them, the gun she carried looking out of place in her manicured hands. “Step away from Crane. I can afford to take at least one of you, but not both. Crane’s coming with me.”
“Like hell he is,” Chip snarled, and took aim. He fired off one shot, catching Rika mid chest. She dropped and hit the floor.
Chip levered Crane off the crates, Lee still holding his wounded shoulder.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Chip said, pulling Lee along.
“The Admiral, is he here? We can’t leave, not without the Admiral,” Lee protested, looking back to the chaos the two trucks were creating. Morton didn’t release his hold.
“Lee, I think the Admiral will make his own door when he’s ready. Come on, let’s go!”
Pulling Lee along, Chip suddenly jerked, and would have fallen had Lee not tightened his own grip on the blond. Chip grabbed at his lower calf, blood staining his hands. Both men turned to see Rika, on her knees, her gun in a two handed grip. Her red dressed black with her own blood, a look of pure hatred on her face.
Lee acted, hardly noticing that Chip was already in motion. Both men had pulled their own weapons and acting as one, both fired. One bullet took Rika right between the eyes; the second went straight through her throat. This time she dropped and didn’t get back up.
The gun in her hand hit the ground and when it did, it discharged. The bullet went wild, plowing through the driver’s side window of an oncoming diesel.
Sharkey spun the wheel of the truck hard to the right, bringing the big diesel truck around. Two gunmen were bringing a bead down on the Admiral and Sharkey floored the gas. The big engine roared and the ground shook. The two mercs looked up in to see Sharkey with a murderous gleam in his eye, heading straight them.
The pair scattered like roaches and Sharkey picked one to follow. In the cab of the truck, Sharkey couldn’t hear the gunshot, but he saw his skipper jerk, then fall.
“No, skipper . . .” the Chief breathed and swung the truck around hard. Gunshots pinged against the cab and he cringed as the glass cracked.
Through the shattered windshield he saw Mr. Morton turn and fire on a woman in a red dress. She dropped to the ground and Morton turned his attention to the wounded skipper. Sharkey breathed a sigh of relief as the skipper was pulled to his feet, the sturdy Exec guiding him in the direction of the nearest exist.
Only the woman in red didn’t stay down. She rose up into a kneeling position and Sharkey saw her raise the weapon.
"NO!!" Sharkey bellowed and again hit the gas. He wasn't the only one who saw the movement. To his right he saw the second truck move into position, keeping pace with Sharkey.
Morton staggered as the woman fired, the recoil of the weapon rocking her back. Sharkey saw both men pull their weapons and fire in unison at the woman in red. This time she dropped and lay still.
Francis wasn't ready for what happened next.
Harry gripped the wheel; his knuckles white as he wretched the truck hard to the left. The back end slid on the slick concrete and the truck fishtailed wildly before Harry got get it under control. In the brief seconds the truck came to a standstill, the passenger’s side door was yanked open and one of the mercenaries crawled up into the cab. He threw a punch at Harry and the two fought over control of the truck. Out of control, the rig took out stacks of crates and sideswiped a line of pipes that ran along one wall. Over the rumble of the diesel’s engine, Harry missed the sound of the line rupturing. The smell of escaping gas was lost in the exhaust from the two trucks.
Grappling for control of the truck, Harry registered the commotion on the other side of the warehouse. He saw Lee go down, but Morton was there, lending his assistance.
“Time for you to hit the road, old man,” the assailant snarled and threw open the driver side door. The merc braced himself against the dash and with both feet kicked Harry out of the cab. Nelson grabbed for the door, but his backward momentum sent him spinning to the ground. He hit the concrete with enough force to knock the wind out of him. Stunned, Harry managed to pull himself to his feet just in time to see the truck smash into the wall and explode into flame.
Harry took two staggering steps forward as Sharkey threw himself from the second truck, running toward the two officers.
With a sigh of relief, seeing the chief helping Morton to his feet, Nelson realized he was cut off from the three. The fire was rapidly spreading, and there was no way he could catch up to them from here.
With the smoke filling the interior, Harry headed for the nearest exit, hoping to catch up with the three outside.
He had barely made it to the door when another explosion rocked the warehouse. The force of the blast threw Nelson clear of the structure, tossing him like a rag doll across the lot to land in an unconscious heap on the ground.
Lee watched with a kind of sick fascination as the truck careened out of control, plowing over crates and boxes, heading right for them. Lee grabbed at Chip's arm, pulling the other man out of harm’s way. Chip half limped, half dragged himself as Crane pulled him out of the truck’s path. The big diesel missed both men by inches.
It did not miss the wall. It slammed into it full force, the concrete buckled, and then the gas tank ruptured.
The fireball threw both men off their feet, Lee landing in a heap against the wall, Chip tossed to the floor.
“Skipper! Mr. Morton! ” Chief Sharkey had abandoned his truck, the few mercenaries left more interested in saving their own hide than risk incineration.
“Chief! Where’s the admiral?” Morton demanded as Sharkey helped him to his feet.
Sharkey’s grief stricken green eyes bored into the Exec's. With a halfhearted nod of his head, the man indicated the burning corner of the warehouse.
“In there, sir, he was driving that truck.”
Morton leaned on Sharkey, the shorter man helping the blond stagger to the nearest exit. Another explosion nearly knocked the three down. Lee kept turning to look back; it was only Chip’s death grip on his arm that kept Lee from turning back into the burning structure to search for the admiral. All three men knew it was a hopeless case. Nothing could have survived that. Nothing.
The rag tag trio made it safely outside, coughing and wheezing from the smoke and fumes. Sharkey settled Morton on a line of crates.
“Somebody’s gotta call the fire department, if somebody hasn’t done it all ready,” the Chief said. Morton nodded, and Sharkey wandered away, pulling his cell phone from his pocket.
By now the entire warehouse was up in flames. There could be nothing left alive in there. As if to punctuate that thought, something deep inside the structure exploded with enough force to rend a huge gaping hole in the ceiling, sending even more debris raining down on the survivors.
Lee came to stand by Chip, unable to pull his gaze from unfolding disaster. His golden amber eyes were lost and staring and the spark Chip had grown so used to seeing was gone. Crane was standing still, his wounded arm held close to his chest, the other arm out stretched, reaching out to the blazing inferno, as by the sheer force of his will he could pull his best friend and mentor out of that raging hell. But no figure appeared, no one staggered through the smoke. He laid one hand on Chip's shoulder, feeling the other man shake with pent up grief, the same grief that was threatening to rise up and overtake him. Lee closed his eyes and bowed his head, the image of the burning structured seared into his memory. A thousand regrets flashed through Lee's mind. Had Nelson known what their friendship had meant? How was he going to cope now? How was he going to explain this to the crew? To Edith? How could he be expected to live without the wisdom of Harriman Nelson to guide him and Seaview?
Nerves screamed in pain, muscles protested against any and all movement. Harriman pulled his body up from the pile of garbage that had broken his fall when the explosion sent him flying. Looking up, he could feel the heat coming off the warehouse, flaming dancing high into the night sky. Dragging his seriously overworked body, he pulled himself up out of the trash pile and took stock of his condition.
Nothing seemed to be broken, just bruised and sore. Still watching the towering inferno, Nelson limped out of the alley, heading from the front of the warehouse. As he emerged from the alleyway, Harry saw the strangest sight.
Chip Morton was seated on a crate, his arms wrapped around himself, staring at the rising flames. Beside him, with his one arm held close to his chest, the other hand resting on Chip's shoulder stood Lee. Lee’s head was bowed to his chest, almost as if he couldn’t bear to look at the flaming structure. Suddenly Harry realized what had happened, or rather, what Lee and Chip had thought had happened. Sharkey stood with his back to Harry, on the phone, occasionally casting a look back to the two officers.
Harry stepped forward till he was standing behind Lee and Chip. For a long stretch of time, the two officers stood there, not knowing that the one they grieved for was less than ten feet way. For them the world was on fire and nothing would ever be the same.
“I think I've seen just about all there is to see.” That rich voice rolled from behind Lee. The dark haired young man whirled as Chip spun around, disbelief on both their faces.
“Admiral?” Lee whispered, reaching out to grasp the shoulder of the man he thought was dead.
“I thought you were dead, we thought you were dead . . .” stammered Morton, still shocked by the resurrection of his boss.
“A little sore, a bit bruised, nothing that a nice hot shower and a few ibuprofen won't cure. You two seem be a little worse for wear.”
A double chorus of ‘I’m fine’ was exactly what Nelson expected. By now Sharkey had noticed that the Admiral was alive and in one piece. With a huge grin, Sharkey found his way back to the three.
“Admiral, how’d you get out of there, I mean, we all saw the truck explode. Nobody could have made it out of there, not that fireball,” Sharkey gushed in his excitement.
“Easy, Francis, I’ll explain everything later. I take it an ambulance is on its way?” Nelson asked with a sidelong glance at the two wounded men.
“Yes, sir, I ah, sorta called Dr. Jamison first,” Sharkey said, sheepishly avoiding the stares of a pair of commanders.
“Just great. Who you wanna bet he yells at the most?” Chip growled.
“Oh, no, no more bets with you. Never more, no way,” Lee was saying, the sound of his voice drowned out by the sound of sirens. Fire trucks were pouring into the lot, and an ambulance was right behind them. The ambulance had no more than pulled to a stop when the tall, lanky figure of Seaview's CMO dropped out of the passenger's side, hit the pavement at a dead run. Will Jamison stopped dead in his tracks, took one look at the quartet and crossed his arms over his chest.
“I don't want to know. The less I know, the better off I'll be in the long run.” Jamie turned his attention to the collapsing structure, as the firefighters worked to contain the blaze.
“Your handy work?” he asked, watching the flames stain the night sky with thick black smoke.
“It's not our fault,” a duet of voice protested, to which Jamie held up a hand, only to have the admiral's bass override them all.
“Enough. Gentlemen, you will let the doctor do his job. Let's worry about the rest of this later.”
Two pairs of eyes, gold and blue blinked, then their owners nodded in consent. Jamison led the pair to the waiting ambulance, Chip leaning on the doctor, Lee looking weary beyond words. Lee was the first to break the silence. “I think he enjoys this.”
Jamie wasn't playing to their game to distract him. “Pipe down, the both of you. Right now, it's Med Bay for the pair of you. No excuses. I'll worry about what to do with you in the morning, if you're a good little pair of commanders and do what I tell you.”
A pair of disbelieving voices chorused, “In the morning?”
Jamie fixed the two men with a pale, blue-eyed gaze. “Did I stutter? Am I speaking in some foreign language? You heard me, in the morning.” Jamie's gaze lingered on Chip as he poked one long bony finger into Chip's collarbone.
Hey, why you picking on me?” Chip declared, rubbing at his shoulder.
“Because I can see you thinking about how you can work around this. If there’s a loophole in my order, you’ll be the one to find it. Somehow you’ll figure out how to slip out of Med Bay.” Jamie replied. Chip grinned.
“Come on Jamie, you know I’m an angel.”
Jamie snorted and crossed his arms over his chest. “And where angels go, trouble follows.” He glared at Lee who was doing his best Innocent-as-the-day-I-was-born-look, gazing up at Jamie through dark lashes. He looked up just in time to see Nelson approaching.
Harry had heard the entire exchanged and figured it was time to step in before the three got out of hand. “I think the doctor is right. In the morning we can begin looking into this issue a bit further and determine if the two of you are in any more danger. Sharkey, get with whomever is in charge and tell them where they can reach us.”
“Aye sir,” Sharkey jogged off, leaving Nelson with his officers.
Nelson continued to watch the blaze. Was this over? This Rika person, had she been working on her own, or was she taking orders from someone else? Nelson wasn't sure what the morning had in store for them. He felt tired, and he wasn't sure it was from the day's activities. Thank heavens his daughter was out of town. Once she found out Chip was hurt, she be out for revenge. With any luck he’d be out of Med bay before she came back.
“Admiral?” Sharkey asked tentatively, jogging back from his errand. Nelson had lost track of time as he watched the structure burn.
“You think somebody might make another grab for the skipper? Or even Mr. Morton? These people seemed awfully determined,” the other man said, eyes darting from the ambulance to the warehouse. Nelson only shook his head.
“Don't know yet, chief. Right now let’s just get this night over with, shall we?” The two walked back toward the ambulance and away from the heat emanating off the fire.
His boys might be a little worse for wear, but they were alive and in one piece. He'd worry about Rika and her people in the morning.
1. Directed by - Danish version: Poul Bang
English version: Sidney W. Pink Written by Ib Melchior, Sidney W. Pink. Starring Carl Ottosen, Ann Smyrner, Mimi Heinrich. Release date(s) 1961 Running time 81 min. Country Denmark/ U.S.A. Language Danish / English
2. The Saboteur: Season One; Vol. 2-Disc 2 side A (Region 1)
*Reference to the original Knight Rider series.