Many thanks to Linda Delaney for her help and encouragement with this story.
Winnie [AKA poohbear-29]
Lee Crane, Captain of the submarine Seaview, was unsure what had brought him out of a sound sleep. Heíd always prided himself on his ability to sense when something was wrong. This time was no different than any of the numerous times heíd sat bolt upright because of some small seemingly insignificant noise.
He climbed out of his bed, reaching quietly for the gun he kept in the drawer of his nightstand.
"I wouldnít do that if I were you, Captain," a soft feminine voice stated from the foot of his bed. Crane turned at the sound of the voice. There was a soft popping noise and Lee felt something sharp hit him in the chest.
"Who are..." he never finished the sentence as the drug filled dart caused him to succumb to darkness.
"One week, thatís how long you have to become Lee Crane. Weíve done our job, now you damn well better do yours. Youíve got to learn his mannerisms and his speech. Have you been studying his file?"
"Of course I have Mr. Richards."
"Whoís his best friend?" Damien Richards asked.
"He has two actually. Admiral Harriman Nelson, owner and designer of the one and only Submarine Seaview. He also runs the Nelson Institute for Marine Research. The other is Commander Chip Morton, executive officer of the aforementioned submarine."
"Donít get to cocky. There is more to Lee Craneís relationship with these two than mere friendship. Theyíve saved each other from certain death many times over. Itís going to take a lot more than a little plastic surgery to convince Nelson and Morton that you are who you claim to be. Forget that your name is William Burk. You have to believe that you are Lee Crane. Thatís the only way this plan will work."
"You keep saying that, Mr. Richards. But you wonít tell me what your plans are."
"When the time comes for you to know Iíll tell you. Suffice it to say itís extremely important to our cause. Itís imperative that you fool all of Craneís friends."
"Yes, Sir. When will Crane be here?"
"Melanie should be arriving with our illustrious guest within the hour. Thatís when the hard work begins. You will have to shadow him and pick up on the little things he does. You have to learn everything about him in the next two weeks, William."
"The name is Lee Crane," Burk said snidely.
A small, almost imperceptible grin came over Damienís face, "Well done, Lee. Iím glad to see youíre ready to immerse yourself in the role."
"Iím actually looking forward to the challenge."
Lee Crane groaned and opened his eyes to darkness.
"Welcome back Captain," a female voice said from beside him. "Iím sorry for the blindfold and handcuffs. They will be removed when we reach our destination."
"Who are you?" Crane asked, his voice still groggy from whatever drug had been in the dart.
"You can call me Melanie," she said.
"I can tell weíre on a plane but where are we going?"
"Ah, Captain, I canít tell you that right now."
"Can I have some water?" Crane asked licking his dry lips.
"Joseph, bring the Captain some water." Within a minute she was holding a glass to his lips,"Here you are."
Tremendously thirsty, Crane drank greedily from the glass and pulled away when heíd had enough, "Thanks."
"Are you going to tell me why youíve kidnapped me?"
Laughing lightly, she replied, "Not really. Letís just say that you are a very important part of our plans."
"Never mind, Captain."
"Melanie, we are about to land," Lee heard a male voice announce.
"Sorry, Captain, its night, night time again," she said and Lee felt a sharp jab in the shoulder. He felt himself losing the fight to stay conscious.
Admiral Harriman Nelson sat in his office at NIMR. Lee Crane had left the day before on a much-needed vacation and wouldnít be returning till the day before they were to take Seaview to the Isle of Saint-Jean. They were to represent the United States at the inauguration of the new president. The US was lifting the sanctions against Saint-Jean now that the old dictator Lucien St. Laurent had been replaced.
Francois DeBatista had been elected President in the first democratic election ever held on the Isle of Saint-Jean. He was well respected in his country as well as the other democratic countries of the world.
Nelson had met with him a few times at the UN, and was impressed at the plans DeBatista had to help his country move forward into the modern age. The country flourished in riches that its ex-dictator had squandered on himself. St. Laurent had escaped before DeBatistaís militia had been able to capture him.
Nelsonís thoughts were interrupted by a knock on his door, "Come in," he said. He smiled as Seaviewís executive officer stepped inside. "Whatís up Chip?" Nelson asked.
"I just thought youíd like to know the new computer components are being loaded on Seaview."
"Thatís great news, Chip. Looks like we may get the computer up and running before Lee gets back from his vacation."
"Yes, sir," pausing, "Sir, did Lee happen to tell you where he was going?"
"No, Chip, He didnít. All he said was he was going to do just what the Doctor ordered and leave all things work related at home." He chuckled, "as if heíd really do any such thing. Iím sure heíll be calling in a few days to check on his baby. Seaview is never very far from Leeís mind," Nelson said grinning.
"Yeah, thatís Lee, all right. I canít believe he agreed to take some time off," Morton said, returning Nelsonís smile.
"Jamie never gave him much choice. It was either go voluntarily or he would have to make it a medical leave of absence. I think the computer maintenance had some influence on his decision as well."
"Yeah, I expect youíre right. Lee and computers are a volatile combination." Morton said. "Iím going back to the boat and make sure we received everything we requisitioned. Will you be coming down?"
"Iíll be there shortly, Chip. I want to finish these reports on the Isle of Saint-Jean," Nelson told him.
"Aye, sir, and if Lee happens to call tell him I said to leave the ladies alone!" Morton laughed as he opened the door to leave.
Nelson laughed and returned his attention to the pile of paperwork before him, ĎMaybe I should have gone with Lee,í he thought.
"How long has he been out?" Richards asked, looking down at the unconscious, dark haired man lying on the bed.
"I gave him a shot just before we landed. Heíll probably be out for another hour or so." She told him. "Is Burk ready?"
"They removed the bandages last week. You can see for yourself this afternoon at dinner. Captain Crane will be joining us. Our client is going to be joining us as well."
"Lucien will be here," Melanie said, fear evident in her voice and eyes.
"Just think, Melanie. Once this is over youíll never have to see him again," Richards told her.
"Itís your fault weíre in this situation in the first place. If you hadnít lost all our money gambling then Lucien would not have the IOUs to hold over our heads. This is the last time I help you. From here on out you are on your own."
"It wasnít my fault. The game was rigged."
"Maybe not. But you didnít have to stay in the game after you lost everything, and use IOUís, knowing that you couldnít cover them!"
He shrugged. "Itís a weakness. Iím like father, I canít help myself," Richards said. "Things will work out, Melanie. I promise."
"Will they, Damien? I certainly hope so, because I donít relish spending any more time with Lucien than I have to."
"Me either. The man is cruel. Iím sorry he forces his attention on you."
"Are you, really, Damien? Somehow I donít think so."
Richards tried hard to hide his surprise that sheíd been able to pick up on his weakness. He would never admit to her that he had been with St. Laurent when heíd visited a few of his women and that heíd actually enjoyed being in control of them. Heíd even hit them when they wouldnít do as he wanted or if they didnít perform to his satisfaction. "How can you even think that, Melanie. You are my sister and I donít enjoy seeing you hurt."
Melanie didnít trust him, but she knew he would never admit to anything. Looking down at the man on the bed she sighed sadly, "Should we remove the bonds and the blindfold?"
"Letís wait until weíre at lunch and Burk is sitting across from him. I want to see his reaction when he sees himself and Lucien."
"You are cruel, Damien! I wish Iíd never agreed to help bring him here."
"We both have regrets, Melanie and we both have to deal with them in our own way. The Captain seems to be coming round and I donít want him to know there is any dissension between us," he said sharply.
The drug theyíd used was confusing his mind, and he found it hard to think properly. He knew his arms were bound tightly behind his back and that something had been placed over his eyes. He just couldnít remember why.
"Hello again, Captain Crane. I trust you slept well," she said allowing a trace of coldness to stay in her voice.
"Whatís going on here?" Crane asked as his mind began to clear.
"Youíll find out shortly. Right now I think you should try to just relax and let the drug wear off. It wonít take long."
Crane thought he recognized the womanís voice, "Melanie?"
"Thatís right," she said sitting beside him on the bed, and laying a hand on his bare arm. "I would love to remove the blindfold and the cuffs but Iím afraid youíll have to remain uncomfortable for a little while longer."
"Where are we?" Crane asked.
"Thatís a question she cannot answer, Captain," Damien said, speaking to the man on the bed for the first time.
"Who are you?" Crane asked.
"My name is Damien Richards. I know youíre confused as to why you were brought here but I assure you, you are very important to our plans."
"Damien is right, Captain, you are important. Without you our plan could never succeed. You should rest for a while now. Let the drug clear out of your system and Iíll be back to help you change and escort you to dinner," Melanie said, brushing her hand lightly across his forehead, and then kissing him as if they were long time friends.
"Melanie, youíre such a tease," Damien laughed. "Oh, Captain, by the way, there are cameras all over the room and you are constantly under surveillance. There is also an armed guard outside your door. So please just relax and think of this as a forced vacation."
Crane heard the door close and thought of the irony of those two words, ĎForced vacation, thatís exactly what Jamie called it. But I donít think this is what he had in mind when he made his threat. Next time someone orders me to go on a forced vacation I think Iíll order a keelhauling. How the hell do I get out of this one?í he asked himself.
"Howís it going, Chip?" Nelson asked.
"Itís all here, Sir. Right down to the last chip," Morton said grinning like a child whoíd just been given the new toy he been begging for.
"Thatís fine," Nelson said. "Why donít we grab something to eat before we begin the process of dismantling the old component?"
"I am kind of hungry."
Nelson laughed, and Chip continued, grinning back at the older man, "Where do you want to go?"
"Why donít we try the Stearns Wharf Grill? My treat."
"I could go for a nice thick juicy steak right about now. Let me just wash up and Iíll meet you on deck," Morton told Nelson.
When Chip joined him moments later, Nelson was standing on the deck watching the movements of the people dockside, without really seeing them.
"Penny for your thoughts, Admiral," Morton said as he came up behind him.
Startled out of his reverie, Nelson grinned at the young blonde man; "Did you ever notice how lonesome the boat is without her Captain?"
Morton looked at the Admiral strangely, "I thought I was the only one who noticed things like that. I think itís just the fact that Lee seldom takes time off and it seems like Seaview and Lee are one and the same."
"Well said, Chip. However, I donít think Seaview would be the same without either her current Captain or Exec." Nelson said, clapping the younger man on the back, "Why donít we go get that steak?"
"Aye, Sir," Morton smiled as they walked off the boat.
Crane heard the door open and footsteps walking towards the bed.
"Are you ready to join us for lunch, Captain?" the soft, feminine voice asked.
"How can I eat lunch with my arms behind my back?" he asked.
"Maybe Iíll just have to feed you," Melanie replied, a teasing tone to her voice.
"No thank you!!" Crane protested strongly.
"Why not? Are you afraid of me?" she asked as she helped him to a sitting position.
"Afraid of you? No! Afraid of being helpless? Yes."
Sighing theatrically, she said, "I guess weíll just have to take off the cuffs and maybe even the blindfold if you promise to behave yourself. Do you promise?"
"I promise," Crane said, without conviction.
"Oh, Captain. You are a naughty boy. I bet youíre thinking that promises are made to be broken." Melanie leaned close to his ear, "So are bones," she whispered threateningly. She hated saying these things to him, but knew it was the only way she could keep her distance from the handsome man.
"Thanks for the reminder," Crane told her as she helped him to his feet.
"Would you like me to help you change, Captain?" she asked as she removed his cuffs and blindfold.
"Change?" Crane asked and followed her eyes to his bare chest and white pajama bottoms.
"Unless you want to join us for dinner as you are," Melanie smiled appreciatively.
"No thank-you. But what do I change into?"
"Will these do?" she grinned as she pulled a pair of blue denim shorts and white cotton T-shirt from the chair beside the bed. "I had to guess your size but I think theyíll fit perfectly."
"Do you mind?" Crane said pointing to the open door.
"Not at all," Melanie said and closed the door from the inside.
"Thatís not exactly what I meant," Crane told her.
"Itís not," she said coyly. "Donít tell me youíre shy?"
"I just like my privacy."
"Iím sorry I canít leave you alone. What if I just turn my back?" she laughed.
"I guess thatíll have to do," Crane said. He waited for her to turn her back and quickly donned the tight fitting denim shorts and T-shirt. "Ok, Iím done," he told her.
Melanie turned and grinned at the snug fit of the jeans and shirt, "My, my, Captain. Denim certainly looks good on you."
"Thanks. I think," he added as an afterthought.
Melanie passed him a pair of slip on sandals and waited for him to put them on. "Iím afraid I have to put these back on," Melanie said and produced the cuffs and blindfold again.
"Do you have to?" Crane asked hopefully.
"I have my orders, Captain," she smiled and Crane saw the hidden tension in her eyes. He turned so she could replace the blindfold and cuffs.
"Thank you," she said and taking his arm, escorted him out the door, "Thereís a set of stairs in front of us. Theyíre in a semi circle so weíll just take it slow. I wouldnít want you to end up with any broken bones."
"Youíre threats are so subtle," Crane said sarcastically, finding it hard to figure this womanís moods out.
"What makes you think it was a threat? Canít you believe I was just concerned for your safety?"
"Concerned!" Crane queried. "So concerned that you blindfolded me at the top of a staircase?"
"Oh, Captain! You and I are going to have so much fun while youíre our guest," the quality of Melanieís laughter made Crane smile in spite of himself.
"Guest? Iíd hate to see how you treat your prisoners," he laughed.
Once again Melanie found herself laughing at the handsome man she was helping down the stairs. ĎToo bad we are on opposite sides in this, Captain. I think I could really like you,í she thought. "Last step, captain," she said, clamping down on her mutinous thoughts. "Weíll be turning to the left, lunch will be served on the patio."
They walked about twenty feet before Crane felt the warmth of sunshine on his face. The distinctive smell of salt water told him they were close to the ocean.
"Hello, Captain, so good of you to join us. Sit him here on my right, Melanie."
"Yes, Damien," she answered and helped Crane into the seat. "Shall I remove the cuffs now?"
"By all means. Our guest must be able to eat his dinner in comfort." Richards told her.
"You two seem to have your own definition of what a guest is," Crane told them rubbing his wrists. He reached to pull the blindfold but found his hand held in a viselike grip.
"Not yet, Captain. Weíll just leave the blindfold on for another moment till our other guests are seated," Richards said. "You may release his hand, Brock."
"Yes, Sir," Brock answered immediately.
Once again Crane found himself rubbing circulation back into his wrist, "are the other guests treated the same way?"
"No, Captain. Youíre the only one receiving special treatment. Donít you feel lucky?" Melanie asked from the seat on his right.
Crane heard someone pull out a chair across from him.
"I think it is time for you to remove your blindfold, Captain." Richards said from his left.
Crane did as heíd been told and rubbed his eyes. The bright sunshine was blinding after being in darkness for so long and he was finding it hard to focus. Finally his eyes grew accustomed to the sunlight and he was shocked at the mirror image of himself sitting across the table from him. If not for the man's movements he would have sworn he was looking into a mirror. "Whatís going on here?" he asked when he got his voice back.
"Captain Crane, meet, Captain Crane." Richards laughed, evidently enjoying his little surprise.
"Hello, Captain Crane," Burk-Crane said.
Crane heard the man speak in an almost perfect imitation of his own voice. He shivered as he thought of all the plans Damien Richards could have for making a double of him.
"Youíre not being very polite, Captain. Arenít you going to say hello to yourself?"
"Who are you?" Crane asked his double.
"Lee B. Crane, Captain of the Seaview. Isnít that obvious?" Burk-Crane asked him.
"Hardly," Crane said sarcastically. "What do you hope to achieve with this man?" he asked Richards.
"This man," Richards laughed, "is you, and I have big plans for our Captain Crane. Itís obvious you were shocked when you saw my little surprise. I have another one for you. Why donít you look around the table at our other guests?"
Crane glanced quickly around the table until his eyes stopped on the familiar figure sitting at the other end of the table, "St. Laurent!" Crane said, spitting out the name in a voice tinged with distinct dislike. He was rewarded with a backhand to the face from Richards.
"Show some respect, Captain. You will address my guest in the appropriate manor. He is President St. Laurent to you."
Crane didnít bother rubbing his red cheek, he just glared at the man at the end of the table, "Heís a murderous animal."
Richards signaled to the man standing behind Crane and Lee felt a blow to the back of his head that all but knocked him unconscious. "You will apologize to my guest or Iíll have the cuffs returned to your wrists and you will sit there while we eat."
Crane leaned forward in his chair and placed his arms behind his back, "Go ahead. Iíd rather not eat with an animal."
"Put the cuffs back on, Brock!" Richards exclaimed in an outraged voice. Brock did as he was told and stood back. "You need to be taught some manners, Captain."
Crane just sat back in his chair as far as his cuffed arms would allow, "Not by you," he said quietly.
Sudden laughter from the end of the table diverted everyoneís attention from Crane. All eyes fell on the dignified-looking, gray haired Lucien St. Laurent, "Please, Damien. Leave the Captain his honor. He will not apologize for his rude behavior, and I must say I admire him for his convictions, even if he is wrong."
"As you wish, Lucien. I only wished for you to be shown the respect you deserve." Richards told him.
Crane glared at St. Laurent, but made his comment to Richards, "He doesnít deserve my respect!"
Once again the man at the end of the table erupted in jovial laughter, "My dear, DEAR Captain Crane. I do not need, nor do I require your respect. I do, however, require your body. Thatís why we have made our own Captain Lee Crane. He will do what I wish done, whereas, you would not." St. Laurent stated.
"And just what do you require him to do, that I wouldnít?" Crane asked curiously.
"Youíll find out when the time is right," Richards answered. "Melanie, would you please see whatís taking the servants so long with dinner?"
"Yes, Damien," she said, almost meekly, pushing her chair away from the table.
"Never mind. Here they come now. Itís so hard to get good help nowadays, donít you think Lucien?" Richards asked trying to impress the older man.
"So true, Damien, so true," St. Laurent said, his voice sounded condescending even to Leeís ears.
Lunch plates were placed in front of everyone at the table, and Melanie looked at Crane dubiously, "Damien, can I take the cuffs off Captain Crane?"
"No!" he said icily.
"Oh, come now Damien. Let the poor man eat in comfort." St. Laurent told him.
"Surely you arenít serious, Lucien?" Richards asked, hiding the hatred he had for the man at the opposite end of the table. ĎIf I didnít need the money Iíd kill you here and now for usurping my authority,í he thought.
"Of course, I am. After all, Captain Crane does not have long to live," St. Laurent said smiling at Crane.
"Why are you keeping him alive anyway?" Burk-Crane asked.
"Yes, Damien. Do tell us why you are keeping Captain Crane alive," St. Laurent asked.
"Because we may have use for him yet," Richards told them. "You may remove the cuffs, Melanie."
Melanie quickly took the key from her pocket and unlocked the cuffs from Craneís wrists. She again took her place on his right.
"Thank-you," Crane said softly.
"Youíre welcome, Captain," she said with a faint smile.
Crane glanced across the table at Burk-Crane. ĎIím going to have to try and put a damper on whatever their plans are. Maybe I can make Chip and the Admiral suspicious of this guy.í He looked down at his plate, Smoked salmon, noodles in a creamy white sauce, and asparagus, the quantity of food on the plate making him slightly nauseous. ĎI guess this will be the first hint that something could be wrong,í he thought as he picked up his fork...
"You must have been starved," Melanie said as she watched Lee put the last bite of the dinner into his mouth.
Crane forced himself to swallow the last mouthful before answering, "I always am. Dr. Jamison tells me that sooner or later my appetite is going to catch up to me and Iíll blow up like a balloon."
"Your Dr. Jamison is right, I canít see how you can eat like this," Burk-Crane said, trying to finish his plate off as well.
"Youíll have to force yourself," Richards told him. "You must be Crane when you leave here this evening, and if that means you must force yourself to have his appetite then so be it."
"Yes, Sir, Mr. Richards. Whatever you say."
"Sarcasm does not work for you, Burk. You are after all only hired help. Leave it for those of us who are experienced with it," Melanie told him.
Crane sat back, and listened to the conversation taking place in front of him. ĎThis is an odd group. But then all politics make strange bedfellows.í he thought.
"Damien, I do believe we are feeding our guest to much information," St. Laurent said.
Richards glanced at Crane and smiled, "I think itís time you returned to your room."
"What, no dessert?" Crane asked, his voice and manners taking a sardonic cast.
" Damien, do let the Captain have his dessert. After all he is our guest," Melanie stated.
"Yes, come on Damien, Iíd like my dessert," Crane said sarcastically.
"You will call me Mr. Richards. Brock take him away!" Richards told the man standing over Crane. "By the way, Captain, Brock will be with you everywhere you go so please do yourself a favor and donít try to escape."
Crane turned and saw the man who would be his jailer, as his hands were again cuffed behind his back. Brock was massive. His muscled arms and broad chest gave little doubt as to his strength. "After you, Brock," Crane said sarcastically.
"íFraid not, Captain, after you," Brock said in a gruff voice.
Crane shrugged his shoulders, " All right, Iíll go first just remember I donít know where Iím supposed to go so please donít shoot me in the back or anything."
"Captain Crane, show Captain Crane the way to his room," Richards told Burk-Crane.
"Yes, Sir," Burk-Crane said getting up from the table.
As soon as they were out of earshot Damien turned to Melanie, "Donít try to make a fool of me again, Melanie."
"Weíre partners in this endeavor, Damien. That means I can do as I please."
"Not if it interferes with the outcome of our plans. So help me, if you ruin things Iíll deal with you myself."
"I think youíd better take your own advice, Damien," St. Lauren's chilling voice sent shivers down Melanieís spine. "Mark my words. If either of you ruin my plans you will both answer to me and I am not known as a man of mercy!" he told them. "Now that weíve got that out in the open, why donít we have dessert?"
Melanie was amazed at how quickly St. Laurent lost his icy demeanor and became jovial again in the blink of an eye. ĎI must remember not to get on Lucienís bad side,í she thought as Burk-Crane returned to the table.
"Did I miss something?" he asked taking his seat.
"Nothing at all, Burk," Melanie answered.
"Melanie, please remember to call him Captain or Lee or even Mr. Crane. The sooner he starts hearing himself called those names the sooner heíll answer them automatically." Richards told her.
"Damienís right, Melanie. From now on Burk is Captain Lee Crane and will be spoken to in that manner," St. Laurent agreed.
"Yes, Lucien," Melanie said quietly turning her attention to dessert.
Burk-Crane gazed curiously around the table, ĎWonder what I missed," he thought.
Crane walked into his room. The center was taken up by a formidable four-poster canopy bed with mosquito netting draped on all sides. The bed was covered in a deep-blue satin comforter and fittings. There were two high-backed cane chairs next to a massive bow window. Blue cushions adorned the window seat, which overlooked the ocean, and he walked towards the window and sat awkwardly down. Turning to his jailer, he asked, "How long have you worked for these people?"
"Iíve worked with Miss Melanie for five years. Why do you ask?" Brock asked cautiously.
"No real reason. Just bored I guess," Lee sighed. "Any idea what they plan on doing?"
"I wouldnít tell you if I did," he said.
"Why not, Brock? It looks like they plan on killing me anyway."
"Change the subject or be quiet, Captain," Brockís voice was beginning to take on an irritated note.
Crane knew better than to push the man any further, "am I confined to this room?"
"You are until Miss Melanie says otherwise," Brock told him.
Crane studied the man in silence. Behind Brockís blue eyes Lee detected a cold hatred. Pretty certain this man would have no reason to bear any hatred towards him, Crane decided to find out who it was directed at. ĎMaybe I can find some way to use it,í he thought. "What about these?" he asked leaning forward and lifting his cuffed wrists.
"That also depends on Miss Melanie."
"Can I get something to drink?" Crane asked.
"And what would you like, Captain?" Melanie asked, sweetly, as she stepped into the room.
"A cold beer would be nice. Iím not used to this tropical heat," Crane told her.
"Brock, kindly bring the Captain a beer."
"Will you be all right here alone with him, Maíam?"
"Of course I will. You wouldnít hurt me would you, Captain?"
"Iíd never deliberately hurt a beautiful woman. At least not if she agrees to remove these cuffs," Crane said, smiling.
"Certainly, Captain. As soon as Brock returns," she told him as Brock left them alone.
Lee studied her face, as she sat opposite him on the window seat. Her brown eyes danced mischievously, and the smile she wore touched every part of her face. "Donít you trust me, Melanie?"
"Not at all, Captain," she said firmly. "Iíve read your dossier. I know how quickly youíve escaped from the toughest prisons. Weíll wait until Brock comes back."
"I take it Brock will be with me all the time?"
"Heíll be sticking to you like a fly sticks to honey," Melanie laughed.
"He has to sleep sometime," Crane said, pumping her for information.
"Yes he does. But that shouldnít be of any concern to you. When Brock is off duty his twin brother, Bruce will be with you."
"Brock has a twin?" Crane asked, surprised.
"Thatís right and itís impossible to tell them apart," she told him. "Lucien has left orders that each night you are to be given something to make you sleep. He doesnít trust any of us to keep tabs on you after dark."
Crane was seething inside, but hid it from the beautiful woman sitting across from him. She seemed to dislike the man she was working for and he decided to try and use this to his advantage, "You donít seem to like St. Laurent. Why are you working for him?"
"I have no choice," she sighed. "We need the money."
"We, meaning you and Damien?" Crane asked.
"Yes, Damien and me, heís my half brother and I love him, but he has a serious gambling problem. Lucien bought his IOUís from their original owner and now he owns us," she said softly.
"Nobody can own you," Crane told her.
"Heíll kill Damien if we donít do as he wants," fear filled her voice.
"And what does he want?" Lee asked, curious at what would make such a woman ally herself with an evil man like St. Laurent.
"I canít tell you, Captain," she told him as Brock came back into the room with two frosted bottles of beer and two tall glasses. "Thank-you, Brock," she said as he passed her a bottle and a glass and went to stand by the window. She pulled the keys from her pocket and removed the cuffs from Craneís wrists.
Lee let his arms fall in front of him, and stretched, rubbing the circulation back into his wrists. He smiled slightly, "Thanks, my arms were getting kind of stiff," he took the proffered glass and bottle and slowly poured it into a glass.
"Youíre welcome Captain," she said smiling.
"Please, call me Lee," he said, hoping to make her think he trusted her.
"Iím sorry you got caught up in this, Lee," her voice was sad, and tinged with regret.
"Then do something about it," he replied, softly but firmly.
"I canít," she said simply and walked out of the room.
Crane stared grimly out the window thinking of ways to convince Melanie that she could help him and get out from under the influence of Lucien St Laurent.
Nelson watched as Chip began removing the old components from the computer, "Is there anything I can do to help, Chip?" he asked.
"Actually, Admiral, I can always use an extra hand. I think Lee must have put some of that fancy new all-purpose glue on this thing just to give me problems. It just wonít let go."
"What would you like me to do?" Nelson asked.
"Hold this board, here, while I try to disconnect it from the back," Morton told him.
Nelson got down on his knees and reached under the computer. He took the board from Morton. "Ok, I have it."
"Hold on, Iím almost done," he tugged hard, and then felt a release. "There I got it." Morton said pulling himself out from under the console. "I think I shouldíve gone on vacation with Lee."
"And leave someone else to work on your precious computer? ... I donít think so," Nelson laughed.
Chip smiled at the Admiral, "You know me too well, Admiral."
"Yes I do. Thatís why Iím ordering you to leave the computer as it is and start fresh in the morning. Donít argue, Chip. Go home."
"Just as soon as I finish removing the old board."
"Now, Chip. We have two weeks to fix this up to your specifications. Go home and rest."
"Yes, Sir. In a few minutes..."
Crane woke slowly from his drug-induced sleep and stretched languidly on the huge bed. Someone had evidently undressed him after theyíd given him the shot. The clothes he had worn yesterday were gone, he was wearing pajama bottoms, and in the place of yesterdayís clothes were white walking shorts and a white T-shirt. On the floor next to the chair that held the clothes, was a pair of deck shoes. He slipped the garments on and looked around. He was alone in the room and slowly made his way to the door. Opening it slowly he looked out in the corridor.
"Good morning Captain Crane. I am Brockís brother Bruce. Iím to escort you outside as soon as youíre up. This way."
Crane followed Bruce down the stairs and out onto the patio. The morning sun shone brightly and he shielded his eyes against the glare. Slowly his eyes became accustomed to the sunlight and he made his way to the same seat heíd occupied the night before. The only person present was Lucien St. Laurent. Seeing that the dictator was the only other person there, Lee turned to leave.
"Sit down, Captain Crane." St. Lauren's voice was soft but firm.
"Iím not hungry," Crane stated without turning back.
"I said sit down or I can have Bruce sit you down."
Crane turned and glared at his captor, "I refuse to sit with a cold blooded murderer!" he said and began to walk away.
"Bruce!" St.Laurent called sharply.
Bruce moved to stop Lee Crane from leaving, "Do as he says, Captain. I do not wish to hurt you."
"Then stand out of my way!" Lee retorted.
"I canít do that either." he said, and then lowered his voice, "Donít you understand? If I donít do as he says heíll hurt Miss Melanie ... again," Bruce said, sadly.
Crane turned back to St. Laurent, "What did you do to Melanie?" he asked angrily
"Thatís my business," was the silky reply.
"Not when you hurt a woman, itís not. Where is she?" Crane asked Bruce.
"Sheís in my bed," St. Laurent calmly informed Lee. "After all, she is my property."
"You donít own her or anyone else for that matter. Slavery ended even here a long time ago."
"Thatís where youíre wrong, Crane. I DO own her, and her brother." St. Laurent told him, "You, however, since I donít own you, have a choice here, Captain. Do you wish me to tell you what it is?"
Crane said nothing, just glared angrily. St. Laurent smiled, "No response? Well, Iíll tell you anyway. You sit down, here and now, or I go back and visit with the lovely Melanie, again. Which one will it be?"
Lee pulled the chair out and sat quietly.
"Good choice, Captain," he chuckled, evilly. "Somehow, I donít think Melanie wants to see me again this morning."
"What did you do to her?" Crane asked, his hatred of the other man evident in his tone.
"Letís just say sheíll think twice about disobeying me again," St. Laurent laughed harshly, and looked up, and smiled. "Why donít you ask her yourself. Here she comes, now."
Crane turned to see Melanie and her brother walking towards the table. She wore dark glasses but they didnít quite cover the blackening eye. She was wearing a white sleeveless blouse that tied at her breasts, and shorts that were cut to the thigh. Both were made of shiny pink Lycra, and clung to her body, more than she was comfortable with. That she wore no undergarments was also obvious. Around her neck was a wide, silver choker, tightly clasped. There were bruises in the shape of long fingers visible on her right forearm as she sat down beside him.
"Where are my clothes, Lucien? All I could find were these!"
"And they fit you quite well, my dear. I left them for you... I prefer you in those, my property wearing my property, and your ample charms, and such. And you know that I hold the key to your collar. I like my property bearing the signs of my ownership!"
"You animal," Craneís voice was lethal as he said the two words. "How can you let him treat your sister like this?" Crane demanded of Richards.
"I donít answer to you, Captain," Richards shot back.
"Youíre just as much of an animal to let this happen," Crane said. Lee had seen and heard enough. He suprised everyone, and came swiftly out of his chair and before anyone could react, his hands encircled St. Lauren's throat.
"Stop him Bruce," Richards yelled.
Bruce was moving before Richards had the words out of his mouth. He grabbed Leeís hands and slowly pried them from the older man, then yanked them up sharply behind his back.
Crane cried out in pain as he felt something in his shoulder give slightly. He tried to pull free but Bruce held him in a viselike grip.
Damien had come around the table and was passing a glass of water to St. Laurent. The older man took it and swallowed slowly, coughing, he placed the water back on the table and, pulling himself completely erect, turned angrily towards Crane, "Youíll pay for that, Captain."
"Iíve been told that before," Crane told him, defiantly.
"This time will be different, I assure you....Hold him tightly Bruce. Damien go help him," St. Laurent told them, deadly intentions in his voice.
"No! Please, Lucien. Donít do this!" Melanie cried.
"Do as I say, Bruce." St. Laurent told the man holding Crane.
Bruce knew he had no choice. He had to do as he was told or risk having the other man hurt the lady heíd come to love. Using all his upper body strength he soon had the Seaviewís Captain secured.
Damien helped hold Crane in place as St. Laurent stood and slowly pulled a diamond-studded case from his pocket. He pulled a white bone handled knife from its case, and tossed it swiftly into the air. Lee strained against the incredible bulk that pressed upon him. His breath was driven from his body; still he tried to pull away. He didnít know what St. Laurent had in mind but heíd heard stories from the people of his country what he was capable of. He knew it was a losing battle as he was almost completely restrained, but he also knew he had to try. The five-inch blade spun several times, in St.Laurentís hand, until he deftly plucked it from the air and in one fluid motion threw it at the helpless man.
Crane cried out as the blade imbedded itself deeply into his right thigh. He cried out in pain, and dropped to his knees when Bruce and Richards released their hold on him. With a surprisingly steady hand, he wrenched the knife from his thigh, but before he could throw it at St. Laurent, his arm was seized by a hand with the feel of steel, and the knife pried away.
"Let that be a lesson to you, Crane, never try something like that again," St. Laurent said sitting down to finish his breakfast. "Melanie, my dear, bring me a clean bowl."
Melanie did as she was told and then tried to help Crane, easing him into the chair. "Come on, Lee. Letís get you fixed up."
"Captain Crane isnít going anywhere. I told him to sit down and thatís exactly what heíll do."
"Go to hell," Crane said through clenched teeth.
"I probably will, Captain. But I can assure you that you will not be the one to send me there. Now sit down. All of you sit down or Melanie will be next!"
Melanie saw the blood soaking through the shorts, and running down his leg. She quickly tore the shorts further and pressed a clean linen napkin to the wound. Tearing another to tie the napkin in place, making a temporary bandage. "Iíll bring some bandages to your room shortly. Please donít try anything like that again," she pleaded.
"HOW VERY TOUCHING!!! Oh, the lovely damsel worried about her knight in shining armor. How touching. Listen to her, Captain. Iíd hate to have to do any further damage to you."
Crane sat back, holding the linen to the leg wound, trying to staunch further blood loss. "Are you going to kill Francois DeBatista?" he asked.
"So, you finally figured it out." St. Laurent smiled.
"It wasnít hard to figure out. Where are your troops?"
"They are training a few miles away. Why do you think Damien and Melanie havenít killed me? They know my men check in with me hourly and if I donít answer they have orders to destroy this little sanctuary."
"Thatís what you did to the village on the Isle of Saint-Jean. You blew that fishing village up, killing men, women, and children."
"They were the enemy," St. Laurent stated, angrily.
"They were INNOCENTS... ALL OF THEM!!!! They didnít know about DeBatistaís plans. You did it just to prove you were able to. You are an animal!"
"Shut your mouth, Captain. Donít think I havenít forgotten that you were one of those responsible for overthrowing my government. Thatís the only reason youíre alive right now. I plan to use you as an example of what happens to people who stick their noses into my business."
"What makes you think youíll get close enough to kill DeBatista?" Crane asked.
"I wonít need to. Youíll kill him for me, or should I say your double will kill him for me. Isnít that a flawless plan? The illustrious Captain Crane kills the man who is honoring him for saving his life and country. Burk is the perfect imitation. When his job is done heíll be paid handsomely and of course Iíll be on hand to capture you and make you pay for murdering the man the people elected to take my place. My homeland will be in turmoil and I will be able to return to power without much of a fight," St. Laurent said confidently.
"I think you underestimate your own people. They know what you are and theyíll never give you back the power," Crane said.
"Theyíll have no choice. Iíll have my Military troops to enforce my plans, and Iíll kill anyone who interferes. That includes your friend Nelson."
"As I said you are an animal," Crane said quietly.
"Put your hands behind your back so Melanie can put your handcuffs back on."
"But, Lucien, how will he eat?" Melanie asked.
"He should have thought of that before calling me an animal again. I have had enough of this. Do as I say, Captain. Otherwise Melanie will be the one to pay for your insolence," St. Laurent told them as he served himself to eggs and toast.
Crane knew he had little choice and neither did Melanie. He was beginning to think she was just as much a victim here as he was. He stood slowly and put both arms behind his back. Melanie clamped the cuffs on his wrists and helped him sit back down. Crane was careful to keep his injured thigh from bumping against the leg of his chair.
"Iím so sorry I got you into this, Lee," Melanie whispered softly.
Crane just nodded his head, acknowledging that heíd heard her. He watched as she lifted the coffeepot and poured some into his cup. Slowly, she put it to his lips and he sipped the hot liquid. He pulled away when he was done.
"Such a touching picture. To bad it wonít last. Melanie, I want you in my room in an hour. Make sure you wear something sexy," thinking about it for a moment, he smiled and said to her, "No, as a matter of fact, my dear, make sure you wear nothing at all," he told her and turned his attention to her stepbrother. "Damien, make sure the captain doesnít escape," he said and smiled vehemently at Lee, "Enjoy the rest of your meal."
There seemed to be a collective sigh of relief when St. Laurent disappeared into the house, "I think youíd better do as he says, Melanie." Richards said.
"How can you sit there and allow that animal to use your sister in this way?" Crane asked angrily.
"Neither of us have a choice, Captain. If Melanie doesnít do as Lucien says heíll kill us both."
"I think youíre a coward, using your sister to take care of your debts," Crane said flatly.
"I donít care what you think," Damien said agitatedly. "Bruce, escort the captain back to his room."
"Should I remove the handcuffs?" Bruce asked.
"No! Just confine him to his room until I tell you otherwise."
"Well, Chip?" Nelson asked.
"Thatís the last of the microchips, Admiral. All that remains is the performance tests. Should take another two days. Thatíll bring us to Wednesday."
"Perfect timing! We leave for the Isle of Saint-Jean in three days. You couldnít have timed it better."
"I wouldnít say that yet, Sir. What happens if it doesnít work?"
"I have every confidence in your work, Chip. Youíve never let me down before."
Chip stood up from the rebuilt computer console, "I know Iíve asked you this everyday for the last four or five days but have you heard from Lee?"
"Nothing at all. Heís probably just having a good time." Nelson said, his voice betraying his worry.
"We both know itís not like Lee Crane not to call and check up on his boat. Especially when sheís undergoing repairs of any kind."
"I know, Chip. But we have no way of finding out where he went until he calls. Iíve checked with my ONI contacts as well as with Jiggs. As far as theyíre concerned heís on vacation. Donít worry, next time he goes on vacation, forced or otherwise, Iíll make sure he not only leaves a number where he can be reached, but have him take a working tracker with him as well. It looks like the one he has isnít working
"Youíre just as worried as I am," Morton said soberly.
"Yes I am. We both know Lee has a knack for getting into trouble," Nelson told him honestly.
"Thatís an understatement. Do you think heís ok?" Morton asked.
"Heís supposed to be back tomorrow. Letís not think the worst until then. Heíll probably have a good laugh at us when he finds out how worried weíve been."
"Youíre probably right, Admiral." Morton sighed.
The time had passed slowly for Lee. Heíd been a prisoner here for five days now. The last four confined to his room with his hands cuffed behind his back. His only company was Melanie when she changed the bandage on his thigh and brought him his meals. Heíd continued to force himself to finish everything on his plate just in case his double hadnít left after all.
Heíd tried to escape, once, the same day as the disastrous breakfast, but was unable to with Bruce and Brock on duty during the day, and the fact that he was kept drugged at night. That one time, heíd made it as far as the water but had been forced to return when Damien Richards had fired a warning shot into the air. Richards had struck him a glancing blow to the forehead, opening the skin along his hairline, and then ordered him confined to his room.
Melanie had told him that Lucien St. Laurent had joined his military troops and wouldnít be returning until they were ready to leave for the Isle of Saint-Jean.
Crane sat on the window seat gazing out at the ocean. He heard the door open behind him but didnít bother to turn.
"Lee," Melanieís voice sounded tired to his ears.
"Whatís wrong, Melanie?" he asked turning from the window.
"Lucien is back," she said flatly, "and he wants you back at the table. Damien told him about your escape attempts and heís planning on taking you with him, when he returns to his troops. I hate this, Lee. Itís all my fault!" she said.
"Itís not your fault, Melanie. You were used, forced to do it in order to save your brotherís life."
"My brother is just as bad as Lucien. He allows him to do these things to me. I wish I had been strong enough to say no when he first came to me, but heís the only family I have left," Melanieís eyes overflowed with tears.
"Things will work out," Crane said trying, unsuccessfully to comfort the sobbing woman, in spite of his cuffed wrists. Sheíd sat down next to him, and laid her head on his shoulder. When sheíd told him what sheíd been through, he was convinced that she would help him when the time was right.
Wiping her eyes Melanie smiled slightly, "We better go down before Lucien gets angry," she said.
"I donít give a damn about Lucien St. Laurent. Weíll go down when youíre ready," Lee watched the look of terror that passed quickly over her eyes. ĎWhat has that animal done to you now?í he thought.
"Iím ready now," she said shakily and led him towards the door.
"Where is that sister of yours, Damien?" St. Laurent asked impatiently.
"Sheíll be here. Crane is probably being obstinate about joining us. He really doesnít like you, you know?"
St. Laurent let out a series of harsh laughs before answering, "He isnít the only one who doesnít like me. You and your sister arenít fond of me either. Oh, donít bother denying it. I know if it wasnít for the fact that you owe me so much money you would never have agreed to help me get back what is rightfully mine."
Seeing Melanie and Crane at the foot of the stairs, Richards said, "Here she is now," hoping to distract St. Laurent, and change the subject.
"Ah, my lovely Melanie," St. Laurent said sarcastically. He carefully observed her in the skin-tight sundress she wore. "I do think my change in your wardrobe becomes you. It shows off your charms so nicely. Have you missed me, my dear?"
"What do you think, Lucien?" she answered.
"Careful, my dear, sarcasm doesnít become you," he reprimanded. "Now please remove the Captainís cuffs, Iím sure Brock can handle him if he tries to escape again, Ďtho I would not advise such rash action, Captain."
Melanie did as she was told, taking the seat beside Crane.
"Why donít you come sit with me, Melanie?" St. Laurent asked.
"Iíd rather not," she answered.
"I said, SIT WITH ME! I am better company than your Captain. After all I have a long life ahead of me, while his is going to be considerably shortened," St. Laurent laughed.
"I wouldnít bet on it," Crane said softly.
"What was that, Captain? I didnít quite hear you." St. Laurent asked, coldly.
"I said I wouldnít bet on you having a long life."
"Itís you that canít bet on a long life," he snaked an arm out and around her waist, and pulled Melanie into his lap, when she moved to sit next to him. "As soon as I show my people the man who murdered their beloved Francois DeBatista, your life will be worthless, I assure you. And it will be you who is executed, not Burk. I will make sure of it. Enough of this. Iím hungry. Tell your servants itís time to serve dinner."
Richards picked up a small bell and rang it several times. Two female servants appeared immediately, each pushing a small dinner cart. They began by serving St. Laurent first and soon made their way around the table.
Lee watched as they filled the plate across from him and realized heíd been right in thinking that his double had not left after all. "Are we expecting another guest," he asked feigning innocence.
"As a matter of fact we are. Come, join us, Captain Crane," St. Laurent called.
"Thank-you, Mr. President."
Lee heard his own disembodied voice answer from behind him and turned in his chair, feigning surprise he stammered, "I... I thought youíd left."
"Thatís what you were supposed to think. Actually Iíve been studying you the whole time. I must say, Mr. Richards it would have been easier if you had let him out of his room. What a boring four days. The only one he talked with was Melanie. But I think even Captain Crane will admit that I have perfected his voice," Burk-Crane stated, grinning proudly.
"Youíll never fool Nelson or Morton," Crane said,making his voice more confident than he was. ĎThis guy could definitely be my twin. I only hope the Admiral and Chip pick up on the subtle differences.í
"I think he will, at least long enough to get to DeBatista. Once DeBatista is killed you will then take his place. Itís perfect," St. Laurent laughed, "First you save the man in front of thousands of viewers then you kill the man in front of thousands of viewers. I love irony, donít you?"
"How do you plan on killing DeBatista?" Crane asked.
"Suffice it to say I have inside help. Not everyone was happy to see me dethroned. Many people have suffered since DeBatista was elected to power."
"The only people that were hurt when DeBatista was elected were the ones you paid off! You bought them with the promise of wealth. Itís time someone told you that buying people with money doesnít mean you buy their loyalty. Loyalty must be earned, not bought, and you have nothing in terms of earning loyalty. Francois DeBatista has. He is a man of honor and integrity." Crane told him.
"Honor and integrity!í St. Laurent scoffed. "They are just worthless words. Power and wealth are what people really want and Iíll give that to a select few."
"I can imagine the ones you give it to. Murderers like yourself!" Crane said harshly.
"I grow weary of this argument, Captain. If you wish to eat your meal then youíll be quiet and do so. Otherwise you will be removed from the table."
"Please, Lee, be quiet," Melanie, said softly.
Crane stared into her eyes and could see the fear in them. Reacting to what he saw, he said "All right, Melanie, for you."
"How very touching. You two seem to be getting close. Too bad Captain Crane will be accompanying me back to my camp today. Iím sure Melanie will miss him. Wonít you my dear?" St. Laurent grinned, as he took a forkful of food and held it to her mouth.
"Thatís none of your business, Lucien," she answered. She then held her lips tightly closed.
"Melanie, Stop! Do what Lucien wants. Heís been good to us. Apologize to him now," Richards said sharply.
St. Laurent laughed at her..."Listen to your brother, my dear. Iíd hate to see you fall heavily for a soon to be dead man," St. Laurent told her, as he put the forkful of food down.
"I will not apologize, Damien. Lucien has not been good to me. He forced himself on me! Donít you understand!" she cried.
"You came to me willingly," St. Laurent said.
"No! I came to you because I had no choice. You threatened to kill us both if we didnít do as you told us. And you," she cried as she twisted in St. Lauren's lap, to face her half brother, "Itís all your fault. I hate you for putting me in this situation."
St. Lauren's sudden harsh laugh sounded, "The lady does have some fight left in her. I love a woman who speaks her mind. Donít you Captain Crane?" he asked through loud guffaws.
"You donít love her, St. Laurent," Crane said angrily. "If you did you would never have forced yourself on her. Women deserve better treatment than that."
"I suppose you would accept her even after sheís freely given herself to me," St. Laurent said coldly, caressing Melanieís arm and shoulder, as she shivered in the sunlight, suffering his still unwelcome attention.
"The point is she didnít give herself freely. You used blackmail to force her to come to you."
"I do what I must, Captain. Melanie was mine as long as I held her brotherís life in my hands. But from what I see now she might not hold her brotherís life in such high esteem anymore. Am I right, my dear?"
"Letís just say I will not be coming to you anymore!" Melanie stated vehemently.
St. Laurent smiled maliciously at Crane, but directed his words at Melanie, "I may have the means of your return to my bed...the good Captainís life in exchange."
"Wrong," her quivering voice betrayed the falsehood of that one word.
St. Laurent couldnít control his laughter, "Come, Melanie. Even I know thatís not true. Would you like me to prove it to you?" he asked.
"You really are an animal, St. Laurent," Crane told him.
St. Laurent glared down the table at Crane, "Calling me an animal again will earn you a very painful punishment," he spat out.
Melanie put her hand out in a gesture to stop him from saying anything more, "No, Lee. I donít want you hurt any further because of me. Itís my fault youíre here in the first place."
"How can it be your fault?" Crane asked.
"Donít you know, Captain? Didnít Melanie tell you that this was all her idea? She volunteered to kidnap you and bring you here. She is just as guilty as we are," Damien laughed. "Your lovely, innocent Melanie, isn't so innocent after all!"
"Is that true, Melanie?" Crane asked, his suspicions of her returning.
"Itís true, Lee," she said, unable to meet his eyes. "It was my idea to go after you. I saw how closely Burk resembled you and came up with this plan to get Lucien off our backs," she finally looked into Craneís disappointed face. "I didnít know they planned on killing DeBatista or y... you." she stammered as tears began flowing freely from her eyes. "I was told that Burk, as you, would only disgrace DeBatista, thereby making it possible for Lucien to get back into power. The people of the Isle of Saint-Jean abhor scandal and would have removed DeBatista immediately even though they elected him. Lucien would then forcefully regain power. Please ....PLEASE say you believe me, Lee," she cried.
"I believe you, Melanie," he quietly replied. "I also believe that your brother knew from the start what was expected of him. I think heís been misleading you from the beginning. I donít think he owes St. Laurent a dime."
"Thatís preposterous!" Richards exclaimed. "Donít listen to him, Melanie. I would never do anything to hurt you."
"No? Then why did you bring me into this?"
"Why, you always loved adventure and I thought you would enjoy this."
"Enjoy listening to your planning to kill not one but two innocent men. No, Damien. This ceased being an adventure when you allowed Lucien to blackmail me into his bed. Once again, Iím sorry, Lee," she said to the man seated at her left.
"PAH!! Enough of this saccharine drivel. I have lost my appetite. Melanie put the cuffs back on Captain Crane. He will be coming with me, as you know. Damien you will see that our Crane is returned to Santa Barbara by tomorrow." St. Laurent ordered.
"Yes, Lucien. His bags are at the airfield now. I wanted to make sure you approved of him."
"I approve. The question is, Ďwill Nelson and Morton?í You better pray they do because Partners or not Iíll kill you if anything goes wrong." St. Laurent said as he came around the table and made sure that Melanie had fastened the cuffs tightly to Craneís wrists. "Come, Captain, I promise the next couple of days are going to be uncomfortable for you. Iím afraid you wonít have a comfy bed tonight," turning his attention to the woman standing beside his captive he spoke softly, "Melanie, I will see you and Damien at the ship in two days. Make sure youíre both there," he told her as he kissed her roughly.
As soon as St. Laurent left, Melanie turned angry, hate filled eyes on her half brother, "How could you?" she asked.
"How could I what? Put you in this situation? Is that what you mean?"
"Precisely. You and Lucien have been partners all along. You didnít even lose the money, did you?"
"Course not," Richards laughed, "Iím to good a gambler to lose that much money."
"If it wasnít the money then why did you do it?" she asked her eyes overflowing with unshed tears.
"Why?" he laughed harshly. "Well let me see. I wanted to do something on my own. I donít like the way youíve treated me over the years. I hate being in your shadow. Shall I go on?"
"No," she cried, "I think youíve said enough. Iíll be leaving with Burk today."
"I canít let you do that, Melanie. Lucien has plans for you."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"He wants you for his mistress when he regains control," he told her, grinning broadly.
"I hate you," she told him, turning her back and running to the house.
"Donít try to leave, Melanie. You are now just as much a prisoner as your Captain," he yelled after her.
Crane had been forced into the back of a waiting army truck and soon found himself sandwiched between two men dressed in military uniforms. Neither said a word but each one held a small handgun pointed at Craneís chest. St. Laurent sat across from him, also holding a gun, and smiling condescendingly. They were jostled roughly as the truck bounced onto a dirt road that was hardly more than a path through heavy bushes and rocks.
"Enjoying the ride, Captain?" St. Laurent asked.
"The ride? A ride in the country usually clears my head. However, the company leaves a lot to be desired." Crane answered.
"Get used to the company, Captain. You and I will be seeing a lot of each other over the next week, at least until youíre placed in front of a firing squad. Maybe Iíll keep you alive long enough to see Melanie freely agree to becoming my mistress."
"Melanie will never agree to become your mistress!"
"She will when I tell her I'll see to it you're given a life sentence instead of the firing squad. Think about it, Crane, knowing that she is in my arms every night because of you."
"How do you think you'll feel, knowing she's in your arms, but thinking of me?"
St. Laurent angrily reached across the small separation and struck Crane a glancing blow to the head with the butt of his gun, "You should learn to keep your mouth shut, Captain!"
Crane leaned back against the side of the truck; his eyes closed against the agonizing pain in his head, a thin trickle of blood seeped from the reopened hairline wound. "Am I hitting to close to home for you, Lucien?" he asked through clenched teeth.
"Just shut your mouth or Iíll shut it for you."
"Itís so easy to threaten someone who canít fight back," Crane said quietly.
"Oh, thatís funny, Captain. Youíre a trained ONI agent and that makes you anything but helpless. Why do you think I insist not only on the handcuffs, which Iím sure youíd have no trouble getting out of, but also on two armed guards to ensure you donít escape. Your reputation for getting out of tight spots precedes you. When we get to my camp itíll be even harder for you to escape. I have something VERY special planned for your confinement there," St. Laurent grinned malevolently. Reaching under his seat he pulled out a roll of silver duct tape and cut off a six-inch strip. Smiling, he placed the strip roughly over his captiveís mouth thereby cutting off any retort. "Peace and quiet at last," he said.
The ride to the camp took another thirty minutes over rugged terrain and Crane felt himself jostled between the two men. When the truck came to a screeching halt, the two men beside him clamped their steel grips on his arms and pulled him roughly to his feet.
"Come, Captain, Iíll show you to your living quarters," St. Laurent laughed. "It may seem primitive but Iím sure itíll be most effective in keeping you prisoner. Bring him this way," he told the two guards.
Lee looked around the compound as he was pulled into the center of a clearing surrounded by large domed tents. A wooden platform sat precisely in the middle of the tents. A single post stood in the center of the platform. He could see leg and wrist manacles placed at strategic places on the post. He found himself being pushed up the three steps to the elevated platform.
St. Laurent laughed as his men pulled Crane up to the post and secured his ankles tightly, spreading his legs slightly. They removed his handcuffs and replaced them with the manacles attached to the post. Walking behind the post St. Laurent pulled the chains firmly, stretching Lee's arms tightly above his head, and clamped them together, attaching the chains to the floor of the platform, effectively limiting Craneís movements. He walked around to face his captive again. Grabbing a piece of the tape he pulled it quickly, eliciting a small groan from Crane.
"I have one more surprise for you, Captain. Youíve been calling me an animal ever since we met. Iím afraid itís not me whoís an animal but you. I have a nice little collar for you, my pet," St. Laurent pulled an evil looking device from behind his back. "This is my own creation. Iíve used it successfully a number of times," he said as he placed the collar around his captiveís neck smiling as he tightened it. Crane grimaced as he felt something sharp digging slightly into the soft flesh of his throat. "Ahhh, yes, good, I see you felt that. Good. Now let me explain what this will do. Each time your head leans forward the spikes will dig painfully into your neck. Not enough to cause any major damage but enough to cause tremendous pain Iím afraid. This way if you even attempt to remove your chains, youíll be causing your own torture each time you strain against them. Itís really a simple but effective deterrent, donít you think?"
Crane felt the effects of the collar each time he took a deep breath, "You really are an animal," he said through teeth, tightly clinched.
"Animals wear collars and are kept chained, and in cages, Captain. It seems to me that you fit the bill."
"Not all animals are caged! Many walk the streets, eager to kill and maim!" Crane stated belligerently.
St. Laurent slapped Crane open handed across the face and angrily stalked away.
"Iíd watch what I say to him, if I were you, Captain," one of the guards that had accompanied him from the truck told him.
"Would it make much of a difference? Heís going to have me killed anyway."
"Iím sure thatís true. But there are so many painful ways to kill a man and Lucien St. Laurent knows them all. The man probably invented most of them. I watched him torture a young man for a week before he let him die. That manís only crime was that he walked in front of President St. Lauren's car. The driver had to stop quickly and caused the president to spill his drink. Take it from me a quick death is preferable to a slow, agonizing one."
"Thanks for the advice," Crane said leaning his head back against the post and closing his eyes against the bright evening sunshine.
Within a few short hours the sunshine would be replaced by drenching rains.
"Good morning, Chip," Burk-Crane greeted Morton happily as he picked up his bag from the luggage carrier.
"Good morning, Lee. I take it you had a good vacation?" Morton asked.
"More like a great vacation. Bright sunshine, beautiful women, great food, what else could a man ask for? Letís go get breakfast, Iím starved.You should try it yourself, Chip." Burk-Crane said as he turned back to pick up his last piece of luggage.
"Do you want to go by the Institute and check out Seaviewís repairs first?" Morton asked.
"Letís stop along the way and eat first. I havenít had anything to eat since we left the resort."
Mortonís face took on a suspicious frown at his friends last few statements. ĎWhatís come over you? he thought, Wanting to eat before going to Seaview. Iíll have to talk to the Admiral about this. Lee not in a hurry to get back to his boat. Somethingís definitely wrong here,í Morton thought as he got behind the wheel of his car, "Where do you want to eat?" he asked Burk-Crane.
"Letís try the Harbor Restaurant. I heard that place has great steak and eggs."
"Fine with me. Should I call Admiral Nelson and ask him if heíd like to join us?"
"Why not. Iíd like to ask him about the repairs youíve made."
Lee Crane opened his eyes slowly. The dampness of night in the tropical paradise had finally succumbed to the humid warmth of morning. He felt chilled to the bone and was unable to prevent the uncontrollable shivering. He had no idea how long heíd been standing in the cold rain before heíd passed out from exhaustion. His arms now felt leaden, and each movement of his head caused a small trickle of blood to run down his neck, from the tears the spikes were making in the soft flesh. His legs ached from being forced to stand in the same position for so long. He closed his eyes against the rising sun and wondered how long heíd be forced to stay here.
"Did you enjoy being so close to natures fury, Captain?" the coldly sarcastic voice asked from in front of him.
Crane forced his eyes partially open again and glared into the face of St. Laurent, "I prefer natures fury to your company anytime," he answered, his voice coarse and raspy.
"Weíll see if you feel the same way tomorrow morning. Ö Imagine Ö a full day in the scorching sunshine and then another night left to the elements of natureÖ..Iím sure you wonít be so cocky!"
"Donít bet on it," Crane said.
"Iím going to have Melanie join me here. Just think sheíll be sharing my bed just a few short yards away from you," St. Laurent grinned as his words had the desired effect on his prisoner. "I donít mind using you to keep her in line or should I say in bed. Iím sure sheíll do her best to keep me satisfied. Especially when she hears what Iíll do to you if she doesnít," he laughed harshly.
Craneís voice was filled with anger, "You do realize that Iím going to kill you."
"Oh my, the high and mighty hero does make idle threats after all!"
"It wasnít an idle threat," Crane said softly.
St. Lauren's laugh did nothing to hide the slight twinge of fear that crept into his voice as he continued to taunt the helpless man, "Thatís funny, Captain. From where I stand youíre already a dead man. Itís just a matter of time.You canít escapeÖ Iíve seen to that. Very little time in your case Iím afraid. Enjoy your morning because this afternoonís sun promises to be blistering. I think Iíll go have something cold to drink. Sorry you wonít be joining me but you need to learn some manners," he laughed and walked away.
Crane strained against his bonds once again. Each time he pulled away from the pole blood trickled down his neck and his tortured arms and legs screamed in protest of this new torture being forced upon them. His shirt already wet from the rains began to take on a red tinge. An hour later he was still struggling but to no avail. The intense heat had replaced the shivering cold. He closed his eyes and let his head rest back against the pole once again.
"Itís good to see you, Admiral," Burk-Crane smiled over his second cup of coffee.
Nelson sat opposite Morton and to the left of Burk-Crane. He was surprised at how quickly his friend had put away a full breakfast. Something just didnít sit right, "The way you put away that food Iíd swear you hadnít eaten in a week."
Burk-Crane laughed as he finished his coffee and held his cup out to the waitress, "Actually, Admiral, I did feel extra hungry. Must have been the vacation."
"I guess so. But you do realize that if Jamie hears about this increase in appetite heíll insist on more forced vacations. Maybe we should tell him. What do you think, Chip?" Nelson asked.
"I agree, Admiral. Weíve all been trying to get Lee to eat more."
Burk-Crane realized Lee Crane had been faking the hearty appetite in order to alert his friends to the fact that he wasnít who he seemed to be. ĎWonder what other little traps youíve set up,í he thought. "You wouldnít dare," Burk-Crane laughed.
"Donít bet on it," Morton said, half-serious.
"Come on, Chip, Admiral, you know I canít stand to be away from Ďmy ladyí that long."
"Actually I was shocked when Chip called and told me to meet you here. I was sure the first place youíd go was to Seaview."
"I wouldíve gone directly to Seaview, Admiral, but I figured if I ate first I wouldnít have to leave the ship the rest of the day."
Morton and Nelson stared at each other. Lee Crane would never call Seaview a ship. He insisted that Seaview was a boat, even going so far as correcting the president himself.
"Iím glad to see something good came out of this vacation. You do look more relaxed then Iíve seen you in quite some time," Morton said, hiding his suspicions until he could speak with Nelson privately.
"I am relaxed, Chip. Jamie was right about my needing to get away for a while. Heíd just better not try it again anytime soon. Letís go see my ship," Burk-Crane said unaware of the suspicions heíd provoked in Lee Crane's friends.
"All right, Lee. Thereís a lot for you to see. Chip has the new computer up and running," he said as they headed for the door. "By the way we also fixed the third step on the spiral stairs. You know the one you kept complaining about?"
"Oh, -- yes --I remember," Burk-Crane said, trying to cover his ignorance.
"UhÖChip, donít forget you and I have a meeting this afternoon. As soon as Lee has looked over the repairs I want you to meet me in my cabin," Nelson said.
"Do I need to be there, Admiral?"
"No, Lee. Iíd rather you and Chief Sharkey make sure Seaview is ready for us to leave tomorrow. You also have to check in with Jamie," Nelson told the impostor.
"Why do I need to see Jamie?" a trickle of uncertainty crept into his voice.
"It was part of the deal. You were to check in with him for a complete check-up before heíd ok you for duty."
Burk-Crane found it hard to hide his fear of what a complete physical could reveal about him. He had Lee Craneís face and physique but thatís where the resemblance ended. Heíd have to find a way to pass the test. St. Laurent and Richards would make him suffer if he failed. "All right, Admiral, Iíll see Jamie."
"Make sure you do, Lee," Nelson said.
St. Laurent solicitously helped Melanie out of the jeep. Grinning at her, he said, "Your gentleman friend is waiting in the clearing to say hello, my dear.." She looked to the clearing and almost fainted at what her eyes took in. Lee Crane, chained hand and foot to a pole, his arms stretched tightly above his head. His shirt was bloodstained and blood ran from a gash on his head, and from the collar fastened around his neck.
"Oh, God. Iím so sorry, Lee," Melanie cried out as she ran up the steps of the platform to the man chained to the pole. Turning to St. Laurent, she said, "Iíll do anything you want me to, Lucien. Please just let him go," placing her hand tenderly on Craneís cheek, she let her tears flow freely down her cheeks.
"You WILL do anything I want you to anyway, Melanie. If not your poor Captain will suffer some more and it will once again be because of you. Why, I told him you would be arriving soon, and reminded him that you are to blame for everything thatís happening to him. If it wasnít for you heíd probably be in his cabin on his way to my Country to honor that weakling."
Lee Crane heard the conversation but kept his eyes shut. The pain in his head, neck and shoulders had intensified as the day wore on and his sunburned body only added to his miseries. His thirst had grown as well and it didnít seem like he was going to get any water anytime soon. He heard the misery in Melanieís voice and wanted to assure her he was okay.
"Melanie, itís not your fault," Crane rasped out hoarsely.
Melanie lifted eyes haunted with pain, to look at Lee. "It is my fault, Lee. I brought you here."
Slowly, Lee opened his eyes to look at her. The sunlight glittered on the silver collar on her neck. "Yes, but you were duped into it," lee said tiredly
"Thank youÖ IÖ"
"My, myÖhow very touching. I really do so love watching you two. Itís like a soap opera; only the hero wonít be coming back from this trip," grabbing her arm, he pulled her toward him, "Melanie, come with me," he ordered.
"Please, Lucien, at least let me give him something to drink. He wonít be any good to you if he dies of dehydration," Melanie pleaded.
"First you and I will retire to my tent. If you please me, then the Captain can have some water."
"Donít do it, Melanie," Crane told her.
"I have to, Lee," she said simply.
Crane watched as the two people, one he despised and one he pitied, walked to, and entered the largest of the tents. He heard several smacks, and Melanieís cries, and swore to himself. ĎSt. Laurent, I promise youíll pay for the pain youíve caused her,í then his eyes closed once more, giving into the pain and exhaustion he felt..
Nelson looked up at the knock on his door, "Come in," he called.
Chip Morton opened the door and entered the office. He moved rapidly to a chair and sat down waiting for the admiral to finish signing the papers on his desk. When Nelson looked up at him he wasnít surprised by what he had to say.
"Thatís not Lee Crane!" Nelson stated simply.
"I agree, sir. Nice trick with the loose step on the spiral stairs. The real Lee Crane would have known there was nothing wrong with it. I also stopped by Jamieís office on the way over. I explained what was going on and asked him to do a physical but not to let on that weíre onto this guy. I thought it best that we keep that man in the dark as to our suspicions."
"That was a smart move, Chip. I think itís important that he believe he has us fooled. Otherwise we lose the advantage we have."
"I did as you asked me to and told Sharkey what we suspected. Heís going to stick by the impostor until further orders."
"I just hope he doesnít make it to obvious," Nelson said.
"He wonít. He said heíd get Ski and Pat to volunteer to keep an eye on him"
"Did you tell him not to let anyone else in on what we know?"
"Yes, Sir. I told Sharkey to come up with an excuse for the surveillance. Any idea where the real Lee Crane is?"
"Iíve been thinking about that, Chip. I have no idea where he is but I think I know why he was replaced. In two days Lee and I are supposed to take part in the inauguration ceremonies for president elect Francois DeBatista. What a perfect time for someone to assassinate him."
"Thatís why they replaced Lee. They know heíll be closer than anyone to the president."
"And who do you think would benefit most from the death of Francois DeBatista especially if itís by the same man who saved his life two months before."
"St. Laurent," Nelson reiterated. "It would give him the perfect opportunity to seize power again and throw suspicion on the US government."
"Do you think Lee is alive, Sir," Chip asked hopefully.
"I think so, Chip. I think St. Laurent is a sadistic man and heíd want to keep Lee alive. Heíd want him to know that he was to blame for his country being in trouble with the U.N."
"We have to find him!" Morton said angrily.
"We have no way of knowing where he is at the moment and itís highly unlikely that this impostor would tell us anything if we confronted him. If anything it would probably cause St. Laurent to kill the real Lee Crane. I think it best that we stick to the original plan and proceed as scheduled to the Isle of Saint-Jean. Thereís a good chance weíll find Lee there."
"Are you going to tell President DeBatista whatís happening?"
"I think we have to. He has a right to know when his life is in danger. At least heíll be able to take some precautions. Iíll set up a private meeting with him as soon as we arrive," Nelson told the younger man.
"Here, Lee try to drink some of this," Melanie said as she lifted the metal cup to Craneís dry, chapped lips. Night had fallen and once again his body trembled with chills from exposure and more. He opened his mouth and allowed her to slowly pour the water into his mouth. Melanie pulled the cup away not wanting him to choke as the soothing moisture flowed to the back of his parched tongue."Easy, Lee. Go easy. Itís better if you take small amounts. Iím sorry. I know you must be thirsty, but take it slowly."
"Are you all right?" he rasped weakly. He saw that she wore only a light, short robe that tied at the waist, and realized that she wore nothing beneath it.
"Iím fine, Lee. I ... I wonít let him break me. He only uses my body ...not my mind. So long as he canít reach my mind Iíll be okay...I will."
"Do you have any idea... any idea at all... when he plans to leave here?"
"Tomorrow night I think. He wants to be in Isle of Saint-Jean long before the ceremony is held for Francois DeBatista."
"Heíll never be able to get to the President," Crane said, although his voice lacked its usual conviction.
"I wish that were true, Lee. But Lucien is a dangerous man when he wants something and right now he wants his power back. Burk looks so much like you, how can you be sure your friends will not be fooled?"
"Because they basically went by the information in my file. Not everything about me was in those files. Chip and the Admiral know me better then a computer written file. They know how I react to different situations and they can tell when something is wrong. Donít worry, Melanie, theyíll find a way to save the Presidentís life."
"I hope so, Lee."
"Melanie, come here," St. Laurent, yelled from the open flap of his tent.
"What do you want, Lucien?" she asked fearfully.
He gestured crudely and then stated. "Iím cold and in need of the warmth of your lovely, soft, warm body lying in the bed next to me," he answered.íThat and other things." he laughed.
"I am tired, Lucien. Iíd like to go to my tent for tonight," she stated.
"NO! Remember our bargain...You will come to me now, or your Captain will suffer more, much more..." he said maliciously.
Melanie gazed into Craneís eyes for a moment. Tears again slowly rolled down her cheeks, as she gently kissed his, "I wonít let him get to me," she whispered softly in his ear. She turned, and walked to the tent. St. Laurent met her at the flap, kissing her harshly on the lips, and letting the belt of her robe fall to her sides. His eyes met Craneís as he put one hand on her breast, and pulled the flap closed behind them
Crane watched with mixed feelings. His anger was seething at the treatment that the dictator was giving Melanie. She was using her body to protect him. She was willing to sacrifice herself for bringing him here. She had a deep courage that people seldom showed and he was beginning to feel more than admiration for her. Somehow he would get them both out of the mess they were in. He didnít know how, but he would. He vowed to make Lucien St. Laurent pay for what he was doing to Melanie. He tried again to move and his taut, tortured body protested 'Maybe, when my head clears... and I can think...í he thought as his eyes closed and darkness once again received him with open arms.
Burk-Crane stood in the observation nose of the submarine Seaview. Heíd barely concealed his surprise when heíd come down the spiral stairs and saw the Herculite windows that made up the front bulkheads of the Sub. Even now, alone in the nose he stood with his hand running over the smooth surface in wonderment. ĎHow do these windows keep the water out?í he asked himself.
"I thought I was the only one who still wondered about those windows."
Burk-Crane jumped nervously at the voice, "Hi, Chip. Iíve always loved it here."
"Me too, Skipper, itís an amazing view."
"Yes it is. Whereís the Admiral?"
"Heís in his lab. You know the Admiral. Heís not happy unless heís working on something," Morton laughed.
"True. Thatís one of the things that makes working for him so interesting. Thereís always something he wants investigated," Burk-Crane told him. "You know, Chip, I think Iíll go back to my cabin and get some rest."
"You do look kind of tired, Lee. Jet lag must be catching up with you."
"Youíre probably right, Chip, just donít tell Jamie."
"I wonít. Night Lee."
"Night Chip," Burk-Crane said as he left the observation nose.
"Do you know what time it is, Captain?" St. Laurent asked loudly. He reached for Leeís hair, and pulled at it, jerking his head forward, and driving the spikes in the collar into his neck again.
Lee Crane fought to open his eyes. Two days and nights at the mercy of the elements were taking their toll on his body. He was wracked with fever. Heíd been given a little water the night before and none at all today. His mind, normally sharp and clear, struggled to focus. Thoughts of escape, for him as well as Melanie Richards, forced their way to the fore.
"Come now, Captain. I wouldnít want you to miss out on our voyage. Weíre going to travel in style on Damienís yacht. Unfortunately for you, there are no extra rooms so youíll be staying on deck. But donít worry we wonít let you fall overboard," he laughed and slapped Craneís face to make sure he had his full attention, "Weíll just have you chained to the yardarm. Come, Captain. I SAID OPEN YOUR EYES!"
"Go to hell," Craneís voice was no more than a hoarse whisper.
Instead of becoming irritated and angry, St. Laurent suddenly laughed, "So, you do have some fight left in you. Let him down."
Crane heard, rather than saw two men come up on either side of him. He felt his legs tingle as they removed the manacles from his ankles. He felt them release the chains that held his arms tightly above his head. Through the open slits of his eyes he saw and felt, St Laurent reach up and remove the collar from his neck.
Craneís head fell forward immediately and St. Laurent quickly grabbed his hair pulling back sharply. "Oh no, Captain, you donít get rid of your collar that easily," he laughed snapping the painful device back in place. He reached up, and removed the cuffs from his wrists, allowing Crane to sag forward.
Without warning Crane put all his weight into a maneuver that drove him into St. Lauren's unsuspecting body. The momentum drove St. Laurent across the upraised platform and over the edge where he landed hard, the wind knocked out of him.
Crane tried to use his hands to stop himself from falling, but found he didnít have the strength to hold himself up. His body hit the wooden platform hard and he lay still. ĎGet up and fight, Crane. Youíve come this far, donít give into the pain,í he thought. His mind was trying to force his body to react, but he failed miserably. Slowly he pushed himself to his knees and opened his eyes. One of the guards had his rifle pointed directly at his head and Crane sat back. A feeling of futility washed over him as he saw St. Laurent regain his feet and slowly advance towards him.
"That was a big mistake, Captain," he said angrily. " A very big one. Indeed it will be most painful for you. "
"I had to try," Crane stated matter of factly.
St. Laurent grinned down at his prisoner, grabbing his hair, and pulling his face upwards. "You know, Captain? I think itís time I introduced you to my kitty!" he snarled.
The two guards lifted him to his feet, and secured his arms to the post so that he now hung suspended by his wrists, facing the pole with his back to St. Laurent. They ripped his shirt open at the back and walked away.
St. Laurent walked to his tent, returning with a black case in one hand and his other wrapped around Melanieís wrist. She was still clad only in the light robe, and St. Laurent caught the lascivious leers the guards directed at her, and smiled at his possession and domination of the woman. He turned her over to one of the guards and placed the case on the ground in front of Crane. He opened the case so that the lid obscured his prisonerís view. Slowly he pulled an object from the case and smiled maliciously, "Behold, my kitty," he laughed as he showed Crane a wicked looking cat-o-nine-tails. The whip had nine separately braided leather strips; each with a tiny barbed hook imbedded in the leather. He slapped the handle into his hand several times, and smiled. "Lovely lady, my Kitty, isnít she Crane...I do so enjoy sharing her touch with others who are in need of lessons!!"
"OH GOD!!NO!" Melanie screamed. "Please!!! Lucien, donít do this," she begged as she pulled away from her guard and threw herself at St. Lauren's feet.
"Touching, my dear, most touching... I must say I do enjoy you groveling at my feet, wearing nothing but that robe. A lovely view, really. But unfortunately the Captain needs to learn a lesson... a very important lesson... that lesson is that Crane NOT TOUCH ME!!! Five lashes should be enough."
Tears streamed down Melanieís face as she watched St. Laurent snap the whip. Getting quickly to her feet she stood in front of him, "Please, Lucien, Iíll do anything."
"You will?" he asked. "Anything at all?"
"Yes...Yes, I will," she answered.
"You know how much damage I can do with Kitty?"
"Yes," she replied quietly.
"Would you like to lessen that damage?" he asked.
"Oh, Yes...please...." she answered hopefully.
"Then you take Kitty and administer the five lashes."
Melanieís face quickly changed to a terrified look. Her mouth fell open in a wide ĎOí as she then shook her head vehemently, "No, Lucien, I canít," she stammered.
"Then if the damage is severe, itís your fault."
Melanie unconsciously reached for the whip; tears of anguish streaming from her eyes, "Please, Lucien, Please... Iíll do anything you want. But please... donít make me do this." She looked at Lee, her eyes locking with his.
He nodded ever so slightly...and said in a barely audible voice... "It's not yourÖfault, Melanie, remember heÖ he can't touch ourÖminds."
As her shaking hand took the whip from his, St. Laurent stopped her by grabbing her free wrist, "If youíre thinking of taking it easy on your dear Captain, ...donít, "he sneered "If I see you holding back I will add a lash for each one you go easy with," he told her.
Melanie moved around the pole until she was facing his back. "Oh, Lee, Iím so sorry," she whispered as she lifted the whip over her head and brought it down resoundingly on his bare back.
Lee held his breath as the cat-o-nine-tails landed, tearing into his skin, and bringing an immediate searing pain. He tried to hold his breath as the blows fell. He heard Melanieís terrible cries of anguish mingling with his own; wrung from him by the burning pain. It was impossible for him not to cry out. With a valiant effort he gasped, "NotÖyourÖfault."
"Iím sorry," she said, tears drying on her face as she dropped the whip and reached up to take his face into her hands. She laid her head lightly on his shoulder.
Lee felt her involuntary shudders, and wished he could reassure her that he knew it wasnít her fault. She had done it in order to save him from the more brutal punishment St. Laurent would have inflicted, "I know," he said his eyes closed and consciousness mercifully faded.
"Enough of this. Take him down and take him to the ship. Make sure he is secured to the yardarm. Melanie and I will join you shortly."
"Can I put something on those cuts?" Melanie pleaded.
St. Laurent grinned malevolently, "I tell you what Iíll do, my dear. If you promise to be my willing little concubine for the duration then you may care for the Captainís injuries as you see fit."
"Will you untie him?"
"Thatís not part of the deal. I made you an offer, what is your answer?" he asked.
"Iíll do whatever you want," she answered in defeat.
"How long before we reach the Isle of Saint-Jean?" Nelson asked Morton.
"We should be there in less than two hours, Sir," Morton told him as he took the empty seat across the desk from Nelson.
"Did you send the message to President DeBatista?"
"Yes, Sir. I sent it via secure channels and made sure Sparks understood that it was a private message from you to the President. Heís probably wondering why you didnít have Lee deliver it to him instead of me. I wish we could let the crew in on whatís happening."
"I do to, Chip. But Iím afraid we have to keep it between the four of us. I donít want to take a chance on the impostor finding out we know heís not the real Lee Crane. Besides we need to know what heís planning and the best way to do that is by letting him toe the line and hope he hangs himself with it."
"If he doesnít maybe Iíll do it for him," Morton said. "Do you think Leeís all right, Admiral?" he asked.
"I just donít know, Chip. Lucien St. Laurent is a sadistic SOB and I hate to think heís the one whoís got Lee. He probably holds Lee and myself responsible for his removal from power and that makes him an extremely dangerous man. Heíd forfeit Leeís life if it meant exacting revenge on either of us."
"Weíll just have to make sure St. Laurent doesnít get the chance to exact his revenge."
"What exactly did you and Lee do to ruin this guys plans? I mean I know he was removed from power but how were you involved?"
"Thatís a long story, Chip. Let me see if I can give you the short version," Nelson said settling back in his chair. "It happened eight months ago. Lee and I were asked to infiltrate Saint-Jean and contact DeBatista."
"President DeBatista?" Chip asked.
"Thatís right but at the time he was working with the resistance forces. St. Laurent was in power at the time and was running the country as a dictatorship. People were impoverished and screaming for help. St. Laurent killed anyone who dared challenge him. He ordered his men to Kill DeBatista on sight. Lee and I were there to protect him and help him rid the country of the dictator. St. Lauren's men didnít know us and dressed has everyone else in rags we were able to slip into the city and finally into his palatial home. After that it was simply a matter of finding his room."
"I take it his guards werenít very good," Morton grinned.
"If you donít treat the people who work for you properly then no matter what you pay them theyíll never be completely loyal. I think thatís something we taught St. Laurent. Itís too bad he was able to escape from prison."
"How did he escape?" Morton asked.
"The usual way. Paid off the guard to let him out then promptly killed him with his bare hands. He must have had a boat or something waiting for him. No one has seen him since the day he escaped."
"Iíd hate to think of Lee in his hands."
"Me too, Chip. We just have to pray heís all right. Iím going to check some things in the lab. Iíll meet you in the control room in an hour or so," Nelson said as he stood and went to the door.
"Aye, Sir," Chip said following him out.
An exhausted and drained Lee Crane watched the crew scurry around the ship. Heíd been strapped to the yardarm of the vessel for nearly two days. Blood had seeped from the puncture wounds from the collar and had dried on his bare chest. St. Laurent had ordered that the remains of his shirt be removed as soon as they boarded the ship, simply more proof that he was a sadist who enjoyed inflicting pain on his helpless victims. The skin on his chest and torn back had blistered and burned in the sun and the cool breeze off the ocean was the only relief he felt. Even his clothes were no longer welcome as the they were soaked by the salt water and chafed against his skin. At night he suffered from the colder winds and twice heíd been drenched in a downpour. At those times, with the wind, rain, and the waves washing over the deck, he felt close to giving up. His body had been battered, as well as his spirit, and the pain was almost beyond comprehension. The salt water alone, on the open wounds on his back drove him to the edge of consciousness more than once. Only the collar prevented his complete loss of sense. His arms were stretched tightly apart, chained to the beam above him, and his muscled shoulders ached. His ankles were chained securely to iron rings on the deck, usually used to hold the ropes used in tying off the small sailing vessel, and his entire body was a mass of pain. The wound in his thigh had not quite healed, but the pain he felt from the new injuries overshadowed the pain from it. The only respite at all was what heíd been given when Melanie was allowed to treat his wounds. She always brought him water and a small morsel of food. All she was allowed to do was apply some ointment, and on her last brief visit, he had asked her to stop that. It only made his pain worse, not better. They both knew that his endurance was failing. He could feel his strength waning and hoped he could hold out long enough to do what he knew he must. ĎI have to find some way to let the Admiral know whatís going on. I canít let St. Laurent win!í he thought.
Melanie walked along the rail of the boat until she faced Lee Crane. The bright sunshine showed how badly heíd been treated by not only St. Laurent, but also the elements. She tried in vain to hide the horror she felt about what St. Laurent had forced her to do. Every time she looked at the injuries to his back she was overwhelmed with guilt. Even though she knew sheíd had no choice she didnít think she could ever forgive herself for making him suffer. ĎIím so sorry, Lee. I promise Iíll make him pay,í she thought.
"Lee." She called his name softly and hesitantly.
Lee Crane opened his eyes and tried to focus on the woman standing before him. He saw that she was still wearing only the robe. He groaned as the sunlight set off fireworks inside his head and he quickly snapped them shut.
"Here," she said. "Have some water."
Crane opened his eyes slowly, stopping when the sun became too bright. He opened his dry mouth as she placed the cup of cold water in front of him. He drank deeply until she pulled it away.
"More," he said hoarsely.
"Just a little," she said lifting it back to his lips. Not wanting his stomach to rebel against too much at once she allowed him to drink only a small amount at a time, knowing he needed it to survive
"How longÖ beforeÖ. we reach Saint Jean?" he asked, his voice not quite so hoarse.
"We should be there sometime after dark. Lucien doesnít want to be seen so heís bringing us in by the back way. Weíll be anchoring offshore and then going upstream by dinghy," she told him.
"How many men isÖ heÖ taking?"
"I donít know. Iíve tried to listen in when he talks to Damien but neither of them trusts me anymore. They tell me to leave. They wonít let me have my clothes, they think I may try to escape, but I wonít. Not without you. Thatís why Iím here. Damien and Lucien are making plans."
"Admiral Ö.must warnÖ," he said not realizing heíd spoken aloud.
"I donít think Lucien is going to give you that chance. But maybe I can get to him," she volunteered.
"Too dangerous," Crane told her.
"I have to do something," she said.
"You canÖ the dinghy." Crane whispered.
"How?" she asked.
"OverÖ over theÖside. I'll make itÖashore. Dark. Will work."
"But youíre handcuffed. Youíll drown!"
"What good is that?" she asked.
"I canÖunpick," he tried to grin.
"Iíll try," she told him. "Iíd better go before Lucien comes up," she said.
ThanksÖMel.. Melanie," he told her.
Melanie walked away thinking about the gleam of determination that still lit his eyes. ĎLee Crane you are a lot stronger than Lucien gives you credit for. Maybe Iíll surprise you tonight,í she thought vowing that Crane wouldnít be the only one in the water that night.
Burk-Crane walked alongside Nelson as they entered the palatial home of Francois DeBatista. There were two Guards assigned to escort them wherever they wanted to go. Upon arrival Nelson had explained to the male secretary that they were here to see the President. When the secretary verified who they were he announced them and was told to bring the two honored guests to the main house immediately.
Guards were in abundance in the home and Burk-Crane began to wonder if this was such a great plan. The ceremony was to be held in the large formal ballroom the next evening. He was to shoot DeBatista as he placed the medal around his neck and then make his exit through a secret door St. Laurent had told him about. ĎI should never have agreed to this,í he thought, knowing it would be almost impossible to escape after he killed the president.
Nelson kept glancing at the man beside him. The impostor seemed to be having conflicting thoughts. His facial expressions told Nelson he was worried about something. "Something wrong, Lee" he asked.
"N...no, Sir. I was just thinking how big this place is," Burk-Crane answered.
ĎI bet you were,í Nelson thought and then smiled. "It certainly is, isnít it?"
"Yes, Sir," Burk-Crane said as their escort brought them to an ornately decorated door.
One of the guards knocked on the door and a beautiful young woman opened it almost instantly. Her dark hair was pulled back in a tight bun. Her dark brown eyes twinkled as she recognized the two men before her, "Admiral Nelson, Captain Crane, so good to see you again, please come inside. Francois will be done shortly."
Nelson and Burk-Crane followed the woman into the room and took seats opposite her, "Mrs. DeBatista, it is so good to see you again," Nelson said.
"Thank-you Admiral. Would you or Captain Crane like coffee or maybe some Papaya juice?" she asked.
"Iíd love some Papaya Juice," Nelson told her. She passed him a tall glass with a slice of lemon on the side.
"Iíll have the same," Burk-Crane said.
"Here you are, Captain," she said passing him a glass.
Burk-Crane swallowed half the glass before placing it on the marble topped table in front of him. His thirst slaked he began to relax and some of the tension seeped out of his body. He smiled at the woman sitting across from him, "That was just what I needed. Thank-you Mrs. DeBatista," he said.
"Youíre welcome, Captain," she said, looking up as the door opened, "Ah, there you are Francois. I was beginning to think you were enjoying your paperwork to much to join us."
Francois DeBatista was a tall, brown haired man. His broad shoulders and well-muscled chest were visible through the ruffled white silk shirt he wore. His expressive face was handsome and easily showed the love and respect he had for his wife, "I would much rather spend my days wrapped in your lovely arms, Bridgett, " he said as he sat beside her and wrapped his arms around her lovingly. He kissed her cheek and then turned to his guests, "It is good to see you again, Harriman, Lee," he said.
"Thank-you for inviting us, Francois," Nelson said.
"You two saved my life, Harriman. I am forever in your debt." DeBatista said, unconsciously rubbing his right thigh.
"As am I," Bridgett said. "I would not have my husband and our baby would not have his or her father if you had not stopped St. Laurent," she told them placing her hand protectively around her stomach.
"Iím glad we were able to help," Burk-Crane told them.
Nelson fought to control himself. The man sitting beside him had nothing to do with saving DeBatistaís life, yet here he was trying to take credit for it. He vowed that this man would not succeed in whatever his plans were, "Congratulations to you both. When is the happy day?"
"The Doctor says sometime in early December," Bridgett said her face glowing.
"We are both so happy," DeBatista said as he kissed her hand.
"Francois, I need to speak with you alone," Nelson said.
"That sounds ominous, Admiral," Bridgett said slowly getting to her feet. "Maybe Captain Crane would like a tour of the house and grounds. Would you care to join me in an afternoon stroll, Captain?" she asked.
"Iíd love to," Burk-Crane said eyeing Nelson suspiciously. He followed Bridgett DeBatista out the door and watched nervously as it closed behind him.
"Now, Harriman, what seems to be the problem?" DeBatista asked.
"The problem," Nelson began, "is that Crane is not who he seems to be."
"What are you saying?"
"Iím saying that that man is not who he claims to be."
DeBatista stared at Nelson unbelievingly, "How do you know?" he asked.
"Iíve known Lee Crane a long time. This man may look and act like Lee Crane and would probably pull this charade off if Chip Morton and myself didnít know him as well as we do. Lee left on vacation, never once calling to check on repairs to Seaview. That alone aroused our suspicions. But he also returned with a rather hearty appetite."
"Lee Crane with an appetite. I seem to remember he didnít eat enough for a bird," DeBatista laughed.
"Exactly. More alarm bells went off when he wanted to stop by a restaurant before going to Seaview."
"Iím beginning to get the picture. Iíll have him arrested immediately," DeBatista said reaching for the intercom.
"No, please donít," Nelson said quickly.
"I think I know whoís behind this and if Iím right heíll kill the real Lee Crane if he finds out we know who he is."
"So who do you think has your Captain?" DeBatista asked.
"Lucien St. Laurent," Nelson watched as DeBatistaís face showed his surprise.
"Are you sure?" the President asked.
"Iím pretty certain. Who else would replace Lee Crane with an impostor? I think he plans to have you killed tomorrow in hopes of regaining his power," Nelson explained.
"Lucien St. Laurent is a vile man. I wish we had been able to carry out his death penalty while we had the chance."
"I am not a man who condones capital punishment but if anyone deserves it itís St. Laurent. We have to find a way to capture him before he carries out his plans. Maybe you should postpone the ceremonies," Nelson said.
"You know I canít do that, Harriman. Too many things depend on the ceremony going ahead as planned. My people need to see that I am a man of my word. I promised them that as soon as I took power Lucien St. Laurent would never threaten them again. I have to prove that I was serious when I said nothing would prevent the celebration tomorrow. Iím sorry but delaying the ceremony is out of the question."
"Thatís what I thought. There is something else we can do," Nelson told him
"What do you have in mind?" DeBatista asked.
"I think we need to lay a little trap. Weíll keep this Crane in the dark right up till the ceremony. I have a feeling thatís when heís supposed to kill you. The longer weíre able to keep him thinking everything is normal the more chance we have of finding St. Laurent and Lee Crane."
"Maybe I should have a guard assigned to both of you."
"What good would that do?" Nelson asked.
"Your guard would do nothing. He would just be there for show. Craneís guard would be more like a prison guard. Heíd watch everything the impostor did and relay anything suspicious to us."
"Thatís not a bad idea. But we have to come up with a reason why youíve assigned guards to your honored guests," Nelson said.
"Thatís the reason, right there. I want to protect my honored guests in case there are radicals out there who want to ruin the ceremonies," DeBatista told him with a grin.
"Perfect," Nelson said, grinning at the irony of the situation.
"Now that we have a plan, why donít we join Bridgett and order some lunch on the terrace."
St. Laurent had surprised both Melanie and Crane by seating them beside each other in the small inflatable dinghy. He had allowed her to put on shorts and a small shirt for the trip. The shirt was much too small and the shorts much too tight, but at least he had allowed her some clothes. Melanie laid her arm on Craneís leg, and placed her hand on the side of the dinghy. She carefully reached around his waist with her other arm giving the impression of holding on to him.
She found her mind drifting towards sleep as the small craft made itís way up the river towards its destination. She sighed as her leg touched up against his and began to succumb to the rest her body would need before this ordeal was over.
Crane felt her breathing slow towards sleep and relaxed his own body. Most of the outraged tingles from the renewed circulation to his limbs had lessened into dull throbbing aches. He felt stronger but even he had doubts about pulling this off. But there was no choice. He had to. He remembered taking this same trip with Nelson when theyíd agreed to help DeBatista overthrow St. Laurent, so he knew it would take them almost two hours to reach the city because of the small, virtually silent engines they were using.
Lee deliberately closed his eyes and controlled his own breathing, ĎIf I can make them believe Iím sleeping I have a better chance of escaping when the time comes. I just hope Melanie has that pin on her,í he thought.
Richards and St. Laurent watched the two sleeping figures from the lead boat, "Looks like they wonít be giving us any problems," Damien said shutting off the flashlight heíd used to illuminate the people in the next boat.
St Laurent grabbed the flashlight, "I told you no lights!" he snarled.
"Why not? Thereís no one around," Richards said.
"How do you know? DeBatista is a smart man. What makes you think he wonít have people watching the river? My men are watching those two. Iíve warned them that if either Crane or Melanie escapes then they forfeit their own lives. I finds it makes people much more diligent in their duties," St. Laurent told him.
"I hope nothing goes wrong with Burk."
"Why should it? You said yourself he was a perfect imitation."
"I know I did and he is. At least his outer appearance is. I just donít know if he had enough time to study Craneís mannerisms."
St. Laurent glared at him angrily, "You better hope that he is perfect in every way. Otherwise your life will be forfeit. I warned you I donít accept failure," he told her.
Richards face took on a haggard look, "Iíve done what I could," he said, his voice filled with nervous tension.
"Youíd better hope it was enough," St. Laurent said simply.
Crane listened to the conversation that drifted back from the lead boat. The night was so still that he caught every word that was exchanged between Richards and St. Laurent. He could sense the tension building between the two men. ĎRichards doesnít seem as confident as he makes out. He just may be another chink in St. Lauren's plans,í he thought.
The next hour passed quickly and Crane felt as if the time for action was at hand. He gently nudged Melanie and was surprised to see she hadnít been sleeping. Sheíd been pretending to be asleep just as he had. He could barely make out her slight smile in the moonlight.
Melanie gently pushed against Craneís hand until she felt him open it. She opened her own hand and dropped the small pin into his.
The gentle nudge from Melanieís body sent ripples of pain through his ravaged body. He barely held back the cry that rose to his lips as he waited for the pain to subside to a dull throbbing ache. He was finally able to concentrate on the next phase of his plan.
Crane slowly panned the small dinghy. His eyes were opened slightly, enough for him to make out the others in the boat without having to turn his head. There were four men seated around them in the dinghy, one of them was busy steering the craft while the other three seemed to be bored. ĎPerfect,í he thought, and was surprised as the night became even darker. ĎClouds,í he thought gratefully, knowing this would help him disappear.
Without telegraphing his plans, Crane used his legs to suddenly push himself up and over the side of the boat in one fluid motion. He was surprised to feel another body hit the water with him. Without conscious thought he headed for the bottom hoping she would follow him. The excruciating sting of the water as it washed into his wounds had almost made him inhale. It was only a matter of seconds before he had the cuffs off and was able to reach out and pull her to him. He pointed in the opposite direction that the boats were going and they began to swim towards shore as fast as his pain-ridden body allowed.
St. Laurent had heard the splash from behind him and swore angrily, "That better not have been Crane!" he yelled at his men.
"It was, Sir," a terrified voice called from the boat, " We thought Crane and the girl were sleeping."
"I donít pay you to think. Youíd better get in the water and bring them back, NOW!" St. Laurent ordered sharply.
"Yes, Sir," one man answered, and immediately there were four distinct splashes as the men dove into the water.
"Of all the stupid mistakes," St. Laurent said to no one in particular. "Theyíre dead. I swear Iíll kill them with my own hands."
"Calm down, Lucien," Richards said anxiously. "What can Crane and Melanie do. Heís in no shape for a swim, let alone the long trek into Saint-Jean and she wonít know where to go. We have to keep going if you expect to make the rendezvous and have the troops in place. The ceremony is this evening and weíre already cutting it close."
St. Lauren's eyes were filled with angry fire as he glared at Damien Richards, "Iím in charge here and you would do well to remember that," he said.
"I know, Lucien. Iím just trying to make sure you get back in power," Richards told him.
Some of the fire went out of St. Lauren's eyes as Damienís reasoning began to sink in, "The problem with your theory is that I need Crane as a scapegoat."
"Why bother. Burk is acting as Lee Crane. Make him your scapegoat instead. Let the people see you kill DeBatistaís killer. They wonít know the difference."
St. Lauren's face slowly lost its angry glare, "Sometimes you surprise me, Damien. Thatís exactly what Iím going to do. Letís go," he told the man driving his dinghy.
"What about the men in the water?" Richards asked.
"Leave them. Let them take their chances with Crane. If he doesnít get them then Iíll have them shot for letting him escape in the first place."
Crane and Melanie clung to one another as they dragged their water soaked bodies onto the rocky beach. Crane knew they were being followed. Heíd heard voices calling out, as theyíd surfaced just offshore. Unsure how much of a head start they had, he pulled his companion to her feet and half ran, half stumbled into the heavy underbrush that covered the edge of the rocky embankment.
Lee hoped his ONI training would work to his advantage, and he tried to concentrate on keeping the pain at bay. The collar around his neck was a constant reminder of what would happen if St. Laurent caught up with them.
He kept moving as fast as he could, allowing Melanie to take the lead. She held his hand and pulled him with her, knowing that to stop meant certain capture. Suddenly she felt as if a dead weight were attached to arm as her companion fell to his knees on the marshy ground.
"Iím sorry, Melanie, I have to stop," he told her breathlessly.
Melanie knew he was right. Heíd been through more in the past week than most men had in a lifetime. She had even caused some of his injuries, "All right, Lee. Weíll rest but just for a moment."
Lee closed his eyes and sitting down, allowed his body to relax, slightly, on the marshy softness. Closing his eyes, as he rested his head in his arms, he sighed in relief. ĎJust for a moment,í he thought.
Melanie stood and looked around her. The thick, heavy foliage was in abundance in every direction. Leaving Crane where he sat, she set out to find the easiest way to get them out of the marshy land. She was surprised when she found that the foliage ended abruptly a short distance from where they had stopped. She quickly returned to her companion. "Lee," she whispered, hoping to warn him if he was conscious.
"Iím here, Melanie. Did you find anything?" he asked, groggily, raising his head, and looking at her, his hazel eyes glazed with pain.
"I found a way out of this brush. Are you ready to go on?"
"Whether Iím ready or not doesnít matter," he slowly responded. " We have to stay mobile" he groaned, she reached to touch his arm, "and find somewhere to hole up until this afternoon. We need to get to Saint-Jean and warn the others." He exhaled heavily, and insisted, "Melanie, You have to promise to get word to the Admiral if I canít," he said, feeling the weakness seeping into his body.
"Weíll both make it, Lee. Iíll not leave you." Melanieís assurance was strong as well as adamant.
"You may not have a choice," he cautioned. "We canít allow St. Laurent to win," Crane stated. "Promise me, youíll go on if I canít," he said, his hand unconsciously going to the painful collar around his neck. Blood from the puncture wounds in his neck mixed with the water making the collar rub against his skin irritably.
"I promise," she said, her voice lacking conviction. She wanted to reach out and hold the ravaged man before her, but knew it would only cause him more pain. Tears seeped into her eyes as she took his hand, helping him to rise, and leading the way to the opening in the brush.
St. Lauren's men heard the boats moving away from them. They talked amongst themselves and knowing that they would be killed even if they returned with the prisoners gave up the chase and turned inland. Theyíd make their way to one of the out ports and find their way back to their own countries.
Lucien St. Laurent seethed. Things were going from bad to worse. First Crane and Melanie had escaped his clutches. Half an hour later the dinghy heíd been sharing with Damien Richards and four other men, struck a rocky outcrop which tore a six-inch gash in the small craft, causing it to deflate rapidly. He was forced to swim to shore as his men tried to pull the craft along with them.
A few moments later St Laurent sat on the bank glaring at his men as they removed the items from what remained of his craft. His clothing clung to his body, weighed down by the excess water dripping to the marshy ground. "Iíll kill him for this," he said angrily grabbing a gun from one of his men. Without a word to anyone he walked up to the driver of the lost dinghy and shot the man in the chest. He was dead before he hit the ground. "I hate incompetence!" he said throwing the gun to the ground.
Richards's face showed the shock he felt at what heíd just witnessed. Swallowing the lump in his throat he asked one of St. Lauren's men to get him a change of clothes from one of the men. His own change had been lost when the dinghy had sunk. He saw that St. Laurent didnít even need to ask for a change as one of his men ran up to him with an immaculately pressed uniform. He glanced at the dead man on the ground in front of him, Ďpoor guy, wasnít even his fault. Nobody could have seen those rocks in this darkness. Lucien should have let them use some kind of lights,í he thought.
"Is everything all right, Admiral?" Burk-Crane asked as he walked onto the terrace the next morning.
"Good morning, Lee, everythingís fine. I was just thinking how busy everyone was and wondering if there was anything we could do to help," Nelson said forcing himself to smile.
"Everyone does seem to be rather busy. The main banquet hall looks great. Have you seen it?"
"I stopped in earlier. Francois and Bridgett were there. They showed me where they wanted you and I seated. Theyíve honored us by placing me to their right and you on the left."
"Really!" Burk-Crane exclaimed in surprise. "I thought those places were only for the heads of state."
"Normally they are, but Francois has insisted that without you and I there would be no heads of state."
"I guess he really is grateful to us. But, Admiral, why the guards? It makes me feel more like a prisoner than an honored guest."
"I know what you mean, Lee, but Francois has assigned all his guests a guard. He doesnít want to leave anything to chance and that includes something happening to one of us. Itís only until tomorrow and then weíll be heading back to Seaview, so just relax and enjoy yourself."
"Aye, Sir. Iíll try," Burk-Crane told him as he reached for the pot of coffee.
Hours later, Lee awoke to bright sunlight seeping through overhead branches. He opened his eyes and pulled himself to a sitting position. The pain in his body returned and he quickly lay back on his side. Breathing slowly he concentrated all his efforts on making the pain more tolerable. It was a technique heíd learned from a Chinese agent, when heíd been assigned to help the man get important information out of his country. He hadnít quite mastered the technique but he knew enough to make his body respond to his conscious commands.
Melanie watched as Crane began to breathe deeply. Unable to help him with his pain, she had to be content with just being there, should he need her. Heíd been through so much and now he faced an even tougher battle that could possibly end in his death. ĎI wish I could turn back the clock, Lee. If only I hadnít suggested kidnapping you. I thought it was all fun and games. Iím so sorry,í she thought as his eyes opened and slowly focus on her.
"Are you ready to go?" he asked wearily.
"Which direction?" she asked.
"Iím pretty certain the city is north of our position, so thatís the way we go," he told her as she helped him to his feet.
"How far is it?" she asked hoping that it wouldnít be too far.
"Itís a long walk, Iím afraid. If this section of the Island is as bad as the one the Admiral and I went through then itís going to take us all day. Maybe you should go on ahead," he suggested.
"No, we stick together. Besides I donít know anything about directions. Iíd probably end up back where we were," she told him, smiling wryly.
Lee and Melanie skirted the edge of the heavy foliage for over an hour until they spotted a small, rundown, clapboard house. Smoke billowed from a small chimney in the roof and the smell of bacon permeated from the open windows. They made their way to within one hundred yards of the house and sank into the brush to see how many people lived there.
It wasnít long before a small, redheaded boy exited the house and they watched as he made his way to a tiny shack surrounded by wire. White and brown chickens squawked as the boy opened the gate and made his way inside. In his hand he held a metal pan filled with seed and he flicked it around to the hungry birds. While the birds busied themselves with the seed the boy disappeared into the shack and came out a few moments later with the bowl half filled with eggs. He hummed a tune as he passed by the spot where Lee and Melanie were hiding. Suddenly he turned his head and stared straight at them.
Lee and Melanie froze, neither one wanting to scare the boy. His bright, sea green eyes showed the happiness of childhood innocence. "Who are you?" he asked, curiously, walking right up to them.
"Weíre friends," Crane told him, smiling as he slowly came out of his hiding place.
"Ma sayís that only bad people hide away. Are you bad People?" he asked.
"No, weíre not bad people but the people following us are," Melanie told him.
"You wonít hurt me and my Ma?" he asked.
"No. We donít hurt people. Whatís your name?" Crane asked.
"Benjamin, but Ma calls me Benny. Whatís yours?"
My name is Lee and this is Melanie. Is there any one here with you?"
"Did the people chasing you hurt you and take your shirt and put that doggie collar on you?" Benny asked with a little boyís natural curiosity.
"Yes, Benny, they did. We have to get into town as soon as possible. Is anyone here with you?" he asked again. Lee found that the world around him was beginning to take on a decidedly blurry edge, and he clenched his fists, hoping he could force himself to remain alert, and not lose the tentative grip he now held on his reality.
"My Ma and me live alone," he told them and suddenly he stuck his little chest out and puffed proudly, "Ma says Iím the man of the house."
"I can see that," Melanie said. She heard a small cry from the man beside her and turned to see him sink, slowly to his knees, and then pitch forward onto the ground. "Lee!" she exclaimed. She dropped to her knees and felt beneath the hated collar for a pulse. She found one but even to her inexperienced touch it felt weak. "Benny, I have to get my friend inside. Do you think you and your Ma could help us?" she asked hopefully.
"Iíll go get her. Sheíll know what to do. She helps Dr Martin whenever he needs her," he said and ran towards the small house shouting, "Ma! MA! Come quick! A man needs you to make him better."
The door to the little house opened and a petite woman came rushing out, "Whatís all the shouting about Benny?" she asked wiping her hands in her clean white apron.
"Ma, heís hurt," Benny said excitedly pointing to the two newcomers.
"Oh, my stars," she said as she dropped her apron and ran to woman and the fallen man, "What happened?" she asked the woman kneeling beside him.
"Itís a long story. Please, canít we make sure heís ok first, then Iíll tell you everything," Melanie told the other woman.
The young woman was almost an older duplicate of her son, long red hair, hung in a ponytail down her slender neck, stopping just below the shoulders. Her expressive sea green eyes revealed the nervousness she felt as she gazed at the two people. Finally deciding she had to do something, she reached out and took her sonís hand, "Benny, I want you to go up to the house and hold the door. Whatís your name?" she asked turning her attention to the woman.
"Ok, Melanie, letís get your friend into the house."
"Paulette. Paulette Bouchard. I hope he stayís unconscious till we get him inside. How in the world did his skin get so burnt? And his back looks like he took a whipping." Eyeing them carefully, she questioned, " Would this have anything to do with the upcoming Inauguration?"
Without a word Melanie helped Paulette pull Crane to his feet. Between the two women they were able to get him into the house where he was placed on a cot next to a small earthen fireplace. "Help me get these pants off," Paulette said, and the two women removed the tattered remains of the pants from his body. "Benny."
"Bring me the first aid kit Dr. Martin left here, and some clean towels as well."
"Yes maíam," Benny said hurrying off to do as he was told.
"Melanie, if you want me to help him at all, you have to follow my directions implicitly. I want you to fill that bowl with water and bring it to me."
Melanie walked to the small hand pump and filled the bowl with water. As she turned to bring it back to the cot, she noticed that the little table had been set for two people and her heart sank at the thought of what would happen if Lucienís men caught up to them here. Knowing there was no way they could go on, with Lee lying unconscious on the cot, she hurried back to help Paulette. Benny had already returned with the first aid kit and towels.
"I want you to bathe these burns as gently as possible." She sighed as she tried to examine Craneís lean and damaged body. Under the injuries, he looked to be a well-built man. He would need that strength if he were to survive this! "Donít rub the wounds. Just pat them with the cloth. Rubbing would only succeed in tearing the remaining skin away. I have to know if any of the blistering is infected, but with all the dirt covering his body, itís hard to tell. You two must have been rolling in the dirt."
"Falling, maybe, but not rolling," Melanie said, and Paulette heard the first trace of fatigue in her voice.
"You go sit at the table before you fall down. Help yourself to some breakfast. Benny get Melanie a cup from the cupboard."
"Yes, maíam," Benny said. He took Melanie by the hand and walked her to the table. "Maíll make him better. Just you wait and see. Dr. Martin says sheíll make a good Doctor if she can go to school."
Paulette smiled at the confidence her six-year old son had in her, then turned her attention back to the man on the bed, and began the tedious job of cleaning his numerous wounds. Once she had his chest cleaned she spread a soothing mixture from an Aloe Vera plant on his skin. She then turned her attention to the wound in his thigh, ĎThis should have been stitched,í she thought as she cleaned it and put sterile bandages over it. She looked at his face and shook her head, ĎNot much I can do about the neck until we get rid of the collar, but I can clean you up a bit.í
Melanie watched as the woman finished with the wounds to the front of Craneís body. She continued to sip the hot coffee and mechanically ate the bacon and toast Benny placed in front of her. Her stomach grumbled in appreciation and Benny laughed.
"Your tummy is talking to you, Melanie," he laughed
"It is, isnít it?" Melanie agreed, smiling in spite of her worries.
"Iím going to need your help, Melanie. We have to get him on his stomach, so I can tend to the lash marks," Paulette told her. "Was this done with a cat Ďoí nine tails?"
Melanie nodded, Ďyesí, put the cup down and hurried to Pauletteís side. Between the two of them they were able to turn Crane onto his stomach.
Paulette gasped at her first real glimpse of the horror done to his back; "Iíve seen this kind of damage before. What kind of animal would do something like this to another human being?" Melanieís cries of anguish made Paulette look at her anxiously, "I take it you know who did this?"
"I did," Melanie cried.
Paulette looked at the other woman, anger evident in her icy glare, "I donít condone this kind of treatment in animals or humans. I havenít time to hear the story right now, but as soon as Iíve finished treating your friend, I want you to tell me why. Now go finish eating," she told her.
Melanie went back to the table, tears streaming down her cheeks as she poured herself a glass of juice. She watched as Paulette carefully bathed the wounds on his back and once again smoothed some kind of ointment over the injuries.
Paulette reached into Dr. Martinís bag and pulled out a syringe. She filled it from a small bottle and injected it into Craneís shoulder. Glancing at the woman crying at the table she shook her head and walked over to her, "I want to know why you did this."
Melanie dried her eyes and began telling the story of the ordeal she and Crane had been through over the last week.
After hearing Melanieís tale, Paulette began to see the woman in a different light, realizing that she was a victim, as much as Crane was, "I know Lucien St. Laurent. He is a disgusting man," she stopped when she saw her son hanging on every word she said, "Benny, go outside and finish your chores," she told him.
"Ah, Ma," he said but did as he was told.
As soon as the door closed Paulette began to speak softly, "My husband is dead because of that man. He called my William a traitor because he would not pick up a gun against a fellow countryman. St. Laurent had both men placed before a firing squad and shot. Part of me was buried with my husband that day. I vowed to get revenge against him and maybe you are the key to that revenge."
"Then youíll help me get Lee to Saint-Jean?" Melanie asked hopefully.
"Iíll do what I can. But are you sure you want to take him into the city during the celebration tonight?"
"Thatís why we have to be there. Lucien plans to have President DeBatista killed tonight. Lee is the only one that can stop him. There is a man who looks exactly like Lee Crane and when the President places the medal around his neck, he is to shoot him."
"How will this man get a gun?"
"I donít know. Lucien and Damien kept me in the dark about most things after I turned against them."
"Iíll do what I can. I have to take Benny to his Grandpaís house. I donít want him anywhere near the city while all this is going on."
"Thank-you, Paulette," Melanie said and glanced at the man on the cot, "Can you tell me, is Lee going to be all right?" she asked.
"Time will tell. I gave him an injection of something Dr. Martin calls a broad-spectrum antibiotic to fight infection. Hopefully it will keep any further infection at bay. Iím afraid I donít have anything here for pain and, from the looks of those wounds, he will be in considerable pain when he wakes up. He needs a doctor, a real doctor. Not some temporary first aid."
"Thank-you, Paulette," Melanie said, grateful to the other woman for her help, "Youíve done so much for both of us."
"I think you should also lie down and get some rest. Itís going to be a long day." Paulette told her as she walked to the door, "I wonít be gone long and I think that your friend should sleep until I get back."
"Iíll try," Melanie said as the door closed. She stood and walked to where Lee lay on the couch, his body bathed in sweat. She touched his forehead and found it a little warm but nothing major. ĎHopefully Pauletteís antibiotic will keep the infection at bay and your fever will not climb to high.í She thought as she lay down on the floor next to Lee Crane. She was soon sleeping soundly.
Burk-Crane stood on the beach gazing out to sea. Heíd been walking along the shore, his guard only a few feet behind him. It was nearly noon and he was beginning to feel as if his nerves were made of Jell-O. ĎWhat have I gotten myself into?í he asked himself, Ďthis better be worth it, Damien.í
"Lee," Nelson called, as he joined the impostor on the beach, his guard stopping next to Burk-Craneís guard.
"I missed you at lunch. Where were you?"
"You know me, Admiral. Like you, I hate these formal gatherings. I just thought a walk on the beach would relax me a little," Burk-Crane laughed.
"Did it work?"
"It never does. Actually it gave me even more time to think about the upcoming events."
"Thatís what I thought. Youíve never been one for pomp and circumstance, but at least youíve never walked away when duty called. Come on, Lee, itíll be over before you know it and youíll be back in your own cabin aboard Seaview. For now, letí s go get something cold to drink."
"Aye, Sir," Burk-Crane said and walked with Nelson back to the Presidentís home.
Pain was the first thing Lee Crane became aware of as he slowly opened his eyes. He was lying on his stomach on a small cot, and it took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the dull light coming through the drawn curtains. The collar on his neck reminded him of why his body felt a mass of pain, even though he felt something soft between it and his skin. Using his hands he tried to turn himself from his stomach to his back. He moaned in agony as his stiff muscles and torn flesh protested the movement. Melanie was at his side the instant she heard him.
"Easy, Lee," she said.
"Where are we?" he asked her. His mind seemed to be working in slow motion and he couldnít remember why he was in this situation.
"Weíre safe right now. We were found by a lady and her young son. Sheís agreed to help us."
"Who is she?" Crane asked worriedly.
"Her names Paulette Bouchard and she helps one of the doctors here on the island. She also has a distinct dislike of Lucien St. Laurent."
"St. Laurent!" Crane exclaimed trying unsuccessfully to sit up.
"Lie down, Lee," Melanie said, placing a soothing hand on his shoulder.
"No. I canít, Melanie, help me to my feet," he said trying again to pull himself up. They froze as they heard activity at the door to the small house.
Lee and Melanie stared worriedly as it opened, admitting bright sunlight. Melanie drew in her breath as the brightness revealed just how severe Craneís injuries were.
A lone woman had entered the house holding a bag in one hand and a gun in the other. Using her foot, she closed the door and walked to the small table, dropping her burden in the center. Finally she walked towards the couple, a frown on her face, "You trying to undo what little good I did?" she asked Crane, her voice intimidating.
"No, Maíam," Crane said quickly.
"Then lay back down and let me check out my handiwork," she ordered.
Craneís eyes never left hers as he lay back on his stomach. Finally, he had no choice but to put his head on the small pillow, forcing him to break eye contact. He felt her rough but gentle hands touching his throbbing back. Suddenly he felt something cold being smeared across his back and immediately felt some slight relief. "What is that stuff?" he asked.
"Just something my Grandfather makes. Itís a mixture of Aloe Vera and a few other medicinal products. He learned how to make it from his father. Supposedly it was used by that pirate from France to treat rescued prisoners whose backs were in worse shape than yours."
"Thank-you, Maíam," Crane said as the soothing mixture began to relax his tensed up, painful back muscles.
"Youíre welcome. Now if you want to sit at the table, I will make some lunch and we can discuss getting you into the Presidential home without being seen."
Paulette and Melanie helped Lee to stand and walk to the table. He gingerly sat on one of the chairs, but didnít lean back into it.
Melanie sat next to him and gently placed her hand on his shoulder. His skin was warm to the touch and she worried that he was beginning to run a fever. She glanced worriedly at Paulette and realized the woman was also concerned.
Lee Crane closed his eyes and rested his head in his right hand. Exhaustion and pain made his mind wander. He felt as if the weight of the world rested on his shoulders alone. Somehow he had to get word to the Admiral. He couldnít allow St. Laurent to kill DeBatista. St. Laurent was an animal and, if he were allowed to regain power, heíd instantly assassinate anyone who refused to go along with his plans. Most of the people in the Isle of Saint Jean would be condemned immediately without the benefit of a trial. Slowly he forced the pain from his mind and began to use his ONI training and natural instincts to keep it at bay.
Melanie heard the telltale sound of soft snoring and knew Crane had fallen asleep at the table. She looked up to see a worried frown on Pauletteís face. "Heís a little warm," Melanie whispered.
"Thatís to be expected. Heís been through a lot and I donít have the proper medical training to care for him. I have given him the only care possible until we get into Saint Jean. We have to pray that he is strong enough to fight off the infection before it gets too bad."
"What time are we leaving?" Melanie asked.
"We should wait until dark, but Iím afraid we have to take the horse and buggy. It will take us twice as long as normal to get to the city."
Lee heard the conversation between the two women and opened his eyes, "Iím ready to leave now," he said weakly.
Paulette grinned at him, "Not yet, Captain Crane. We still have an hour and Iíd like you to eat something first. I warmed up last nightí s leftover stew. Itís important that you eat to keep up your strength," she explained as she filled some bowls with the savory smelling stew and returned to the table with them.
Lucien St. Laurent walked through the path being formed by the men in front of him. He knew they were only an hour outside the city and his impatience to get there was beginning to show. He snapped at the least thing and even struck out with a stick if one of his men happened to stop for a drink. Theyíd traveled steadily for almost two hours without a break. The two men in front had to cut their way through the heavy foliage.
"How much further, Lucien?" Richards asked breathlessly.
"We should be in Saint Jean in under an hour. I want to be in the secret tunnels in time to catch Burk as he tries to make his escape. We must keep moving."
"But the men are so tired!"
"I donít care! There will be plenty of time to rest after we regain control. My men knew this from the beginning. I warned them that we would be undertaking a grueling trek through this mess. We must keep moving," St. Laurent told him and hurried away from Damien Richards, ĎOne of the first things Iím going to do after regaining power is get rid of you, you sniveling coward. Maybe Iíll have you and Burk shot as co- conspirators. Melanie must have had all the brains in your family,í he laughed.
Burk- Crane pulled on his blue uniform jacket. He was beginning to worry about his part in this eveningí s upcoming plans. He felt as if his nerves were on end as he walked to meet with the Admiral. They were to stand with Francois and Bridget DeBatista in the receiving line as the other guests arrived. Nelson had told him this was great honor and one bestowed only on the most revered friends.
He opened his door and walked out into the well-lit hall. Nelson stood at the top of the stairs, his ever-present guard standing three feet behind him. Burk-Crane looked to the left and saw his own guard standing there. The guard wore an antagonistic look that sent shivers of fear up his spine, ĎDoes he know what Iím about to do. Did someone discover the gun? Maybe I should just get out of here before itís too late,í he thought. Suddenly he had a vision of Lucien St. Laurent and what he would do if Burk were to leave without killing DeBatista. Heíd seen the last man St. Laurent had used his pet Kitty on and he had no doubt that heíd be given the same treatment. Forcing himself to smile he strode towards Nelson.
Nelson watched the impostor come out of his room and glance at the two guards. He knew the man was running scared as he saw Burk-Crane force the look of fear from his face and replace it with a grin, "Well, Lee, are you ready?" he asked.
"As ready as Iíll ever be, Admiral. Are you sure thereís no way out of this?"
"Iím sure," Nelson grinned. "Come on, it wonít be that bad."
"I hope youíre right, Sir," Burk-Crane said as they began walking down the stairs towards the main hall.
"Did you find anything?" DeBatista asked the captain of the guard.
"Yes, Sir. There was a gun taped to the bottom of the table." Captain Dubois told his President.
"Did you do as I asked?"
"Yes, Mr. President. I replaced the bullets with blanks so you will not be hurt. But, Sir, I would much prefer to arrest the impostor immediately."
"I know you would, old friend, but we must go along with everything in order to catch the man behind these vile plans."
"But there are so many things that could go wrong," Captain Dubois reiterated.
"We must catch the man responsible or he will just find another way to come after me and my family. Do as I ask, Captain."
"Yes, Sir, but I donít like it."
"Neither do I, Captain, but I will also abide by my husbandí s wishes even if I think them foolhardy," Bridget DeBatista said as she walked out of their inner bedroom and into the outer chamber.
"Yes, Maíam. I will wait for you both outside."
"Thank you, Captain," Francois DeBatista told the maní s retreating back.
"Francois, are you sure this is the right thing to do?" Bridget asked her husband worriedly.
"We have to stop him, Bridget," he said as he gently touched her protruding belly. "Not only for us but to keep this little one safe. I could never sleep knowing that St. Laurent is out there and could come after our child at any time."
"I know youíre right, Francois, Iím just so scared."
"Would you please reconsider and stay here in our room with a guard? I could explain your absence and tell everyone you are not feeling well. They would understand because of your condition," DeBatista said hopefully.
"No! I refuse to be coddled. If you are going out there to face this danger, then you will not be doing it alone. I will be by your side, Francois."
"Damn, but youíre a stubborn woman," DeBatista grinned.
"I had to be. Otherwise you never would have married me," she laughed as he pulled her onto his lap. "Sorry, darling, but we donít have time for this. The guests are due to arrive at any moment."
"Let them wait," he winked.
"That would not look good," she told him.
"Maybe not, but it sure would feel good," DeBatista said wrapping his arms protectively around her waist.
Bridget DeBatista knew sheíd better get her husband moving before she was lost to her passions as well, "I promise to meet you here tonight. But, for now, we must leave this behind."
DeBatista looked at his beautiful wife and shook his head, "This is the only time I hate responsibility," he said as he placed his wife on her feet and put his arm around her. They walked to the door together.
"How much further," Melanie asked Paulette quietly as night began to descend over the city. She had been watching Lee drift in and out of sleep on the painful journey into the city. She knew he was in deep pain, and her pain was that she could do nothing to help him.
"The hidden entrance is just on the other side of the street," Paulette told her.
"Wonít there be guards?"
"I donít think so. When this tunnel was discovered a few years ago it was boarded up and I donít think DeBatistaís guards are even aware of its existence. I only found out about it from Dr. Martin, because he used it to escape from St. Laurent a few years ago," Paulette explained before continuing, "There is more than one secret entrance and I donít think anyone knows exactly how many there are. This palace is old and the tunnels were used to escape from marauding pirates."
"I hope we can get through without being discovered. Itís important that we find Admiral Nelson before St. Laurentís man has a chance to kill the President," Crane said softly, from the rear of the carriage.
"I will do my best to get you there, Captain," she told him as she pulled the cart to a halt in a back alley.
As the women climbed out of the wagon, they turned to help Lee get out.
Crane could see the lights from the presidential home in the distance. Feeling as badly as he did, he was unsure if he could make the long trek through the underground tunnels. Traveling into the city by horse and cart had taken its toll on his already abused body.
"This way," Paulette said as she pulled up a small lightweight manhole cover. The three moved quickly and cautiously into the darkened tunnel.
Nelson stood to the right of Francois and Bridget DeBatista. Burk-Crane stood to the right of Nelson. People had been steadily entering the Great Hall for nearly an hour and the room was nearly full. A tuxedo clad band played soft music to entertain the guests that had already entered the hall.
The room was decorated in pink, red, and white carnations. White tablecloths topped each twenty-foot table. The tables themselves were set with the best Royal Dalton China; Crystal wineglasses also adorned each place setting. Sterling silverware sparkled in the glow given off by the brightly-lit candelabras. The head table also had a white tablecloth but down itís center was a pink runner. The elegant setting was perfect for an evening of celebration and laughter. Unfortunately for the people in attendance that would all change before the night was over.
"We will take this tunnel. It will bring us into the great hall. I cannot wait to see the look on their faces when I walk in and take control once Burk kills DeBatista. Maybe I will have them all shot as part of the entertainment. Come, Damien, letís go take back what is rightfully mine," St. Laurent ordered.
"Are you sure this is the right tunnel? You said yourself nobody really knows how many secret entrances there are," Richards asked as he walked beside St. Laurent.
"I know this one. I had it installed myself and then taken out of the blueprints. There is no record of this entrance and from the great hall you would never know this was here. It is hidden behind a full scale map of my Country."
"How do you know they are holding the ceremony in the great hall?"
"You forget, I still have men in the guard who are loyal only to me. They keep me informed of everything that occurs."
"Are you sure you can trust them?" Richards asked.
"They are the only ones I do trust," St. Laurent said seriously. "They have proved many times that they are loyal to me. Unlike the rest of you."
"You certainly donít mean me. Iíve proven that I can be trusted. I gave you Melanie, didnít I?"
"But Melanie was never yours to give. She proved that when she helped Crane escape. Now my whole plan could be ruined because of you and your sister. Enough talk! We must hurry if we are to reach the hall in time!" St. Laurent exclaimed as he stepped up his own pace, forcing the others to do the same.
"Lee, you have to rest," Melanie ordered the stubborn man beside her.
"I canít, Melanie," he said, weary and in pain. "If I stop now Burk will have the time he needs to assassinate the President. We have to get there as quickly as possible."
"I agree with Melanie, Captain. You look as if youíre ready to drop where you stand. Surely, a couple of minutes canít make a difference?" Paulette asked, concern evident in her voice.
"A couple of minutes could well be the difference between life and death for President DeBatista," Crane warned them.
"It may also mean the difference between life and death for you as well, Lee," Melanie said seriously.
"How much further?" Crane asked changing the subject, and ending the discussion as far as he was concerned.
"Another ten minutes should put us right outside the Great Hall. I hope you have a plan to get your Admiralís attention."
"Something will come to me," Crane grinned weakly.
"Thatís a good plan, Lee," Melanie said sarcastically.
"Itís the only thing I can do right now, Melanie. Please, understand that I have to do this. St. Laurent must be stopped here and now," Crane explained softly.
Melanie regarded him with anguish in her eyes, "I know youíre right, Lee, but I donít want anything else to happen to you. Iíve caused you enough pain as it is."
"What you did is in the past. If it werenít for you, Iíd probably already be dead. No, Melanie, you arenít at fault here. Your brother and that animal are. We have to put a stop to their plans. Will you continue to help me?" he asked putting a hand under her chin.
Melanie let the tears flow down her cheeks as she nodded her head, "Iíll try, Lee," she said.
Lee looked at her carefully and took notice that the bruises on her face were just beginning to fade around the edges and he knew that she was as much a victim as he was, "Weíll get through it," he said firmly as they hurried to catch up with Paulette Bouchard.
Burk- Crane sat to Nelsonís left. It was the seat he knew heíd been assigned. He purposely dropped his napkin to the floor and bent down to pick it up. He lingered for a second as his eyes caught sight of the small calibre gun taped to the underside of the table. Forcing his eyes away from the gun he glanced at his watch. It would soon be time for him to fulfill his part in St. Laurentís plans.
Nelson watched the impostor as he dropped the napkin and bent to pick it up. DeBatista had informed him that they had found the gun and replaced the bullets with blanks. Nelson still worried that something could go wrong. The hairs on the nape of his neck stood on end and he knew instinctively that St. Laurent must have a back-up plan. The man was ruthless and he would never rely on just one contingency. He looked to his right at the man who had seen to the overthrow of a vile and dangerous dictator. He held DeBatista in high esteem and didnít want anything to happen to him or his pregnant wife. ĎI wish youíd have agreed to let my men be here to help with security,í he thought, shaking his head worriedly.
DeBatista smiled at his wife and then looked out over his honored guests. He knew he had to stay calm for his people even in the wake of the possibility of his own execution. There had been no sign of St. Laurent and his men. He hoped St. Laurent had not made other plans. He hoped that once they had the impostor in custody, there would be no other hidden surprises. ĎWho are you trying to kid?í he asked himself.
Bridget DeBatista returned her husbandí s loving glance and then turned her attention back to the crowded hall. She worried that there were other assassins ready to succeed where the impostor at the table would not. She fought to keep her fears and her tears at bay. ĎPlease, God, keep Francois and our baby safe,í she thought with little concern for her own safety.
"Here we are," St. Laurent said to his companions, "This key will unlock the door and then it is only a matter of pushing it open. All we have to do now is wait for the gunshot."
"How long before Burk is supposed to shoot DeBatista?" Richards asked, uncomfortable in the dark and damp tunnel.
St. Laurent glanced at his watch in the dim glow of the flashlight and said simply, "Five minutes until I return to power."
"Youíre sure the people will let you back in power?"
St. Laurent glared angrily at Damien Richards. He grabbed him roughly by the collar and placed his face within an inch of the other man, "It does not matter what the people want. I told you I am going to take control. I will run my country as a dictatorship and have anyone who dares to cross me shot as a traitor. Would you like to be the first victim of my firing squad?"
"No, please, Lucien. I was just thinking aloud," a terrified Richards responded.
"I donít pay you to think. Leave it to the people who do so naturally. I wouldnít want you to hurt yourself by overusing that minute thing you call a brain," St. Laurent said seriously and jumped as a gunshot could be heard through the wall.
Burk- Crane had waited for DeBatista to stand and reached swiftly under the table to pull out the gun. In one quick move he aimed the gun at the Presidentís head and pulled the trigger.
The crowd screamed as one in shock and fear.
"Oh, God, weíre too late," the real Lee Crane shouted as he pushed the cumbersome door open and fell into the outer entrance hall. He fought to regain his feet as panicked people rushed out the large, open doors to his left. He pushed himself up against the wall as adrenaline took over, and he ignored the pain, and fatigue, forcing himself towards the Great Hall. Pandemonium was the only thing he could hear.
St. Laurent pushed the door through the wall and rushed into the room. The sight he saw was completely opposite of the one heíd been expecting.
DeBatista stood holding his wife as she cried. Two men held Burk between them. Nelson stood next to an uninjured DeBatista No one seemed to have noticed that heíd quietly entered the melee. St. Laurent felt Damien Richards come out of the tunnel and stand beside him.
Lee Crane made his way into the great hall as the guests bolted out the doors. The only people left in the hall were DeBatista and his wife, Nelson, Burk, and several armed guards. As Crane watched, the colorful map behind the head table split open to reveal another secret door through which Lucien St. Laurent and Damien Richards appeared. He watched as St. Lauren's face became consumed with rage and he lifted his gun, "No!" Seaviewís Captain screamed and with the last ounce of his dwindling strength, he launched himself at his enemies.
Damien Richards saw everything had gone horribly wrong and immediately ran back into the tunnel. He forced a path through St. Lauren's men and hurried back the way theyíd come.
St. Lauren's men watched as their leader aimed his own gun at his enemy and were not sure what they should do. They were not as loyal to St. Laurent as he would have liked, and each man wanted to save his own skin. By the time Lee Crane shouted that one word warning, more than half the men had retreated down the tunnel after Damien Richards.
Nelson barely recognized the man whoíd shouted no. He watched in horror as his friend ran towards St. Laurent. Before his mind grasped what was happening, he heard another gunshot.
Craneís momentum had been enough to throw St. Laurent off balance, but it had not stopped the bullet. Lee crumpled to the ground.
St. Laurent aimed his gun at DeBatista and grinned malevolently, "I will kill you myself," he snarled and began to pull the trigger.
"Iím not afraid to die, Lucien," he said as Nelson charged St. Laurent and managed to free him of his gun.
"Kill DeBatista, Henri!" St. Laurent shouted.
The guard named Henri leveled his already drawn gun and aimed it at DeBatista. Melanie and Paulette entered the room and the two women hit St. Lauren's guard at the same time, throwing the man off balance and giving DeBatistaís guards a chance to disarm and detain him.
Melanie hurried over to Lee Crane, barely conscious, his abdomen bleeding profusely. "I haveÖ to ÖhelpÖ the Admiral," he rasped.
"Itís ok, Captain. Look at Admiral Nelson. Heís got everything under control," DeBatista told him.
Crane finally focused on the two men. He was relieved to see the gun firmly in the Admiralí s hand and two guards placing handcuffs on St. Laurent.
Nelson passed the gun to one of the guards and rushed over to Crane's side.
"Iíve called for the doctor. Letís get him up to the guest room," Francois DeBatista told him.
Lee lifted his head and saw the guards as they took St. Laurent, Burk and Henri out of the room. All three men were cuffed and for the first time he noticed that Damien Richards was nowhere to be seen. "One's missing," he said weakly.
"What do you mean?" Nelson asked, though more concerned with Lee's pallor.
"Damien ÖDamien Richards. Heís with St. Laurent. Find him," Lee felt his strength waning but didnít want to leave until Melanieís brother was found and arrested.
"Iíll tell the guards to watch for him, Captain Crane. Right now itís important to get you taken care of," DeBatista ordered.
"You donítÖ understand! MelanieÖhe'll hurt her.. find him. Tell them, Melanie!" Crane said.
"Listen to your friends, Lee, Iíll be safe. The Presidential guards will be all around. Letís do as the President says," she tried to calm him as he was placed on a stretcher.
Paulette Bouchard followed the group out of the hall and up the stairs. She explained who she was and helped Nelson and Melanie remove Leeís clothing as he was placed on an ornate bedÖ
Nelson gasped when he saw his friendí s torn back, "My God, Lee, what did he do to you?"
Melanie cringed at Nelsonís angry voice; before Crane could answer, she spoke softly, "I did it with a cat-o-nine tails."
"You! I thought you were his friend?" Nelson spat angrily.
"AdmiralÖsheÖshe was forced toÖ"
Nelson looked at the other woman whoíd begun examining his friend, "How is he" he asked her.
"I donít know yet," Paulette said, her eyes and hands never leaving her patient.
Francois and Bridget DeBatista followed quickly. "I thought I recognized you, Madam Bouchard. Dr. Martin speaks very highly of you," she spoke reassuringly to Nelson. "Captain Crane is in good hands until the doctor arrives."
"Admiral," Crane called weakly.
Nelson looked at his friend lying on the bed, "What is it, Lee?" he asked.
"Lot you donít knowÖ" Crane said weakly, wanting to fill in the gaps.
"No, Captain, not now. Thereís plenty of time for that later. I want everyone out of this room. Captain Crane, I want you to rest until Dr. Martin is here," Paulette Bouchard ordered.
"Iím already here, Paulette," all heads turned to see a silver-haired, dark-skinned man enter the room. He held a brown case in his hand, "Now you folks heard her. Out! I want to examine my patient without having to answer questions," he said.
Nelson wanted to stay with his friend. He had no idea what this doctor was like. ĎI wish Jamie were here,í he thought.
"Come Harriman." DeBatista put his arm on Nelsonís shoulder. " Letís let Dr. Martin and Madam Bouchard look after your Captain. I can assure you that they are excellent at what they do. Dr. Martin will deliver our child when the time comes. If it would make you feel better, why donít you contact Seaview and have your own doctor sent over?" DeBatista asked.
"Thank-you, Francois. Iíll call Seaview after we hear what Dr. Martin has to say."
Lee Crane opened his eyes slowly. His head pounded with every heartbeat. His back burned as he felt strong hands gently applying a cooling salve. He glanced at his hand to see that Dr. Martin had indeed hooked him up to an IV.
"Well," he said softly, "hello again, Captain Crane. Do you remember who I am?"
"Dr...Dr. Martin?" Crane asked, his mind felt as if it were filled with cobwebs.
"Thatís correct. Youíve had us all worried, young man."
"I have?" Crane asked unable to fathom what the man was talking about.
"Yes, young man, you have indeed, but I think youíre over the worst of it now. Iím sure your Dr. Jamison will explain everything that happened. Why donít I go get your friends and let them visit for a little while?"
"Sheís right outside. You just lie there and try to relax." Dr. Martin told him.
Lee watched as the older man walked to the door. He closed his eyes and let his body feel the aches and pains, a small gasp escaping from him as he tried to move unto his side, and then his back. He remembered the whip and knew he was better off remaining on his side.
"Hello, Lee," Nelson said, his voice filled with concern, and care.
"Admiral," Crane said, his voice barely above a whisper, trying to hide his discomfort.
"How do you feel?"
"Iíve felt better, Sir," Crane grinned, weakly.
"I bet you have. Next time you see a man with a gun, try getting out of the way instead of jumping in the line of fire," Nelson said, his attempt at light banter not being too well appreciated by the man in the bed.
"Iíll tryÖ Whereís Melanie?" he asked worriedly looking behind the Admiral.
"Sheís resting in the next room. Sheís an incredible young woman, Lee. She explained everything that happened including her own part in your kidnapping," Nelson said.
Lee Crane tried vainly to sit up, but found Nelsonís strong hands easily pushed him back into the comfort of the pillows, "SheÖShe wasÖ forced. Forced to help me."
"I know that, Lee. I think sheís got a lot of things to deal with and itís going to take some time for her to get her life in order. St. Laurent abused her mind as well as her body. She feels guilty about what she did to you. Not just the kidnapping but the whipping as well."
"I need to see her."
"Iíll see if sheís awake. You just lie there and relax. We almost lost you because of the infection and the exposure. I donít want to take any chances now that youíre finally coming out of it," Nelson said as he left the room.
Lee Crane lay in the bed wondering what the Admiral had meant when heíd said theyíd almost lost him. He had flashes of Will Jamison, Dr. Martin, and Paulette Bouchard working on him. But he had no idea how long it had been or how many times it happened.
Seaviewís captain turned his head towards the woman whoíd just entered his room, and sat beside him, "Melanie, are you ok?" he asked as he saw the haggard look on her face.
"Iím fine, Lee. What about you? What did Dr. Martin say?"
"He didnítÖ say much. Whatís going on? How long have we been here?"
"Itís been four days, Lee. Youíve been fighting an infection and a fever. For a while there we thou...thought we...we...were going...to...to lose you," she cried.
Lee Crane lifted his hand from the bed and reached out to her, "Melanie, sit down. Iím here. Iím not going anywhere. Iím sorry I put you throughÖ so much."
"No, Lee. Itís me who should be sorry. If it werenít for me, you would have been given your medal, had a great time at the presidential ball and been back on Seaview. Instead youíre fighting for your life. I hate what I did!" she said pulling her hand from his as the tears rolled down her cheeks. "Iím no good," she told him as she ran from the room.
Lee Crane cursed his injuries. He wanted to get up to follow her. He tried to force his legs to move and tried using his hands to sit up.
"And just where do you think youíre going, Captain?"
Lee heard the voice and looked up into the eyes of Seaviewís Doctor, "PleaseÖWillÖI have to go after her," he said.
"No you donít, Captain. You just lie still. Dr. Martin did a lot of work to make sure you survived and I donít intend to let you undo that work by doing something foolhardy."
"Donít but Will me. Do as I say, and rest or Iíll give you something thatíll make you," Jamison saw the look on Craneís face and regretted his harshness. "Look, Lee, Melanie will be ok. Iíve arranged for her to get into therapy. Sheíll be leaving tomorrow. I can see how much she means to you but youíre going to have to let her go. There is a lot of underlying pain in her and she needs to talk it out with a professional."
"St. Laurent and her brother are animals. Did theyÖ catch Damien Richards?"
"I donít know, Lee. Youíll have to ask the Admiral. For now I want you to rest. Do you need something for pain?"
Crane only pursed his lips.
Will Jamison looked at the stubborn man in the bed. The raging fever had finally burnt itself out but not before it had worn down the captainí s strength. He could see by the dark circles under his eyes and the gaunt look of his face that Lee had lost weight. He still worried that the infection could take hold again and sap his friend of what little strength he still had, "Let me know if it gets any worse, Captain."
"I will," Lee said as he drifted into a fitful sleep.
"Lee, are you awake?" Melanie asked as she walked into his room the next morning.
"I see youíre ready to leave, Melanie," Crane said sadly, a little stronger.
"I have to, Lee. I canít handle what Lucien did to me," tears filled her eyes but she fought them off. "I have to do this for me. Jamie called a friend of his and sheís agreed to take me on as a patient. She suggested I might benefit from some inpatient therapy."
"Will I ever see you again?" he asked.
"I donít know, but I have to do this for me. I have to rid myself of the memory of what Lucien made me do to myself as well as to you. I think...I think I love you Lee, but I canít handle those feelings right now."
"I think I love you too, Melanie. I understand. I just wish you would let me help you through it."
"Itís something I have to do on my own," she said.
"Miss Richards, itís time to leave for the airport," Nelson called from the door.
"Iíll be right there," she told him. "Maybe someday weíll meet again, Lee Crane. Until that day you must forget that I exist. Maybe that way you can put this all behind you as well."
"Thatís not going to happen. Youíll always have a place in my heart. Good bye, Melanie."
She kissed him gently on the cheek, "Someday, Lee."
"I hope so, Melanie," he said as she walked out of the door and out of his life. Silent tears ran down his face when he thought of what they could have had together.
Sometime later Will Jamison walked into the room. He silently watched the man on the bed. He knew he was in not only physical pain but mental pain as well. Lee Crane was a man who found it hard to say good-bye, especially when it was someone he cared for, "Afternoon, Lee," he said.
"Oh, hi, Jamie. When can I get out of here?" he asked, a fake smile on his face.
Will Jamison knew this was his captainís way of saying he didnít want to talk about Melanie Richards, "I talked with Dr. Martin and it seems that we both agree that it would be best for you to recuperate on Seaview. Admiral Nelson has already arranged for the flying sub to pick us up this afternoon."
"Thanks, Jamie, Iíd like that," Crane told him.
"I thought you would. Just remember that youíll be going directly to sickbay. Youíll stay there until we get back to Santa Barbara. Iíve arranged for you to meet with a couple of specialists to see what they can do about your back. Itís going to take some time to get you back to yourself."
"I know that, Jamie. But do I have to stay in sickbay?"
Jamie recognized his captainís easy banter and joined in, "Keep it up and Iíll make sure you donít get any ship status reports either. Now get some rest and weíll be up for you later."
"Yes, Sir," Lee grinned.
Lee Crane lay on his bunk in Seaview. His back was a major problem because he couldnít find a comfortable spot. Jamie had arranged soft pillows around his back so that he could have some kind of relief and heíd been able to get minimal amounts of sleep. He smiled as Admiral Nelson and Chip Morton entered sickbay and walked towards him.
"How are you feeling, Lee?" Nelson asked.
"Iím ok, Sir. Have you heard from President DeBatista?"
"This just came in." Nelson said and handed Lee a printed message.
REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT DAMIEN RICHARD HAS NOT BEEN FOUND.
THE SAINT-JEAN POLICE WILL KEEP CHECKING BUT IT IS BELIEVED THAT HE HAS LEFT THE ISLAND.
LUCIEN ST. LAURENT HAS BEEN SENTENCED TO LIFE IN PRISON. HE WILL SERVE HIS SENTENCE IN THE SAINT-JEAN MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON......
"Theyíll catch him, Lee," Chip told his friend.
"I donít think so, Chip. Damien Richards is a smart man. I just hope he doesnít go after Melanie."
"Iíve arranged for Melanie to be under guard if she wants it. There is nothing more we can do for now. Iím sorry, Lee," Nelson said.
"Itís not your fault, Admiral. Melanie knows what sheís doing. Maybe someday Iíll see her again," Lee said and closed his eyes.
Two months later, Lee Crane was finally back on his beloved Seaview, after several months of intensive therapy. He still had to go through more plastic surgery to repair his back but the worst was over and he was home. He had been piped aboard the boat, warmly greeted by his crew, and now, was standing in the bow, gazing into the swirling waters as his boat slowly sank below the surface. ĎHome, old girl, here I am, finally, home. It's good to stand here, and look out . The O.O.M. had the right idea. Give us a front porch to rest, relax and recover in,í he shook his head, ĎGlad to see that Chip and the Admiral took such good care of you while I was gone. I wonder where Melanie has gone. I wish she would have let me know where she is.í
He sat in one of the chairs that Nelson had designed for the Nose of the boat, still careful not to put his full weight on his back. It still caused him occasional pain, although he would never tell Jamison so. ĎToo much time away from here. Much too much time.í He once again thought of the young woman who had been his enemy and a victim like himself. Thoughts of Melanie had been pushed to the back of his mind as his first love took her place. Seaview was and always would be his Lady. He would always find peace in her corridors. Smiling he sipped his coffee and relaxed for the first time since the ordeal with St. Laurent had begun. In his hand he held the medal from Francois DeBatista.