A Good Deed

By Michelle Pichette & Holly Cushing

"Your number cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and try again," intoned the operator for the third time. Patterson sighed. He couldnít have misdialed the number three times. He looked down into those innocent, pleading brown eyes and he tried the number one last time. "Your number..." Patterson hung up the telephone and patted the silky head before him. The dogís tongue lolled out and she licked his hand.

The dog had nearly been hit by the bus Patterson had been taking home from the Nelson Institute. The bus driver just let Patterson off the bus and didnít seem to care if the dog was all right or not. Fortunately, she hadnít seemed harmed. Patterson had recognized the harness on the German Shepard as one used by blind people, though, and heíd brought the dog home to try and find her owner. Someone needed this animal. Someone might be in serious trouble without her.

"Donít worry, Cassidy. Weíll get you home yet, girl, " Pat told the dog as she panted up at him. There had been an address and telephone number on her tags and being as he was so close to home, heíd decided to call first. Heíd just have to check out the address now, that was all there was to it. He glanced up at the clock on wall. Kowalski was going to meet him for dinner, but that wasnít for a couple of hours yet. That left him plenty of time to run the dog home, Pat thought with a smile.

He picked up Cassidyís leash and led her to the door of his apartment. Sheíd been a little skittish at first, but it hadnít taken her long to warm up to him. Patterson was glad for that. It had made it a lot easier to get her home, which Patterson was determined to do without scaring the animal anymore. That meant no animal control people. He didnít mind. He loved animals and he couldnít really have a pet of his own what with being away for months at a time on the Seaview.

As Patterson brought Cassidy down the stairs and to the front door of his apartment building, his landlady suddenly appeared before him. She was only about four and a half feet tall and about eighty years old, but she had more piss and vinegar in her to fill someone twice her size. "No pets, Mister Patterson. I told you no pets!" she said, poking him with her cane.

"Sheís not mine, Mrs. Farley. I found her and Iím bringing her home right now," Pat told the old woman.

"How do you know where she belongs?" Mrs. Farley asked with a narrow look.

"Itís on her tags, Maíam," Patterson told her. Mrs. Farley, never one to take anyone at their word, examined Cassidyís tags herself. "Iím just going to run her home, Mrs. Farley."

The old woman looked up at him, still frowning and asked, "Did they offer you a reward?"

Pat fought down a smile. "The telephone number is out of service, Maíam. I didnít get to talk to the owners."

"That is an expensive neighborhood," Mrs. Farley informed him with another jab from her cane. "They can afford to give you a reward if they own a house there. You just tell them that with all the bother you went to, theyíd better give you something or theyíll have me to deal with, Mister Patterson. Oh, and that air conditioner unit is acting up again. Are you going to be here a while or are you racing right back out to sea on that submarine?"

"Iíll take a look at it when I get back, Mrs. Farley," Pat told her, unable to help but smile this time. She was crotchety old thing, but for some reason, Patterson found himself liking her. Though she never really showed it, he was pretty sure the feeling was mutual. He helped her fix things at the apartment house all the time and he had the distinct feeling that was why his rent never happened to go up.

"All right, but donít you dawdle!" Mrs. Farley shouted after him as he took Cassidy out the front door. "I know you, young man! Youíre probably going to be out until all hours tonight and I want my air conditioner fixed, hear?"

"Yes, Maíam," Patterson called back to her and then chuckled as he and Cassidy started walking up the block. When they reached the corner where Cassidy had almost been hit by the bus, she suddenly pulled Pat hard away from where he knew her home to be. "Come on, girl," he said, but she turned and looked at him, whimpered, then started tugging at him again, trying to lead him off to a side road. Pat suddenly became concerned. What if the dogís owner had been hurt and she was trying to bring him there? He stopped fighting with Cassidy and followed her up the road, hoping that the fifteen minutes heíd just wasted since heíd found her hadnít been a fatal mistake for someone.

The dog pulled him up several streets and finally brought him up an alley between two apartment houses. Patterson looked around, worried the poor owner had been mugged and dumped here, but there was no one around. Cassidy was insistent, though, and kept yanking on her leash, pulling him around to the back of one of the buildings. Two men were standing by a delivery van there, a third on a mobile phone in the vehicleís cab. Cassidy stopped and seemed unsure about something, so Patterson called to the men, "Excuse me, but have you fellas seen a blind person around here? This dog led me here and I think maybe her owner is in some kind of trouble."

The two men outside the van approached him and Cassidy shied behind him. "Whatís this girl look like?" one of the men asked Patterson.

"I donít know that itís a girl," Patterson told him, looking down at the trembling dog. The near accident had spooked the poor animal badly, he was thinking as his looked back up at the men only to get slugged hard in the jaw. The blow took him by complete surprise and he fell to the ground, losing his grip on Cassidyís leash. The dog ran the minute he did and when Pat looked up at the men, tensing for a fight, he found himself looking up into the barrel of a gun.

"Say anything and itíll be the last thing you say," the man holding the gun warned him. Patterson had no reason to doubt his sincerity, but he was already considering his options. There werenít many.

"Will you guys quit fooling around and tie him up! Weíve got to move!" the man in the cab said urgently. Patterson didnít give them any arguments, knowing it was better to bide his time. The man who hadnít spoken tied his wrists behind his back, then pulled him to his feet and shoved him toward the back of the truck. He frisked Pat, relieved him of his wallet, pocket knife, and keys, opened one of the double doors in the back of the van, then shoved him up into the back of the truck and slammed the door behind him before Pat could see anything of where he was going to be held. It was pitch black once the door was shut and Pat knelt quietly on the floor, wondering if he should feel out his surroundings. The truck started and they began to move.

"Is someone there?" a tiny, weepy voice asked when Patterson finally did start to feel around himself a little with his knees and feet. It was a little girlís voice, Cassidyís owner, more than likely, and it came from near the truckís cab.

"Yes," Pat spoke up, trying to keep his voice soft and reassuring. "My nameís Steve Patterson and Iím a friend. Who are you?"

"Amelia," came a whimper, then the soft sound of crying. Patterson struggled to his feet, then moved in the direction of the crying. The back of the truck wasnít all that big, so Pat reached the source of the crying rather quickly. "Donít hurt me," the girl, Amelia, sobbed as he lowered himself next to her.

Patterson could have gotten loose from his bonds pretty easily, but there was no sense letting his captors know that, not when he didnít have a clear way to get himself and Amelia out of this situation. Once he was sitting by her, he only regretted not being able to comfort the girl he could feel trembling next to him very well with his arms tied behind his back. "I wonít hurt you, Amelia. Donít cry. Iím right here and I wonít let anyone hurt you," Pat said softly. He made sure that he sounded confident about being able to protect her. Heck, heíd been in plenty of rough situations, ones lots worse than this. There was no reason to sound worried yet.

"W..w..where are we going? Who were those other men? Whatís happening?" Amelia sobbed as she pushed up against him.

"I donít know, Amelia," Pat told her. "But donít you worry. Weíre going to be all right. I promise." Pat felt Amelia move into his lap and cry against his chest and he frowned, wondering if heíd be able to make good on his promise. Kowalski, nor anyone else for that matter, wouldnít know where heíd vanished to. "What a shore leave," he thought, keeping himself from sighing. He thought about how his concern over a dog had landed him in this situation. Usually stuff like this happened to the Skipper or the Admiral.

  The truck came to a halt and Patterson tensed, wondering what was going to happen now. The truck had stopped once before, but only for a short time and only the passenger side door had opened. This time he heard both of the cab doors slam shut and then there was a rattle, then the sound of liquid flowing. "Whatís happening?" Amelia asked at a whisper. She was still curled up against him, but sheíd stopped crying a while ago, maybe even slept for a while. Patterson hoped she had. At least it would have let her escape part of what was probably the most terrible experience of her life.

"Theyíre getting gas. Weíve been driving for a while, so weíre probably out of Santa Barbara," Patterson told her. "Did they say anything to you about where they might be taking us?"

"No," Amelia said, her voice sounded like she was ready to cry again. "They just told me that theyíd killed Cassidy and that they were going to hold me until my father paid them some money for me."

"Donít cry, Amelia. Cassidyís not dead. Sheís how I wound up here. She was trying to lead me to you," Pat told her. "When those men caught me, she ran away. Sheís probably home now."

There was silence for a couple of moments, then a soft sniffle. "Really?"

"Cross my heart, honey. I found her out on the street and I was trying to bring her to your house, but she brought me straight to you."

Again, Amelia was quiet for a few seconds. "Do you think that she could lead my daddy to us, Mister Patterson?"

"Sheís a really smart dog, honey, but I think weíre just too far away. But weíre in this together, okay? Weíll take care of each other until weíre both home."

Amelia gave a little sniffle. "I canít take care of you. Iím blind."

"Me too, right now. Itís very dark in the back of this truck. I donít even know what you look like. How old are you, Amelia?" Patterson asked her, hoping to take her mind off things.

"Eleven, almost."

"Iím twenty four, almost, and Iím a sailor on a submarine called the Seaview."

"Our teacher in school talked about the Seaview. Admiral Nelson made it. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for Biology."

"Thatís right. Wow, youíre pretty smart."

"Do you see Admiral Nelson ever?"

"Almost every day."

"And... and were you there when the Seaview stopped the big waves that were going to drown everyone?"

Their first real mission, if you didnít count them going under the polar ice caps when they were doing their initial shake down. It seemed so long ago. "Right there, the whole time."

"So... If Admiral Nelson didnít see you tomorrow, would he come looking for us?" She sounded hopeful. Patterson didnít blame her. The news made the Admiral sound almost superhuman in his abilities and Patterson himself doubted there was much the Admiral couldnít do if he put his mind to it.

"Actually, a friend of mine who also works on the Seaview was supposed to meet me for dinner tonight. Since I didnít show up, he might have already told the Admiral that Iím missing. And donít forget your dad. Iím sure heís doing everything he can to get you home safely."

Amelia sighed. "Heís probably mad at me. I ran away."

"Why would you do that, Amelia?" Before Amelia could respond, if she was going to answer him, there were two loud bangs from the front of the truck. A warning, Pat knew with grim certainty. Amelia was trembling again, pressing her little body against his, so she understood the threat for what it was. "Itís okay," Pat whispered to her, rubbing her hair with his cheek. "As long as weíre together, itíll be okay." He looked into the blackness in the direction of the truck cab, wishing for all the world that he could be as sure as he sounded.

  Patterson had dozed after awhile, Amelia asleep with her head on his lap. He didnít know how long theyíd been driving around, but theyíd stopped for gas twice. They could be anywhere now. They could have even been circling the city for all Pat knew. When they stopped the next time, though, the back doors of the truck opened. The light that flooded in blinded Pat as badly as the dark had. They must have been driving all night and it was morning, he reasoned.

"Okay, time to make yourselves useful," a harsh voice bellowed at them. Amelia cowered against Pat as he tried to straighten up. His arms were all pins and needles from being tied behind his back for so long and he was hungry and thirsty. He could only imagine how all this was affecting poor little Amelia. "Come on. Move!" the same man said, grabbing Pat by the collar of his shirt and yanking him roughly to his feet. He shoved Patterson out of the truck and onto a dirt path, sending Pat sprawling.

Blinking, Pat quickly memorized the vanís license plate number then got a good look at his surroundings as he took his time struggling to his feet. They were in the mountains, surrounded by trees, standing in front of a fair sized cabin. Since theyíd driven all night, they could be in the Sequoia National Forest somewhere in the Sierra Nevada mountains or as close to home as the Los Padres National Forest and the Sierra Madre mountains. There was no way to tell which, but either one would suit Patterson just fine. Just as he was thinking that, Amelia whimpered behind him and he turned to see the man who had tied him up earlier dragging her from the van by her shoulder length brown hair.

"Hey! Leave her..." Pat started, angry, for heíd never liked bullies. Suddenly, the man who had been on the telephone earlier was in front of him and he spin-kicked Patterson hard across the face. Pat could have dodged, probably could have stayed on his feet even after the blow connected, but he wanted his kidnappers to feel confident, to think he had absolutely no chance against them. He hit the ground with a groan, then the driver kicked him hard a second time, this time in the ribs, probably just to make Pat hurt. Pat moaned and curled into a ball, careful not to overdo it.

"Listen up, sailor boy," the man intoned as he stood over him. "Youíre on dry land now. Step out of line and weíll kick the shit out of you, understand? And forget it if you think that any time you spent in the Navy is gonna help you in a fight. I did a couple hitches in the Marines and I could snap any Navy puke I ever met in two."

Pat kept silent, but was thinking the man gloating over him had obviously never squared off against a former Navy SEAL or a Senior Rating from the Seaview. He hoped the opportunity to educate the jack ass would present itself once Amelia was safe. For now, he let the men pull him to his feet again and shove him into the cabin with Amelia. They were brought to a back bedroom and Amelia was thrown onto the bed. Pat jerked against the men who had him by the upper arms and one of them gave him a hard kidney punch, then they threw him to the floor at the foot of the bed. They tied his wrists to one of the legs of the footboard of the bed and then bound his ankles and tied them to the other leg.

"You know, the boys wanted to kill you and heave your body into the woods, Seaman First Class Steven Patterson," the driver declared as he stooped next to him now that he was restrained. The kidnappers had plainly gone through his wallet, found his identification and his security badge for the base, since this was the second time this man had referred to him as a sailor. He also didnít appear to think much of Patterson personally. That was fine, Pat thought, it was to his advantage to have these men think as little of him as possible. "But me, I knew you guys on the Seaviewíve saved the world, what, a dozen times, so I figured weíd ransom you back to Nelson instead, kind of out of gratitude. So, what do you figure the old bird would pay to get you back?"

"Couple hundred bucks," Patterson muttered to him. He got slugged in the face for it.

"I thought I warned you about wising off. Youíre not too bright, are you? Well, you just think things over for a little while. Weíve got things to do. And youíd better hope youíre worth about a couple hundred times what you said or weíre gonna slit you open and hang you in a tree for the bears to eat. Nah, Nelson never seemed like a tightwad to me. I guess you can just think of this as a camping trip until he comes up with some real dough." With that, the three kidnappers left the room, slamming the door and locking it behind themselves. Once the key turned, Patterson started counting in his head, hoping that the exMarine had a planned schedule.

"Mister Patterson? Are you okay?" Amelia sobbed from up on the bed. She was probably tied down, too, and probably a lot more comfortable than Patterson was, but he wasnít about to bemoan his condition. The kidnappers had actually done him a favor, tying him up this way. Itíd be all that much easier to get loose when the time came.

"Iím fine, Amelia. Donít worry about me."

"But I could hear them hitting you and you got hurt. I heard it," Amelia whimpered. Patterson grimaced, unhappy that his ruse was making Amelia so frightened.

"Iíll be fine, honey. Donít cry. Did they hurt you?"

"They pulled my hair and pushed me. I tripped on the stairs and I think I skinned my knees. Is it dark in here too?"

"No, honey, but Iím tied up on the floor and I canít see you on the bed."

"Mister Patterson, Iím hungry. Do you think theyíre going to give us anything to eat?"

Patterson had actually been worrying about that a little. If the kidnappers didnít give them any food or water, then they probably werenít planning on releasing them even if ransoms were paid. Pat didnít want Amelia to know that, though. She sounded frightened enough. "Iím hungry too, honey. Iíll ask the men for some food and water when they come in next."

"But... but what if they hit you for asking? I donít want them to hurt you anymore, Mister Patterson. I donít want them to hang you in a tree for the bears to eat."

Patterson smiled in spite of the situation. "The bears wouldnít want to eat me. I bet Iíd taste awful." Amelia just sobbed a little harder. "Iím sorry, Amelia. That was supposed to be funny. Didnít you hear that man? He wants Admiral Nelson to give him some money for me, so heís not going to hurt me bad. And that means that the Admiral knows Iím missing. Heís probably got the whole crew looking for us right now. Weíll be out of here in no time."

Amelia sniffled. "Do you think so?"

"I promise, Amelia, by tonight youíre going to be far, far away from those rotten guys. I promise," Pat said.

The whole time he was reassuring Amelia, he was counting in his head. When heíd gotten to three thousand six hundred and fifty seven, the door to the room opened. "Okay, Seaman Patterson, talk to your Admiral and tell him youíre still in one piece," the driver said, holding a mobile phone out to him. Patterson closed his mouth and glowered up at the man. "Come on, stupid. Donít you want to get outta here?"

"Youíre not letting us go. You havenít given us anything to eat," Patterson muttered barely audibly.

"What the..." the man spurted out, then snarled, "Iíll call you right back, Nelson." He hung up the phone and stooped down by Patterson, grabbing him by the hair and slamming his head hard against the floor twice. "Look, stupid, when I tell you to do something, you do it. You donít give me lip."

Pat shook his ringing head, then glared up at the man. "If you donít give us, or at least Amelia, some food and water, Iím not saying anything to anyone. Sheís a little kid and youíre an inconsiderate creep to starve her like this on top of scaring her half to death."

The man scowled at Pat and raised his fist over him again. He never let the blow fly, though, he just straightened and left the room, leaving the door open this time. A couple of minutes later, one of the other men came in, the one whoíd tied Pat up in the alley, carrying some juice boxes and some cookies. Better than nothing, Pat thought as the man put one of the boxes on the floor, the straw just within Pattersonís reach. He slurped down the juice greedily, while the man feed Amelia, then submitted to letting the man put cookies into his mouth. The man put another juice on the floor and Pat drank it down, not knowing when, or if, the kidnappers intended to feed them again.

"Are we feeling a little more cooperative now?" sneered the familiar voice of the driver as the juice was kicked away from him. Pat looked up at him briefly, then lowered his eyes in submission. The man redialed the mobile phone then said, "All right, Nelson, letís try this again. Make it quick."

He hit a button on the phone and Nelsonís voice rang out, "Patterson? Are you there?"

"Yes, sir. Weíre here," Patterson replied, determined to give Nelson as much information as possible without the kidnapper catching on. We, as in he wasnít the only one being held here.

"Has he hurt you, Patterson?"

"Not yet, sir." That would tell Nelson that he expected that would change. "They told us that if we cooperate we can consider this just another camping trip up here." There was a lot of information there, that there was more than one kidnapper, that they were somewhere remote where people would camp out, the Ďupí hopefully letting the Admiral know that they were in the mountains. Pat didnít worry about saying it, because he had used the kidnapperís own words to disguise the clues he was giving the Admiral. "And you know me, sir. I wouldnít want anyone to get hurt." Nelson would know Pat had been a Navy SEAL, that he had rescued people from hostage situations on more than one occasion before heíd joined the crew of the Seaview. Heíd never gotten anyone killed and he wasnít about to start now. Nelson would also surmise that Pat wasnít going to let the kidnappers harm anyone either, that he was going to escape if he could find a safe way to do it, but that if he couldnít that heíd sit tight and wait for help.

"Thatís enough," the kidnapper said, taking the telephone off speaker phone. "Heís alive. If you want him to stay that way, youíd better start pulling together half a million in small bills. No sequential numbers, nothing higher than a twenty... Well, it better not take too long, Nelson. Youíve got one day, then Iíll be calling you with instructions for the drop off and youíd better be ready to move... Sure, sure Iíll let you talk to the sailor again then, but itíll be the last you ever hear from him if you donít do as youíre told." With that, he hung up the phone, then stooped by Patterson.

"Bet you think youíre really smart, donít ya, sailor boy? Didnít think I caught the Ďtheyí, did you? Wanted Nelson to know I wasnít alone, just in case. Youíre lucky you didnít get too cute. I promised to return you alive, but I can put you into a world of hurt and still leave you alive." With that, he slugged Pat hard across the face to drive home his point. Pat head spun but he started counting again when he heard the door close.

"He knows. Admiral Nelson knows weíre in trouble. You were right, Mister Patterson. You were right," Amelia said, a glimmer of hope in her voice. "How long do you think it will take him to find us now?"

"Amelia, shh," Patterson told her softly. "We donít want the kidnappers to suspect, or theyíll have their guard up."

"Oh. Sorry."

"Itís okay, honey. Did they give you enough to eat?"

"Yes, but... They keep hitting you and I canít help you like you keep helping me."

"But you are helping me. Youíre keeping me focused. Thatís whatís going to save us, Amelia," Patterson told her.

Heíd been counting right along until the door opened again. He reached two thousand four hundred and seventy two this time, but thought that perhaps the difference in time was probably because the of the telephone calls. The person who opened the door didnít say anything or even move into the room. They just closed the door after a few moments. Patterson started counting again. This time and the next, he reached three thousand six hundred at least. An hour, he thought, thatís how much time he had between checks, just an hour. He had been moving his arms around as much as he could with them still tied, keeping the circulation going now that heíd gotten it back. It had been a long time since heíd had to do anything anywhere near this hard.

After a few hours, one of the men fed them again, this time some chicken tenders and more juice. Patterson waited until the man left, then began to work his wrists loose. The ropes rubbed his wrists and hands raw, bloody in some places, but Pat kept working at it until he was loose, then he carefully wrapped the ropes back around his hands, giving the illusion he was still bound. Now came the difficult part. Patterson just hoped he wasnít too out of practice.

By the time the next check happened, it was starting to get dark in the room. That was what Patterson wanted. Amelia wasnít going to be affected by nightfall and it was going to hinder their kidnappers. When the door closed, Patterson sat up, careful not to make any noise, and untied his ankles. Silently, he stood and moved carefully to Ameliaís side. He put a hand over her mouth and leaned close, whispering into her ear, "Donít be afraid, honey. Itís me. Weíre going to leave now, okay? Iím going to take my hand from over your mouth and untie you and I want you not to say anything until I tell you itís safe. Okay?" Amelia nodded and Pat whispered, "Good girl."

He took away his hand and untied Amelia quickly. She had soiled herself and her arms and legs were stiff from being held immobile for so long. Pat clean her up as best and as quickly as he could, then rubbed her arms and legs a little to get the blood moving again. She wasnít in any shape to walk and he knew it, so he moved to the window, slowly opened it, then returned to the bed and wrapped her in one of the clean blankets at the foot of the bed. Pat picked the girl up and carried her to the window, then he lowered her carefully to the ground by tying some of the rope to the corners of the blanket, did a quick scan of the room, saw nothing else of particular use, then climbed out the window himself. Amelia jumped when he landed lightly by her.

"Itís okay, Amelia. Itís me. Weíre going in just a minute. Those men wonít even know weíre missing for another forty five minutes and by then weíre going to be a good long way into the woods and itís going to be very dark. Iím going to leave a false trail really quickly right now. You just wait here for me for two minutes."

"Donít leave me alone again," Amelia whimpered almost inaudibly, grabbing at his clothing in fear.

"Not for long, honey. Count backward from a hundred and twenty. Iíll be back before you reach one," Pat told her.

She nodded, loosening the grip she had on him, but she still looked terrified. Pat looked up to the cabin and then quickly moved to the tree line hoping that no one was looking out this way. The guns worried him more than being outnumbered. If he were on his own, it wouldnít be so bad, but Pat had Amelia to keep safe. Once he reached the trees, he stepped backwards in his tracks carefully all the way back to Amelia. As he stooped to pick her up again, she was murmuring, "Fifteen, fourteen... oh!"

"Only me. Letís get out of here," he whispered to her, then lifted her. His whole body hurt from being tied up for so long, but he took a deep breath, shrugged off his discomfort, then started around to the back of the cabin on tip toes, not wanting to leave any clear tracks. They were headed west now. Heíd had a lot of time to think about it, and he decided that if they were in Sequoia National Park, west would get them to a trail, road, or city quickest, moving down in elevation most of the way. And if they were in the Los Padres National Forest, unless they were in the east end near Pyramid Lake, he shouldnít have to do much climbing to get to a road or a town. Either way, he could have a long hike ahead of himself, maybe fifty miles or better if he was unlucky. Amelia curled up against him and that firmed his resolve. He could do it.

After Patterson had been hiking a while, mostly uphill to his chagrin, it began to get very dark. He pushed on as long as he could, making the crest of the rise heíd been struggling up. He barely stopped himself from groaning when he got a clear view of what lay ahead. There was a line of mountains, no sign of civilization anywhere. Pat shook off the dismay he was feeling, telling himself that he knew it wouldnít be that easy.

"Is something wrong, Mister Patterson?" Amelia asked, probably because theyíd been standing still for a while.

"No, Amelia. Itís just getting hard to see. I think weíd better set camp for the night," Patterson told her, looking for a place to do just that.

"Is there another cabin here?" Amelia asked as he started over to some brush.

"Sorry, honey. Weíre roughing it tonight," Patterson told her, laying her down and starting to pull some branches down off one of the pine trees to improvise a shelter for them. Though it wouldnít be much, it would keep the wind off of them. By the time heíd finished and settled Amelia and himself inside, he was bone weary. He needed some rest, but he couldnít sleep, not it meant giving the kidnappers the opportunity to come on them while they were unaware. Heíd be all right, he told himself. Heíd get some rest and heíd be fine.

Ameliaís hand moved over him gently and she asked, "Whereís your blanket, Mister Patterson? Wonít you be cold?"

"Iíll be all right, Amelia. You should get some sleep," Pat said softly, laying his head back against the bed of leaves heíd made for them. It was a little chilly, not freezing at all, but certainly not warm. He could take it, he just hoped Amelia would be all right.

Amelia sat up and unwrapped her blanket from around herself, then cuddled up against Pat and pulled the blanket around the two of them. "Weíre supposed to take care of each other, you said. Weíll share," she told him, nestling against his side.

Pat put a gentle arm around her, smiling softly, letting her use his shoulder as a pillow. "Thatís a really good idea, Amelia. This way weíll keep each other warm all night." They lay there quiet in the thickening dark for a little while and Patterson closed his eyes, listening to the creaking of the trees, rustling of the leaves, and the wind.

"Mister Patterson, how far is it back to Santa Barbara?" Ameliaís voice cut softly into the relative quiet.

"Iím not real sure. I think itís a long way yet, honey," Patterson whispered back.

"Are we going to have to walk the whole way?"

"Iím going to walk. You get to ride piggyback and keep me company. I wouldnít be as good as Cassidy leading you and I wouldnít want you to get hurt because of it."

"You wouldnít hurt me," Amelia said, supreme trust in that statement and in the hug that accompanied it. Pat felt himself smile again, some of the ache easing out of him at that simple gesture. He began to feel a little warmer and more relaxed, Amelia resting gently against him. "Are you married, Mister Patterson? Do you have children?"

"No, honey. I live by myself when Iím not at sea. I have a family in Nebraska. An uncle and an aunt and two cousins. My cousin Daisy isnít much older than you. Sheís like my baby sister. I go to stay with them sometimes."

"Donít you have a mom and dad?"

"My mom left when I was very small and my dad, he died just a little while ago." It hurt to say that. It had been six months and his fatherís death still made him hurt worse than any physical wound Pat had ever received.

"My mom died, too. She had cancer and she was really sick for a long time, then she died. It was almost like Daddy died too. He doesnít talk to me much and when he does, he just sounds sad or angry at first, then he says heís sorry and he tells me heíll make things up to me, but it just keeps happening. Doesnít he know I miss mommy too?"

Amelia sounded so sad that Pat hugged her. "Iím sure he does, honey, but sometimes when people are really sad or hurt, they donít think a lot before they do things. Is that why you ran away?"

"We were supposed to go to see Andrea Bocelli sing and daddy told me he was too busy. It was the only time Mister Bocelli was going to preform in Santa Barbara. Daddy told me all week that we were going to go. He promised." She sniffled a little and Pat frowned. "It wasnít even a hard thing to do. All he had to do was go and sit with me and listen to the singing. So, Cassidy and I were going to go alone. I thought I knew the way, but I got lost and then I got scared. A man asked me if I wanted him to take me home. He sounded so nice, and I let him just put me into the van. I was so stupid." She was crying a little and Patterson gently caressed her shoulder. "If you hadnít come Iíd still be all tied up and..."

"But youíre not and weíre on our way home," Pat cut her off. He didnít want her to work herself up anymore. He wanted her to sleep because he intended to get hiking again at first light. "And you know what? When we pop out of the woods, I just bet that your dad and Admiral Nelson are gonna be waiting there for us. Now, do you want them to think I took rotten care of you because youíve got big, tired circles under your eyes? You get some sleep and tomorrow, weíll do some hiking."

That seemed to derail Ameliaís sorrow, at least for the moment. "Then you do know where we are?"

"Sort of. Iíll know for sure tomorrow, once weíve gone a little ways. Weíve got to climb down this mountain and then get past one or two more..."

"We have to climb mountains? Donít you need ropes and things for that?"

Pat smiled. "These are just little mountains, and we donít have to climb them, just kind of skirt around them."

"But... but what if those men come while weíre asleep?"

"Iíll keep one eye and both ears open, just in case."

"You arenít going to sleep, are you?"

"I guess I canít fool you."

"But you carried me all this way and built our tent. You must be so tired, Mister Patterson."

"A little, maybe. Iíll be fine, honey."

"And tomorrow..." Ameliaís voice trailed off. Just as Pat was about to reassure her again, she said, "What if I listened and you slept for a while, then, when you wake up, I can sleep? Weíre supposed to be a team, right? We should take turns."

Pat was about to argue, but Amelia had caught him in his own words. "All right, honey. You just wake me if you get feeling sleepy," he told her. He wasnít going to really sleep. Heíd just lie still and quiet and get some rest. It was going to be a long hike tomorrow, maybe with armed men behind him. The fresher he was for it, the better. He lay there for a while, dozing lightly, when he became aware that Amelia had grown very still, her tiny frame slightly heavier against his side. Pat smiled to himself again, knowing she was fast asleep. It was peaceful here on the mountainside, just the crickets and the night birds making the only distinct sounds, and it was comfortably warm with the two of them nestled together in their shelter. It was almost enough to lull Patterson off to sleep himself as he lay there, waiting for morning to come.

  Sometime during the night, Amelia had rolled away from him, pulling the blanket with her. Pat took the opportunity to get up and answer a call of nature that heíd fought off for as long as he could. As he stood there by a tree, he wondered what his friend Rick Kowalski was thinking about now. Ski had always liked to tease him that he just about had Ďfleece meí stamped on his forehead and that he was so visibly naive that he could attract hucksters out for an easy buck just walking up the street. Sure, Pat had gotten hooked into a couple of sucker bets by some of the other guys on the boat and he would be the first to admit that he was an easy touch for almost anyone with a sob story, but heíd never fallen into anything as bad as this. He hadnít thought twice about talking to the men by the truck in the alley at the time, but now that he thought back on it, they had been sort of shifty looking. Ski was never, ever going to let him live this down Pat thought with a sigh.

And then there was the Admiral. He could only imagine what the Admiral was going to have to say about this. Probably he had already found out somehow about Amelia and that was why he had played along with the whole ransom thing. Certainly the Old, old man wasnít going to go to all the trouble heíd gone to a while ago when his sister Edith had been taken by those terrorists for him. He hoped that the Admiral wouldnít be too angry was all. After the whole Bainbridge Wells thing, well, Patterson had considered himself lucky to still have a job. He sure didnít have any delusions about everyone having forgotten about that.

Patterson sighed again, then turned to start back to the shelter. The sun would be up soon, and Pat could see well enough to at least start their long hike out of the woods. He was about half way back to Amelia when a flashlightís beam pierced the relative darkness. Pat got behind a tree, angry with himself because heíd been caught away from Amelia this way, and waited for the person or persons coming to crest the hill. There was just one kidnapper, it turned out, the one that had threatened Pat with a gun in the alley. He had that same gun in one hand, the flashlight in the other, and he was casting the flashlight about nervously. He wasnít following a trail, Pat decided as he watched for other flashlight beams. None came, which was a least something.

Pat slid down low to the ground, below the flashlightís revealing beam and pretty much held his breath as the kidnapper walked straight past the shelter. Pattersonís already rather low estimation of the manís intelligence fell sharply. What, was the guy blind or something? Pat stooped there, shaking his head, as the man approached him, oblivious. If heíd known these guys were this clueless, he wouldnít have bothered sleeping in the woods all night. There was the exMarine, Pat reminded himself, he was probably the brains of the outfit. This guy was probably just some hired thug. Patterson, who was usually not a violent man, had not a speck of remorse about what he was about to do.

When the man got right up along side the tree Pat was crouching by, Pat sprang on him, grabbing the hand that held the gun and giving it a quick, hard twist as he swept the manís feet out from under him. There was a sickening snap as the manís wrist broke under the quick, merciless pressure Patterson had applied and the man released the gun as he howled in pain. Pat turned the gun at the now pathetic looking kidnapper huddled in a ball at his feet, cradling his arm. "Drop the flashlight and back up," Patterson told him.

"You broke my arm, you bastard!" the man sobbed at him, not moving to comply with what Patterson had told him to do.

Pat grabbed the man by the nose, saying, "Language. There is a child present." The man struggled to his feet as Pat pulled him steadily up by the nose. "Now, listen very carefully. Tell your friends, especially the one with the big mouth, that you made a mistake. You kidnapped a Navy SEAL, who is now armed and in an extremely bad mood."

"Shit," the man murmured feebly only to get his nose twisted to near the point of breaking. Patterson was sure it hurt almost as bad as the man gasped and squirmed in his grip.

"I warned you about your language," Pat told him. "Now, if youíre smart, youíll go back to your friends and tell them to vanish before I get back to civilization with the girl." With that, he released the man with a hard shove, sending him sliding on pine needles and oak leaves a little down the hill. Pat turned his back on the man, tucking the gun into his belt. That was when he heard the man get up and start swiftly back in his direction. Pat sighed. Some people were just too stupid to learn.

Patterson turned and dodged the sloppy lunge the man made. He wasnít trained in hand to hand combat, or if he was, heíd forgotten everything he ever knew. Pat gave him a good hard kick right in the seat of the pants as he passed, sending the man sprawling again. "I guess youíre not that smart," Pat commented as the man spit out a mouth full of pine needles, clinging to his injured wrist. Pat was sure it really hurt, considering the guy had just landed on it. He walked up to his former captor, still shaking his head in amazement as he stooped by the man. "Just go away, huh? I donít enjoy beating up on guys thatíre obviously no match for me."

"Bennyíll kill me!" the man groaned.

"Benny. That would be the Marine, right?" The man muttered a curse and something about not saying names, which made Pat shake his head again. "And Benny and your other pal know you came out this way?" The man nodded, looking afraid, though Pat didnít know if it was of him or Benny. "Well, I donít want you to keep bugging me and Iíd rather that Benny not kill you so you can do your time in prison for what you did to Amelia. So," with no further warning, Pat socked the guy hard, knocking him cold. He retrieved the manís flashlight, just in case, then went to the shelter, smiling as he lifted the branches. Somehow, Amelia had slept through the entire ruckus.

"Come on, honey, time to go," Pat said shaking her gently.

She gave a little sigh as she began to wake, then sat up swiftly, nearly knocking her head into Patís as she did. "I fell asleep!" she exclaimed, sounding horrified.

"Itís okay, Amelia. I woke up when you did," he told her, gently squeezing her shoulders. "Itís almost sunrise. Letís go, that way we can get home that much sooner."

Amelia shakily got to her feet and asked, "Mister Patterson, is there anything to eat?"

Pat had been thinking about that. It was early spring, so there wasnít much edible around. Even the acorns on the oak trees nearby were tiny and green. Now that he had a gun, he could probably shoot a squirrel or rabbit, but then it would take time to skin it and cook it. He didnít want to stay in one place that long, not when the other kidnappers would probably be on their trail any time now. "Sorry, honey. Weíll probably find some water later, but..."

"Itís all right, Mister Patterson. Itís just one day, right?" Amelia said, putting on a brave face.

"Right," Patterson agreed with a nod that he knew she couldnít see. "So, first weíll put on your cape." He tied two of the blankets corners together, put it over her head, and arranged it over Ameliaís shoulders. He coiled the rope and tied it to one of his belt loops, just in case, the flashlight already hanging from another. He turned, stooping with his back to Amelia and drew her arms up over his shoulders. "Hop on up and weíll get marching," he said. Amelia cautiously wrapped her arms around him and then her legs and Pat stood up, adjusted Ameliaís grip, then started hiking carefully down the mountain. As he passed the kidnapper, he saw that the man was still out cold. Served him right, Pat nodded to himself, then turned his attention to the rough ground before him.

He kept walking until the sun was well up, having made his way half way up the next ridge of mountains. He was making good time, he convinced himself, just as good as when he went camping or hiking with Kowalski. Amelia wasnít any heavier than a full field pack, so carrying her wasnít hindering his progress. The only thing that was at all worrying to Patterson was that the kidnappers knew the general direction he had gone. Heíd decided to go southwest instead of due west to throw them off a little, but he couldnít be sure he and Amelia werenít being trailed. He kept under cover for the most part and hadnít seen anyone behind them when he looked, but it was still hard to tell. After all, Patterson knew what the kidnappers looked like and could give their descriptions to the police and FBI, as well as tell them that ĎBennyí had served in the Marines. They might go a long way to keep him from telling what he knew.

Amelia seemed to feel a lot better this morning. She talked a little about some of the operas that she liked and how she wanted to be an opera singer someday. Patterson smiled as she talked. He knew next to nothing about opera and precious little about a classical music in general. Amelia was so excited about it he thought maybe he ought to give it a try. She even sang to him a little when they paused by a little stream to rest for a bit about midday. She had a lovely voice and Pat applauded her when she finished. As he finished cleaning Amelia up, he thought that maybe heíd try to go to one of her recitals when the Seaview was next in port.

Once they cleared the next rise, Patterson smiled. As he took in the view before him, he suddenly knew exactly where he was, though heíd never come upon this area from this direction. There, in the distance, was route 33, and, though it was barely more than a speck, Patterson could barely make out the Ranger Station just off the highway. They were in Los Padres National Forest, just a little east of Santa Barbara county. Patterson had come here hiking with Kowalski lots of times, just never in this particular direction. Suddenly full of energy, Patterson practically jogged down the rise, knowing he would make the station in just another hour or two.

"Is everything all right, Mister Patterson? Why are you running?" Amelia asked. Patterson steadied his pace a little, hoping he hadnít jarred the girl too badly with his sudden burst of speed.

"Everything is perfect, Amelia. I know exactly where we are and weíll be at a Ranger Station before you know it. Thereíll be a Park Ranger there and he can call your dad and the police and whoever else we need to call," Patterson told her.

"Pizza? Can we call for pizza?" Amelia asked him.

"Sure we can. On me... oh, rats!" Patterson exclaimed.

"What? Is something the matter?"

"No, not really. Itís just the kidnappers took my wallet."

Amelia hugged him, then let go of him with one hand. "Thatís okay. I have some money in my pocket. The men didnít bother searching me. They asked who my father was and my telephone number, and I was so scared I just told them." Amelia brought her hand back around in front of him and opened it to reveal some balled up bills, a little loose change, and other assorted junk that childrenís pockets seemed to collect. "Is there enough for a big pizza with everything?" she asked. "I am so hungry!"

Pat grinned as he shifted the mess in his hands, putting some of it in his own pockets so he could straightened out balled up bills to see what denomination they were. He fully intended to reimburse Amelia once he got back home. "What a mess! Do you realize what you have in your pockets, young lady? A marble, a couple of rocks, and seashells. Bottle caps. A wishbone?"

"It didnít get broken, did it?" Amelia asked. She sounded like she was actually afraid something had happened to the silly thing.

"No. Itís fine. Here." Patterson put it into her hand and Amelia sighed as she felt it over, then put it back into her pocket. "Now, what would you want with some old bone or all that other stuff?"

"The other things just feel neat. But the wishbone..." she paused and hugged him again. Pat began to get the feeling that this was something personal and he was about to tell her that he didnít need to know when she said, "My grandma gave it to me on the Thanksgiving after my mom died. She said that I should break it when I really needed something, when I really needed a wish. I was so unhappy then, I told her it was stupid, that Iíd only maybe get a wish because I had to break it with someone. My grandma, she laughed, then said that I would be breaking it with someone. Iíd be breaking it with my mom, that sheíd make the wish happen. I saved it ever since. I was going to break it when those mean men captured me, but my hands were all tied up and I couldnít reach it. Maybe my mom heard the wish anyway, because you came. You never said. Do we have enough for pizza?"

Patterson had to clear his throat before telling her that they had enough for soda, too. No one had ever told him, nor had he ever expected to hear, that he was the answer to someoneís wish. It made him feel so good he almost didnít notice the rest of the walk to the Ranger Station.

When he got there, he saw a bunch of cars in the parking lot. Most were Rangerís jeeps, police cars or the sort of sedans that the FBI favored, but one was one of the staff cars from the Institute. Patterson took it in and wondered how all those people could fit in the tiny building. "Weíre here," he told Amelia as he started up the walkway. "And I think half the Santa Barbara police force is here too. Do you want me to carry you in or would you rather walk?"

"Iíll walk if youíll hold my hand," she replied.

"Best offer Iíve had this week," Pat said as he stooped down and let Amelia get her legs under her. He took her hand and they walked up to the main door. He pulled it opened and guided Amelia in before him then looked up to see a room full or staring faces, one of which belonged to Admiral Nelson. "Hi. Uh... We didnít keep you waiting too long, did we?" Patterson asked mostly to break the stunned silence, embarrassed because at least some small part of all this bother was made on his behalf.

One of the men broke through crowd gathered, shouting, "Amelia!"

"Daddy!" Amelia called in return and Patterson smiled a little as she rushed into her fatherís embrace.

He didnít get to exactly enjoy the moment because the next thing he knew several men were in front of him, pretty much in his face, asking questions. One took the gun from his belt, but Patterson was just as glad to be rid of it. Someone else took the rope and flashlight during the course of the proceedings. Patterson did his best to answer all the questions swarming around him like angry bees, trying to be thorough when he did, but he supposed he wasnít because he was sure that he had heard the same questions at least twice. He dutifully recited the vanís license plate number again, and the make and model of the vehicle, the location of the cabin, descriptions of the men, what little information heíd gleaned from when theyíd spoken. It didnít seem to be sufficient because another officer asked him the same exact questions again.

Pat was tired and hungry, these things making their presence known now that he could see Amelia was safe in her fatherís arms, answering the questions of a female officer. He wished he could ask to sit down and have a glass of water like Amelia had, but the people around him were relentless and he never got to say a word that didnít have to do with what had gone on the last couple of days.

"Thatís enough," the Admiralís voice finally rose over the din. Pat seemed to be the only one to hear it, though, because he was still being hounded to think harder about this manís face and if heíd seen anything distinctive on the van. "I said enough!" came the bellow that the Admiral usually reserved for life and death situations. Pat cringed a little in spite of the fact that he knew the outburst wasnít aimed at him. The Admiral moved, unhindered, to before Patterson, took him gently by one arm and guided him toward the stations rest rooms saying, "Thereís some food on the way. Are you feeling up to cleaning yourself up a little, Patterson, or would you like a hand?"

Patterson was confused by the Admiralís concern. "Iím fine, sir. If the officers need to ask more questions, itís okay. I was just wondering, is the dog okay?"

"Dog?" Nelson asked, giving Patterson now decidedly worried look.

"Cassidy, sir, Ameliaís seeing eye dog. I was bringing her home..." Patterson started to explain.

"The German Shepard," Nelson said, realizing what Patterson was talking about. "The animal is fine. Just go wash up so the Doctor doesnít have to look through too much dirt when he checks you over."

"Iím all right, sir, really," Patterson said. "I just need a little rest and something to eat."

Nelson gave him that dubious look that he usually gave the skipper when he was trying to avoid sickbay after a tussle with some spy or alien or angry sea creature. "Well, Iím afraid youíll just have to humor me. Sing out if you need anything. Take your time, Patterson. These gentlemen are done with you for today," Nelson said, turning to give the gathered men a look that told them all in no uncertain terms that they were finished whether they liked it or not.

"Yes, sir," Patterson said as he pulled open the door to the bathroom. He found himself face to face with himself in the tiny roomís mirror as the door shut behind him. No wonder the Admiral had been giving him those looks. His face was bruised where Benny had punched him and he was dirty and disheveled, but he didnít find that terribly surprising. He lifted a hand to brush back his unruly hair to see scrapes and dried blood where the ropes had rubbed him raw and cut into him on his hand and wrist. How had he not noticed that before now? Heíd been more worried about Amelia than himself was the obvious answer. Was that why the skipper and Admiral were always pushing themselves far beyond healthy limits, because they were more worried about the Seaview and her crew than their own well being?

There had been a steady conversation going on outside, but Patterson was too busy trying to figure out how to get pinesap out of his hair and off his hands with just some antiseptic, pink soap and water that didnít seem to want to get hot. Slowly the voices began to raise volume and one of the FBI men said just loud enough for him to hear, "You didnít tell us your sailor was slow, Admiral. He was lucky, plain and simple, to get himself and the girl away unhurt. They could have been killed, probably would have been if the kidnappers werenít busy worrying about our search efforts."

"Those would be the search efforts you were centering around Santa Barbara until that Ďslowí sailor gave us all our first real clues to follow yesterday? The same young man who forced the kidnappers to call back twice in a short period of time to let us better trace at least a general area that their cellular call was coming from?" Nelson asked, his tone the same as it always was when someone questioned the fitness of his boat or crew. "And it wasnít luck that got the two of them away from those kidnappers and down the mountains to us here, it was skill and strength. Pattersonís a good man. Perhaps heís a bit provincial, but that does not make him Ďslow.í" Things fell silent again at the Admiralís declaration.

Great, Patterson thought, the Admiral thinks Iím a country bumpkin. Well, it wasnít entirely untrue, since Patterson had grown up on his uncleís farm in, what could best be described as Ďthe middle of nowhereí in Nebraska. Besides, Admiral Nelson probably meant Ďprovincialí in the best possible way. Patterson grinned and shook his head at the mess in the mirror, thinking only he could rate such a left handed compliment by someone who was supposed to be defending his intelligence.

It was dark once heíd gotten himself cleaned up as much as possible. Patterson came back out into the station only to have a cup pushed into his hand and Doctor Jamieson take him gently by the shoulder, guide him to the nearest bench and sit him down. Poor Doc, Pat thought, he was used to having to beat his patients into submission just so he could treat them properly on the Seaview. He seemed to have forgotten that Patterson didnít give him any grief usually. Pat had always thought it would be easier on everybody in the long run just to let Jamieson do his job. "Drink that," Jamieson ordered Pat sternly. Pat was more than happy to comply and once heíd drained the slightly salty tasting drink, Jamieson gave him a once over, then bandaged his wrists.

"So, any permanent damage?" Nelson asked once the Doc was just about done.

Jamieson set a hand on Pattersonís shoulder. "Just a few bruises and scrapes. Nothing serious. Iíd say he could use a little leave, but considering this happened on shore leave, maybe you ought to confine him to the Crewís Quarters for a week or two. Maybe that way heíd actually get some rest. What have I got to do to get you people to relax every now and then? I think you go looking for trouble."

Patterson gave the Admiral a sheepish look, but Nelson simply handed him a sandwich and said, "I think that this time trouble snuck up on Patterson, Jamie. Letís just hope that a few bruises and scrapes is the worst you have to deal with by the end of the day."

Pattersonís got confused at the Admiralís statement. "Why would the Doc have to treat anyone else, sir?"

The Admiral looked at him and seemed to consider something, then patted him on the shoulder. "There were some search parties up in the mountains when you just wandered in here on your own. As soon as you told us where you and the little girl were being held, everyone went to the cabin to see if they could catch the kidnappers before they left or get some clues as to where they might have bolted to. The delivery van you described was still outside the cabin, and since you were sure you didnít see any other cars..."

"Itís not like they gave him a tour, Nelson. Those men are long gone and we should be clearing out of here and putting these two into protective custody," one of the FBI men said, indicating Patterson and Amelia. Patterson recognized his voice. It was the same man who had referred to him as Ďslow.í

"And I told you that I would gladly allow Patterson to change clothing with you and let you walk out to the cars first, Lindstrom," Nelson replied. Patterson quickly started eating the sandwich in his hand, glad he could look down away from them and not have to let either of them see that he was smiling. Nelson was probably right to be concerned. Benny seemed like the sort that would be more than willing to lay in wait to assassinate the only potential witnesses to his crime. Since Lindstrom wasnít exactly rushing to take Nelson up on his suggestion about swapping clothes, he probably had thought of the same thing.

"Look, Nelson, Iíve had my men check out the hills around this station..." Lindstrom started.

"And until my men do or you decide to put your safety on the line rather than my crewmanís, Patterson is going to sit right there and eat sandwiches," Nelson told him firmly.

"Itís not entirely your decision, is it?" Lindstrom glanced over to where Amelia was lying wrapped in a blanket and sleeping with her head on her fatherís lap. Her father was looking down at her, stroking her hair, not paying any attention to them whatsoever. Knowing the Admiral, heíd talked Ameliaís father into staying put for the time being. Suddenly, Lindstrom stooped into Pattersonís line of sight and looked him in the eye. "I bet youíre tired, huh?" he asked. His tone was the sort that you would use when speaking to a small child and Pat took another bite of his sandwich, ignoring the question. "A big, soft bed at a really good hotel. Room service. Some movies. You probably donít get to see many movies being out to sea all the time like you are."

"Is this going somewhere?" Patterson asked, already tired of Lindstromís condescending tone.

"Youíre a grown man, capable of making your own decisions," Lindstrom replied, his tone telling Patterson that he really didnít think so. "Wouldnít you rather be somewhere comfortable with a real bed and hot food than sitting here on that hard bench eating a cold sandwich?" Patterson looked down, then stopped fighting down the smile struggling to surface and he laughed dead in Lindstromís face, unable to keep it in when he looked back up at the man. The FBI agent scowled and stalked away while Pat struggle to get himself back under control.

Nelson gave Patterson a good natured thump on the back and the Doc sat next to him, wearing a grin and saying, "Interesting way not to mince words, Patterson," then offering him a plate of sandwiches.

"Sorry," Patterson said, still fighting down laughter. He was glad the Admiral didnít look upset about his little display. "Iím sorry. I donít know whatís got into me, sir."

"Donít worry about it. Laughterís a healthy way to release tension. You might not think so right now, but you went through something pretty traumatic," Jamieson said, then nudged him to eat some more from the plate he was still holding out to him.

"Either that or you thought Lindstrom sounded as laughable as I did," the Admiral commented at a whisper, his face totally straight, as he took a sandwich from the plate. Pattersonís eyes started to water as he fought to hold in another laugh that shook him all over. The Institute had to work with the FBI from time to time and Patterson didnít want to be the cause of friction between them. The Doc gave the Admiral a look that told him he wasnít helping, but if the Admiral saw it, he never got a chance to acknowledge it because his mobile phone rang. He answered it, then walked over to the far side of the room, his face now grave.

The Admiralís expression got Patterson past his current wave of laughter and he looked to the Doc, who looked equally sober. "Whatís going on, Doc?" Patterson asked.

"Just eat, Patterson," Jamieson told him.

Patterson glanced over at the Admiral and then looked back to the Doctor. "Somethingís really wrong, isnít it?" he asked.

Jamieson glanced back at Amelia and her father then turned so his back was to them, then said softly enough that he couldnít be overheard very easily, "These men, the FBI thinks they are responsible for a rash of kidnappings that have been happening in Southern California. The same m.o., a random child is taken off the street, the ransom call is placed on a stolen cellular phone, the ransom demands are small enough that they can be raised by quick second mortgage on a home and instructions as to how to do just that if necessary, same sort of drop off instructions."

Patterson glanced past the Doctor to where Amelia was sleeping and he asked quietly, "Those kids, these guys didnít hurtíem, did they?"

Jamiesonís mouth tightened. "None of those children were ever returned to their parents. In fact, one of the fathers tried to follow the kidnappers and he went missing too. From what I gleaned from a conversation while you were in the rest room, they found fingerprints from some of the missing children in the van that was up at the cabin. Patterson, I think that Amelia was extremely lucky that you happened to fall into this like you did."

Patterson sat there, listening silently as Jamieson spoke, something going numb in him as what Jamieson was saying hit home. Kids, these bastards killed kids even after they got their damned money. He clenched his fists, wishing heíd known this when heíd taken down that one kidnapper on the mountain. No, on second thought, it was good he hadnít, because he would have done something violent that he wouldnít have regretted but he might have gone to prison over. "Can I help somehow?" he asked, his voice suddenly hoarse with fury.

"Just stay put and stay safe, son. Lindstrom wants you both to be able to testify when these men come to trial, especially you. Youíre the only one who can visually identify these them. The Admiral wants you to be alive to do just that, which is why heís keeping you here until heís sure the kidnappers arenít right outside, laying in wait. And I want you to be healthy enough to do it, so eat," Jamieson said.

"Amelia, sheís okay, isnít she?" Pat asked, forcing himself not look over at her again.

Jamieson smiled a little and said, "The little girl is fine. You did really good job taking care of her, Patterson." He put the plate of sandwiches into Pattersonís hands. "Now quit stalling."

Patterson wasnít really hungry anymore, but he ate to appease the Doctor. Once heíd finished, the Admiral returned to where he was sitting and Patterson moved to stand up. Nelson caught him by the shoulder and pressed him back down. "Doctor Jamiesonís been bringing you up to speed?"

"Yes, sir," Patterson replied. "The phone call..."

"That was Commander Morton. Heís been at the cabin with the FBI," Nelson replied, then paused, his mouth getting tight. He squeezed Pattersonís shoulder gently before continuing. "Theyíve found some of the other children." Bodies, Patterson thought, something in him going cold. He means that theyíve found bodies. Nelson squeezed his shoulder again, his grim face taking on an air of determination. "These men arenít getting away, not when they do this in my backyard, so donít worry about that happening. I know the local police and FBI were a little harsh earlier, but they are as anxious as I am to make these men are brought to justice as quickly as possible. Has anyone thanked you yet, Patterson?"

Patterson felt ill at the what the Admiral had been telling him, so the question confused him. "Thanked me, sir?"

"For getting us all at least this close to these men. For ending this before anyone else was hurt," Nelson said.

Patterson was utterly stupefied. "But I just... I wasnít thinking in the first place and thatís how I wound up... Then when I got loose... I should have tied up that guy and gone back for his friends once Amelia was safe in the woods. I should have done more, but I just..." He shook his head and looked down, numb with exhaustion and feeling miserable about not having at least trying to end things when he could have. Now everyone was chasing around in the dark after killers, not enjoying leave, and it was all his fault. It was all because he hadnít thought things through carefully enough.

The Doc patted his leg gently and the Admiral squeezed his collarbone, saying, "No. You did the right thing, looking to the girlís safety first. I would have been angry if youíd put her at risk playing hero like you just suggested you should have. I know you have commanding officers who set very bad examples in the area, but weíve discussed this, havenít we?"

Patterson nodded, unwilling to look up, feeling ashamed. The Admiral was referring to what had happened with Wells, or, more specifically, what heíd said afterwards. Nelson had told Pat that he could understand his desire to clear his fatherís name, but that Pat should have come to him in the first place, not tried to do everything on his own. Nelson had also said that it had absolutely better not happen ever again. Aside from the Admiral urging him to get some grief counseling, he never said anything else about the incident, not until now, nor had anyone else, aside from offering their sympathy on the loss of his dad.

"You did exactly what you should have, Patterson," Jamieson confirmed the Admiralís sentiment. "And what you should do now is get some sleep if you can. Itís been a couple of days, hasnít it?" Patterson gave him a sheepish look and nodded, but tired as he was, he doubted he would be able to sleep with everything still up in the air like it was. Doc gave him another reassuring pat on the knee and got up, going over near where Amelia was sleeping, Pat watching him go until the Admiral squeezed his shoulder again and he looked back up at him.

"I wasnít reprimanding you just now, Patterson. I know it might have sounded that way. Actually, Iím glad that you saved us all from the bother of a hostage situation. And Iím sure that Mister Randall is happy to have his daughter back without having to go through all that added worry. He was a total wreck until you walked in the door," Nelson told him, then smiled slightly. "You surprised everyone, you know. With all the people looking for you up in the mountains, youíd think one of them would have run into you. I think Lindstrom was almost angry that his agents didnít have to carry you out of the woods."

Suddenly there was a pillow and blanket dangling in front of Pattersonís face and to Jamieson gave him a stern look, saying, "And before someone has to carry you out of this Ranger Station, get some sleep."

"Yes, you get some rest. Tomorrow youíll probably have to give a formal statement to the FBI and the police, and theyíd probably appreciate it if you didnít fall asleep on them," the Admiral said.

"Yes, sir," Patterson replied. He dutifully took the pillow and blanket, then curled up on the wooden bench. Even though he was exhausted, he couldnít sleep, not with everything still so unsettled. He lay there, listening, as the Admiral and the FBI men occasionally spoke to search parties but nothing much seemed to be happening. Patterson was used to waiting and not having any say about what was going on. It happened all the time when heíd been in the Navy and now on the Seaview. He didnít mind, it was part of being a sailor, and considering his luck, it was probably for the best. Some big, ugly sea creature or weird alien would come onboard and heíd usually be one of the first guys to get flattened by it. Then the skipper or the Admiral would corner whatever it was with the Chief and Kowalski. Every once in a while, he got lucky and got to duke it out with them too. If he still wasnít laid out when everything was all over with, heíd usually end up spending the next couple of days doing repairs on the boat. At least he was pretty much in one piece and didnít have to fix anything this time he thought with an internal sigh.

Everything slowly became quiet in the Station, even the Admiral and FBI men having settled down somewhere eventually, and Patterson began to nod off. That was when the crack of gunfire sounded not all that far from the station. It startled Patterson back fully awake and he sat up as radios and mobile phones went nuts. Soon FBI men and policemen were streaming from the station and the Admiral started to exit with the last of them. He turned and looked Patterson right in the eye just as he was starting to stand up and said, "Stay put. Thatís an order."

"Yes, sir," Patterson replied, easing back down onto the bench. He honestly didnít know why he bothered, Nelson was gone before the words left his mouth. He looked around the room and saw that there was a policeman by the stationís one window and another moving to take a place by the door, Amelia still asleep on her fatherís lap. No one else was left. Patterson sighed again, thinking that even Doctor Jamieson got to be in on things. He got up and went to the cooler sitting on the floor in front of the information desk. There were only a few sodas left, mostly those fruity kinds, none of which appealed to him. He wanted something with caffeine, something to keep him going just a little while longer until the gunplay outside finally ended. There was some coffee behind the rangerís desk, and Pat went and helped himself to a cup. It was strong and hot and it did the trick, waking him up about as much as was possible at the moment.

Patterson refilled his cup and went back to the bench heíd been lying on. He sat there, waiting, not knowing what he was waiting for or how long heíd be waiting for it. Another volley of shots rang out and Patterson glanced at the window. The officer standing there tensed, even put his hand on his gun for a moment, then he relaxed when there were no further shots. Pat wanted to go and see what was happening more than anything, but he had orders. He sipped at his coffee, resigned to the fact that he wasnít going anywhere.

"Youíre so calm," someone said and Pat looked up to see Ameliaís father standing before him. Patterson glanced over to where Randall had been sitting and saw Amelia was still there, curled up in a blanket and sleeping. She could sleep through anything, apparently, Patterson thought as he looked back to her father. The man looked tense, maybe even embarrassed as he stood there, shifting slowly from foot to foot. "I... wanted to thank you for what you did for Amelia."

Patterson didnít know what he wanted to say. Amelia had been so upset with her father before, but now wasnít the time to dredge all that up. Pat didnít want to upset the poor man more than he probably already was, but he wasnít about to make nice with someone who was ignoring his little girlís pain while he wallowed in his own misery. He looked down into his coffee and said, "Anyone would have done the same."

"Not everyone," Randall corrected him, sitting down on the bench by him. "Most people wouldnít have been able to. Most wouldnít have bothered trying to return Ameliaís dog personally in the first place. Most people would have just called Animal Control if they even bothered to do that. You cared enough to take a hand in things and look where it got you."

Pat looked up at him. "How did you know about what happened with Cassidy?"

"A Captain Crane told me. Heíd gone to your apartment after Admiral Nelson got the initial call and talked to your landlady. She knew my address from Cassidyís tags and told him that youíd gone to bring her home. Cassidy showed up on her own all upset just before the Captain rang my bell. I didnít want to talk to him at first, the kidnappers had warned me not to talk to anyone, but he got me to realize your neck was on the block as well as Ameliaís. He talked me into telling the FBI everything I knew. Heís a very forceful man, your Captain Crane," Randall told him.

Patterson nodded, mostly to himself. "That he is." What Randall had said sure sounded like the skipper all right. The skipper wasnít that much older than him, was younger than a lot of guys on the boat, but he could get the crew to do anything, perform near miracles when necessary. After working for him and the Admiral, Patterson couldnít imagine being happy working for anyone else.

"He said you were a good man, one of his best. He told me youíd keep Amelia safe, no matter what. I thought he was just trying to keep me from falling apart any worse than I already was," Randall said, then ran a trembling hand up through his hair. "The FBI men told me about the other kidnappings, they tried to tell me that Admiral Nelson was going to get Amelia killed by interfering, but I kept remembering what Captain Crane had said about you, how it had made me feel a little better to know Amelia wasnít alone... I thought I was going to lose her. I thought I wasnít ever going to see her again."

As Patterson saw tears in Randallís eyes, he looked down into his cup again and said, "Donít do it to yourself then. Donít push her away." Randall didnít say anything at first, and Patterson began to regret his words. It wasnít his place to criticize. He wasnít a parent and though he liked kids as much as he liked animals, that didnít make him any kind of expert.

"She told me sheíd talked to you about things, that youíd told her I was hurting and that was why Iíve been such an ass," Randall finally spoke up, then he fell silent again. Patterson didnít know what to say, but heíd never been much of a talker and it was especially hard for him to find words in these sorts of situations. Most of the guys on the Seaview were used to him being on the quiet side and they didnít expect deep conversations from him. He didnít know what Ameliaís father was trying to get out of him, but Patterson was pretty sure that Randall wanted something. He was still sitting there, looking needy, so Pat assumed he was waiting for him to say something. Patterson just sat sipping his coffee. Randall would clue him in eventually. "I just... I donít know how to talk to her like you did out there in the woods. And thereís so much we need to talk about," he said after a long pause.

"Then talk to her," Patterson said, not looking up. "I didnít say anything fancy to Amelia. I wouldnít know how. We were just two people in trouble trying to make each other feel better. From what Amelia said to me, she just wants to know that she matters to you."

"Of course she does!" Randall almost announced. He sounded indignant and Patterson looked up at him, seeing anger, or maybe just pain in his face. Either way, Pat wasnít going to be drawn into an argument, especially not about something that was none of his business.

"Donít tell me. Tell Amelia," Pat told him, then got up to get more coffee. He stayed by the desk, thinking maybe Randall would take the opportunity to retreat. He didnít. After a few minutes of sitting with his head in his hands, Randall got up and approached Patterson again. Now Pat really wished he werenít trapped in the station.

"Iím sorry," Randall said softly once he got to the desk, his head still hanging. "I shouldnít have bit your head off. You were just telling me the truth. Itís just that when my wife..." He stopped, looking drained, defeated. Patterson frowned and looked over at Amelia again before looking back at her father. Randall had clenched his fists and was shaking his head. "I keep making excuses instead of taking care of my daughter. Amelia probably wishes she had a strong man like you for a father instead of a weakling like me."

Patterson didnít want to deal with this. Heíd heard guys whimper and whine like this on the Seaview when things got tough. They usually didnít last very long, but theyíd always get an earful from someone in authority, sometimes the entire Command Staff if the situation warranted. But this wasnít the Seaview and Pat wasnít this guyís C.O. or a psychiatrist or anything else that qualified him to counsel Randall on his troubles or slap some sense into him. Patterson forced later image away because it was way too appealing right now. "Look, saying stuff like that doesnít help anyone," he said instead. "On my boat, the skipper gives you a job and you do it, no arguments. You got handed the job of being Ameliaís dad. Thatís a pretty great assignment, isnít it? She seems like a great kid. I know that life isnít always real easy, sometimes it can be downright painful, but bellyaching doesnít make anything better. Get yourself past it and get on with what youíre supposed to be doing."

Randall stood there looking at him for a few seconds, his mouth slightly open, and Pat began to wonder if he was going to get decked again. It had only been moments ago, but for the life of him, he couldnít remember exactly what heíd just said. This was why he usually opted not to say anything at all, he thought to himself as Randall moved the last couple of steps between them. He decided not to fight back. Maybe if Randall knocked him down or gave him a black eye, heíd stop feeling so pathetic. Pat was almost surprised when Randall extended a hand toward him instead of slugging him. "I can see why your Captain said what he did about you," Randall said as just about grabbed Patís hand from his side and pumped it up and down vigorously.

"Uh... thanks," Patterson said, beginning to wonder what, exactly, the skipper had said about him. He carefully got loose of Randallís overly enthusiastic handshake and tried to think of some tactful way of escaping the man entirely while they were both trapped in the Station. Patterson was glad he wasnít the Admiral or he didnít have the Skipper or the Execís job, having to deal diplomatically with people no matter what the situation was. He didnít know how in the world they managed.

"Iím sorry. You must be exhausted. I should let you sit back down, maybe get some sleep," Randall said, solving Patís current problem for him. He stepped out of Pattersonís way, but followed him back over to the bench, saying, "And I want you to know, youíre welcomed to come to see Amelia anytime. She thinks the world of you."

"I appreciate that, Mister Randall, and Iíll try to come to some of her recitals when Iím in port if youíll let me know when they are. She has a really pretty voice," Patterson told him as he sat back down. Randall actually smiled at Pattersonís praise of his daughterís talents and went back to the desk to get a pen and paper to take down Pattersonís address. Pat was glad that once he had it written down, Randall went back to sit with his daughter. Amelia was still out cold and Patterson wished he wished he werenít so keyed up so he could sleep too. It had been quiet outside for a while now, but no one had come back to the Station. He didnít know if that was because things were over or if theyíd just hit an impasse, and there was no way to find out. The police officersí radios hadnít sounded since all the previous commotion, so they didnít know anymore than Pat did. He sat on the bench, rolling his half full coffee cup between his hands, wondering when this mess was going to finally end.

Patterson sat thinking that through two more cups of coffee and several hours. Finally, the radio of the police officer by the door buzzed and he spoke briefly to the person whoíd contact him. Almost just as he finished his quiet conversation, Chief Sharkey came strolling in the door as if nothing at all had happened. "Chief! Is... is everything okay?" Pat asked as he rose and started across the room.

"Yeah, yeah, kid. Everythingís all buttoned up," Sharkey replied. He sounded like heíd just been preforming some routine maintenance on the boat, not chasing killers through the woods. "Do me a favor, though. If you ever get in this sort of scrape again and find yourself able to do some damage, break the guyís jaw, okay? Once we pinned that mook down, all he did was complain about his busted arm. What a cry baby."

Patterson stood there, feeling at a loss. Everything was over with, but he still had no clue what had happened. "But Chief..." Pat started, wanting to ask about what had gone on.

No sooner had those two words left his lips then Lindstrom entered, followed by several other agents. "Well, weíve got the survivor in custody. Iíll need a statement from you, Patterson. These agents..." Lindstrom said. Heíd marched by Sharkey as if his werenít there, Patís head swimming. Survivor, he was thinking. That meant two of the kidnappers were dead, or probably did. Dread filled Patterson. Was anyone else hurt? This was all his fault, Pat mourned. If any of his friends or the police officers had come to harm, heíd never forgive himself.

"Hey, you heard the Admiral, buddy," Sharkey said, elbowing his way past the agents and arrive before Patterson, taking up a defensive position. "He went with the skipper and the Exec and your guys to give their statements and youíve already got mine and the other mensí. You can come to the Institute in two days for whatever else you need. The kid goes home to get some rest," he told Lindstrom. His tone dared Lindstrom to disagree with what heíd just said, but Lindstrom waved his agents back and he squared off before the Chief.

"Nelsonís not in charge here," he said.

"Iíve got my orders, Agent Lindstrom, and you were told by your home office to cooperate in every way with the Admiralís wishes unless it jeopardized the mission. Well, the missionís over, so Pattersonís out of here and Iím taking the girl and her father home," Sharkey stated, then turned to look at Randall, "Unless youíd rather I didnít, sir."

"No, that would be fine, Mister Sharkey. My daughterís been through quite enough for one day," Randall agreed. Amelia was just sitting up by him and she looked tired and disorientated. Patterson felt for her. He was almost dizzy with exhaustion himself. He was almost relieved when he turned back to face Lindstrom and he saw Kowalski entering the station.

Lindstrom backed down, but he didnít look happy about having his authority usurped. "I thought that we could simply get this over with if we just went over a few final points this morning. It would only take an hour or two, but if your Admiral Nelson sees the need to draw this all out for these poor people and his sailor, so be it," he said.

"Thatís the way he wants it," Sharkey said, then looked back at Patterson. "Kowalskiís going to take you home, kid, and the Admiral wants you to stay there until Ski or I come get you. The Doc wants you to get some serious sleep for the next couple of days, so take your phone off the hook."

"Okay, Chief," Pat replied, knowing that Sharkey had said what heíd said to make it plain to Lindstrom not to bother going by Patís apartment or calling there.

"Mister Patterson, donít leave yet!" Amelia called urgently from behind him.

Pat turned and walked over to where she was sitting and stooped down before her. "Iím right here, Amelia. Donít worry. All the bad men are taken care of, so everythingís fine now. Chief Petty Officer Sharkey from my boat is going to take you home, okay?" he asked, taking one of her little hands in his.

"Daddy says he has your address and that you were going to come hear me sing," Amelia said.

"Thatís right. Soon as I can."

Amelia took her hand from him and reached into her pocket, saying, "I wanted to give you something to thank you." Patterson looked up at Randall, but he just shrugged and shook his head. Pat was about to tell Amelia that he didnít need a reward when Amelia handed the wishbone toward him. "I already got my wish, so I donít know if it will still work, but maybe mommy will give you just one wish, too," she told him as she felt for his hand. He let her find it and she pressed the bone into his palm. She then wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a warm, fierce hug. "Promise you wonít forget me," she whispered before giving him a kiss on the cheek.

"I promise," Patterson told her, smiling a little as she gave him another kiss on the cheek before letting him go. Sharkey took Amelia and her father out of the Station, Kowalski nodding Pat out ahead of him. Pat watched as Ameliaís father helped her into one the Instituteís cars as he stood by Skiís Camaro. Once she was safely inside and being driven away, Pat opened the car door and let himself in. Kowalski was already behind the wheel giving him one of those Ďare you all rightí looks that they often gave each other when they werenít sure whether to ask the question aloud. "Iím okay," Patterson told Ski so that he wouldnít worry. "Just really beat."

"You look it," Ski said as he started his car. As they drove back toward Santa Barbara, Kowalski told him how the Skipper had tracked the kidnappers to where they were hiding almost at the Ranger Station. Thereíd been a couple of exchanges of fire, two of the kidnappers going down in the process. The guy with the broken arm gave up once his friends were no longer in the picture. One of the downed men was dead, the other, Benny from the sound of things, was in rough shape and might or might not pull through. One of the police officers had taken a bullet in the shoulder. The Doc had seen to him right away and Kowalski was pretty sure the policeman would be just fine. All this set Pattersonís mind much more at ease and he finally began to relax.

About half way back home, after Kowalski had finished telling Pat what had happened and it had been quiet in the car for a few miles, Ski suddenly laughed quietly. "Whatís so funny?" Pat asked, figuring he could use a laugh too.

"I was just thinking that only you could get into this much trouble being a Boy Scout," Ski chuckled.

Patterson didnít mind Kowalskiís teasing and he smiled, saying, "Probably wonít even get my Merit Badge."

Suddenly, Ski lost his smile and got most serious look on his face. He squeezed his steering wheel, like he always did when he was thinking over something. Finally, he shook his head and said, "Look, I know that no matter how much time you spend on the Seaview and in the city, weíre never gonna shake all that silly farm boy trust that you have in everyone out of you. Just try to be a little more careful from now on, okay? I donít want my best bud getting shanghaied or something. And no more good deeds, at least for this leave. I donít think anyoneís up to the aftermath of another one."

"Iíll see if I can control myself," Patterson replied, trying not to smile at Kowalskiís concern. "But you know how hopeless I am."

"Sure do," Kowalski affirmed Pattersonís hopeless status. It was all right, though, because Pat knew Ski wasnít upset about it. Ski had known how he was for years now and it had never harmed their friendship. Pat settled back, looking out the car window at the early morning sun playing over the trees. It looked like it was going to be a really nice day, Pat thought absently as he spaced out a little watching the scenery whiz by. They drove a few more miles in silence, then Kowalski said, "Steve?"

Pat turned back to him, wondering if maybe Ski had thought heíd dropped off to sleep. "Yeah, Rick."

Kowalski gave him a warm smile and gently cuffed him on the arm. "Try to stay hopeless, huh?" Pat nodded and returned Skiís smile. At least one person didnít seem to mind his Ďprovincialí ways too much.

By the time they got to Pattersonís apartment house, he was half asleep from the quiet, comfortable ride in Kowalskiís car. "Want me to come up?" Ski asked as Patterson opened his door.

Pat smiled at him, thinking that Ski was really the greatest guy he knew. He was pretty sure that Kowalski had been up all day yesterday, maybe even longer, but his friend didnít want him to be alone if he didnít want to be. "Thatís okay, Ski. Iím having a shower and heading straight to bed. See you tomorrow maybe?" Pat asked as he climbed out of Skiís car.

"Make that for sure. Iíll call you first thing tomorrow. No, you call me when you get up," Ski replied.

"Donít forget, us country boys get up with the chickens," Pat reminded him as he leaned back into the car a little.

"Thatís okay," Ski scoffed, then seemed to think about it. "Uh... when do the chickens get up again?"

"How about you come by about ten and weíll have a late breakfast or an early lunch?" Pat suggested.

"Sounds good. See you then," Ski said. Pat nodded and closed the car door. He watched Skiís car pull off, then he walked up the front steps of the apartment building, happy to finally be home. That was until he opened the front door and found Mrs. Farley standing there waiting for him.

"Uh... Mrs. Farley... about the air conditioner..." Pat started, knowing that he was too tired to do a decent job on anything right now.

"Thatís all right, Mister Patterson. Your friend, the Polish boy, took a look at it while your Captain was questioning me on your whereabouts," Mrs. Farley said, giving him a cool look. "Heís a very impatient man, your Captain."

Pat winced, hoping he wasnít about to be told to pack his things. The Skipper might have been a little brisk, but that would have only been because heís been concerned over one of his crew. Usually, Captain Crane was the soul of charm and grace. "Iím really sorry, Mrs. Farley," he apologized.

Mrs. Farley huffed, but she looked a little less annoyed, and said, "Heís your Commanding Officer, so you can hardly lecture him on his manners. He got me to tell him where youíd gone because he said that you had been kidnapped. Is that true? Is that why youíre all bruised and rumpled."

Patterson blushed. "Sort of, Maíam."

The old woman gave him a narrow look. "It was something to do with that submarine, wasnít it?" Sheíd told him on several occasions when heíd returned wounded from a mission that he ought to quit his job and find something less hazardous to do for a living. She meant well, he supposed.

"No, Maíam. See, the owner of that dog, she was a little girl whoíd been kidnapped and..." Patterson started, then thought that maybe he shouldnít be saying anything, what with the case being still opened and all. "Uh... itís kind of a long story, Maíam."

"Well, you look like you havenít slept in weeks. Go on up to bed right this minute and Iíll bring you up some soup later, Mister Patterson," Mrs. Farley said, shooing him on his way with a couple of gentle of taps on the calf with her cane.

"Uh... the police still have my keys. At least I think..." Pat started, hoping that the police or FBI had his keys and wallet. Mrs. Farley let out another huff, then disappeared back into her apartment, emerging a moment later holding a key. "Thanks, Mrs. Farley," Pat said as she held it out to him.

She shook her head at him as he took it. "You simply must try to be more careful from now on, Mister Patterson. And not just with your keys," she told him as she directed him back up the stairs again.

"Yes, Maíam. Iíll try, " Patterson said, then climbed up to his third story apartment. He let himself in, happy to close the door behind himself. Once heíd pulled off his clothes, he was so tired that he didnít even think he had the strength to shower properly anyway and simply collapsed into bed. As he wrapped himself up in his blanket, he chuckled to himself, thinking about the reward Mrs. Farley had insisted he ask for. As he dropped off to sleep, he laughed softly to himself again, wondering what she would say if she asked about it later and he told her heíd gotten a wish for his good deed.

 

 

The End

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