Authors note: My grateful thanks again to Carol. Her knowledge and advice were invaluable to improving this story.
by Lillian H.
Chip Morton moved slowly; his head hurt and there was a warm trickle of blood down his face. He turned to look for his Captain and friend. Lee was lying on the deck, his right arm pinned under the wreckage of the collapsed flight chair, and he appeared unconscious.
Chip crawled across to him. “Lee? Lee, are you okay?” Morton shook his friend gently.
A low groan emitted. “Chip…. We’re down…are we…in one…piece…ahhh!” Crane tried to move.
“Careful. Here let me help,” Chip disentangled Lee’s shoulder from under the chair. “Easy Lee, it could be broken, does it hurt much?”
“A little but not too bad,” Crane grimaced.
“Yeah sure,” Chip said softly.
“How about you? That’s a nasty gash on your forehead.”
“I’m okay. Bit of a headache but nothing serious,” Morton replied firmly, wiping away some of the blood on his shirt sleeve.
“Any idea how bad the crash was? Have we any power?” The Captain surveyed the obvious damage to the Flying Sub.
“I’m not sure. I haven’t had a chance to look around. How’s that…is it more comfortable?” he asked as he settled the limb gently.
“Thanks Chip, it feels fine. Check out the controls. See if there’s any power.”
“Yes sir,” Chip stood a little unsteadily. He moved across to the flight desk and carefully assessed the controls. After a few minutes he said. “Sorry Skipper, everything’s dead. It looks like the console’s fried. I don’t think it can be fixed without a repair crew.”
Carefully he moved to sit on the deck next to his friend.
“Damn,” Crane muttered. Looking at Morton he said. “Well, that wasn’t so clever was it?”
“Not your fault Lee. We didn’t expect them to have that sort of firepower. They’re only supposed to be drug smugglers after all. Someone obviously knew we were coming” The Exec moved to one of the storage lockers. He returned with a First Aid kit.
“That’s the last time we do a favour for one Admiral Starks’s ‘friends’,” Lee said emphatically.
As Chip Morton carefully tried to bandage his friend’s injured shoulder, Crane thought about the chain of events that had brought them here....
Two days earlier the Captain of the Seaview and his Exec had been called to Washington to a meeting at the Pentagon on Naval Reserve Security Protocols, at the end of their participation Lee and Chip were talking to some fellow officers when from behind them they heard a familiar voice.
“Captain Crane, Commander Morton, how good to see you both.”
Lee and Chip looked at each other and both pasted a thin smile on their faces as they turned to greet…Admiral Jiggs Stark.
“Admiral Stark. How good to see you sir,” Lee Crane said positively, coming to attention and executing a crisp salute. Mr. Morton did the same.
Jiggs assessed both men, “Okay Captain, Commander you can stand down. I know that you aren’t strictly Navy. Harry’s trained you well. How is the old reprobate?”
Both men relaxed slightly. “He’s well sir. He’s caught up in some research or he would have come along,” Crane replied, still smiling.
“I hear you’re both married men now and you Mr. Morton are a father.”
Chip’s smile was genuine now. “Yes sir, a baby boy of three months.”
“Well, congratulation’s to you both. I suppose Harry’s enjoying the role of…well an adopted Grandfather,” Stark laughed.
“Yes sir, he’s pretty excited,” Chip remembered how Admiral Nelson had ‘adopted’ his wife Grayling when she was young and vulnerable. Now he exercised what he saw as his Grandfatherly duties.
“Well Crane, any sign of a youngster for you?”
Lee remained smiling but it was difficult. “No sir, not yet,” he said lightly but he knew the prospect was remote. His wife, Darcy, had recovered from cancer but her treatment had included therapy that had reduced her chances of conceiving to almost impossible. They had both come to terms with the news although sometimes the pain still caught him unawares.
“Well don’t worry son, there’s still time,” Stark assured him, not noticing the man’s brittle attitude. “Actually… I’m glad to have bumped into you, I wonder if you would both like to join me for a light lunch. I have reserved a conference room down the hall. I have a small…request to put to you,” the Admiral looked uncomfortable.
Crane and Morton noted the change in his attitude and after looking at each other nodded.
“Splendid, splendid. I just have to collect someone who will be joining us. If you go on ahead we’ll meet you there.” With that he strode off.
Watching him stride down the corridor Morton turned to his Captain. “What do you make of that?”
“I’m not sure Chip. Somehow I get the feeling he engineered that meeting. He’s up to something,” Lee Crane replied quietly. “He was way too casual for my liking.”
“Probably going to stiff us with the bill!” Chip said wryly.
“Lee?” Chip asked as they waited for the Admiral’s arrival “…. does it bother you much, when people bring up the subject of children? Your own I mean,” Chip Morton carefully observed his friends reaction.
Lee was silent for a moment then looked at the father of his Godchild. “A little, I guess. I know Darcy feels it too sometimes.” He saw his friends concern. “It’s all right Chip really…. we’ve accepted it, we have each other. Instead we intend to be the best Godparents a child ever had,” he finished smiling broadly.
“You’re both already that Lee,” Chip said matching his friend’s mood. “Uh oh, here comes the Admiral,” he saw Stark and his guest coming towards them.
As both men stood, the Admiral came towards them smiling. “Captain Crane, Commander Morton, I’d like you to meet Drug Enforcement Agent Pete Carson.”
All three men shook hands. Carson was in his mid forties, about five foot ten and had light brown hair that was just beginning to grey at the sides. He had a worn expression that spoke of a lot of experience.
Over a leisurely lunch, Agent Carson explained the reason for the meeting. “We have information about a gang operating out of Central America. Their boss is wanted in at least three countries for murder, kidnapping, extortion. You name it, he’s done it. He has his own little state down there. We believe they supply forty percent of the illegal drugs in this country and I think they’re branching out into illegal weapons. My problem is,” Carson continued uncomfortably, “I’ve been ordered to back off, that there are other agencies looking into it, and we can’t tread outside our authority but if anyone is investigating, it’s all being kept very quiet. Another thing, we’re always just a little too late to make the big hauls or we arrive at the wrong location or on the wrong day. It has to be a security breach, or moles in the department, but I just can’t prove it. It’s frustrating...so, where do you fit in, right?”
Lee only looked at Morton. Both had a pretty big inkling.
“My superior,” he continued, “my immediate boss is…. Caleb Roberts, the son of …Senator Ethan Roberts.”
Crane and Morton stiffened.
“Yes, the same Senator Roberts that tried to commandeer the Seaview for active naval duty. The same Roberts that tried to have Admiral Nelson declared a traitor and was, however vaguely, believed to have been involved in an attempt on the President.”
“Gentlemen,” Admiral Stark said, “I’ve known Pete here, a very long time. He doesn’t cry foul without reason. I’m inclined to agree with him that our country is endangered. Senator Roberts is evidently building a power base to run for President…that takes a lot of money. He only seems to have backers of moderate means. I believe his son is helping him acquire funds illegally.”
“Admiral,” Crane said firmly, “if what you’re saying is true, why not go to the appropriate authorities? You must have contacts that can investigate and find out the truth.”
“True, Captain, but Ethan Roberts has very powerful allies and we have to be very careful not to make accusations without irrefutable proof. Roberts is clever and never leaves any thing to chance. He won’t be easy to incriminate. Which is where you come in. There is a person willing to give us all the proof we need, if we promise them protection. Documentation that will prove Roberts’ involvement.”
“This informant needs to get out
fast,” Carson said, “before they are discovered and captured. We can’t
go in for them…officially…
“You want us to use the Flying Sub to extract this informant, and do it all unnoticed, is that it?” Crane asked.
“Exactly Captain,” Starke said, “Will you do it…. unofficially of course.”
“Have you spoken to Admiral Nelson about this?” Crane asked.
“No, not yet. I wanted to sound you out first. I know you have ONI training Crane, but this would be completely unofficial and highly irregular. If anything goes wrong you’d be completely on your own. This organisation does not play games. If you’re caught, they will kill you, and probably after trying to extract information first. I believe you both know what that means.” He watched as both men absorbed the facts he had presented them.
Carson spoke carefully, “Look, I know this is a lot to ask on my say so but I just know I’m right. The DEA has never had so many busted operations. Millions have gone missing. Enough to make and break ten Presidents. If this informant is genuine, the facts will sort Roberts out, once and for all. I wish I could go myself but if I disappear he’s going to know something is up and that will blow the whole deal, we can’t afford to alert him. This is important to our entire democracy.”
Chip smiled cynically to himself. Pete Carson was pressing all the right buttons on Lee’s loyalty counter that was for sure. His too, if truth be known. Seaview’s crew had every reason to distrust Senator Roberts. His abortive attempts to take the Seaview away from Admiral Nelson and then the spiteful attack on his loyalty had backfired on him. Senator Ethan Roberts was a man who hungered for power. Now he was a man who also wanted revenge.
“How do we contact this informant?” Lee asked quietly.
“I have no direct contact but there is a method he devised that puts a message in the main daily newspaper. He’ll be waiting at a pre-arranged pickup,” Carson said hopefully.
“Nelson will have to okay it,” Crane said. “If he approves… I… will go after your informant,” Crane looked directly at his friend and Chip knew this was not the moment to argue the point on who was or was not going.
The men continued to make plans then agreed to meet later in Carson’s hotel room away from prying eyes. Unfortunately, some ‘prying eyes’ had already observed their meeting in the hallway and watched as Lee and Chip had gone to the private conference room and were later joined by Stark and Carson. She left to make her report.
“Lee, have some sense!” argued Nelson later. “This would leave you completely vulnerable. If anything goes wrong, how would you be able to get out?”
“Admiral, we don’t have a choice. If Carson and Stark are right, we have to get the informant out.”
“Very well, but I do not want to have to explain to your wives that something’s happened to either of you,” Nelson sighed.
“Something neither Chip or I would want either, Admiral,” Crane said laughing.
“Lee…look son…if something goes wrong…well, dammit I don’t care if it does cause an international incident…Seaview will come for you.”
“Admiral we’ll be okay, really. It’s just a simple pickup.....”
Now here they were, shot down and virtually helpless. Damn, he should never have let Chip talk him in to bringing him along. Morton had been adamant that he was going and Lee knew his arguments made sense but if they ever got back, Grayling and Darcy would probably kill them both.
“Stop it Lee, I’m here and that’s the end of it,” Morton said firmly as he finished dressing his Captain’s shoulder.
Crane smiled. His friend read him too well. “Okay Mr. Morton, let’s see where we are and how we get out of here.”
For the next hour the two men calculated their position and assessed their resources. They had been attacked just eight miles from the rendezvous point but had managed to crash land within a ten-mile radius. The damage to the control panel was extensive but with a good repair crew, FS1 could be rescued.
“Well, if we leave now we should be able to make the rendezvous by dusk. Then if we trek south for about three days we should be able to cross-country to the coast, avoiding all the main routes and hopefully their patrols, as it’s obvious they know we’re here and why!”
Agent Carson had explained that Enrique Ramirez, the warlord sought by the authorities, was a very powerful man, with a limitless supply of hired thugs. He owned an expansive compound and certainly had the fire- power to defend it. He lived in luxury in the remote area, his own private empire. The authorities didn’t bother him; he probably paid enough bribes to be left alone. There was a small village a few miles away but mostly there was wilderness.
“Well let’s go. We have to reach that rendezvous,” Chip picked up the two rucksacks and slung them over his shoulders. Lee released the hatch lock and pushed it open. On the out side there was jungle and it was hot…very hot. They sealed the hatch and used some foliage to hide the vehicle. “I hope you’re the one who explains this to the Admiral,” said Chip smiling. Lee just grimaced.
As they trudged through the undergrowth, Chip thought of Grayling and Josh. How would Grayling cope with the news? She was strong he knew but he hoped that she would believe in his return. He was determined he would get back. He wanted to see his son grow up and maybe have a daughter in the future. Most of all he wanted to grow old with his beautiful wife; yes he would get back, especially for them.
As they walked, he carefully watched Lee. He was coping well one handed but the pain of his arm and shoulder was beginning to tell. “Lee let’s rest, I could do with a break.”
Crane looked at his Exec, he knew what he was doing but the idea of a few minutes rest was a good idea. The pain in his shoulder was difficult to ignore.
“Thanks Mr. Morton…but I can cope,” Lee said rather tersely.
“I know that sir. I just needed a break,” Chip replied cautiously.
“You think I do you mean.”
“Captain, you’re the ONI agent not me,” Chip replied calmly.
Suddenly there was the sound of distant voices. Immediately alert, both men listened carefully. As the voices drew closer, Lee indicated for Chip to follow him. They hid in the densest part of a clump of trees. A group of armed men passed by some minutes later. They were obviously looking for them. After they could hear them no longer, Lee led the way up the trail.
“Phew, that was close,” Chip said quietly.
“They are not trained very well. You could hear them from a long way off. All the same they were heavily armed. Let’s not get involved with them if we can help it,” Lee kept going.
After another three hours of stealthy progress, avoiding two more patrols, Chip checked the compass. “Lee,” he called gently, “We’re close. Somewhere around here there’s an abandoned mine and our informant hopefully.”
Slowly they began to circle the area. Then Crane let out a low whistle, Chip joined him.
“Over here,” he separated some overhanging foliage and emerged into a small clearing.
In front of them stood a derelict low- level building and some waste tips. Off to the right there was a gaping cave that was the obvious entrance to an old mine.
Cautiously the two men scouted the area. Silently Lee approached the only building closely followed by Chip. He bent low as he stealthily looked in the window. Nothing. He crept along to the door. Gently he pushed it open. Stepping quickly inside he stopped a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the dim light. He felt Chip step in behind him. They scanned the interior. It held a few pieces of battered furniture and there was dirt and dust covering surfaces and the remains of ash in the fireplace.
“It seems we’re too late…the pickup has left or been captured,” Chip said softly.
Lee nodded but a slight sound off to his right behind a tall cupboard in the corner attracted his attention.
“You could be right Mr. Morton. Maybe they thought we were not going to come but we did get here to rescue them, let’s hope it’s not too late,” Crane delivered his speech in a low but audible voice, without taking his eyes from the corner.
Chip noticed his friend’s concentration and followed his lead. “Well if they were still here they would be sensible to sound us out first. After all it’s not every day a submarine crew enter the jungle to rescue someone on the run from drug smugglers.”
“Are you Captain Crane by any chance?” an accented male voice asked.
Lee glanced at Chip who raised both eyebrows in question and moved silently to stand near the dark corner.
“I could be,” he replied.
The cupboard was gently pushed forward and from behind it stepped a man of about fifty. He was dressed as priest. He came hesitantly forward. He observed the two officers carefully. “Well, we could be the people you have come to rescue,” he said.
Chip and Lee looked at each other then back at the priest. “We?” asked Crane.
“Yes… we,” he went back to the cupboard and held
out his hand. A smaller hand took it and a young girl of about eight years old
emerged. She was small, dark haired, dark eyed and very pretty. She huddled
into the priest looking at the two men from behind the folds of his cassock.
“Gentlemen, I am Father Raoul
The Captain and Exec were astonished. A child?
A knock sounded at the door and Grayling Morton cradled her son closer in her arms. She walked gracefully across the room and opened it quietly. Her face broke into a broad smile upon seeing her closest friends, Darcy Crane and Harriman Nelson.
“Darcy, Harry. Come in, come in. I swear you both have second sight where Josh is concerned. He’s just woken up.” She had turned and did not see the look that passed between her visitors as they followed her in. “So which one of you wants to hold him first,” she turned back to them and the smile faded from her face.
“Grayling….I have some news…” the Admiral hesitated. He moved towards her and helped her to a seat. Darcy sat beside her.
Gently Nelson laid the facts before her. “The Flying Sub left our radar about three hours ago. So far we have had no luck raising her. Seaview is setting sail within the next two hours. I’m going after Lee and Chip.”
“Grayling I’m going along too,” Darcy stated. “I can’t just wait around here…you understand don’t you?”
Grayling looked at her, then at Nelson. She gently laid her child into Darcy’s arms and stood going to gaze out the large picture window.
“Grayling?” Nelson said gently from behind her.
She turned and gently smiled as she watched Darcy cooing to her godson. Looking Harry directly in the eye said firmly, “Harry I’m going along too.”
Harriman Nelson paced Seaview’s small cabin muttering to himself.
“Harry will you stop agitating?” Grayling moved gently to his side, “Harry it will be all right. I have to be here…you must see that. Josh is fine with Angie until Chip’s parents arrive.”
Nelson looked at her and smiled “It seems my two officers chose wives with as much determination in them as they have themselves.” He leant forward and kissed her forehead. “Join us in the nose when you’re ready my dear,” he turned and left.
“Well, Joshua Charles Morton,” she held the framed photograph she’d brought along, “I hope your father is as understanding as your grandfather…. when we find him,” she finished quietly. Standing she went to sit behind the desk… her husband’s desk. Grayling looked around the neat, ordered cabin. How typical it was of the man she loved. Everything in place, just as she remembered it the first time she had seen it. Idly she flicked through the files on his desk. She smiled as she saw what was written on the ‘Daily Reports’ and she couldn’t help remembering two days earlier....
“Seaman Clarke,” Morton said, in his office at home, “was put on report for failure to secure equipment during a training exercise. This resulted in damage to said equipment and delay to the training schedule. Seaman Kowalski showed ……” Morton stopped speaking at the sound of soft laughter behind him.
“What are you doing?” his wife asked in gentle amusement.
“I’m reading to our son.”
“The Daily Reports? I hardly think they’re suitable,” she watched Chip as he smiled at her. He was so handsome in uniform.
Chip threw down the pen he was using and turned to his wife, “He doesn’t understand anything right now. So the Daily Reports are as good as anything,” he reached out his hand to her and she came to hold it.
Looking down at them both her heart swelled with love. Chip looked up at her and smiled. Gently he laid Josh in his crib and stood pulling Grayling into his arms. “I won’t be away in Washington more than a couple of days. When I get back we could take sometime for ourselves. I’m sure Lee and Darcy would be glad to baby-sit their Godson for a couple of days,” he bent his head to kiss her with desire.
When he let her breathe again Grayling’s laughing eyes captured his. “Oh, you wicked man. You know how much they would love that… and how much I love you,” she kissed him with passion. It was only the sound of insistent knocking that disturbed them.
Chip had opened the door to Lee and they all talked for a while as Lee heard all about Chip’s choice of bedtime reading material. The two men had left shortly afterwards for the Flying Sub and Washington......
Back in the present Grayling sighed. She was determined that Lee and Chip were going to be brought back safely; she was not about to let them die if she could do anything to prevent it.
In the cabin next door much the same thoughts were in Darcy Crane’s mind. Since their rather tempestuous meeting Darcy had loved Lee Crane more than she had thought herself capable of.
They had married with fanfare and ceremony, all arranged by her stepfather and Admiral Nelson. She was touched at the welcome she received from the Institute ‘family’, for that is how she viewed the tight knit community that had enfolded her as one of their own. Seaview’s crew showed the same care for her, as they did for Lee.
Her friendship with the Morton’s was a special bonus. Lee’s bond with Chip and his affection for Grayling meant her inclusion in their circle of love was assured. Grayling was her ally in all things and her staunchest supporter when she had almost walked away from the love of her dashing Captain.
Now Lee and Chip were lost in a jungle, chased by drug smugglers and all because of a power hungry, vindictive man.
She had tried to contact her Senator stepfather to gain help but he was overseas on a mission for the President and she knew that although he did have some influence it was nothing to that of Senator Roberts.
Admiral Nelson maybe her boss but their relationship was so much closer than that. He had assured her that nothing would stop him from rescuing his officers. When she had insisted on coming along he had not refused her. For that she was grateful. Lee Crane loved her and she never took that love or her life for granted. She knew that she had to be here, to do anything she could to rescue the man she loved.
“Father,” Crane asked incredulously, “what is the meaning of this, you say, she’s the informant?”
“Yes Captain, Grace has the information you need and she will give it to you once she is safe.”
“Father…?” Lee hesitated.
“Yes, yes Father Martinez, I find it very hard to believe that this child has the ability to gain information on the dealings of an international drugs cartel,” Lee stated firmly.
“I assure you Captain, Grace has your answers. If you will just let me explain…..”
“Captain,” Chip interrupted, “it’s getting dark, let’s leave the explanations for later. We need to retrieve our equipment and get settled for the night.”
Crane looked annoyed but then sighed and nodded to his Exec. “Okay Mr. Morton. Father Martinez, we need to get our supplies. You wait here and we’ll be right back.” Both men headed towards the door.
Outside beyond the clearing Chip pulled the rucksacks from their hiding place and turned to his Captain. “Well, what do you think? Is this for real? That child is our informant?”
“I don’t know Chip. This situation is getting more complicated by the hour,” Lee finished tiredly absently rubbing his shoulder.
“Let’s get back; I need to look at that shoulder.”
“I’m okay. We have bigger concerns. We have to find out what’s going on and then get out of here.”
“If we are going to get out safely, I need to check out your shoulder,” Chip’s tone brooked no argument.
Back inside the dimly lit building, both Priest and child waited patiently. Shutters kept the light from shining outside and there was a small fire in the grate.
When he saw the officer’s alarm Father Martinez reassured them. “Do not be concerned Captain, nothing can be seen from outside. Please come and warm yourself, the jungle nights are cold.
Lee and Chip approached the small warmth, the night was indeed cold. The child scuttled back behind the Priest, her eyes watched them with alertness.
Chip set about preparing their meagre rations. He smiled at the small face that watched him. Taking a bar of chocolate from the bag he tentatively offered it to her. She eyed the chocolate with obvious interest. Chip held it further towards her, “It’s yours if you want it.”
Grace looked at the chocolate then at the Priest. Father Martinez smiled as he looked at her, he nodded slightly but she did not move. “If I may?” he said and took the proffered item. He gently gave it to the child who smiled gratefully and opened it carefully, broke it in half and re-wrapped the remainder, returning it to him. “I’ll keep it for you child. Now go and rest, we have a long journey tomorrow.” She looked at the two other men, then turned and walked to the corner and lay down on some blankets and pulled another over her.
“Father Martinez…,” Lee started.
“Captain, please let us eat and then I will explain after the child is asleep,” Father Martinez said quietly. So they did.
After Grace had fallen asleep, Chip and Lee explained the loss of the Flying Sub and the resulting change of plans. Chip gently inspected Lee’s injuries, finding his shoulder was very tender and heavily bruised.
“Three months ago,” Father Martinez started to talk, “Consuela, Grace’s mother came to me in distress. I had known her as a young girl; it was I that, through the auspices of the church, had helped her find work in the city. It seems through her job at the American consulate, she had met and married a low level American member of the staff. Then along came Grace and they lived together happily for some years. Gradually Consuela noticed a difference in her husband. They had more money than his position commanded; he was dining out a lot more and talked of one day being a very important man. She was even more concerned when his attitude suddenly changed. He became secretive and frightened. When she questioned him he got angry and then one day he arrived home in the middle of the day, hurriedly packed some of their things and told her to take Grace back to her village and wait for his summons. He gave her some information and told her to memorise it. If anything went wrong she was to get it to the American authorities, that it would protect them both. When she challenged him, he told her he had been a fool and had trusted a dangerous man who was now after him,” Father Martinez gazed into the now dying embers.
“On the way to the airport their car was attacked, her husband was killed and in the confusion she managed to escape with Grace. They hid and slowly made their way back to our village. When she arrived it was obvious she was ill. After she told me her story I contacted the authorities and that was how they found us,” he stopped talking and appeared lost in thought.
The priest sighed and turned his gaze back to the two men. “Ramirez and his rabble henchmen. They descended on the village demanding the whereabouts of Consuela and her child. Consuela was an orphan, no living relatives at all, so they searched and found her in the church house.” He got up and with hands together in prayer and went to carefully check on the sleeping child. He came back and sat again.
His voice low and emotional he continued. “She was sick and weak but that did not stop their evil. They tortured her trying to extract the information but she remained silent until she died. I was away in the countryside seeing other parishioners and had taken Grace with me as a treat. An elder of the village found us and told me all that had happened. He warned me that we were both being sought by Ramirez and his thugs. I wasn’t sure what to do. I went to a reliable friend who knew of a DEA agent who could be trusted. We made contact and he has sent you to us.”
Lee and Chip sat in stunned silence. Then Lee said, “And Grace has the information, you say.”
“Yes Captain, she knows all her mother knew. You may have noticed she has not spoken. This not due solely to shyness. No. She told me the day her mother died that she had memorised some information and had promised her mother that if anything happened to her, she would not to speak of it until she was safe in America. So she decided not to speak at all. She has not spoken since, so you see this child must be kept safe. I have vowed to do all that I can to make sure of it”
The three men continued to talk in hushed tones as Father Martinez explained that Consuela had entrusted him with all the relevant papers concerning her marriage and Grace’s birth. “Grace is an American citizen by birthright but also an orphan. Her mother had no living relatives and it seems neither did her father. Both only children of only children and both sets of grandparents long since dead,” he looked across at the small sleeping figure, “she is all alone in the world,” he said softly.
Darcy and Grayling made their way through the Control Room towards the Admiral’s ‘front porch’ in the nose of the giant submarine. They saw Nelson talking with two people, a man and a woman. Suddenly he turned and saw the two women.
“Grayling, Darcy,” he came towards them. “Come and meet Admiral Jiggs Stark and Katherine Stone, Under Secretary to the Committee of Internal Affairs,” he turned to the man and woman, “Jiggs, Katherine, meet Darcy Crane and Grayling Morton.”
“Harry! You brought them along? What are you thinking? This is no place for them!” Jiggs Stark exploded.
“You sent our husbands on this mission, now they’re in trouble and you expect us to sit at home doing what…..sewing, knitting, and going to the beauty shop? Like hell!” challenged Darcy.
Grayling saw her friend’s temper rising and stepped in to calm her. “Darcy, it’s okay. Admiral Stark can’t help his reaction, after all he’s strictly Navy, and women have no place in his eye line. Right Admiral?” Grayling’s steely gaze rested on him and her voice lowered menacingly. “If you think that we would stay at home when the men we love are in danger because their loyalty to crew, friends and country has led them to risk everything they hold dear, you don’t deserve to be an Admiral in anybody’s navy!”
Jiggs Stark was astounded then started to bluster, however he was interrupted by Katherine Stone. With an amused smile she put a hand on his sleeve and said. “Jiggs calm down. This is a private vessel, on a private cruise…. For the moment anyway,” she looked at the two women in front of her, “and I think you would lose this argument hands down. Let’s all sit down and review the situation.”
Harriman Nelson had watched the little exchange with amusement. He had no concerns for Darcy and Grayling, he knew they could give a good account of themselves, in fact he felt sorry for Jiggs Stark, he didn’t know these formidable women as he did.
Katherine Stone spoke. “Admiral Stark has filled us in on the situation so far. I can reveal that Senator Roberts has been a concern to this administration for some time. We have no definite evidence against him but his abortive attempt on you Admiral Nelson and others loyal to the President has raised alarms. The source of his wealth and that of his son is also the subject of some speculation. As far as the President is concerned we have to tread very carefully. The Senator has a powerful set of allies and although nothing can be proved against him, we believe him to be a very dangerous, power hungry man, with a definite agenda to be President one day. If information exists to prove his treachery, I believe, he will use any means to stop it becoming public knowledge, even murder.”
“Harry you must see that we have to retrieve that informant,” Stark announced.
“And Crane and Morton,” Nelson stated firmly.
“Yes, Yes of course that goes without saying. Crane and Morton have to be rescued as well,” Jiggs looked slightly embarrassed.
“Admiral Nelson,” Katherine began, “Admiral Stark and agent Carson may not have thought through their actions in detail but he is right, the informant has to be our priority, Captain Crane and Commander Morton are….a useful means to an end. We have managed to gain permission to mount a rescue mission for them from the relevant government officials but if they find out our true purpose….then all could be lost.” She looked at Darcy and Grayling, “Please understand, your husbands took this mission, knowing the possible consequences. We will do all we can to protect them but that information is the only thing that can protect our country.”
Slowly Lee Crane awoke. He could smell coffee. Looking across he could see his friend gathering together the emergency rations and preparing a meagre breakfast for them.
He thought over all that Father Martinez had told them last night. Evil men had destroyed a family. Murdered the parents and left an innocent child orphaned and all for what? Power, ambition and obscene wealth. Sometimes he was thoroughly disillusioned by some members of mankind.
As he tried to sit up he became aware that a pair of dark eyes were watching him. He smiled and was rewarded with a tentative smile in return. “Good morning, you think you could help me up?” For a moment she hesitated, then came towards him. She held his arm as he got to his knees and then helped him to stand. “Thank you. Shall we get some breakfast?” Still holding his arm she walked beside him as they joined Mr. Morton who watched them casually.
“I see you found yourself a nurse and a pretty one at that,” Chip said with a broad smile. He too was rewarded with a shy smile.
“You let me sleep in. I thought I had the watch after you,” Lee said accusingly.
“You needed it. Besides the good Father insisted. You can’t argue with a priest Lee,”
“Where is he now?”
“He said something about prayers and left about twenty minutes ago.”
Just as Chip finished speaking the door opened and Father Martinez came in. “Good morning Captain, did you sleep well?”
“Father Martinez, I understand you countermanded my orders last night. I must insist that if we are to get out of this safely, I be obeyed, completely,” Lee knew he was being pedantic but he needed to make it clear who was in charge.
Father Martinez observed him carefully. He came to a decision. “My apologies, Captain. You are quite right. You are in charge. From now on I will follow your orders as issued.” He smiled and opened his arms as Grace ran into them. “Good morning Grace.”
Lee felt deflated. He caught Chip’s questioning glance and felt even more foolish. “I’m sorry Father…I didn’t mean to…”
“Captain, please. I lost some sleep you gained some. Let us speak of it no more. Now how shall we proceed?”
“With a little breakfast,” interrupted Chip.
Everyone smiled and joined him to eat.
Nearing the end of that day, as they trudged through the jungle, Captain was joined by his Exec. “Lee, can we stop a moment, Grace is struggling to keep up again.” Crane turned to look behind him and saw Father Martinez helping the small child to keep going.
“Father is she alright?” Lee asked.
“Yes Captain but I’m afraid that we shall need to go slower. She is tiring quickly in the conditions.” He sat on a tree trunk and lifted the child onto his lap. She lifted her head and her eyes looked straight into Lee’s, then she lifted her chin, slid to the ground and made ready to start walking again.
“Let’s rest here a moment,” Lee said.
As they all took a breather, Lee and Chip talked quietly. “Lee I’m not sure how long she can keep this up. We are going much slower and by trying to avoid the patrols that means we’re going to take days longer,” he looked at the child sitting tiredly with the priest. “Is there a shorter route to the border and the coast?”
Lee shook his head. “‘Fraid not Chip. I know what you mean though, she’s only a child, and these conditions will wear her down quickly. I’ve been thinking …Ramirez must have some form of communications available to him. He would want quick access to his businesses. Which means he probably has a radio system as well as transport, probably an aircraft. If we can avoid their patrols we could make his compound in under two days, steal an aircraft and fly out of here.”
“Lee have you got heatstroke? You’re suggesting we head into the lion’s den. In case you’ve forgotten this guy and his cohorts are baying for our blood. They killed that little girl’s family and would quite happily do it again to us…. all of us!” Chip looked at him in disbelief.
“Think about it Chip. It would be the very last thing they would expect us to do. We can’t drag Grace across country in these conditions, we are not equipped, we have very few supplies and she may not make it. We know the Admiral will come after us, if he meets up with Ramirez and his thugs; he would be putting the crew at risk. If we do it my way, she has a chance. We could be out of here and every one would be safe.”
Morton studied Lee’s expression; he was certainly in earnest. Chip looked again to the priest and child. Lee was right; she couldn’t keep up this sort of pace another four or five days. “Okay, say you’re right and Ramirez does have a landing strip and aircraft. Getting to it won’t be easy. It’s bound to be well guarded.”
“One problem at a time Chip, we have to get there first. We may as well make camp; we could all do with a good night’s rest. Tomorrow we head East, into the lion’s den.”
Later they settled, after sharing a small meal. Lee again found himself the subject of Grace’s attention. The large expressive eyes had watched him as he talked with the other two men, explaining his plan to the Priest.
Now as he stood first watch, he moved slightly and jarred his shoulder. Grimacing the pain away he saw Grace watching him. She quietly left her makeshift bed beside Father Martinez and came to him and laid her hand on his shoulder gently stroking it.
“Well, well Captain. It seems you have made a friend of Grace. She does not trust easily, you understand, but it seems she trusts you Captain Crane. I’m glad; an orphaned child needs a friend.”
Chip had relieved him for his watch and saw the child carefully resting against Lee as she slept. When he offered to take her back to her blankets, Lee had said to leave her as she was cold and he would keep her warm.
Lee looked at the sleeping child beside him and something inside him determined to save this little girl and take her to safety, whatever the cost. She was a brave child; she had chosen silence to keep her secrets safe, so much responsibility for someone so young.
He considered her future. When they finally got home, what would happen to her? An orphanage? Foster care? He knew all about that road in life.
In some ways she reminded him of Darcy. She had the same colouring certainly but it was more the determination to keep going, the unwillingness to be beaten and her obvious compassion. Darcy would understand this child, they were a lot alike.
Darcy… he missed her company. She expressed her love for him in so many ways. Not that she could be described as compliant, they both liked their own way but they loved each other completely and always worked it out. He would get back to her and see Chip safely home as well. He would see all of them safely home.
“Thank you Ski,” Grayling said. “You don’t need to wait on me. I’m sure you have enough duties to attend to.”
Kowalski had just brought her a tray that Cookie had insisted on as she had missed the meal. “It’s no trouble ma’am. I’m used to stewards’ rota. We want to make sure that you take care of yourself. When Mr. Morton comes back he’ll want to know you were well looked after. So you just let us take care of everything else ma’am.” With that he left, meeting Darcy in the corridor, and smiling he said, “Good evening ma’am.”
“Ski, how many times I have asked you to call me Darcy?”
“I know ma’am but now you’re the Skipper’s lady …well, it don’t seem fitting anymore. The whole crew feels the same. It’s just our way of showing respect to the Skipper and Mr. Morton,” he left with a smile.
Darcy smiled and tapped lightly on Grayling’s door.
“Come in” came the soft reply.
“Hi. Missed you at dinner. Cookie was worried.”
“I’m not very hungry. How long before we get there, do you know?”
“Another six hours. The Admiral is pulling out all the stops. Have you noticed his rapport with Katherine? He’s certainly comfortable around her.”
Grayling chuckled. “You’re not matchmaking by any chance?”
“No…but people can meet up under the most unusual of circumstances and hit off don’t you think?”
“How do you know she’s not married?”
“She’s not. I asked, but there is something, I get the feeling a broken heart is involved.”
“Darcy, we only met her a few hours ago. How can you know so much already?”
“She and the Admiral had a mutual friend and met up from time to time, but not for some time now.”
On seeing Grayling’s expression she continued, “What… so we talked a little. What else can you do on a submarine, speeding through the ocean?” Both women dissolved into laughter.
Darcy looked at the picture of Josh. “You and Chip are very lucky,” She looked at her friend, “Grayling...I’m going to ask to go ashore with the search party.”
Grayling Morton studied Darcy carefully. She saw the worry and fear etched on to her features. Darcy had faced a lot of fear and worry. Her cancer had been a battle that she had nearly lost. Lee Crane was her reason for living. She needed to go, anything to be close to him. “Of course you should”
Darcy came and hugged her. “I knew you would understand. Now help me to convince the Admiral to allow me to be part of the search party.”
In the Admiral Nelson’s cabin, Jiggs Stark and Harry were sharing a nightcap. “You didn’t warn me that Crane and Morton’s wives were so formidable. Good grief Harry, how do you cope?”
Nelson laughed. “The boys certainly chose well, didn’t they? Darcy and Grayling are just what Lee and Chip need them to be. Strong women for strong men. Don’t worry Jiggs; they don’t bite unless you harm the men they love.”
“Harry I’m sorry about all this. We really thought it would be straightforward. In, pick up and out. We need that information. They seemed the best way of retrieving it. Why did Morton go along? The last I was told, Crane was going by himself.”
“Jiggs don’t you know these men yet? Chip Morton would no more let Lee Crane go into danger alone than he would his crew. Those two men have a bond that goes beyond friendship or brotherhood. That’s why they work together so well, why this crew is the best in or out of the navy. We all stand by each other. Wherever they are I’m willing to bet my pension they are looking out for each other, just as always.”
“Lee are you okay?” Chip Morton ran to his friend. Crane had stumbled and fallen heavily onto his injured shoulder.
“I…I’m alright, I...just.... I just…fe..,” Crane slipped into unconsciousness.
“Lee, Lee!” Chip called. “He’s out cold. God alone knows what damage he’s done now,” Morton said to no one in particular.
“Please Commander,” Father Martinez said, “Let me look. I have a little First Aid knowledge. When you live in a small village with no doctor you learn to adapt.”
After a quick but surprisingly thorough examination, he turned to Chip and said. “I think he has dislocated his shoulder.”
“Are you sure? I mean it is heavily bandaged.”
“I can feel the play in it. We should snap it back while he’s out or the pain will be considerable.”
Morton looked at Lee then the Priest. “Okay, Father, what do you want me to do?”
“You will need to hold him,” Father Martinez started to lay Lee flat and remove the strapping. After watching the Father manipulate Lee’s shoulder back in place, then re-bandage it, Chip said, “Father Martinez, I don’t suppose you feel like giving up the priesthood and joining a submarine crew? I know a very able doctor who would use your skills to advantage.”
“Oh, I don’t think so Mr. Morton. I do much better at saving souls, than healing the body but thank you for the offer; I will bear it in mind,” he said laughingly. “There, now let him rest. He deserves it.”
Lee had stirred and now seemed to be sleeping. They carried Crane into the under growth and found a small clearing completely hidden by the overhanging trees. As Chip and Father Martinez settled down to rest also, Grace edged closer to the sleeping officer and sat gently stroking his head. Chip watched the scene with assessing eyes.
“She has taken to your Captain, has she not? He is a good man. Brave I would judge and very loyal.”
Chip Morton looked at the priest. “He is indeed. Lee Crane puts everyone before himself and never counts the cost. He’s the best friend I’ve ever had. You need not fear Father, Lee will find a way to save Grace and all of us, that’s the kind of man he is.”
Slowly, if for no other reason than that it helped him to stay awake, Chip Morton told Father Martinez about Lee, their friendship, their families and life aboard Seaview.
“Your friend is a very lucky man, to have such friends and family,” the priest said.
“No sir, we’re the lucky ones,” Chip said quietly.
“All right, one more time. Chief Sharkey, Kowalski, Patterson, Doc and I…” Nelson looked at Darcy with resignation, “along with Mrs. Crane, will head the main party. Camden, Lewis and Emerson will go after the Flying Sub. We will keep in regular radio contact and will be armed. Secretary Stone is going to be our liaison with the relevant authorities but remember that not all the natives will be friendly, stay alert. When we find Captain Crane and Commander Morton, I want us out of there fast.”
“Don’t you worry Admiral, sir. We’ll find them and bring them home,” Chief Sharkey spoke to the Admiral but looked at Darcy too. She smiled in return. She knew these men would do whatever was needed to bring them back safely.
Grayling came into the control room and watched as the men ascended the ladder to the deck.
“Grayling don’t worry; we’ll find them and bring them home,” Nelson hugged her and smiled re-assuringly.
“I know you will Harry, you take care of yourselves too. Be safe,” and she hugged him back.
“Grayling, thank you. I know it was you that persuaded the Admiral to let me go along,” Darcy smiled warmly at her best friend.
“You need to do this, I understand that. It’s a good job you speak fluent Spanish. Harry was reluctant to let you go until he realised it could be useful. Be careful Darcy, listen to Harry and come back safely.” The two women hugged each other, and then Darcy moved swiftly to the ladder and was gone.
On shore the police chief for the district met them. He was a surly individual and reluctantly provided them with transportation, some men and agreed to guide them. Nelson had an uneasy feeling that he could not be relied on.
“Chip…Chip where are you?” Lee’s voice was low and strained amid the jungle noises.
“It’s all right Lee I’m right here. How do you feel?” Chip moved to his friend’s side.
“Like I hit a sand bank at speed. What happened?”
“You fell on your shoulder and dislocated it. Father Martinez put it back.”
Crane looked up at the smiling priest, “Thank you….how did you know what to do?”
He explained to the Captain, “Grace has been looking after you ever since. Now let’s sit you up. How does that feel?”
“Fine… a little stiff but manageable.”
Grace brought him a drink of water and he swallowed it gratefully. “Thank you” he said with a smile as she settled beside him. “How long have we been here?”
“About two hours,” Chip said. “We have heard a couple of patrols in the distance. It’ll be dark soon, so we may as well make camp and get some rest.”
“Okay Chip, probably for the best. We can’t afford to stumble around in the dark.”
Much later when Grace and Father Martinez were asleep, Morton sat beside Crane and keeping his voice low said, “Alright Lee, what are you thinking? You’re planning something.”
Crane looked startled and then smiled. “I never could fool you, could I?”
“Do you want to?” Chip watched him in carefully. “Lee what are you going to do?”
Crane was silent for a moment and looking across to the sleeping pair. “Chip we’re not far from the Ramirez compound. If I set out early tomorrow, I could probably reach it by midday. Then I could get the layout of the area and decide how best to approach the plane.
When you arrive with Grace and Father Martinez there would be less chance of discovery. That way we could just look for our chance to get away.”
Morton watched him as he explained. He was not surprised; it was pretty much what he had expected. “Just how are you planning to do all this alone, hurt and weakened?”
“Mr. Morton, you will follow orders. You will bring those two along as quickly as possible, then fly us out of here,” Crane said sternly, and then his tone softened. “Chip…trust me, this will work. We are responsible for that little girl and the information she holds. We can’t fail…our democracy depends on this.”
Chip Morton kept his expression carefully blank and replied, “If that’s the way you want to do it Captain,” Then he smiled “You better get some sleep Lee, you’re going to need it. I’ll take the watch.”
The sun was just beginning to break the darkness of the jungle as Crane stirred. He struggled to stand and looked around. His eyes met those of Father Martinez. Something was wrong; he looked rapidly around for Chip.
“He’s gone Captain. He went an hour ago. He left this for you,” the priest held out a sheet of folded notepaper.
Lee snatched it away and moved to a shaft of sunlight to read it properly.
Don’t get mad. We both know your plan is the right one
but we both know that your injury is a liability. I have a
much better chance of success.
If you want to put me on report when we get back…. o.k.,
It’s the success of the mission that matters after all.
See you later…. don’t miss your check in time. Chip.
Lee crumpled the paper and swore softly.
“He did what he had to do Captain. Mr. Morton explained your plan and he is correct, you are less able than him. He is a careful man, he does not act recklessly. He made the decision his command experience taught him was the correct one. Would you have done less Captain, had your roles been reversed?” Father Martinez spoke softly but with firmness.
Crane was about to argue when Grace came to stand by him. Looking down at her he realised that his friend was right, the only thing that mattered was the mission.
In a convoy of vehicles speeding recklessly along badly formed roads, Nelson, Darcy and the shore party were racing towards the jungle interior.
Capitan Sanchez was not happy that Nelson insisted that another team headed off in a different direction, following a signal they were receiving on a little black box. He did not want to help these Americanos but his Commander had insisted and he could not refuse.
“Capitan Sanchez, we seem to be going around the jungle, not through it. I understood there was a passable route that is more direct,” Nelson shouted above the engine noise.
“Senor, please allow me to know the safest way to find your friends. We will soon be near the search site,”
Nearing the compound Chip could hear the activity going on there. He slowly emerged from the dense jungle, onto open grassland. Just a few thousand yards or so away, he could see the perimeter fence. Beyond it there were vehicles, coming and going constantly. Carson had been right; this guy Ramirez must have a small army to command.
He carefully noted all the points of interest. Lee had been right as usual, there was an airstrip and a very nice small jet. There was also what looked like a communications building, judging by the array of antennas and satellite dishes that adorned it. Chip’s attention was drawn to the house. Several men had emerged onto a veranda and Chip’s eyes were drawn to one in particular. Even from this distance the figure was unmistakable…. Senator Ethan Roberts. What the hell was he doing here!
The convoy had stopped. Capitan Sanchez was talking in hushed tones to some of his men.
“Admiral sir,” Sharkey said, “This Sanchez character…he’s not being straight with us. We seem to be going in zig-zags, sir,” Nelson looked at the rest of his party, he could feel their unease.
“I think you’re right Chief. Let’s make our own plans. Collect together our equipment, we’re heading out alone. Commandeer that vehicle and load it,”
Sanchez became aware of their activity and came hurriedly towards Nelson. “What are you doing? We are not there yet.”
“We are heading out alone. For whatever reason Captain Sanchez, you seem to be trying to delay us and we are not prepared to let that continue,” Nelson stared the man straight in the eye.
“How dare you….I… my country…” Sanchez blustered but was interrupted by a shout from the radio car. He bustled over to it.
“Admiral we’re all ready when you give the word, sir,” Sharkey stood at his shoulder.
“Very well Chief, let’s get going,” Harry turned away and as he walked towards the vehicle, Sanchez called out to him, “Admiral Nelson, I think you are not going anywhere.”
Just then Sanchez and his men aimed their weapons at the shore party.
“I have just received word that one of your missing men has been captured .He smiled confidently and watched, as they were dis-armed. “Yes Admiral, you were right, I have a different master. Senor Ramirez pays much more than police wages and he and his friend demands that you and your men be brought to him. So now you will do as I say.”
Darcy suddenly started to cry loud sobs and then she put her hands to her face. “Please Capitan, please don’t do this, please…please you must understand.”
Quickly she had advanced on the startled man and then with a swiftness that he missed, stepped smartly behind him, grabbing a handful of hair and putting a knife wielding hand to his throat. “Sanchez you had better tell your men to drop their guns or you are about to get another smile,” Darcy spoke with slow and deliberate menace, easing the sharp blade against a now shaking man.
“Please Senora, you cannot get away. Please drop your knife and I will be lenient.”
“You fat slob, don’t you understand yet! I will cut your lousy throat, drop the weapons!” Again she tightened her grip and this time the knife drew blood.
Sanchez, on feeling the sharp blade cut him, was terrified. “Do it, do it, drop the guns! Please senora; please do not do anything foolish.”
Sharkey and the rest of the crew rapidly collected the weapons and relieved Darcy of the near hysterical Sanchez.
“My God Darcy. Where did you learn to do that?” Nelson asked as he took her slightly shaking hands.
“Lee. He thought I should be able to defend myself…. just in case. I don’t think this was quite what he had in mind though.”
Harry chuckled. “No, I don’t expect he did,” then looking at her he said softly, “Play along with me.” Crossing to the now bound policeman, Nelson viewed him with a chilling stare. “You have one chance to tell me all you know…otherwise I will give you back to her and she can finish the job…very slowly!”
Sanchez eyed the woman with fear. She stared at him with hatred. He was in no doubt that she would do it…the female of the species was always deadlier. He counted his options, they were very few. “Admiral you must understand. I will be killed for talking…. you must see that my leader is very powerful.”
“You will be killed for not talking. Your choice. You tell us all you know and maybe you can …get away before they discover your treachery,” Nelson spoke firmly.
Sanchez took the slim lifeline that had been thrown him. He rapidly told of the capture of one of the missing men and the whereabouts of Ramirez’s compound. Now that he was talking, he did so freely.
“Chief, get everything ready. Contact Seaview and ask them to contact the authorities and give them the location of their men.”
“NO, NO, you said we would go free,” Sanchez cried hysterically.
“I lied,” Nelson said with little emotion.
Chip became aware that he was securely bound. He was standing with his back against a solid post, his arms drawn behind him and tied tightly at the wrists. His legs and ankles were also tied. His head throbbed and he had the sticky feeling of dried blood on his neck. Slowly the memory of his capture came back to him….
He was concentrating on the scene in the compound when a slight noise had alerted him. He turned to see a man approaching and swiftly rolled back into the long undergrowth. The man saw the movement and advanced with his gun raised. Chip had risen slowly feigning compliance with the obvious demands the guard made. When he was close enough Chip jumped him and was managing to suppress him, when another guard used the butt of his rifle to knock him out….
“Well, well Commander I see you have woken at last,” An American voice spoke from behind him.
The business-suited figure of Ethan Roberts came to stand in front of him. Beside him stood another man. He too was smiling and each held a glass in their hands. As they sipped at the amber fluid both men observed the bound man with amusement.
“Nothing to say Mr. Morton?” Roberts asked.
Chip remained silent and kept his expression carefully neutral.
“I must say, you don’t dis-appoint. You really are living up to your stoic reputation.”
“Enrique, let me introduce Lieutenant Commander Charles Philip Morton, Chip to his friends, Executive Officer of the submarine Seaview. Captain Lee Crane’s best friend and one of Admiral Harriman Nelson’s ‘golden boys.’” His tone congenial at first changed suddenly to a snarl. “Not such a ‘golden boy’ now, are you Chip ‘ole boy,” he stepped forward and backhanded Morton hard across his cheek.
Chip had the unmistakable taste of fresh blood in his mouth. This was going to be fun.
“Dammit, Morton, You will not ignore me. You will tell me where Crane, the priest and that damn Andrews brat are,” Roberts was red with anger.
“You think so?” Chip ground out. Might as well play along for now. He could see that it was dark already, Lee must be outside somewhere.
“You really think that you have a choice. Enrique has methods to loosen your tongue you haven’t even thought of,” Roberts’ voice became cajoling and friendly again, “Make it easier for yourself man, co-operate. Where’s the point in suffering un-necessarily.”
“Go to hell!” Chip spat blood at the smug face in front of him.
“Damn you,” Roberts dabbed at his face. “Hurt him, but don’t kill him. We can use him to lure Crane in. These two are almost joined at the hip, Crane will make a try for his buddy, then we’ll have them!”
Outside the compound Lee Crane was inwardly cursing himself. They had arrived a couple of hours ago and found no sign of Chip. Lee had waited but when Morton had not shown up, he feared the worst. The place was crawling with patrols. They had taken to the high trees in daylight and now rested in the dark over hanging cover of the jungle.
The compound remained floodlit and a hive of activity, much too dangerous to approach just yet.
“You fear for your friend. Do you think he has been captured?” Father Martinez asked softly.
Crane could just make out his features in the reflected glow of the floodlights. “Chip would have made contact by now…so yes, I think he has. He should have followed orders then he would be safe and here right now,” Lee’s strained whisper was full of concern.
“Captain, he did what he did. Now we must think of a way to help him and save Grace from these evil men.”
Crane looked at the child lying with her head in his lap. She seemed comforted when she could be close to him.
“Well…we can do nothing tonight. There’s too much going on in there. In the morning maybe things will be clearer.”
Nelson watched as Patterson and Kowalski filled the gas tank from the last of the drums that had been aboard their borrowed vehicle. Darcy was resting against his shoulder, sleeping fitfully.
“Ready to go again sir,” Patterson said softly as he climbed behind the wheel. “Ski is taking a break, I’ll take over now.”
“Thank you Patterson, thanks to all of you,” Nelson said.
“No problem Admiral. It’s for the Skipper and Mr. Morton sir.”
Nelson smiled and they sped off into the night.
Chip breathed in short spasms, anything else just hurt too much. The two thugs who had taken such pleasure in beating him had surely busted a couple of ribs at least. Now they were standing aside while Roberts and Ramirez observed their handiwork.
“Mr. Morton … Chip, is all this really necessary? It will go much easier on you if you co- operate. All we want is the information…it belongs to me after all. If I hadn’t trusted that weakling Andrews, this would all be unnecessary. He was stupid to think he could blackmail me. A mistake that he ultimately paid for,” Roberts spoke reflectively. “Give me the information and we can call it a day. All I want are the papers that were stolen from me.”
Chip raised his head with difficulty. Looking at Roberts he spoke through painful lips, “You want to steal the Presidency. You have no honour or patriotism. The Admiral was right you’re a traitor,” his head dropped forward.
Roberts grabbed his hair and pulled his head up “You talk to me about patriotism! I will make our nation great again! No more weak- minded Liberalism. No more social dependency and equality rubbish. We have the greatest country in the world but do-gooders like Nelson and his ilk of bleeding hearts have emasculated us. Don’t call me a traitor Morton; I am one of the truest Patriots.”
“That why you do deals with drug smugglers and murderers,” Chip struggled weakly.
“A means to an end, just a means to an end,” Roberts jerked his hand away.
The morning light streaked across the sky and Crane was carefully watching the compound from the safety of the jungle edges. Father Martinez joined him “Do you see him?”
“No, not yet. They may keep him under wraps, until they find us.”
Just then there was a rise in the activity level. Men were moving to form ranks and a uniformed man addressed them. Smartly they dispersed around the perimeter fence and took up positions. Then from the impressive looking house a group of men appeared. Crane used the binoculars to confirm his suspicions…Senator Roberts was one of them. He watched as they strolled towards a large steel structure in the shape of an X that stood a few yards out from the main building near the centre of the compound.
As Lee kept watching three more men emerged from the house, dragging something between them…. it was Chip. He was barely conscious and unable to support himself. He looked bloodied and beaten. Roughly they tied him to the structure, stretching his body to the fullest extent.
Roberts raised a microphone to his lips “Good morning Captain Crane. I hope you slept well. As you can probably see your Executive officer did not. Pity about his stubbornness, not a trait I encourage in my company. I’m sure you can hear me, so this is how the day will progress. Morton will remain tied here all day, with no water or food and every hour on the hour will receive yet another beating. All you have to do to stop this, is hand over the child with the information and walk away. Think about it carefully Captain, Morton’s life depends on it. In the mean time this may help you to decide,” Roberts cast another glance at the surrounding countryside and moved away as two men stood in front of Chip.
The beating was designed to cause maximum pain and still leave him alive.
Lee Crane watched in anguish. This was his fault. If only he’d listened to Chip. Kept going towards the coast instead of trying to out smart their pursuers. Now he was helpless. He could not hand over Grace; neither could he think of any practical way to rescue his friend.
As he continued to watch he heard a noise off to the left….another patrol perhaps.
Quickly he indicated to his companions to hide and he took up position behind the large tree he was using as cover.
Slowly the men crept towards them, then as they drew level he acted, raising the pistol in his hand he was about to bring it down when he suddenly recognised the stealthy figures. “Kowalski, Patterson” he whispered urgently.
Both men turned in unison, “Skipper!” They went to shake his hand. All three men crouched down, “Where you been, sir? The Admiral’s been looking all over for you. You’re hurt Skipper! Is it bad?” Kowalski did a quick examination.
“I’m okay Kowalski, now you’re here. Where is the Admiral?”
“He’s over there on the ridge sir. He wanted us to scout you out and bring you to him. Where’s the informant Skipper? Is he close by?”
Crane smiled, “She’s right here Ski,” Kowalski watched as a small child emerged from the long under growth, followed by another man who looked like a priest. The child made her way to Crane, putting her small arm around his neck, while watching the newcomers carefully.
“It’s alright Grace, these are real good friends of mine. They’re here to take us home.”
It didn’t take long to reach the Admiral’s position and after a shocked Lee Crane saw and welcomed his wife, they made all their explanations.
“CRANE, CRANE. I know you can hear me. Time moves on Crane. Morton’s due another beating in just ten minutes. Why not save him from that. Give her up Crane, all I want is the information. Keep watching Crane….ten minutes,” Roberts’s voice echoed eerily across the grassland.
“It seems your close friend is willing to let you suffer some more Morton,” Roberts chuckled gleefully. “Not much loyalty there.”
“You… don’t know the… meaning of the….word” Chip whispered hoarsely.
“You bloody heroes really piss me off!” Roberts again viciously backhanded the tortured man.
“We’ve got to get Chip out of there,” Lee said urgently.
“Stay still Captain, let me finish this properly,” Jamison pushed Lee back down, only to have Grace come between them.
“It’s alright Grace; the Doctor is always grumpy with me,” Crane smiled at her, “But he only ever wants to help me,” He looked up at Darcy who watched the child with surprise,
“Grace, meet my wife Darcy. Darcy, meet Grace my…nurse.” The two females watched each other, and then Darcy held out her hand to the little girl and said. “Thank you Grace for helping Lee and keeping him safe.”
The little girl studied the grown woman and looked from her to Crane and back again. Slowly she nodded and took the outstretched hand and then she smiled.
“Do you mind now, if I finish with Captain Crane?” Jamie asked wryly. Grace moved back to sit at Lee’s side beside Darcy.
Patterson came and said something softly to the Admiral. Nelson smiled and nodded.
“Lee, the army has arrived. We are going to make an assault on the compound and rescue Chip. No. You stay here son. We’ll bring him out,” Nelson put a hand on Crane’s shoulder.
“The Admiral’s right Lee,” Darcy said softly.
Grace also put a restraining hand to his arm.
“Well, it seems my protestations are redundant, in the face of so much female common sense. You are in no condition to go running around yet Captain,” Jamie finished with a smile.
The two men who were Chip’s nightmare took up their positions again. Chip was vaguely aware that it was all starting once more but could not summon up any reaction about it. God, how he hoped this time they went too far and ended it for him. ‘I’m sorry Grayling my love, it would have been wonderful to see you again but I don’t think I’m going to make it.’ Somewhere on the outer limits of his consciousness he heard loud noises, explosions? Couldn’t be….then he slipped gratefully into oblivion.
Lights, he could see lights and feel someone touching his eyelids.
“Come on Mr. Morton, wake up that’s it. Open your eyes.”
“Jamie….. Is that you?” he asked weakly.
“Who else?” Jamie definitely had a smile in his voice.
Chip opened his eyes slowly, blinking at the soft light that greeted him. “Sick bay…I’m in sick bay?”
“You are. Where else would you be, considering your condition? Now, answer me truthfully…how do you feel? Have you any particular pain?”
“I feel ….sore but no, nothing specific. How did I get here? Is Lee okay and Grace and Father Martinez?” he asked weakly as he gradually focused on Jamie’s face. “Tell me.”
“Everyone was rescued. They are all safe on board. In fact I only released the Captain this morning to light duties, not that he’ll obey properly but I can always hope.”
“Thank God. Who rescued us? When? How long have I been out of it?” Chip was trying to sit up further but a soft hand and a voice he knew as well as his own stilled him.
“Chip darling, easy. There will be time for all your questions later.”
“Grayling? What?….Why?…How can you be here?” the astonishment he felt immediately registered on his usually unflappable face.
Grayling laughed freely. “I will explain everything to you if you promise to rest. Just listen,” she finished softly and kissed him with gentleness.
Several hours later sick bay resounded to the chatter of many happy voices. Lee and Darcy were standing closely together, his good arm wrapped around his wife’s waist, the other arm strapped firmly to his body. His injuries would take a few weeks to heal but he would make a full recovery, thanks in no small part to Father Martinez, who was leaning against Jamie’s desk watching everyone.
Admiral Stark was smiling benignly at the little girl gazing at a photograph and Admiral Nelson was sitting on the bunk opposite beside an attractive woman who seemed quite at home in their number.
Chip Morton was propped up in the lower rack. The bruising on his battered face and the tightly wrapped bandages around his rib cage, that were showing under his open pyjama top, clearly the reason for his presence here. Grayling sat holding his hand and reminding herself how luck they all were.
She remembered how interminable the wait for news had been. Riley had appointed himself as her ‘steward’ and she was cheered at his positive attitude but sometimes there were moments of despair. Even Admiral Stark had seemed anxious to help her in any way he could. When they had received word that the rescue had been successful she went to the cabin and wept. When they had brought Chip on board, Harry and Jamie had warned her not to be too alarmed, it looked very bad but he would heal with care and time. She would give him that care; she had him back, that was all that mattered.
“It’s a crying shame Roberts got away. That guy has a serious mental problem, believe me,” Chip said with feeling.
“No-one realised until the plane took off. He will be found however and brought to justice,” Nelson said firmly.
“Rest assured Harry, every agency you can name is after him. His son as well, they can’t hide for ever,” Katherine Stone declared.
“So we head back. What about the missing information? Can Grace lead us to it?”
“She all ready has. Her Father sent it stateside to a bank securities deposit vault. There it sits waiting to be claimed,” Lee said smiling at the child.
“But…how do you know? I mean…,” Chip started.
“I told them,” Grace said quietly. Rising she carefully brought the picture of Josh to his parents. “You have a beautiful baby.”
“Eh...thank you,” stumbled Chip, surprised to hear her voice.
“Mr. Morton, thank you for helping to save my life. I am very sorry that you got hurt but the Doctor says you will be better soon,” she leant forward and kissed his cheek.
Chip looked stunned and the others in the room understood his surprise. She had confounded them all over the last twenty- four hours to one extent or another.
She had come aboard with Lee and Darcy. Her small figure trembling slightly. After a physical and some good food Katherine had asked if she might question her. Lee had refused to allow it but to everyone’s surprise she had stated clearly that she would tell them what they needed to know.
Her quiet strength and resilience, with her polite manners had impressed everyone; she was much more mature than her years.
Jamie came into the room and surveyed the many visitors. “This is not what I agreed to when you all asked to visit. Two visitors at a time, not on masse. Now all of you out. My patient needs to rest. You can all come back later…in two’s only!”
As they all left with smiles and parting jibes, Lee suddenly became serious. “By the way Mr. Morton, you had better consider yourself on report. We need to discuss your interpretation of my orders.”
Chip assumed a blank expression and replied. “Certainly, Captain. Although as I remember it, it was a only a plan.”
Crane struggled to remain firm, “You have a very selective memory, Mr. Morton,” he said smiling broadly.
“Not I Captain, I always remember all essential details,” Chip replied with smiling eyes.
“Okay Chip, just get better,” Lee left laughing.
Grayling watched the interchange with interest. She now had a strong sense of what had really happened.
In the nose Stark, Katherine Stone, Father Martinez, Nelson and the Cranes sat talking.
“We’ll be in port in the next two hours. Admiral Stark and I will go after the information,” Katherine Stone announced. “However, that leaves the question of Grace. She is probably not in any danger now but I would feel better if she was in protective custody.”
“What exactly does that mean? Locked away somewhere? Unable to live normally? For how long? Days, weeks, months? That would be intolerable after all she has been through,” Father Martinez paced in agitation, “No, no. I will take her back with me. She has no family here, our village will adopt her. Her mother entrusted me with her safety. I am her guardian.”
“What if there was somewhere she would be safe? Here in the States. Somewhere she could live a normal life but at the same time be protected,” Lee Crane asked. He looked at Darcy, who nodded and smiled. “She could live with us, until such times as the danger was passed. I have ONI training and Darcy would be able to care for her when I’m away.”
“I can certainly attest to that,” Nelson smiled confidently. He had shared Darcy’s one-handed arrest of Sanchez with everyone and they all smiled remembering his tale.
“Father Martinez, you know she trusts Darcy and I. We would look after her, keep her safe and happy. Director Stone, would that be acceptable?”
“Yes Captain, I think that could be very acceptable,” she said smiling.
“Captain, are you sure? It might be for a very long time,” Father Martinez smiled.
“Oh, we don’t mind a lifetime if that’s what’s best for Grace,” Lee said smiling at his beautiful wife.
“It seems then, that Grace has found a family… thank the Lord,” Father Martinez whispered and came to embrace both Darcy and Lee.
Did you like it?…do let me know.