A Harmless Little Game
by J. Lynn
"The number cannot be completed as dialed." Admiral Harriman Nelson sighed as he hung up the phone without listening to the rest of the recorded message. He had hoped that the phone number on the envelope from the messenger service would be a valid number, but he wasn't at all surprised when the call failed to go through. Obviously the messenger service didn't exist. Perhaps, Nelson considered, it was time to take these messages seriously instead of assuming they were silly pranks. The first one had arrived yesterday. Lee Crane, Captain of Seaview, had been with him in his office at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research when it was discovered.
Nelson and Crane were going over the details of Seaview's next mission when the Admiral's secretary came in with an envelope in her hand. "Admiral," she said, "I found this on my desk after I came back from the ladies' room. I didn't see who brought it and there's nothing on the envelope to tell who sent it. It's addressed to you." The Admiral took the envelope from her extended hand.
"Thanks, Angie." he replied. "I see it's getting late. I won't be needing anything more so you can go home now."
Angie smiled as she bid the Admiral and the Captain a good night.
Lee turned back toward Nelson, "Don't you think you should open your mystery message?" He grinned mischievously. "It could be from a secret admirer."
Nelson snorted, "You're more likely to have a secret admirer than I am." He ripped open the envelope and pulled out a folded piece of paper. As he unfolded the paper, his eyebrows rose in surprise. Without saying another word, he held the paper out for Crane to take it. The Captain's smile faded quickly as he read the message out loud, "This is your first warning. There will be two more."
Despite the threatening words, Nelson grinned at his Captain. "I never knew you were so skilled at reading mirror images!"
Crane returned the grin, "I had a lot of practice when I was a kid. Before we learned to use codes, we wrote 'secret messages' like this. We all carried small mirrors in our pockets to decode them. Writing them was more difficult, but I got pretty good at it."
Nelson chuckled at this glimpse of Lee as a little boy. The Admiral knew that Lee's childhood had not been a happy one, but Nelson was glad there were at least some carefree moments. Crane was not carefree now, however. His grin had faded; his tone became serious. "You should give this to Security, Admiral. It's definitely a threat that should be investigated."
Nelson sighed, "I'll give it to them, but I don't think it's serious. The threat isn't specific and, as you said, writing a message as a mirror image is rather childish."
"Still," Crane insisted, "Someone could want to interfere with our mission, or, someone could be after you. We should beef up our security."
"You're still a fanatic about security. You've never let anyone forget how you sneaked aboard Seaview on your first mission as Captain." The Admiral paused. "You're right, however. We should go over our security. Look, Edith is having an old school friend over for dinner tonight. Why don't you join us and then we can talk about security measures after dinner--it would save me from having to make small talk all evening."
"Are you sure Edith won't mind having an extra guest at the last minute? Or," Lee asked suspiciously, "Is this another of her attempts to fix me up with a date? Maybe you were supposed to ask me all along and this message was just the excuse you needed."
Nelson looked genuinely surprised at the suggestion. "No, Edith is not trying to fix you up, as you put it, nor did she ask me to invite you. She won't mind an extra guest, however, because she's cooking a turkey dinner with all the trimmings--going all out to impress this girl. I don't know why because they were never really good friends. I always thought the girl was rather spoiled. Anyway, there'll be plenty of food. So, how about it?"
Lee acquiesced gracefully. "I'd be happy to come, Admiral."
"Good," said the Admiral. "We'll expect you at 1900 hours."
"Aye, Sir," said Crane. "See you then."
Edith Nelson was miserable. She had never been so embarrassed in her life. From the time Wendy had laid eyes on Lee, she had flirted shamelessly. First, there had been her silly little dog that she had carried in with her. Harry didn't particularly like havings dogs in the house and he absolutely did not want one at the dinner table. He scowled when he saw Wendy sit down with the dog on her lap. Edith was sure there was going to be a scene. Lee, however, had handled it smoothly, simply taking the dog from Wendy and putting it outside on the porch, securing its leash to the porch railing. "I'm sure you've forgotten how mild the weather is here in Santa Barbara," he'd said. "Your little dog will be much happier enjoying the fresh air than he would be in here." Wendy had pouted a little for effect, but then she batted her eyelashes at Lee and agreed that he knew best.
All through dinner Wendy continued her flirtation with Seaview's Captain. Lee remained the perfect gentleman, never encouraging her, but never embarrassing her either. He parried each suggestive remark with perfect tact. The dinner seemed endless to Edith and she was very relieved when the time came to clear away the dessert plates. Harry and Lee excused themselves, taking their coffee to Harry's study, while Edith and Wendy went into the kitchen.
Edith went about the clean-up chores in silence. Wendy didn't even notice as she leaned against the counter with a dreamy look on her face. "You never told me you knew such a handsome man--I bet Lee looks marvelous in his uniform." She giggled to herself and then continued, "And even better out of it!"
Edith could no longer maintain her silence. "I don't think you'll get the opportunity to see him either in or out of his uniform," she said coldly. "Your silly flirtations didn't impress him in the slightest."
"Jealous?" teased Wendy. "Were you trying to impress the good Captain with your home cooking?"
"Of course not." Edith protested as she turned to the task of removing the last of the meat from the turkey carcass. "I didn't even know he was coming. Harry invited him because they needed to work this evening. I do care about Lee, but not romantically. He and Harry work together, but they're also good friends. He's been a good friend to me, too, and I value that friendship. It sounds trite to say I think of him like a brother, but that's the best way to describe it."
Wendy rolled her eyes. "A brother! You're just making excuses because he's not interested in you. Oh, look!" she exclaimed suddenly, "There's the wishbone. Make a wish with me!"
It seemed childish, but Edith complied. Wendy giggled delightedly when she got the bigger half. "I have to keep my wish a secret or it won't come true, but I'm sure you can guess what I wished for!" she declared.
"You wished that Lee would ask you out. Well, I'm not sure that you'll get that wish. Lee's not your usual type. He's serious about his work, and his values--hard work, loyalty, patriotism--are ones you and your friends ridicule. You notice that he's here working tonight instead of out partying."
"Oh, don't worry, Edith. I can handle the serious types." Wendy bragged. "In fact, I've often found it's the serious ones who are most interested in fun. You've heard the expression, 'Work hard, play hard?' I'm sure that fits your Captain Crane. I'll get my wish before I leave at the end of the week. He'll be at my beck and call."
Just then Wendy's little dog began barking. "Poor little thing!" exclaimed Wendy. "He's not used to being alone any more than I am. Well, since he's not welcome in the house, I think I'd better take him home. It was a lovely dinner, Edith. Thank you for inviting me and--" She paused for effect. "thank you for introducing me to Lee."
Edith accompanied her friend to the door. "You're welcome for the dinner, but don't get your hopes up where Lee is concerned. As I said before, he's different from your usual boyfriends. I don't think he'll be interested in your little games."
"They all like games," Wendy said airily. "Good night, Edith. Thanks again."
Having finished her work in the kitchen, Edith was heading upstairs to go to bed when Nelson and Crane emerged from the study. She blushed slightly when she saw Lee and said hurriedly, "Before you say anything, let me apologize for Wendy's behavior. She's always been a flirt and rather spoiled, but I'd hoped maybe she'd grown up a bit. I'm sorry if she made you uncomfortable at dinner."
Lee had intended to tease Edith about her matchmaking, but she was so distressed by her friend's behavior, he was afraid he'd hurt her feelings. He kept his reply light to ease her discomfort, "You don't have to worry about me, Edith. I'm used to fending off amorous women."
"Oh you are, are you?" said Edith, giving him a playful shove. "Well, I guess I don't have to worry about protecting you then, do I?"
Nelson chuckled at the exchange between the two and then joined in. "I think the Captain can take care of himself, Edith."
As the laughter died away, Edith spoke more seriously, "When I said I hoped Wendy had grown up a bit, I really meant it. She always did well in school, even without much effort, especially in math and science, but she never seemed to value it. All she cared about were clothes, parties, and boys. When I hear the phrase 'spoiled little rich girl,' I think of her. It's a shame because she'll never know the satisfaction of doing something that matters. I know our parents left us enough money that neither of us would have to work, but I can't imagine your life, Harry, without the Navy and now the Institute, or mine without the kids in school. Spring break will be over at the end of the week and I don't mind at all--I love working with the kids."
Harry smiled gently at his sister. "Mother and Father would be very proud to hear you say that."
The three were quiet for a moment before Crane broke the silence, "We're all lucky to have found work that we love. Not everyone is so fortunate." He paused for moment and then continued in a lighter tone. "Speaking of work--if I'm going to do any productive work tomorrow, I'd better head home. Good night, Admiral. Good night, Edith, and thank you for dinner."
"You're welcome, Lee," replied Edith. "I'll see you to the door."
At precisely 0700 hours, Lee Crane met the Admiral just outside his office door at the Institute.
"Good morning, Admiral," said Crane. "Do you want to go over the mission plan now or wait until later?"
"Good morning, Lee," replied Nelson as he opened the door to his office. "Now would be fine. Come on in and sit down while I check my messages." Crane sat in the chair beside the Admiral's desk. He examined the papers he'd brought with him while he waited for Nelson's attention. The Admiral's eye was drawn to the plain white envelope on his desk addressed simply to Admiral Harriman Nelson. It looked just like the envelope he received yesterday with the threatening message. He put down his briefcase and opened the envelope. Just like the day before, he found a note with the text written as a mirror image. Unlike yesterday, the message was longer.
"Lee," said the Admiral, "Our prankster has sent us another message."
Crane looked up immediately, concern in his eyes as he reached for the message. Scanning it quickly, he read aloud,
"'This is your second warning. Before the day is ended, you will lose two things that are very dear to you.' Admiral, this is definitely a serious threat. I'll talk to Security. We need to find out how these messages are being delivered so we can trace them back to the sender."
"I still think it's just the work of a prankster, Lee. Someone who enjoys stirring things up, but doesn't really intend to do any harm."
"I'm not sure I agree with you, Admiral. The threat is more specific--our prankster, for want of a better name for him, plans to take action before the end of the day, and it sounds like he or she has two definite targets in mind. I don't think he plans to harm you directly, but Seaview could be a target or..." Lee hesitated, hating to mention another possibility, but knowing he had to bring it to the Admiral's attention. "Admiral, Edith could be another target. I think we should have some guards stationed outside your house."
"No." said Nelson firmly. "Absolutely not, and that is an order, Captain. I think you're overreacting. I will not have my private life disrupted by some silly prankster."
Crane opened his mouth to argue with his superior, but the Admiral stopped him. "Look, I'll work at home today to keep an eye on Edith. You can work with Security here and on Seaview. You can make it as tight as you want. Will that satisfy you?"
"Not entirely, but I guess it's the best I'll get, isn't it?"
"You're right, it is." Nelson opened his briefcase. "Why don't you give me those papers on the mission? I can review them at home."
Lee handed over the folder. "I'll call for a driver to take you home, Admiral."
Nelson was about to protest, but then realized all he would accomplish by refusing would be to give Crane one more thing to worry about. "All right, Lee. Tell the driver I'll be ready to leave in 10 minutes."
Admiral Nelson gathered up the papers he had spread out before him on the table on his patio. Working at home had turned out to be quite pleasant. He almost felt grateful that those silly notes had caused him to make this change in his usual routine. The weather in Santa Barbara was generally pleasant, but today had been a bit warmer than was usual for this time of year. He had elected to work on the patio while Edith busied herself indoors. As the afternoon wore on, however, and the sun moved across to shine directly on the patio, he became uncomfortably warm. He had just opened the door to go back in the house, when Edith appeared with a large envelope in her hand.
"A messenger service dropped this off for you, Harry." she said, extending the parcel in his direction.
"Thanks, Edith." said Nelson, smiling at her. "I didn't even hear the doorbell." The Admiral took the envelope, carrying it with him into his study, as Edith went back to her work in the living room. Putting down the folders of papers he had been working on, he opened the envelope marked with the name and address of a messenger service. Inside he saw the familiar plain envelope bearing his name.
"Edith," he called out sharply as he strode toward the study door, "Is the messenger still here?"
Edith met him at the door. "No, my purse was near the door, so I gave him a tip and he left. Was he supposed to wait for a reply?"
"No," Nelson hesitated, trying to think of a plausible explanation without telling her about the threatening messages. "It's just that there isn't a return address on the envelope and I need to know who sent this."
"Why don't you try calling the messenger service?" suggested Edith. "Their name and number are on the package. I'm sure they could check their records for the sender."
"You're right, they probably could check. I'll call them right now." The Admiral went back to his desk to place the call. He heard one ring and then the recorded message began, "The number cannot be completed as dialed."
Edith had been watching as her brother dialed the number so she also heard the recorded message. "The number isn't a working number?" she asked. "That doesn't make sense. Why would a messenger service print a wrong number on their supplies?" By the time she had finished asking the question, the answer had come to her. "Unless the messenger service is fake." She gave her brother a hard look. "You suspected that, didn't you? What's going on, Harry? You didn't decide to work at home today because you wanted a change of scene. I think it's time you leveled with me."
"I didn't mean to keep anything from you, Edith." Nelson apologized. "At least not anything important. A couple of rather odd messages were delivered to my office so Lee felt we should take some extra precautions. He's supervising security at the Institute and on Seaview. I decided to work at home to keep an eye on things here. I honestly don't think these threats are serious, Edith. There's a lot of crazies out there, but most of them are harmless."
"You should have told me about this when it began, Harry." scolded Edith. "but at least I know now. Let's have a look at this message. You shouldn't dismiss it without reading it."
Nelson opened the envelope and pulled out the letter. This time the message was quite long and, lacking Lee's talent at reading mirror images, he was forced to take the message to the mirror in the hall. Holding it up to the mirror, he read:
"'This is your final warning, Admiral. There is a bomb aboard Seaview that is counting down to detonation at 1800 hours--less than two hours from now. Even if you find it, the only way to stop it is to key in the proper code. Your Captain has the code so you should talk to him--if you can find him that is. You do have trouble keeping track of him sometimes, don't you?'"
Edith had been reading over his shoulder. When he got to the end of the message, her hand, which had been resting on his shoulder, tightened painfully. "A bomb on Seaview!" she exclaimed. "And Lee--what does it mean he has the code if you can find him?"
"I don't know." said Nelson brusquely. "I've got to call Lee." He ran back into his study where he grabbed the phone, dialing as rapidly as he could. Edith stood across the desk from him, looking at him with eyes wide with fear.
"Angie," Nelson barked when his secretary answered the phone. "I need to talk to Lee right away. Do you know where he is?"
Angie, unfazed by the abruptness of the request, answered quickly. "He left here after meeting with Security and went down to Seaview. I can transfer your call there, Admiral."
"Yes, transfer the call, Angie. It's urgent I speak to him"
While he waited for the call to be transferred, he looked down at the message in his hand. The last sentence nagged at him. It was obviously a clue to the writer's identity, but it made no sense. Lee was a responsible officer; Nelson didn't have to worry about ‘keeping track of him.’
He didn't have time to think any more about it, because a voice on the other end of the phone said crisply. "Morton here, Admiral. Can I help you?"
"Chip," replied the Admiral. "I need to talk to Lee. Is he on board?"
"He was here, but he left about an hour ago. He got a call, then said he had something to take care of and would be back as soon as he could. He rushed out of here without saying where he was going."
"Damn!" Nelson swore. "Chip, I just received another one of those threatening messages. I'm afraid this has gone beyond being a mere prank. The note said that there is a bomb on Seaview, set to go off at 1800 hours. I want you to evacuate Seaview. Just keep a few men to search for the bomb. If you find it, don't touch it. It will explode without the proper code. According to the message, Lee has the code so I'll work on locating him. At 1730 hours I want you, and everyone with you, to evacuate Seaview whether or not you've located the bomb. Is that clear, Mr. Morton?"
"Yes, Sir, but how could Lee have the code? It doesn't make sense. The only way he could have the code is if he were the one making the threats and that's impossible!"
"None of this makes sense, Chip. Right now, however, we've got to find both the bomb and Lee before 1800 hours."
"Aye, Sir, I'll get started right away. Good luck, Admiral."
"Remember, Chip, everyone off the boat at 1730."
"Aye, aye, Sir!"
Nelson didn't even have the receiver back in the cradle before Edith spoke, "I heard what Chip said. You don't suspect Lee of being behind the messages, do you?"
"Of course not!" declared the Admiral. "I don't have any doubts about Lee's loyalty. He would never betray Seaview." He was silent for a moment. Something still nagged at him--somehow this situation felt familiar, almost like he had been through it before, but he couldn't make the connection. He was startled out of his reverie by the sound of the doorbell.
Edith had also jumped at the sound. She flashed Harry a nervous smile as she said, "Maybe that's Lee, here to tell you what's going on." She hurried out of the study, the Admiral close behind her.
When she flung open the door, Edith was disappointed to see Wendy standing before her, cuddling her little dog in her arms. "Wendy," Edith said, "It's really not a good time right now."
"Of course it is!" exclaimed Wendy as she breezed past Edith. "I have news to tell you that just can't wait!" She stopped when she saw the Admiral glowering behind Edith. "Oh, hello, Admiral," she said cheerily. "I didn't expect to find you home during the day. I guess when you're an Admiral, you can set your own hours--privilege of rank, or something like that?"
Nelson couldn't be bothered to be polite. "Edith," he said, ignoring Wendy completely, "I'll be in my study. I'm going to try Lee's apartment. It's a long shot, but maybe he needed something from home."
Wendy giggled in delight. "Are you looking for Lee? I can tell you where he is."
Edith grabbed her friend's arm, whirling her around. "What do you mean you know where Lee is? How could you know?"
"What's the matter with you?" Wendy demanded. "First you tell me it's not a good time for a visit and then you shout at me. I know where Lee is, but I'm not going to tell you unless you apologize for hurting me."
The Admiral intervened before Edith had a chance to reply. "Wendy," he said a low voice that was intimidating by its quietness. "It's urgent that we locate Captain Crane. If you know where he is, you need to tell us now."
"All right, I will." Wendy pouted briefly and then grinned triumphantly at Edith. "I told you last night I could have your Captain Crane at my beck and call. You didn't believe me so I decided to prove it to you. I called him a little while ago. I told him that Tinker was sick, probably from something he got into when he was outside last night, and I was rushing him to the vet when my car broke down. I told him I was stranded on that old road that goes through the park--the one that's so desolate--and I had walked a mile to find a phone. I begged him to come because I thought Tinker might die if I didn't get him to a vet. Your gallant Captain didn't hesitate to rush to my side. I'm sure he's combing the park right now, worried sick about me."
"You sent him on a wild goose chase!" Edith exclaimed incredulously. "Do you realize what you've done? He and my brother have been receiving threatening letters and you sent him out alone on a fool's errand! I didn't think even you could do something so self-centered."
Wendy's triumphant manner became defensive. "I didn't know about any threatening letters. It was just a game, a harmless little game. I'm sure he's fine. You can drive out there now and tell him it was just a trick. I'm sure he'll find it quite amusing."
Once again the Admiral spoke in that quiet, threatening voice. "You're right, young lady, we are going to drive out there and you're coming with us. The dog, however, is not. Tie him to the porch railing. Edith, my car's at the Institute so we'll need to use yours."
Nelson took Wendy by the arm and ushered her out the door. Grabbing her purse from the table by the door, Edith hurried after them.
Traffic was heavy as they headed for the park, but once they turned onto the road Wendy had described, they had no more concern about traffic for the road was deserted save for their vehicle. Nelson drove in grim silence with Edith sitting in the passenger seat, looking out the window for any sign of Lee or his car. Wendy was huddled in the back seat, her confident attitude broken by the disapproval of the two in the front seat. Edith had told her the entire story in a scathing tone. She realized that her harmless little game could have dire consequences for both Lee and Seaview.
Edith's voice suddenly broke the silence. "Harry, there! I thought I saw some red through the trees over there. It could be Lee's car."
Nelson pulled off immediately. Both he and Edith jumped out of the car, heading for the bit of red color Edith had seen from the road. Wendy got out of the car also, but followed the others very slowly. Edith had been right, it was Lee's little red sports car sitting just beyond the trees with the full force of the afternoon sun beating down on it. There was no sign of Lee. As Edith began calling his name, Nelson walked slowly around the car, examining the ground. He stopped at the trunk of the car, his expression grim. "Edith," he called, "I don't think you'll get an answer. Come over here and look at this." When Edith had joined him, Nelson pointed to the ground at the back of the car. "It looks like there's been a struggle, but there's no sign of anyone being dragged or carried away. There's just a trail of footprints indicating two people walked away, side by side, striding normally."
The Admiral reached into his pocket and pulled out his key ring. "Lee gave me a set of keys in case he ever locked his keys in the car." He carefully selected a key and used it to open the trunk. As the lid of the trunk moved slowly upward, Edith leaned around her brother. She let out a muffled scream when she saw Lee's still form folded into that small space.
"Help me get him out." commanded Nelson. Edith quickly composed herself and helped her brother straighten out Lee's body, lift him out of the trunk, and lay him down on the ground. Feeling for a pulse in the Captain's neck, the Admiral announced in relief, "He's still alive." Edith put her hand on Lee's face as her brother concentrated on assessing his friend's condition. "His pulse is weak and much too fast." the Admiral observed.
"His skin's hot," commented Edith, "but it's dry. It had to be like a furnace in that trunk. Why isn't he sweating?"
Wendy had come up behind the brother and sister as they examined Crane. "It's heat stroke." she said. "I saw it when I traveled in the desert. The temperature in that trunk went up so fast, his body's cooling mechanism couldn't react." Speaking with authority, she took charge of the situation. "It's very dangerous. We've got to cool him down right away. Admiral, help me move him into the shade. Edith, we need to find water."
"There's a couple of jugs in the car." said Edith jumping up. "I'll get them."
Nelson and Wendy carried Lee over to the shade made by the trees that had almost hidden the car. As soon as they had laid Crane down again, Wendy began removing his tie and unbuttoning his jacket and shirt. "Admiral," she said, "Help me get these off him."
As Nelson removed Crane's jacket, he noticed a sound of paper crinkling in one of the pockets. Concerned about his friend, he ignored it and laid the jacket on the ground. By the time they'd gotten Lee's shirt off, Edith had returned with two gallon containers of water and some towels. Wendy poured water on the towels and began sponging Crane's head, neck, arms and torso. She directed Edith to pour water over the Captain's legs, wetting his slacks.
"If we don't lower his temperature quickly," she explained, "he could go into convulsions and even suffer brain damage." Nelson reached for one of the wet towels. He worked with Wendy and Edith for several minutes before Wendy looked up at him.
"We need to get him to the hospital as soon as possible."
"Edith, bring the car up as close as you can." ordered Nelson. Edith moved the car to within a few feet of them. Leaving the engine running, she got out and opened the back door. Nelson and Wendy picked up the unconscious Crane and, with Edith's help, laid him on the back seat. Wendy got in the back seat while Edith went back for the water and towels. Nelson picked up Lee's jacket and shirt. Once again he heard the crinkling sound, but this time it caught his attention. He reached into the pocket of Crane's jacket and pulled out the all-too-familiar plain white envelope addressed to him. He stared at it for a scant second before realizing, 'The code! My note said Lee had the code!'
The Admiral raced to the car, throwing Lee's clothes in the front seat. He ripped open the envelope and pulled out the single sheet inside. As before, the writing was backwards so he sat on the front seat, held the note in front of the car's side mirror, and read:
'Admiral Nelson, by the time you read this, everything will be over. Crane will be dead. Seaview, too, will have been destroyed. I've finally beaten you, Nelson. You took my boat away from me so now I've taken yours. Crane had to be destroyed, too, because he betrayed me. The irony is that my boat could have saved Seaview but you didn't know it. I've won, Nelson, I've finally won.'
Nelson sat back, thinking furiously. There was no obvious code in the message, yet Nelson was sure it was there. The note sounded like the ramblings of a madman. He was sure, however, that the references in the note were to actual events. The writer said that Nelson had taken his boat away from him. He'd been in plenty of struggles when enemy boats had been destroyed so that didn't help. He looked at the rest of the note. It said that Crane had betrayed him. Betrayed! He couldn't get past that word. It reminded him of something.
Suddenly the memory that had been eluding him hit him full force and he knew who had written the messages. He also knew the code that would disarm the bomb on Seaview. He looked at his watch--1715 hours. He had forty-five minutes to get to Seaview with the code.
The Admiral turned toward Edith who was just getting into the driver's seat. "Edith," he said urgently, "This message has the code that will save Seaview. Can you and Wendy get Lee to the hospital without me? If I take Lee's car and go straight to the dock, I should get there in time."
Edith replied without hesitation. "We can manage. Go, Harry. We'll take care of Lee."
Nelson didn't stop to reply, but ran directly to Lee's car. Edith waited until he had started the engine before pulling out. Nelson roared after her as they both headed out, each on a desperate mission.
Wendy sat huddled in a chair in a far corner of the hospital waiting room. About a half hour had gone by since their arrival. During the drive to the hospital, Wendy had concentrated only on Lee, continuing to sponge his over-heated body as Edith navigated through the heavy traffic. When they'd arrived at the hospital, Edith had run into the emergency entrance to summon help. When she returned with the doctors and nurses, Wendy had described Lee's condition and her attempts at first-aid. The doctor had given her a curt, "Very good. We'll take over now," as they rushed Lee into the ER. Edith had gone off to find a phone to call Dr. Jamison, the doctor on Seaview, while Wendy had been directed to a waiting room. Edith had appeared a few minutes later, but she had ignored Wendy as she selected a chair at the opposite end of the room. Wendy realized she could leave, but she didn't want to go until there was word on Lee's condition. She had no doubt that Edith, and the Admiral, and probably everyone else on Seaview, including Lee Crane, would be pleased if she left and never came back, but she wasn't going to run from their anger and scorn. For the first time in her life she felt responsible for someone other than herself. Even though she couldn't do anything more for the Captain, she couldn't leave until he was out of danger.
She heard the sound of footsteps coming down the hall toward the waiting room. A man in a khaki uniform entered the room, followed by another man in a blue jumpsuit. They both went directly to Edith who rose to greet them. Wendy couldn't hear their conversation, but she saw the man in the khaki uniform head in the direction of the nurses' station. She assumed he was Dr. Jamison of Seaview. The younger man in the jumpsuit remained with Edith for a few more minutes before heading in Wendy's direction. Wendy shrank down even further in her chair, afraid that the man was coming to make her leave. His first words, however, were polite and friendly.
"Ma'am, I'm Stu Riley from Seaview. I was with Dr. Jamison when Miss Nelson called him about Captain Crane. Miss Nelson said you helped her bring the Skipper to the hospital. Is there anything I can get you? Coffee, tea?"
Surprised by the offer, Wendy was slow to respond. "No, thank you." she finally said. Then, hating to turn him down so abruptly, she continued. "I'm sorry. It's just that I didn't think anyone from Seaview would even speak to me."
"Why would you think that, Ma'am?"
"Well, you can see that Edith isn't speaking to me."
"She's just worried about Captain Crane. Some people get very quiet when they're worried. Me, I can't stop talking."
Despite her distress, Wendy found herself responding to the young man's friendliness. 'He won't be friendly for long.' she reminded herself sternly. 'Not when he realizes I'm to blame for what happened to his Captain.' She decided she might as well tell him of her involvement rather than wait until he learned about it from Edith or the Admiral. "You said Edith told you I was with her when she brought Captain Crane here. Did she tell you why?"
"No, Ma'am, she didn't"
Wendy sighed, "Everyone's going to know sooner or later, so I might as well tell you now. Please, sit down, Mr. Riley, and I'll explain."
Riley accepted the invitation to sit. "It's not Mr. Riley, Ma'am. Just Riley, or Stu."
"All right, Stu it is. My name is Wendy Latham. Wendy will do just fine, but I don't think you'll still be speaking to me after you hear what I've done."
She proceeded to tell Riley all about the dinner at the Admiral's house, her boasting to Edith that she'd get the Captain to do her bidding, and her lie to get him to come to her aid. She explained that she hadn't known anything about the threatening notes and had only thought she was playing a harmless little game with the Captain. She described how the Admiral and Edith had forced her to go with them to look for Crane and how they had found him locked in the trunk of his car.
"When I saw him lying on the ground, unconscious, and knew it was because of my stupid little game, I was truly ashamed of myself. All I wanted to do was try to fix things. Fortunately, I'd seen heat stroke before so I knew the proper first-aid. I only hope it helped. If your Captain dies, it's my fault! I've heard people call me 'spoiled,' but I just dismissed that as jealousy. I thought they were envious of me because my parents had the money to give me lots of nice things. Now I know they were right--my parents gave me too much and I turned out selfish and spoiled."
Riley had listened quietly until Wendy had finished telling her story. When he replied, he spoke slowly, choosing his word carefully. "Ma'am, I don't think being 'spoiled' has to do with money or having lots of things. The Admiral and Miss Nelson are really rich, but I wouldn't call them spoiled. And then, me, I never had much, but until a few years ago, I lived a very selfish life. I was a beach bum, Ma'am, always living for the next big wave. I didn't have any money, but I still acted spoiled because I only cared about my own pleasure. I never lifted a finger for anyone."
"After a while, it seemed to be a pretty empty life. I was lonely all the time. I'd always loved the water so I decided to join the Navy. On a submarine, Ma'am, we all depend on one another--we have to--so I had to be responsible for the other guys. For the first time I felt like I was needed and I liked it. When my first hitch was up, I was all set to re-enlist, but then I heard about a job on Seaview. I wanted to be part of something big and important so I applied for the job. It was the best decision I ever made."
"Ma'am, I don't mean to be rude, but I think it's kind of the same for you. You thought having more things or more attention from other people would fill the emptiness, but that never works. You have to fill the emptiness yourself by taking responsibility for something or someone. Lying to the Skipper, Ma'am--well, that was pretty bad and there's no way to excuse it. But what's important, Ma'am, is that you took responsibility when you told the Admiral and Miss Nelson what you did. That had to be hard, but you did it. And, from what Miss Nelson said, you were the one who knew how to take care of the Skipper so you took responsibility again."
Wendy was silent as she considered the seaman's words. "Riley," she said, "I never looked at things like that. You've given me a great deal to think about."
"Ma'am, can I ask you one thing? It's kind of personal so you don't have to answer if you don't want to."
"Go ahead, Stu, ask your question."
"Well, I just wondered what made you feel better inside--getting the Skipper's attention with a lie or helping him when he was hurt?"
Before Wendy could answer, Admiral Nelson and Chip Morton came rushing into the waiting room. They went directly to Edith who rose and hugged her brother. Riley and Wendy couldn't hear their conversation, but it seemed obvious that Seaview had been saved. Dr. Jamison entered the room before the trio had a chance to sit down. He was smiling as he gestured to the group to follow him down the hall.
Riley turned to the woman sitting beside him. "Ma'am, I couldn't make out what they were saying, but it looked to me like all the news was good."
Wendy smiled in relief. "I think you're right, but I'd still like to wait and make sure--if they'll speak to me, that is."
"I'm sure they will, Ma'am. Would you like me to wait with you?"
"I'd like that very much, but I don't want to keep you if there's something you need to do."
"No, Ma'am, I'd be glad to stay."
They had shared so much earlier that there was nothing more for them to say to one another. Wendy reflected again on the seaman's words. It surprised her that a young man like Riley could have so much insight. He was right--she had never accepted any responsibility. Her parents hadn't encouraged her to work hard at anything except having fun. They didn't care about her grades in school. They told her she would never have to earn her own living--they had seen to that--so why bother with studying. It was as if they felt her irresponsible, lavish lifestyle was proof of their success. All at once she understood that in trying to give her everything, her parents had failed to give her what she really needed--a sense of purpose in life.
She'd been so deep into her own thoughts that she failed to notice when the Admiral returned to the waiting room. Her reverie was broken by the sounds of Riley scrambling to his feet. "Admiral," Riley stammered nervously. "How's the Skipper?" Is he going to be okay?"
"Yes, Riley, he's going to be fine." assured Nelson. "What I want to know is how you happen to be here."
"Oh, that's easy to explain, Sir. I was in Dr. Jamison's office at the clinic when Miss Nelson called about the Skipper. Doc was removing the stitches from that cut I got last week. I thought I'd come along to see if there was anything I could do for the Skipper. Miss Latham here was all alone so I've been keeping her company."
"That was thoughtful of you, Riley. Now if you would excuse us, I need to talk to Miss Latham for a few minutes."
"Aye, Sir. I'll go now. That's good news about the Skipper, Sir. Good-bye Miss Latham. It was nice to meet you."
"It was nice meeting you, too, Stu. Thank you for waiting with me and talking to me. It helped a lot."
"You're welcome, Ma'am. Good night, Admiral."
Nelson sat down in the chair Riley had been using. Wendy spoke first. "Admiral, is Lee really going to be all right?"
"Yes, he is." Nelson replied. "They're going to keep him here for a day or two to watch for complications, but they don't expect any. He asked about you. He was worried that he hadn't found you and Tinker."
"Did you tell him that I lied to him--that I was playing a childish game?"
"No, he wasn't up to a detailed explanation so we just assured him that we had found both you and Tinker. He will have to be told, however."
"I know, Admiral." Wendy said quietly.
"He also needs to be told that you saved his life. Dr. Jamison said that if you hadn't recognized the signs of heat stroke and begun appropriate treatment, he probably would have died or, at the very least, suffered permanent brain damage. Wendy, what you did was irresponsible and selfish, but you acted responsibly when you admitted it and when you took charge of his care."
"Thank you, Admiral. I know now that what I did was wrong. I never had the consequences of my actions brought home to me before. It's been a sobering experience."
"I'm sure it has. Now, I had Commander Morton, Seaview's Exec, take Edith home. You're going to need a ride, too, so since I have Captain Crane's car, why don't you come with me?"
"That's very kind of you, Admiral. My car and Tinker are still at your house so all I need is a ride there to pick them up."
"All right, then." said the Admiral as he rose from his chair. "Let's go."
A few minutes later they were in Lee's little red sports car, heading for the Nelson house.
"Admiral," said Wendy. "Do you know who was behind all this?"
"Yes," replied Nelson grimly. "It was an old enemy, a fellow Admiral named Mitchell. Several years ago Mitchell tried to force me to turn over Seaview to the Red Chinese government.* He wanted to make it look like I was a traitor who had sold Seaview's technology to the enemy. Lee knew Mitchell was plotting against me so he left Seaview and, without my knowledge, accepted a job on Mitchell's sub, the Manta. Lee secretly sabotaged the Manta causing Mitchell to reveal himself as the real traitor. Mitchell was court martialed for treason and imprisoned in Leavenworth. He must have found a way to hire some accomplices to carry out his plan for revenge. Now that we know who the mastermind is, it shouldn't be hard for the authorities to find those accomplices."
"What made you suspect Admiral Mitchell?"
"The note I received at home implied that Lee was involved. The writer claimed that Lee had the code that would disarm the bomb and had deliberately disappeared with it. He chided me for not being able 'to keep track of him' as if Lee had been guilty of other unexplained absences. I knew it was just an attempt to frame Lee, but something about the note kept nagging at me. I was sure the writer was referring to some specific incident in the past, but I just couldn't make the connection until I read the note planted in Lee's jacket. One word in that note jumped out at me. The writer said Lee had 'betrayed' him. When I read that word, I remembered feeling that Lee had betrayed me when he left Seaview for the Manta. You see, Lee hadn't told me about his plan to stop Mitchell. He left me a letter of resignation and disappeared. At first I was worried about him, but gradually I became angry that he would leave like that. When Mitchell threatened Seaview with Lee at his side--at that moment, I was sure he had betrayed both me and Seaview."
Nelson was silent for a minute as he struggled to control his emotions. Wendy sat quietly waiting for him to continue. When he did, his voice was gruff. "I've never forgiven myself for doubting Lee's loyalty back then." He paused a second time and again Wendy waited. "Mitchell wanted me to believe that Lee had plotted against me. He wanted me to doubt him again."
When the Admiral paused yet again, it was Wendy who broke the silence. "And realize, too late, that Lee was innocent. What an evil, fiendish man!" she exclaimed.
Both were silent as they thought about how close Mitchell had come to succeeding with his plan. Nelson had just navigated the turn from the main road when Wendy said, "There's still something I don't understand. How did you figure out the code to disarm the bomb?"
The gruffness was gone from Nelson's voice when he replied, "In that last note Mitchell bragged that his boat could have saved Seaview so I figured that the name of his sub, Manta, was the code. Fortunately, I was right."
As Nelson finished his explanation, they arrived at the house. Tinker was still tied to the porch railing and as soon as he saw Wendy get out of the car, he began jumping around, barking excitedly.
"Poor little guy." crooned Wendy as she picked him up and cuddled him in her arms. "You're not used to being alone so long, are you? I'd better take you home before you disturb everyone in the neighborhood." She turned to the Admiral who was untying the leash from the railing. "Thank you for the ride back, Admiral."
"Would you like to come in?" offered Nelson. "You have to be tired and hungry--I know I am. I'm sure we can find something in the kitchen."
"Thank you, Admiral, but no. I'm not sure Edith would be pleased to see me after what I did. Besides, it's been quite a day and I need to do some serious thinking about everything. When you see Lee, please tell him how sorry I am for what I did. Good night, Admiral."
"Good night." replied Nelson. He remained outside until she'd pulled out onto the road. Only then did he relax and let the fatigue and relief wash over him as he walked slowly into the house.
Wendy pulled her car over in front on the Nelson house. She sat for several minutes wondering if she shouldn't just drive away. 'No,' she told herself firmly, 'You can't make a fresh start without finishing this properly. So, Wendy girl, screw your courage to the sticking-place and get out of this car.'
She did exactly that before her courage could desert her. Tinker was in his travel carrier in the back seat, but it was too warm to leave him in the car. She took him out of his carrier, attached his leash, and headed up the front walk. She tied Tinker to the front railing before knocking resolutely on the door.
Edith answered the door, smiling when she saw Wendy. "Wendy!" she exclaimed. "Come in! I've been trying to reach you for two days. I was afraid you'd gone home without saying good-bye."
Wendy stepped inside the door. "I had a lot of thinking to do and I didn't want to talk to anyone until I'd made some decisions. I'm on my way to the airport--my plane leaves in three hours--but I couldn't leave without talking to you."
"I'm glad you came." said Edith. "I just started a pot of coffee. Why don't you make yourself comfortable in the living room while I find something to go with the coffee."
"Thanks, Edith. That sounds nice."
When Wendy entered the living room, she was startled to see Lee Crane come into the room through another door. "Oh! Lee! I didn't expect to see you," she stammered.
Lee smiled in an attempt to put her at ease. "I was released from the hospital this morning. The Admiral and Edith wouldn't let me go home to my apartment. They insisted that I need to be 'looked after' for a few days. So here I am."
Still nervous in the Captain's presence, Wendy blurted out a reply. "I'm on my way to the airport and stopped to see Edith. I didn't mean to disturb you--I'm sure you need your rest. I'll just go." She turned to leave, but stopped when Lee spoke to her.
"Wendy, please don't go. I'd like a chance to talk to you."
She turned to face him. "I guess I owe you that after what I did." She sat down in a chair, her back ramrod straight as if she were steeling herself against a severe scolding. Lee sat down in another chair across from her, his expression puzzled.
"I wanted to talk to you to thank you for saving my life." he explained. "Dr. Jamison told me that it was your quick action that saved me from serious complications from heat stroke. I don't know what you mean that you owe me--I owe you."
"Lee, you're being very kind and I appreciate it. However, you wouldn't have been in any danger if I hadn't tricked you into being on that deserted road. It was my fault that you were hurt."
"It wasn't your fault," protested Lee. "I'm sure those men were watching me. They would have found another way to get me alone. Because of your involvement, the Admiral knew where to start searching for me. I wouldn't have been found in time if it weren't for you."
A rich, baritone voice came from behind them. "He's right, Wendy." Nelson strode into the room and joined the conversation. "Lee, I've just come from the police station where they have Mitchell's two accomplices in custody. They confessed to everything, including planting the messages and the bomb. As you guessed, they were watching you. Their plan was to lure you away from the Institute with a phone call offering to give you the code if you'd meet them alone in some deserted location. Fortunately, Wendy called first. When they saw you leave, they followed you. That old road through the park seemed to suit their purposes perfectly so after they attacked you and locked you in the trunk, they didn't bother to move your car."
Nelson sat down on the couch. Looking directly into Wendy's eyes, he said. "Wendy, it took courage to own up to what you did. Your courage and your knowledge of first aid saved my Captain's life. We're all deeply grateful to you."
"Admiral, Lee," began Wendy in a voice husky with emotion. "I'm still ashamed of what I did, but I'm glad I was able to make up for it--at least a little."
"Admiral,' asked Lee, intending to give Wendy a moment to compose herself, "Did either of the men say why the messages were written as mirror images?"
Nelson hesitated a minute before replying. He wasn't sure he wanted the Captain to learn that particular detail just yet, but Lee would be suspicious if he tried to avoid the subject. "Yes, Lee. One of the accomplices is named Ron Corson. You knew him some years ago. Do you remember him?"
"Of course I do!" exclaimed Lee. "We played together in the--" Lee stopped abruptly. "We played together when we were children."
Nelson knew Crane had rephrased his answer because he didn't want to talk about the time he had spent in an orphanage. The Admiral deftly picked up the conversation. "Mitchell wanted to make it look like you were involved in the plot to destroy Seaview. Corson remembered that you used mirror writing as a secret code when you played as children so he wrote the notes like that as part of the evidence against you."
"How did Corson ever come into contact with Mitchell?" inquired Lee.
"It seems Corson joined the Navy after high school." explained the Admiral. "His record was not particularly distinguished, but then he got himself into serious trouble selling contraband alcohol when he served on a carrier. He was court martialed and ended up at Leavenworth with Mitchell. He heard Mitchell was out for revenge against you. Even though you didn't know about him, he knew about you. He envied your success so it was easy for Mitchell to convince him to act as an accomplice."
Edith entered with a large tray loaded with a coffee service, coffee cups, and a plate of crackers, cheese, and fresh fruit. "Enough talk about Mitchell and his thugs." she declared. "Wendy has to catch a plane and I want to hear about her plans."
"I think my plans will surprise you." Wendy said shyly. "After my talk with Riley, I did a lot of thinking about my life."
"Riley?" inquired Lee. "How do you know Riley?"
"Riley came to the hospital with Jamison." explained the Admiral. "He met Wendy in the waiting room."
"He was very nice." said Wendy. "He helped me understand that what was missing from my life was a sense of responsibility and purpose. My parents were rich so I could have everything I wanted without having to work for it. They were generous parents who wanted to give me everything they never had. What they forgot was that everyone needs to work for something. They worked to provide for me and were proud that they had done it so well. They thought they were sparing me the drudgery of work, but instead they were denying me the satisfaction and pride that comes from accepting responsibility."
"I may not have to work," she declared, "but I've decided that I want to work. The last few days I thought hard about what I might be able to do. I remembered that math and science were easy for me in school."
"I remember that, too." said Edith. "You never took your chemistry book home, yet you got an 'A' on every test."
"I also realized that I had enjoyed taking care of you, Lee." She looked in Lee's direction when she made this admission and found him grinning broadly. She blushed a deep shade of red. "I didn't mean it like that!" she declared.
"Don't mind him." said Edith. "He can be a real tease."
Wendy smiled briefly before continuing. "So, after a lot of thinking and soul searching, I've decided to brush up on my math and science and then apply for admission to nursing school. I don't know if I'll be successful, but I want to try."
"Wendy, that's wonderful!" exclaimed Edith. "I'm sure you can do it. Why, I'll bet you could be a doctor if you want. Have you thought about medical school?"
"I have, but doctors don't often spend much time with their patients. It's the nurses providing the hands-on care that get to know them. I'm embarrassed to say that I've never made the effort to try to understand another person. I've always been so wrapped up in myself, that I never saw those around me as individuals--just people to be controlled and manipulated to please me. I want to get to know my patients and be someone they can trust to care for them. Listen to me." she said, laughing self-consciously. "Already talking about 'my patients' and I haven't even applied to nursing school yet."
"It sounds like you feel comfortable with your decision." said Nelson. "If you need a reference, I'd be happy to write one for you."
"Thank you, Admiral." said Wendy warmly. "I just might take you up on that offer. Since I don't have any work experience, there aren't any former employers to use as references."
"I hope you'll keep in touch and let us know how you're doing." said Crane.
"I will." promised Wendy. She glanced at her watch. "I really have to go now or I'll miss my plane. You should know that I was nervous about coming here, but you've all been so supportive, I'm very glad I came."
They all rose. Edith hugged Wendy and wished her luck. Lee stepped forward with an offer to walk her to her car.
Once outside on the porch, Wendy stooped down to gather up Tinker before heading for the car.
"I didn't mean to embarrass you in there." Lee said as they walked down the steps from the porch. "It was just that you behaved so, um, provocatively, at dinner the other night while today you were so different. You were open and honest, totally unaware of yourself. It was much more attractive and I couldn't help smiling."
While Lee explained himself, Wendy put Tinker back into his travel carrier. She closed the car door and straightened up to face the Captain. "It's all right, Lee. I know I behaved badly both the other night and again when I sent you on that wild goose chase. I'm glad I had a chance to redeem myself in your eyes. I still can't believe how everything has changed for me in just a few days."
"I meant what I said about keeping in touch. I'd really like to know how everything goes for you."
"I'm not kidding myself about how hard it will be to change my life. I've never worked hard at anything so I may need some pep talks from time to time. Would you be willing?"
"Absolutely." was the emphatic response.
Wendy put out her hand. "Good-bye, Lee."
Lee took her hand with both of his. He leaned down toward her and she responded by turning her face upward. They kissed--a sweet, gentle kiss. When they pulled away, Wendy put her hand on the side of Lee's face. "Take care, Lee."
"Good luck, Wendy." replied Lee.
Wendy climbed into the car, turned her key in the ignition, and gave the Captain a final wave. Lee watched the car until it reached the turn-off for the main road.
A discreet cough behind him made Lee turn toward the house. Nelson was walking down the walk. "I think she's going to do just fine." said the Admiral.
"I think so, too." agreed Lee. "I hope she does keep in touch."
"And maybe come back here for a visit?" teased Nelson.
Crane tried to sound noncommittal, but the light in his eyes betrayed him. "That would be nice. She never got a chance to see Seaview, you know. She could have a tour when she visits."
"Speaking of Seaview," said Nelson, "Chip just called and said the equipment for the mission has been delivered. I'm going down to supervise the unpacking. Do you feel up to coming along? Jamie said you couldn't return to duty until we sail day after tomorrow, but he didn't say you had to stay away completely."
Lee grinned broadly. "That's right, he didn't, did he? I'm ready when you are, Admiral. My car's here--would you like me to drive?"
"No I wouldn't. You're still supposed to be taking it easy. I'll drive. And I had better not find you doing any heavy work on Seaview. You can check on a few things, but that's it. Is that understood, Captain?"
"Aye, aye, Sir." was Crane's reply given in his best Navy manner. He fell into step beside Nelson as the two headed off to the work they both loved.
*Betrayal by J. Lynn