C. Lyn Barrow
Lee Crane slammed the entry door of his condominium vehemently and sagged back against it. Perspiration beaded his forehead from his mad dash in the late afternoon heat, but his breathing was slow and even despite the two flights of stairs he'd taken at a dead run, a testament to his excellent physical condition. But he was safe now. None of them could get at him here, in his own home, unless he allowed them in.
He jumped, startled, as a rapid staccato of pounding shook the door at his back. They had followed him up the stairs!
He hurried to the front window and peered through the cut-glass panes. They were there, three cars in various positions of careless parking surrounding his own roadster, and several of the same men and women he had seen loitering outside the Institute standing around, looking up at whichever one of them was battering his door. With a vehement yank he pulled the drapes across the window.
How dare they? he demanded silently as he turned and walked determinedly into the small kitchen and swiftly poured himself a brandy from a bottle in the cabinet and sipped at it earnestly. The warmth of the liquor burned its way into his nerves and he allowed himself to relax slightly.
Reporters had become the bane of his existence since they had returned to Honolulu with the survivors of the World War II submarine, Tetra. As Seaview's captain he had accepted the responsibility of spokesman willingly-- at least for the first three months.
Today had been the final straw. Nelson was the only officer left aboard Seaview, holed up in his lab working on some experiment or other when Lee finally disembarked. Had he not been the consummate scientist it might have been the Admiral who encountered the cluster of eager reporters impatiently waiting as he drove through the Institute gates. For that much Lee was grateful.
He had tried to be patient with them, and he knew he had been more successful than Nelson would have been. He answered the same questions he had answered before, time and again, but it was not enough for these reporters. They had voiced their suspicions that not all of Seaview's missions were purely scientific in nature, and one even went so far as to claim possession of information Lee knew had not been declassified. That was when he had put his car in gear, warned them to stand clear, and sped away from their harassment.
He had parked the roadster outside his condo and thrown open the door when he saw the first of the cars speeding around the corner toward him. He grabbed his briefcase off the passenger seat and bolted for the stairs and what he perceived as refuge. But this time his sanctuary stood at risk of being violated.
He whirled, his fingers tightening around the snifter, his back flattened against the refrigerator door.
"Chip," he got out, staring in stunned surprise at his best friend as the tall blond stood just inside the back door.
"You look like the fox who's just gone to ground with all the hounds baying at the mouth of your den."
"Very appropriate evaluation," he admitted dryly.
Chip Morton crossed the few steps to the counter and treated himself to some of Crane's expensive brandy.
"They look like they're here for the duration, pal."
"They were laying in wait when I came out of the gate at the Institute. Like blasted vultures."
"That's just what the Admiral said when he called me."
"Yeah. Evidently the gate guard called security and they notified the Admiral. He called me to be on the lookout for you in case you needed someone to run interference for you."
Lee grinned his appreciation.
"I don't suppose you're wanting to stay penned up in here all night?" Morton continued.
"I hadn't really planned on it."
"Then grab some clothes and come over to my place. You can shower and change and we'll hang out until they decide to leave."
"And if they don't? I've never seen them so persistent. They've gotten wind of something and they're not likely to let it go easily."
"In that case, we'll just go on down the back way. I'm parked out there, and we can be gone before they even suspect you're not in here...."
Lee nodded, his eyes taking on that thoughtful, faraway expression that Morton knew so well. He put his empty glass in the sink and returned to the living room. He knelt on the floor in front of the entertainment center, opened one of the drawers and rifled through the video tapes inside.
"I thought we were going to my place," Morton protested, not understanding. "You going to watch a movie?"
"Hopefully that's what they'll think if they put an ear to the door." He withdrew one of the tapes. "This has a couple of movies and an episode of Charlie's Angels." He glanced up at the choked-off chuckle from his friend. "A Christmas gift from your youngest sister last year, smart guy," he explained, but grinned. "Patterson has the set rigged so that it will replay, so unless they stand there and listen to every word for twelve hours they should believe I'm here, maybe asleep in front of the TV."
"An idea worthy of one of ONI's top agents, I must say."
Now Crane laughed softly, more completely relaxed than he had been since he disembarked. He shoved the tape into the machine and rose, turning on the TV and adjusting the volume as the picture appeared. He pulled off his uniform jacket and tossed it across the back of the couch, then strode into the bedroom. He threw a change of clothes into a valise, flipped on the bathroom light, and returned to his waiting Exec, surveying the scene as he approached.
"Let's go, Mr. Morton, before they discover the escape hatch and you're trapped in here with me."
Chip nodded, grinning broadly. He put his unfinished brandy down on the coffee table. "Just in case they find a crack to look through. Poor harried Captain Crane, turned on a movie and fell asleep."
Lee clapped him on the arm and motioned him toward the back door. "Now, just what kind of plans did you have for this evening?" he asked as he locked and closed the door behind them.