Sequel to The Plot Thickens
by Carol Foss
It wouldn't be too much longer. Soon all this would simply be a bad memory. Her friend would see to that. She was tired of her life, and her friend had promised her a new beginning in that far off land. All she had to do was help. That wouldn't be too difficult. Or would it? Could she remember all her friend had told her to do, and accomplish her task before anyone got suspicious?
"Any word yet sir?" Chief Sharkey asked nervously, approaching the XO, Lt. Cmdr. Chip Morton, who had been hovering near the radio shack.
"No, not yet, Chief," Morton moved over to the sonar console manned by Ski. Noting even Kowalski's concern, he added, loud enough for all to hear, " he's been late before, men. Let's not panic."
"Yeah, and it usually means he's in trouble," Ski whispered under his breath.
Morton had to sigh in silent agreement but a little command control was needed just now. "Ski, you do know the captain volunteered for this…he knew the risks, but he also knew how vital it is that we confirm or deny that General Leighton's dictatorship has developed or has in his possession a neutron bomb. Our contact should be in the area. Time was of the essence and Captain Crane is a qualified ONI agent to go seek the contact out."
"Yes sir, " Ski pouted, "but I still think ONI could have called out one of their own operatives."
"I'm sure all of us agree Ski, but it was the skipper's call, not ours…so if you have any objections, you'll be sure to discuss them with him, won't you?"
"Aye sir, sorry sir," Ski returned his attention to his console, duly chastened.
Damn it Lee, where are you?? Chip called out from the depths of his soul. If Lee really 'bought the farm' this time, well, it was just to dreadful to contemplate.
When would he ever learn, Lee chided himself. ONI had plenty of operatives, so why was he off playing James Bond again? The mission was already a bust, as his slithering and snooping about had been noted, it was becoming increasingly difficult to meddle very efficiently. His pretty 'pick up' may have been wary of him from the start, as he really didn't act like the ordinary 'john', and had simply taken her to dinner, plying her with wine and stupid questions. He really shouldn't have pretended to be on the prowl for a 'good time'. His heart wasn't in it, and apparently it had showed through the act. But he had found out something. Like reconsidering his ONI status and going back to being just plain old ordinary Navy Reserve attached to the Nelson Institute of Marine Research. Not that the often drafted Seaview was ordinary, nor his position as her master, but at least he'd be back on more familiar ground.
The dictatorship of General Leighton was in all the news. The man had ousted a former premier, was hated by just about everyone including his own mother, but nonetheless, had been welcomed by his countrymen with open arms. A new world order had been promised…and to date, Leighton had provided badly needed jobs, food, and status for the little country…but there was a price they had chosen to ignore. Leighton boasted of setting up the latest in military weaponry and rumor had it that he now had not one, but several neutron bombs of the latest fashion.The former 'little' country was now a 'big' country. And the 'west' and 'the free world' were understandably nervous. Crane's undercover contact had never showed. Probably a counterspy or dead, Lee thought to himself bitterly.
After Crane had said goodnight to the hooker, to her relief, he noticed, some men in uniform kept glancing his way, and he knew the jig was up. They didn't hesitate any longer, and began to shoot. Most of the gunshots missed as he ducked behind and in between the various ramshackle buildings and finally eluded his pursuers.
"That was stupid, captain," the electronically synthesized voice said sarcastically. "Where did you get your training anyway, at summer camp for kids? NO," the voice commanded as Lee tried to turn , in an effort to face the voice which belonged to strong arms which held his, behind his back firmly, gun at the base of Crane's neck.
"Take him," the voice commanded, and Lee was dealt a telling blow to the side of his head with the gun, seized by additional arms and dragged away.
"No, I'm sorry, Chip, I just can't allow it," Admiral Nelson looked up from his desk, his video phone tilted toward him, his desk littered with papers. He was still sick with the flu, and Chip noticed, with unease, getting worse, really. Doc was not going to be happy that the admiral was not in bed, even now, though nobody aboard had been able to sleep much since Lee was reported overdue.
"I don't mean to press, sir, but it's been hours! No word, nothing! Lee is in trouble and…."
"Blast it Chip, you think I don't agree with you?! You think I don't want us to rush in and find him? Of course I do!" Nelson said hoarsely, blew his nose, and continued, quietly, concern in his voice, " he could be dead for all we know…but Chip, this is a highly combustible situation. Leighton would welcome the chance to have us 'spying'. A search and rescue attempt would confirm that we, in effect, have been doing the very thing we've been denying for some time…Lee knew the risks, Chip…. It doesn't make things any easier I know, but," he handed Morton a presidential memo, "I am compelled to officially deny that Lee even entered Batimia, let alone for us to attempt a rescue….officially."
Chip was about to speak when he noticed Nelson's eyes. Chip took the hint, nodded, and departed the cabin.
"Well captain, now that the formalities are concluded, do you still wish to deny it?" the monotone mechanical voice taunted in the blackness, as the spotlight shone on Lee's face, continuing to blind him from seeing his tormenters.
"I told you! I was minding my own business when you and your thugs grabbed me! I was out for a good time, I'm not a spy!" Crane struggled against the restraints on his wrists, far above his arms. His feet did not reach the floor, as he dangled from the beam. Blood still seeped from the gunshot wound to his shoulder, and dribbled down his bare skin to the floor. A rat scurried by.
"You're a terrible liar captain… perhaps we can still pursuade you…."the voice came closer.
The sudden sound of the short whip smacking against his skin echoed around the small dark room. Despite his efforts, Crane could no longer stifle shrieking out against the pain of this latest version of his captor's treatment.
"You're enjoying this too much Epsom, " the hooker's voice said. "Let him go. He's just a 'john'. A stupid rich American."
"He didn't even take you upstairs! Some 'john'!" Epsom laughed.
"So I was mistaken. He only wanted a little companionship. It can happen. Stop it. Really. Ciponvich gave you the list of all the agents from your mole in ONI. This man's been checked and double checked. 'Captain' Lee Beuregard's not one of them . His yacht is registered in Monte Carlo, his fingerprints match his ID, and he wouldn't know how to be a spy if ONI trained him for a year. You think they'd hire such an amateur?"
The sound of the whip continued.
"Epsom, stop it…I mean it…or else."
"Blackmail, my dear?"
"What do you think? You're having too much fun hurting him, and I don't like it."
"Well, I do!" the whip continued.
"Oh, very well… now Tasha," he said condescendingly," I'll let the poor rich American go, but not before I give him a going away present."
Epsom slowly become visible in the darkness, as he turned the spotlight away from Crane's face. It took awhile for Crane to focus. Epsom was leaning against the door, arms folded, his face hidden by a costume mask. He was pleased at Crane's gasp as he loosed him from the restraints far above his head. Crane tumbled to the floor, in agony. Torn and stretched tendons vied with shredded skin from the whip's assault.
"Here," Epsom tossed Lee his clothes, along with his wallet and ID. "you shouldn't leave your credit cards and Swiss Bank Account number, Mr. Beuregard. I do hope you won't visit us again!" he laughed. "Thank you for the five million dollars that you've so graciously donated to us…now, listen to me," Epsom lurched toward Crane, still crouched on the floor, in dire pain. Epsom dragged Lee's head up by the hair, pleased with the sweat and latest trickle of blood from Lee's head wound, "we don't like you rich outsiders coming here. Take what's left of your money elsewhere. Welcome back to the working classes. General Leighton doesn't want your kind here. Even your government has promised not to interfere with our country in any way, to protect itself from our power, so it won't do you any good to complain to your countrymen. I want your assurance that you won't come back."
Before Lee knew what happened, the click of the pocket knife matched it's thrust into his side, in a curving sweep.
"Farewell, Captain Beuregard! Happy sailing!" Epsom mocked as he pulled the hooker behind him, leaving Crane alone in the filthy warehouse.
"That's all I know, Chief, " Morton said under his breath to Chief Sharkey and Kowalski, quickly summoned to the control room. "Officially we will not attempt a rescue. The Admiral's orders, straight from the White House… but, then, I'm known for my bad hearing. You, Chief?"
"Oh, I got a bad ear infection sir, can't hear a thing," Sharkey winked, "how about you Ski?"
"Gee, guys, must be an boatwide outbreak or something, can't hear nothin'."
"Mr. Morton!" O'Brian called down, "Sir!"
Racing up out of the flying sub and to the radio shack, Sparks clicked on the transmission.
"C to S, come in S,"Crane's voice sounded weak," at..attempting rendezvous.."
"Try it again Sparks," Morton ordered, deeply concerned.
"No good sir, I just pick up static. The transmission is working but…"
"O'Brian!" Morton yelled, racing to the flying sub hatch, " flank to the rendezvous coordinates! Chief, Ski, let's go! O'Brian, you've got the conn."
Lee was groggy. Perhaps he'd fainted. He couldn't remember how many times now he's awoken, confused as to where he was or what he'd been doing. He barely noticed the blood splatters on the deck of the yacht, which he remembered had been conveniently borrowed from an alliance for his use in his undercover trip to the village of Catapire. He knew that much. That was it, he was on assignment…It was difficult to remember…he had to get to Seaview…or somebody by that name…she was waiting for him…he had to tell her…what was it? Oh, yes, that was it, he remembered, a traitor was in ONI. Remember that Lee!Whatever happens, remember that much! he ordered himself.
It was almost dawn. Damn! He'd never make the rendezvous before daylight. There were too many yachts, tankers, and fishing boats in this quadrant to risk another transmission now…he may have been reprieved, but he wasn't going to risk making Leighton's cronies suspicious again. Leighton? Who the hell was Leighton? Blast! What was the matter with him?! Why was his own mind betraying him? Who was he supposed to meet? A rendezvous? What the hell was a rendezvous?
Good thing this sailboat had a heavy engine. He was not in the mood for any strenuous activity. One day he'd have to have a go at Jamie's medical dictionary to learn just what was what. Oh, boy, doc was going to have a hissy fit. Lee grinned at the firm visual memory of Seaview's chief medical officer. Seaview? It was a submarine! Thank God, his memory was starting to come back. He could imagine Jamison hovering over him like a mother hen. But why was he hurting now? His shoulder hurt, his head hurt, and his back was on fire...blood was soaking his clothing, but he couldn't remember how or why he came to be this way…damn ! He was having a difficult time concentrating on the course. He was cold.. no, he reconsidered, he was hot. Or maybe it was the sea spray. Just stay on course! Lee, just stay on course! he ordered himself. There was a traitor in ONI, and he had to let Nelson know. Nelson? Who was Nelson?
"Uh, Mr. Morton," Ski asked, " you sure we can't fly in a little closer?"
"'Fraid not, Ski, the flying sub would be detected too easily. If the mission is a bust, our presence too close by would put Captain Crane's life in danger. We'll submerge five miles away from the territorial waters, and pretend to do some deep sea exploration. The Admiral's already had a press interview about the new dolphin species in this area, so for all the world, it's just another ordinary mission for us to do a census count. Meanwhile, You and Sharkey will use the sea scooters with the directional indicators. There's a beacon on the sailboat. I'll make a racket and radio communications as to our 'mechanical difficulties' …O'Brian will be in communication with me in the ruse…if you …when you find the skipper, report back with something like 'specimen found, bringing it in.' Then blow a hole in the sailboat to sink her. Got it?"
Nelson paced the observation nose; warm slippers on his feet, in terry robe and pajamas. A hot medicinal drink in one hand, ever present cigarette in the other, he had the communication 'open' in the nose between Sparks and Morton, and was impressed with how both men made it sound as though the flying sub was in the middle of an ordinary specimen census when she blew a gasket. It sounded perfectly legit. But if Lee had failed, it wouldn't take much for Leighton to figure it out. The flying sub couldn't be out there too much longer.
Lee hadn't really volunteered. Not on his own, anyway. When, he, Nelson, had explained the hotbed situation, and the need for urgency, it was an unsaid order to Crane. Not that either man would admit it. Too proud, too stubborn, the both of them. Lee volunteered out of loyalty to Nelson, not because he wanted to of his own free will, Nelson knew. But then, Crane had volunteered for 'special assignments' before, even when he was on shore leave…so perhaps Nelson was feeling more guilty than he should. At least, that's what he kept trying to tell himself as he left trails of smoke curling in the nose as he paced back and forth, his crew increasingly edgy.
Ski aimed the sea- scooter toward the indicator's point. Like a compass it would lead them to the craft. It was a long dive. Ski was grateful the new compressed air formulated by Nelson would be able to keep the team submerged for several hours longer than the old Scuba gear.
The sailboat appeared to be drifting, not on a straight course, and even from this distance, he could tell from the indicator that the motors had cut off. The sailboat was more than a few miles off the designated rendevoux point. Something was wrong.
Tasha sighed with relief. Epsom was snoring now. He'd made a celebration of the evening, and had toasted his success again as a bully with champagne and caviar. Stupid man, Tasha thought as she glanced his way. If he'd thought with his brains instead of his body he'd be the better for it. She looked at her red pillow. It was soft, but tacky looking. She'd been informed that it added to the 'necessary atmosphere' of her occupation. She wondered if she should take it with her, a reminder of the life she would no longer have. But Epsom could wake if she removed it from beneath him. No. Let the fool wallow in the world of his own making. It would not be long now. Would she burn in hell for what she was soon to do? She looked at her watch. No, it would not be too long now. She checked to make sure her neon casing lip gloss was in her bag and departed. She'd already made all the arrangements and would not be missed.
Sharkey raised his speargun as both men divers approached the sailboat, ready for anything. Emerging from the depths, the men silently removed their regulators from their mouths and slowly clambered aboard, staying just below the rim. They heard nothing . Climbing aboard, they saw Crane sprawled by the wheel, a rope tied to it in a vain effort to keep the craft steady. First relief, then revulsion filled the two men as they saw their bloody, beaten captain. Each was afraid to ask if he was even alive.
Sharkey took the lead and felt for a pulse. With a nod of satisfaction, Sharkey finally found his voice, " Ski, help me outta this wetsuit jacket…we can get him into it, it'll protect him- a little bit anyway…looks like most of the bleeding's stopped…but…damn, if I could get my hands on the guys who did this to him!"
"We found h… a damaged specimen, Mr. Morton," Sharkey spoke through his voice mike, remembering that anyone could hear the conversation on this link up.
"I see," Morton replied from the flying sub, "how badly damaged?"
"Awful bad, we're bringing it aboard… doc, I mean the vet's gonna be needed right away."
"Very well, I've almost finished repairs. Permission to bring it aboard."
"Aye sir. It's gonna be awhile…I don't suppose you can hurry up the repairs and meet us halfway? " Sharkey's voice sounded desperate.
"I'll do my best, but if the admiral gets upset about going to all this trouble for a dolphin, it's your neck, not mine."
"Aye sir," Sharkey replied, relieved that the flying sub would be there momentarily. At least Batimia didn't know that.
Sick bay had been alerted. Everything was in readiness for the worse, Doc Jamison and Frank Sony, his medical corpsman, were already scrubbed , the emergency gurney prepped for the patient.
A stretcher was at the ready by the flying sub's hatch, with two of the fastest men aboard waiting to rush Crane to sick bay.
Nelson wanted to speak to Chip. He wanted to know exactly what had happened to Lee, but he had to wait like the rest of his men. It wouldn't do to alert the world's HAMM and spy operators listening in to 'tween ship communications.
Chip had managed with some difficulty to get Sharkey to take the controls of the flying sub. He and Ski quickly stripped Lee of the wetsuit and sodden clothes, and applied what they could of towels and blankets around him. The men had been careful carrying him through the depths, with the 'octopus' breather, but the vast areas of torn skin had objected to movement, the clots had opened, and he had soon started bleeding again. It had been a difficult swim, as both Ski and Sharkey knew the trails of blood would be enticing to sharks and these waters were full of them. Sharkey had decided to let Ski do most of the carrying while he swam guard with his speargun at the ready. Fortunately they were aboard the flying sub before it became necessary to fend any sharks off.
"Can you get the rest of the bleeding to stop?" Sharkey asked nervously.
"Most of it," Ski replied, " but … there, Mr. Morton , put your weight into it. I think he may have torn a …no, thank God, it's not an artery. That's it sir, that pressure'll help…here, try this…"
Sharkey bit his lip as he raced the flying sub to Seaview, finally airborne, while listening to Ski and Morton in the background. Morton obeyed Ski in this matter. He knew, as Sharkey did, that Ski had some medical background, if even it was only from one year as a vetinerary student. Right now it didn't matter if Ski had aided in the treatment of parrots and pets, he had some skill and knowledge, and it was far more than either Morton or Sharkey had.
Lee began to moan. His eyes opened, and for a moment he seemed incoherent and out of focus.
"Lee, Lee, can you hear me?" Chip asked.
"Chip…"Lee managed in a hoarse whisper, thankful he could at least remember the voice.
"You're on the flying sub, it shouldn't be too much longer."
"Chip…wait…traitor…in ONI…tell Nelson….tell…."he tried to pluck at Chip's sleeve, but his eyes were already rolling back into his head.
"Okay Lee, okay…stay still…Sharkey, how much longer?"
"About 15 minutes."
"Make it 2."
"Aye!" Sharkey could hear the desperation in Morton's voice but try as he might, he could not get the little craft to more than she was able.
"Lee? Lee!" Chip demanded.
Crane was limp, his breathing labored. Not once removing his hands from his directed pressure point over the worst of the bloody and sticky towels atop Lee, Chip was relieved when Kowalski grabbed a scuba tank and adjusted the regulator, allowing the air to rush through the tube which Ski angled just right over Cranes' mouth, using his hand as a cup over it. Not forcing air in, but allowing him to breath in oxygen more efficiently.
"We gotta get some blood in him… hang on Skipper, hang on!" Ski demanded.
"That's all?" Nelson asked Chip in sotto voice, as Lee was hurried to sickbay.
"He was positive…a traitor. He wasn't able to say any more…"
"Very well. Was the sailboat destroyed?"
"Yes, Sharkey punched a hole in her gut with an ax aboard and it sank in less than a couple of minutes…Admiral? "
"I'm okay Chip, go get changed, then get something to eat…"
Only then did Chip notice the bloody patches on his and his team's clothing and skin. "Ski says most of his wounds look superficial, but…."
"All right Chip, you and your team get cleaned up, and take a break."
"Admiral? I'm sure he'll be all right," Chip tried to be optimistic.
"You know that's not…you don't have to try to make me feel better, lad, now go on, get some rest."
"Admiral," the corpsman called through the PA several hours later, " we have a patient who'd like to speak to you."
Sighs of relief floated throughout the boat as Nelson hurried aft. Still concerned, at least they all knew Crane was alive.
Chip was already in Sick Bay, cleaned up, along with Sharkey and Ski, hovering over the bunk in which Crane now lay, sideways, supported by thick pillows. It was with great satisfaction and relief that Nelson noticed there wasn't even an IV attached to him. He did notice, however, the deep bruise on Crane's temple, and the area of shaved scalp which had been stitched and patched with the latest in sterile skin attachments. He also saw areas of thick gauze under Lee's hospital gown.
"Did I get… you out… of bed?" Crane asked with an attempt at humor.
"If I say no, I'll be in trouble with Jaimie, and if I say yes, I'd be lying…blasted flu. Still have no idea where I got it…enough about me, are you all right?"
"Just some…"he tried to find the right word," scrapes," he stopped abruptly as Doc Jamison snorted at that response. "Okay, some heavy bruising, deep lacerations, a bullet, a knock on the head and a gash in my side…admiral" his thoughts were rushing back with far more clarity now, and he was greatly relieved he actually knew without a doubt who Nelson was, "…we have a traitor in ONI…a mole… I don't know who…"
"Somebody called Ciponovich gave them the list…but he's not the traitor…"
"You weren't on the list?"
"I don't know if Crane was…but Lee Beuregard wasn't."
"Well, remind me to thank our allies for such a horrible alias! Good thing it worked, Swiss bank account, and yacht which just happened to be under that fake name for several years!"
"Next time just remind me I'm no spy…if there is a next time. I botched it Admiral, " he remembered now, all of it, and how he'd given his undercover ruse away by not acting the traditional 'john.' "I was lousy…I'm sorry."
"Apology is not accepted captain…nor will it be until I debrief you more fully…but for now it's a start at least…just how high up is this traitor, any ideas?"
"None…but it would have to be way up wouldn’t it? For most all of the agents to be listed…even ONI doesn't put some of the operatives in writing. I got the… impression, the… list is pretty… extensive…and…."
"Enough," Jamison intervened, " you need to rest now…I'm sorry admiral, do you have enough information? He really needs to rest."
"More than enough…you just do as Jaimie says, Lee…that's an order."
"Ah shucks," Lee said weakly, an attempt at humor.
Nelson noted that Crane had already closed his eyes and allowed doc to poke and prod a bit more, with a final adjustment to his blanket without complaint. A danger signal to all. Lee was hurting far more than he cared to let on.
"Well, admiral," doc approached the men, " a barbed whip caused the deep skin lacerations, but most of the inner muscle tissue is undamaged. He's been disinfected, stitched and patched with generic skin applications. It should only be a few days before it sets and starts to attach permanently. Some tendons are torn, stretched, I take it ,from having been hung by his arms underneath a pole and held taut backwards of some sort, but they too, will heal.
If he doesn't put too much strain on himself, there shouldn't be too much permanent damage. Despite the messy scalp wound, there is no concussion, and the gash in his abdomen didn't penetrate any organs….I have to say that he's been exceedingly lucky. He did loose a great deal of blood, that was the main danger. Believe me, his lack of some minor remembrances had me worried at first, but temporary amnesia can happen with traumatic shock, and loss of blood, but that's passed now; He's feeling a lot worse than he actually is. The main danger now is to fight off any infection…and that trip through seawater didn't do him any good…but I think he's going to come through this just fine."
"I can tell the crew he's out of danger?"
"Here," he handed Nelson the mike with a smile.
"So, " Chip leaned forward across from Nelson, who downed some pills and sat wearily on his bunk. "Just how do we flush out this ONI 'plant', mole, traitor, whatever?"
"I've been giving this some thought Chip, and you're not going to like it…but here goes…"
"Man oh Man," Ski groaned, " these guys must've packed everything but the kitchen sink! There! " he deposited the last of the heavy bags on the deck in one of the guest cabins. It was already littered with bags, cases, and locked trunks. "And this is just for one of them!"
"Which one's supposed to have this cabin?" Riley asked, wiping his brow. He'd really have to work out more…
"What's the matter Stu? Not up to it?" Ski winked.
Riley sat down on the guest bunk. " I guess...Maybe I'm getting soft. Not enough time to ride the waves…do we gotta' unload all this crap too, and pack it away all tidy and 'Navy', like the last one?"
" That, gentlemen, would be appreciated," Congressman Tom Baker, " but not necessary…I believe we've met before… Kowalski, Riley."
"Sir," both answered as Riley was hurriedly trying to will the flush from his face.
"Will there be anything else, sir?" Kowalski asked, anxious to flee.
"No, young man, not at the moment…"
"Uh, well, then, uh, if you need anything…." Ski and Riley escaped.
They did not see the grin or hear the chuckle from within the cabin, as Baker remembered his previous visit to the sub, and the subterfuge on his part to play the irate guest when the crew had locked him in his cabin so they could kidnap their captain from the hospital and bring him back to Seaview. Good men, Oh, well, to work, he decided, as he began to unpack.
"And I keep telling you Nelson, "Shelly Thompson insisted," that the information is far more important than the man! Why wait?"
"Miss Thompson," Nelson croaked, his throat raw, and tapped his pencil on his desk," Captain Crane is in no condition to be questioned, let alone badgered for his information…he's in guarded condition,and when able, he'll be debriefed fully," Nelson lied. Lee was in 'guarded' condition alright, with undercover 'bodyguards' that Nelson had ordered placed in sickbay for his protection.
"Your men say he's just fine!" Shelly Thompson persisted.
"My men, madam," Nelson lied, with forced diplomacy to the CIA representative, " are certainly glad he's out of danger, but his recovery my take longer than we anticipated.When Lee has stabilized enough for questioning, you'll be notified."
"So, he didn't actually tell you who the traitor was," Senator McAdams asked.
"No, Senator, he collapsed before he could tell anyone," Nelson replied, and continued to hook the team with the bait. "He keeps drifting in and out …so even if doc was to allow you to question him now, you could not be certain of the validity of what he might say in his present exhaustion…we just have to wait. Now, it's late, I suggest you retire for the night."
Lee awoke to the sound of cards slapping down on a table. Kowalski and Sharkey were playing poker. Despite their sickbay issue attire, he could see that both men were armed with the miniature weaponry just recently developed. The weapons fit neatly around their wrists and looked for all the world like hospital identity bands. But Crane recognized the special tips that revealed their true nature.
"Care for a third?" Crane asked.
"Skipper!" Both men raced over. "How you feelin' sir?" Sharkey asked, his winnings forgotten.
"Actually a little thirsty, " he indicated the 'illicit' beverage at Sharkey's place. "You realize, that's not exactly on the approved liquors list for when the admiral's bar is open…but…"
Ski grabbed an unopened bottle, cold, and beaded with condensation, and handed it to Crane with a grin.
Lee was about to open the pop the cap when he heard a loud throat clearing.
It was Frank, chief medical corpsman, shaking his head 'no'. "Skipper, I'll just take that and put in the 'fridge, okay?"
"What harm would it do?" Crane held onto the can.
"Probably nothing, but Doc'll have my hide…besides it could hurt you what with the antibiotics we got you on…so, better play it safe…" he waited for Crane to hand it over.
"Oh all right…you worry too much!"
"It's his job to worry, Lee," Nelson interrupted having just witnessed the scene, from the doorway. "You can wait outside, men, you've been 'allowed a visit to your quarters to retrieve some mail', and remember, just as I briefed you, not a word about this subterfuge to anyone, understood?" They nodded and Nelson locked the sickbay door, after they departed.
"So, mind telling me what's going on?" Crane asked.
"Well, " Nelson dragged a chair close to the bunk, "you might say I'm playing a game…on a hunch that we can reveal the traitor by setting a little trap. The president, ONI , CIA, and even the FBI think you know who the traitor is…I want you to convince them that you do…but….that you're just to weak and confused from your ordeal to reveal it just yet."
"I don't get it."
"The real leak will be tempted to kill you to prevent anyone from finding out when you recover."
"Ahhh. That explains the sidearms, but…"
"I've convinced the team the president sent to question you that they have to wait till you're not quite so incoherent to question you…you have to make it look legitimate."
"So , I'm bait…but…"
"You're being guarded . Ski and the Chief are posing on the sick list. And this," he took out a pen and put in Lee's pocket," is for you."
"Better to take him alive than dead. "
"Okay, but…I'd feel a lot better with a bullet proof vest."
"What do you think part of that horrible new padjacket under your gown is?"
"You're sneaky, you know that?"
"Why, Lee, it's part of our job description ."
Both men laughed.
"I'll call our guests…remember, you don't remember, Lee."
"I don't suppose I can qualify for an Oscar if I do a good job? Just think, a trip to Hollywood, glamour, excitement, pretty women…"
"Get that smirk off your face or you won't last the first five minutes…that’s better."'
"I'll make this short and sweet, Crane," McAdams asked, as he leaned over the bunk's rail, "Who's the traitor?"
"I…I….ohhhh." Lee moaned and closed his eyes.
"I thought you said he was better!" McAdams glared at Nelson.
"He is , but …" Nelson intervened.
"Can he talk or not?!"Shelly asked.
"Miss Thompson, Senator, please," Baker took the lead, "we already knew this would be an ordeal for the boy, try a bit of patience…son, do you remember me?"
"I…I don't remember…"
"Do you remember finding anything undercover?" Baker asked gently.
Lee pulled up his covers to look under them," there's nothing under the covers…" he said weakly.
"No, lad, that's not what I meant…"
"Crane!" boomed McAdams, "the spy, Crane! The traitor in ONI! Who is it?"
"ONI? ONI?" Crane seemed confused.
"Doctor!" Shelly summoned, " is he stupid or something?"
"I informed admiral Nelson that temporary confusion is a distinct possibility…please, no more." Jamison had been well versed in Nelson's plot.
"I'll finish when I'm damn well ready to finish!" McAdams raged. "Crane, listen to me! You're Commander Lee Crane of the submarine Seaview. You are an operative for the Office of Naval Intelligence. You went ashore on assignment and you discovered the name of a traitor. Now remember it, boy!"
"I…I," Lee gasped, " I don't know what you're talking about," he turned to Jamison,"who are you?"
"Please, enough," Doc tucked Crane in and pressed his hand across Lee's forehead, frowning as he did so.
"Damn!" boomed Shelly," how the hell can we find anything out if he's bonkers!"
"It's not his fault if he's …unwell," Baker retorted."Doctor, he will come out of it won't he?"
"I see,"Miss Thompson interrupted, impatient," Keep me informed." She quickly departed in a huff.
The committee followed soon after, McAdams muttering, and Baker deeply disturbed.
"I'll be with you in a moment," Nelson said, turning as if to speak to doc, but instead giving Lee a surrupticous wink which Lee answered likewise.
"Harriman, I had no idea…what was it, a concussion?" Baker asked, over dinner in the Wardroom.
"There's no sign of one. Jamie thinks he just too tired and it will take awhile for his brain to catch up.. Lee did manage to say that a 'Ciponovitch' had the list. Does that help at all?"
"No, it's far too common a name."
"Ski, c'mon," Riley pleaded as Kowalski grabbed some girlie magazines from the crew's quarters," the scuttlebutt is that the skipper's not doin' good at all…that that 'in the clear' was just a cover…you've been stuck in sickbay with that 'intestinal virus 'bug-but I don't buy it…what's goin' on?"
"You think doc's gonna give me the details on the skipper?"
"Is he okay or not?" Patterson insisted.
A throat cleared.
The small group of men turned to face Nelson at the doorway.
Nelson stood his ground, with a forced frown. Things were going well, the crew's apparent concern would help convince the traitor of Crane's present indisposition. "Ski, Doc says 'back to sickbay', you've been here too long…where's the chief?"
"Oh, he already went back, sir, he just had to get a new deck of cards."
"Sir?"Patterson asked, hesitant. "Is the skipper…?"
"Men," Nelson sighed with what he hoped was resignation, and perpetrated his fib,"Doc really didn't want this to get out, but I can see it doesn't make much difference now…I don't really want to alarm you…but you've all been with me a long time…he's still confused, due to the shock, and may be for a while. I'm afraid no visitors are allowed…Let's just do our jobs, the way he'd want us to, I'll keep you posted, okay?"
"Aye Ayes" were heard around the crew's quarters, as Nelson, with shoulders drooped left them to their misery.
"It's not working, Chip!" Nelson knotted his tie, " Two whole days, and nobody's made a move. Not even a hint of a traitor aboard. We've got security tapes rolling, videomonitors, etcetera, plastered all over the boat. Even the team has special spy stuff set up their cabins, even Baker…" he paused, "perhaps that's the problem…"
"You mean all their spying on the spies is keeping the real one from making a move cause their scanners will notice anything out of the ordinary?"
"It's not only possible, it's quite likely now that I think about it."
"And this Tasha told you the name of the traitor?" McAdams queried of Crane, propped up in his sickbay bunk, his inquisitors around him.
"Well, I think she did…we were kind of busy."
"Oh Puh-lease!" Shelly spat, "you were in the throes of passion with the little tart and she just happened to tell you the name of the plant in her ecstasy??"
"I didn't say we were…were…" Crane let his eyes lower, and sighed, he was no damn good at lying, but he had to make this look real, "we were only having drinks. I hadn't been able to make contact with our agent. I needed to be visible didn't I? There was a lot of noise in the bar. I didn't get it all…but," he raised his eyes, and tried to look embarrassed," I drank too much, got sick, and when I got back from the bathroom, I overheard them. At least I think I did. It's difficult to remember, " he ran a hand through his hair.
"What did you think you heard?" Baker asked, noting Lee's beads of sweat turning some of his hair into ringlets. He seemed nervous, and his hand shook slightly as ran a hand through it. Maybe he had been too involved with the girl and was ashamed to admit he hadn't completed his assignment to discover the supposed weaponry.
"Her pimp said their 'mole' " he coughed convieniently,"…can I have some water please?" he cleared his throat, "I'm sorry," he drank the water down. But he choked, and was coughing again, violently.
Jamison took charge, and eased him back down on the bunk. Lee was still coughing . It sounded horrible and Nelson was impressed with the sound of it.
"I'm sorry, you'll have to wait," doc demanded of the group, " I want him to rest a moment. I'll call you back in a few minutes, I need to check this out…please give us some room."
"Crane, who is it?"Thompson demanded.
"I…" he began to cough again. Jamison glared at Thompson, and the group was quickly hustled out of sickbay.
"Well,"Shelly glowered as she paced in the wardroom, as the group settled down for some coffee," I think that sending an incompetent boob do a professional's shows unbelievable lack of judgement, Admiral, and I'm telling the President so!"
"Perhaps,"Mc Adams concurred, " but even if the mission was a bust, he did discover that there's a traitor. A 'mole' in ONI is disastrous, no matter how much or little damage he's done. "
"Well, if Crane had suspicions that the bimbo knew something , you'd think he would have known to get the girl drunk and questioned her instead of the other way around and getting drunk !Who knows what information he may have leaked! Getting plastered on the job! And I don't buy his 'drinks only' story! A normal healthy man cooped up on a sub all the time? Of course he had a bit of fun with the girl. Too much probably, and forgetting all about his assignment. He's just covering up the bust with this ridiculous excuse!…he didn't find out anything at all, not even the contact… he's just ashamed he got caught with his pants down, so to speak!"
"Miss Thompson, must you be so…graphic in your innuendoes?" Baker interrupted. " Crane may not be the caliber of operative you want, but I'd thank you to shut up about your suspicions of sleaze."
"Never! I'll expose shoddy work and graft when and wherever I find it…and despite your protests I can see you have doubts about him yourself! Now, if you will excuse me, I have a report to send to the President…I expect to be called when the debriefing resumes."
"Oh we wouldn't dream of disappointing you." Mc Adams snidely replied.
It was late and Sharkey had pulled the sack time shift between them. Ski kept his post, playing solitaire and glancing now and then over to Crane. Though fully informed of the admiral's little plot and aware that other than a few wounds and tiredness, Crane was certainly fit enough for questioning. It must be hard for him cooped up in sickbay. Still, the skipper seemed to be sweating a lot , tossing and turning even, so maybe that little infection Doc had found and was grumbling about was getting worse. Ski approached. He gingerly placed the back of his hand on Crane's forehead.
"My, my, isn't that tender loving care, sailor," Miss Thompson oozed sarcastically from the doorway.
"You're not supposed to be in here, lady."
"I only came to see if he was ready to talk yet."
"Well, he ain't, ma'am." Sharkey had abruptly woken at her voice and rushed her, in rumpled pj's, clutching her arm to pull her back to the door.
"You unhand me, you oaf!"
" Ski, " Sharkey did not obey, "you stay here with the skipper, I'll take Miss Tompson back to her quarters."
"I can find my own way, chief, really, grown men acting like a couple of idiots! What can it hurt to just ask him the name of the traitor? He can sleep for the rest of the cruise! McAdams is right. Nelson wouldn’t know how to run a boat if he was tutored by the legendary Rickover!" She pulled away from Sharkey and departed in a huff.
Sharkey hurried to Commander Morton's cabin.
"So you see Chief, allowing Miss Thompson to freely voice her outrage, the traitor will move to the fore ever more quickly…if she's not the traitor herself."
"What??" Sharkey paled. "But…but…oh, shit sir, beg pardon, I had her in my grip, I shoulda taken her to the brig!"
"And risk an outraged CIA agent? No, chief, you did just fine….now, you and Ski will be 'released' tomarrow, don't worry, I have security standing by just across from sickbay, monitoring it with the viewers…now this is what I want you to do…."
It was a glare from Thompson that greeted Chief Sharkey in the morning, as he, freshly released from sick bay , made his way to the small table set for breakfast in the famous observation nose. He'd been invited by Morton to join Nelson and himself and the guests.
"Well," Morton exclaimed with a grin hiding the subterfuge," glad to have you back with the living! Bet you're ready for something more palatable than Jell-O and chicken soup!"
"Thank you sir, Admiral, Senator, Congressman, Miss Thompson." He sat.
"Chief," Nelson winced as his throat was still sore, " Miss Thompson tells us that you denied her access to the captain last night. While I must insist our guests refrain from officially debriefing the captain until given the 'go ahead' by doc, I don't see what harm a simple little glance or question would have done."
"Yes sir. I'm sorry sir. It won't happen again ma'am," Sharkey tried to sound duly chastened. Ordinarily he would have been furious, but he knew this was all part of the plot." Ski should be getting' out soon too, sir, doc said as soon as he wakes up, he can get back to duty. "
" And the captain? How is he?" Baker asked.
"Well, you'd have to ask doc , he doesn't tell me nothin', but the skipper was sleeping like a baby when I left."
"Ah," Nelson took a sip of the horrible syrup doc was still insisting on,"that's good news. Just what he's needed. I doubt if it will be much longer now," he addressed his guests.
Doc was growing concerned. Crane's temperature had risen suddenly. The captain didn't complain, but it was apparent that he was still restless. The ruse had been bad enough, Jamie knew, forcing Crane to remain in the hated premises, to pretend he knew something he didn't, but having to put up with Doc's ministrations was worse. Jamie knew he had to tread lightly. The stratagem was important to maintain, but so was the skipper.
"Look, Doc, just a nice cold shower, honest, it'll only take a minute, nobody 'll know, besides, so what difference would it make?"
"I'm concerned because you have an bronchial infection and it's getting worse. You went from 99.8 to 103 in only a half hour…and Frank says you didn't eat breakfast because you felt nauseous and threw up after the first bite, and that earlier you dropped your cup and your fork fell through your fingers…and that you couldn't hold on to your pen… have you really been sick or was it just part of the act?
"I just wasn't hungry…honest…J..aimie," he seemed suddenly to struggle with the name.
"Now, see here, skipper, if you're having any difficulty remembering things or have a headache of any kind, I want to know about it…"
"I'm fine…just leave me alone."
Alarm bells rang in Jamison's mind. He'd had the captain as a patient now more times than he cared to count, and knew instinctively now when Crane was pulling a fast one. Crane had kept thrashing about as if he couldn't get comfortable, complaining, and asking why he was in sickbay , only he didn't call it sick bay, he called it 'this place' as if he was struggling to find a word for the place . Meandering over the wall bookcase, Jamie pulled a glossy magazine. Mostly pictures, it showed some of nature's more breathtaking views. He pretended to glance through it then gave Crane the magazine.
Lee looked at it, unimpressed.
"I had a great time in Bermuda,"Doc said," These pictures don't do it justice."
"I guess…still, great photos," he turned the pages.
"Lee…This magazine is of Yosemite National Park….you gave it to me…now, what's my name…answer me Lee."
"This is ridiculous! I’m fine…You're doc!"
"My given name…"
"Nobody knows your given name," Lee replied, exasperated," You're the boat's mystery man! Only the admiral knows, and he's not telling."
"Well, at least you got that right…how about my corpsman's name?"
"F..fr..Frank. His name is Frank."
"And the admiral?"
"Duh, Don't be silly. His name is Admiral."
"And my corpsman?"
"…uh…I….damn!" Lee whispered…."who are you again?" he asked, confusion on his face, eyes glassy.
"Lee, I think you're having amnesia again…I want you to stay still. Don't try to force the memories back…just rest. I'll be back in a moment. And keep that cold compress on your forehead…Frank? Over here…"
Doc's conference with the corpsman were held in sotto voice and that made Lee mad.
"Hey," he tried to get up,"where's my dog? "
"Skipper,"Doc eased him down firmly," Frank here is going to give you a cold wrap to help get that fever down, it's a bit messy, but you'll feel a lot better. I'm placing sickbay off limits, even to our guests.
"Guests? Are we having a party?" he asked earnestly, like a kid.
Jamison checked his eyes, and his concern deepened as Lee's eyes were visibly dilated …his fever was now 104.6. "Frank, full strip and jell-immersion, Temp-O-Rite plasma coolant IV. We've got to get that fever down, now…use the restraints if you have to!" Jamie pulled a blood sample from Lee's arm, and rushed to the sickbay lab station .
"But you said he was okay!" Morton shouted, angry, in the relative safety of Nelson's cabin.
"He was, but.." Doc fought for the words," this is very dangerous…we only have his description of what he could or couldn’t remember. That was probably from the trauma, the infection, or even… my data isn't complete yet …but… I'm sure he's been drugged, poisoned, if you will."
"Poison?!" Morton and Nelson exclaimed, practically in unison.
"It could have been easily administered by that whip if it was laced with the poison, or by the knife, bullet, or even by forced swallowing or injection when he was tortured…there's no way to tell…" Jamie took a breath of hesitation.
"Out with it Jaimie," Nelson interrupted," what's the rest of it?"
" From my initial blood gas findings, there is a multi-chemical-interactive drug complex in his bloodstream. I havn't been able to identify all the components yet. It seems to be designed to upset the entire neurological balances… he could….he's already shown signs of it, loose motor control, even cognitive function…I remember reading about something like this. These drugs were designed to be interactive, each chemical acting with and vieing with specific others in the complex, in timed patterns to torture its victims. A mind tossed back and forth …one moment cognitive, the next fully aware, causing additional stress. Add to it intermittent hallucinations and paralysis inherent in some of the chemicals…in time, they break down into new molecular patterns and…well, some of them were specifically designed to destroy the neurons.
It took a moment for the info to sink in, then a look of horror crossed Nelson's face.
" But…"Nelson was aghast." All those experimental poisons developed by the Nazi's were destroyed…or the world thought they were…." He added in a whisper, remembering what he'd learned from Intelligence long ago on such poisons. To think of Lee as a tortured , intermittently mindless paralytic filled him with sheer panic. "If I could get a sample of the poison, we could create an antidote…"
"Even if we could, time is of the essence…his body temperature is almost 105, we've got him in cold jell immersion and the latest in IV coolant, but…"
"I see…supply me with what you can of his blood, Jaimie, I'll see what I can do to figure out an antidote or vaccine or something….but…sick bay is not off limits…Lee would want us to catch our traitor…no one knows his true condition but us, understood?"
Jamie knew better than to argue the point. He'd tend his patient , but let the traitor make the move. He was no expert, but even he knew a traitor wouldn't have to bother to kill a man already doomed. Shuddering at the thought of the skipper in a 'waking death', he was all the more anxious to be with Crane to render what aid he could.
While McAdams leafed through some papers in his cabin as many machines blinked and blinked, he rechecked his findings. All was going according to plan. Nelson would soon have his spy, then things could get back in order.
"What is the matter with you Baker?McAdams asked, as he sat in the observation nose," Crane could be up to something! I thought Thompson was wacko with her insinuations but I'm not so sure now…really stupid of Crane, posing as a playboy…Morton! You think Crane'll be up to it soon?" he asked of Chip who had just descended the spiral steps into the nose.
"I don't know, sir, if you'll excuse me," Morton took his place at the plot table.
"What's eating him?"McAdams asked. Baker just shook his head, concerned.
Shelly checked her watch again. She noted the time and sat, brooding. She wasn't really such a bitch. But in a male dominated career she had to shun any and all feminine attributes such as caring or compassion. Her mission depended on it. Her friend depended on it. What was the time again?
Hours passed. Nothing had happened. Nobody had entered sickbay, and Crane had not improved. Nelson was beginning to think perhaps the investigation team was clean, and the supposed threat to Crane all in his imagination. Morton was right of course, he should really have allowed the XO to take an undercover unit to Leighton's little dictatorship to flush out more info, the missing contact, and perhaps somehow even find an antidote to the poison, but surely, Nelson had stressed, the real traitor would have made necessary changes by now, and contact would be pointless, and too risky.
"Admiral?" Chip asked quietly, breaking Nelson's reverie." I still think it's is worth it."
Nelson studied Morton, his face set in determination. It was too easy to read. If Nelson didn't allow him to act, he knew he would never be able to regain Chip's friendship or trust, ever again. With a sigh of resignation and defeat he said simply, "pick your men."
Even though a spy could be among them, Nelson decided to freshen the bait. He told and his crew and the team everything . Even the fact that Crane had become deathly ill and Morton was going undercover to try to find Ciponovich, Epsom, and the 'lady of the evening'. Every rating aboard had volunteered without being asked to go along. Even Congressman Baker had volunteered. Only four persons had not sought to accompany Morton. They were McAdams, ('not prudent' he said), Thompson, ( who said nothing) , Doc (understandably), and Nelson ( who of all persons aboard wanted to go himself, but was needed on Seaview to get to the bottom of things, to try to whip up an antidote before time ran out).
There were some very deep emotions going on as Chip led the team away, comprised of himself, Baker, Kowalski, Patterson, and Sparks, who'd finally managed to convince Morton that he was more than just a communications officer, and if this was the last thing he did for the captain, he wanted to be on it.
They all wanted to be in on it, Nelson grinned to himself, so very proud of his men; his shipmates, his family.
O'Brian had the conn. For the first time in his chosen profession he didn't want it. True, they weren't in combat, nor involved in a life threatening deeply technical exploration; the command decisions thrust upon him so far were pretty much restricted to keeping the boat on a steady course. He wanted action. Out there. To help save his skipper's life.
It was late. Chief Sharkey was off watch, but had to make one more prowl to sickbay. Most of the crew had done the same until Doc had finally requested them to give it a rest. They were only in the way. The fever had abated, Sharkey knew, but as the skipper tossed and turned in his bunk, his concern had become despair.
"Skipper? Skipper??" Sharkey gripped the handrest protecting the bunk's occupant.
Crane only thrashed about more, eyes open, unheeding, facial muscles and arms and fingers twitching.
"Doc?" Sharkey asked, voice wavering.
"He might not even see us," Jaimie came over and pulled Sharkey away," he's either semi-comatose, or in a delirium, or even fully aware but not able to surface ,there's no way to tell…Chief… the drug complex might not break down for days but….you'd better prepare the men…"
"I'm as sure as I can be at this point…ask the admiral to come to sick bay…and tell Mr.…tell Mr. O'Brian. He'll be needed when… to make the official announcement."
Sharkey looked at the man. The chief medical officer was worn out. Exhausted. And resigned to Crane's inevitable fate. "Aye sir," he said in a whisper and departed.
Lee had tried desperately to reach the men all this while.But his body would not obey him. Yes, he was confused. There were things he could not remember. But he was still here. Trapped as his mind yelled for help, but his mouth couldn't even produce a sound. Trapped as his body tossed about, in direct contrast to his will for his limbs to obey him and reach out to his shipmates.
"Well this is hopeless," Baker sighed wearily and exasperated, as he cautiously looked about in the blackness . "The place is deserted. No sign of anyone. I think they must have been expecting us…"
"If they were expecting us," Sparks intruded, " they would have kept their lines of communication open…look over here…the lines are cut…and the power lines are emitting semi irregular impulses…to save on electricity. Are you sure this is Catapire Mr. Morton?"
"To tell you the truth, I'm not sure anymore," Morton again swept the area with his special night vision binoculars . The busy 'red light district' Lee had visited was deserted. " We'd better go a bit more inland…if the rest of the town is deserted to, maybe Lee was set up."
"But why?" Baker asked," confused.
"I don't know…a deliberate attempt to kill him or ruin his reputation, but that's really unlikely isn't it…" Morton said bitterly." Let's keep moving," Chip ordered with renewed vigor.
Nelson pulled a chair next to Lee's bunk and sat. He spoke soothing words, he touched Crane's forehead, his hands, his face, in a vain attempt to offer some sort of comfort. Lee tossed about, eyes open wide. Suddenly he screamed unintelligibly, and cowered away from Nelson as if in sheer terror, batting the air wildly.
Jamison gently pulled Nelson away," he's gone into severe hallucination…it should pass soon…"
"You said if this happened, it was probably the point of no return…what if Chip manages to find an antidote? Will it be to late?"
Jamison took a breath, as if trying to put off the unwanted answer to come.
"No, Jaimie, you don't have to tell me…I can see it in your face. And nothing I've tried..NOTHING can destroy the neuron destruction sequence that's going on in Lee's brain and body?…how can I be so stupid?! I'm a scientist! I should be able to think of something!!"
"Admiral, you can't blame yourself…"
"Can't I? I was the one who let him go…"
"Begging your pardon sir, but even if you'd forbade him, he still would have busted orders and gone anyway…you know Lee sir."
Nelson had to concede, Jaimie was right of course. With a lump in his throat, Nelson patted Jamison's shoulder and turned to glance back at Crane. Forcing back the wetness forming in his eyes, he nodded, and said, "I'll be back," as he departed to check on Morton's progress.
What had he been screaming at? Lee couldn't remember. All he knew was that his friends cared about him, but he couldn't fight the form of pseudo-paralysis that had overtaken him. Something else was controlling his autonomic nervous system, and he was helpless to let them know he could see, he could hear, something…
The entire town of Catapire was deserted. As if a plague had swept through and vaporized every living soul there, Sparks thought. Vaporized. Vaporized!
"Mr. Morton! I've got it! The weapons! They used it here! Those neutron weapons! Aren't some of them supposed to be so sophisticated that they can kill people and animals but leave the buildings intact?? I read about that theory someplace…could they have tried it here…or it was an accident or something…Trust me, these kinds of guys are nuts. The whole world's scared of him isn't it? Because he's been claiming to have Neutron bombs? Well, why not test it before using it on the free world? Or maybe it was stored here and something happened…or …"
"I'd like to agree with you boy, but you make it sound like a piece of cheap fiction…Hollywood style," Baker insisted.
"I'm sorry Sparks," Morton tried to stifle a grin," but Mr. Baker is right. "It would just be too…tell me something," Chip interjected, suddenly serious," if one of these weapons went off would it leave any evidence ?"
"Yes sir, a specific radiation signature on the walls, pavement, roofing, stuff like that. Theyred be casing debris as well."
""Look!" Baker exclaimed as he saw dried trails of what looked like bloodstains against an alley wall and the filthy pavement.
The trail was easy to follow.
Shelly sighed. The mission was worth it, she knew that much, but the promotion wasn't. She looked at her watch. It was almost too late. The move had to be made soon, or the mission would be a bust. She began to reconsider her career options.
Baker saw it first. The metal pole threaded with handcuffs, and the bloodstains on the floor. "Look for anything! Anything that could be the poison or a…" he raced over to Morton who was just about to pick up a knife.
Using a metal glove from his belt pack, Morton gingerly picked up the stained knife and placed it in a safety-foam casing. "keep looking," he commanded, " especially for a whip or a needle or something."
Doc could barely be pried away from his patient, but Shelly had brought him some coffee and insisted he go sit down in his office for a moment.
"That's it sir," Sparks reported to Morton. They'd checked and rechecked. All they had to show for it was the knife, a make up kit, a tube of toothpaste, two perfume decanters, and a bottle of mouthwash from the room upstairs. Grasping at straws in a desperate hope that the poison might be hidden in the items. There was also a soft red pillow on the rumpled bed. A heavily embroidered souvenir from San Francisco. It said 'Tasha'.
"Very well, here," Morton handed Sparks a bag of paint and stucco, " its been scraped from the wall outside, if you're certain it could prove the neutron bomb was used Let's get back to Seaview."
"Wait! Look over here!" shouted Sparks.
He led the group into a basement, if one could call it that, a room overflowing with machinery. Blinking lights, control panels, a countdown panel.. Baker almost tripped over a neon yellow lip gloss casing on the floor.
"What the hell?" he asked, awe struck as he saw the vast chamber.
"A control room…" Chip mused…"They wouldn’t test it on their own people?" he wondered aloud, horrified at the thought.
"I don't think so Mr. Morton,"Sparks interjected. " Look at this," he held up a sophisticated computer band of microchips. "It's been fused at specific points…expertly. It could jump start a countdown…even if no-one was looking…see here? This was originally set for the 24th at 0200. The engage button hadn't even been turned on…" but this…" he held up a small printout," says bomb ignited on the 12th at 0130.
"Well, it could explain it sir…but they're's no one here to tell us…"he looked at the printout…" it doesn't say anymore…"
"Do you know what these bombs are supposed to look like?" Morton asked.
"No sir, but I did hear that they could be as small as a beer can…I didn’t see any other control panels for ignition sir….but…maybe it was all done by remote control."
"If this bomb destroys organic matter but not material matter, wouldn't the bomb casing be intact? Debris of some sort?" Baker asked.
"It sure would sir!" Sparks answered excited that he'd been of some help…and stepped on the neon casing. "Sir! This isn't lipstick at all!" he held up the small crushed mass of twisted microchips and relays."I think this is a remote control device!"
"But why use it here? In the thick of things?"
"This is only a short range devise, it probably was used while others were here…all anyone had to do was take it out and pretend it was lipstick. The signal would have gone in to the circuits, and the operative could take a hike as the countdown continued."
Jamison had fallen asleep quickly . The new chemical would only keep him out a few moments, Shelly knew. Not actually necessary, but prudent as time was running out. It had also been wise to adjust the viewer-monitor to a replay mode to insure the security recorders were off. For all the world, the taped sick bay looked perfectly secure. And the security team was sleeping now as well, thanks to her.
Shelly Thompson leaned on the metal support of Crane's bunk; he was so still. Staring at nothing. He looked dead. It wouldn't be much longer. She expertly applied a small lip gloss to Crane.
"Well, that's it then," she said, after placing her lip gloss back in her pocket, as McAdams came in to pay his final adieu to Crane.
"Is that all this means to you?" he asked loudly.
"I learned a long time ago not to make friends. They're too easy to loose in the field,"
"And the information?" he demanded.
"Worthless. We've known all along there was a mole in the upper echelon…we just wanted the mole to be distracted in order to plant a few special codes to his country. One wrong move and he or she would be revealed."
McAdams laughed," You little bitch! You never needed Crane at all!"
"Of course we did. We needed someone to make the mole nervous, someone of value. Someone like Crane…all the more easy to make a mistake, but you're too late…your general's one little bomb has already exploded…so he's not such a big general anymore is he, Epsom?"
"I have no idea wha….you don't think I'm the mole??"
Thompson pulled a hairpin, clicked it and pointed it at the man. "I wouldn’t move if I were you. This dartgun has the same poison you used on Crane. I got it from a ..friend. A friend in Catapire. Now, if you're smart, you'll be a good boy and cooperate. We can afford to be…generous? At least, we can keep you from death row, perhaps even a nice long stay at Leavenworth…"
"You know, you should really have studied better." McAdams leered, "No backup…no ammo…the hatch isn't even secured… as Epsom would say, 'where did you study, summer camp'? " he laughed viciously, "I knew at once that you were here when you put the monitor on replay. My equipment shows me every move by everyone and everything aboard this sub. I even saw you give the security team the coffee special," He glanced at Crane.
It was unnerving, that wide eyed comatose type stare of Crane's. "Let's make this easy," he pulled a knob on his watch. "Pick a number, Get in Line, and Death will come, oh so Sublime, you think your poison will kill me? Hah! I'm immune! Tasha insured that. "
"Guess again!" Shelly pulled the trigger.
"Missed!" McAdams shouted gleefully as he pulled the knob-trigger of his watch and shot her..
The flying sub docked and as Chip rushed the bag of 'samples' to Nelson's lab. Baker nodded as he was about to depart the control room, but noticed the viewermonitor linked to sickbay showing a sleeping Crane. Sleeping Crane? Hadn't they been informed earlier that Lee was in a 'eyes-wide' state? Had he improved if he was sleeping? He went aft toward sickbay, with hope, to check on him. An alarm sounded. Sickay!
"She …she tried to kill Crane," McAdams tried to look shocked to the men starting to gather in sickbay. He pretended to hyperventilate as Baker and Nelson and Chip entered the room, "She must have knocked out the doctor…I punched the alarm button as soon as I could."
"Well, the skipper looks the same, and doc's vitals are ok. She's not dead. I'll treat her in the isolation ward." Frank Sony assured the admiral, worry still on his face, as he saw the eyes open Crane, so still.
"Very well," Nelson replied, " Where the hell's security?" he raged at O'Brian, who was emerging from the corridor, shaking his head.
"Security's been drugged too."
"She must have rigged the monitors ," Baker said, " I actually thought he was getting better. The alarm sounded while I was coming down the corridor to check on him…"
"Tom, give me a hand in in the lab,will you?" Nelson asked." Let's see if some of those items you brought back with Chip might be antidotes, Senator, that's some gun."
"New issue from ONI…they wanted me to be prepared.My I lie down a moment? I'm whacked," Mc Adams said.
"Of course,"replied Baker, " look after Crane."
It would have been a look of total revulsion he would have given McAdams , if Lee hadn't been immobile and unable to do anything. He tried desperately to escape his mental and physical bounds to attack McAdams, to try to retrieve the stunner under his pillow, to try to get out of his nearly paralyzed state, to bring somebody to the knowledge of what he'd just witnessed . He was trapped in a body that still wouldn't work.
"It won't do any good Crane, "McAdams almost whispered as he approached Crane. " I know you saw it all. That's a pretty powerful poison ,that drug of Hitler's scientists, one of the wonders of the modern age. So tormenting isn't it," he hissed, " to be aware but unable to do anything about it? Then just as suddenly to be unaware and demented. Add a dose of paraylsis, and it must be very trying for you…oh I know I could just let nature take it's course, let the chemicals break down to combine with your own body's chemicals into a new chemical equation to destroy your brain, but just to be sure, I'll give it a little help, besides, its better to be safe than sorry…you've been known to cheat death before. But not this time. " McAdams grabbed Lee by the throat and began to strangle him. Crane struggled against him, fighting for some kind of control, but despite his efforts only managing to slide against his tormentor's grip, falling to the deck limply.
McAdams laughed, but noticed Crane's arm trying to move and his eyes with fire in them. Smirking , he brought a familiar whip out from his belt, and began to use it on his victim. "So, she must have given you the antidiote to nutralize it somehow, well, I've worked too long and too hard for you to recover! Leighton will still bring in a new world order! We'll make more bombs! You and your countrymen are thorns in our side, you popinjay! But you'll be dead in a moment, and I'll retire to Switzerland! You young pup! James Bond?! Hah! You blew it! Should have killed you outright, but I felt sorry for you, dying so hideously and all. But you're going to die anyway, so die Crane, die! Then it will be Shelly's turn!"
Blam! The noise of a gun exploding in his back brought a look of surprise to his face, as McAdams managed to turn to see Congressman Baker, fury written on his face. He left McAdams to sink to the deck as he raced to Crane, calling for the corpsman on the mike as the new security team arrived.
"So," Nelson leaned back in the lounger in the observation nose, and looked at Shelly while Cookie and a small staff brought out the best of his dishes for the small group at the table, " while Doc took a forced break, when you slipped him a mickey, you administered the antidote to Lee, safely concealed in your lip gloss, and waited for Crane to snap out of it, while McAdams revealed himself."
"I'm sorry I had to be so secretive Admiral, but it was imperative if the plan was going to work. I was being watched. We all were. He had the very latest in monitoring equipment. I had to turn off the actual sickbay monitor so he'd notice someone was walking into his trap and loose all his inhibitions…rule one of the spy game is to find a scapegoat…"
"You could have at least told Lee, or given him the antidote right away!" Morton scowled.
"And ruined the operation? No, Commander Morton,. I'm sorry if it upsets you , but it was necessary to get true reactions from all of you, Crane included."
"He could have died! He very nearly did! And he was tortured! For what??" "Commander," Shelly leaned forward," Crane did confirm for us that our suspicions of a mole were correct, by the simple fact that McAdams got careless, which helped one of our friends to sabotage the bomb where it lay. It had been scheduled to be taken to Los Angeles and exploded by remote control. Our friend was able to get into the compound and do it there, destroying it and the components waiting to be used for additional units.You have to take this on trust."
"I share Commander Morton's feelings on this Miss Thompson," Nelson said firmly," and I will make a formal complaint to the CIA and ONI about your handling of this little undercover operation. I do think you could have found a better way to flush out the spy. Tom, I'm glad you had a headache and went back to sickbay for an aspirin~ when I think what could have happened…"
"And very nearly did, Harry old boy, I'm glad I still had my shooter on! No thanks to the CIA."
"Your opinion is noted Mr. Baker. "Shelly said calmly, "Admiral, now, if you'll excuse me, I have a date."
"Who could possibly want a date with you?" Morton asked, not caring one iota about his rudeness.
"Yes, I am currently personna non gratis aboard, gentlemen, but the captain has asked me to dine with him in his cabin now that he's been released from sickbay. So it's either a date offered by a true gentleman, or I’m in for a chewing out by Seaview's master. I'll let you know."
"Well," Baker watched as the woman departed," at least now I can stretch my feet out, you know, Harriman, Seaview is a very demanding lady. When I was first aboard her , I had to pretend to be angry that you and your men kidnapped Crane, now I'm a witness to a spy plot and a hero!"
"So, " Nelson gave Baker an appraising look, "you weren't really upset about that famous Jiggs Stark 'skipper kidnap plot' a while back?! You could have told me!"
"What? What is it that Miss Thompson would say,' and ruin the subterfuge'? It was too important…for Seaview, for her crew, for you. I had to pretend to be mad after the fait accompli," he laughed. "After all, I couldn't let on that I knew all about it. Even if I wasn't informed until after you and Jiggs hatched that little plot to rescue Crane from a fate worse than death."
"Does Lee know?"
"Now, Harriman, I'm entitled to a few secrets! At least," he laughed," I wasn't conned like Jiggs was, into patting the 'old girls' bulkhead and talking to her! At least, if it was a conn, I take it that Seaview's skipper really does, shall we say, engage in rather unorthodox methods of communicating with his charge?"
"Finally!" Kowalski plopped down on his bunk.
"Man oh, Man, my achin' back," Riley wiped his brow.
"About time we got rid of 'em all!" Patterson sat down on his bunk. " And didya see that dame in that limmo that picked up Miss Thompson ?? What a knockout! "
Riley rolled his eyes Heavenward in appreciation.
"I don't know," Ski pondered, " that Thompson dame gave her a thumbs up…hey you don't suppose…'Tasha'?"
"Frankly I don't give a…" Patterson winked." I'm just glad to get a bit of shore leave!"
"Well, like you said, it's good to be be rid of 'em, except for Baker…ya know, he's not such a bad joe after all, not like the rest of the Washington stuffed shirts, and getting McAdams like that…good thing he was in the right place at the right time…"
"Speaking of the right place at the right time," Sharkey interrupted," you knotheads had better spruce up the place. The skipper's gonna make an inspection this afternoon, before you're released for shore leave and I don't want' him getting' upset about how sloppy your housekeepin's been lately!"
"No kidding Chief?" Kowalski asked," Skipper's busted outta' sickbay again?"
"He busted outta sickbay when doc let him have dinner with that snooty dame. He told me, "Chief, I'd like to tour the boat," and doc was standin right next to him and didn't say nothin'. So it must be okay."
"Hey chief,"Riley asked, "what do you suppose they did, at dinner I mean, did they have a real date or did he give her the captain's glare? Man, if it had been me, I would tossed her overboard! Everyone's takin' bets on it."
"How the hell should I know?Get to work ,all of you…but…she did say 'thank you ' to the admiral when she went topside. And she smiled too."
"Will wonders' never cease?" Kowalski said.
"Well, if some dame had that antidote all the time and if I 'd nearly died for lack of it, I sure wouldn't be nice to her! You don't think that poison's made the skipper go really nutty or something?" Riley asked." I mean, he came out of it pretty quick an all, but…"
"Nah," Sharkey replied, " Doc said he's AOK as far as any neuron-damage. The dame snuck him that antidote before any permanent harm was done….unlike you bozos if you don't get cracking!"
"Well, Lee, all hands are dismissed for shore leave," Morton finally sat next to Crane in the observation nose.
"Not really. Jaimie has threatened me with keelhauling if I do anything but relax at my mother's for the next two weeks, the slavedriver."
"I heard that skipper," Jamison approached, "ready for your houseguest? The flight is on schedule."
"See what I mean?" Lee rolled his eyes upward.
"I had no idea our chief medical officer could be so heartless."
"Well, that's why I hired him," Nelson descended the spiral steps, "I need him to keep you in line while you're visiting your mom…now seriously, Lee, I want you to behave, and if I hear one word about you stepping out of bounds, you'll be spending duty time ashore. Understood?"
"Good…now, just what happened when you had dinner with Shelly? I have a bet with O'Brian that your private dinner was just an excuse to tell her off."
"How much did you bet sir?"
"Sorry, sir, I guess you're out of pocket."
"You weren't actually pleasant to her??" Morton asked.
"Well," Lee sighed and grinned, " she did give me the antidote after all…and she was only following orders, and she did reveal the real traitor, and," he laughed " she sure was prettier than anyone else aboard!"
"Oh, get out of here!" Nelson teased in a huff, as Crane was helped to his feet by Morton and Doc.
"I don't suppose you'll be offering me any last minute reprieve?"
"OUT!" Nelson feigned a roar as the men departed. He noticed the stillness of the boat, and touched the bulkhead, surprised at his action. Well, Lee patted her, spoke to her, frequently, but never in earshot. But he just couldn't bring himself to do the same, and fled topside, embarrassed at the thought, stopping suddenly as he ran into Lee, who was patting the conning tower and saying something in sotto voice, while Morton and Jamison stood a polite distance away. "Oh, excuse me Lee, I didn't realize you were..uh…"
"Just keeping her happy,Admiral, just keeping her happy."
"Very well, captain. Carry on."
Lee grinned, gave Seaview a final salute, and let Doc help him down the gangplank to the waiting limo. Nelson followed and turned to see the sunlight glisten on the deck. Well, they were all home safe and sound. Perhaps Lee was right. She did look like a happy boat after all.
Congressman Baker was not enjoying the movie showing aboard his flight back to Washington. It was hyped up to be an Oscar nominee, but frankly he found it too boring, and laced with gratuitous profanity.
"Don't like the movie sir?" the steward asked, rolling a cart with little bottles of spirits down the aisle.
"Total waste of money. Here, give these to somebody who doesn't want to spring five bucks for it," he handed over the earphones.
"Just think how many times I have to squeak by it!"
Both men laughed.
"Oh, yes," the steward pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, " the captain says to give you this."
"Thank you." Baker was not surprised. He'd often been waylaid by constituents with business to attend to while enroute from one destination to another.
Opening the folded page, he noticed it was an email of the latest variety. Quick, non-toxic to aircraft in or out of flight, he settled down to see what else was new at the House.
But it wasn’t from the House of Representatives. It was from the Nelson Institute, the Seaview more precisely. It was some sort of commuicae about the vessel's roster. He laughed as he saw Admiral Jiggs Starke listed as a member of the crew. About to fold it up as a mistake in communications he stopped as he saw there staring at him in bold print…
continued from page 2
Baker, T. Congressman ……Shipmate
It was signed by every crewman aboard and Baker's eyes roved over all the names and comments. Toward the bottom he noticed a few codicils:
Dear sir, we just wanted you to know how much we appreciate all you did for us, helping Mr. Morton and saving the skipper's life. No officer told us to put you on the roster, but we want you to know you deserve it. Thanks again, from all of us.
Me too! Harry.
Thanks for saving Lee's life! Chip
Well, it's official. This form isn't, not having been stamped with the NIMR seal, but you will find waiting for you at your office the official roster of SSRN Seaview. Welcome aboard, any time you like.
Ps. I wonder if the FCC could use Seaview's grapevine ? With our best wishes sir.