TERROR IN THE MOUNTAINS!!!!
Winnie aka Poohbear
"Admiral, Iíve made arrangements for the flight. We leave in three days." Joe Pearson told Admiral Jiggs Stark.
"Thatís wonderful Joe. How are you doing with the other task I assigned you?" Stark asked his aid.
"Thatís a little more difficult, Sir. I just got off the phone with Admiral Nelson and Iím afraid heís a little upset."
"What did he say?"
"His exact words were. You tell Jiggs Stark that Iím not one of his lackeys to be ordered around. He also said he was on his way here to see you," Joe told him.
"Uh oh. That sounds like trouble. Maybe I should have informed Harry ahead of time. I forgot he doesnít like surprises."
"He did sound kind of angry, Sir."
"It wonít take him long to get here. Why donít you order some coffee and sweet rolls from room service. Maybe we can calm Harry down with some sweets."
"Yes, Sir," Joe said not at all convinced that a few sweet rolls would placate Harriman Nelson.
Harriman Nelson was fuming, in his mind Jiggs Stark had stepped over the line of friendship, ĎHow dare he go and make plans for my men without informing me. I wonít stand for it,í he thought as he pulled up to the entrance of the Four Seasons Hotel. Without a word he tossed his keys to the valet parking attendant and rushed inside. He knew the room number and headed directly for it. Lifting his hand he knocked loudly. When it wasnít answered immediately he knocked again. As he pulled his hand back to knock for the third time the door opened and he barely succeeded in preventing himself from striking Starks aid.
"Admiral Nelson, please come in," Joe said quickly.
"Where is he?" Nelson asked his voice betraying his agitation.
"Heís in the solarium, Admiral. Please go right on in."
Nelson hurried through the door and out onto the solarium. Jiggs Stark sat looking out over the ocean, "Hello, Harry, come on in."
"What reason do you have for shanghaiing me and six members of my crew?"
"Come on, Harry. Iím not shanghaiing anyone. Youíre always telling me to take the time to get to know this special crew of yours. Well I thought this would be the perfect opportunity. My only regret is that Chip Morton is already away on assignment and canít come with us."
"What makes you think any of us are going?" Nelson asked taking a cup of coffee from Joe. He sat down opposite Jiggs Stark and placed the cup on the small table.
"I know how much you love a challenge, Harry, and thatís just what this is going to be. Itís going to be up to you to keep the peace while we undergo this little expedition into the mountains. Imagine if you will the majestic Canadian Rockies. A beautiful scenic valley hidden away from any but the heartiest of travellers, with lakes and rivers so clear you can see the bottom at the deepest point. Mountain peaks so high they seem to rise above the clouds."
Nelson found himself being drawn into the wonderful pictures Starks words were conjuring up, "Why the Canadian Rockies?" he asked curiously. "I have a cabin on Eagle Lake."
"I know that, Harry, and from what I hear itís beautiful. Itís just not what I was looking for. I wanted something that would make us all have to work together. What better way than a group of men undertaking a survival mission into the mountains. All we take is what we can carry. Each man is to have a backpack full of supplies and a pup tent. Two weeks in the wilds with nothing else to do but talk to each other and do some fishing. Please, Harry, say you and your men will go with us. Donít let Joeís efforts be in vain?"
"So you gave Joe the job of convincing me to go. Iím sorry, Joe," Nelson said glancing at the younger man, "I didnít mean to shout at you. Everything you said made sense itís just that I hate when someone tries to put something over on me." Turning back to Stark he said, "I want everything up front, Jiggs. When are we supposed to leave?"
"Three days from now. We fly to Edmonton, Alberta. From there we drive into Banff. I reserved a number of hotel rooms for the night so we can be well rested for our trip the next morning," Stark explained.
"Whoís going to guide us into the mountains?"
"I hired the best guide around, a man by the name of Bryan Parker. Heís lived as a recluse for years and only comes down from the mountains when he needs to make some money for necessities. I was lucky enough to catch him before anyone else did."
"Youíre so sure weíll go?"
"Pretty sure. As I said I know how much you love challenges. More coffee?" he asked grinning triumphantly.
Nelson picked up his empty cup and passed it to Stark, "Tell me who you want to take along on this journey again and why?"
"I want Lee Crane because heís a natural leader and the men look up to him. I want Jamison for medical emergencies even though Iím hoping none come up. I want Kowalski, Patterson and Riley because they seem to represent exactly what the younger members of your crew are capable of. I want Sharkey because he has a nose for finding humour in things that others refuse to see. I want Joe because I need someone on my side in any arguments and I want you there to keep the peace between your crew and myself. Did I leave anyone out?"
"Yeah, Chip Morton but as you said heís away on another assignment. Iíll speak with Lee and the others. If they want to go, fine, but Iím not going to make it an order."
"Thatís great, Harry. Thank-you. Maybe you should take Joe with you. He can explain everything I want to do. Maybe heíll be able to convince the others that Iím really not an ogre," Stark laughed half-heartedly.
Nelson stood in front of the small contingent of Seaview crewmembers, Joe stood beside him, hands held at his side, as it was not an official meeting.
"If you guys will sit down Iíll tell you why I asked you to meet me here," Nelson smiled as each conversation stopped right on cue, "I want you all to remember that this is voluntary. You donít have to go if you have other plans."
"Sounds like youíre sending us behind enemy lines, Admiral," Lee Crane laughed.
"Not at all, Lee. Just into the mountains with Jiggs Stark," Nelson said nonchalantly.
"Excuse me, Admiral, I donít think I heard you right," Crane said before the other men could react.
"You heard me right, Lee. I think Iíll let Joe explain exactly what will happen if you want to go. As you can see heís a little nervous so let him finish before you ask any questions and remember heís only the messenger."
"Thank Ėyou, Admiral," Joe said shuffling nervously from one foot to the other. "Admiral Stark asked me to talk with you men. Heís arranged for a two-week camping trip into the Canadian Rockies and heíd like you all to go with him. Heís hired a guide and is willing to pay for the trip. Itís his way of saying heíd like to get to know all of you. It also gives him a chance to see why Admiral Nelson says youíre a unique crew. There are no strings attached to this and heíd like you all to know that itís ok if you decline his invitation. Iíve been to the Rockies before and I can tell you the breathtaking scenery alone is worth it. Are there any questions?"
"You keep saying camping trip. Does that mean we stay in cabins or tents?" Riley asked.
"Pup tents. Weíll be backpacking through some pretty rough mountainous terrain." Pearson told them.
"When are we supposed to leave and how long will we be gone?" Patterson asked.
"We leave in three days and weíll be gone for about two weeks."
"How long is this backpacking trail supposed to be?" Sharkey asked.
"A total of one hundred and twenty miles in and out and itís not all trail. The valley Admiral Stark wants to see is sixty miles through dense forest. Most people donít backpack into the valley anymore, they fly, but the Admiral thought this would bring us closer together. According to the guide itíll take three days in and three days out. That leaves us with approximately eight days in the valley," Joe answered and waited to see if there were any more questions.
"Looks like weíre finished here, Joe. Why donít you go back and tell Jiggs that Iíll let him know what we decide," Nelson told the nervous aid as he showed him to the door. Closing the door behind Joe, Nelson turned back to his men and asked, "Well what do you think?"
"Camping with Jiggs Stark. I canít think of a better way to spend two weeks," Crane said, a smirk on his face.
Nelson couldnít help laughing at the younger manís comment. Jiggs Stark was a hard man to get to know. He was a by the book military man and most of Seaviewís crew had had run ins with him. Nelson knew the rest of the crew felt the same way but would never say so openly. "All right, Lee. I know Jiggs can be a pain in the butt sometimes but I think heís serious about getting to know all of you without military restraints."
"Yes, Sir," Crane said, the smile leaving his face momentarily. "Admiral if this is on the level and Admiral Stark is serious about getting to know us then Iím in," he said.
"Count me in too, Sir," Sharkey said.
"Thatís what I thought, Francis. The rest of you can let me know tomorrow," Nelson told them.
"I donít need to wait till tomorrow. A trip to the Canadian Rockies sounds great, Iím in, Admiral," Kowalski grinned.
"Iíll have to talk with my wife but Iím pretty certain sheíd love the chance to visit her family for two weeks. Can I use the phone?" Patterson asked.
"Go ahead, Pat. Anyone else?" Nelson asked.
"I dig the mountains almost as much as the big waves. I think itíll be cool to climb a mountain. Iím in," Riley stated happily.
All eyes turned to Will Jamison who hadnít uttered a word through the whole exchange, "Well, Jamie, what do you say?"
"I thought I had till tomorrow?"
"You do Jamie," Nelson said.
Jamie grinned and stood up, "Do you really think Iíd let you men go into the wilds without professional medical personnel available. This crew is well known for finding ways to injure themselves and a mountain is a whole new battleground. Iím in and Iíll order the biggest medical kit I can carry, Captain," he said looking at Crane directly.
"Jamie!" Crane exclaimed.
"Hey, better safe than sorry, Lee. You do have a tendency to attract accidents," Nelson laughed.
"Iím in as well, Admiral. Jenny was very pleased with two weeks in Florida." Patterson said as he put the phone back in its cradle.
"I guess I need to let Jiggs know weíre all in. Iíll call you all with the details and departure times," Nelson told his men. Slowly they exited the room leaving only Nelson and Crane. "Whatís wrong Lee?"
"I just canít help feeling Admiral Stark has an ulterior motive for this trip."
"What kind of ulterior motive?"
"I donít know, Sir. I just hope he isnít too hard on the men. Iím used to it, they arenít."
"Come on, Lee, itís only two weeks," Nelson said.
"Two weeks in the wilderness with Admiral Stark and not a torpedo tube in sight to jettison him out of," Crane said, half serious.
Nelson couldnít hold back the grin that spread over his face. He knew Lee Crane had great respect for Jiggs Stark. He just didnít like how Stark treated his men sometimes.
Jiggs Stark looked at the group of men heíd selected to go with him. Theyíd arrived in Banff the night before and stayed in the hotel overnight. Heíd called them all early this morning in order to meet their guide at the Last Point parking lot. Theyíd reached the selected starting point an hour early and were waiting for Bryan Parker to put in an appearance.
"You sure Parker is going to show?" Nelson asked.
"Heíll show. From what Iíve heard the man is completely trustworthy. His reputation says it all." Stark said firmly.
"Letís hope he lives up to his reputation," Crane said softly.
"Maybe thatís him now," Sharkey said pointing to a man just emerging from a stand of trees. All eyes turned in the direction he indicated.
A tall blocky man with long red hair, and thick beard both streaked with grey came into view. He carried himself with an ear of confidence and a devil may care attitude. He had a large bulky backpack thrown over his shoulders and walked briskly towards them, "You must be the group of city slickers Iím supposed to guide to the lost valley," he said gruffly.
Before anyone could protest his arrogance, Stark interceded, "You must be Bryan Parker."
"Thatís right. I hope you all understand youíre in for a rough trip." Parker laughed.
"Weíve been on rough trips before," Crane said simply.
"Maybe you have," Parker said, looking the younger man up and down, "But given that you look like youíve never had to do a lick of hard work Iíll just reserve judgement." He turned away from Lee Crane and once again spoke to Stark, "Look, Admiral, itís your money and your show."
"Yes it is and Iíd like you to remember that when youíre addressing my party."
Parker let loose a hearty laugh, "This ainít no party, Admiral. This is a gruelling trek through harsh unforgiving wilderness. There are all kinds of wild animals out here."
"Mr. Parker, are you trying to discourage us?" Nelson asked.
"In a nutshell, yep. I donít think any of you are sturdy enough to make it," he said.
"Youíd be amazed at how sturdy this group is," Crane said fury at Parkers arrogance evident in his voice.
"You look like youíd be blown away by the first strong gust of wind," Parker stated.
"Weíve all weathered many harsh storms, Parker. Some of them would probably rival your mountain storms for severity. I donít think you have any idea what we can do. Ever been in the middle of the ocean during a hurricane or typhoon?" Crane asked.
"Canít say I have."
"Well everyone here has. So donít be so condescending until you see how well we carry ourselves. Iím sure I speak for everyone here when I say weíll pull our own weight, I hope you do the same," Crane told the mountain man.
Parker glared at Crane for what seemed an endless period of time. Suddenly, without warning the older manís face changed and he began to laugh, "I think maybe you do have some fight in you after all. Tell you what since youíre so all fired ready to face the dangers of these mountains youíll be our rear guard. That means youíll have to keep your eyes open for anyone or anything following us. Whatís your name?"
"Well then Lee Crane, do you know how to use a rifle?"
"Iíve used them before."
"Good, hereís yours," Parker said tossing one of two rifles he carried to Crane.
Crane caught the unfamiliar rifle in one hand, "Thanks, I guess," he said, checking the safety and then pushing the rifle into the strap on his pack.
Parker nodded approvingly, "Iíd like each of you to tell me your names before we begin," he said to the rest of the group.
Beginning with Stark each man took his turn giving his name. When introductions were finished, Parker again looked them over, "I hope your right, Crane. But Iím afraid this group looks like a sorry lot. Packs up. Letís move out," he said before anyone could protest.
Parker took the point, followed by Patterson, Kowalski, Riley, Nelson, Stark, Joe, Jamison, Sharkey, and finally Lee Crane held the rear.
"Where did you find this guy, Jiggs?" Nelson asked quietly.
"He came highly recommended by a friend of Joes. I hope his gruffness isnít going to cause problems," Stark said.
"My men are not going to let his attitude get to them. Theyíll pull their own weight and make Parker eat his words," Nelson said confidently.
Unbeknownst to either Stark or Nelson, Parker could hear their whole conversation, Ďthatís what I like to hear. I hope youíre right about your men Admiral Nelson because this ainít no walk in the park. Theyíre gonna need every ounce of strength and determination they can muster to make it through the next couple of weeks,í he thought.
Theyíd been on the trail for nearly two hours when Parker held up his hands and called for them to stop, "Weíll break here for fifteen minutes," he told them. "From here on weíll be making our own trail as we leave the regular trails behind. Crane," Lee looked up at his name, "Let me know when you want someone else to take the point."
"Iím fine," Crane told him.
"Just donít become overconfident out here. Youíre our rear guard and I donít want any surprises sneaking up on us. Understood?" Parker asked.
"Of course," Crane told him sitting back and drinking from his canteen.
"Donít go anywhere," Parker told them as he walked off into the trees.
"Why do you think heís picking on the Skipper," Patterson asked Kowalski and Riley.
"I donít think heís picking on him exactly," Kowalski told him. "I think itís more like seeing how far he can push him."
"I donít dig that mans attitude at all," Riley quipped.
"The Skipper can handle him," Kowalski said confidently, smiling as Patterson and Riley nodded their heads in agreement.
Sharkey sat next to Jamison and took a deep drink from his own canteen, "How ya doin Doc?" he asked.
"Actually, Chief, Iím doing fine, but we havenít gotten to the tough part yet according to Parker."
"Heís blunt isnít he?"
"Yes he is. I just hope he knows what heís doing."
"Me too, Doc. Iíd hate to think I was going through all this just to feed his ego." Sharkey said. Jamison laughed and they both lapsed into silence.
"On your feet, people," Parker said as he rejoined the group. "Letís get this show on the road. Donít forget to watch our backs, Crane."
"I wonít, Parker, You just make sure you watch our front," Crane shouted at Parkerís retreating back. He barely heard the mans laughter as he pushed his backpack up on his shoulders.
Theyíd stopped for lunch at mid afternoon. Parker let them relax and talk for over an hour before giving the signal to move out. Theyíd been moving steadily upwards for almost three hours now. No one had complained about the long stretch without a break and everyone seemed to be pulling his own weight. ĎTheyíre in better shape than I gave them credit for,í Parker thought as he pushed the group towards what would be their first campground. ĎMaybe Iíve misjudged them. Have to watch that Crane fella. He reminds me of myself a few years ago.í
Parker spotted a large bear on a hill about half a mile away. He knew most bears wouldnít attack unless they felt threatened. He elected not to say anything to the others, instead waited to see if his rear guard was up to the job. He was surprised when Crane called from the back.
"Hey, Parker, Are we far enough away from that bear?"
"Why? You afraid it might attack you?" Parker yelled back over his shoulder, not wanting the others to see his grin.
"Not at all. Bears donít usually attack unless they feel threatened. I just wanted to make sure you werenít planning on getting any closer to it," Crane answered.
Parker stopped and turned back to his point man, "Well done, Crane. I see youíve studied bears." He saw the others among the group turn and look in the direction of the bear.
Crane just grinned back at the older man, Ďyou would be surprised to know what else weíve studied. All you see is a bunch of greenhorns. I think youíre in for a few more surprises. Just give us a chance to prove what weíre made of,í he thought, smiling inwardly.
"Maybe I should let you take the point for awhile," Parker said.
"Only if you have a map. I donít know the location of the lost valley," Crane said.
"Sorry the map only exists in my head. Letís move out," Parker told them, not giving anyone a chance to protest.
They carried on for another hour before Parker called a halt for the night. He faced the group as they sat down and began removing their gear, "It gets dark around these parts mighty quick once the sun goes down so I suggest you each get your tents up before supper. Any objections?"
Without saying a word packs were opened and tents began to be pitched in a semi circle. Nelson had his up first and turned to help Sharkey. Joe came to the aid of Jiggs Stark who seemed ill at ease with the instructions.
Crane, Kowalski, Patterson and Riley had been trying to control their laughter as time after time Starkís tent collapsed.
"Who said these contraptions were so easy a five year old could do it," Stark grumbled. "Not that one, Joe!" Stark yelled as his aid pulled a string causing the whole thing to fold up again with Stark inside. "Of all the..."
"Now, Jiggs. This is supposed to be a get to know you better trip. Do you want us all to remember you being the grouch of the group," Nelson asked his friend.
Stark wore a sheepish grin on his face as he poked his head out from under the canvas, "Iíll have you know that Iíve never been called a grouch," he said.
"Not to your face anyway," Nelson told him and heard snickers from the rest of the group.
"Maybe your right about that, Harry. Think some of your people would help an old grouch get his tent up before nightfall?" he asked scrambling to his feet.
"I think that can be arranged," Nelson said. Before he was able to order any one to help, Patterson, Kowalski, and Riley began to put the tent together for him. Nelson found himself smiling at how easily his men seemed to do his bidding even before he asked them.
"You know, Harry. There may be something to the way you and Crane run your boat. I donít think Iíve ever had anyone come to my aid that quickly. Except, Joe, of course." Stark told him seriously.
"I told you it has merit," Nelson grinned.
Parker finished his tent and after watching and listening to the interchange between these men, walked over to join them, "Think I can get some volunteers to gather some firewood and bring some water from the creek?"
"Iíll get some wood," Kowalski said.
"Iíll bring the water," Riley said.
"Youíre Riley, right?" Parker asked.
"Well, Riley, youíll find two retractable water buckets outside my tent. Fill them both."
"Yes sir," Riley said grinning broadly. He began to sing loudly as he walked briskly towards the empty buckets.
"Youíre Kowalski?" Parker asked.
"Take someone with you and gather some dry wood. Donít stray to far, and watch out for skunks. I donít think we brought any tomato juice," Parker laughed at his own joke.
"Iíll go with you, Ski," Patterson volunteered.
"Thanks, Pat," Kowalski said and the two men walked towards the trees. It didnít take the two able-bodied seamen long to gather enough firewood for the long cold night. By the time they returned to the campsite the second time, a warm fire was blazing in a circle or large rocks.
A pot of coffee was brewing in the centre and on the side was another pot filled with the unmistakable aroma of baked beans. Biscuits were warming on the rocks.
Kowalski looked at Patterson, a grin on his face, "Looks like it could get windy up here tonight, Pat."
"A real gale force," Patterson agreed.
"Maybe you two knuckleheads should batten down the hatches," Sharkey said from behind the two men. He walked back towards his tent trying to keep himself from laughing outright at what the two men had thought was a private conversation. Once inside his tent he fell to the ground in laughter.
The next morning found Crane, Stark, and Nelson sitting by the fire drinking coffee, their breaths visible in the cold morning air, "What made you decide to ask us all to go camping? I mean Iíve never pictured you as the camping type," Crane asked.
"I donít think anybody has," Stark laughed, "Actually, I thought it would be good to get you all away from the sea and maybe see another side of you."
"The dry side," Crane said in a deadpan voice.
Nelsonís reaction was immediate as his laughter rose on the cold morning air, "I see you havenít lost your sense of humour, Lee."
"Is he always this sharp in the morning?" Stark asked Nelson.
"Most of the time," Nelson said and the three sat back to wait for the rest of the group to wake up.
By evening the group had made itís way to the bottom of an infrequently used trail. Parker called a halt and waited for everyone to take their seats, "Now this is where we separate the men from the boys. This is not really a trail but itís the only way to get to the lost valley. Itís rocky and in places we have to skirt the edges of some pretty steep inclines. So if any of you boys want to turn around nowís the time," he said looking at each man individually. "No takers," he said, "Then I guess we move on. We should make it about quarter of the distance up the trail this evening. By then itíll be getting dark and weíll be unable to go any further so weíll make camp there for the night. Maybe we can even catch a few trout in the creek for supper. You ready back there, Crane?"
"Ready whenever you are, Parker," Lee answered.
"Then letís move out," Parker said and without another word began the gruelling trek up the seldom used trail. He kept the group moving at a fairly swift pace that brought them through rough foliage. Trees stood straight and tall on either side of the men and sometimes it was necessary to force their way through.
On one such occasion a branch released to soon by Riley swung back catching Sharkey on the cheek. A small cut and some harsh language from the Chief was the final result. Jamie quickly placed a bandage on the cheek and the group moved out again. Sharkey insisted that he go in front of Riley this time, eliciting grins from the rest of the men, including Parker.
Two hours later and without any more mishaps they reached a small crest overlooking a small valley. A narrow creek ran along one side of the small valley. A forest of tall strait coniferous trees of varying types, including beautiful spruces so tall they blocked the view of the mountains dominated the rest of the flat ground. The grass was so green and in places had grown as tall as a medium sized man. Summer flowers were in full bloom and as the sun began to slide down over the mountains the valley seemed to be fading from reality.
"This is absolutely beautiful," Stark said, unaware heíd spoken aloud.
"Yes it is. Nature is full of beauty, but it can also be very dangerous and unforgiving," Parker told him. "Letís get down to the creek and make camp."
Happy and smiling the group hurried carefully down the small trail into the valley. Light was quickly fading and as soon as Crane had his tent up he found Nelson and the two made a small fireplace of rocks. By the time the others joined them they had a fair sized blaze going and were warming their hands over the flames.
"I wonder where Parker went," Stark said.
"I saw him go down by the creek," Patterson told him.
"Probably trying to catch some of those trout he mentioned. Anyone want to go help him?" Nelson asked.
"He probably doesnít need any help," Riley stated.
"Yeah, heíd probably think we were insulting him. Greenhorns that we are," Jamison said as he changed the small bandage on Sharkeyís cheek.
"Heís right, you know? None of us has ever been to the wilderness on a camping trip. I mean Iíve been to youíre cabin, Admiral and Iíve been on many missions that left me in the wilds of some country or another but as for being able to find our way out of these mountains I think we are better off with Parker as our guide. The man certainly seems to know his way around," Crane told them.
"Donít tell me you like the man, Skipper?" Sharkey asked.
"Itís not a matter of whether I like the man or not. But I do admire his ability to survive out here. I think Iíll go see how heís doing," Crane said, standing and walking towards the creek.
"Better take your flashlight, Captain," Stark said.
Lee Crane stopped by his tent and pulled his lightweight jacket from his pack and pulled it on over his red woollen sweater. As a last thought he grabbed his thermo lite gloves as well. The cold mountain air made his breath visible in the beam from his flashlight as he made his way down the rocky slope to the creek, "Parker, you here?" he called not wanting to startle the mountain man.
"Over here, Crane," Parker called from approximately a hundred yards downstream. "Is there a problem?"
"None that I know of," Crane answered as he made his way along the slippery bank. "I thought Iíd come down to see if you wanted some help."
"Got a pole?"
"No, but I do have a knife, some string and hooks," Crane told him.
"Just what do you expect to do with them?" Parker asked smugly.
"I just thought Iíd find a pole and attach the line to it. To bad thereís no bamboo around," Crane said as he swept the area with his flashlight. His eyes fell on a long slender stick lying next to the creek. He reached down and picked it up, "This should do nicely," he said making a hole in one end he tied the string around it.
Parker watched with growing admiration as Crane expertly tied the hook to the line and reached into Parkerís own bait can for a night crawler, "So you didnít think of everything, Captain."
"Actually, I did. I just had a feeling youíd have enough of these and I wouldnít have to bother."
"Tou-cheí, Captain Crane. I guess you do know some things about survival."
Lee smiled, "Any luck so far?"
"Caught two good ones but we need a few more. Smoke?" Parker asked offering a newly opened package.
"Donít smoke, hey. Wish I could quit myself," Parker said as Crane took up residence on the rock next to him. "Whatís the rest of em up to?"
"If I know the Admiral theyíre probably getting things ready."
"Ready for what?"
"For whatever we bring..." Crane stopped talking as he felt something grab his line and he began to pull it to shore.
Parker picked up his flashlight and shone it towards the lake. The broad beam of light showed the ripples in the water where Crane and the fish fought each other. With a flick of his wrist Crane pulled the fish out of the water and Parker followed itís path with the flashlight. Parker reached the trout first and picked it up by the gills, "Not bad at all, Crane. Couple more this size and our workís done," he said pulling out the hook and dropping the fish in the bucket with the others.
It wasnít long before the two men made their way back to the campground. The smell of coffee wafted towards them and they hurried their pace just the tiniest bit. "You get us a coffee and Iíll clean these up, deal?" Parker asked.
"Deal," Crane said a satisfied smile on his face.
"Sounds like you and Parker have come to some kind of understanding," Nelson said.
"Letís just say he doesnít think Iím such a greenhorn anymore."
"Showed him how you could make a fishing pole with a little string and a hook did you?" Nelson asked.
"Yes, sir. Even caught a few with it. Thanks for the lessons."
"Youíre welcome, Lee. I guess since you and Parker caught the fish the rest of us can cook them up. Why donít you sit by the fire and enjoy that coffee?"
"I will, Sir. As soon as I bring one to Parker."
Nelson smiled at Craneís retreating back, ĎLooks like you and Parker are fast becoming friends. Now why doesnít that surprise me?í he asked himself.
An hour later each man held a plate of fried trout, "Oh, man, I donít remember ever tasting anything so good in all my life." Riley stated between mouthfuls.
"How old are you Riley?" Sharkey asked.
"Why, Chief?" Riley asked.
"Because if Cookie was to hear what you just said he might decide youíve lived long enough," Sharkey told him, sending the others into laughter at Rileyís innocent look.
"You wouldnít?" Riley asked.
"Wouldnít what?" Sharkey asked smiling at the younger mans pathetic look.
"You wouldnít tell Cookie," Riley answered.
"Nah, kid. I was only kidding ya. What happens out here stays out here?"
"Thanks, Chief," Riley said and returned to his half eaten meal.
Parker had them on the trail early the next morning and once again Crane took the rear. Joe stayed back and walked beside him.
"How long have you been Admiral Starkís aid?" Crane asked him curiously.
"About three years. Why?" Joe asked.
"Just wondered. He seems like a hard man to work for. You know what I mean, a by the book Navy man."
"Most of the time he is. But he also cares about the people who work for him. Besides since heís been spending so much time with Admiral Nelson and the rest of you heís mellowed out some. Just donít tell him I said so."
"Hey, your secrets safe with me," Crane told him.
"Thanks, Lee," Joe said realizing he might have said too much.
"Youíre welcome, Joe," Crane grinned.
"What do you think your captain is telling my aid?" Stark asked Nelson.
"Probably telling him he could get a much better appointment than working for you," Nelson told his friend.
"Humph," Stark replied. "Maybe Iíd better go back and make sure Iím not going to lose my aid."
"Now, Jiggs, donít you trust your own man?" Nelson asked.
"I trust mine but when it comes to Cranes way of thinking Iím afraid he might convince Joe that Iím a tyrant."
"Arenít you?" Nelson asked trying hard to mask a grin.
"How can you say that, Harry?" Stark asked seriously.
"Kidding, Jiggs. Whereís your sense of humour?" Nelson said, his easy laughter bubbling to the surface.
Stark, realizing heíd been had by his friend joined in the laughter, "I owe you one, Harry."
"Itís strange to hear Admiral Stark laughing," Sharkey said to Jamison.
"Isnít it though? Almost makes the man seem human," Jamie smiled, knowing they were far enough back from the two Admirals that their conversation wasnít in danger of being overheard.
"I donít know if Iíd ever call him human. Heís always been hard on the crew when heís on Seaview."
"Actually, Sharkey, he didnít seem so bad on the last trip. Remember that little incident in the mess?" Jamison asked.
"How can I forget," Sharkey looked horrified at the memory of the little disagreement between Kowalski and Patterson. The two men had been arguing so loudly and when Sharkey had stepped through the door he was met with a tray of food. Kowalski had just been going to sit down. He knew it had been an accident but he had still been close to blowing his stack. But before he could go into a tirade Stark had walked in and started laughing. Heíd told the Chief to go change and that accidents do happen. This had floored all three men involved.
"Hey, Ski, You having fun?" Patterson asked.
"Actually, Pat, I am. How about you?" Kowalski asked.
"I admit things are going better than I thought they would."
"I gotta say I didnít mind seeing Admiral Stark having trouble with his tent," Riley said from behind them.
"Yeah that was a funny sight. Especially when Joe pulled the wrong string," Patterson laughed.
"Did you see the scowl on the Admirals face when he crawled out. I thought Joe was a goner for sure," Kowalski said.
"Poor guy. Iíd hate to have his job," Riley said.
"Ok, fellas. I think itís time for a break," Parker called.
"Thank God," Sharkey said, dropping his pack from his shoulder and falling to the hard ground.
Parker smiled at him, "I gave you your chance to turn back."
"I know ya did," Sharkey glared daggers at the man. "Donít worry about me, Iíll be ready to go whenever you give the order."
"I hope so," Parker said, "Because I figure on pushing out in fifteen minutes and weíll see the Lost Valley by mid afternoon. Believe me the trip will be worth it."
"I just hope itís everything itís cracked up to be," Stark stated.
"It is and more. I wonít spoil it by telling you anything else. Weíll be spending a week there. That should give you all a chance to commune with nature. Have your snacks and weíll move out shortly," he said.
Bright sunlight shone down on the small group of men as they munched on crackers and cheese as well as dried fruits.
Crane was amazed at the difference in temperature when the sun was out. He had removed the lining from his three in one parka and wore it as a shirt. Heíd noticed that the others had done the same thing. He looked at his watch and saw that their time was almost up. Standing he shouldered his bag and smiled as the others did the same.
True to his word, Parker called for them to move out and the final leg of the trek began. Animals were plentiful in this neck of the woods. They spotted wolverines, Caribou, bears, big horned sheep, deer as well as the smaller rabbits and squirrels. Birds sang there lonesome calls in the trees as the men made there way up to the top of what appeared to be a small hill.
To everyoneís surprise an open valley lay before them. At the opposite end of the valley they saw snow covered mountains so high that the peaks were shrouded in clouds. Smaller mountains lay to the left and right and only a few hearty trees dotted the landscape. The valley itself was covered with a lush green grass broken here and there by large boulders displaced from the rocky crevice they stood on. A wide creek ran down the centre of the valley, fed by a beautiful cascading waterfall that flowed from the mountain on the right. Numerous multicoloured wildflowers peppered the lush grass.
"Dig that valley," Rileyís voice was the first to break the pristine silence.
"It sure is beautiful," Joe stated.
Parker had been taking people, men and women alike, to this remote piece of nature for nearly thirty years. He loved to watch the look of awe that never ceased to come over their faces when they got their first glimpse of the untouched valley. Untouched that was by mans constant need to build on natureís already perfect skyline.
Parker resented the way some people were intent on destroying the natural habitat of the animals. He also knew that it was inevitable that this valley would someday be used to build cabins and tourist attractions, but for the moment he could still enjoy the quiet solitude he felt here.
"You fellas want to stay here on the cliff all night or are we gonna go down and enjoy the valley before it gets dark?" Parker asked.
"Itís not that late, Parker," Nelson told him.
"Time as a way of passing swiftly if youíre not careful, Admiral. I suggest we get camp set up and then youíll be free to enjoy this valley for a full week. Follow me and be careful. The trail down is fairly steep and treacherous. Wouldnít want your Doc there to have to work on his vacation," Parker grinned and turned to the trail.
The trek into the valley proved to be as difficult as Parker had told them. More than once they found themselves sliding down the shale-covered trail. After almost an hour of walking carefully down the treacherous terrain the ground levelled off and they were able to make their way to the creek.
The nine navy men dropped their packs to the ground and walked to the creek. The water was so clear they could see trout swimming around in a deep pool towards the centre.
Parker gave them a few minutes alone and then joined them at the waters edge.
"Look at the size of those trout, Skipper," Kowalski said.
"I see them Ski," Crane smiled as he turned from Kowalski to Nelson, "You think maybe some of these guys are related to Old Scamp?" he asked.
Nelson laughed at the picture that name conjured up, one of Lee Crane catching the legend of Eagle Lake and then releasing it back into the water. Jack Guthrie reminded Nelson of this every time he called about the cabin, "I think they could be. Although Old Scamp was a giant among trout."
This brought a bust of laughter from Stark, "I thought that saying was a giant among men, Harriman."
"It was but I changed it to suit the situation," Nelson told him.
"Youíve always been able to do that," Stark grinned.
Nelson ignored the remark and dipped his hand into the clear water. The cold was not as intense as he thought it would be and he grinned, Ďmaybe Iíll be able to get clean after allí he thought.
"What are you thinking about, Sir?"
Nelson turned to face Lee Crane, "Well, Lee I was just thinking Iíd like to take a plunge in that pool out there."
"Be my guest, Admiral. But Iíd advise you to wait till tomorrow. Youíll find it a lot more comfortable climbing out of the water when the sun is up. Gets cold mighty fast around these parts," Parker told him.
"Iíll keep that in mind," Nelson said.
"Iím going to set some traps. Maybe catch a rabbit or two for supper. You fellas might wanna get your tents up. Maybe someone can get some wood together and start a fire as well," Parker suggested as he moved towards the trees. He turned at the last minute and warned, "Oh, by the way stay close to camp and keep the fire going. This place is known for its wild animals and sometimes they donít go by the rules."
"What rules are you talking about?" Sharkey asked a little nervous.
"The one that says that animals donít attack unless they feel threatened. Some animals are just plain mean," Parker said and walked away.
By seventeen hundred the tents were up, a fire was blazing in a circle of rocks, coffee was bubbling on a flat rock heated from below by tiny flames.
Nelson picked up a long twig and placed the end into the fire. When the end of the twig ignited, he touched it to the tip of his cigarette and inhaled hungrily. Dropping the twig back in the fire Nelson surveyed the men seated around the makeshift fireplace, "I owe you an apology, Jiggs," he said as he sat on a large flat rock.
"Why is that, Harry?" Stark asked.
"Well, when you first suggested this camping trip I had my doubts. I thought for sure youíd have my crew going crazy trying to live up to your by the book expectations. Instead I find that youíve left the Navy behind and are actually having fun."
"I told you I wasnít a stick in the mud."
"You did?" Nelson asked.
"I did." Stark replied.
"And when was that?"
"Iíd say it was just after you introduced me to your crew. You chose your men wisely, Harriman, and Iíll be the first to admit that even Iíve learned a few things from them."
Nelson knew how hard it was for his long time friend to admit that heíd been wrong when heíd told him that his unorthodox crew would only cause problems and he smiled, "Well, Jiggs, Iím glad to hear you say that because Iím sure youíll be joining us onboard Seaview again."
"Iíd like that, Harry. Do you think your Captain can handle the two of us looking over his shoulder?" Stark asked loud enough for Crane to hear.
"What do you say, Lee?" Nelson asked.
"Admiral Stark, your welcome to look over my shoulder anytime," Crane said a smile on his face."
"I wonder where Parker is," Sharkey said.
"I was just thinking the same thing, Chief. Maybe heís lost," Patterson said doubtfully.
"Parker, lost? I donít think so. Heíll show up," Crane told them.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Crane," Parkerís voice came from outside the circle of light made by the fire. He walked into the light with three large rabbits on a spit. Placing them over the open fire he picked up the coffee pot and poured himself a cup. Sipping the strong black liquid, he smiled, "Not bad. You fellas ever have wild rabbit before?"
"Not me and please donít tell me it tastes like chicken," Riley said.
"You could never mistake wild rabbit for chicken, Riley." Nelson told him. "Iíd say wild rabbit has a gamy taste. Some people canít stand the taste at all."
"I see youíre a connoisseur of wild game, Admiral," Parker said.
"Iíve eaten my fair share. I think most of us have. In our line of work you donít always get to eat in restaurants."
"It wasnít meant as a putdown, Admiral. Iím beginning to think I had you city fellas pegged wrong. Figured you all grew up in well to do homes and had everything done for you. But from what Iíve seen of you all in the last few days I figure I owe you all apologies."
There was a few moments of stunned silence until Lee Crane spoke up, "If you really mean that then Iím sure we all accept your apology."
"I meant what I said," Parker told them and turned the spits on the rocks. "I can be a condescending SOB sometimes. Itís just that most of the groups that hire me expect me to do everything for them. Iíve seen how you fellas work and I know you can pull your own weight."
"Parker," Crane said, "If your going out tomorrow Iíd like to tag along."
"I could use the company, Crane. Anyone else want to tag along. Weíre gonna go check the traps and thereís a cave or two Iím sure youíll enjoy."
"Iíd like to tag along. If thatís ok?" Ski asked.
"It sounds great," Stark said, " I think Iíd like to see the cave."
"Caves are not something I dig." Riley grinned, "Iíll stay at the camp."
"Anyone else?" Parker asked.
"It looks like itís just the four of us," Crane said when nobody else spoke up.
"The rest of you donít stray to far from camp. I know you can handle yourselves but I donít want to have to go looking for anyone who happens to go to far. These mountains can surprise even the most experienced camper," Parker told them.
"Weíll stay close by," Nelson said, a mischievous grin on his face. Before anyone could say anything else he asked, "So, Parker, how long before the supper?"
"Well now, rabbit is a food best served well done. So Iíd say another half hour," Parker answered.
For the next half hour they talked about plans for the next day. Crane, Stark, Kowalski and Parker were to leave before sunrise and would not be returning until late in the evening. The rest of the men were to stay near camp and relax.
Nelson crawled out of his tent just as Parker took his small group and headed towards the opposite end of the valley. An overwhelming sense of foreboding nearly made him call them back. Something was making him uneasy and he glanced around the clearing trying to figure out what had suddenly made him so jumpy. The departing men had left a small fire in the rock fireplace and it cast an eerie glow on the surrounding area. He shivered in the dark, ĎCome on Nelson, youíre just not used to the unfamiliar surroundings,í he thought and went back inside his tent.
Crane had the same uneasy feelings, but didnít voice them to the others. He turned his head and looked over his shoulder at the retreating fire. He felt the hairs on the nape of his neck stand on end but forced himself to turn away from the camp, ĎThe Admiral can look after himself,í he thought.
An hour later, with dawn breaking against the mountains, Nelson sat by the fire drinking coffee. The feelings of uneasiness had intensified as time went on and heíd been unable to go back to sleep. Hearing footsteps behind him he turned expecting to find one of his men only to find himself staring down the barrel of a shotgun.
Nelson put his cup down and slowly stood up, "What do you want?"
"Call the others out here," the man behind the gun told him.
"Theyíre gone," Nelson tried to stall.
"Four of em are gone. There should be five others in those tents over there. Now call them out. Oh, youíd better tell them not to make any sudden moves because thereís one of my men at each of the tents," he said shoving the gun at Nelson.
"All right," Nelson said, knowing he had no choice. "You guys want to come out here. We seem to have company."
"Well said. Now sit down and behave yourself."
Nelson had no choice but to do as he was told. "Who are you?" he asked the man.
"Donít matter who I am. All that matters is that you got something that I want."
"Supplies. We been in these mountains so long that I canít even remember what a good cup of coffee tastes like."
Patterson was the first to join them by the fireplace, followed by Jamie, Joe, Riley, and Sharkey, who was grumbling about not having time to finish dressing as he buttoned his jacket. Four other men with guns joined them at the fire.
"Care to tell us who you are now?" Nelson asked.
"Names Pete Summerton. These boys are my buddies you might say."
"Pete Summerton. That name sounds familiar," Jamie said.
"I bet it does. You and you," he said pointing to Jamie and Riley, "Take these and put them on your friends. Make sure their hands are behind their backs." Summerton said throwing some ropes at the two men.
Jamie and Riley did as they were told and then sat on the ground next to Nelson. "Ronnie tie those two up will ya?"
"Sure thing, Pete," the man named Ronnie said and did as he was told.
Pete reached for Nelsonís coffee and drained the cup, "Not bad, but Iíve had better," he said. "Why donít you fellas tell me who you are?" When no one spoke up Pete put his gun to Joeís head and warned, "I said I want to know who you are," he grated out.
"Iím Harriman Nelson, these men work for me. The man on the end is Will Jamison."
"Ask him whoís the pretty boy, Pete?" asked a burly, red haired man who had his hand resting on Rileyís shoulder.
"Keep your hands off me," Riley shouted trying to shake off the offending hand.
"Leave him alone, Jake. We have other things to do." Summerton told the man. "Kindly finish the introductions, Nelson," he said returning his attention to the Admiral.
"The man whoís head youíre pointing your gun at is Joe Pearson, next to him is Francis Sharkey, and thatís Stu Riley," Nelson said pointing to the frightened young blonde. He knew Riley was as brave as anyone else when it came to trouble but when faced with a man like Jake he had a right to look upset and scared.
"Now you fellas just sit there and relax. Jake, you and Foster fix us some breakfast. Ronnie, take Harp and Billy and make sure the other four are not around."
"Sure, Pete," Ronnie said and hurried away from the fire.
"How long before the others come back, Nelson?" Summerton asked.
"Your guess is as good as mine," Nelson said and was hit viciously with the butt of the shotgun.
"Hey, thereís no need of that," Patterson yelled.
"Then tell me when the others will be back or Iíll hit him again!" Summerton told him.
Patterson saw the blood running from a cut on Nelsons forehead. He didnít want to give away any information but when he saw the gun being raised for another strike he knew he had no choice, "All right, Iíll tell you. They said theyíll be back sometime tomorrow," he lied.
"I donít believe you. That guide of yours would never take anyone out in the mountains without proper clothing and tents," Summerton said and brought the gun back even further.
"Parker said theyíd be staying in a cave so they wouldnít need a tent," Patterson said quickly.
"Heís telling the truth," Jamison said.
"And why should I believe you?" Summerton asked.
"Look thereís no way for us to prove weíre telling the truth. Youíre just gonna have to take our word for it."
"I donít take anybody at their word. But thereís nothing I can do about it right now."
"Hey, Pete. Breakfast is ready," Foster said.
"Looks like you guys got a reprieve. At least until we eat," Summerton laughed and grabbed a plate of food.
"Admiral, you okay?" Sharkey asked.
"Iím fine, Francis. The gun just glanced off the side of my head," Nelson said reassuringly.
"I sure hope the Skipper comes back early," Sharkey whispered.
"Me too, Chief, Me too."
"You two be quiet over there," Summerton told them.
Ronnie, Harp and Billy came back and joined the others. They reported that there was no sign of the four missing men as they helped themselves to the food.
Lee Crane couldnít shake the feeling that something wasnít right. Theyíd been hiking for over two hours and he kept fighting the urge to turn back.
Kowalski, whoíd been walking beside him noticed the tension on Craneís face, "Skipper," he said pulling Crane out of his stupor.
"What is it, Ski?" Crane asked.
"Thatís what I wanted to ask you, sir. Last night you were anxious to get started but today it seems like youíd rather be back at the camp," Kowalski said.
"Youíre right, Ski. I just have a feeling somethingís wrong."
"You want to go back?" Kowalski asked.
"Actually I was thinking just that. Hey Parker!" Crane called, the feelings of dread intensifying.
Parker and Stark were approximately three hundred yards further up the trail. Parker stopped and called back, "What is it, Crane?"
"Kowalski and I are heading back to camp," Crane told him.
"Giving up already?" Parker asked surprised.
"No. I just think somethingís wrong back at camp," Crane told him.
"You Psychic?" Parker laughed.
"I wouldnít laugh, Parker. I know enough about these men to know that if one of them says he feels something is wrong then it usually is. Maybe we should all go back," Stark suggested.
"I knew I should never have agreed to let you all come with me," Parker said.
"Look, Parker, no one says you have to go back but it looks like the three of us are," Crane told the mountain man.
"It would be just my luck to let you go and the three of you got lost. Iíd be forced to spend the rest of the week listening to your friends back their complain that it was all my fault for letting you go. So I guess we all go back. Remind me not to let any of you greenhorns tag along with me again," Parker said pushing in front of a startled Kowalski. "Well come on then youíre the ones whoíre in such an all fired hurry to get back."
Crane smiled in spite of his fears as Parker shoved off in a huff, "Thanks, Parker," he called after the mans retreating back.
"Yeah right," Parker mumbled.
The sun shone brightly over the mountains by mid morning. A small breeze swept down into the valley carrying with it the fresh scent of wildflowers and pine. It promised to be another breathtaking day in the mountains. The silence of the valley seemed unnatural.
The silence was broken suddenly by harsh laughter as two men walked around a third blonde haired man. Jake and Harp had pulled Riley away from the others and made him sit by himself.
"Come on, Pretty boy. Who would you prefer to go for a little walk with?" Jake asked the young blonde.
"I donít feel like walking," Riley said in a quiet, withdrawn voice.
"Now thatís not very neighbourly of you. Tell you what, Harp, Iíll flip you for him."
"All right, Jake. Here use my coin," Harp told him.
"No way. I know all about your two-headed coin. Weíll use this rock," Jake spit on one side of the rock and tossed it in the air.
"Dry," Harp yelled.
The rock dropped to the ground, wet side up. "Come on, pretty boy, on your feet." Jake laughed.
Riley had no choice but to do as he was told. He slowly levered himself up and stood in front of Jake
"I got something real special for you here," he said pulling a set of silver handcuffs from his pocket, "These used to be mine but now youíre gonna wear them." He forced Riley to turn around and placed the metal cuffs on his wrists. "Perfect fit," he laughed as he jerked them tight and pushed Riley in front of him.
The last thing Riley saw as they walked by the fire was the angered look on Harriman Nelsonís face.
"Donít let him do this Pete!" Nelson yelled angrily.
"What Jake does is no concern of mine. As long as he doesnít interfere with my plans then heís welcome to have his fun. Now you just shut up or Iíll have to kill one of your friends here," he said waving his gun at the others.
Riley walked towards the strand of trees. He kept looking around hoping for something that could get him out of this situation. ĎIf only we hadnít agreed to go on this trip,í he thought.
"I think we should have some privacy behind those rocks," Jake told him.
Riley turned and looked at the evil face of his tormentor, "Youíre crazy," he said hoping to goad Jake into killing him before he did something worse.
"I can always carry you, pretty boy," Jake leered.
"No!" Rileyís voice betrayed his fear.
"Then move it," Jake said shoving him with the gun.
"My apologies, Crane. Looks like you were right," Parker whispered.
"We have to help, Riley," Kowalski said quietly.
"We will, Kowalski," Stark told him.
"I think theyíre headed for that clump of trees and rocks. Iím going to try and get around it. If I can get to the rocks before they do Iíll have a chance of surprising whoever that is and hopefully get Riley out of there. You three wait here."
"With all due respect, Captain. Iím senior officer here and I should give the orders," Stark said.
"With all due respect, Admiral. We are not on a boat now. Iíve had more experience with terrorists than you have, so let me do the job I know," Crane told him.
Stark realised he was right, "Youíre right, Captain. What do you want me to do?"
"Cover me. Thereís a good chance that he isnít alone and his buddies are back at the camp."
"Do you think the others are alive?" Kowalski asked.
"Itís not easy to get rid of our guys, Ski," Crane told him. "Parker, donít shoot him unless thereís no other choice. Iíd like to see if we can get some information out of him."
"Youíve got it, Crane," Parker said sighting down the barrel of his gun.
"Stop right there, Pretty boy. This looks like as good a place as anywhere else. Sit down," Jake ordered.
"No," Rileyís voice was barely above a whisper.
"Iím not gonna hurt ya pretty boy. I just wanna have a little fun." Jake said and placed his gun up against a tree.
"No" Riley tried to shout but his mouth felt as if heíd been eating dry soda crackers. He slowly backed away from the bigger man but was soon forced up against a large rock. "Please, donít," he begged.
"I do love it when you beg," Jake grinned and reached for the smaller man but found his hand held in a vicelike grip. "What the hell!" he exclaimed angrily.
"Skipper!" Riley exclaimed happily.
"I think you should pick on someone your own size. Someone whose hands are not tied behind their back," Crane told the man in a quiet but dangerous voice.
"Who the hell are you?" Jake asked.
"Letís just say Iím a friend of his," Crane said pulling the mans hand away from Riley.
"Thank God, Skipper," Rileyís relieved voice cried.
"Stay there, Riley. Iím going to show this guy what I think of him." Crane released the mans hand and hit him full force with his fist in the face. Blood spurted from the mans split lip even as he fell to the ground.
"Hey! You sucker punched me!" Jake screamed angrily.
"Stand up," Crane told him. "This time Iím warning you. Iím going to knock you down again."
"Youíre just another pretty boy," Jake said as he clambered to his feet. "Maybe Iíll have some fun with you first."
Crane didnít say a word. His anger over what this animal had intended to do to Riley overwhelmed all other emotions. He planned to teach this man a lesson heíd never forget.
Jake angrily rushed Seaviewís Captain only to find his nemesis had sidestepped out of the way. Crane lifted his foot and pushed against the stumbling manís rear, hard enough to send the him headfirst into the dirt. Jake stood up shaking the dirt and grass from his face and mouth.
"Youíll pay for that," and he lunged again. This time he managed to catch Crane a glancing blow to the right cheek. "Iím going to kill you," he screamed as he swung wildly.
Lee Crane had had enough. He hit the man over and over until he fell to the ground. Blood running from a broken nose and split lip. He was about to hit him again when he felt himself gently restrained.
"Thatís enough, Captain," Jiggs Starkís voice penetrated his anger and he pushed away from the beaten man. Stark pulled his canteen from his pack and passed it to Crane.
"Thanks, Admiral," he said taking a large swallow. "Howís Riley?" he asked when he had his fill.
"You stopped that brute before he had a chance to do anything. Rileyís fine. He just wantsí the cuffs off."
"I can do that. Have you got a first aid kit in your pack?" Crane asked.
"Of course, are you hurt?" Stark asked worriedly.
"No, Sir. I just need pin or something like that to pick the lock."
"Oh," Stark grinned and pulled the kit from his pack. Within a minute the cuffs were off Riley and placed on Jake.
"Who is he?" Stark asked pointing to the man on the ground, "and how many others are there?"
"His name is Jake. I donít know his last name," Riley said.
"I do," Parker said looking intently at the man.
"You do?" Crane asked.
"Yep. His names Jake Trent. Him and five others escaped from Edmonton Maximum Security Prison over near the Alberta and British Columbia border. Happened about four or five weeks ago. Looks like theyíve been holed up here ever since. These guys are dangerous, Crane," he said.
"I figured that," Crane told him. He walked over to the unconscious man and poured some of the cold water from the canteen over his face.
Jake sputtered and tried to pull away from the water, "Hey, whaddaya think youíre doin?" he coughed.
"I need some answers," Lee told him.
"You wonít get any from me," Jake said firmly.
"Weíll see about that," Stark said and began whispering in Craneís ear.
"Are you sure, Admiral," Crane said pulling away.
"Iím sure, Captain," Stark grinned, his back to Jake Trent.
"All right. If thatís what you want. Riley, Ski, Parker," he called. When the three men turned their attention to Crane he explained just loud enough for Trent to hear, "Snakebite Stark here wants some time alone with Trent. He thinks he can use his pet to make him talk."
"His pet. You mean the rattlesnake?" Kowalski asked, catching unto the game quickly.
"Thatís right and I donít want to be here when he pulls it out of his pack. Remember what happened the last time the Admiral took it out."
Crane watched as Trentís face became whiter. Heíd played a hunch that like most people Trent would have a slight fear of snakes, especially poisonous ones. "Last chance, Trent. You want to answer some questions from me or should we leave you alone with Snakebite."
"He ainít got no snake," Jake said, his shaky voice betraying his fear.
"Maybe Iíll let you take him out of my pack for me. You guys get out of here while I have my fun," Stark laughed as he picked up his pack.
"Call us when heís ready to talk," Crane said as he followed, Riley, Ski and Parker away from the prisoner.
"Oh youíll know, Captain," Stark laughed evilly.
"No!" Trent called to the departing men. "Come back. Please. Iíll tell you anything."
"Are you sure," Crane called.
"Iím sure. Iím sure. Tell him to keep that snake away from me," Jake yelled.
"Leave the snake where it is, Snakebite," Crane told a grinning Stark.
"Canít I just let him bite him once?" Stark asked.
"No! Please, I said Iíll talk. What do you want to know?" Jake cried.
"How many others are at the camp?" Crane asked.
"Five." Jake Trent said nervously.
"How many guns?" Stark asked still holding his pack.
"Pete has a shotgun and a pistol. Ray, Ronnie and Billy have pistols. Harp has the same as me."
"Ammo?" Parker asked.
"Just whatís left in the guns." Jake said.
"Very good, Trent." Crane said and turned to Riley, "why donít you find something to gag our guest with?"
"Gladly, Skipper," Riley said the colour returning to his face.
"Parker, Is there any way to sneak up on the camp without being seen?" Crane asked.
"As a matter of fact there are a few. Are we gonna do a little search and destroy?"
"Weíre going to give it a try," Crane said.
Nelson couldnít believe how badly things had changed overnight. Yesterday theyíd been having a great time, talking around the fire and eating roasted rabbit. Now they were prisoners in their own camp. Jake had Riley off somewhere doing God knows what and there was nothing they could do.
"Hey, Pete. Shouldnít Jake be back by now?" Harp whined.
"Whatís the matter, Harp, Jealous?" Ronnie asked.
"Shut up, Ronnie!" Harp yelled.
"Thatís enough you two. Harp, take Foster and go look for them. Tell Jake I said to get back here now. I think itís time we got out of here."
"Why do you always give the orders, Pete?" Harp asked.
"Because I do! You want to make something of it, Harp?"
Harp had never been a brave man and the look on Pete Summertonís face was enough to make his legs turn to jelly, "No, no, Pete. I was just funning ya. Canít you take a joke?" he whined.
"No, Harp. I donít like jokes," Summertonís tone was deadly as he stalked the other man.
"Iím going Pete. Iím going. Come on, Foster. Letís go find Jake," Harp said and hurried out of the camp.
Summerton smiled. Heíd always been proud of his knack for intimidation. It had become an experiment for him when heíd been in school and even more so when heíd been charged and tried for the murder of his ex wifeís boyfriend. He always thought he could intimidate his ex into saying anything he wanted her to. Instead sheíd sat on the stand and told everything sheíd seen him do. As soon as he was out of these mountains he was going to find her and make her pay. For now heíd be happy just intimidating the men who escaped with him. They were all convicted murderers but neither one of them had any backbone. Maybe he could intimidate the four prisoners, "Hey, Nelson," the Admiral looked up, "Are you scared?"
"Iíd have to be stupid not to be scared. Weíre at your mercy," Nelson stated.
"Well said. The only problem is I donít believe in mercy. When we leave here today youíll all be dead."
"I figured as much. Can you at least tell us who you are?"
"Why not. We escaped from Prison four and a half weeks ago. Weíve been hiding out up here ever since. We lucked out two days ago when we spotted your group. Figured youíd have enough supplies with you to last us for a while. So we waited till you got settled in and were sure you werenít expecting anybody else. Then it was just a matter of waiting till your guard was down. Itís strange how man lets his guard down in a land thriving with wild animals yet heís always ready for trouble when he knows there are men around."
Nelson shifted uncomfortably, "Can we have some water?" he asked.
"Why not. I guess weíll call it your last request," Summerton laughed and reached for a canteen.
"Why couldnít you have just kept your mouth shut, Harp?" Foster asked. "Because of you I gotta be out here looking for Jake and that pretty boy instead of relaxing with a coffee."
"Iím getting sick of Pete orderin us all around like he was king or something," Harp said ignoring the other comments Foster made.
"You backed down pretty quick when he cornered ya back at camp," Foster grinned.
"Thatís cause I didnít know if youíd back me up. Would you?"
"I donít think so, Harp. Ainít afraid of you but thereís something about Pete Summerton that makes my blood run cold. The man donít care what he has to do or who he has to hurt."
"Youíre not gonna tell him what I just said, are you?" Harp asked worriedly.
"Naw, it ainít none of my business. Letís just forget it and find Jake.
"This who youíre looking for?" Crane asked as he jumped from behind a rock and shoved a bound and gagged Jake Trent into his friends. The thee men went sprawling and Kowalski and Parker grabbed the newcomers guns as they flew from their hands.
"Stand up, fellas," Parker said. Harp and Foster got to their feet on their own but Crane had to help Jake to his feet.
"I must say you guys are making it easier for us," Stark said grinning broadly as he helped Riley tie up and gag the two new prisoners.
"That still leaves three men at the camp," Kowalski said.
"Yes it does. I think we should stick to the original plan. Parker and I will circle around and come at them from the water. Ski, you and Admiral Stark can come at them from the rock formation on the north side of the camp."
"What about me?" Riley asked.
"Iím going to leave you to guard these three," Crane told the younger man.
"But, Sir," Riley started.
"No buts, Riley. Youíve been through enough and I need you to make sure these guys donít get away. Think you can handle it?" Crane asked.
"Yes, Sir. If thatís what you want."
"It is, Stu. I need to be sure they wonít be coming after us and that means someone has to stay behind and guard them. Can I count on you to do that?"
"Yes, Sir," Riley said grinning broadly.
Crane checked Harpís gun and found it had a full round of ammo. He passed it to Riley, "Know how to use this?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir." Riley said checking the safety.
"Very good, Riley," Crane said, glad to see that the younger man was comfortable with the unfamiliar gun. "Someone will come get you as soon as we have everything under control."
"Aye, Sir," Riley said.
"Stay sharp, Riley," Kowalski said seriously.
"I will, Ski."
Summerton drained the last of his coffee and began to pace back and forth in the clearing. Heíd sent Foster and Harp out to find Jake and they still hadnít returned. It was now mid afternoon and he was becoming impatient. He wanted to kill these men and be on their way before the others came back. Suddenly he stiffened and turned his full attention towards Will Jamison, "You lied," he said and shoved his gun up under the terrified mans chin.
"N...No," Jamison stammered.
"Then where are my men?" Summerton grated out through clenched teeth.
"You sent them out to look for Jake," Nelson said trying to divert Peteís attention from the hapless doctor.
"Shut up! I didnít ask you," Summerton said, turning back to Jamison, "I want to know where those other four men are?"
"How should he know? They said they were going exploring," Nelson interrupted again.
"I told you to shut up," Summerton said stalking over to Nelson and hitting him open handed across the face. Blood ran from the corner of Nelsonís mouth. "One more word out of you and I swear Iíll kill one of these three," he said indicating Sharkey, Jamison and Patterson.
Nelson was relieved heíd diverted the manís attention from the doctor, at least temporarily. He watched as Pete walked over to the men named Ronnie and Billy. He strained to hear what was being said but nothing drifted to his ears. Sighing he moved his aching body to a more comfortable position on the ground.
Summerton walked back and stood in front of Nelson, "You seem to be in charge here," he said, "So where are your friends?"
"I donít know. They were going to hike up into the mountains and spend the night in one of the caves Parker told us about."
"Why didnít the rest of you go?"
"Because Parker didnít want to take us all at once. He said he wanted to do it in groups because he didnít want to bother carrying the tents." Nelson explained calmly.
"That donít make sense," Summerton surmised, "Why would the tents bother him now after all you carried them in from the parking lot."
"Parker told us the Mountain trail weíd be using is much steeper and he didnít want to take chances."
"You seem to have an answer for everything, Nelson. Iím beginning to think I canít trust anything you say. Maybe I should question one of your friends, better yet maybe I should kill one of them," Summerton stood back grinning evilly.
"What is it Ronnie," Summerton called impatiently.
"Fosters coming back alone."
"What do you mean, alone. Whereís Harp?"
"I donít know. The only one I see is Foster."
Summerton looked in the direction Ronnie was pointing. A lone man walked slowly towards him. The man was still to far away for him to make out any features, but he was the same size and build as Foster. "Heíd better have some answers," he said.
"Maybe Jake and Harp decided to stay with the pretty boy a little longer," Ronnie laughed.
Summerton couldnít help but grin, "Iíd hate to see what pretty boy looks like now," he said.
"Probably have to change his name to ugly boy," Ronnie couldnít stop laughing and Summerton soon found himself laughing right along with him.
Neither man noticed the man skulking from tree to rock to tree. Waiting and watching to make sure he was not seen, Stark stealthily made his way closer to the camp. ĎSlow and steady, Kowalski. The longer you can keep them fooled the more time we have to get into position,í he thought.
"Tell Foster I want to talk to him as soon as he gets into camp," Summerton said and turned his unwanted attention back to Nelson. "Now where was I? Ah yes I was going to kill one of you. Now which one will it be?" he asked moving the gun from Nelson to Sharkey to Patterson and finally coming to rest on Jamison.
Jamie closed his eyes and swallowed deeply. He waited for the shot that would end his life but when it didnít come immediately he opened his eyes.
Summerton was grinning down at him, "Shooting you is to easy. I think maybe Iíll watch you drown. Billy," he called.
"Find me a couple of good sized rocks."
"What for?" Billy asked.
"Iím gonna see if this guy can swim with two rocks tied to his feet and his arms tied behind his back."
"You canít do that," Sharkey yelled, "Thatís murder!"
"It is isnít it," Pete laughed. "Hurry up Billy," he told the other man impatiently.
Billy hurried away in search of the rocks.
Nelson glared at Summerton, "How can you do this?"
"How, Nelson. You ask me, a convicted murderer how? Itís easy once youíre used to it."
"Here Pete," Billy said dropping two football-sized rocks in front of him.
"Perfect. Cut the rope from that tent and tie the rocks to this mans ankles." Billy did as he was told ignoring the protests from the other captives.
Kowalski was close enough to hear the cries from the campground. Something was definitely happening. He knew it wasnít the Skipper and Parker because they were not to do anything until he was closer to camp. Sound travelled in the mountains and he was beginning to worry that he would not make it to camp in time to save his friends.
Stark watched Kowalskiís reaction to the yells from the campground. ĎDonít rush, Kowalski. We canít do anything if we get caught to soon. Hold your ground and donít do anything foolish,í he thought.
Crane and Parker looked at each other. They could hear the faint cries coming from the camp.
"Somethingís happening, Parker!" Crane said and hurried down the opposite side of the creek, Parker right behind him.
Billy and Ronnie dragged Jamie out in the middle of the creek. Laughing and giggling they soon positioned the captive over the deep pool.
Jamie fought as hard as he could but with his hands tied behind his back and rocks secured to his ankles he soon found himself standing knee deep in cold water. The deep pool that yesterday held the large trout was directly in front of him. It was empty now and he found himself going over the edge. He took a deep breath of air as his head went under the water and the rocks attached to his ankles made it next to impossible for him to kick his way back to the surface.
Nelson watched for his chance and took it when Summerton turned to see Billy and Ronnie push Jamison into the pool. Adrenalin pumping he rose quickly to his feet and ran at the unsuspecting man. Summertonís cry of rage made Billy and Ronnie turn away from the man sinking into the water and they rushed to help their companion.
Crane saw Nelson make his run at the big man with the gun. As soon as the other two ran to his aid, Crane ran into the water, oblivious to the cold and dove into the pool. He swam down to Jamison and grabbed the doctor around the waist.
Jamisonís eyes betrayed his terror. His air was almost gone and the added weight of the rocks made it difficult for Crane to swim to the surface.
Crane pulled out the knife he had taken from Parker and sliced through the rope binding the rocks to Jamieís ankles. He deftly pulled the doctor with him to the surface.
Jamie took in great gulps of air as Crane helped him to shallow water. They could see the fight now taking place onshore and rushed to help.
Kowalski had seen Ronnie leave his post and decided there was no more need for secrecy. Dropping the facade he ran towards the camp, meeting up with Stark along the way. They broke into camp just as Crane lifted a man much larger than himself off Nelson.
Crane succeeded in pulling the man off Nelson and hit Summerton squarely in the jaw.
Summerton shook his head and turned his attention to the newcomer. "Iíll kill you for that," he said angrily and pulled a knife from his waistband.
Crane and Summerton circled each other, oblivious of anyone else in the clearing. Summerton made a swipe at Crane and he jumped back barley escaping the sharp blade.
Kowalski grabbed the man holding Patterson and Stark subdued the man holding Sharkey. They quickly found ropes and secured the captives hands behind their backs.
Parker walked to Nelson and cut his ropes using the knife Crane had dropped when he dove for the man holding Nelson.
Summerton swung the blade again this time slicing a long jagged cut into Craneís side. Crane grabbed the mans knife arm as he tried to pull back and twisted it until he dropped the knife. Using his full strength and leverage Lee flipped the man over his shoulder so that he landed heavily on his back, the air forced from his lungs. He lifted his head and tried to stand but found himself looking down the barrel of his own shotgun.
"Donít try anything foolish, Summerton," Nelson told him.
"Go ahead and shoot, Nelson," Pete Summerton said through his swollen mouth.
"Unlike you, Summerton, Iím not a murderer. Jiggs, tie him up."
"Gladly, Harriman," Stark said and bound Summertonís arms tightly behind his back.
Lee Crane held his side and walked over to Nelson, "You ok, Sir?" he asked.
"Iím fine, Lee. Thanks," he said simply.
"Ok, Skipper let me see what kind of damage he did to your side," Jamison said, water dripping from his wet clothing.
"Maybe you should change first. I mean Iíve heard of a wet nurse before but not a wet doctor," Lee grinned.
With the danger over and the criminals under control Leeís comment came at an opportune time. All the tension eased from those involved as his pun sank in and their laughter drifted up into the mountains.
The laughter soon subsided and Stark turned to Kowalski, "Kowalski you want to take Patterson and go collect the other prisoners?"
"Aye sir," Kowalski said, signalling for Patterson to follow him.
"Now, Skipper. Take off your shirt," Jamison said, first aid kit in his hand.
Lee could see no way around it and did as he was told. He grimaced as he twisted his body to remove the shirt.
"Here, let me help you, Skipper," Jamie said. "Thatís gonna need some stitches Iím afraid."
"I figured that, Jamie," Crane said.
"Glad to see you got your license Dr. Crane," Jamison teased and then turned serious, "You saved my life out there, Skipper. Thanks."
"Youíre welcome, Jamie. You do realize I had a selfish reason for doing so."
"You did?" Jamie asked curiously.
"Of course. I didnít want the first job when we get back to Seaview to be to explain to Chip why we have to break in a new Doc," Crane grinned mischievously. "I mean we spend months on end aboard Seaview under the water. Imagine if weíd let you drown in a little creek in the mountains."
"Very funny, Lee. Maybe I should use a dull needle to sew you up," Jamie grinned.
"You wouldnít?" Crane asked thinking heíd pushed the doctor to far.
"Try me!" Jamie exclaimed and began to patch up his Captainís side.
By the time Kowalski, Patterson, Riley and their prisoners returned to camp it was to late for anyone to try and walk out for help. They decided to take turns guarding the prisoners and Parker volunteered to go for help as soon as it was light enough for him to find his way.
Everyone sat around the fire as dawn broke on the new day. The air was chilly and the morning fog hung heavily over the creek.
"Itíll take me at least a day to get to the rangerís station. Iíll call the authorities and have them send someone to pick this bunch up. Theyíll probably come in by chopper," Parker told the men around the fire.
"Thatís fine, Parker. I doubt theyíll be going anywhere," Nelson said.
"I do believe youíre right, Admiral," Parker grinned and looked at the bedraggled prisoners.
Theyíd spent the night tied to each other and sitting next to the rocks. As each new watch took over they were checked to make sure the ropes were still secure. Now hungry and tired they were reduced to a bunch of snivelling whiners. The only exception being Pete Summerton who sat straight backed against a rock and glared at anyone who came near him.
Parker finished his breakfast and said goodbye to the group of men heíd come to look upon with great respect. In his eyes theyíd make a fine bunch of mountaineers.
Twenty-four hours later Nelson spotted two Special Forces Helicopters glide in over the mountains. The valley was wide enough for the choppers to set down easily. He looked forward to having them take the prisoners off his hands.
Stark joined Nelson and they walked towards the choppers.
Six men jumped out of the side of both choppers as soon as they touched down. They ducked under the blades and ran towards the waiting men, "Iím looking for Admiral Harriman Nelson or Admiral Jiggs Stark?"
"Iím Nelson," Nelson said and indicated his companion, "Heís Stark."
"Admiral Nelson, Admiral Stark, Iím Constable Frank Murphy, from the Canadian Mounted Police. Iím here to pick up the escaped prisoners," he said showing his badge.
"Weíre only to happy to have you take them off of our hands, Constable," Nelson said honestly.
"Where are they?" Murphy asked.
"Over by the fire," Stark said.
"Bryan Parker said to tell you heís on his way back here," Murphy said and signalled for his men to go take the prisoners into custody.
"Thatís good news. Maybe we can salvage some of this trip after all," Nelson said.
"Iím sorry about your troubles, Sir."
"Iím just glad it turned out all right," Nelson told the man.
"Me too, Sir. Is there anything we can do for you before we leave?"
"Only if you have some Canadian bacon on you," Stark laughed.
"As a matter of fact we seem to have a couple of pounds along with a few other things Mr. Parker said were necessary. Whereís Doctor Jamison?" Murphy asked.
"Heís at the camp," Nelson said.
"I have some medical supplies for him, we were told their were some minor injuries," Nelson nodded, "Parker also insisted that we bring you some fresh breads and rolls as well. It didnít take much to grab them from the bakery while the men loaded the choppers. I also threw in some eggs while I waited. Figured it was the least we could do for the men who captured Canadaís most wanted." Murphy said reaching into the chopper and grabbing two bags.
"I may have to give Parker a bonus," Stark said happily taking the bags and heading back to camp.
The remainder of the camping trip passed without incident. By mutual consent there was no talk about the prisoners, the only reminder being whenever Jamie changed the bandage on Leeís side or Nelsonís head. The weather stayed pleasant and they explored the Lost Valley and the surrounding area.
Nelson and Crane stood at the windows looking out at the swirling waters as Seaview began to sink below the surface.
"Would you go back, Lee?" Nelson asked.
"Yes, Sir. Would you?"
"As long as you guaranteed that we wouldnít meet up with escaped cons," Nelson grinned.
"Thatís for sure. But I think we should all thank Admiral Stark for suggesting the trip. If not for Summerton and his group it would have been a perfect vacation."
"Youíre right about that, Lee. I did enjoy the stories around the campfire and Iíll never let Jiggs live down his new nickname. Snakebite Stark. Has a nice ring to it doesnít it?" Nelson asked.
"Youíre not going to let him forget it are you?" Crane grinned.
"I would have loved to have seen him shoving his pack at Jake Trent."
"Now that itís all over it was kind of funny. Burly Jake Trent cowering from a pack that supposedly held a rattle snake," Crane laughed.
"Iím just glad we all made it out of there alive. How did you know to come back?" Nelson asked seriously.
"I just had a feeling something was wrong," Crane told him.
"Itís a good thing you did. We would never have reached Jamie in time," Nelson said.
"Iíve learned to trust my instincts,"
"I hope you always do, Lee," Jamison said from behind them.