Special thanks to my betas Kim and Sue and those who wish to remain nameless. Thanks to Fidelma for letting me bounce ideas off her. Thanks also going out to the Chat Room Chicks for allowing me the share ideas that finally brought this thing together. I don’t want to forget my friend Sally, for help with Angie.
This tale picks up immediately after the events chronicled in “Lost.”
Twist of Fate
“And just what do you think you're doing, Commander?” Lee Crane's voice cut through the air and Chip Morton stopped in mid motion, both feet flat on the floor, his arms braced against the mattress of the hospital bed. Chip looked up at his friend, doing his best to look as innocent as possible.
“I need to get up, Lee. I can't lie around here forever,” Chip said sourly. He wasn't going to mention that just the act of heaving himself into a setting position on the edge of the bed had left him tired and weak. Lee advanced on Chip and helped the blond man settle back into bed but sitting up.
“You need to let your body rest. You haven't completely gotten over the malaria. Jamie says you’re still fighting off a residual lung infection and he doesn't want you driving yet. He wants to be sure there aren't any other nasty surprises floating around in your system before he cuts you loose.” Lee tried to calm his scowling friend down.
The problem was that Lee knew exactly how Chip felt. Stuck in Sickbay more times than he could count, neither he nor Chip dealt very well with being sidelined. In Chip's case it was doubly hard, faced with an eight-week gap in his memory and the after-affects of a highly resilient strain of malaria.
Lee eased his lanky frame into the chair that was a permanent fixture by Chip's bed. Chip braced his back against the pillows piled behind him and leaned his head back. Lee could tell his friend was still tired.
“How you feeling?” Crane finally asked, expecting the standard answer of 'I'm fine'. Instead Chip brought both hands up to his face, covering his eyes and running his fingers through his fine white-blond hair.
“I'm tired of being tired. I'm tired of this bed. I'm tired of this room. I want my house, my room, and my bed,” Chip responded wearily. He brought his hands down and locked eyes with Lee.
“Jamie needs to keep an eye on you. Your lungs are still too weak,” Lee replied reasonably.
“I know. I've heard it all before. I hear it everyday from Jamie. That doesn't mean I have to like it,” grouched Chip sourly.
“Hang in there, Chip. You're getting better everyday. After what you've been through, you just need to rest and let your strength come back. You'll only hurt yourself by trying to do more than you're capable of.”
Chip crossed his arms over his chest and let out a long, deep breath. “You just wait, soon enough you'll be stuck in here and revenge will be so sweet.”
Lee laughed and got to his feet, giving Morton's shoulder a quick squeeze. “I'll be back for dinner, buddy. I just wanted to check on you before I attacked the paperwork piling up on my desk. You get some rest, that's an order.”
Chip gave Lee his best glare but it lacked the intensity of real emotion. Instead the glare morphed into a grin as Lee walked out the door. Chip waited until he knew Lee was gone and then once more swung his long legs out of the bed. He planted both feet on the floor, braced his arms against the mattress and pushed. On shaky legs, Chip stood on his own two feet for the first time in he didn't know how long. Slowly, in a kind of shuffling walk, he made his way to the windows, and pressed a hand against the cool glass, almost as if seeking a connection with the outside world. This side of Med Bay faced the quay Seaview docked in when she wasn't in her underground subpen. Lee's words ran through Chip's head.
After what you've been through....
What had he been through?
He'd been missing for eight weeks, after a mudslide carried him into a flooded river and downstream. Chip had no memory of that time, just scattered, disjointed images and sensations. Staring out of the window, Chip wasn't seeing beyond the glass. He was trying to remember what had happened to him in those eight long weeks.
Where had he been? What had happened to him? Lee said they had searched three separate times after Seaview got back to Santa Barbara. Chip knew Lee and the admiral would have torn Peru apart looking for him. So where had he been for two months?
“What part of the concept of 'stay in bed and rest' eludes you, Commander? I'd have thought that herd you call a family would have tired you out.” Jamie's voice called out from the door, pulling Chip from his thoughts and catching him completely off guard.
Chip's entire family had flown in when they got word that the first-born Morton had been found. There was nothing quiet about the Morton clan. For the last five days, Med Bay had played ground central to Chip's mother and father as well as three of his four sisters. When they were satisfied that Chip was real and that he was being well taken care of, they had all finally packed up and gone home yesterday morning.
Chip turned around and glanced across the room guiltily at his doctor. He hadn't expected the doctor to check in on him for another couple of hours yet. But Jamie was smiling and he wasn't alone. With him was a young man, shorter and built like a barrel, with pale watery blue eyes and an untidy mop of dark blond hair. For some reason, Chip thought the young man was familiar, but for the life of him, he couldn't place the face.
“Chip, this is Daniel Priest, the young missionary who found you and had you brought back to Moyobamba.”
Chip just stared. That had been two weeks ago. Five days later Jamie finally got the lung infection under control and the fever broke for good. Chip had come out of his near coma state to find Lee sitting watch by his side. One of the few things Chip could recall before then were bells and the sound of chanting and prayers.
“A church maybe?” Chip said finally. Daniel smiled, looking more like a boy than a man of God.
“Our Lady of Innocence Mission in Moyobamba. You were about three days out from the town when my group found you by the falls.”
Chip made to move back to his bed. Daniel came forward and with a guiding hand on his back, helped the taller man to his bed. Chip eased down onto the soft mattress.
“Chip, do you need anything?” Jamie asked. The blond only shook his head.
“Well, I'll be down the hall. You can buzz the nurses’ station if you need something. You and Daniel might have a few things to talk about. Mister Priest, I can give you about a half an hour, I don't want Chip to get over taxed.”
“You worry too much, Jamie,” Chip replied, getting settled in bed. Daniel had claimed the chair by the bed and was making himself comfortable.
“Just doing my job, Commander,” Jamie replied before leaving.
Chip turned his attention back to Daniel. “What can you tell me about finding me? I don't remember anything about…about before you found me”
“You don't remember anything? Your Admiral Nelson said you were missing for eight weeks. That's a big memory gap. You don't remember anything about where you were?” Daniel asked curiously.
Chip leaned back in his bed. He closed his eyes, hoping to draw out some elusive memory, but as always, there was nothing.
“No. Nothing. Just images, like shadows. Sometimes I remember words, but they don't make any sense. No matter what I do, nothing comes. Everything just stays blank. I was hoping maybe you could shed some light on a few things.”
Daniel gave him a sympathetic look. “I'm sorry. I found you on the riverbank by the falls. You were half dead and running a dangerously high fever. My group and I got you back to Moyobamba and Doctor Garvin got in touch with your admiral. I'm afraid I don't know any more than that. Don't try to force the issue, sir. If God is willing, your memory will come back. Just have faith.”
“Why don't you call me Chip? After all, if it hadn't been for you, I might not be alive. I'd have probably died on that river bank.”
The younger man favored Chip with a shy smile. “Call me Danny. Don't thank me, God has plans for you, else he wouldn't have seen fit to see you recovered,” he paused before continuing somewhat shyly. “Have you ever heard of the legend of Tinaca?”
Chip blinked a few times as words and phrases slipped through his head, like driftwood floating by, just out of arms reach. “I'm not up on a lot of myth and legends,” he said finally. Legends of the sea, maybe, but beyond that he simply wasn't interested.
“The story goes that when the Spanish invaded the Incan people, a few of them packed up what they could and fled into the jungle. Legend says that over the years what was left of the Incan nation fled to the new city of Tinaca, taking with them all the gold and wealth they could carry, to keep it out of the hands of the Spanish.”
Chip shrugged. “There are hundreds of legends about nearly every culture that ever walked the earth. South American mythology was never my strong point.”
But Danny wasn't willing to give up. “But what if it wasn't a legend? What if Tinaca was real?”
“What does the existence of a mythical city have to do with anything? You don't think that I was there, do you?”
“You were somewhere. You didn't lie on the river bank for two months until my group staggered in,” Danny said. Chip only shook his head. He was willing to accept ghosts, monsters, and curses, but the fact he might have found a mythical lost city? Not possible. He was a sub jockey, Seaview's Executive office, and not some adventurer. There had to be another explanation.
“You had to be somewhere, Chip. Both your admiral and your friend, Captain Crane, searched for you for weeks. Somebody took care of you and nursed you back to health. You didn't do that on your own.”
“I just don’t remember. If I was somewhere, I may never remember. I might never learn what happened to me.”
“You'll remember. Someday. Just don't force the issue. When you're ready, God will give you what you need.”
“You might be right at that, Danny.” Suddenly Chip didn’t feel like talking about his past and what might or might not have happened to him. “Why don't you get comfortable and tell me about yourself? Why on earth would you spend your life traipsing through some jungle?” Chip asked, settling himself under the covers, still not ready to admit how tired he was. He watched Danny settle into the chair, crossing his arms over his barrel chest.
“Well, I guess you could say I was called,” Danny started and began to tell Chip his story.
When Lee didn’t find Nelson in his office, he turned to the one person he could count on to know the admiral’s every move. Angie Watson. The dark haired young woman smiled up at Lee as he hitched a hip on the edge of her desk.
“Lee,” she began with a grin, “I know your last name is Crane, but do you have to perch on the edge of my desk like a bird?”
“Don’t you have some typing to do?” Lee teased back, knowing full well Angie did more than just type. She was Nelson’s right hand in all things that came to running the Institute. Without her, it would be harder, if not impossible, for the admiral to be a part of Seaview’s exploratory activities. The young lady shook a pencil at Lee before turning back to the pile of papers on her desk.
“I suppose you’re looking for the admiral?” she asked.
“I wanted to give him an update on Chip before I vanished into the lair that is my office.”
Angie wiggled an eyebrow. “What’s it worth to you?”
“A case of those little chocolate marshmallow cookies you like?”
Angie’s expression turned thoughtful. “Hum. I might actually get to eat a few since Chip’s in Med Bay. Deal. One case, on my desk in the morning. The admiral’s been in the electronics lab since lunchtime.”
“That’s all? I could have figured that out on my own!” Lee declared in mock distress.
“True, but you didn’t. You chose to bargain with me. You lose. Now, run along like a good little commander. I have work to do. You have cookies to buy.”
Lee made his way down to the electronics lab and took a quick peek inside, just to make sure the admiral was indeed there before entering. Angie wasn’t wrong. The auburn haired admiral was seated on a stool, bent over something on the bench in front of him. Lee knocked twice on the door and Nelson glanced up, saw Lee in window of the lab door and motioned for him to enter.
“Admiral, you have a minute?” Lee asked.
“Absolutely, Lee. What brings you down here?”
Lee let his eyes drift over the table of tiny, almost microscopic components littering the tabletop. Obviously, the admiral was working on something important. The dark-haired young man was naturally curious about whatever the admiral was working on, but refrained from actually asking the question. Given the admiral's enthusiasm for his inventions, it was highly probable he would go into detail about the workings of what ever he was doing and it was usually over Lee's head. Harriman Nelson was a brilliant man and occasionally he forgot that not every one was on the same mental platform as him. Lee figured he'd know soon enough what the admiral's newest toy was.
“Angie said you've been down here since lunchtime. I thought I'd come down and see what was so fascinating and give you an update on Chip.”
Nelson shifted his attention to the dark haired, younger man. “I haven't seen Will today. How is our XO?”
Lee walked around to Nelson's side of the table, picking up a delicate, transparent tube. “Doing well, other than the fact I caught him trying to get out of bed.”
“Will's going to be less than pleased. Chip's still far too weak to be out of Med Bay yet.” Nelson replied with a slightly amused twist to his lips.
Lee snorted. “You know that and I know that. Chip just wants out, even if he's only been awake a little over a week.”
“The both of you are a pair. You both could be missing half your head, hobbling around on one leg and you'd insist on not staying in Sickbay, where you need to be,” Nelson replied. He glanced up at Lee, wondering if Lee had a comeback for his dislike of Sickbay. But Lee continued to examine the tiny electrical parts, not looking up at his superior.
“I tried to talk to him, hoping to make him understand he's just not strong enough yet. He knows that but he's just tired of all the inactivity. If I had to guess, I'd say he's been sicker than we thought where ever he was. Admiral, do you think he'll ever remember what happened to him?
Nelson sat down the tiny wire filament and ran a hand through his hair. “I don't know. The human mind is a strange thing. He may remember bits and pieces, he may regain his full memory, and then he may never remember more than he does now. Will's not sure, either. We'll just have to be supportive and help him through this.”
“Anything he needs from me, Admiral, you know that.”
“I do. I also know how the two of you plot and scheme. I don't want you encouraging him. Let him heal at a natural pace. We'll worry about how to handle Mister Morton when Will says he can go home. Do I make myself clear? Nelson arched one eyebrow as he pinned Seaview's skipper with a look.
Crane lowered his head and looked up at Nelson through his lashes, doing his best appear as innocent as possible. Nelson just ‘hmmpft’ed and shook his head.
“I told Chip he needs to take it slow. I promise not to orchestrate a break out. If you had a talk with him it might do him some good.”
“Alright. I'll go up shortly and have a chat with our over-anxious exec. Might even join the two of you for dinner.”
Lee smiled and turned to go. “Thanks, Admiral. I know Chip would appreciate it. I've got a pile of paperwork. If I plan having dinner with Chip, I'd better be going.”
Nelson watched the young man pull the lab doors shut behind him. Lee was looking much better. The dark circles where gone from his under eyes, and he was eating again, slowly putting back on the weight he had lost. The lost, haunted look was gone from his eyes and once more he was talking about going back out to sea. Nelson had already decided he was going to wait for both of his boys to heal up completely before taking up Seaview's next mission.
The promised thirty minutes went by faster than Chip would have liked. He found Danny, as the young man insisted on being called, to be an interesting person with deep thoughts about his religion. Chip was more than a little disappointed when Jamie came calling, tapping quietly at his watch.
“Looks like I’m past curfew,” the shaggy-headed young missionary said as he rose to his feet.
“I don’t see why this has to be your last visit. Chip’s going to be here for a bit longer and I’m sure he’d appreciate someone other then me to talk with.” Jamieson noticed the cold glare Chip was throwing slowly melt at the mention of a new visitor.
“If you think so…” Danny said a bit hesitantly.
“Oh, I do. I’ll get it cleared with security. In the meantime, my patient needs some rest.”
Daniel Priest was politely ushered out and Will made his way back to Chip’s bedside. The two men locked eyes for a moment before Chip broke the silence.
“What? I was good. I didn’t get out of bed, I swear. Why are you looking at me like that?”
Jamieson frowned. “You’re a popular man, Commander. I would rather see you quiet and resting but it seems you have another visitor. As much as I’d like to tell this one to come back in the morning, she’s rather insistent she see you today.”
Chip straightened, his expression confused as he mentally ran over the list of his last few visitors. His eyes widened as he suddenly thought of the one person he hadn’t seen yet. Before he could say anything, his second sister, Wendy popped in from the corridor.
Chip’s grin morphed into a huge smile as his sister came closer and wrapped her arms around him. Chip did the same, holding his little sister tight, feeling his throat close up as he was overwhelmed with emotions.
The elusive touch of a memory tickled the back of his mind. The thought that he would never again see his family…that he would never have another beer with Lee, no more holidays…all that came rushing back like the incoming tide. It wasn’t the first time he’d gotten snatches of memory. He simply couldn’t pin down where they were coming from.
None of that mattered now. He was home. Wendy continued to hold on to him as if she was afraid to let him go.
“I was about to go to Peru to look for you myself. Thank God you’re safe,” Wendy said, her own voice thick as she wiped away tears that threatened to spill from sky blue eyes. Chip pulled her close once more, not noticing that Jamieson had made a discreet retreat.
“I’m gonna be fine. Don’t cry. It’s okay now,” Chip soothed. Of all his sisters, Wendy was the one he felt the closest to. There was five years between them but she understood him better than Danielle, Mary Rose and Deanna ever had. Like him, Wendy was fascinated with gadgets and computers. Chip had sort of paved they way for his little sister. When she got old enough, she started doing the same things he did: taking apart everything electrical and marvelling at the way it was put together. Unfortunately, he saw less of Wendy than he saw of the rest of his family. While Chip lived in California, Wendy lived and worked as a computer analyst at NCIS headquarters in Washington D.C.
In his arms, he felt his baby sister tremble and he tightened his grip on her, rocking her gently.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I can see you’re fine but… you were gone for so long…nobody knew what happened to you and Lee couldn’t find you…”
“I know. That’s over now and I’m not going anywhere. Lee’s promised he’s not going to let me out of his sight for the next six months once I get out of this joint,” Chip said and felt his sister grow very still at the mention of Lee. Chip grinned. Still had a crush, did she?
“Is he here?” she asked quietly and pulled away, moving to sit in the chair. She smoothed down an imaginary wrinkle from her blouse and adjusted her skirt as she shifted nervously. Chip couldn’t resist the urge to tease his sister.
“Sure, I can call him and he’d be down in a flash. You wanna see him?” Chip’s hand strayed to the phone on the bedside table.
Wendy slapped her hand atop his. “Don’t you dare! I’m a mess. The last thing I need is for him to see me like this,” she warned, running a hand over her carefully braided coil of white-blonde hair.
Chip wiggled an eyebrow. “You sure? I bet he’d love to see you.”
Wendy fixed her brother with her own version of the Morton glare. Not as potent as the one her brother wielded but it got the point across. “So help me, if you touch that phone, you’re gonna wish you were still in Peru,” she snapped.
“That’s my little sister,” Chip grinned, thankful once more to be alive and to have his family and friends around him.
Lee stepped out of the elevator, wondering if there was a way he could avoid Jamie as he headed for Chip’s room. After his quick meeting with the admiral, Lee had detoured to the cafeteria to see if there happened to be some cookies left over from the lunch menu. He had been unable to avoid the sub’s cook, Earl Callahan. Since Lee had been spotted, he decided to try and salvage his cookie raid and he explained to Cookie that he was planning on having dinner with Chip. Lee was completely unprepared for the appraising look that the former Executive Chef gave him.
“Any chance that if I actually put the effort into a decent meal, you’ll eat something, sir?” the chef growled. Lee repressed the urge to shudder. Somehow, facing aliens, ghosts and mutants creatures that defied description paled in comparison to facing the wrath of Earl Callahan.
“Cookie, I promise, we’ll sent you back empty plates,” Lee tried to placate the man. The ship’s cook just rolled his brown eyes.
“Well, Skipper, if you’d find out what the exec would like I’ll see you get a first class meal.”
“Sure thing, Cookie. Oh, by the way, the admiral said he’d try and join us.”
“Well, at least somebody will appreciate my efforts,” the cook grumbled as he vanished around the corner. Lee let out a deep breath and changed direction, wondering what had possessed him to venture down to the cafeteria this time of day anyhow. He should have known that Cookie would have cornered him about his eating habits. Seaview’s chef seemed convinced that Lee was undernourished and apparently felt it his duty to fatten up the lean commander. Lee just took it in stride and tried to eat enough to make their chef happy. He figured Chip ate enough for two people.
So Lee headed back up to Chip’s room for one final check on his buddy and to double check on what Morton would prefer for dinner. Crane swore if you buttered a brick, Chip would eat it. The man had a cast iron gut and some of the concoctions Lee had see his pal come up with would turn even the hardiest of constitutions.
He found the door to Chip’s room ajar and he could hear voices, Chip’s and a female. Puzzled, Lee inched closer and peeped in the door. For a second he just stood there, his jaw gaping before he slowly pulled himself together.
He had met her when she was barely a teenager. She’d had braces then and wore small frame glasses, giving her something of a nerdish cast. Back then she wore her platinum blonde hair in a long ponytail and for some reason Lee remembered her feet seemed out of proportion with the rest of her. The last time he had seen her was when she was sixteen, having graduated early from high school and about to head off to college.
The woman who sat in the chair by Chip’s bedside bore little resemblance to the girl he had been introduced to when he was eighteen. The ponytail was gone, replaced by an elegant coil that circled the top of her head like a crown. The color was the same, that shimmering white gold that all of the Mortons had. The braces were gone and the glasses had vanished. Instead of a baggy tee shirt and ripped jeans, she wore a dark blue skirt, the matching jacket draped over the back of the chair. Lee couldn’t help but stare. Never in a million years would he have suspected that Chip’s little sister would grow up into this.
Swallowing back his surprise, Lee pulled himself together and stepped into Chip’s room. The talking stopped and the woman turned. Lee swore she paled when she saw him.
Chip smiled and immediately bells and alarms went off in Lee’s head. Something was going on here. Morton was up to something.
“Lee! Hey, you remember my baby sister, Wendy?” Chip said with an almost evil gleam in his blue eyes.
“I remember, but what I remember doesn’t match what I’m seeing,” Lee said.
Wendy stood up and looked Lee directly in the eye. “Even ugly ducklings grow up, Lee Crane,” she said clearly. She smiled and something in Lee’s gut twisted up. He’d never had a problem attracting women. He and Chip had both had more than their fair share of girlfriends. But there was something in the way Wendy Morton looked at him, something in her smile. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much of a chance to think further about it.
Wendy turned back to her brother, wrapped her arms around him and buzzed his cheek. “Chipper, got to run. I wish I could stay longer but I have to be in San Diego in the morning and I have a lot of prep work to do,” she said, falling back on her childhood nickname for her big brother.
“Sure you can’t stay for dinner?” Again there was that mischievous gleam in Chip’s eyes.
Wendy smiled but Lee suspected the sweetness in her voice was covering something. “I’d love to but my boss can’t function without me,” she said. Chip shifted his gaze to Lee.
“Yeah, I’ve got one of those.”
Lee couldn’t stop himself. “You take an unscheduled vacation in the jungle; leave me with two months of requisitions, reports and paperwork with titles I can’t even pronounce? You bet I can’t function without you, pal.” Lee moved forward and pulled Wendy’s jacket from the back of the chair, holding it so she could put it on.
“Oh, thank you, Lee.”
As Wendy slipped on her jacket, Lee noticed the still angry looking scar that cut across the bicep of her right arm. He was no fool. He knew a bullet crease when he saw it. “What happened to your arm?” he asked.
Wendy’s right hand jerked toward the scar but she stopped herself short. Taking two quick steps away from Lee, she turned up the wattage on her version of the glare. “It’s nothing, just a scratch. Funny, I don’t remember you being this nosey.”
Raising an eyebrow, Lee watched as Wendy fidgeted with her purse and kept her attention focused on Chip. Finally she gave her brother a last hug and promised to keep in touch. With a very quick and guarded glance at Lee, Wendy Morton darted out of the room, leaving just the faint scent of her rose perfume.
Lee hadn’t realized he was staring at the open door until Chip cleared his throat. Crane blinked and snapped his gaping jaws together.
“Lee, you act like you’ve never seen my sister before. What’s with you?”
“She’s not what I imagined, I mean, she’s gotten…that is, she’s…”
“Grown up? They don’t stay teenagers forever, you know. Look in the mirror sometime. You used to be all legs.” Chip replied. Lee’s eyes darted to the door and back to Chip.
“I noticed,” said Lee, his mind still processing what he had seen of Chip’s sister, wondering if he would get the chance to see more of her again. He hadn’t realized Chip was still speaking to him. With a distracted jerk, Lee faced his friend.
“I said, what are you doing back up here? I thought you said you had work to do. Is there something you want?”
Yes, actually there is…Lee thought to himself, before launching into the real reason for his visit.
It was several hours later when Harriman made his way down the hall toward Chip's room, the one the nursing staff had jokingly nicknamed 'the Executive Suite'. If Chip was as desperate to get out as Lee said he was, Nelson would have to side with Will. The doctor said Morton was still fighting off pneumonia, not to mention the joint pain and muscle weakness associated with malaria. Once they got a handle on that, then Chip could look to be discharged. Nelson was gearing up for a battle of wills as he neared Chip's room. A sudden crash made Harriman pause and then he picked up his pace, nearly running as he hit the door. He wasn't ready for what he found in Morton’s room.
Chip was just barely holding his own against another man. Both the exec's hands wrapped around one hand of his assailant, who held a syringe between his fingers. The blond, weakened from weeks of illness, was slowly losing his battle and the needle inched closer to him.
Nelson threw himself at the attacker, peeling him away from Chip and letting loose with an uppercut to the man's jaw. The syringe went flying, landing with a click in the corner of the room. Chip dropped to his knees on the floor, bracing his fall with one hand, the other arm wrapped around his chest. The stranger reeled and took one look at the fury blazing in Nelson's sapphire blue eyes. The attacker spun and before Nelson could react, he dove out the window and down the fire escape. Nelson almost went after him but movement on Chip's part stopped him. Nelson got an arm under the younger man's shoulders, helping the officer to his feet then guiding Chip to the bed. Still within easy reach of Chip, Nelson picked up the phone and dialed security.
“We have an intruder on the grounds. I want guards posted at all entrances, no one goes in or out unless their identity in known or cleared by either Captain Crane or myself. Is that understood? I want every building, every shed searched and this intruder found. Consider the entire Institute on lock-down until further notice,” Harriman snarled and slammed the phone onto its cradle.
“Are you all right, lad?” Nelson asked quietly, helping Morton lean back against the pillows. Chip nodded, wincing a little as he moved.
“Fine, sir, just a little sore.”
“Do you know what happened?”
“I was dozing when he came in and I didn't hear the door open. I thought it was Lee at first. I asked him it he was going to stand there all day and when I opened my eyes, this freak was standing over me with a syringe between his fingers, thumb on the plunger. I didn't have to time to call for anyone,” Chip explained, as Nelson hovered protectively over him. Morton watched as the admiral positioned himself between the bed and the door, keeping a close eye on the window as well. Even without a weapon, Nelson wasn't going to make it easy for anyone who might be waiting for another shot at Morton. Again Nelson reached for the phone.
“Get Doctor Jamieson up to Commander Morton's room, on the double,” Nelson said into the receiver and this time replaced it gently into the cradle. Nelson scanned the room, his eyes coming to rest on the syringe in the corner. Using a tissue from the box on the table by Chip's bed, Nelson carefully picked the syringe up. Holding the chamber up to the light, Nelson saw it was full of a cloudy, milky-white fluid.
“I'm fine, Admiral. I don't need Jamie,” Chip protested, weakly, one arm still wrapped around his chest. Nelson moved back to Morton's bedside and took a good look at the young man, the slight flush to his cheeks, and the slightly unfocused blue eyes. Gently he laid the back of his hand across Chip's forehead. “You're running a fever, son. Let's let the doctor decide what you need right now,” Harry said soothingly.
Chip closed his eyes, knowing it was better than trying to argue with a four-star admiral, this one in particular. Nelson sat the syringe on the table, still wrapped in the tissue to preserve any fingerprints.
Almost as if summoned, Jamie burst through the door like a tornado, responding to the urgency of the call with no clue as to what was going on.
“Admiral?” he asked, taking in the scene.
“Will, you might want to look over your patient. He seems to be running a fever.”
Jamie strode purposely over to Chip's bedside and mirrored Nelson's earlier act, placing the back of his hand across Chip's forehead. Chip did not protest the action. The doctor frowned at Chip's lack of a reaction and adjusted the stethoscope in his hears. Carefully, he listened to Morton's lungs as the young man took shallow, labored breaths.
“I was afraid of that. Your immune system's just not able to cope with the malaria and a lung infection. I'm afraid your pneumonia could relapse,” Jamie said.
“That's not the only threat,” growled the auburn haired admiral.
Jamieson turned to stare across Chip's bed over at Nelson. “What do you mean?”
Nelson gestured at the window. “Someone decided to come in the back way and was trying to introduce the contents of that syringe into Chip here.” Nelson gestured to the syringe in the table. Jamie picked it up, wrapped in the tissue. He also held it up to the light, getting a good look at the contents.
“I’ll have some tests run. It’s going to be interesting to see what this is.” Jamie muttered.
“Then we’ll have a better idea of just what his intentions were,” Nelson agreed.
Chip's eyes flew open. He'd been leaning back against the pillow, listening to the ongoing conversation, feeling progressively worse with each passing minute. The pressure in his chest was making it harder to breath, but he was already so tired of being in Med Bay, the last thing he needed was another complication. He started to say something and felt a tickle start in the far in the back of his throat. Unsuccessfully, he tried to swallow it down, but it erupted out, sending him into a coughing fit that doubled him over. He felt two sets of hands holding him steady as he got his breathing under control. Finally he was able to stop, and let both men ease him back onto the bed.
“You just get some rest, and let me worry about how to handle this,” Nelson replied softly, laying a reassuring arm on Chip's shoulder.
“I guess this means I'm not going home anytime soon,” the blond man sighed. Nelson only grinned and shook his head. Jamie pulled the blankets up over Chip's weary body.
“Not for a while, Commander.”
Nelson waited till the young man had settled down then motioned for Jamie to follow him. Together the two men walked to the window, out of Chip’s range of hearing. Nelson looked down and out of the window. The grounds were a flurry of activity. It looked to him like even Seaview's crew was in on the search. Which meant Crane knew. Any minute now…
The door flew open and Nelson held up one forestalling hand as Lee focused on Chip's still, quiet form. He motioned for Lee to join them. Crane passed by Chip's bed, watching Morton’s slow and steady breathing. Very faintly, Lee could make out a soft rattle as fluid shifted in the other man's lungs.
“Admiral, what happened?” Lee asked quietly, moving to stand by the two men by the window.
“Someone came up the fire escape and attacked Chip, We don’t know why yet. We'll have to move him. I don't want him in a room with this much access.” Nelson said, with another glance at Chip.
“But why would someone want to hurt Chip? He's been missing for eight weeks.” Lee asked, casting a concern look toward his resting friend, feeling the undeniable need to protect Chip since the exec couldn't defend himself.
“If someone wanted access to some of Seaview's most classified information, a half-sick, ranking officer would be an easy target, wouldn't you agree? I'd rather not take any more chances. Will, I want Chip moved as soon as possible. The most secure room we have. Lee…”
“I'm way ahead of you, Admiral. I'll have a guard posted today…a twenty-four hour watch. I lost Chip once, I'll be damned if I let it happen again.”
“What about visitors? That young missionary, Daniel Priest, came by earlier today and visited with Chip for a little while. With him stuck here, I'd hate to tell Chip he couldn't have visitors,” Jamie asked, still holding the needle between his fingers.
“We'll cross that bridge when we get there, Will. Right now, let’s just concentrate making Mister Morton inaccessible to the general public,” Nelson replied with a heavy sigh and a final glance at the sleeping, vulnerable executive officer.
There was no denying it. This time when he woke up, Chip knew he was sick. His lungs ached with the simple task of just breathing and he was still achy all over. He hadn't felt this bad since . . . there it was again, that touch of an elusive memory. Somehow, Chip knew he had been equally sick, and recently, but the where and how remained just out of his grasp. Glancing over, he saw Lee leaning back in the chair, eyes closed and his feet propped up on the edge of the bed. Chip reached over, grabbed the tip of Lee's shoe and gave it a gentle shake. One golden hazel eye opened, then the other. Lee grinned, seeing Chip was awake.
“Hey sleeping beauty. Rise and shine.”
“Sleeping, yes. Beauty, no. Rise, maybe. Shine, never. I feel like something ran over me. Everything aches. How can I be this sore if I haven't done anything?” Chip grouched. He saw Lee's eyes tracking something on the other side of the bed.
“That would be the malaria, Commander. This happens to be a very virulent strain, and you are not the easiest person to treat on the best of days. You’re fighting off a very nasty lung infection that if left unchecked, could go right back into the pneumonia I've managed to keep at bay. You aren't going anywhere anytime soon, so just get used to it,” Jamie advised. He reached down and picked up Chip's wrist, counting the beats. After that, he adjusted the stethoscope, and listened to Morton's lungs. Chip didn't protest but simply let the doctor work. When he was finished, Jamieson stepped back and pointed a finger at Lee.
“Do not tire him out. He needs quiet and rest and I will not tolerate any plotting, scheming, planning or any other such foolishness. Clear?” Jamie's tone broke no argument.
“Very clear. I'm just going to explain to Chip what's going on so far.”
“That's all you better do. You need me, hit the call button.”
Chip turned to face his skipper and friend, confusion in his crystal blue eyes making Lee's heart ache. “Lee, what's going on? Why am I in a different room? There wasn't another attempt on me, was there?”
Lee laid a hand on Chip's arm and gave him a quick squeeze. “No, and if the admiral and I have our way, there won't be another. We've moved you to this room because it's easier to guard.”
“Guard?” Chip asked, aggravated that he even had to ask. He should be able to figure everything out, but nothing was making sense right now. He fixed his unsteady gaze on his skipper and waited for Lee's explanation.
“There's a twenty-four hour guard on your door. Your secret admirer has vanished and we thought it better to put you someplace harder for him to get at. No one comes or goes that doesn't get screened by the guard. Trust me. Nobody's getting past the posted watch.”
“So what happens when I get out of here? You can't keep me sequestered forever.”
“Hopefully that won't be needed. By then, we should have figured who this is that wants at you so badly. You let the admiral and me worry about those details. You just worry about following Doc's orders. In the mean time, we're bringing you a DVD player and a mountain of movies to watch.”
“Hook me up with some cable. If Jamie has his way, I'll be in here till Christmas,” Chip said sourly.
“We're gonna do our best to keep your mind off of things. Don't worry about anything.”
Chip rolled his eyes and fought off another coughing spell. “Everybody keeps telling me not to worry. Lee, somebody climbed up the fire escape to come after me. How am I not supposed to worry about that?”
Lee didn't answer right away. Instead his eyes took on a far way look as he considered Chip's words. He should have known Chip wouldn't accept the standard answer. Chip thrived on details and he wouldn't be happy unless he knew the whole story. After all he'd been through, Chip deserved to know everything. Lee couldn't lie to him.
“Let me explain it this way. Like I said, you've been moved into this room because it's easier to guard. Jamie's the only one authorized to bring you any medication. Cookie has volunteered to cook your meals. The entire crew is volunteering to stand watch. The admiral locked down the Institute when your would-be-abductor escaped. We never did find him. Security is still trying to figure how he got in.”
“Why?” Chip finally asked.
“We don't know. The admiral seems to think it's because you're Seaview's exec. You have access to Seaview's most classified information. Who ever is behind this may think that you being in the condition you’re in, might be an easy target. You might have an enemy. There are just too many variables right now.”
“So you lock me away until you can figure out who's behind this?”
Lee reached over and took up Chip's hand. The two grasped each others wrists. “I told the admiral, I lost you once, I won't lose you again. We'll get through this. I promise you, we will get to the bottom of this.”
With a growl, Chip tossed the remote onto the small table and pushed himself up in the bed. He would rather yank his toenails out by the roots than admit it, but he was still feeling tired and rundown. Jamie said it was the lung infection. It was refusing to give up without a fight and the antibiotics the doctor had Chip on also sapped his strength and energy. He was spending a lot of time simply napping.
He had two bright spots though. One, Daniel Priest had been allowed a visitor's pass and was coming by for a few hours. Chip liked the open young man and was grateful to him for finding him and taking him back to the mission. If Danny hadn't taken that extra step, Chip was fairly certain he would have died on that riverbank. While Danny's visits were shorter than he would have liked, it gave him something else to look forward to in between Lee's visits.
Second bright spot: two days ago Patterson had turned up with a wheelchair and graciously offered to escort Chip around the grounds outside Med Bay. Again, the outings were shorter than Chip would have liked but any chance to break the monotony of staying cooped up in a windowless room was more than welcomed.
The light tap on the door alerted Chip to a possible visitor. “Come in,” he said, turning to face the door.
Scott Patterson, one of Seaview's most senior ratings came in, once more bringing with him the familiar wheelchair.
“Afternoon, sir. I don't suppose you would like to get out and get some fresh air and sunshine?” Patterson asked his senior officer.
“Doc know you're trying to spring me for a third day in a row?” Chip asked, giving Pat a good look. Like before, the rating wasn't dressed in his crew gear, but was wearing instead a pair of blue jeans and a half buttoned denim shirt over a black tee shirt.
“Actually, Mister Morton, this is on doctor's orders. He thought maybe you'd like to get out of this room for a while, give the staff a chance to change out the sheets and blankets. It's got to be hard, being cooped in here all day and he thought it might be nice if you had the chance to get out for a little while. It's a nice warm day, won't hurt your lungs any if we take it slow.”
Chip considered Patterson's offer. There had to be a reason Pat had been picked. “You don't mind pushing me around like an invalid?” Chip asked. He got Pat's trademark smile in response.
“You're not an invalid, Mister Morton. You're a survivor. You spent eight weeks in the jungle with just the clothes on your back. No weapon, no nothing. Everybody thought you were dead, but you proved them all wrong. So here you are.”
“Yeah, here I am. You sure you don't mind?”
“Course not, Mister Morton. We'll go where ever you want and don't you worry none, the skipper's explained a few things to us.” Pat pulled open his shirt to reveal the shoulder rig and the .9mm stowed safely away. Chip couldn't hold back his grin. Pat always did have a way of keeping an eye on him.
“If you help me out of this bed. I honestly don't think I can make it on my own,” Chip said. Without a word, Pat pushed the chair closer to the bed and helped Chip into the chair. Pat knew the Exec hated being this weak and dependent on somebody else. It wasn't in his nature to ask for help. He was always there for everybody else, lending a hand, helping with repairs, offering a word of encouragement when it was needed. It only seemed fair to Pat to offer to return the favor. When the skipper explained about the attack on Mister Morton, Pat had quietly reminded the captain that both he and Ski were excellent marksmen. So he had it cleared it with the Doc. If Mister Morton was to leave his room, he'd be accompanied by either Pat or Ski; no one else unless the skipper cleared it.
Pat settled Chip in the wheelchair and laid the folded blanket from the foot of the bed over Morton's legs. Chip raised an eyebrow at the action, but didn't question it.
“You ready for some sunshine, sir?” Pat finally asked, turning the chair around to point at the door.
“All ahead full, Patterson,” Chip commanded with a grin. At a brisk pace, but not too fast, Patterson wheeled the exec out into the hallway and down the corridor, heading for the exit.
“Any place specific you want to go, sir, or do you just want to be surprised?” Patterson asked, once they were outside. Chip closed his eyes and leaned his head back, enjoying the warmth of the California sun.
“It's just nice to be out. Surprise me,” the officer said, putting his trust in Patterson. They moved forward, the senior rating guiding the chair carefully over the sidewalks. Not daring to hope, Chip found himself heading down familiar walkways. As they passed the guard shack leading down into the subpen, Dan Parkman leaned over and addressed them.
“Welcome home, Mister Morton. Come down to say hi to the old girl?” the guard asked. Chip grinned up the older man.
“Patterson’s doing all the navigating; I'm just along for the ride. That does seem to be the destination though,” Chip replied. Dan waved the two through and soon the pair was making their way over the loading docks.
Seaview bobbed lightly in the quay, elegant as only someone who knew her as Chip did could understand. Patterson rolled the wheelchair to a stop and turned it so Chip could watch the activity as crewmen came and went, and equipment was rolled in and out. Occasionally one brave crewman would look up and see the blond figure sitting on the dock and wave. Morton returned the wave and the crewmen would disappear down one hatch or the other. Word spread that there was an unofficial visitor on the dock and in groups of two or three various crewmen would wander by and offer a word of greeting. Chip exchanged a few words with them all and they would head off back to their duties. He began to understand that his presence had been sorely missed by not just Lee and the admiral, but by Seaview's crew as well. He hadn't realized how much time had passed until he felt Patterson's hand on his shoulder.
“It's getting late, sir. Doc might think we got lost if we don't head back,” the rating said. Chip nodded in agreement.
“It would be just like him to send the skipper after both of us.” Chip replied. Patterson took up his position behind the wheelchair and wheeled the blond officer back up the hill toward Med Bay. Halfway there, the two spied the tall, leggy figure of the aforementioned skipper.
“Right on schedule, wouldn't you say, Mister Morton?” Patterson asked with a smile in his voice.
“Actually, I was wondering what took him this long,” Chip replied.
A pop sounded from somewhere off to Chip's right. He and Patterson both turned to see what the sound was, Chip thinking that it sounded an awful lot like a gunshot. Another pop filled the air, this time Pat pulled the .9mm from under his shirt and whirled to face the direction the shot had come, placing himself between the perceived threat and his senior officer. Lee came pounding up, automatically heading for the exec.
“Pat, you cover for us,” Crane ordered, spinning the wheelchair around and aiming for Med Bay.
“Aye Skipper,” was Pat's automatic answer as he took a two-fisted grip on the automatic, scanning the area from any sign of anything out of place.
“Chip, stay low,” Lee ordered. He was glad Chip didn’t argue with him. From somewhere high up, coming from the roof of one of the many buildings on the grounds, a third shot sent dust flying, coming dangerously close to the skipper and his retreating charge. By now the guard stationed at the door of Med Bay had drawn his piece and was covering for the two as they barreled toward the doors. Patterson was right behind them. They stopped just inside the door as the guard slapped at the automatic locking mechanism behind the counter. The Med Bay was now on lock-down for the second time in a week. Lee vaulted over the counter as Chip collapsed into a nearby chair, his infection-weakened lungs clawing for air after his brief run. Another reminder of how weak Chip still was. He noticed Lee's dark look as he snatched at the nearest phone and dialed a number.
“Admiral, our visitor's back. Somebody just took a couple of shots at Patterson as he was bringing Chip up from the docks…We're back in Med Bay. Harv's got the place on lock-down again…Yes sir. I'll get Chip back to his room and meet you in your office.”
Lee hung up the phone and this time walked around the counter. By now the lower lobby was a flurry of activity as the nurses and attendants scrambled in response to the lock-down. Jamie, in full battle mode, came striding down the hall, stethoscope around his neck and an expression of pure disgust on his face. He marched right up to Chip, grabbed for a wrist and felt for the pulse. After a few seconds, he turned back to Lee, who was hovering protectively nearby.
“Back to his room, pronto,” he said.
“Come on, buddy. You've had enough excitement for one day,” Lee said, helping Chip to his feet.
Chip didn’t argue. It was hard enough to breathe, much less tell his legs what direction he wanted to go in. He wobbled unsteadily, clutching at Lee for balance. He doubted he could walk across the floor much less up to his room. Lee stood rock still until Morton had his balance again, then slowly led Chip to the elevator. Lee had his back, Lee wouldn't let him down. For the moment that was enough to be thankful for.
Shoving the rifle into the empty toolbox, Marcus English slid down the fire escape before the security team appeared. Taking his time so he didn't appear conspicuous, he had made across the grounds, his maintenance uniform giving him some measure of protection. He stopped once he reached a van, palmed a key from his pocket and unlocked the back doors. He stepped in and pulled the door shut. A few minutes later the van started up and pulled out of the lot, heading out along a narrow track that ran along the ridge over looking the beach. He'd paid a lot of money to learn about the back roads, any unmanned ways in and out. It was just a matter of time before the Institutes' security remembered about this back road. His window was closing fast if he planned on getting Morton off the property. The freighter would only stay docked for another two weeks. Fourteen days starting today. Fourteen days to get Morton and get out.
He couldn't count on Danny-boy to hold up his part of the bargain. The missionary was supposed to get close to Morton, gain his trust and get him to talk about Tinaca. The one glitch was Morton's memory. According to Danny, Morton didn't remember what happened to him. Marcus was positive the officer was lying. How could you not remember eight weeks of your life?
He turned the van off onto another road, this one hardly more than two ruts on packed ground. Normally a locked gate barred admission to anyone. Marcus had found the overgrown gate, forgotten by most and had cut the rusted chain holding the gate closed. A few more miles and this road came in behind the low end of the dock where the freighter Crimson Reign was docked. In fourteen days the Reign set out for South America and Marcus English was determined that he and Lieutenant Commander Charles Morton be aboard her.
With Chip settled once more in his room, a guard at the door and at both ends of the hall, Lee could finally take a moment to breath. In the retreat of the admiral's office, he tossed back the contents of a single shot glass, turning down Nelson's offer of a second.
“What are our options now?” Lee asked, sinking into one of the big stuffed leather chairs that faced Nelson's desk. He was worried and beyond tired. Someone out there had it in for Morton and Lee felt utterly helpless to stop him.
Nelson was about to say something further, but was interrupted by a quick knock on the office door and the appearance of Will Jamieson.
“Will, how's Chip?” Nelson asked.
“Asleep at the moment. Admiral, that young man is on the verge of full-blown double pneumonia. With his immune system already drained from malaria and what I'm fairly certain was already one bout with pneumonia, it won't take much to send him into a relapse,” said Will, the concern in his voice unmistakable. Will was protective of all his patients but he was taking Chip's condition personally.
“No more midday walks for Mister Morton,” Nelson said, resisting the urge to light a cigarette. Jamie had enough to deal with. Nelson didn't want to remind the CMO he was still smoking.
“He's not going to like that. He's already tired of that room. Keeping him quiet so his lungs don't get overtaxed is going to be a challenge. Keeping him caged up in that room is only going to add the stress he doesn't need if he's going to heal up from this. You wanted the reports from Toxicology when they came in.” Will dropped a folder of papers on the admiral’s desk.
Nelson flipped the folder open as he continued to talk. “We'll think of something Will. You just concentrate on getting Chip better. Leave the rest to us,” Harry paused, brows furrowing as he read. Glancing up at Will, the distaste in his sapphire blue eyes was clear.
“Ketamine? Is the lab sure?”
Will nodded. “Positive. I re-ran the results myself in a double blind test. That syringe we found was full of a very concentrated dose of Ketamine. Somebody didn’t want Chip to wake up for some time.”
“What’s Ketamine?” Lee asked. Having been on the receiving end of Jamie’s syringes time and again, the name was unfamiliar to him.
“A very, very strong sedative, used mostly on the veterinary side of my business. It has some human uses, but not in the concentration we found in that syringe. In Chip’s condition, without knowing his medical history, that dose could have killed him. Admiral, who ever this is, they mean business.”
“I think it's time I told you about the trackers,” Nelson said, swirling his own glass of scotch.
“I don't see how any tracker is going to help us narrow down who's after Chip and why,” Lee replied sourly.
Nelson was toying with a small jeweler’s box on the top of his desk. As Lee spoke, he lifted the lid and pushed the small box toward Crane. Crane picked up the box and peered curiously into it. Nestled in a mat of cotton batting were three small, tube-like objects. Each was about the diameter of an ink pen cartridge and about three quarters of an inch long. Carefully, Lee picked one and held it up to the light. He recognized a few of the components from the lab he had seen earlier. So this was what Nelson had been working on.
“This? This is a tracker?” the skipper asked.
“Are you familiar with the electronic ID tags they implant in dogs and cats? This is similar, but far more advanced. You're aware that the human body, like all living things, creates its own weak electrical field? Once implanted, these little beauties pull power from the host’s own electrical field, and can generate a tracking signal that can be picked up from any one of the Institute’s communication satellites. Should we fail and somehow someone does manage to get their hands on Chip, we should be able to track them and get him back.”
“This would have been handy a few months back,” Lee replied, setting the piece back down in its box. Nelson retrieved the case and slid the lid back on.
“That's were I got the idea. I plan on having Will here implant them in us as soon as possible. It takes some time for the devices to 'charge' so to speak. Once implanted, they remain dormant for an undetermined amount of time until activated. The one glitch I haven't been able to work out yet is that although they remain dormant, they burn out a few weeks after activation and need to be removed once they die out.” Nelson noticed Lee giving him an odd look.
“Implant? In us? You’re gonna put that thing in me?” he asked incredulously.
“All three of us. Lee, you know I wouldn't ask you to so something that I wouldn't be willing to do as well. Should come in handy the next time one of your ONI missions goes askew, don't you agree?”
“Admiral, is this necessary? Can't you just put this in Chip and not me?” The second the words left his mouth he regretted them. Nelson whirled around and focused the sapphire blue eyes on Lee, thunder and lightening in his gaze.
“Lee, but for a twist of fate that could be you down there under guard or even me. The two of you, not to mention myself, have gone missing more times than I care to remember and for once I plan on doing something about it. I can make this an order if I have to but I was hoping you would see my side of things. These trackers pinpoint location, that's all. No other information can be transmitted; I've given you that measure of privacy. I'm trying to protect you, Lee, all three of us, even if you can't see it. You and Chip are both far too important to me and to Seaview.”
“I don't like the idea of being 'tagged', like I'm some kind of wild game, part of some 'catch and release' program. Study the North American Crane in his natural habitat sort-of-thing,” Lee argued. He didn't like the idea, even though he could see its merits. He didn't like the idea that his every move, that no matter where he was, Nelson would be able to track him down. He valued his down time when he chose to take it and the idea that Nelson, despite their friendship, could just waltz in on whatever he was doing, whenever the mood struck him, made Lee feel caged.
Nelson must have seen the emotions flickering across Lee's expressive, golden amber eyes. Will was keeping silent, letting Nelson handle the young commander.
“Relax, lad. I would never compromise your private life. I would never track you down with this unless it was an absolute emergency, like what happened to Chip. You have to admit, if we had this when Kruger came back for you, we would have had a far easier time tracking you.”
Lee found himself remembering that time when Nelson vanished off a plane, in midair. It had taken them days to find the island where the admiral was being held1. If they'd had this little device, it would have saved them all mountains of worry.
“All it does is send out a homing beacon?” Lee finally asked, his eyes watching the small box on the desk.
Nelson nodded. “In short, seventy-five second bursts. That's all. Nothing more. I'm having one implanted, as well. Lee, trust me on this. I think this is the best thing. If you go along with this, I'll have less trouble convincing a certain executive officer this is necessary.”
“Are you sure this thing is going to work?”
“I don't see why not. All the tests came back positive. Will, would you be willing to oversee the procedure?”
Jamie snorted. “I’d like to see somebody else try.”
Chip rubbed at his arm, the spot still sore from the implant. “This thing is suppose to track us through the Institute's satellite system?” he asked, unsure if he liked the idea of being so easily found. He liked the idea of being able to track Lee when he turned up missing, but on the other hand, shore leave was shore leave. He took his time off seriously. Nelson had volunteered to be first, and Chip had watched apprehensively as Jamie inserted the tiny instrument just under the skin. Lee had been next, he hadn't looked happy about it, but somehow the admiral had talked Crane into it. If Lee was willing to go along with it, then so could he.
Jamie set aside his instruments, picked up a small square of gauze. He taped the square down over the injection site then stepped back to admire his work. “That's what the admiral says. So far you, Lee and the admiral are the only ones to have them. Your little field trip in Peru gave him the idea. I get the impression he's been working on them since you came back.”
Chip touched the bandage absently, wondering if this would have helped find him when he disappeared.
“Don't pick at it. If you leave that alone, I'll let you have some good news.”
“I'm letting you out of Med Bay.”
“You're kidding?” Chip asked, his blue eyes holding a glimmer of hope.
Jamie crossed his arms over his chest and looked on at one of his most challenging patients. Chip was perched on the edge of the bed, still weak, but the infection in his lungs was clearing up quickly and Jamie was running out of reasons to keep the strong-willed commander in Med Bay.
“I certainly wouldn't kid about something about this. I don't see any reason to keep you here any longer. In fact, I don't see why you can't go back on LIGHT duty. I'm sure you have quite a bit of paperwork to catch up on,” Jamie said with a grin.
“What's the catch?” the blond man asked cautiously. Something told him this wasn't just out of the goodness of Jamie's heart. It had been over a week and a half since the second attempt. His would-be-kidnapper was still out there, and Chip just couldn't see Nelson agreeing to let him out from under lock and key.
Jamie gave Morton a wide-eyed innocent look. “Catch, Commander? Are you implying that I would set stipulations to you getting to sleep in your own bed in your own house?”
“Forget it, Jamie. He's onto us,” Lee said, leaning against the door frame, his arms crossed over his chest. Chip turned to look at his best friend. Lee had a cheesy grin on his face and Chip got the sinking feeling he'd just been had.
“What have you two cooked up?” Chip asked, casting an eye at his best friend as Lee slowly sauntered into the room, his golden eyes dancing with some concealed joke.
“How would you like a roommate for a few weeks?” Lee asked. Chip just stared.
“You? Are you kidding? Why would you want move in with me, wait. You wanna play bodyguard, don't you?” Chip said incredulously, his eyebrows going vertical.
“I did live with you for four years. A couple of days or weeks won't matter. Until we figure out who is after you, I'm not going to take the chance that somebody could waltz in and spirit you off,” Lee said, all joking aside. His golden eyes had taken on a serious shade as he looked on his friend.
He and the doctor had already had this discussion when Jamie explained he was running out of reasons to keep Chip in Med Bay. The blond was healing nicely and there had been no more attempts on him. He'd even been allowed visitors in the person of Daniel Priest. Lee felt deeply indebted to the young man. Lee simply could not be there for Chip all the time and Daniel's visits had given Morton something to look forward to. Anybody willing to help out Chip deserved a few points in Lee's book.
“Lee, I don't need a bodyguard,” Chip replied. Wasn't this just a fine kettle of fish? First off, he was his own National Geographic special, tagged and released back into the wild. All he need was the Critter Cam to complete the whole thing and now Lee wanted to move in? Just peachy.
“Chip, somebody got through the Institute's security, not once but twice. Jamie got the test results back from the syringe your attacker left. It was a sedative. Somebody was trying to carry you off. Based on that, we can only assume that the second attempt was to separate you from Patterson. I won’t let that happen. I won’t lose you again.”
“Why on earth would somebody want to kidnap me? Lee, that’s crazy, you can’t seriously think…” Chip’s voice trailed off as he watched his friend’s expression change.
Lee balled his fists as he tried to get emotions under control. Jamie had wisely stepped back, keeping an eye on Chip, but ready to step in if necessary.
“Jamie, can you give us some space?” Lee asked quietly, as he finally jammed his hands in his pockets.
“Of course, Skipper. You need me, ring the nurse’s station.” With that, Jamieson left the two officers alone.
Lee paced the length of the room while Chip watched. Finally Lee stopped, facing the dark television, the reflection of the room visible in the black screen. When Lee spoke, there was raw emotion in his words, such emotion as Chip had seldom heard before.
“Chip, for eight weeks I lived in hell. I had nobody to lay to rest. I had no grave to visit. The earth had literally swallowed you up and none of my ONI training helped a damn in bringing you home.”
“Lee, you . . .” Chip began, but Lee wasn't finished and cut him off with a wave of one hand.
“Hear me out Chip. I need for you to understand where I'm coming from. I had this hole in me. It was like a part of me was gone, like a puzzle with that one piece missing. I wasn't whole any more. I wasn't even sure if I could put out to sea. Seaview is just as much yours as mine and I didn't know if I could do that without you. I rely on you for so much without admitting it. Some fruitcake is out there and this time I have the skills to do something. Let me do this. Don't fight the admiral or me on this. I can't let something happen to you again.”
The two men were quiet for a long stretch of seconds. Chip was the first to break the silence.
“I'm not picking up your socks,” he said with a grin.
The light knock on Nelson's door pulled his attention way from the stack of paperwork he was trying to concentrate on. “Yes?” He already knew who it was but Lee wouldn't just barge in.
The door swung open and Crane stepped easily into the spacious office. His long stride brought him up to Nelson's desk and he hitched one hip on the edge to perch on his usual corner.
“Chip is ready to go home. He's not real thrilled about me staying with him, but he's going to let it stand.”
“Good. I’ve already spoken with security and they’re working out a shift for watching Chip’s house. I’ve also spoken with the gate watch and no one is getting in without an I.D. and a background check. I assume you haven’t mentioned this?”
Lee smiled. “No sir. It was hard enough getting him to agree to let me stay with him. If he found out we had security watching the house, he certainly wouldn’t agree to me staying.”
“Hopefully, with you on the inside, it should make anyone think twice about making a third attempt on him.
Crane nodded in agreement. “Any more theories on why or who is after Chip?”
This time Nelson rose to his feet and pulled a long drag off the cigarette he had almost forgotten he was holding. Smoke wafted up drifted in a thin, blue gray cloud up to the ceiling. Nelson stopped in front of the windows and looked out over the expanse of the Institute.
“I've been putting a lot of thought into that. Other than the normal operations and upgrades to Seaview, Chip wasn't involved in anything overly secret. The only thing he did different was his time in Peru.”
“Which he remembers nothing about,” Lee added.
“You and I know that. But consider this; Chip was somewhere. There can be no doubt of that. Someone or several some ones took care of him while he healed. He didn't lie on that riverbank for two months. Lee, I know you. You no doubt turned over every rock and fished though every hole looking for him. You only gave up when there was absolutely no sign of him. So where was he?”
“I have no idea. Neither does Chip.”
Nelson turned to face Lee, gesturing with his free hand. “Tinaca.”
Lee blinked, trying to make the connection. “Tinaca? That's a legend, right? A mythical lost city? There must be hundreds of legends of lost cities in South America. Why Tinaca?”
“Because according to legend, Tinaca reportedly lies in the area that Chip was lost in. Just suppose Chip had been there.”
Lee simply could not wrap his head around what he was hearing. This was crazy, even coming from the admiral. Chip and a mythical lost city? No, it simply didn't make sense. But, as Nelson had pointed out, Chip had to have been somewhere.
“Okay, I'll run with it. As crazy as it sound, suppose Chip was taken in by a lost tribe of Incans. How does that play in to the here and now?”
“You're familiar with legends. The Tinaca legend is no different. Lost city, treasure beyond your imagination, all the standard wealth-beyond-your-wildest-dreams-stories.”
Understanding flooded Lee's eyes. “Gold. You’re talking about some hidden cache of gold. And someone thinks that Chip may well remember the way back.”
“Exactly. It's our job to keep Chip safe. I've got feelers out hoping to get the names of everyone Chip came into contact with after Daniel Priest found him and took him back to Moyobamba.”
“Admiral, you don't suspect Daniel Priest, do you?”
Nelson walked over to the desk and crushed the cigarette butt out. “At this point, I'm not above suspecting anyone, but I can't see Priest as having those kinds of ambitions. He's a dedicated man of God. I think we can most likely rule him out of the equation.”
Lee made no further comment, only in his head he was running through the attempts made on his friend over the last few weeks. Daniel had visited with Chip before the attempt on him in Med Bay. Daniel had been by several times before the shooting outside Med Bay. He had also been by early this morning. Lee’s opinion of the young man was slowly changing. Crane wasn't ready to trust the young man just yet, despite the missionary’s friendship with Chip.
The small bar was dark and quiet. Daniel Priest glanced uneasily around, waiting for Marcus to show. He didn't like these places, they always made him feel dirty and like he should go home and pray for forgiveness for even thinking about being in one of these places.
But it was the best place to meet with Marcus. Daniel couldn't stop the stream of thoughts running through his head. Marcus's arguments had sounded so solid before, but things were getting out of hand. He thought all they had to do was talk to Chip, get him to remember where he had been and see if he could lead them back there. But Chip's last memory was of going over the falls. Whatever had happened to him after that was a mystery.
Marcus had been right about something else. How long was he going to roam through the jungles, trying to spread the word of God? Looking at the world around him, was he doing any good? Evil was everywhere and no amount of preaching and spreading the gospel seemed to be helping. Maybe he was following the wrong calling. Maybe he had been put on this earth for another reason. But if that reason wasn't to bring to bring the word of God to those who had never heard of the Almighty, then what was his calling in this world?
After what seemed like hours of waiting, Marcus plopped down in the booth and grinned at the troubled missionary.
“You got something good for me, Danny-boy?”
“I don’t like this. It’s breaking the law.”
“Don’t get squeamish on me now, Priest. Morton remembering anything yet?”
Danny looked down at the plate of greasy fries he had ordered, his appetite gone south. “No. I told you, I think Morton’s telling the truth. He doesn’t remember anything about where he was. I think you should just forget this whole thing. It’s a wild goose chase and nothing good is going to come of it,” he said, hoping English would just drop the whole thing.
Marcus’s face turned dark and angry. He pointed a finger at the young missionary as he snarled, “You’re in this just as deep as I am. Morton knows, he’s just being stubborn and not telling. Nobody forgets two months of their life. I need some way to separate him from that buddy of his. They plan on letting Morton out of the hospital anytime soon?”
Daniel sighed and reluctantly mentioned what Chip had told him. “Chip said he thought he might be released in a few days. There haven’t been any more attempts on him. They might think you gave up.”
Marcus barked a short ugly laugh. “Chip, huh? You and him on first name basis now? How sweet. He’s like the freaking Hope Diamond. No chance of getting close to him while he’s in the damn hospital. They send him home and it’s a different story. I got contacts with people who deal with just this sort of thing.”
Daniel stared with an expression of almost horror on his face. “Kidnapping? Breaking and entering? If you plan on taking Chip back to South America, not only are you crossing state lines; this is now an INTERNATIONAL crime. You can’t be serious!”
“Keep it down, I don’t want to advertise. You knew what you were signing up for. Just leave everything to me. I’ll let you know if I need you.”
The tinkle of breaking glass jerked Lee awake. He lay perfectly still, listening before slowly easing out of bed and shoving his feet into the shoes on the floor, taking a second to tie off the laces. He reached over and picked up the Beretta off the nightstand then eased out of the guest bedroom. Moving silently up the hall wearing only his pajama bottoms and an open nightshirt, he passed Chip's room and glanced in. Chip Morton was sitting on the edge of the bed, an automatic clutched tightly in his hands.
“Stay here. I'll lock the door. If I'm not back in ten, call security. It might just be a stay cat.”
Chip reluctantly nodded and watched as Lee pulled the bedroom door shut. Who was doing this? What on earth was so important to somebody that they would risk Institute security a third time? Slowly getting to his feet, Chip hit the lock and flattened himself against the wall. If someone tried to get through the door, they'd get a nasty surprise. He might not be at one hundred percent yet, but there was nothing wrong with his aim.
Lee padded down the stairs, seeing nothing, hearing nothing. With the Beretta held low in a two-handled grip, Lee made a sweep of the living room and Chip's downstairs office. Nothing. He found the back window in the small office broken in. Glass glittered in the moonlight in the floor. This was no stay cat.
A crash and a gunshot echoed from upstairs. Chip. Lee spun and raced back up the stairs. The first thing saw was the door to Chip's room, wide open and the frame splintered. Lee wasn't ready for the sight that greeted him as he stepped into Chip's room.
One body lay in the floor, a neat round hole in the center of his forehead. Chip’s gun lay abandoned on the floor nearby. A second figure was struggling to heave the unconscious Chip Morton over one shoulder.
“Hold it right there, pal. Put him down, slowly. Now, unless you want a hole to match your friend here,” Lee growled. The abductor dropped Chip to the bed. Almost in slow motion, he swung his body, hand reaching for his belt. Lee squeezed off one shot and the man dropped to the floor as a red stain blossomed in the center of his chest.
Stepping over the bodies, Lee got an arm around Chip's shoulders and lifted the young man up off the bed, half carrying him into the guest bedroom. He settled Morton down on top the covers. Lee wanted to do another sweep of the house, but he didn't dare leave Chip alone. Instead, he stepped to the door and closed it, clicking the lock. Looking around, Lee spied the dresser. Bracing his shoulder against the heavy piece of furniture, Lee shoved the dresser square in front of he door. Lee now had a defendable room. The room’s window was a story off the ground and it would be damn hard for someone to climb up to it.
Crane made his way back to the bed and sat down on the edge. What ever had been used on Chip still had the man out cold. Remembering Jamie’s story about the Ketamine, Lee slid one hand under Chip's jaw. He let out a long breath when his fingers felt a steady pulse under the skin. Lee then fumbled for the phone, not surprised when the heard no dial tone in the receiver. He reached over and snagged his jeans draped across the edge of the bed, pulling his cell from the pocket. He hit a few buttons from memory and waited.
“Admiral, it’s Lee. Sorry to wake you, sir. It's about Chip. Somebody just made a third attempt…I don't know, but there are two bodies. I'll explain the whole thing later. I need to get Jamie over here…Both Chip and I are fine, I just think they drugged him and I want Jamie to look him over to be sure…We're in the guest bedroom…Thanks, Admiral.”
Lee cut the connection and dialed Jamie's number. As quickly as possible, Lee explained Chip's condition to the doctor and Jamie promised to be over as soon as possible. After that, Lee stayed on the edge of the bed, pondering the events: first the attempt at Med Bay, then the shooting, and now this.
A weak groan pulled Lee's thoughts back to the present. Chip tossed, fighting to claw his way back to consciousness. Lee watched, one hand on Morton's arm, anchoring the young man as Chip struggled against what ever had been used on him. Finally one incandescent orb opened, followed by the other.
“Lee? What happened? This isn’t my room,” Chip asked, blinking in the dim light, trying to sit up.
Lee put a restraining hand on Chip's shoulder. “Slow down there. Take it easy, buddy.”
“It was another one, wasn't it? Who the hell are these people? I don't know anything. Didn't these people get the memo? I've been lost in the damn jungle for two months.” The impatience in Chip's voice was clear. All he wanted was to be left alone.
Lee could only answer honestly. It was time for Chip to know what he and Nelson suspected. “We think who ever these people are tied to whatever happened to you. You may have seen something out there and somebody's after you for what you might know.”
“Lee, that's ridiculous. I do not remember ANYTHING,” Chip replied defensively.
“But these people don't believe that. Listen. When we finally found you, you were delirious with a fever and malaria. You kept calling out for the admiral and me. Occasionally you would mumble something nobody could understand. A couple of times on the way back home you said the name Tinaca.”
“Danny’s mentioned that. It’s just a myth, Lee. There's no lost city in the jungle.” Chip said.
Lee took a deep breath. “Chip, for eight weeks you were missing and presumed dead. You were somewhere. Someone took care of you and nursed you back to health. Jamie too x-rays and a million other tests once we got you home. You had evidence of a broken leg. That didn’t heal as well as it did without some kind of help.”
“And you think I was vacationing in some lost city? Do you know how fruity that sounds? That’s crazy, even for us.”
Lee could only nod in agreement, his eyes serious. “Chip, somebody out there doesn’t think it’s as crazy as it sounds. Lee neglected to mention his suspicions about Daniel. Chip liked the young man, and Lee wanted desperately to be wrong, but the evidence was beginning to pile up against the missionary.
“Dathan, I need a few more days. Can't you push the date back for another week?” Marcus asked, desperation coloring his voice. The captain of the Crimson Reign stared at the mercenary, like one would stare at a particularly distasteful bug. Finally Dathan Corwin inclined his head slightly.
“I’ve got cargo waiting for shipment to Callao. The longer I sit here, the more money I'm losing. Unless I was compensated for the time I'm not at sea, I'm not sure how I can be of help to you.”
“How much?” Marcus asked, glancing across the upper deck of the freighter.
In desperation, he had come to Dathan directly, hoping to plead his case to Corwin. He needed more time. His plan to take Morton from his house had been foiled by that Crane fellow. Nobody had mention that Crane had moved in with Morton to stand as bodyguard. Both of his men had been shot dead. Luckily neither would be able to report who had hired them or why.
Getting Morton off by himself was proving harder than English had anticipated. Morton never left the Institute, and he was seldom alone. No matter. They would get careless soon enough. He just needed to be patient. He faced the owner and captain of the Crimson Reign, waiting for an answer. Dathan reached over the table and pulled a notepad closer. With a leaky pen, he scribbled a figure down and turned the pad to face Marcus.
“Fine. Whatever. For this amount, can you be ready to sail at when I give the word?”
Dathan smirked at the suggestion. “It’s your money. For now, it’s your boat. Boss”
“You’re crazy,” Lee’s statement came out flat and emotionless as Chip sat on the edge of his desk.
“You have a better idea?” Morton challenged. He knew Lee wasn’t going to like his plan but he was tired of looking over his shoulder. Now that Doc had released him to light duty, Chip wanted to get to the bottom of this once and for all.
“I’m not going to take that risk with you. I don’t care if it is your idea, it’s fruity and I think it’s wrong.”
Chip stood up and began to pace, jamming his hands into his back pockets as he prowled up and down the length of Lee’s office. “I’m tired of this Lee. How long can you live at my place? We can’t keep this up forever.”
Crane leaned back in his chair, fingers twisting the ring on his right hand. Chip noticed but made no comment about his friend's nervous habit.
“And you think by setting yourself up as bait to draw this guy out, we can catch him and find out what he wants?”
“Bingo. We have to try something, Lee. Your idea certainly isn’t working. I know about the security watch. I also know the two guys watching the house woke up in Med Bay few hours later, knocked out by the same stuff they tried using on me! Good thing I only got a whiff of the stuff, else Jamie would have me back as patient. I can’t hide here at the Institute forever. Beside, he’s gotten in not once, but three times. Lee, the guy broke into my HOUSE! I can’t sit back and let this guy, or group or whatever the hell they are, keep me from living my life.”
Crane closed his eyes, massaging his forehead with his fingers. He’d been waiting for Chip to suggest something like this. He just hadn’t thought it would be so soon after Doc cut him loose. His friend’s idea had merit--Lee had to admit that much. But purposely letting Chip get taken, then trying to track him down, that was crazy. No way in hell was he going along with it. This was the whole reason for officers to live on base. The fact that Security had found some random back road leading off base didn’t help his temper any either. The fresh tires tracks and the broken chain on the long forgotten gate was evidence enough to how their unwelcome guest was getting in.
“Lee,” Chip’s voice broke Crane out of his thoughts. He looked up to see Chip sitting on the edge of his desk once more. “We've been tagged and released, remember? If this works, you and the admiral can track me and get me back.”
Lee locked eyes with his best friend. “What did the admiral say about your plan?”
Chip broke from Lee's amber gaze and stood back up. He walked over to the window and looked out over the expanse of the Institute grounds. Crossing his arms over his chest, the blond didn't answer. Lee recognized the action as one of two defense mechanisms. Chip did that when he was trying to look intimidating or when he was closing up. Lee doubted that he was trying to intimidating. That tactic had never worked with Lee.
“I haven't exactly told the admiral about this. It's easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission. The admiral would never let me do this,” Chip said softly.
“Now I know you're crazy,” Lee announced. This time he stood and walked across the floor to join his friend. “Keeping secrets from the admiral is not the smartest move, Chip.”
“Lee, you know if I tell the admiral, Jamie will find out. I'm barking for another VIP suite in Med Bay if he finds out what I've got in mind.”
Lee pounced. “And Jamie would be right. He's got you on light duty for a reason, bro. This little stunt you have in mind could very well send you back into a relapse. I know you don't want to end up on the receiving end of an I.V., or worse yet, a catheter, anymore than I do.”
“I want this to end, Lee. I want to sleep in my own bed without wondering if somebody's gonna carry me off in the dark. I want to walk down to the docks without somebody taking shots at me. I can't do my job as your exec if I have to keep looking over my shoulder every time I turn around. You can't be responsible for me twenty-four hours a day.”
Lee wouldn't look at his friend, instead keeping his focus on the activity outside the window. If this plan of Chip's worked and he was taken, they could indeed find him with the admiral's tracker. Lee wasn't sure if he liked the idea. Chip being missing had taken more out of him than he cared to admit. Letting Chip get taken, watching while somebody carried his best friend off, Lee wasn't sure he could stand by and do nothing. But if he didn't offer to help, Morton was likely to try something on his own. Ordering him to forget it was out of the question. The man was like a bulldog with a bone when he got something in his head.
“Let me ask you something,” Lee began, “what's your opinion about Daniel Priest?”
“Daniel? What's he got to do with any of this? Don't tell me you suspect a missionary of God?”
“Chip, I'd suspect my own mother when it comes to you and the admiral. Daniel visits you in Med Bay, hours later an unknown assailant sneaks in and tries to carry you off.”
“Damn it, Lee. Wendy came by that day too. Is she a suspect? She’s an analyst for NCIS, for crying out loud!” snapped Chip, a warning growl in his voice. Crane ignored him and plowed onward. He continued to stalk the floor, arms behind his back as he tried to come to grips with his emotions and suspicions. Chip wasn't going to like what he had to say.
“He visits you after we double the security, and someone takes a shot on you and Patterson the third day Jamie lets you out of Med Bay.”
“Chip, is it coincidence that he turns up before Jamie lets you go home, only to have somebody break into your house? Somebody is trying to carry you off.”
“It's not Daniel. I could swear to that. Daniel wouldn't hurt anybody.”
“Once is chance, twice is coincidence and three times is a conspiracy. Somebody is in on a conspiracy to kidnap you and until I find out who it is, I'll suspect everyone.”
Chip crossed his arms over his chest once more and shook his head.
“You're wrong about Daniel. He wouldn’t hurt anybody,” he shot back at Lee angrily. He could not believe that Lee suspected the very man who had found him and brought him back to civilization. Lee should have a little more appreciation. “What does the admiral think of your little theory?” Chip snarled.
Lee snorted and turned away from Chip. “I haven't exactly talked this over with the admiral yet.”
Chip could not help the slight grin. “Now who's keeping secrets?”
“I still don't like it,” Lee grumbled at he picked at his salad. Across from him, Chip Morton was dumping Italian dressing onto his own salad. Their mornings had been taken up with meetings and in Chip's case, weeks worth of updates and reports to look over. Chip was taking advantage of their lunch break to review his idea for their plan.
“You have a better idea?” Chip replied, stabbing at a tomato.
“Is locking you in a bomb shelter until we find this freak an option?”
Chip raised a blond eyebrow and crunched down on his tomato. “Me kicking your six if you tried it also an option?”
“Point taken. I just don't like the idea of you making a fat target out of yourself.”
“You trust the admiral?” Chip asked.
“Of course I do. If he says the trackers work, then I believe the trackers will work. It's sitting back and watching some freakazoid carry you off that bothers me. Goes against everything that I am. I'm supposed to stop the bad guys, not let them walk in and take what they want,” Lee said sourly. He was still hoping that somehow he could talk Chip out of this idea of his.
“Lee, if this works, you'll have me back in no time. I trust in the admiral. I don't see how this can go wrong. We make this a routine, we get noticed and he makes his move. We give him what he wants.”
“I hope it's that easy.”
That's when Chip looked up to see Daniel Priest, a visitor’s badge on a lanyard around his neck, coming into the cafeteria. He waved at the young man and Lee turn around in his seat to see the missionary walking toward them.
“Sit down, Danny. You want anything? Cafeteria has a pretty good menu,” Chip said in greeting. Priest pulled out an empty chair and dropped down.
“Naw, not hungry. So, Chip, how you doing? You're looking good,” he said.
“I'm doing great. Doc's released me to light duty, I'm back home and I couldn't be happier.”
Lee noticed that Chip didn't say anything about the attempted kidnapping two days ago.
Daniel grinned. “See? I told you the Lord works in mysterious ways. You'll be back to normal in no time.”
Lee had a sudden idea. Chip would kill him later, but Lee figured he would deal with that when the time came. With a glance at Chip, then back to his watch, Lee rose to his feet and gathered up his lunch tray. “Chip, I've got a meeting in about twenty minutes. I'll catch you later. Don't forget, I'm driving to Sully's.”
Chip didn't skip a beat, but the look in his blue eyes said he wasn't happy about the stunt Lee had just pulled. With a quick glance over at Danny, Chip made his own move.
“You always drive. Sometimes I think you like that little red car better than Seaview,” he said. This whole thing had been Chip's idea. This would be the perfect chance to prove that Lee was wrong about Daniel.
“It suits me. Time we got back to living our lives. Doc insists you try and gain back the weight you've lost over the past couple of months. If you don't gain weight at Sully's, you must have a tapeworm. I don't know about you, but I need to get off base once in a while. Daniel, nice meeting you again, but I've really got to be going. Are you going to be in town much longer? Maybe you can join us for dinner one night?”
Daniel leaned forward locking his fingers together and resting his chin on his steepled fingers. “Thanks for the offer, but I'm going back to Peru in a few days, and I really need to get my stuff together. It's a long boat ride back to South America.”
“I understand. Chip, I see you at dinner. Daniel, nice meeting you again.” With that Lee bussed his tray and headed out the door to his 'meeting'. Morton watched his friend leave, wondering what Crane was up to before turning his attention back to Daniel.
“You'll let us know before you ship out?” Chip asked.
Chip watched as something odd flickered in the back of the younger man's eyes and Daniel swallowed hard. “Sure thing, Chip. You'll be the first to know when we get ready to leave.”
The fourth night in a row found Lee Crane and Chip Morton hanging out at Sully's. One thing Lee hadn't lied about it was the fact that Jamieson was indeed urging Morton to replace the weight he had lost over the last few months. His clothes were a little loose on him and Lee had heard from more than one secretary over the last couple days that the weight loss was apparently evident in the way the tailored khaki trousers fit. According those same ladies, they were not nearly as form fitting as they had been before Chip's disappearance. Lee felt it was his duty, as ranking officer and best friend, to see to it that Chip got back into form.
Dinner was excellent. Like Lee expected, Chip put away more than his fair share of cheese fries and followed the whole thing up with a slice of Sully's famous homemade apple pie. The two were heading down the sidewalk, making their leisurely way back to Lee's car. It was Lee, with his senses on double alert, who noticed their tail.
"Don't look now but I think we have a couple of shadows," Lee said quietly. Chip lost a step in his stride but didn't follow instinct to look behind him. Instead he kept his pace with Lee.
"I was beginning to wonder. Any suggestions?" Chip asked.
"We keep going. I could be wrong. Let’s just get back to the car."
"You're the Skipper," Chip replied dryly.
But around the corner, Lee and Chip found the way blocked by two more equally burly shadows. The two officers found themselves herded into a dark alley as the four unknowns closed in on them. Lee and Chip continued to back up, one eye on each other as the four silent assailants moved closer.
"Ah, Lee?" Chip asked. They were quickly running out of room. The alley was a dead end, ending with a solid brick wall.
"I'm working on it," Lee responded, glancing around, desperate for any kind of opening.
“Maybe you could work a little faster. I don’t think these guys are here for our autographs,” Chip replied. That’s when the four rushed them and Chip was thrown backwards by a wild punch. He fought back against his two, but still weakened from weeks of illness, Chip was nowhere near fighting shape. Lee saw his friend take a punch that knocked the exec back against the wall. Morton’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he slowly slid down the brick wall, collapsing into a heap on the ground.
“CHIP!” Lee yelled. Two more of the attackers ganged up on him as the third bent down and hefted Chip over his shoulders like he weighed nothing. The kidnapper pulled a gun from behind his back and fired wildly into the alley.
Lee ducked as bullets whizzed around him, still trying to hold his own against two attackers. One grabbed him by the collar and landed a solid punch to Lee’s jaw. Lee felt his knees go out on him and then he too was thrown into the wall. He tried to catch himself as he hit, watching helplessly as Chip was carried away.
NO! He couldn’t let Chip disappear again! With a strength born of frantic desperation, Lee clawed his way back to his feet and launched himself at Chip’s abductor, forgetting their carefully laid plan. All three went down and Chip’s unconscious body rolled back into the alley.
One of the assailants tackled Lee on the ground and they rolled on the hard concrete, his fingers locked around Lee's throat. Crane was distantly aware of a car pulling up, but his vision was graying out and the roar in his ears intensified. His oxygen starved lungs screamed for air as Lee fought the grip of his attacker. Unable to hang on to reality, Lee Crane dropped into unconscious. His unresponsive body was picked up and tossed into the alley. He missed Chip being picked up and tossed into the back of the car and the car speeding away.
It took every bit of training Leon Kowalski had not to wade into the alley and start pounding heads. It was only the skipper's explicit orders that kept Ski in the car when the four thugs made their appearance.
Don't interfere. Whatever you do, just let it go, the skipper had said.
So Ski was left to simply watch as the skipper and Mister Morton were cornered and attacked. A car pulled up to the curb, Ski saw Mister Morton dumped into the back seat, and then the car peeled off in a cloud of smoke. Just as soon as it began, all was still and quiet once again. There was no sign of the skipper.
Ski couldn't stop himself. He was out of the car and halfway down the block in a dead run before the other car was out of sight. He rounded the corner of the dark alley, at first thinking it was empty. Something caught his eye. It was a still figure lying in a heap against the back wall.
Skipper. Oh god, no, Skipper…
Ski dropped to his knees by his skipper's side. Carefully he rolled Crane over onto his back and felt for a pulse. With a deep, thankful breath, Ski found what he was looking for. The steady pulse of life still beat through the captain's veins. Ski gathered Crane's limp body to him.
“Skipper, sir, can you hear me? Come on Skipper, wake up for me, sir,” Ski pleaded, giving his commanding officer a gentle shake. With a start, Crane's eyes flew open and locked onto Ski's.
“Kowalski?” he asked weakly, his throat raw and sore. He swallowed hard and tried to sit up. Ski helped him to his feet.
“Just take it easy, sir. You took a nasty hit,”
Lee staggered, leaning his weight against the wall, aware of Kowalski's scrutiny. “Did the plan work?” Lee asked, balancing himself against the wall and Kowalski’s shoulder.
Ski nodded. “Yes sir, just like you said. They grabbed Mister Morton and took off. When it looked like you were down, I came running.”
Lee got his feet back under him and he made his slightly unsteady way out of the alley, Ski right behind him. He could not help the feeling that somehow he had failed to protect Chip. This was supposed to happen, they were supposed to grab Chip and make a get away, but Lee's training was screaming he hunt down these people and get his friend back, at what ever the cost. He had to let the tracker do its job and have faith that they could get Chip back and find out what these people wanted. “Let get back to the Institute. We still have to tell the admiral about this and get the tracker activated.”
As the two headed back to their cars, Ski was glad he wasn't the one going to break the news to the admiral.
“YOU TWO DID WHAT?” Harriman Nelson choked on his coffee, slamming the cup down on his desk, sloshing the contents onto the desktop. Lee winced as Nelson's voice made his aching head pound that much harder.
'Admiral, I know we took a risk . . .” Lee began on to have Nelson cut him off with a wave of his had. Harry got to his feet, pacing the floor as he tried to come to grips with the news Lee was telling him. He spun back to Lee.
“Damn right you took a risk! A foolhardy, uncalculated, dangerous risk. Lee, you could have been killed. They tried shooting Patterson, what made you think they weren't just going to put a bullet in you and take what they wanted? There are times when I simply do not understand you two. Two of the most grounded, detail minded, careful men I know and you pull a stunt like this? Chip SETTING himself up to be kidnapped? What were you two thinking?”
Feeling like a sixteen-year old who had broken curfew, Lee tried to explain. “It was Chip's idea. I did try to talk him out of it but I was afraid that if I didn't help him out he would try something on his own. This way, not only do we know for sure he's been taken, we can track him now. All we have to do is activate the device.” The excuse sounded so lame now, after the fact. Lee tried not to wince.
“It can take up to an hour to charge up to send out the first signal burst. In that time, these people have gotten that much of a head start on us. Why on earth didn't you come to me with this plan? We could have activated his tracker before hand and been ready when they made their move.” Already Harriman was at his computer, fingers tapping a steady dance across the keyboard as he brought up the tracking program.
Lee rubbed his hand across his forehead and for the first time, Nelson noticed the bruises across Lee's neck and the beginnings of what could only be a black eye beginning to blossom. Things hadn't gone quite the way they had planned it then.
“Chip was afraid that if we told you, Jamie would find out about it and send him back to Med Bay for his own protection. Chip was desperate for this to come to end. He said he couldn't do his job as my exec until we caught this guy. Like I said, I was afraid he would try something on his own, so I told him I'd help him.”
Nelson snorted. “Please tell me the two of you at least had some backup in case your so-carefully laid plans went askew? You seem to be developing some color that wasn't there when I last saw you. What exactly happened?”
Lee sighed. “Yes, sir. Kowalski was with us, in case things got out of hand. We were ambushed. There were four of them. They caught us in an alley as we were coming out of Sully's. That's when they knocked Chip out and took him.”
“Kowalski, huh? And what happened to you? That's not dirt on your neck and around your eye.”
“It's nothing. Kowalski was keeping an eye on things in case the situation got out of hand. Other than a few miscalculations, everything went according to plan.”
“Humph. Miscalculations. I'll bet,” the admiral grumbled. “I suppose it's too late to rant and rave about this. What's done is done and we need to get Chip back. This is as good a time as any to tell you what I've found out about Chip's stay in Moyobamba after he was found by Daniel Priest's missionary group. I’ve been in contact with that doctor who contacted us when Chip was first found. The group that Daniel was with had a guide, a man by the name of Marcus English. English, it seems, fled to South America several years ago to avoid federal charges after being connected to a string of bank robberies back east. One of those robberies ended with the death of two tellers and a bank security guard.”
Nelson tapped a thick folder on his desk. “I managed to get a hold of his records. Petty larceny, grand theft auto, the four bank robberies, and the three shootings; it seems that Marcus English is not one who plays well with others. Doctor Garvin said that English was most upset when we brought Chip home. He also said that both he and Priest left the mission, together, about two days after we left. Also, his prints were all over the syringe he so kindly left behind for us to find.”
“They were working together.” The statement came out flat, disgust coloring every word. Crane’s eyes glowed like amber flame with repressed anger, his fingers tightening into fists.
Nelson nodded. “It looks that way, lad. Garvin said that he'd had dealings with English in the past. It was English who approached Daniel and his group when they first came to Moyobamba. Offered his services as a guide and was particularly interested in the legends and stories of the lost city of Tinaca.”
It was Lee's turn to pace and growl. He had suspected Daniel, but he hadn't thought that the man had an accomplice. “So English was after Tinaca all this time, using the missionary group to look for it,” Lee surmised.
“That and the wealth associated with it. Then Daniel and his group found Chip at the base of the falls. Chip was seriously ill, delirious with a high fever. In his delirium, he was muttering odd words that made no sense to us at the time.”
Lee picked up the threads of Harriman's thoughts. “But English had been searching for this city and recognized some of what Chip was saying. Then we show up and before he could get any information out of Chip, we cart him back home. So English has no choice to follow him. But how did he get Daniel to help him?”
“I don't have all the answers, Lee. Right now, we need to find Chip and bring him home before they can leave the country. We can pin him down this time. He hasn’t disappeared completely. Once we get a fix on his location, this time we can go in and bring him home. Get with I.T. and see if you can get a fix on his cell phone. I’ll be working with the tracking software. I've activated Chip's device but it will take another forty-five minutes to an hour to charge up and send out the first burst.”
Lee was halfway out the door as Nelson outlined the plan. “Yes sir, I'll get right on it. You should know, I've already contacted Sharkey and he's on standby, ready to call in a volunteer crew, should we need more back up.”
“I don't see a problem with that. You are the captain, and despite your sometimes questionable judgment, you have every right to make that call.”
“Oh, uh, Admiral?” Lee spun, one hand on the doorknob, looking back Nelson.
“Suppose the trackers don’t work?” Lee’s question was tinged with worry and doubt.
“Get cracking on that cell phone theory. Let me worry about the trackers.”
Lee nodded, opening the door and preparing to head down to I.T. What he wasn't expecting was to nearly run over one seriously ticked off Chief Medical Officer.
“Going somewhere, Commander?” William Jamieson asked in a low voice, his pale blue eyes unamused as he looked over the various bruises on Lee's face and neck.
“Jamie, I don't have time for this,” Lee began but Jamieson was not in the mood for excuses.
“All I need is five minutes. I just want to be sure that hard head of yours is intact,” the doctor said. Lee fixed him with a suspicious gaze.
“How did you find out?”
Will smiled sweetly at his commanding officer, a man young enough to be his son. “By accident. Seems somebody has put Sharkey on alert and he's quietly calling volunteers. It was suggested that perhaps I pack a little bag and find the skipper.”
“Kowalski,” growled Lee.
“He's just watching out for you, just like the rest of us. What kind of shape should I be expecting Chip to be in?”
Lee patiently let Will examine his bruises. “Unconscious, when I last saw him,” he said.
“What?” Will asked shining a light into Lee's eyes.
“The plan got a little out of hand. Chip took a punch and it threw him into a wall, he knocked his head and dropped off. I tried to get to him to at least make sure he was all right, but I was tackled.”
“And nearly strangled, from the looks of it. Spent some time unconscious yourself, I don't doubt. Wait. Did you say plan? What plan?”
The cat was out of the bag now. Jamie was going to rip him apart. “This was part of a plan, Chip's idea to flush out whomsoever is behind this.”
Jamieson took two steps back and crossed his arms over his chest, leveling a cold, dangerous gaze at the bruised young man. “Let me get this straight. You and Chip conspired to catch the people after him, on your own? Did you forget that Chip has only just been released from the hospital? Did you forget that he's been fighting off both a serious lung infection and the aftermath of a highly resistant strain of malaria? Commander, are you aware that it won't take much for Chip to relapse?”
Lee raised his hands to calm the irate doctor. “We know, Jamie. But Chip was desperate for this to end and he knew if we told anybody, you would readmit him back to Med Bay for his own protection.”
“You got that right. Of all the hair-brained, cock-eyed ideas, this takes the cake. Chip is no condition to be taking these kinds of risks! His health is on a fine line right now. Another bout of pneumonia like the last one could kill him if he doesn't get immediate care.”
“Which is why I have to get down to I.T. Arguing about this isn't going to get Chip back any faster, I have to go!” Lee nearly yelled. This time Nelson intervened, moving alongside Will and resting a hand on the doctor's shoulder.
“Let him go, Will. We've already been over the risks and my opinion of their actions. Lee's right, we can't waste anymore time.” With a nod to Lee, Nelson indicated he was dismissed. Crane was out the door and gone before Will could voice any more arguments.
“Did you know about this, Admiral?”
Nelson walked back to his desk and sat back down, dropping his head into his hands. “I was just as much in the dark about the whole thing as you were. Believe me, if I had known about this cockamamie scheme, there would have been a bit more planning and certainly a lot more back up. Like I told Lee, it's too late to moan about it now. Lee is trying to track Chip's cell phone and I've activated the tracking implant in Chip. Now we wait for the first signal. Once we get a fix on his position we can go in and retrieve our overanxious officer.”
“I can't believe that Lee would go along with this,” Will replied.
“Lee would do anything for Chip, you know that, we've both seen that played out time and time again. I don't think we're giving Lee enough credit for sitting back and letting someone carry Morton off like that. It goes against everything Lee was trained for, by both the Navy and ONI. If Lee didn't think this would work, he would have found a way to talk Chip out of it. Obviously, he has enough faith in the trackers to trust Chip's life to them.”
“I'll head to Seaview and get a few things ready. Knowing both Lee and Chip, chances are one or both are going to be spending some time there when this is all over with.” With that said, Will turned on one heel and stalked out of Nelson's office, clearly not happy, but dealing with it as best as he could.
Nelson sat behind his desk for a few more seconds, deep in thought. If English had Chip, how was he planning on getting out of the country? Private jet? Doubtful considering English's records. Unless he had a second accomplice, a pilot perhaps. With that thought Nelson picked up the phone and started dialing numbers.
Lee pulled the Cobra off to one side of the road and shut the engine off. There was nothing here but an empty lot and rundown buildings. Was Chip stashed away in some dark abandoned room?
“Howie, I’m at the site. Are you sure this is where the signal is coming from?” Lee switched on the flashlight and playing it over the ground, looking for any sign that his friend had been here. So far all Lee was seeing was road trash: bottles and cans, fast food wrappers and empty boxes.
Howie’s voice crackled over Lee’s phone. Howard Keating was the Institute's surveillance specialist. He drove Chip crazy with his odd ways but there was nobody equal when it came to cameras and bugs. It was with Howie's help that Lee tracked Chip's cell phone. “Absolutely, sir. There’s no doubt about it. According to both your signal and Mister Morton’s, you should be right on top of him.”
Lee played the light over the ground at his feet. “Howie, dial Mister Morton’s number. Maybe I can hear it if it rings.”
Seconds later the familiar three-tone chirp of Morton’s cell split the night air. Lee followed the sound and found the device laying in a clump of weeds. Picking up the small black phone, Lee hit the answer button and growled, “Found Mister Morton’s phone.” Nearby was a familiar black wallet. Lee picked it up and rifled through it, not surprised when he found Chip's driver's license and security pass to the Institute.
“But not Mister Morton,” Howie shot back, the disgust in his voice loud and clear.
“No. Mister Morton is not here. Thanks anyway, Howie, at least we’ve narrowed down a few things.”
Howie signed off and Lee dialed up Nelson. The phone had barely rung when it was picked up.
“Anything yet, Lee?”
“No sir. Howie and I tracked Chip’s phone to a stretch of abandoned buildings along the edge of town, but there’s no sign of Chip. I found his wallet as well. English must have tossed the phone out the window to keep Chip from calling for help. He must have though that by ditching his wallet, he might make it harder for Chip to get away. Is the tracker working yet?”
“We're still waiting for the power to build up to issue the first burst. Where exactly are you?”
Lee rattled off the address and listened as Nelson growled something unpleasant about Marcus English. “Lee, that road happens to be one of the back access roads into the docks. English must be planning on taking Chip out of the country by boat. Get down to the docks, see if you can pin down what ships have South American destinations, and see what you can do about stalling any departures. I'll meet you there.”
Lee felt his heart skip a beat as a memory swam to the surface. Daniel, in the cafeteria. He said it was a long boat ride to South America. Had Daniel felt bad about what he was doing, and had he been trying to warn them, or give them a clue?
“I’m on my way, sir,” Lee dropped down into the driver’s seat, gunned the engine, and hit the gas. The Cobra peeled out with a fantail of dust and gravel as Lee headed for the docks.
Hurricane Nelson descended with all the force of an atom bomb on the office of the harbormaster. The young man couldn’t have been more than twenty-one and he cowered behind the desk as Nelson unleashed the full force of his fury. If it weren’t Chip’s life on the line, Lee would have sat back and enjoyed the show. As things stood he agreed with the admiral and would have loved to grab the guy by the collar and give him a good shake.
“What the hell do you mean, six ships left port three hours ago?” Nelson bellowed as the civilian trembled in his chair.
“Ah, they, they were cl…cleared for departure, just w…waiting for pass…passengers…the owners said,” the young man quaked out, clearly grateful to be behind the relative safety of the desk and out of reach of this deranged mad man.
Nelson dropped both hands on his the desk and leaned forward. The civilian leaned backwards, his chair tilting back on two legs. With deadly calm, Nelson addressed the man behind the desk.
“One of my officers is missing. We presume he had been abducted and possibly taken aboard on of these ships. I need the names and their next port of call. Now. Do. I. Make. Myself. Clear?”
“Yes, sir, perfectly clear, sir, just one moment, sir,” the terrified young man pulled out a drawer from his desk, literally. It fell with a crash to the floor, spilling files all over the floor. Nervously he began picking up folders and tossing them onto his desk. Finally the young man stammered an answer.
“Six ships, they all left before midnight.”
Nelson scanned the list of ships. None of the names jumped out at him. All of them had ports along the western South American coast.
“Video. Don’t you have security cameras?” Lee asked, trying hard not to snarl. The young man behind the desk nodded weakly.
“The security guy, he controls all that. Office is down the hall, second on the right.”
Lee cast a look at Harry who nodded distractedly. With the admiral’s blessing, Lee barreled down the hall, heading for Security.
He found the room empty. A bank of televisions faced him as he entered the room. Some were dark and some were on, showing empty docks. Lee scanned the table, filled with dozens of tapes and discs. He had no way of knowing what tapes went to what, not without taking it all and going through each and every tape and disc. Again, Lee was overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. He dropped down into the chair and when he did, his foot knocked over a small metal garbage can. Papers and something black and shiny spilled across the floor.
Curiously, Lee bent down and picked the object up. It was a small videotape. The tape itself had bee pulled out of the casing and snapped in half. Written in white across the face of the tape was the words ‘dock 12’. Lee snatched at his cell phone.
“Admiral, which boat was moored at dock 12?” There was a pause and the sound of papers being flipped. Finally Nelson spoke.
“A tramp freighter named the Crimson Reign. Next Port of call, Callao. In Peru,” Nelson spat and Lee heard the slam as something heavy impacted with an equally unwieldy object. Nelson's fist, no doubt, pounding on the desktop. “Lee, get with Sharkey and have that volunteer crew ready to go. I want to be at sea with in the hour.”
“I couldn't agree more, Admiral.”
Chip came to with an aching head and the slow, steady sense of movement. As seasoned sailor, Morton recognized the gentle rocking motion of a boat. Slowly sitting up, Chip found he was in a small cabin, with a bunk on one side and a rickety chair and table on the other. Two doors, one leading out, the other was smaller and must lead to the head. Chip stood up unsteadily and moved in that direction. He was right. He turned on the tap at the small sink, filled his cupped hands with cold water and splashed his face and neck. It didn't kill the pounding but it did help. Reaching for the only towel, Chip dried off and moved back into the cabin. He tried the main door and wasn't too surprised when it didn't budge.
Morton sat back down on the bunk, trying to remember the last few hours. He had dinner with Lee, then the rumble in the ally. After that things got hazy. Next thing Chip could clearly remember was waking up here.
But where was here? A ship, obviously. The knob on the door rattled as someone unlocked it. Someone Chip had never seen before stepped in and closed the door behind him. He was tall and muscular, toned and with a weary look to his dark brown eyes. His hair was trimmed in short buzz cut and he wore faded black jeans and a dark green tee shirt. They locked eyes for a long stretch of time, neither saying anything as one appraised the other. If it came down to a fight, Chip figured they were about evenly matched, but Morton wasn't sure he could hold his own in a fight. Even if he could fight his way past this guy, he had the crew of the boat to worry about. His best bet was to play along and see where this was going.
“Let me introduce myself. Marcus English.” English extended a hand toward Chip, but Morton made no move to accept it. Shrugging it off, Marcus pulled the chair out and dropped down in it, his gaze fixed unwavering on the blond.
“You’re a hard man to pin down, Morton. Been chasing you damn near since you got back to the States.”
“So you’re the one.” Morton snarled.
“In the flesh. Of course, I had a little help. Danny-boy thinks he can save the world one sorry soul at a time. Didn't take much to convince him he had a chance to really make a difference. All he had to do was what I told him. Hadn’t counted on your admiral cleaning my clock when I tried to get you out of the hospital. Old man is better than he looks.”
“You wouldn’t be the first to underestimate Admiral Nelson,” warned Chip with a feral look in his eyes. Marcus paid little attention to the implied warning and plowed on.
“I thought I had it made when Danny-boy told me about your little field trips around the hospital. You just had the one bodyguard, so I figured this would be a piece of cake. Take out the bodyguard and snatch you up before anybody could act. Even had a van ready to go. One thing I hadn’t counted on was your buddy, Crane. You two got some kind of psychic link with each other? He always seems to know just when to show up. Crane must be a pretty good friend to have around in a pinch.”
“He and Admiral Nelson will hunt you down and make mince meat out of you,” snapped the blond. His eyes had taken on a hard flat look, reflecting no emotions as he stared at his abductor.
“You have got to be wondering why I went through all this trouble?”
“You think I know where some mythical lost city is. You’ve got it in your feeble-minded, split-pea brain that I can lead you through some stretch of stinking jungle and point out where Tinaca is.”
Marcus smiled, reminding Chip of an anaconda: cold blooded and ready to squeeze anything around him to death. “Give the man a cigar. You’re smarter than I give you credit for. Maybe I underestimated you, as well.”
Chip didn’t answer. He waited, sensing that Marcus wasn’t done.
“Well, Mortie, you gonna help me or not?”
“I guess you won’t believe me if I tell you I don’t remember where I was or what happened to me.”
Marcus sneered. “Danny-boy said the same thing. And you’re right. I don’t believe you. You got a week to make up your mind, Mortie. Once we make port, I might have to persuade you to remember.”
“You can threaten me all you want. I don’t remember. End of story. Nothing you do to me is going to change that.”
Marcus got up and opened the door. “We’ll see. I don’t see any point in keeping you locked up now. We’re in international waters. No chance of anybody tracking you down and no chance of you jumping ship. Your memory comes back, I’ll be around.”
Marcus left and Chip was alone once again. He buried his face in both hands, trying to think, trying to put together some plan. That’s when he remembered the tracker. Rubbing on hand over the spot on the his arm, Chip wondered if the tracker was working and if the admiral and Lee were looking for him, if this time they could really find him and bring him home.
Lee stared at the monitor, growing more disturbed by the minute. Howard had been able to reconstruct the tape they had found and had digitized the image for a better picture. Caught up in the rush and desperate hurry to get out to sea, this was the first chance Lee had to look over the evidence.
For a long stretch of minutes there was nothing. Then a car pulled up and four figures emerged. Two of the figures pulled a limp, familiar form from the back seat. With the blond man supported between the two, they headed up the gangplank and vanished out of the camera’s range. All was still again until static erupted on the screen. Somebody hadn’t wanted this footage to been seen, but they hadn’t counted on Howard being able to reconstruct the tape.
Lee hit a button on the monitor and the scene replayed itself. Lee was haunted by the last images of his friend. He couldn’t stop watching.
He should never have agreed to this. He should have tried harder to talk Chip out of this. The admiral was right, it was a crazy idea and they should have gone to him first and to hell with Jamie. Wouldn’t have been the first time the two officers had stood toe to toe with the doctor. Lee was fairly certain it was the last time.
A tap on his cabin door pulled Lee back to reality. “Enter,” he muttered, shutting down the monitor on the edge of his desk. He looked up to see the tall, lanky figure of Jamie standing in his doorway.
“A little early in the cruise for a house call, don’t you think, Doctor? We’ve only been out to sea for a few hours. “
“And you’ve spent the better part of it in here. A little bird told me that you stayed long enough to see Seaview through the breakwater then you vanished into your cabin. That’s not like you. Want to talk about it?”
Lee clammed up at first. His worries were his alone. It wasn’t something anyone could wave a magic wand and make disappear. The whole mess was his fault for letting Chip talk him into this.
Jamieson didn’t leave; instead he moved to the edge of Lee’s bunk and leaned against the mattress.
“I know I’m not the admiral, but I’m still a really good listener.”
“This whole mess is my fault,” Lee finally muttered, pushing himself out of his chair behind the desk. He was unable to stand still. Hoping to keep his agitation somewhat controlled, he jammed his hands into his pockets.
“Last time I saw, there was no super hero costume in your closet, and we’re fresh out of phone booths. Lee, you’re human. You couldn’t have known these people were this serious.”
“I should have talked Chip out of this crazy idea of his. If I had tried, I know we could have come up with a better plan. Letting him get kidnapped, what the hell is wrong with me? One too many concussions? It’s my job to evaluate the risk of any given situation and this one was screaming ‘don’t do it’ from the minute he brought it up. But no, I smiled and said sure, let’s stake my best friend out like a goat for a hungry T-Rex and maybe we can catch the bad guys before they get very far.”
“Skipper, you would have done anything to help Chip. I know that, the admiral knows that, the crew knows that. If you hadn’t thought you could catch these people, you wouldn’t have gone along with Chip’s plan. Granted I stand with the admiral, you should have mentioned it before you went off half-cocked on some hair-brained scheme, but I digress.”
“I seem to recall one royal chewing out,” Lee replied dryly.
Jamieson chuckled. “Well, Skipper, I think I’m all out of lectures today. I just want you to know we’re all in this. This isn’t the time for blame and regrets. We will get Chip back. The admiral’s device is sending out a strong steady signal and we’re in hot pursuit, as they say.”
“I just want this over. I want Chip home and I want these fanatics to leave him alone. I guess I’m just not handling this as well as I thought I would. Somehow I still feel responsible.” Lee admitted in a rush, surprising himself. He didn’t open up to the doctor often. More often then not they were on opposing side as they debated issues of health and sanity. Usually Lee found himself opening up to Nelson.
“Of course you do. You wouldn’t be the skipper we know and love if you didn’t. I’m just saying not to lose your perspective of what’s important. Staying in here and brooding over what you should have done isn’t going to solve the problem. When we finally corner the rotten toads that took our exec, the control room is where you should be.”
Lee could only nod. Jamie was right. Staring at that footage wasn’t going to bring Chip back.
“You might be right, Doc.”
The doctor snorted. “Of course I’m right. I’m a doctor. Didn’t you read the memo? I’m always right. I think your time would be better served in the control room, rather than in here. If you were going to spend any measurable time in your cabin, I’d rather see you curled up in your bunk. But since that’s not going to happen, the least I can do is hope you have the sense to eat something from time to time. I have a feeling I’m going to be graced with Chip’s presence once we get him back. I’d rather not have the both of you cluttering up my sickbay,” Jamieson groused with a smile. His comment had the desired affect as Lee smiled.
“I’ll try to stay out of your clutches this trip, Jamie. And thanks.”
“How kind of you. And consider it a freebie.”
Jamieson watched as Lee vanished up the corridor. With any luck, they’d find Chip soon, before Lee worried himself to death about what he couldn’t change.
With mostly free range of the ship, Chip found himself wandering the decks. He was drawn to the railing, the closest point to the sea he could get. He stood there a long time, just watching the wake of their passing. What was he really looking for? A shadow under the ocean? A periscope, scanning the horizon? Even if Seaview was out there, Lee had more brains than that. He'd never risk detection if he could help it.
If Seaview was out there. Absently, Morton rubbed at the spot on his arm where Jamie had inserted the admiral's tracking device. He didn't even know if the thing worked or not. He had to believe that it did and that the admiral and Lee were tracking him, determined that this time they would get him back. The question was, just how long did he have until Seaview made her move. Was Lee planning on following him all the way to Peru, or was he gonna plug this piece of crap freighter and pick through the debris for him?
A movement off to his right caught Chip's attention. It was Dathan Corwin, captain and owner of the Crimson Reign. The lanky man reminded Chip of Lee, with his olive toned completion and dark curly hair. Only there was an underlying oiliness about Corwin that bothered Chip.
Corwin lit a thin brown cigarette, offering the pack to Chip. Morton just shook his head and Corwin shoved the pack in his breast pocket. He fished out a match, struck it on the railing and lit the cigarette between his lips. The spent match he tossed into the ocean.
“You know we skipped customs. Cost me a couple bucks. Your pal owes me for that, too,” he said. Chip heard the barest hint of a southern accent in Corwin's voice. Louisiana, maybe.
“Not my friend. You turn this tin can around and drop me off at the nearest port, I can match what ever English is paying you,” Chip said, his eyes still following the horizon. Corwin followed his gaze.
“English said you might try that. No can do, buddy. What makes you so important? Slipping out of port under a new moon, you locked up till we get into international waters. English must think you know the way into Fort Knox.”
Chip continued to stare into the sea, watching their wake in the setting sun. They'd been out to sea for just over two days now. This was the first time Corwin had spoken to him.
“I don't know anything. English is mistaken. I don't know anything.”
“Marcus thinks you do. You let me in on your secret; you and I might work something out. A body can disappear real fast out here. We pitch ol' Markie-boy overboard and you and I can be partners.”
Chip did his best not to cringe. Cold-blooded murder was never something he approved of. Not even Lee was that ruthless, to just toss somebody overboard like that.
“I told you, I don't know anything. Marcus is crazy and so are you if you believe him,” Chip said, never moving. The sun dipped below the horizon and Chip felt something in his own stomach dip. Another day come and gone.
“What are you staring at? You got friends looking for you? I wish them the best of luck. The Reign may not look like much but she's faster than most surface ships. I can out run anything topside. You think about my offer, buddy. You wanna talk, you can find me. It's not a big ship.”
Corwin walked away, leaving Chip alone once again. He continued to stare out to sea, desperate for a ripple, a wave, something…anything to let him know he had been missed. But the sea remained dark, giving away none of her secrets to the executive officer.
“English, you and I need to have a little chat,” Dathan said, cornering Marcus in the ship's small galley. Marcus had a cup of coffee in one hand and a curious expression on his face.
“You'll get your money,” English said, assuming he knew the reason for Dathan tracking him down.
The lanky owner of the freighter shook his head. “I ain't worry 'bout the damn money. I'm worried 'bout being 'round long 'nuff ta spend it. You ain't been real truthful with me, and that's gonna stop now. Who is he?”
Marcus gave the freighter captain an innocent look. “Who?”
“I ain't in the mood for none of your damn games. That fella you and Priest come dragging in--you toss him in a cabin and lock the door so fast I doubt he had time to hit the floor before the door shut. Who is he?”
“He has information I need.” English said evasively. The fewer people who knew about Tinaca, the better.
“I want his name, or so help me, I'll drop him off at the nearest port and I'll toss you over the side. See how you like swimming to Peru.”
English slammed the already cracked coffee cup to the rickety table. “I don't see what it matters. You'll get your money. All you have to do is drop us off in Peru. I can handle the rest. You just need to hold up your end of the bargain.”
Corwin grabbed Marcus by the collar and slammed him up against the bulkhead. “My radio operator reported that right after we slipped out of the harbor, reports started coming in about a possible kidnapping. I had him do a little checking and it just so happens that your new little friend out there matches the description of the executive officer of the submarine Seaview, a man who only just recently turned up after being missing in Peru for eight weeks. Peru. How convenient. Just so happens to be out next port of call.
Corwin slammed Marcus against the bulkhead again, as if to punctuate his next remark. “You damn fool, you're gonna get us killed,” he hissed, “Nelson won’t stop until he gets his officer back. I can't out run a submarine and I sure as hell can't out run the Seaview!”
“Relax, Corwin. Nobody knows where to find us.” Marcus reached up and jerked Corwin hand off his shirt. Corwin backed up, still furious at the mercenary.
“You'd better hope so. My whole life is wrapped up in this rust bucket. Seaview's got enough firepower to take me out and not even work up a sweat. You'd better hope they couldn’t track us.”
Marcus snorted as if the suggestion were ridiculous. “Trust me, we pulled out of port so fast, nobody had time to notice us. I left Crane in an alley, bet it took him a couple of hours at least to come around. By the time he did, we were long gone. There's no reason to think we left by boat. He's probably still checking airports and the Mexico border. No way in hell he's tracking us. Hell fire, I even bought off the security guard at the dock. Had him pull the surveillance tapes and destroy them. You just keep us on course, and when the time comes, drop us off. I can promise you, you'll get what you have coming to you.”
“And your little missionary friend? How’s he play into this? Did you lie to him the way you neglected to tell me you were bringing aboard an officer of the Navy?”
English smiled. “I told him what he needed to know. He did exactly what I wanted him to. Just like you. You’re gonna take us to Peru, you’re gonna leave us at the first port of call and you’re gonna forget we were ever here.”
“You think it’s that easy? For me to forget I’m harboring a felon and kidnapped officer of the United States Navy? What the hell is wrong with you?” Corwin shouted, resisting the urge to put his fist through English’s face.
“Skipper, can you come up to sonar? There’s something you should see,” came a voice over the intercom.
With a dark gaze still leveled at Marcus, Corwin snatch the mike off the wall.
“On my way,” he replied. He turned back to English with a disgusted look in his dark eyes. “You’d better be right, English. You’d better hope that ain’t Seaview out there. I might have to charge you a hazard fee.” With that final declaration, Corwin stalked out, leaving English alone. Marcus watched as the ship’s captain stormed off.
“Oh, you’re gonna get yours, Corwin,” Marcus affirmed after the retreating figure. “Don’t you worry none.”
Dathan stared at the sonar screen, as if he could will the odd signal to reappear. Of course it didn't and he ground his jaw in frustration. He turned back to the sonar operator.
“How many times has this been seen?”
“Three times. Last watch reported it before I came on duty, I saw it the first time a few hours ago and then again just now. I though it was a fluke at first, but after seeing it a second time, coupled with the first report, I figured it was time to tell you about it. Whatever it is, it's big and it's not anything I've ever seen before. It's just out of range and I haven't been able to get a fix on it. It's there for one sweep and then it's gone.”
“Not a pod of whales or maybe a large school of fish?”
“No sir. My first guess would be sub, but no sub I've ever seen profiles like this. Nothing the navy of any government I know runs anything like this.”
Corwin turned his attention to the radio operator in his corner of the control room.
“Anybody been in here? No way someone could have sent out a message without us knowing it?”
The operator shook his head. “No sir. Nobody's been in here but me and Jack. No way could anybody have come in here.”
“Any more word on that missing officer from Seaview?”
“Still nothing official, sir, just more of the same initial reports. Rumors that Seaview’s exec is now missing after recently turning up after being MIA for eight weeks in Peru. Sir, you should know that a second unsubstantiated report has surfaced that Seaview has put out to sea.”
Dathan growled hearing the news. Two days at sea. Plenty of time for a boat like Seaview to catch up.
“Keep me updated. I want to know the second that shadow turns back up.” Corwin snatched up the mike. “Engine room, I want full power. All ahead full, boilers at full capacity. I want as much speed as you can spare.”
A new voice came back to him on the intercom. “Dad, the number one boiler is on the fritz again. She’s running hot and we can’t pin down the problem.” The voice was of Dathan’s oldest son, Kevin. Kevin and his brother Zach were both running with him these days, learning the ropes. Both were bright, smart young men and Dathan had high hopes for them.
Dathan clicked the mike. “It’s a boiler. They’re supposed to run hot. Just keep an eye on it and let me know if the damn thing might blow. Get your brother to help watch it. I need as much speed as we can get out of this hunk of junk and I can’t afford for anything to go wrong right now.” Dathan slammed the mike back onto the table.
For a long second he just stood there, staring out the back view ports of the wheelhouse. What was out there? Was it just a pod of whales or maybe even an odd current playing havoc with their systems? Corwin didn’t think so. Whatever was out there, he was positive it had something to do with their passenger. He drummed his fingers impatiently against the bulkhead. Seaview. Was she out there, stalking him like a wolf cut a lone sheep from the flock? Was she waiting? Could Nelson be reasoned with? If he had something Nelson wanted, like maybe Morton, perhaps he could cut a deal with Nelson and he could get out of this with his life and his ship.
Corwin spun on one heel, not bothering to address any one, and headed below.
Chip noticed his shadow a few hours later but he wasn’t in the mood to talk with Daniel. Morton leaned against the railing, doing his best to ignore the young missionary. Daniel moved to Chip’s side, also leaning against the railing, looking miserable. Chip didn't care. He had trusted Daniel and the man had turned against him, helping English to smuggle him out of the country.
“Chip, I know you can't forgive me, but I'm sorry. I tried to talk him out of this. I tried to tell him that you don't remember anything about Peru. He's never believed me.”
“How could you go along with this? Kidnapping? He tried to kill one of my crew, so that's attempted murder. Is that what they teach in missionary school these days?” Chip asked quietly.
Daniel hung his head over the railing. “I was afraid that Marcus would try something like this, I tried to give you a clue, remember, in the cafeteria? Don't hate me, Chip,” he pleaded.
But Chip wasn't in the mood for mercy. “I only let my friends call me Chip. You lost that right. Lee could have been killed trying to protect me. You just waltzed in, pretended to be my friend and reported my every move back to Marcus. No wonder he always seemed to know where I was. I trusted you and you betrayed that trust. I told Lee you couldn't be involved in this and now I look like an idiot for defending you.”
“I said I was sorry. You don't understand English, he's not sane.”
Chip let out a long sigh. “Don't. Right now, I don't care. Just get away from me. I don't know how much longer I can be civil to you. Just leave me alone. You wanna do something for me…help me get off this boat. Help me get home.”
With that, Chip walked away from Daniel Priest, leaving the younger man wrapped in guilt and misery.
right. What kind of man of God was he? An accessory to crimes strictly outlined
on in the very Bible he knew inside and out. He had done everything Chip
had said, fooled everyone and then turned against them when they needed him
most. Chip couldn't forgive him, how could he forgive himself?
He hadn’t realized that someone was watching. A figure moved up on his right side, mimicking him as Daniel leaned against the rail.
“That didn’t go over well. He seems a little put off with you,” Corwin said.
“He hates me. I can’t blame him. I lied to him. I lured him into Marcus’s grasp. If it hadn’t been for me, Chip would be home now.” Daniel said sadly. He never looked up at Corwin, instead gazing into the sea below.
“No chance of redemption?”
“Not in Chip’s eyes. I have done the unforgivable.”
Corwin couldn’t help thinking that Daniel honestly hated what he had done. If given a chance, would he have changed things, done something different? Daniel didn’t seem like Marcus. There was something cold and unfeeling in Marcus that wasn’t evident in the missionary. Corwin remembered his accusation to Marcus, that he tricked Daniel. The young man certainly seemed truly lost and depressed. Dathan tried to think of something positive, hoping to break through the young man’s stupor.
“I thought God forgives.”
Daniel seemed to draw in on himself. He turned away from Corwin and slowly began walking away. After about three steps, Daniel stopped and spoke, still without looking up.
“I don’t deserve his forgiveness.”
Puzzled, Corwin asked, “Whose? God’s or Morton’s?”
Lee Crane stood in the nose, gazing with unseeing eyes into the ocean beyond the great windows. He'd been standing there for what seemed hours, the crash doors behind him closed. He didn't want the crew to see him like this. Everything had narrowed down to one point. Find Chip and bring him home. Nothing else mattered so long as they could track down the man who had taken his brother. Lee swore he wouldn't let something happen to Chip, and here he was pushing Seaview to her limits, tracking down a blip on a computer screen. Right now that’s all he had.
Chip Morton was somewhere out there, with no way of knowing that Seaview was just a few miles away. Lee felt like punching something but all it would gain him was a few broken bones and he had already promised Jamie he’d try to stay out of sickbay this time.
He heard footsteps on the stairwell and felt more than saw the admiral's presence standing close by. Neither man said anything for a long time, Lee lost in his own thoughts, Nelson watching Lee's reflection in the windows. Nelson moved to the coffee maker, retrieved two mugs from the cabinet underneath and poured two cups of the dark steaming brew.
“Here,” Nelson said, handing one cup to the brooding skipper. “You could use the caffeine since you haven't eaten anything.” Crane accepted the white cup, cradling it in both hands. He stared into the dark liquid, as if searching for something only he could see.
“You want to switch cups?” Nelson asked when Lee didn't take a drink immediately. “I promise you the doctor hasn't been anywhere near it,”
“Been talking to Jamie, have you? He told you he came to my cabin?” With an embarrassed grin, Lee tipped the cup and took a deep, long drink. The brew was stronger than he anticipated and carried a swift kick as the caffeine hit his system and rebooted dead brain cells.
“It might have come up in conversation. He was worried you were going to spend the whole trip brooding in your cabin. Now I find you brooding down here. I know what you’re thinking about and I’m worried about the same thing. Don't worry, lad. We will find him this time. The tracker is working better than I hoped. We've got the Reign on our instruments. Kowalski refuses to as much as blink until this whole mess is over with. The crew's not going to rest easy until they've got their exec back and in one piece.”
Lee took another sip. “I just don't understand what kind of people we're dealing with. I mean, Chip doesn't remember anything about what happened to him.”
“Obviously, Marcus English and Daniel don't believe that. They think he's lying and some how they plan on making Chip lead them to this mythical lost city.”
“But Chip can't. He just doesn't remember. What going to happen to him when he can't lead them where they want to go? ” Lee answered sadly, the despair in his voice clear to the admiral.
“Easy lad. We'll get him back before it comes to that. You know we will.”
Five days at sea and the crew of the Crimson Reign was jumping at shadows, nervously watching the horizon. The engines were faltering as they fought to maintain their speed. The boilers were showing signs of strain and Dathan was at his rope’s end trying to come up with reasons to keep running.
He stood over the sonar man’s shoulder, both men glued to the sonar screen. Nothing unusual materialized, as much as Dathan prayed. The mysterious contact they'd been plagued with over the last few days refused to make another appearance, as if it knew it was being watched and was playing hard to get. Corwin no longer doubted what the contact was.
“If it shows up again, you want me to contact you or Manny?” the operator asked.
Dathan let out a long breath. “Get with Manny. If it’s in sonar range, we should be able to contact her by radio. Have Manny make contact, in the clear and ask to speak to Admiral Nelson.”
“You think it's Seaview? How do you know Nelson's even onboard?”
Corwin snorted, rubbing hand over his mouth and chin. “Hell, I don’t know I’m gonna wake up in the morning. It’s my last shot at keeping this bucket of bolts on one piece.” As if to emphasize his statement, Dathan reached for a mike.
“Engineering. Let’s slow to a crawl. Drop down to one quarter speed. Hold till further notice.” Dathan swore he heard a cheer rise up from engineering. They’d been pestering him for two days to slow down and give the engines a break. Well, this should make them happy. Dathan swept the room one more time then turned to leave. He found the way blocked by Marcus English. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with the man right now.
“Move,” the lanky freighter captain ordered.
“You’re giving up. Just like that.”
Corwin sighed. “Damn it English, you think this is some kind of game? I can’t keep this up. The engines are faltering; my men can’t promise the boilers won’t go up like a Roman candle if I don’t slow down. You’ve lied to me from the day you set foot on my boat. You’ve made me an accessory to an international kidnapping. I’m done with you. You wanna go on to Peru, be my guest. You’d just better hope when I turn Morton back over to Nelson, he doesn’t ask for you too.”
“You can’t! I’m too close to give up at this point!” Marcus snarled at Corwin. The man clenched his fists in anger, stalking toward Corwin, intent on taking his rage out on the freighter captain.
Only Corwin was faster. He drew back and with one punch, laid the man out on the deck. Marcus lay on his back, propped up on one elbow, rubbing his now sore jaw with one hand. He glared up at Dathan, eyes seething with rage.
“Don’t do something you’ll regret, Captain,” Marcus growled, rolling the word ‘captain’ out like it was something foul.
“No, don’t you do something I’ll regret. I have a crew and my sons to think of. The ship is all I have. Without it, I might as well be dead. I don’t know anything else. I am not going to let your greed and insane ideas get somebody killed. Either you get that through that thick skull of yours or I lock you in your cabin. Do we understand each other?” Dathan barked out, spun on one heel and stalked out without bothering to wait for an answer.
English slowly got to his feet, his fevered brain rolling around plan after plan. Ignoring the crew around him, he stalked out of the pilothouse. He couldn’t let Dathan give Morton back to Nelson, not until he got what he wanted. He couldn’t let that happen.
Corwin wanted to trust that Nelson would go for his offer. English headed below into the cargo holds. By the time he was done, Dathan wouldn’t trust anyone.
“Admiral, incoming message from the Reign. Her skipper wants to talk to you.”
Nelson glanced up from the reports, startled at the sudden turn of events. Their constant harrying of the freighter had worked better then they thought. With a half smirk on his lips, Nelson reached for the mike.
“Go ahead and pipe it through, Sparks.”
“This is the SSRN Seaview. Who am I addressing?” Nelson demanded.
“I’m Captain Dathan Corwin of the MV Crimson Reign. Any chance I can talk to Admiral Nelson?”
Harry’s fingers tightened around the edge of the plot table. “Speaking. Something on your mind, Captain?”
“Admiral, I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of out running you. I understand you only seek to claim that which was unlawfully taken from you. I want to make a deal.”
Nelson’s heart skipped a beat. Was the freighter captain willing to give up? Out of the corner of his eye Nelson saw Lee descending the spiral staircase, an anxious expression on his face. With eyes that where begging for answers, Lee braced himself against the plot table as he listened to Nelson negotiate.
“What kind of a deal, Corwin? I might remind you that I could blow you out of the water and not bat an eye?”
“I have something you obviously want back, Admiral. I don’t think you’d risk your officer like that. Believe it or not, I’m willing to turn him over to you. All I ask is safe passage for my ship and crew.”
“Safe passage. That’s all you want?” Nelson repeated, not sure what to believe. In actuality, he would have liked nothing better than to put a hole in the rust bucket. But Corwin had a point. He couldn’t risk Chip’s life, not when it appeared that Corwin was willing to give up.
“Why the sudden change of heart?” Nelson asked.
“Let’s just say that I got roped into more than I bargained for. If I had known ahead of time the circumstances surrounding my extra passengers, I would never have agreed to this trip. To that effect I’m willing to release your officer back to your custody. I’m just trying to make a living. I can’t do that if my ship ends up on the bottom of the ocean. Do we have a deal, Admiral?”
“Give me a few minutes.”
“Take your time, Admiral. I’m certainly in no hurry.”
“Admiral, is he serious? He’s willing to turn Chip back over to us, just like that, no questions and no strings?”
Nelson shrugged. “So it would seem. You willing to take a risk? I think he’s sincere. If he knows who Chip is, he has to have figured out who’s been tailing him these last few days.”
“Then do it. I want Chip back, where he belongs.”
Nelson clicked the mike once more. “Captain Corwin?”
“Right here. Do we have a deal?”
“Yes. You return our officer and we’ll let you resume your course undeterred. I want to add one thing.”
“Let me guess. You want the people who took your officer.”
Lee and Nelson exchanged glanced. Nelson nodded.
“That’s right. Our sources indicate there are two men, Marcus English and another named Daniel Priest.”
“And both are currently aboard. English I would gladly hand off. It would be a relief to get rid of the man. I would ask that you leave the missionary with me.”
Nelson frowned even as Lee’s expression turned dark. “Priest is an accomplice in my officer’s kidnapping. I want them both to stand for what they’ve done.”
“Normally I would agree with you. But after talking with Daniel Priest and dealing with Marcus, I’m convinced that Daniel was just being used. He’s truly sorry for his part. I’ll make that part of the deal. I give you Marcus English and your officer, I keep Daniel and you let me and my ship continue on to our next port of call.”
Lee glanced to Nelson. The admiral drummed his fingers against the table. ”That explains a great deal,” Nelson said softly. “If indeed Daniel was being forced. Marcus is the one with the record. He’s the dangerous one,” he said to Lee.
Crane only nodded. “I want Marcus.” His eyes had taken on a predatory glint.
Nelson didn’t reply but he turned his attention back to Corwin.
“Alright. You return Commander Morton to us, unharmed and give up Marcus English, we’ll let you and your ship continue on.”
“Very good. I’ll let the commander know his ride is here to pick him up. Corwin out.”
Nelson continued to hold onto the silent mike, watching the emotions flickering through his friend's amber hazel eyes.
“Something wrong, lad?”
Lee shook his head. “Just thinking. All this is about to be over with. I only hope Corwin doesn’t have a change of heart.”
Nelson replaced the mike and ran a hand through his tasseled auburn hair. Like Lee, he hadn’t had near enough sleep in the past few days and if Jamie knew how many cigarettes he’d had since they left port, the doctor would have a conniption. Lee didn’t look like he’s had more than a few hours of sleep in the past five days. As much as Lee wanted this, Nelson wanted Chip back.
While he and Lee had a bond that bordered on father-son, Nelson was connected to Chip on another level he couldn’t define. A favored nephew maybe? Nelson wasn’t sure how to define what he and Chip had. Morton could deal with the often volatile mood swings Nelson was famous for; taking the brunt of what at times was a nasty attitude and defusing an explosive situation with a quick word or a glance. It was Chip who acted as go between him and Lee when their respective tempers flared and pride got in the way of an apology.
Finally Nelson found the words to answer Lee.
“I think Corwin has seen he’s on the losing end of a bad situation. Just to be on the safe side, have torpedo tubes one and two loaded and ready for firing. Corwin so much as twitches, you can blow him out of the water.”
Lee grinned, like a feral cat. “With pleasure.”
Corwin found Morton in the galley, nursing a cup of coffee. The dark circles under his eyes, the gaunt staring look, they all pointed to someone who hadn’t slept well and whose health had seen better days. Lackluster blue eyes turned to look up at him with a mixture of disinterest and loathing.
Dathan eased down into the chair across from Morton. For a stretch, neither said anything. It was Dathan who finally broke the uncomfortable silence.
“You’re not looking so well.”
“I’ve been kidnapped by an insane treasure hunter who thinks I know the way to some mythical lost city, trapped on a rusted-out bucket of bolts in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Try it sometime, bet you won’t sleep much either,” Chip lashed out.
“If I had know you’d been brought aboard against your will, I’d have never have left port. If it’s any consolation, your friends have been following us for a few days now.”
Morton perked up, something of a spark ignited in the back of his eyes. “Seaview?”
“Very determined people, these friends of yours. I would imagine you’re eager to be back with them and on your way home.”
Morton stared, obviously not willing to believe what he was hearing. Finally he found his voice. “You’d just turn me over, just like that? No strings, no conditions?”
Corwin took a breath and focused on a point just above Morton’s head. “I have my sons with me on this trip. I’ve pushed this crew and the ship to its limits. I can’t keep running without endangering my crew and family. So I contacted Seaview in the clear, told them they could have you back as long as we could go unmolested. I don’t want any trouble. I’m just trying to make a living.”
Suddenly the boat rocked as an explosion ripped through the deck. Corwin and Morton both jumped to their feet, running out the door onto the main deck. From every hatchway thick black smoke was boiling up from the lower decks. Corwin felt his blood turn to ice as he realized his sons were below. Forgetting about Morton, he dove into the smoke, determined to find his sons. What the hell was going one? Had Seaview fired on them? They had agreed to each other’s terms, why would Seaview try to sink them now?
Pushing all thoughts out of his mind, Corwin pushed onward, all thoughts focused on finding his sons.
Marcus pushed himself off the blackened floor surprised he was still alive. He hadn’t expected the explosion to be so violent. He hadn’t expected to pick himself up out of four inches of water. Four inches and rising. The ship was sinking.
English lunged for the hatchway, almost dragging himself though the cargo hold as crewmen scattered like roaches. The water was rising fast. He almost regretted his actions. Almost.
Corwin was just going to let Morton go. He couldn’t allow that, not when he was this close to finding Tinaca. Let Corwin think that Seaview fired on them. No one had seen him enter the hold; no one knew it was him who triggered the explosion. Now maybe Corwin be less inclined to just turn Morton loose.
“YOU DAMN FOOL!” Corwin screamed, appearing out of the smoke, as if conjured by Marcus’ thoughts. His face was streaked with soot and grime and the red taint of blood. Marcus stopped.
“Me? How’s this my fault? Seaview finally got tired of waiting on you. They want their officer back. Did you honestly think that Nelson was just gonna let you go free? You have his officer! Snatched from right under his nose! The man isn’t going to step back and just let you get away with this.” Marcus said. Corwin rushed forward, throwing English into the bulkhead as red fury roared through his blood.
“They’re dead! Both of them! He swore to me he’d let us go!”
“Who’s dead?” Marcus was confused by the question.
“MY SONS! They’re dead both of them! Nelson did this, didn’t he?”
“Nelson wants us all dead! He’ll sink your boat and pick his officer out of what’s left. Did you obviously think he gives a damn about you or your sons? He just wants revenge, that’s all!” Marcus yelled back. Corwin’s grief filled eyes swirled with the touch of insanity. With an incoherent shriek, he pulled himself away from Marcus and vanished into the smoke filled hold.
Marcus shook his head and make for the nearest ladder. He had to find Morton before the ship went down. Once on the main deck, English made a dash to his cabin, throwing open the door and glancing wildly around. He didn’t have a gun but he still had his machete, honed sharp.
Time to have a last chat with Morton. This time he’d get what he wanted.
Chip braced himself as another explosion rocked the ship.
Something down in the hold…Morton’s thoughts trailed off as he backed away from the nearest hatch. Above the din and roar of explosion and screams, another sound rose above them all, filling Chip’s soul with joy. Seaview surfaced just off the port stern, elegant and deadly all at the same time. Chip had just enough time to register crewmen scattering across the outer hull when a voice called his name.
Chip spun around to see Marcus English advancing on him. In one hand he carried a machete, swinging it idly back and forth in long, slow feints. His eyes had a wild untamed look to them and his smile was not natural. Marcus continued to silently advance on the blond, clearly not among the sane any longer.
On instinct, Chip backed away from Marcus, unnerved by the wildness and insanity in his eyes. There would be no reasoning with him, Chip was certain of that, but he had to try.
“Marcus, the ship is going down, we have to get to a lifeboat,” he began.
“Oh, no, not until you tell me what you know. I’ve waited to long for this, you’re not gonna worm your way out of this.”
Chip put up both hands, trying to placate the deranged man. “Marcus, I can’t help you. I keep trying to tell you, I don’t remember. I have no clue what happened…” That’s as far as Chip got.
“Liar!! It’s my gold and you can’t keep it from me!! You'll tell me where that damn city is, or I'll cut your arms and legs off! We'll see how useful Nelson finds you then!! Marcus screamed shrilly, coming straight for Chip, the blade of the machete whistling in answer to Marcus's manic cry.
Chip danced backward, narrowly avoiding the oncoming blade. Marcus kept coming, wild madness reflected in his incoherent shouts. Chip glanced around franticly, trying to find a weapon. He spied a piece of pipe lying abandoned on the deck. He dove for it, Marcus right behind him. Morton rolled-coming up with the pipe in both hands, just in time to block the downward swing of the machete.
Chip bounced to his feet, bracing himself against the wheelhouse. Marcus just kept coming at the blond man, slicing at the air as Chip try to parry each blow. The strain was beginning to show with each vibration of the machete's impact with the pipe. Marcus was slowly driving Chip closer and closer to the railing. The ship suddenly shuddered once more as something deep in her hold exploded.
Chip wasn't ready and the shockwave sent him to his knees. Marcus was laughing now, a wild, unnerving laughter. He brought the wickedly sharp blade down for another pass at Morton, and Chip managed to roll, but not before the tip sliced through the muscle of Chip's left arm. Hissing with pain, Chip pulled his arm close to his body, staggering to his feet, his blood dripping to the deck.
A shot rang out and Marcus dropped bonelessly to the deck, the machete clattering harmlessly away. Daniel Priest stood braced against the roll of the ship, a sawed-off shotgun in his hands. The look in his eyes would haunt Chip for weeks.
“Thou shall not kill,” Daniel intoned. The sadness in his eyes made Chip's heart break.
“Daniel, it's okay. Please, just give me the gun,” Chip said, moving forward to take the weapon from the missionary.
That's when a second shot caught Daniel square in the chest and the missionary spun, then collapsed to the deck, crimson staining the front of his chest. Chip whirled in the direction of the shot, to see Dathan standing on top the wheelhouse, an automatic pistol in his hands. The freighter captain stared down at Chip, his eyes wild with grief and hatred. He pointed the gun down at Chip. Morton swallowed hard and backed against the rail.
“Nelson must think a lot of you to chase us this far. Must think an awful lot of you. He took my sons. Maybe I ought to return the favor. Put a bullet in you, right here and now, let him pick through the debris for your body, like I found my boys . . .” Dathan never got to finish. The explosion ripped through the wheelhouse and Dathan's body was thrown high and into the sea. There was nothing Chip could do as the concussion of the blast picked him up and tossed him overboard into the water.
Floundering, Chip tried to keep his head up, but his left arm wasn't cooperating, and he was already tired from holding his own against Marcus. Something grabbed him under his arms and he was yanked clear of the waves. He found himself on his back on the bottom of a Zodiac with Patterson looking down at him, grinning broadly. Chip felt himself go limp with relief. “Permission to come aboard?” Chip panted, exhaustion fast creeping in.
Patterson cranked up the zodiac's powerful motor. “Permission granted, Mister Morton. Let's get you back to Seaview, where you belong.”
Lee was waiting impatiently topside as Patterson guided the zodiac up to the side of the submarine. Dropping to his knees, he grabbed Chip's good arm and hauled his wayward friend to the deck.
The explosion split the air and Lee reacted by throwing Chip to the deck, shielding the other man's body with his own. Within minutes it was all over. The Crimson Reign was gone, leaving behind just an oil slick and patches of burning debris. Slowly, everybody got to their feet, Lee helping Chip off the deck.
Morton stared at the floating debris, feeling the last of his strength starting to ebb. He felt Lee catch him and wrap one long arm around his back, under his shoulders.
“Is it over?” Chip asked quietly, his eyes on the sea.
Lee tightened his grip on the blond, feeling Chip's body spasm, the forewarnings of shock. He needed to get Chip below, now.
“I don't see how anybody could have lived through that,” Lee said.
“Marcus was trying to kill me and Daniel shot him, trying to protect me. Next thing I knew Dathan had shot Daniel.”
“Dathan? But…” Lee asked curiously, but Chip only shook his head. Lee had just enough time to catch his friend when Chip's knees finally gave out and Morton nearly collapsed. With Patterson's help, Lee headed Chip toward the hatch. He cast one last look at the sea, knowing he would have to look for survivors. For Chip's sake, this time, Lee sincerely hoped there were none. Lee Crane stepped through the opening and shut the hatch behind him.
Moments later Seaview slowly sank into the sea, out of sight with hardly more than a ripple on the ocean's surface to betray her presence.
A lone life raft floated among the debris. Draped over the edge of the boat, one burned and scared hand clutched weakly at the boat’s edge—a cruel twist of fate.
*Last Battle, Season One: Vol. 2-disk 1, side A