By R. L. Keller
Harriman Nelson, four-star admiral (Ret,), Nobel prize winner, owner-director of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research as well as the Institute’s futuristic submarine, Seaview, let out a long heavy sigh as he glanced at the clock on his desk. Nearly Midnight and he was still in his office on the top floor of NIMR’s Admin Building. Angie, his PA, had left hours ago after trying unsuccessfully to make Nelson leave as well. He’d frowned and pointed to the large stack of folders in his ‘In’ basket.
“Unless someone put something there that I haven’t seen,” she started, “and if I find out who that someone was they won’t live long enough to apologize…” Nelson snorted at the threat knowing that there wasn’t a NIMR employee anywhere who would be stupid enough to try bypassing the woman’s orderly management system. “There’s nothing in that stack,” she continued, “that can’t wait until you’ve had a decent meal and enough sleep to actually understand what you’re reading.”
Nelson briefly glared at her and nearly told her to mind her own business. Happily, he inwardly acknowledged that she was minding her business – and his – and sent her a quick nod. “I want to go over my notes for tomorrow’s meeting with Lee and Chip,” he told her, “then I’m out of here.”
“Doc is finally letting Lee back on the grounds?” came out softly. Cdr. Lee B. Crane, Seaview’s captain, had been banished by Dr. Will Jamison, NIMR’s CMO, following the sub’s last cruise.* Deemed in need of some down time despite his assurance that he was ‘Just fine’ the doctor, with Nelson’s approval, had ordered Lee to a week’s R&R anywhere but on NIMR property. But that had only been four days ago.
Nelson frowned briefly before a chuckle snuck out. “You mean, Lee was on the grounds this afternoon and you didn’t hear about it?” he teased her. One of the things that made the woman such a valuable asset, both to NIMR and especially to Nelson personally, was the fact that she was tuned in to everything that happened around her. Now she merely sent Nelson a glare, which caused him to chuckle louder. “He went up to his friend’s cabin.” Nelson’s chuckle turned to a puzzled frown. “Came down this afternoon muttering something about a killer rabbit…” He stopped when Angie burst out laughing.
“That’s what Megan was muttering about,” she finally got out. At Nelson’s continued puzzlement she continued, now more under control. “Megan Delaport, one of the newer nurses in Med Bay.”
Nelson sat a bit forward in his chair. “Chip’s newest lady friend?”
Angie waggled a hand. “He’s trying, she’s resisting.” She grinned. “We’ll see.” Nelson sat back with a grin. “Anyway, when she left…” Angie sent Nelson another small glare, “at the correct time of 1700 hours,” came out firmly. Nelson casually waved a hand at the stack of folders and Angie muttered something too low to be heard clearly. “Whatever,” came out in an almost snarl before she gave herself a quick shake. “Megan dropped off the overtime hours sheets to Accounting for head Nurse Krause laughing that there had been a Bunnicula sighting.” Nelson raised the expected eyebrow. “A children’s story about a half-rabbit, half-Dracula.” She snickered. “Halloween isn’t that far off so I didn’t bother making her explain.”
“It’s my understanding that Lee had a previous encounter with a rabbit up there; something about going for a run and taking a mis-step when a bunny – and I seriously doubt that it’s the same one, by the way – jumped out of the bushes right in front of him.” He sent Angie a look as she almost smirked.
“A female bunny?” she asked oh so innocently, and they both laughed. It was a bit of NIMR folklore that Lee seemed to attract female everythings!
“Whatever,” Nelson answered, still smiling broadly. “Anyway,” he got back to business, “Will was apparently satisfied that Lee had at least relaxed for a few days…”
“Or he surrendered to Lee’s grumbling,” Angie hypothesized.
“That, too,” Nelson agreed. “Either way I suggested that he and Chip come over to my place for breakfast at 0700.” He grinned. “Figured that I’d keep him away from Will at least a little bit longer.”
“Then I suggest you get some rest,” came out firmly. “You’ll need it to keep up with that pair.”
Nelson frowned. He’d have liked to be angry at the all-but-order but there was too much truth to it. Instead, he waved her off with a quick nod. He did, actually, intend to leave shortly after her. But there was a phone call he needed to make, then the next folder needed his immediate attention so he jotted down half a page of notes for how it should be handled, then…
So, it was nearly 0030 when he walked through the front door of his house.
* * * *
A very short tap of car horn stopped Lee as he limped toward his boss’ front door the next morning. Already knowing who it was, Lee turned and greeted Lt. Cdr. Charles P. Morton, his XO, best friend, and brother-in-all-ways-except-blood. The blond, known to most as Chip, parked his SUV next to Lee’s little red sportscar, then frowned as he joined Lee on the walkway. “Where’s the cane Jamie told you to use?” Chip tried to sound harsh but there was too much amusement in his eyes for the demand to have the desired effect. He knew Lee only too well!
“Wrapped around your head if you’re not careful,” Lee also growled before both men cracked up and continued to Nelson’s front door, albeit a good bit slower than usual as Lee continued to favor his left ankle.
There was no answer to Lee’s knock and the pair shared a look. “He’s probably in the kitchen,” Lee speculated. While Nelson had a housekeeper, sometimes he liked to do his own cooking. That had led to at least one major calamity** and Lee and Chip shared a quick snicker before heading around to the side patio that lead directly into the kitchen. That door was open and the screen door unlatched so they entered, Lee calling out “Admiral?” when they found the room empty. Nor was there any evidence of an impending meal being prepared. “Admiral?” Lee yelled out a little louder. Still no answer. Starting to get worried, Lee began searching the lower level rooms as Chip quickly headed upstairs.
His search proving fruitless, or rather, Admiral-less, Chip found Lee in the livingroom staring at a sheet of paper. “What’s that?” he asked.
Lee held it out to him. “A lie,” came out in a dark growl. Chip stared at him just a moment; Lee only used that tone when he was extremely ticked. ‘Got a call from an old friend,’ the note read in what Chip easily recognized as Nelson’s neat script. ‘Headed out for a few days. Nothing pressing. Here’s the notes I wanted you both to work on. Nelsen.’ Chip glanced back up at Lee whose expression was, if possible, even darker than it had been.
“Lee,” Chip tried to sound calm, “what’s wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time the Admiral’s disappeared for a few days.” He nudged Lee and tried to snicker. “What was the name of the redhead we saw him with a few days ago?”
The comment backfired. “He’s in trouble,” Lee said in a tone that sent a shiver down Chip’s spine.
“Why would you say that?” Chip didn’t say it as a challenge; he had too much respect for Lee’s temper. But he honestly didn’t understand why the note had set his friend so on edge. Yes, it would be extremely unusual for Nelson to do something like this. But memory of the redhead almost put a smile on his face.
“Look again,” Lee said through gritted teeth. When Chip only shook his head after a second reading Lee glared at him. “The signature!” Chip still showed his confusion. “The second ‘E’,” Lee all but yelled.
Chip looked closer and finally saw it. Nelson had very definitely written N-e-l-s-e-n. “Lee,” Chip started carefully, “he was probably just excited.” He tried a smile. “That was one lovely red…”
“NO!” Lee shouted at him, grabbed the paper back with one hand and reached for his cellphone with the other. “Don’t touch anything,” he warned Chip as he punched in a number, and Chip stood absolutely still. Whatever had Lee on edge – and Chip figured that it was much more than a misspelled name but had no idea what or why – he had no wish to get in the brunet’s line of fire!
“Security,” Lee growled when his call was answered, “get a forensic team to the Admiral’s house. Now!” and he hit ‘End’ before there could have been a response. Chip remained still as Lee started prowling, touching nothing except with his eyes but those were almost blazing, missing nothing.
“Lee?” Chip tried again.
“The Admiral was trying to leave a message that he was in trouble,” Lee told him, his voice a bit softer. “He didn’t leave here of his own accord. I know it. We have to find him.”
“You find him with the redhead and more will be hurting than your ankle,” Chip tried to reason, but his smile faded in the face of Lee’s glare. “Okay,” he surrendered, “I admit that idea is very un-Nelson. But we can’t go off half-cocked.”
“Hence Security’s forensic exam,” Lee calmed down. A little. Chip could easily read extreme tension in his friend’s body. But at that moment the front doorbell rang and Chip went to let in NIMR’s Head of Security, Dewey Caudill, and several members of his hand-picked team.
Dewey didn’t waste time. He’d worked around Lee long enough to accept the brunet’s terse reason for calling. He did send Chip a quick grin when the blond added his two cents about the redhead but even Chip was ready to admit he was probably way off base – and then sent Lee a sheepish grin when he said that out loud and Lee glared at the awful but unintended pun. Dewey did recommend that Lee and Chip head over to NIMR and wait in the Admin Building for further information. Lee hesitated but Chip reminded him that they needed to advise Angie of what was going on, and doing it in person was preferable to using the phone. Nelson’s PA was NIMR’s acknowledged Head in Nelson’s absence, so keeping current intel to a minimum of personnel would be much easier with her assistance.
At least, once she calmed down. That took a few moments, thankfully behind Nelson’s closed office doors. A few muttered epithets, a few deep breaths, and she pulled herself together, put on her best ‘game’ face, and went back to her own desk ready to maintain all defenses needed to handle the present emergency. Lee and Chip stayed in Nelson’s office awaiting Dewey’s report before making further plans.
Apparently, Angie’s first order of business was to ask Dr. Jamison to come over from Med Bay because Chip was just trying to figure out how to get Lee to quit pacing and rest his ankle when the office door blew open and Will glared at Lee. Lee glared right back. Chip stayed quiet! But ‘something’ passed silently between the two strong-willed men and Lee dropped into the nearest chair. His body was still stiff with anger. And worry. Will was perfectly aware of that. But he’d learned early on that, in any situation where one of Lee’s crew was in danger, Lee’s very last thought was for his own health. And this wasn’t just a crewman; this was Admiral Nelson, Lee’s boss, mentor, friend, and father-figure!
“Thank you,” Will told the younger man softly as he also settled into a chair. “What do we know?”
“Nothing,” came out in as vicious a growl as Will had ever heard come out of Lee’s mouth. Thankfully Chip took over and related what little facts there were. Like Chip Will challenged, albeit carefully, Lee’s assumption.
“Have you ever been unable to distinguish an ‘e’ from an ‘o’ in anything the Admiral wrote?” Lee’s glare was back. Will was forced to shake his head. “We won’t even mention that he’d never have just up and left with nothing more than a note.” Chip joined Will in agreeing with that one. “He was forced to write that note,” was Lee’s conclusion, “and watched closely so that was the only way he had of letting us know that it was a lie and he was in trouble.”
The door opened once more and Angie took a step in. “Dewey’s on line one.” She stayed in the partially opened doorway; from there she could keep an eye on her reception area and still hear what was happening. Lee had launched himself from the chair and hit the speaker button so they could all hear the Security Chief’s report.
“Weird, sir,” he started, his voice steady. One of the things that made the man so good at his job was his ability to remain calm and objective no matter what chaos was happening around him. “Mrs. Garcia,” he referred to Nelson’s housekeeper, “arrived just after you left. The Admiral had called her yesterday to say that he was fixing breakfast for your meeting so she didn’t need to come in until later.” Dewey chuckled softly. “She said she’d ignored him because it would take her twice as long to clean up the mess he’d leave in the kitchen.” That got a snort out of both Angie and Will. Chip smiled but Lee just continued to stare at the phone. “Checked with the front gate and the Admiral didn’t leave that way, but his access code was used at the back gate just after 0130. We found his car in the parking lot at the bus station…”
“No way,” Lee cut him off.
“Absolutely,” Dewey agreed. “That’s where it gets weird. No prints in the car, not even the Admiral’s.”
“Wiped,” was Lee’s conclusion.
“Yes, sir. His prints at home, of course, but not in several places where I’d expect to find them.
“Damn,” came out softly before Lee almost yelled, “How the blazes did anyone get on base?”
“Working on that, sir,” Dewey continued. Even as under control as he was there was a note of anger evident to those listening.
“What can I do?” was Lee’s next demand.
“Right now, nothing that isn’t already being handled, sir.” It was said with respect; Dewey wasn’t unaware of Lee’s temper.
Lee let out a huff, but nodded slightly. “Understood, Dewey. Ah, we keep this in-house as much as we can, with as few people involved as possible.”
“Agreed, sir. I’ll keep you posted.” The connection was broken before Lee could reply and he briefly glared at the phone. The only sound for several moments was the door closing as Angie went back to her desk.
“I’ll make coffee,” was Will’s solution and he got up and walked over to the side table. Normally Angie would have started a pot as soon as she got in but with the scheduled meeting at Nelson’s house that morning she hadn’t done it yet. Behind him he heard Chip say softly, “Lee, sit down.” Will heard a grunt and a growl but when he finally turned Lee was once more sitting down. Will didn’t, however, hold out much hope for the chair arm the way Lee’s fist was steadily beating out a heavy tattoo on it. Will sent a frown at the starting-to-fill coffee pot. Caffeine definitely wasn’t what Lee needed right now. The thought of what he’d say if Will suggested warm milk forced a snicker to escape and Will found himself the target of two pairs of blazing eyes. “What did that chair arm ever do to tick you off, Skipper?” he said to defuse the moment. Chip grinned, although it was mostly grimace. Lee continued to glare at him but his fist stilled.
* * * *
Nelson’s temper was even more evident than his captain’s but he was less able to express it. Bound, gagged, and blindfolded, hearing and smell were the only senses available at the moment and they weren’t being of much help.
Nothing had seemed out of the norm as he’d entered his house. He’d left his car in the drive; the weather was nice so no need to put it in the garage, and there was still plenty of room for Lee and Chip to park the next morning. Unlocking the front door with no more thoughts than having a quick nightcap before heading to bed, he’d only taken one step inside before a blinding beam of light hit his face and a small hard object pushed against his spine just below his shoulder blades.
“Don’t be stupid, Admiral,” came from behind the light. Two of them, at least, Nelson told himself and stood absolutely still. The hard object pushed him forward another step and the door was closed, the lock clicking into place. The beam disappeared into Nelson’s livingroom followed by what Nelson knew to be a floor lamp next to his favorite chair coming on. Another punch from the object, what Nelson assumed was a gun barrel, headed him forward and he carefully walked into the light.
“So nice to see you again, Admiral.” A bit over six feet, sandy hair, brown eyes, slender build, Nelson didn’t think he’d ever seen the man before. Apparently his uncertainty showed because the man gave him a quick nod. “To be fair we only met once, just after you hired my brother.”
“Bishop,” Nelson dredged up the memory of Seaview’s original Second Officer. “I don’t remember your first name.” The man merely shrugged, apparently choosing not to answer. “Does he know you’re here?” Nelson tried again.
“Mister ‘By The Book’?” the man practically spat out. “Hardly. You canned him for doing his job and he still thinks the sun rises and sets on you.”
“He wasn’t fired,” Nelson told him honestly. “He chose to go back to the regular Navy. Easier for him to earn promotions than staying in the Reserves on Seaview.”
“Humph,” the man muttered, dismissing the explanation.
Nelson very carefully didn’t smile. In actual fact Chip had started muttering about Lt. Allen Bishop almost the instant Seaview sailed on her shakedown cruise. Quietly, for sure, but both Nelson and John Phillips, Seaview’s first captain, were not unaware of their XO’s opinions. They, however, found no fault with the man’s overall service so nothing was done. That changed when Lee took command after Phillips’ untimely death. At the time Nelson hadn’t understood Lee’s instant adverse reaction to the Second Officer although Bishop’s leadership style was totally different from Lee’s more laid-back manner, relaxed but still expecting competence from his crew. He found out, muchlater, that Chip had complained about the no-nonsense lieutenant in letters to his former Annapolis roommate, and Lee wasted little time starting a campaign to get rid of him. Absolutely nothing overt, that wasn’t Lee’s style with an otherwise capable officer. He simply made casual mention of openings on other ships and subs, and offhand comments of promotions being more difficult in the Reserves, where all Seaview’s officers served, instead of the regular Navy. Sometimes the comments weren’t even directed at Bishop but they were always said where the lieutenant could hear. Barely three months later Bishop requested a transfer, and Lt. Chris James was hired. “What do you want?” Nelson decided to be blunt.
“Right to the point,” was said with half a smile and the man sat down in Nelson’s chair. “That’s one of the things my brother admires so much, your ability to get things done with a snap of your fingers.” He demonstrated with his own.
“Hardly,” Nelson disagreed. “Hard work accomplished what I’ve put together.” He decided to see if he could needle away some of the man’s arrogance. “If your brother so admired the trait it’s too bad he didn’t emulate it more. He always took the easy route, making others do as much of his work as possible.”
The tactic backfired; Bishop laughed out loud. “Which got him in trouble more than once,” he said, smiling broadly. Almost instantly the smile died. “He was always an idiot,” came out harshly.
“So, what are you doing here?” Nelson tried again.
“My brother does have one redeeming trait. Well, at least for me. He whines too much.”
Nelson sent him a puzzled look. “That’s a good thing?”
Bishop grinned broadly but Nelson easily saw meanness in his eyes. “For me, absolutely. The only time I ever heard him badmouth you was when he complained about all the money you have stashed away, and never gave anyone a raise.”
Nelson snorted derisively. “He never got a raise because his starting salary was nearly double what the Navy paid for his position,” he growled. “We won’t even discuss how much it takes to keep Seaview seaworthy. And then there’s everyone else at NIMR. Every penny has to be accounted for.”
“Well, ‘every penny’ is what it’s going to take for you to see your precious Seaview again.”
“Ransom,” Nelson growled.
Bishop shrugged. “Eventually,” he told Nelson casually. “I’m working on several options, actually.” He waved a hand toward Nelson’s writing desk in the corner. “In the meantime,” he stood, “you’re going to leave a little note for Capt. Crane. My brother’s whining included the fact of ONI connections and we don’t want him too upset by your absence, now, do we?” His grin was positively evil. “So you’re going to leave him a message that you’re out of town for a few days visiting a friend…”
“He’ll never believe that,” Nelson told him flatly. “Things around here don’t work like that.”
“Oh, but this time they will. I made very sure that he and his sidekick saw you with a very attractive woman last week…”
“All she wanted was an interview, which I rarely give. She was disgustingly brazen with her attempt.”
“Ah, but that’s exactly what your men saw, Admiral. I must admit that Crane pretended not to notice but Morton got an eye full. As Blythe intended,” he added with a wink before once more gesturing toward the desk. “And please don’t waste time trying to sneak any kind of code into your note. You will write exactly what I dictate.” The last was punctuated by another jab from the gun in his back.
Nelson’s mind raced as Bishop told him what to write, wondering how the man had known about the next morning’s – well, now this morning’s – meeting. He heard his briefcase being opened, and turned in that direction to find not one but two men dressed in dark clothing watching him intently, guns leveled at him, while a third busied himself going through the papers and folders in the briefcase. “You,” came out in almost a whisper.
“You still don’t pay some of your employees nearly well enough to assure their loyalty,” Bishop sneered. The twenty-something man sent Nelson a smirky grin as he started to hand Bishop the folder that contained the notes for Nelson’s meeting with Lee and Chip. Bishop had him lay the folder on the desk, and Nelson noticed that he was wearing thin latex gloves before Bishop waved him away. As he disappeared Bishop started dictating exactly what Nelson was to write, and watched too carefully for Nelson to do anything other than what he was specifically told. His expression stayed stony with rage as he signed the note, and Bishop told him to lay it on top of the folder. Before he could say anything, however, he felt a pinprick on the back of his neck and everything started to go dark.
His next moment of awareness was in discovering that he wasn’t very aware at all. Slowly his brain started registering details: his eyes were covered, he was gagged, and his hands were secured behind his back. His legs moved, but there was a clanking noise accompanying that discovery and he stopped. At least he was relatively comfortable, laying on his side on something reasonably soft. There was subtle movement of some sort. Surface vessel, his brain translated. Docked, not under power, rocking slightly to the movement of small waves, perhaps other boats moving past. A marina,he settled on.
“Ah, you’re awake,” followed the opening of a door, and the blindfold was removed. After blinking several times to clear his vision Nelson took stock of his situation. He was indeed in what looked to be a boat cabin but it was completely bare of everything except the thin mattress he found he was laying on. A porthole was covered with something black on the outside. He struggled to sit up and discovered that he’d been stripped and redressed in nothing except a jumpsuit, and his right ankle was shackled to a sturdy chain attached to the bulkhead next to the mattress. He glared at Bishop, who merely smiled. “I realize these aren’t the kind of accommodations you are no doubt accustomed to,” he told Nelson with a smirk, “but you will just have to make do. Once we are out to sea your hands will be released and you can remove the gag. That chain will let you reach the head,” he gestured to a small sliding door next to where the chain was attached, “but that’s all.” Nelson eyeballed the chain’s length anyway. “Trust me, Admiral,” Bishop continued, “this room has been prepared by an expert. You are quite secure. And while there are, perhaps, a few ways you could hurt yourself, I believe we both know that you are far too intelligent to do something that stupid and cowardly. The chain is welded to the bulkhead as well as to your ankle. The porthole is also welded shut, and painted over on the outside. Even if you could reach it, which you can’t, it would do you no good since there’s nothing in here you could use to break the thick, bullet-resistant, glass. You might just as well relax and make the best of your stay. I haven’t yet decided how long that will be,” he told Nelson with a shrug and turned and left. Nelson heard what sounded like a secure lock being engaged.
As Nelson heard powerful inboard motors engage and the boat start to move he ungracefully stood up, balance thrown off by his tied hands, and took stock of his situation. As Bishop had said there seemed no way for him to escape his current predicament. The chain barely allowed him to access the head but kept him several feet from both the porthole and the door, which from the quick glance Nelson got as Bishop left lead to an internal companionway on the boat. He wiggled his hands but they were held in what felt like handcuffs, not tied with rope. There wasn’t even anything Nelson could rub against to try and remove the gag. With an angry glare at the door, Nelson settled back onto the mattress as the boat gained speed.
* * * *
Will was trying to figure out what he could say to try and defuse the explosion making steady progress across Lee’s face when Nelson’s office door opened and Angie walked in, this time followed by Dewey Caudill. Both Lee and Chip bolted out of their chairs but Dewey held up a hand. “Nothing to report, sirs,” he addressed Lee but his eyes swept over Chip and Will also. “We brought the Admiral’s car back and went over it more carefully than we did when we found it. Well,” he amended, “we reported it stolen and the police spotted it and called.” Lee nodded, almost afraid to open his mouth until he had himself a little more under control. “It was locked; Davey opened it with a slim-jim and the keys and this,” he held up a cellphone, “were in the center console.”
“That’s the Admiral’s phone,” Angie, standing next to him but still keeping an eye on the reception area through the open door, told him. “At least, it looks just like it.”
“One way to find out,” Chip said as he walked forward. “It’s been printed, I assume,” he asked Dewey.
“Wiped clean,” the Security Chief told him as he handed it over. Chip started punching buttons, Lee standing next to him watching intently as the blond checked the call logs.
A noise disturbed them and Angie frowned. “Just Gray with the mail,” she muttered softly and headed to her desk, firmly closing the office door behind her.
Finding nothing unusual in the phone’s call logs, Chip switched to the texts and a few words came out that the blond never used, in a tone that set the others on high alert. Instantly he and Lee were joined by Will and Dewey.
Good morning. Or afternoon or evening, depending on how long it has taken you to find this. As I write, Admiral Nelson is in good health. It remains to be seen how long he stays that way. You can’t find him so don’t be so stupid as to waste time trying. You would only force my hand if you got too close, and I’m sure that you’d rather have him back in one piece. Literally. Go about your normal business but have ready access to the five million I know is sitting in a private NIMR account. I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you, small bills, unmarked, no cops, etc. You will be contacted.
“Smart, using the Admiral’s own phone,” Dewey offered carefully, “typing in the text but then let it sit there waiting to be found.” He took a small step back from his CO and XO, not liking at all the expressions on their faces. Chip apparently caught the movement and sent him a quick nod. Lee took several steps away and turned his back, fists clenched. “What account?” Dewey asked Chip. “I thought everything was tied up through Accounting.”
Chip glanced at Lee before answering. “I wonder how this guy knows about it. Very few people do.” He sent another quick look at Lee, who hadn’t moved. “It requires at least two of the three signators to approve a withdrawal.”
“May I ask who those three people are?” Dewey asked.
Before Chip could answer, Lee turned around. “Myself.” His voice was surprisingly soft for the anger still evident on his face. “The Admiral, of course, and his personal attorney, Andrew Halliburton.”
“Never heard that name,” Dewey told him.
“No reason you should,” Chip answered. “He’s not associated with NIMR. The Admiral uses him only for his private affairs.”
“No, Dewey,” Lee looked directly at the man. “I know what you’re about to ask but Mr. Halliburton is totally above reproach. The Admiral went to school with him; trusts him implicitly.” He half-smiled. “I met him when the Admiral had the signature card changed from John Phillips to me. I could tell, there’s no way he would ever betray the Admiral’s trust.”
“Somebody in his office?” Dewey hypothesized. Both Lee and Chip could only shrug. “I know a guy. I’ll have him make some quiet inquiries.” That got a quick smile from Chip and a nod from Lee. Dewey ‘knew someone’ everywhere, it seemed, and was never at a loss for getting things done. He returned Lee’s nod and headed for the door.
“Thanks,” Lee got out.
“Now what?” Chip asked once the door was again shut.
“You,” Will pointed to Lee, “sit down and get your weight off of that ankle.”
Lee sucked in a large breath and let it out slowly before responding to either of them. “Jamie, right now that’s the least of my worries,” he said openly and honestly.
Will responded in kind. “I can respect that. But you need to take care of yourself at least as much as you can to be able to handle everything else that comes up.”
Lee sent him a nod before turning to Chip. “We need to keep this as quiet as possible.” Chip nodded his agreement. “We give out the story that the Admiral is out of town.”
“No one will question that,” Chip told him. “Angie can cover NIMR business like she always does.”
“We stick to normal routines,” Lee told him. “Well, you do, anyway.”
“Lee…” Chip started to warn, but Lee raised a hand.
“So will I,” he told the blond. “But I’d also better talk to Mr. Halliburton. We have no way of knowing when we’ll be contacted.”
“The message,” Will postulated, “sounded like the guy couldn’t be sure when it would be found.”
“Assuming it is a guy,” Chip added. “There’s still that redhead…”
“What redhead?” Will demanded.
“Later,” Lee waved off the question. “So, that gives us, hopefully, a day or two for Dewey and his people to come up with some leads to who we’re dealing with.” He looked at Chip. “You got a better look at the woman than I did. I really didn’t think the Admiral looked all that happy to see her.”
“Now that you mention it…” His voice turned slightly sheepish. “I was paying more attention to her than to him.” That got a soft snort out of Lee. “I’ll go tell Dewey,” and he headed out as well.
“Skipper?” Will tried again.
“Jamie, I’ll do what I can,” he told the doctor firmly.
“You always do,” Will responded, a soft smile lending what encouragement he could to the distraught younger man. Nelson was far more than just a boss to Lee, something Will was very aware of. He would do everything he could to support Lee through whatever the next days brought.
* * * *
Nelson had no idea how much time had passed, but he thought at least two hours from the time Bishop had left. This time when the door opened Bishop wasn’t alone; one of the men from last night – well, he thought last night; he had no idea how long he’d actually been unconscious – entered also, again gun in hand. “Stand up,” Bishop ordered, “and walk backwards to me as far as you can.” Once the chain was tight Nelson felt Bishop release the handcuffs and he turned around as he got rid of the gag. He merely stood there glaring at the man, however, not giving him the satisfaction of displaying any emotion other than defiance.
Bishop seemed amused if the smile he sent Nelson was an example, now standing well out of range. He took the gun and the other man disappeared into the hallway, to return moments later with a cardboard tray on which were several sandwiches and two bottles of water. He put the tray on the floor and carefully pushed it to within Nelson’s reach before taking back the gun. Bishop said nothing more before both men left, and Nelson again heard the lock click. He wondered why since there seemed no way for him to reach that far. He had spent time examining his prison but was forced to admit that Bishop might be right; there didn’t seem to be any way for Nelson to escape.
Now that the gag was gone he felt much better, however. One bottle of water went down in one long draught once he’d determined that it was still sealed and therefore probably not tampered with. A careful examination of the sandwiches didn’t show anything suspicious either so two of them followed the water. This was, unfortunately, not the first time he’d been held captive and he knew to take what nourishment and rest that he could when it was offered. There was no telling when, or if, more would be supplied.
The rocking of the boat had steadily gotten worse. Not stormy, Nelson decided, but definitely open ocean. It seemed useless, however, in his present predicament to worry about where the boat was or where it was going. He ate the last sandwich and laid down on the mattress to get what rest he could.
* * * *
Lee wasn’t sure how he made it through the next few hours. He nearly bit Chief Sharkey’s head off at one point that afternoon when Seaview’s COB showed up in his office all but demanding to know where Admiral Nelson was. Apparently Nelson had a meeting scheduled to go over some details about a refit of some sort. The meeting hadn’t been on either Nelson’s calendar or Angie’s. That was the first thing Lee had done after Jamie went back to Med Bay: spend half an hour with Angie making sure that she was comfortable handling or cancelling half a dozen meetings Nelson had scheduled over the next several days. Normally the COB would have been one of the first people to be enlisted in any kind of investigation but his demanding manner had instantly ignited Lee’s barely under control temper. Lee was just gearing up to tell Sharkey precisely where he could shove his meeting when Chip appeared. Lee figured that Angie had alerted the blond the instant she’d told Sharkey that Nelson was out of town and saw him head for Lee’s office.
“Chief Sharkey,” came out in Chip’s best XO voice. Sharkey didn’t actually quail but he definitely faced his XO with more respect than he’d just given Lee. And Lee was the first one to admit that was his own fault. Lee’s laid-back command style allowed for the ease with which the two men treated each other, knowing that both were totally devoted to Nelson. Not that Chip wasn’t, but as XO his was the role of disciplinarian to the crew and the man Sharkey reported to about boat’s business. On top of which, Sharkey tended to get on Chip’s nerves at times anyway so the blond took those opportunities he could to put the man in his place. “Neither the Skipper or myself was aware that the Admiral has to advise you of his personal life choices before he’s allowed to leave NIMR grounds.”
“I only meant…”
“Is there a part of your job that you need either the Skipper or myself to show you how it’s done?”
That straightened Sharkey up. “No, sir,” came out firmly.
“Then I suggest you do your job and let us do ours.” He stepped to one side and thankfully Sharkey took the hint and left.
“That was fun,” Chip told Lee with a smirk. It finally broke Lee’s anger and he snorted softly. “Actually, I’m kind of glad that happened.”
“Excuse me?” Lee sent the blond a glare.
“Within ten minutes we won’t have any more questions from NIMR employees about the Admiral’s absence.”
Lee nodded and settled back into his chair. And then launched out of it again, focused behind Chip, who turned and found Dewey Caudill approaching. Chip waited until Dewey was through the door, then closed it and followed him the few steps to Lee’s desk.
“We may have caught a break,” the Security Chief started, then raised a quick hand. “A small one,” he stopped whatever Lee was about to say.
“I’ll take anything,” was obviously an amendment from what Lee had started to say.
Dewey sent him a nod. “Internal security cameras were pretty much a bust. On the plus side I now know how we need to redesign the system.” He sent both Lee and Chip an apologetic look.
“No recriminations,” Lee told him. “We all thought it was foolproof.”
“And ‘fool’ may be the operative word,” Dewey told him. “Whoever got in,” he hesitated and sent an almost nervous look at the other two, “had inside help.” He paused again as Lee glared. Dewey didn’t even attempt a look at Chip. But when Lee didn’t say anything he continued. “They had to have known the position of all the cameras; they too consistently bypassed them, or in several instances we caught a hand holding up a can – turned out to be hairspray – which blurred the lens…”
“And no one caught it while it was happening?” Chip’s voice was even harder than the one he’d used on Sharkey.
“That’s the ‘fool’ part,” Dewey did turn toward Chip, and wished he hadn’t after seeing the blond’s expression. “Yesterday was Kieran Carlyle’s birthday. He and Mike Dorset had the 2200 to 0600 hours shift, and Kieran came in early with leftover cake from the special dinner his wife had fixed.”
“Who had the 1400 to 2200 shift?” Lee’s voice was only slightly less harsh than Chip’s.
“Mitch Harris and Sherry Davies.” Lee nodded; he knew all four Security personnel well. “Nobody screwed up,” Dewey assured him.
“But,” Chip demanded more.
“But,” Dewey agreed with a sigh. “There was an issue. Sherry only had a bite of the cake. Her perpetual diet.” The other two nodded. “And Mike is diabetic but he fudged and had about half a very small slice. Kieran didn’t have any; he was full from dinner so Mitch ended up finishing off most of what was left.” He paused again. “And ended up in Med Bay about 2330 sick as a dog.”
“The others?” Lee sat forward.
“Queasy but okay. Kieran and his wife are fine. Because it was his dad’s birthday, Gray had dinner with his parents and he’s fine.”
Chip nodded. “He seemed fine distributing the mail this morning.”
“I talked to Sherry and Mike. They both say they felt just a bit nauseous but nothing serious.”
“Obviously the cake. But Kieran?” Lee’s voice echoed the disbelief on his face. “He and his family have been here nearly as long as NIMR’s been in existence.”
“Actually, I was thinking Gray,” Dewey told him.
“Why?” it was Chip’s turn to challenge.
“The kid’s a twerp,” came out almost too low to be heard. “There’s just something about him that has always rubbed me the wrong way,” came out a little clearer. “And the kicker is his mother, Debbie, volunteered the intel that Gray took the leftover cake from dinner and put it in his dad’s jeep; she was going to send it home with Gray. He has his own apartment across town from the condos NIMR owns, where his parents live.”
“He’s worked here long enough,” Chip told the others, “that he’d have a pretty good idea how everything works. Especially Security, with his dad’s job.”
“Where is he now?” Lee asked.
“Being watched,” Dewey assured both men. “Carefully,” he added, “and quietly. Could be nothing.”
“But,” Lee and Chip said at the same time.
“Exactly,” Dewey told them. “Know a guy,” and both Lee and Chip sent him half a grin, “who’s checking into the kid’s finances.” Lee raised an eyebrow. Dewey shrugged with a half-grin of his own and Lee shook his head. Chip backhanded Dewey’s shoulder lightly. “I’ll know more later today.”
“I really appreciate your hard work,” Lee told him.
“I have a good team,” Dewey countered.
“And an interesting circle of friends,” Chip chided.
“That, too,” Dewey agreed with a quick smile, and he left. Lee and Chip shared a look and a long sigh, and Chip headed back to his office. Lee tried to concentrate on what work he needed to do but it wasn’t easy.
It got worse several hours later, when Dewey called with the news that Gray Carlyle’s body had just been found behind a storage shed at one of the area’s marinas.
“I thought you were having him watched,” Lee all but yelled before a softer, “sorry, Dewey, please continue,” came out.
“It was his tail who found him,” Dewey told him. “Or one of them, actually. Had a couple guys not NIMR employees watching him once he left the grounds about 1500 hours. Ah, that’s only a little earlier than normal for him. Once he’s done delivering mail he usually leaves.”
“Go on,” Lee encouraged in a more normal tone.
“Gray headed for a bar close to the marina where he met a couple friends, had a beer, made a couple cellphone calls and got at least one back, then slipped out the back door.”
“Damn,” Lee mumbled softly.
“Yeah,” Dewey agreed. “Elias only lost him for about five minutes but that turned out to be too long. Knifed twice. Expertly. At least it was over quickly.”
“I’d rather have had him alive.”
“Me, too, Skipper. Sorry.”
“No way to predict, Dewey. What now?”
“The killer took Gray’s cellphone. At least, it wasn’t on the body. The police are talking to his buddies but I don’t think they have a clue what Gray was up to. Just a couple of his old high school friends. The police can get his call history legally…” There was a short pause, “but I can get it faster,” was added very softly.
“Far be it for me to tell you how to do your job, Dewey. I gather no one saw the killer.”
“Too many back alleys, nooks and crannies back there. The police are bringing in a search dog. Oh, they wanted to know why we were following Gray. I told them there were some discrepancies within our mail department and we were merely checking several leads. I’m just headed to meet one of the detectives at Kieran and Debbie’s place. I’ll keep it as under control as I can. No mention of the Admiral, and try to convince the Carlyle’s that Gray wasn’t really suspected of anything wrong, just we were keeping an eye on everyone who had access, etc.”
“Perfect. Let me know if there’s any way I can help.”
“You bet, Skipper,” and Dewey broke the connection. Lee called Chip.
* * * *
Nelson heard the lock click and was starting to sit up as Bishop opened the door. He was alone, but before he could say anything the man Nelson had seen come in with him earlier scurried up and whispered something in Bishop’s ear. “That damned fool,” Bishop started to yell, looked at Nelson, and turned and left, the lock once more clicking. Humm, Nelson almost smiled, something not going as planned? He laid back down, the smile now evident, wondering what the ‘monkey wrench’ in Bishop’s plans had been and how it might become an advantage to him.
* * * *
At 2000 hours Lee was still in his office, Chip there as well. None of NIMR’s employees thought it unusual; both men were known to put in long hours. What wasn’t exactly normal was Will showing up half an hour earlier with a covered plate that turned out to be half a dozen thick turkey sandwiches. Will admitted that he’d told his wife what was going on and both knew the two younger men would be far too involved with details to take care of themselves properly. Or, as Will admitted when he set the plate down on Lee’s desk, as properly as Lu-Tsi thought they should. Lee frowned but Chip admitted that he’d been too angry and nervous to eat much at lunch and Lee was forced to admit that he hadn’t eaten since dinner the night before, expecting to have breakfast with Chip at the Admiral’s. Will didn’t push but, as Chip polished off his first sandwich and reached for a second, Lee finally relented and grabbed one as well.
Thankfully he had finished one whole one and half of another when Dewey knocked on the open doorframe. Lee must have read something in the man’s expression because he instantly dropped the rest of the sandwich and leaned forward. “You’ve got something.” It wasn’t a question.
“Maybe, Skipper,” Dewey stepped up to the desk. Will saw him eying the remaining sandwiches and pushed the plate in his direction. “Thanks,” the Security Head said gratefully and took a large bite. Lee frowned at the slight delay but under the circumstances said nothing. “Had a bit of a brainstorm,” Dewey continued between bites. “Asked Mr. Baxtrum, the Harbormaster at the Santa Barbara marina, if he knew of any boats that had left after midnight last night and not returned.”
“Should have thought of that,” Chip growled.
“So should have I,” Dewey admitted softly, “and a lot sooner.”
“No matter now,” Lee waved off both men’s comments before once more focusing on Dewey.
“An almost new 145-foot Fraser Mag III yacht pulled in two days ago to the Essex Marina. That’s where Gray was killed,” he added somewhat unnecessarily, but both Lee and Chip nodded. Will listened closely but didn’t interrupt. “It was just being delivered here; a whole new crew took over as soon as it arrived. Baxtrum said he was surprised that the crew used the small marina for such a large new yacht but since it wasn’t any of his business…” Again Lee and Chip nodded. They both knew Baxtrum fairly well.
“What about the Essex Harbormaster?” Lee asked. “I don’t think I’ve met him.”
“Her,” Dewey corrected. “She’d make Ma Barker and Belle Starr,” he muttered the names of two old west female criminals, “look like angels.” That got snorts from the others. “Not that she really does anything illegal. Well, not that she’s been caught. But she definitely looks the other direction, according to the police.”
“Remind me to steer clear of the place,” it was Will’s turn to mutter.
“So she’s saying nothing,” Chip grumbled.
“Bare facts only. Most of what we – and the police – know is from people who happened to see the yacht.” He smiled. “Something that big and new gets noticed. But it left before Gray was killed so the police aren’t interested in it.”
“Don’t suppose a destination was listed when it pulled out,” Lee asked.
“Acapulco,” Dewey answered, “but no one’s taking much stock in that to be the truth.”
“The yacht’s name?” was Lee’s next question.
“Would you believe the ‘Miss Trust’?” That got a snort out of Will. The others nodded.
“Know anybody at NASA,” Lee asked offhand “who would do a satellite search of the California coastal waters for the yacht? What’s the max speed for something like that?”
“About fifteen knots,” Dewey supplied.
“It can’t have gotten that far away but it’s big enough to be anywhere in open water.”
Dewey grinned. “Know a guy,” he said, downed the last bite of his sandwich, and left. Lee shook his head with a small smile.
“Think I’ll start a quiet call-up of carefully selected crewmen,” Chip told no one in particular. “We won’t need a full crew…” he looked at Lee.
“Heavy on the ‘battle-tested’.”
“Absolutely,” Chip agreed, and he stood up. “Thank Lu-Tsi for the food,” he told Will.
“I better be one of the crew you call,” Will warned him. Chip nodded and headed out.
“Thanks, Jamie,” Lee added. “For everything.” Will nodded and headed for Med Bay. While Sick Bay aboard Seaview was always well-stocked he wanted to make sure that he had even more supplies on hand. No telling what chaos the immediate future would bring.
* * * *
Nelson was standing up this time when he heard the lock click, having just come out of the head. He wondered briefly if there was a camera hidden somewhere that he’d so far failed to notice. If there was he could be pretty sure that it would be beyond the reach of the chain.
On the plus side, his captor was keeping him well-fed and hydrated. While he wished for coffee, or something stronger, the bottled water was sufficient. The food, while simple, was always something he could eat with his hands and served on paper plates so no chance for him to make any kind of weapon. Even the water bottles were made of plastic too soft to be of any use. The ankle chain had indeed been welded on; he wouldn’t be getting it off without help.
The door opened to reveal Bishop, once more accompanied by the other man holding a gun. This time, however, the second man stayed in the doorway as Bishop entered, pulling on a pair of leather gloves. “Your captain doesn’t seem to be overly concerned at your absence, Nelson,” he said casually.
“I assumed that’s why you had me write that note,” Nelson countered.
Bishop shrugged. “Yes and no,” he admitted. “But my ransom demand has been delivered and Crane is still sitting on his hands, doing nothing.”
“I rather doubt that.”
Bishop sent Nelson an evil bit of grin. “Perhaps this is his chance. He doesn’t want you back so he can take over. I understand the two of you often disagree on how things should be done.”
Nelson laughed in the man’s face. “You definitely know nothing about Cdr. Crane.” He shrugged. “Although, if your information is coming from your brother I can easily see where it would be totally wrong.” He chuckled again.
And so fast that he didn’t see it coming, Bishop stepped forward and landed two hard punches, one to Nelson’s midsection and the other to the side of his head, before stepping once more out of range. Nelson barely managed to stay upright. “My brother’s an idiot,” he growled as Nelson struggled to level out his breathing. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking I am as well.”
“Just an observation,” Nelson managed to get out as he straightened back up.
“And what I am observing is that Crane needs some incentive to understand that I mean what I say.” With the other man keeping the gun pointed at Nelson, Bishop proceeded to beat Nelson into unconsciousness.
* * * *
Chip managed to drag Lee out of his office about 0300 hours but only so they could both go home for showers and fresh clothes; they were back shortly before 0500. There hadn’t been any word from Dewey, but considering there probably wouldn’t be much use searching a dark ocean even if Dewey’s friend could get access that quickly to satellite time neither were expecting to hear much so soon.
Lee spent most of the morning in the Admiral’s office helping Angie field inquiries and deal with the mail. Chip stopped in shortly before noon; he was hoping to coax Lee down to the cafeteria for lunch but wasn’t surprised when Lee refused to go. Instead he called his own secretary and asked her to deliver something up here – he didn’t specify what as she was quite familiar with both men’s eating habits. While they waited Chip filled Lee in on his morning.
Seaview was ready to go at a moment’s notice. Chief Sharkey had been briefed; Chip had refused to apologize for the previous day’s outburst but neither had the COB brought it up now that he understood more of the reasons behind it. No one took threats to their boss lightly and tempers could easily flare. Chip had called in enough regular crewmen to easily handle the submarine as long as they weren’t out too long, and supplemented them with the help of Master-At-Arms Chief Hauck with trusted Security personnel from other NIMR areas as well as Seaview’s normal contingency of guards. Lt. Chris James, Seaview’s Second Officer and also her Weapons Officer, had helped. He’d also casually spread the word that because Seaview wasn’t scheduled out for another couple of weeks XO Morton was working on some Emergency drills he’d been putting off because lately they’d been too busy, so that covered a good deal of the extra activity.
At one point, as Chip was mildly chiding Lee to finish his lunch instead of leaving half of it, Lee sent the blond a glare. “How can you remain so calm?” he demanded.
“Three little sisters,” he told Lee, “create drama like you can’t believe, even as many times as you’ve been around them.” He touched his chest. “In here I’m a basket case, but they were good XO training.” He chuckled softly. “Hey, they were good for something.” Lee snorted and threw a balled-up napkin at his friend, but he did manage to eat the rest of his lunch.
As Chip was piling up the now empty dishes Lee let out what was mostly sigh, but after so many years of friendship Chip also heard worry and a touch of fear mixed in. He stopped what he was doing and sent Lee a silent query. Lee nodded and unconsciously rubbed his temple, a sure sign that all the tension had given him a headache. But Chip remained silent, waiting for Lee to say whatever he was currently thinking. “It can’t be that simple, can it? A huge yacht nobody’s seen before shows up and the Admiral disappears at the same time it does. Who’d be that…” he searched for a word.
“Stupid?” Chip offered.
“Obviously open,” Lee countered.
Chip shrugged. “Maybe that’s the point; being so brazen leads to being ignored.” Lee gave him half a nod. “Still needs to be checked out as far as I’m concerned.”
A knock on the door interrupted and Lee called out “Come in.” He bolted out of his chair as Dewey appeared, but NIMR’s Security Head held up a hand.
“Sorry, sirs,” he started. “Nothing to report so far. Gray’s cellphone calls went either to known numbers or burn phones we can’t trace, and if he was getting paid the money didn’t go into his regular accounts.” Both Lee and Chip nodded with a sigh. “Matt’s…” he paused, “my buddy at NASA,” he elaborated, “has had to work around a couple of the bigwigs.” Lee and Chip both sent him half a grin. “But Matt is one stubborn son-of-a-gun. Once he sinks his teeth into a project he doesn’t give up easily.”
“Understood,” Lee told him. “I kind of wish we could be more open about what’s going on. Maybe get ONI involved.” He almost smiled as Chip muttered something under his breath. “Yes, Chip,” he told his ticked off friend. The blond had absolutely no use for the Office of Naval Intelligence. “But I’m afraid of what might happen to the Admiral.”
“Yes,” and “Agreed,” came from Dewey and Chip at the same time. Lee sent them both a nod, more comfortable with his decisions knowing that they were thinking the same thing. “You haven’t talked to the Admiral’s lawyer?” Chip asked. “About the money,” he added, no matter that it was pretty much a given he was referring to the demanded ransom.
Lee shook his head. “Don’t want to do it over the phone so that means a trip to LA, and I haven’t wanted to leave here.” The other two nodded their agreement. “If I have to go I’ll use FS1.”
“She’s been double-checked already,” Chip told him.
“Got a few people to check with,” Dewey told them both. “Better get back to work.”
“Thanks for the update, Dewey,” Lee said earnestly.
“Sorry it wasn’t better news.”
“At least it wasn’t worse,” Chip told him softly and got a quick nod before Dewey left. “Chris and I have a couple mock drills planned,” Chip told Lee. “Care to supervise?”
Lee shook his head. “I’d probably do or say something to screw them up,” he admitted.
“Not a chance,” Chip grinned despite the tension. “I’d never let you live it down and you know it.” Lee sent him a brief glare but nodded, and Chip left.
No one had a very good afternoon, waiting for news that never came. Even word from the kidnapper would have been better than nothing, Lee admitted when Chip reappeared just before 1800 hours.
“Well, we’re not staying here all night tonight,” Chip told him firmly. “One night, maybe, we could get away with. But two in a row and the whole place will start feeling that something’s not right. So far we’ve been fairly lucky and kept things quiet, the blame for all the apparent tension blamed on Gray Carlyle’s murder.” Lee nodded but looked anywhere but at the blond, not willing to leave. “Come on, Lee,” Chip coaxed. “I don’t want to, either, but we need to keep up appearances.”
“I suppose.” He looked out Nelson’s big picture window toward the ocean. “How’d the drills go?” he tried to switch subjects.
“I’ll tell you over beer and pizza at BZ’s.” Lee sighed again, but finally admitted defeat at the hands of his stubborn XO – and best friend – and the pair left.
* * * *
Nelson couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt this bad. He had no idea how long that he’d been unconscious; without watch or access to outside light he had no way to count the passing hours. Or days, he realized. He didn’t think it had been a terribly long time but the periods of drugged nothingness coupled with the bits of normal sleep he’d managed, and now this unit of time caused by the beating, were casting doubts on his ability to judge correctly. There was no sink in his prison, only the toilet, so he used one of his bottles of water to splash some on his face and check over the rest of his body. Most of the damage seemed to be to his ribcage and stomach area although one eye didn’t want to open completely and the area around it was tender. His tongue told him there were a couple of cuts on both lips – not surprising from what he could remember of the systematic beating.
He did ponder the reasoning behind the attack. Despite what might be outward appearances of calm at NIMR, from Bishop’s comments Lee had to be aware Nelson was in trouble even if Nelson’s subtle message in the note hadn’t been caught. That kid, Carlyle, he growled to himself. Makes sense, he admitted. No one pays attention to the mailman. Well, that will change once I get back! He settled back down onto the mattress to nurse his wounds and plot his revenge.
* * * *
Lee woke up about his normal time of 0530 the next morning not totally sure how he’d managed to actually sleep. Standing in his shower he wondered if Chip had somehow plotted with Jamie to spike his food. But he and Chip had shared both the large pizza and small pitcher of beer that held about a glass and a half for each of them so he had to discount that theory. Probably too much stress, he finally had to admit to himself as he shaved and got dressed. He’d have liked to take his normal morning run; his ankle was actually feeling a lot better. But not only could he hear Jamie’s voice in his head yelling nonstop if the doctor found out, but he didn’t want to waste any more time getting into the office to check for news. He was perfectly aware that if there had been any developments he would already have been notified. However…
As early as he was parking in his spot next to NIMR’s Admin building, Chip pulled in right behind him. And both were surprised that Angie was at her desk as they passed, headed for their own offices. As Lee started to open his mouth Angie sent him a glare. “Yes, I went home,” she told both firmly and they wisely continued walking.
Lee was once more in Nelson’s office, having dealt with the few things he needed to in his own, when Angie came through the office door that he’d purposely left open. It took only a glance at the PA’s white face and he was instantly on his feet. Silently she held out a manila envelope. He looked inside almost hesitantly and a few words slipped out that he almost never used before he reached for his phone.
“I’ve already called both Dewey and Chip to come over,” Angie told him softly before headed back to her desk.
“Stay,” Lee ordered. “Please,” came out more under control, and nodded to one of the chairs. She sat, Lee tossed the envelope on the desk and poured out a cup of coffee for her which she took with slightly shaky hands just as Chip walked in, Dewey almost on his heels. Lee pointed to the envelope and poured more coffee.
Chip used a few of the same words Lee had, even more uncharacteristic for the usually stoic XO when he looked inside. Dewey was silent as he pulled out the contents and laid them on the desk, but nodded as Lee called Will to please come over. They all remained silent for the most part until the doctor marched through the door and Lee pointed toward the desk.
“Damn,” snuck not quite silently out as Will studied the three pictures. One was a full body shot, the other two were close-ups, of Admiral Nelson dressed only in a tan jumpsuit, barefoot, laying on a thin mattress on an otherwise bare floor from what could be seen. He had his eyes closed but no way to know why. It was obvious, especially from the two closer shots, that he’d been beaten, and quite savagely so from damage evident on his face. No way to tell how bad the rest of his body was. The only other skin showing was hands, which didn’t seem to be damaged. His bare feet clearly showed the ankle manacle and chain, with some redness where it was attached.
“Jamie?” Lee asked, his voice barely under control.
“No way to know for sure, Skipper,” Will told him carefully. “He’s for sure been beaten. And the chain makes it clear he’s not free. But here,” he pointed to one corner of the wide shot, “that’s a full water bottle within easy reach.” He looked at Lee. “How did these arrive?” Lee nodded toward Dewey, who had taken possession of the envelope and now answered.
“Just about to work on that.” He held up the envelope, which he was holding carefully by one corner. “Don’t suppose anyone has a clear plastic cover I can slip this into.” The men all smiled when Angie immediately stood, walked over to one of Nelson’s filing cabinets, and pulled out exactly what Dewey asked for. “Probably won’t find anything,” he admitted. “They’ve been careful so far.”
“Where was it mailed from?” Chip asked. “I didn’t look.”
“Doesn’t appear to have been. No cancellation stamp, anyway.”
“We know it wasn’t Gray Carlyle,” Lee said, his tone dark.
“Another mole?” Chip’s voice was even darker.
“Like I said,” Dewey tried to calm down the pair. Each had a reputation among NIMR employees for having a temper; together they were positively not to be challenged. “I’m on it.” He downed the rest of his coffee in one gulp and headed out. Angie, too, headed back for her desk, her color a little better but her expression not so much.
“Skipper?” Will asked softly. Lee was staring at the three pictures, his body stiff with rage and his hands fisted.
Lee didn’t move so Chip took a shot. “Lee?”
“What?” came out in a growl but Lee still didn’t budge.
Will and Chip shared a quick look – mostly grimace – and Will continued. “The water tells me…”
“The beating tells me more,” Lee turned on Will with one of the most angry expressions the doctor had ever seen. And that was saying a lot, all things considered! But Lee took a deep breath and relaxed his fists. Sort of. “I’m trying,” he told the doctor softly. “I know that everything is being done that can be. But…”
Will nodded encouragement. “I totally understand. Just try to save that energy,” he pointed toward Lee’s not quite unclenched hands,” for when you can actually do something about it.”
That got a soft snort from both Lee and Chip, and Lee sent Will a quick look. “Working on it,” he said softly.
Will nodded, frowned as he took one last glance at the pictures, and left. Lee and Chip heard him talking softly to Angie through the still open door.
“You know Dewey’s doing everything he possibly can,” Chip gathered the pictures into one stack and turned them face down.
“I feel so helpless,” Lee muttered almost to himself.
“You can help me run drills this afternoon.”
“I’d smack somebody,” Lee told him, not without a touch of humor but still firmly.
Chip shrugged and answered in kind. “Not necessarily a bad thing.”
“What did Rawn do now?” Seaview’s newest crewman could be a pain on occasion, although he was getting better at fitting in.
Chip chuckled. “Nothing I can’t handle.” Lee nodded but he also relaxed a bit and sent his XO a small smile. Chip sent it back and headed to whatever he was using to keep himself busy.
Whatever that was, he showed up again just before 1200 hours and coaxed Lee down to the cafeteria. Lee at first blew him off, but Chip pointed out that the pair eating down there would show the rest of NIMR employees who weren’t aware of what was going on that things were SOP. It wouldn’t stop rumors from starting but it couldn’t hurt, either, and Lee finally agreed.
He was back in Admiral Nelson’s office less than an hour later trying to concentrate on a report he was supposed to have finished for his boss the day before but not having any success. He’d barely eaten anything but, that not being totally without precedent, Chip kept quiet. Now Lee stared at the pages in front of him wishing Nelson was here to yell at him for being late finishing. That thought went totally out the window as Dewey tapped lightly on the open doorframe, several sheets of paper in his other hand. Lee bolted out of the chair, such was his nervousness.
“News, Skipper,” Dewey said unnecessarily as he walked over to the desk. “Matt finally located the ‘Miss Trust,’ headed it looks like for Hawaii.”
“Not Acapulco,” came out in a growl.
Dewey shrugged. “Doesn’t necessarily mean anything. A yacht that size can pretty much go wherever it wants to.”
“Who owns her?”
“Leased. Still working on that.”
Lee nodded and glanced at the pages. “What else?”
“No prints on the manila envelope except those that should be there.”
Dewey shook his head. “The delivery method is, however.” He instantly had Lee’s full attention, and could have been intimidated by the intensity. But he’d worked around Lee long enough to let it go as the Skipper merely being ‘The Skipper.’ “Seems it just showed up this morning in the mail room. No one thought much about it; things are still a little disjointed with the news of Gray’s murder.”
“Cameras catch anyone not normally there?”
“Yes and no.” Lee glared at Dewey but he only shrugged. “Security is a little disorganized, too, with Kieran on Leave and Mitch still queasy. I’ve had to reassign some duties.”
“Who?” Lee demanded just as Chip walked in. He assumed that Angie had called the blond as she followed him in but stayed in the doorway.
“Mike Dorset,” Dewey answered.
“He was involved in the cake issue?” Chip asked and Dewey nodded.
“Couple of bites so not really affected, and his excuse of Diabetes is on record.” Dewey turned back to Lee. “The mail room wasn’t on his assignment last night but the guys, with my okay,” he added quickly, “have been covering more areas, and more frequently.”
Lee nodded. “The cameras didn’t catch him carrying the envelope, I assume, or you’d already be talking to him.”
“Correct. But there’s no camera on the sorting table and he was out of any other camera range for almost two minutes. I’ve started another list of where I want cameras placed,” he grumbled softly and Lee and Chip nodded. “He could have had it under his jacket.” Dewey frowned again. “I’d hate to think bad of him, he’s been a good, trusted, member of my team. But…”
“Where is he now?” Chip asked.
“Off duty. I have a guy he doesn’t know tracking him down and he’ll keep an eye on him, at least for now.”
Lee’s hand snaked out and his fist slammed the desk hard enough to rattle things in drawers. “Save that for when it counts,” Chip advised.
Lee sent him a glare but nodded as he shook out his hand a bit cautiously. “That yacht still bothers me,” he told Dewey.
“Me, too,” Dewey admitted. “Can’t say for sure why.”
“Same here. You said it was leased?”
“The owner is some holding company out of Nassau. I’m having a devil of a time tracking down actual people.”
“I know that you’re doing your best,” Lee told him.
“Just hope that it’s enough,” came out somewhat miserably.
“Your friend Matt,” Chip asked, “is still watching the yacht?”
Davey nodded. “Off and on, now that he found it.”
“Good,” Lee told him. “Just so he doesn’t do anything to get himself in trouble.”
Dewey sent Lee a quick wink. “He’s too smart for that.” Both Lee and Chip smiled and he left. Angie, too, went back to her desk.
Lee walked over to the large windows. “That yacht,” he muttered softly, and then turned back to face Chip. “I think it’s the arrogance. The smugness in the text he left.” He shook his head.
“And maybe those pictures coming before the actual demand for the money,” Chip added.
Lee nodded. “That, too.” He looked at them, still face down on the corner of the desk, and his left hand made another fist. Or started to before he grimaced and glared at his hand.
“Please tell me you didn’t break it,” Chip said as he crossed his arms over his chest and stared at his friend.
Lee carefully clenched and relaxed his hand several times. “Not yet. Saving that for an as yet to be named face,” came out in a growl.
“I get equal time.”
“Only if there’s anything left!” They both nodded.
* * * *
Nelson was trying hard not to let his anger get the better of his judgment; too much of the former destroyed the latter. He almost laughed at himself as he was not known as a patient man. He could acknowledge that he was better than he used to be, and easily point to the reason – Lee’s constant influence since the younger man had taken over command of Seaview. Not that Lee never got angry; there were too many examples of that! And while Chip always seemed under control he was actually the one the crew never wanted to tick off. Together Lee and Chip were formidable.
But only if they had a target. Nelson was fairly sure from the boat’s movement that they were in open ocean waters. But there was a lot of ocean, and no way to know if Lee even had a clue where to start looking. Bishop had so far proved quite competent – to Nelson’s great discomfort!
He hadn’t understood the beating until about half an hour ago. While he was extremely sore and heavily bruised, nothing seemed to have been broken. Then Bishop had showed him the pictures, standing well out of reach of Nelson’s tether. Nelson had been absolutely livid, much to Bishop’s obvious delight, when Bishop told him he’d sent copies to Lee. Somehow Nelson had been able to remain silent although his anger remained extremely evident. Once Bishop left he’d sat on his mattress with his back to the bulkhead plotting various methods of revenge before a thought flashed through his brain and a very small smile touched his cracked and split lips. Those pictures were meant to ensure Lee’s cooperation with the ransom demand. But Nelson knew exactly what they would do. Lee would be focused for sure on doing everything he could to get Nelson back safely. But more than that, Lee would now be even more focused on exacting revenge on the people who took him in the first place. Nelson’s smile spread. Bishop apparently had no idea of the forces he’d just unleashed and that thought sent a wonderfully warm glow through Nelson’s psyche.
* * * *
As Lee paced Nelson’s office about 1830 hours he glanced out the still open door and met Angie’s frowning eyes. “Can’t sit still,” he admitted almost shyly.
“Gee, I wonder why,” she retorted before her expression softened. “You’re going to need that energy.”
“Too much coffee,” came in Chip’s voice as he walked into view from the direction of his office. But then he stopped and stared, and Dewey arrived from the other direction, walking purposely. Lee bounded into the reception area and they all met at Angie’s desk.
“Does the name Gregory Bishop mean anything to you, sirs?” Dewey asked. Both Lee and Chip puzzled for a bit but eventually shook their heads. Angie had immediately started tapping computer keys and the men now looked toward her.
“Nothing in the files,” she told them, “except of course Allen Bishop.” The others nodded at mention of Seaview’s original Second Officer. “No family member listed with the first name Gregory.”
“It’s a common enough surname,” Chip added.
“Why?” Lee asked Dewey.
“That’s the best name I can find attached to the yacht.” He shrugged. “And I’m not totally sure of that. Just the best we’ve been able to come up with.” He didn’t specify who ‘we’ were, and the others knew better than to ask. Dewey definitely had his own methods for getting things done. But no one cared because ultimately he got results without any adverse publicity for NIMR. “And other than the name,” he continued, “there’s nothing else. As you say it’s a common enough name so we’ve been unable to pin it on a specific person. But we’re still looking,” he added firmly.
“Anything on Dorset?” Chip asked.
Dewey shook his head. “Inconclusive,” he muttered. “I really would love to get my hands on his cellphone records.”
“You mean you haven’t?” Lee asked him almost teasingly.
“Working on it,” Dewey admitted with a quick smile, returned by the others.
As if to punctuate that, Dewey’s own cellphone chirped and he grabbed it out of its holder on his right hip. “Dewey,” he said into it. Rarely did anyone at NIMR use his last name. He listened without interruption to whatever the person at the other end had to say, finally said, “Keep on it,” and ended the call. “Interesting,” he told no one in particular.
“What!” Lee and Chip both demanded at the same time.
“Dorset came on duty last night at 2200 hours. Mitch was double-checking who was assigned where and Sherry mentioned that she’d originally written herself in for here; the Admin building.”
“Dorset switched with her,” Chip translated.
Dewey nodded. “Sherry didn’t care.” He smiled. “With her constantly on a diet she was just as happy staying away from the cafeteria.” Although staffed only minimally, someone kept at least some food available for the night staff as well as anyone working overtime in the labs.
“He’s due back on duty tonight?” Lee’s turn to ask the Security Head.
“No. Tonight and tomorrow are his days off.”
“Humm,” Lee muttered softly.
“How ‘bout we kidnap him,” Chip offered.
“Reading my mind,” Dewey agreed.
“But if he’s in contact with the kidnappers that could be dangerous for the Admiral,” Lee told them. Both men reluctantly nodded. “On the other hand…” Lee didn’t finish the thought.
“Spit it out, ju…” Chip started to call Lee ‘junior,’ the nickname he’d given Lee at the Naval Academy, but stopped himself just in time. Now was decidedly not the time for that kind of flippancy.
Lee shook his head. “We can’t risk doing anything that we don’t have complete control of until we know for sure that it won’t get the Admiral killed.” Everyone agreed with that conclusion.
“Dorset wasn’t on duty when Gray was killed,” Chip said somewhat offhand. Dewey nodded as Lee and Angie stared at him.
“He wouldn’t…” Angie started before clapping a hand over her mouth, her eyes expressing shock.
“I don’t want to think that about him,” Dewey told her.
“But he’s a trained security guard,” Chip added.
“Went through the police academy in LA before taking the job here,” Dewey said almost apologetically. “Came with good references.”
“Nothing to beat yourself up over,” Lee told him. “He passed all of his clearances. No one noticed anything or they’d have told you.”
“I sure hope so,” Dewey said with a hard look.
“Not a doubt,” Chip confirmed.
Dewey’s cellphone chirped again, and again he listened without saying more than half a dozen words. As he re-clipped the phone a decidedly pleased expression came over his face. “Give,” Lee ordered.
“Apparently Drayden,” again he didn’t specify who that was, and again no one challenged him, “has way too much time on his hands.” Lee waited semi-patiently for the man to continue. Chip crossed his arms over his chest and glared. “Our Lt. Bishop has a half-brother. Well,” he amended, “several, actually.”
“Not in his file,” Angie started.
“Which if found while he was employed here would have gotten him fired instantly,” Chip added, “for failure of full disclosure.”
Dewey held up a hand. Carefully, to be sure, as the expressions on Lee and Chip’s faces were dark and dangerous. “To his credit, he may not have known.”
“Excuse me?” Lee challenged.
“Apparently his father ‘got around’ as the saying goes.”
“According to his file,” Angie’s turn to take a shot at calming down the two senior officers, “his father passed away a couple of years before he entered Annapolis.”
Dewey nodded. “And the brothers – well, half-brothers – weren’t known to his mother. In fact, Drayden isn’t sure Lt. Bishop knows even now. But there’s for sure at least two, and one of them is named Gregory.”
“Get an exact fix on that yacht,” Lee ordered.
“I’ll get Seaview ready to sail,” Chip added. “Dewey…?” There was a definite question in the one word.
“Chief Hauck has a good team,” Dewey answered. “I still have a security breach here to sort out.”
“If it is Dorset,” Chip started, then hesitated.
“He needs to not be aware that Seaview has left,” Lee finished.
“Already thought of that,” Dewey told them with a nod.
“Get him!” Angie wasn’t specific about who she meant – Nelson, the kidnapper, or the mole. But all three men nodded and headed in separate directions, intent on what needed to be done.
* * * *
Nelson’s hard-fought-for patience was running thin. He hadn’t seen Bishop in many hours; no way to tell time accurately but he was fairly sure that it had been most of a whole day. The boat he was on hadn’t ever slowed down as far as he could tell from the movement and the sounds from the engines. He knew that it was a boat of fairly substantial length to have a cabin this size on only one side. That’s what logic told him, anyway, because of the companionway he caught glimpses of when the door was open. Some sort of fairly good-sized yacht, he guessed. But while some yachts were big enough to have a helipad Nelson hadn’t heard a chopper either coming or going so he was puzzled why Bishop hadn’t made an appearance since he’d shown Nelson the pictures of the beating he’d reportedly sent to Lee. Food and water had continued to be provided by others, for which Nelson was thankful. On the minus side he was ready to kill for some caffeine and cigarettes. No coffee had been offered and he was trying desperately not to think about the nicotine cravings he was battling, a major contributor to his short temper!
He'd tried asking Bishop’s henchmen when they’d delivered food and water where their boss was but not gotten an answer. In fact, they’d refused to utter even a word, just waved their guns to get Nelson to move if he wasn’t where they wanted when they entered. But that was rare as Nelson had quickly decided that, without an advantage of some sort, he was better off biding his time. Bishop’s absence bothered him but, since there didn’t seem to be anything he could do about it at the moment he’d try to be patient. But it was getting harder and harder!
* * * *
Chip couldn’t remember a time when Seaview had been launched as quickly. But as Lee pointed out when they left the channel, the hand-picked skeleton crew was extremely motivated. They both were still fidgety until they were cleared to hit Flank speed. Seaview herself seemed to recognize the urgency, so smoothly did she glide through the water.
Chief Hauck had proposed taking FS1, loaded with a highly skilled and highly armed tactical squad. But Lee, and quietly to the side Chip, vetoed the idea. While speed seemed to be essential, so was accuracy. FS1 had the former but Seaview’s superior equipment would be better at ‘reading’ the yacht and detecting strengths and weaknesses to better plot their mode of attack. And that would be based on, if they even had the correct target. Everyone agreed that with the available intel they would find Nelson on board. But..
Running at Flank, Lt. James plotted that Seaview would rendezvous with the yacht at approximately 1300 hours the following day. Knowing that it was no doubt useless, Will still tried to get Lee to remain calm enough to eat and sleep. Those were the first two casualties when Seaview’s captain was under stress. Chip tried to help but he was nearly as antsy as Lee, although he was a little better at hiding it.
Hoping that Lee and Chip would stick to their routine of meeting in Lee’s cabin about 2000 hours for a few minutes of respite from the tension, Will conspired with Cookie and had a carafe of hot chocolate and half a dozen of the chef’s ‘Death by Chocolate’ brownies delivered a few minutes before that time while he, not wanting to take any chances, went in search of the two officers to make sure they were pointed in that direction. As expected he found them in the Conn. Will suspected that Chip somehow knew what Will had planned – possibly Cookie, or perhaps Chief Sharkey, had spilled the beans – because the blond not only went willingly he also all but dragged Lee up the spiral stairs toward Officers’ Country. Will then headed for his own cabin hoping, but not holding his breath, that the pair would get at least a few hours of rest before what could easily become chaos.
* * * *
Nelson was relieved to once more see Bishop; he was beginning to wonder if the man had somehow left the boat. He wasn’t overly pleased to see the expression on the man’s face, however. It was the first time Nelson had seen him all but out of control. Even when he’d beaten Nelson so fiercely it had been done with calculated efficiency. This time, however, Bishop was absolutely furious and Nelson took the opportunity to egg it on. “Problems, Bishop?” he asked oh so innocently.
“What’s that smart-aleck captain of yours think he’s doing?” came out in a nasty snarl.
Nelson rattled his leg chain. “I haven’t exactly been in contact with him so I have absolutely no idea.”
“He hasn’t contacted the lawyer about the money,” Bishop all but yelled. Nelson only shrugged. From the harsh beating that instantly commenced, that wasn’t the answer Bishop wanted.
* * * *
Cookie prepared an early lunch so that it would coincide with the strategy session Lee planned with key members of the crew. Chip left Lt. O’Brien in charge of the Conn so that Lt. James could attend along with MAA Chief Hauck, several members of his security team, and Davey Jackson who served on Chief Hauck’s team here on Seaview as well as under Dewey Caudill on NIMR grounds.
Seaview’s long-range sensors had picked up the ‘Miss Trust’ right on schedule, still doing a steady 15 knots headed in the general direction of Hilo, Hawaii. Chip had steadied up behind the yacht at a depth of 200 feet, not wanting to risk coming up to periscope depth just yet. Will didn’t sit at the same table but was close enough to hear the ideas being tossed out by the others as several plans were devised to handle different scenarios, depending on what happened over the next bunch of hours. The one thing everyone agreed on was, unless they were forced by as yet unknown circumstances they would do nothing but follow the yacht until after dark.
Just as the meeting was breaking up, Will somewhat happy that Lee had actually eaten what for him was a normal amount of food, a call came in from Dewey. Lee had it piped down and put on speaker.
“Good and bad, Skipper,” the Security Head sighed softly. “We pulled in Mike Dorset, or rather, started to but he saw us coming and put up a fight. He’s in police custody in the hospital after a knife that looks to match the one that killed Gray Carlyle was found in his possession. But he’s not talking so we’re waiting on forensics.” He sighed again.
“And…?” Lee nudged. After all that had happened the last few days Will was almost surprised to hear the level of control present in his voice, and decided that he’d keep to himself the fact that he’d ‘doctored’ last night’s hot chocolate. Not heavily as he was sometimes forced to do. But the younger man had definitely gotten some much needed rest.
“There was indeed someone, a secretary, working in Mr. Halliburton’s office.”
“Damn,” slipped out of Lee’s mouth, and echoed by several others intently listening to the report.
“She’s a redhead so I had a quick picture of her taken. Sparks should have it by now.”
“The Admiral didn’t act like he recognized her from what I remember,” Lee challenged.
“She’s part of the office staff but doesn’t work directly with Mr. Halliburton.”
“So the Admiral may never have met her,” Chip hypothesized.
“She’s been neutralized,” Dewey didn’t specify how and Lee didn’t ask, “but not before she sent a text, we’re not sure to who but we suspect it was the yacht, saying that you’d not been in contact with the office.”
“So Bishop knows I haven’t picked up the money.”
“On the other hand you haven’t received any demand for delivery of the money,” Dewey tried to sound logical.
Lee shrugged, realized Dewey couldn’t see it, and said out loud, “There is that.” Seaman Patterson knocked and entered the Wardroom, handing a photograph to Lee before quickly exiting. Between Lee and Chip they identified her as the woman they’d seen with Admiral Nelson.
“I sort of ‘acquired’ Dorset’s cellphone when he was apprehended,” Dewey continued almost shyly and there were several smiles around the Wardroom, including Lee’s. “A bunch of extremely interesting text messages. But nothing since he’s been picked up. If he was supposed to report in we may be screwed, but nothing has come in for him.”
“We’ve reached the yacht and are holding station 500 yards behind and 200 feet down until dark. Haven’t even wanted to come to periscope depth just in case they are keeping watch. Especially now that I know they may have been alerted.”
“Roger that, Skipper. We’re closely monitoring Dorset’s cellphone and will try to cover if anything comes in.”
“Keep me posted,” Lee ordered, although he knew that it was unnecessary.
“You bet, sir,” and the connection was broken.
“Skipper,” MAA Hauck spoke up, “how about we send FS1 ahead of the yacht. When she goes by divers can sneak up and attach a couple listening limpets to her hull.”
“Gives us a head’s up of our own,” Lt. James agreed.
“As long as we don’t get caught,” Jackson added.
“Rebreathers so no tell-tale air bubbles,” Hauck offered.
“Make it so,” Lee told the MAA. “Chip, you pilot FS1.”
As everyone headed out Will watched Lee pour another mugful of coffee and stand still, drinking it slowly. “Question, Skipper,” he asked. Lee looked his direction and nodded. “Chip piloting FS1, not you?”
Lee sent him one of his almost shy, through-the-lashes looks. “Chip will keep to the plan, not do something stupid,” he told the doctor.
Will snorted. “No way I’m touching that line,” he said firmly. Lee’s occasional impetuousness tended to drive a few people a little crazy. Lee sent him a small grin and a short nod before polishing off the coffee and heading forward.
What Lee referred to as an intel-gathering foray, teasing Chip because of the blond’s harping about Lee’s occasional missions for ONI, went off without a hitch but for several hours garnered nothing beyond footsteps around the yacht. Chief Hauck reported that limpets had been placed front, middle, and aft, several feet below the water line, almost at the same time by three different divers. Lee had raised an eyebrow, assuming that one diver could have placed all three as the yacht went past.
“Wasn’t taking any chances,” the MAA had replied.
“Bravo Zulu,” Lee told him with a nod to the divers as well.
The lack of further intel was grating on Lee’s already strained nerves and he was just starting to pace about 1630 hours when Dewey once more called. DNA results would take a while but the knife found on Mike Dorset matched the wound on Gray Carlyle. “At least Kieran and Debbie can get closure,” he told Lee.
“And without mention of what caused it?” Lee asked.
“Got it covered,” Dewey confirmed.
“Good,” Lee told him firmly. “The less the public finds out, the better. Although,” he added, “when Dorset and the secretary come to trial…”
“The secretary won’t,” Dewey interrupted. “Had a little talk with Mr. Halliburton.” Lee almost smiled. “She’s being fired and, since the cellphone she was using was a company phone paid for by the law firm, I’ve sort of acquired that one, too. She was questioned briefly about her involvement and who was behind it but she claims everything was done by phone and text, and she never met the voice on the phone.” His shrug was obvious even though unseen.” My man and Mr. Halliburton tended to believe her. Mr. Halliburton drew up a gag order, which she was more than willing to sign to avoid prosecution.”
“Sounds like he’s due for a raise,” Chip said quietly, standing behind Lee’s shoulder listening to the conversation.
Not quietly enough. “I won’t turn it down, sirs,” came through the mic, and both Lee and Chip snickered. “But only if we get the Admiral back safe and sound,” he added firmly.
“That’s a given,” Lee agreed. “Same phone number on both phones?”
“Yep,” Dewey confirmed. “Got a friend,” and Lee and Chip shared another grin, “trying to trace it, but…”
“I know you’ll do everything you can,” Lee told him.
“And then some,” Chip added, and even Dewey chuckled softly. Lee updated Dewey on the limpets and said he’d let Dewey know any intel they provided. But Chief Hauck was petitioning to raid the yacht about 0130 hours whether they heard anything or not and Lee was perfectly happy with that plan. So was Dewey!
The call, or maybe just being able to voice some ideas, helped calm Lee enough that Chip was able to point him in the direction of the Officers’ Wardroom just prior to 1800 hours. Seaview was still shadowing the yacht, still not hearing much from the limpets. Sparks was sure that they were functioning correctly because he was picking up the occasional footsteps, and at one point snorted loud enough to get both Lee and Chip’s attention.
“Somebody just dropped something,” he told them. “The term ‘swear like a sailor’ has just taken on a whole new meaning.”
Will joined them for supper, as was normal. Between the pair they updated the doctor on what little intel had come up that afternoon. But neither were surprised to see Will meander down the spiral stairs shortly after they’d returned to the Conn, book in hand. Will would occasionally come to the Nose to read when things were quiet, although both were perfectly aware that Will’s coming forward now was more so that he could monitor the upcoming mission to board the yacht and search for Admiral Nelson. They sent him a nod as they stood by the chart table going over odds and ends of boat’s business with Lt. O’Brien. Will took his usual place in the Nose, his back to the starboard bulkhead somewhat behind the stairs where he was unobtrusive but could still easily see and hear into the Conn.
About 2130 hours Sparks, unwilling to let his assistant, Ensign Haskins, take over in the Radio Shack, abruptly sat up straighter than he had been. “What?” Lee demanded, walking rapidly that direction.
“Someone’s hurt,” Sparks told him. That got Will’s attention as well, and he and Chip joined Lee. “I can’t tell much but all of a sudden there’s someone moaning and grunting like they’re in pain.”
“I wonder why all of a sudden,” Chip said.
Will frowned. “Like maybe they just regained consciousness?” he asked.
Sparks nodded. “Actually, yeah, Doc.”
Lee’s hand threatened to smack the nearest bulkhead. “Don’t,” Chip warned harshly before he sent a small smile into Lee’s glare. “You’re going to need that hand in a few hours.” Lee nodded but he still frowned as he called Chief Hauck to the Conn.
Over the next hour Lee, Chip, Lt. James, and Chiefs Hauck and Sharkey sat at the table in the Nose going over assault tactics. Will listened quietly after he’d returned to his chair, not even bothering to pretend to read. While most everything had already been discussed, no one disagreed with the need to go over everything again. As odds and ends of equipment was mentioned Will added quietly, “Bolt cutters?”
“For the chain,” Lee muttered, ashamed that he’d forgotten that detail.
“Got it covered,” Sharkey told him. He’d seen the pictures once Seaview left port. Lee sent him a nod.
The plan, allowing for variations depending on what they found aboard, was fairly simple. FS1 would be used to drop off one diver ahead of the yacht who would, as the yacht passed him, foul the propeller on one side with a length of high-test cable; the yacht would be forced to stop. More divers would also be released from FS1 to surround the stopped boat. They would be armed with spearguns for immediate use and dart pistols in waterproof bags to use once they were safely aboard. From there things would progress however they did, depending on the circumstances. But the main agenda was to incapacitate whoever they found. Seaview would surface alongside once the yacht had been secured and additional men would board and help until the entire yacht, from bow to stern, had been thoroughly searched. Their objective was, of course, to find and rescue Admiral Nelson. But no reason they couldn’t look for any other sort of contraband while they were at it. After that decisions would have to be made but that could all be done later, once they had the complete picture.
Will did snicker softly, and had the others glare at him, when there was some disagreement over who would pilot FS1. There were only a handful of crewmen who knew how and none of them wanted to be left behind! It was finally agreed, after resorting to drawing straws, that Chip would pilot FS1 until the yacht stopped and the armed squad was deployed. He would then scurry back to Seaview where, once docked, he’d be ready to board with that contingency of guards. The blond wasn’t completely happy but, next to Lee, he was the best able to quickly get FS1 docked so that Seaview could get into position.
Over the next hour Sparks reported hearing only the occasional footsteps, a couple of doors closing loudly, and a few more groans of pain. Those were the hardest for any of Seaview’s crew to know about. At one point Chief Sharkey muttered to no one in particular, “Doesn’t anyone over there talk to anyone else?”
“Perhaps the crew is well-trained enough not to need constant instructions,” Chip muttered back, with a pointed look in Sharkey’s direction. The COB decided that he needed to go double-check something away from the Conn.
By 0100 the entire boat was on edge, barely able to stay in control until their plans could be put into action.
* * * *
Nelson had no idea how long he’d been unconscious. Again. While the first beating had been controlled and calculated this second one had been savage and unrelenting leaving Nelson, once he did wake up, barely able to breathe let alone move. Things were broken inside, of that there was no doubt. How badly damaged remained to be seen but Nelson had no idea when, or even if, that could be determined. As efficient as Bishop had been about everything else Nelson was sure that he’d left no clues for Lee to follow no matter how good his captain was at ferreting out details.
He knew that he’d passed out at least once more when he woke up to someone almost screaming in pain and it took him a bit to realize that it was him. He’d apparently tried to roll over on the thin mattress. Definitely not a good idea, Harriman, he muttered to himself and tried to take shallow breaths because deep ones hurt too much.
Because of the pain it took him extra time to notice that the boat wasn’t moving. He vaguely remembered a jerk; maybe that was what triggered his attempt to roll over. Now there was no sound of the engines and the boat felt sluggish, like it was coasting to a stop. There were some angry shouts; someone giving orders. Possibly Bishop, Nelson thought, but since he’d barely heard the man raise his voice above a slick, self-assured, level he couldn’t be sure.
Then, suddenly, it seemed like everyone aboard was shouting. Nelson had no idea how many people that was; he’d only seen two besides Bishop. But now it sounded like a small army, complete with gunfire. “Lee,” he breathed softly. But he didn’t have time to question how that could be because at that moment the door to his prison slammed open and Bishop stood in the doorway, a pistol in his hand and an absolutely nasty, evil, expression on his face.
* * * *
Lee could barely contain himself as he waited to drop out FS1’s bottom hatch. Chief Hauck had given himself the task of fouling the propeller, a bit tricky to do it right without getting himself killed in the process. But he and Sharkey had put their heads together and come up with a section of cargo netting instead of a single length of rope or line. It would be a little harder to maneuver through the water but much easier to make it snag the machinery. Once he and his net were dropped off Chip positioned FS1 where they hoped the yacht would come to rest and the ‘assault squad’ was deployed, Lee in the lead.
The plan worked almost perfectly. Whoever was in command in the pilothouse at that hour of the night was good; he, or she, had noticed the propeller issue instantly and cut both engines. The yacht stopped a little short of where Lee’s men were deployed but it only took them an extra 90 seconds to reach where they wanted to board. Chief Hauck almost beat them there, the yacht had stopped so fast. Shouts on the deck covered most of the sounds of the team tossing up grappling hooks and quickly climbing aboard, the first ones covering both directions until everyone was in position before they started fanning out.
As much as Lee hated killing, the first man who he encountered, gun in hand, went down instantly from Lee’s spear, the armament telling Lee that this wasn’t a boat of innocents.
Part of the strategy session had involved studying blueprints of the yacht’s possible layout and Lee pointed himself toward the lower interior area, that being the most logical place for Nelson to be. He ran into one more man, who almost didn’t have time to realize Lee was there before a dart from Lee’s gun stopped him in his tracks and a chop on the back of his neck felled him long enough for the tranquilizers in the dart to take full effect. Around and above him were sounds of more encounters and he sent a silent prayer that it was his team winning the battles. Ahead of him he heard a door bang, closed or opened he couldn’t be sure, and he headed that direction.
Lee could never say later exactly the order of events over the next few minutes. Or never allowed himself to ponder them was the thought Nelson shared much later with Will over a couple glasses of scotch. One second Lee was standing at the corner of two corridors seeing a man standing in the closest doorway pointing a gun at a crumpled mound of something laying on a thin mattress. The next lucid thought he had was of his fists turning someone else into a crumpled mound, with no though in his mind whatsoever of stopping the assault. There was no awareness of his own body being hit, only the feel of his fists hitting flesh, over and over and over until…
“Lee,” filtered through the red haze of his hatred for the man he was pounding but it barely slowed down the cadence of the blows. “LEE,” came louder, and someone tried to grab his arms. He shoved them away with a harsh growl and continued his attack.
“ENOUGH!” was yelled into his right ear as he was grabbed from both sides and hauled backward.
Lee finally took his eyes off the lump and focused on the voice. “Chip?”
“Yeah, buddy. Ski’s to port,” and whoever – apparently Senior Rating Kowalski – had his left arm let go and gave that shoulder a light pat. Lee’s next glance was toward the mattress, and he instantly struggled again when he saw someone bending over the lump. But Chip held firm. “Just Frank,” Chip told him. “Jamie will be here shortly. The Admiral’s alive. Which is more than I can say for whoever that is,” was mumbled into Lee’s ear, and Chip nodded to whoever Lee had been beating.
“Dead?” Lee barely whispered.
“Works for me,” Chip said with a shrug. Lee sat back and took a few deep breaths.
It took almost an hour to get everything sorted out. All told, the yacht had carried fourteen men besides Admiral Nelson. Two others had been killed besides Bishop, identified by what was in his wallet and also papers found in his cabin. The other two killed were identified by the terrified captain of the yacht as Bishop’s men. Everyone else was crew hired by the leasing company. There was a moment when someone asked, “How did we manage to only kill the bad guys,” and someone else told him, “Those were the only ones who fought back.”
Lee had finally calmed down enough to think straight although his own crewmen were giving him a wide berth. Once he and Chip were satisfied as to who was who, Bishop and the other two dead were transferred to Seaview. Admiral Nelson had been carefully carried there by stretcher almost immediately. The yacht was searched again, the regular crew extremely helpful in pointing out anything that belonged to the three dead men although Chief Hauck and his men didn’t totally trust them and searched everything anyway. The captain appeared horrified when Nelson’s condition became known. He claimed that he and his crew had been totally unaware of Bishop’s plans and had been kept away from that area of the yacht. Once Chief Hauck and his team decided that they had everything sorted out, and divers had removed the cargo net from the propeller shaft and checked for any damage, the captain of the yacht was told that he was free to go. Which he did, as fast as he could!
On returning to Seaview Lee left all the details to Chip for the time being and headed straight to Sick Bay. He wasn’t encouraged to find the Admiral seemingly unconscious on one of the center exam beds. “He’ll be fine,” came from the doorway to Jamie’s office and the doctor appeared carrying a handful of papers. “He’s sleeping,” Jamie switched voices to a very firm one, “and don’t you dare wake him up.” Lee sent him a shy smile. “A couple of broken ribs, some very heavy bruising over his kidneys so that will need to be watched carefully. Concussion symptoms.” He shrugged. “All in all, it could have been a lot worse.” Lee took a step toward Nelson but stopped still several feet away. “He told me,” Jamie continued more softly, “that you did a whole lot worse to the guy who beat him.”
“He was awake?”
“At the point you found him, anyway. And off and on over the last hour.”
“I lost control,” Lee said so softly that he wasn’t sure he’d even said it out loud. “I was…”
“You had provocation,” Jamie tried to rationalize Lee’s obvious distress.
“That can’t happen,” Lee almost whispered, his voice full of pain. “My job… I don’t dare…”
“I’m the last person who’s going to argue with your actions,” came softly from the exam table. Will growled softly but he had a hard time controlling a grin as he walked over to the far side of the table. Lee seemed glued to the spot where he was standing. “You handled it, Lee,” Nelson continued, his voice soft.
“None of your crew got more than a few scratches and a bloody nose,” Will continued. “Your actions for sure saved the Admiral’s life. According to Frank, who’s been talking to the crew, the three dead were all career criminals who no one is going to miss. Cut yourself some slack.”
“What he said,” Nelson added, and sent Lee as much of a smile as his lips would allow.
“Yes, sir,” Lee told him. He walked close enough to lay a hand gently on Nelson’s shoulder, nodded ever so briefly, added, “Thank you, sir. Welcome home,” and left.
Lee purposely walked through the boat, nodding to and sharing a few words with every crewman he met. He was very aware that they needed to see him back in control, not so totally ‘out of it’ that he’d beaten a man to death. It didn’t matter that the man deserved it; a good leader did not lose that kind of control.
He could feel that Seaview was still on the surface, and sent Chip a raised eyebrow as he entered the Control Room. “The prevailing sentiment,” Chip told him, “is to hold a quick burial at sea.”
Lee briefly frowned. Normally that would go against his sense of lawfulness and duty. On the other hand, he could see agreement on all the faces turned toward him and slowly nodded. The Admiral could yell at him later but that really did seem the best way for everyone to put the whole ordeal behind them. But captain of the boat or not, he simply could not manage the words for the simple service and was grateful when Lt. Bryson, an active member of his church when Seaview was at home, volunteered.
Lee watched with Chip from on top the Conning Tower. They took binoculars with them, mostly on the lookout for any other vessels that might be in the area even though Seaview’s instrumentation hadn’t indicated any. The yacht was already out of sight, continuing on a heading for Hawaii since they didn’t know what else to do. Someone, and no one was taking responsibility for the action, had disabled the yacht’s radio.
Chip was already scanning the horizon in the last half hour before the skies would lighten to announce the start of a new day. In more ways than one, Lee told himself as he joined his XO. They remained quiet as the short ceremony took place below them on the aft deck. As the few crewmen required to handle the bodies quickly re-entered Seaview’s Boarding Hatch Chip turned toward Lee. “We got lucky,” he said, barely out loud.
“Got that right,” Lee agreed. He tugged his jacket closer as a sudden chill hit him. The air was cool, requiring the jackets both men had grabbed. But suddenly Lee could barely control the shaking.
“It’s okay now,” Chip told him, reaching a hand to give Lee’s shoulder a firm and affirmative grip.
Lee nodded but continued to shake. “What if we hadn’t found him in time. I should have done what I was told and gotten the money.”
Chip’s grip increased briefly before he dropped his hand. “Not your style, buddy.” Lee merely shook his head. “What else?” Chip knew his friend only too well.
Lee took a few deep breaths. “Do you ever think about what will happen when the Admiral isn’t here any longer?”
“No,” Chip told him instantly. “I have enough trouble keeping up with current chaos.” He nudged Lee’s shoulder with his own. “Usually caused by you,” was added with a broad grin. That got a soft snort and a glare, and Chip nudged him again. “Let’s go home.” Lee nodded and they headed down to the Conn.
* See “Echo” by R. L. Keller
** See “Oops” by R. L. Keller